Optoma HD146X

The Optoma HD146X ($549) is Optoma’s least expensive 1080p home entertainment projector. Compared with other entry-level projectors, such as the BenQ TH585 and the ViewSonic PX701HD, it lacks a few features. Most notably, it has only one HDMI port instead of two, and there’s no image shift to match the picture position to the screen for easier setup. However, it has the same 3,500-ANSI-lumen brightness rating. And when all three are compared as they come out of the box, without setting adjustments, the HD146X delivers the best balance of color accuracy, contrast, black level, and three-dimensionality for video and movies. 


Design and Setup

Unlike its head-to-head competitors from BenQ and ViewSonic, which have 1,920-by-1,200-pixel DLP chips used for 1080p resolution with room for image shift, the HD146X uses a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel DLP chip. Like them, it has a six-panel color wheel. The HD146X’s wheel is red-yellow-green-cyan-white-blue (RYGCWB), with a white panel to increase brightness, and yellow and cyan panels to help minimize the color errors the white panel causes. 

Optoma HD146X

Setup is standard. The HD146X weighs only 6.2 pounds and measures 4.3 by 12.4 by 9.5 inches (HWD), making it easy to handle. Set it in place, adjust the manual 1.1x  zoom, and focus. There’s also a +/- 40 degree vertical keystone control to square off the image if you need to tilt the projector to aim at the screen. I set it up for a 90-inch image at 9 feet, 8 inches from the screen using the maximum zoom setting. 

One minor annoyance I ran into while using the included remote control was that the menu highlight often jumped two steps in response to one button press. However, this isn’t much of an issue for day-to-day use, and may just be a matter of how quickly you release the button. 

Input is limited to a single HDMI 1.4a port. The only other connectors are a 3.5mm audio out port and a USB-A connector that can only be used for powering an HDMI streaming dongle. You’ll be glad for that audio port; the 3-watt onboard speaker delivers tinny sound at a low volume, so an external sound system is a must.

Optoma HD146X back ports

The HD146X wasn’t designed primarily as a gaming projector, but it offers a short enough lag to satisfy most gamers. With Enhanced Gaming mode on, it clocked in at 16.4ms on my Bodnar meter at 1080p 60Hz. Its low weight also makes it light enough to carry from room to room or to a friend’s house. Just make sure to pack portable speakers too.


Plug It In and Press Play

Image quality is excellent for the price, with no need to tweak any settings. Cinema mode, my first choice for watching movies or video, delivered neutral, accurate color. The image scored surprisingly well for projectors at this price point, impressing with dark black level, contrast, shadow detail (details based on shading in dark areas), and a sense of three-dimensionality. Reference mode produced slightly more accurate color, but without the same level of contrast and at noticeably lower image brightness. 

Vivid and Game modes are both brighter than Cinema, making them good choices for well-lit settings such as a room with lots of sunny windows. But dark scenes didn’t have the same level of contrast or shadow detail as they did in Cinema mode, and color wasn’t as accurate. For most projectors, the brightening effect of Game mode can help gamers spot objects or targets lurking in the shadows. But when I tested the HD146X, I found that the shadow detail and contrast in Cinema mode was good enough to serve this purpose—and, unlike Game mode, it kept all of the scene’s dramatic visual impact.

Optoma HD146X top view

As with most projectors’ brightest modes, the Bright mode had a noticeable green shift. But it was little enough that most people will consider it tolerable for occasional use on a particularly bright day. 

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Using Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommendations, the rated 3,500 lumens is bright enough to project onto a 1.0-gain white screen for a 270-inch-diagonal 16:9 image in a dark room. In ambient light, the suitable size is 150 inches in Bright mode, and smaller still for the modes with better color accuracy. As a practical matter, for formal testing in a dark room, Cinema mode was easily bright enough for a 90-inch image on a 1.0-gain white screen. In a family room with windows, it was bright enough to fill an 80-inch screen with nicely saturated color for nighttime viewing with lights on, or for daytime viewing on a rainy day. 

Optoma HD146X

The 3D feature is absolutely typical for projectors in this price range, supporting DLP-Link glasses and offering only one 3D picture mode. Performance was typical as well. I didn’t see any crosstalk in my tests. 3D-related motion artifacts were at the high end of the expected range for current 3D projectors, but not unreasonable. 

Optoma HD146X remote control

Like most Optoma projectors, the HD146X doesn’t show many rainbow artifacts. I see these artifacts easily, but I glimpsed only a few hints of them in testing. That said, it’s best to buy any single-chip projector from a source that allows returns without a restocking fee, so you can judge it for yourself on this score. 


Picture Quality Above All

Both the Optoma HD146X and its closest competitors have similar prices, are designed to deliver a bright picture at large size in ambient light, and offer good or better performance for movies, video, and gaming. What distinguishes this projector is that it delivers the best color accuracy for movies and the most visually dramatic rendering of dark scenes, particularly in low levels of ambient light. If you must have two HDMI ports, the convenience of an image shift for setup, or more capable on-board audio, the ViewSonic PX701HD or BenQ TH585 will be a better fit, and you should consider them in any case. But in this price range, if your main interest is watching movies in a dark room, the Optoma HD146X is hard to beat. 

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