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An enjoyable home theater projector doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg

The prices of 1080p projectors have fallen to the point that some are not much more expensive than 720p projectors. Still, for those on the tightest of budgets, a 720p projector will create a home-theater experience that will wow all but the most finicky. Among budget home-theater projectors, experts and users say that the Optoma HD66 (*Est. $650) is one to consider. Most say that it's a terrific choice for displaying movies and more with picture quality that belies its low price tag.

The Optoma HD66 is not without a touch of controversy, however. It's marketed as a 3D projector, but it can only work that magic with 3D computer games, not with broadcast, cablecast or Blu-ray content. In addition, you need a computer with a powerful graphics card and 3D glasses for each viewer. Still, Tom Andry at Audioholics.com writes, "While I feel the 3D branding is a bit misleading to the uninformed consumer, the fact is that the HD66 is a fantastic projector for the price." Bill Livolsi at ProjectorCentral.com concurs, saying: "All in all, the HD66 offers an outstanding value for those on a budget."

Like all DLP projectors, the rainbow effect can be an issue for the small percentage of the population able to see that artifact. However, Andry reports that he saw no trace of it in the HD66 he reviewed. Like most low-cost DLP projectors, the Optoma HD66 can be difficult to place in some viewing rooms. There's no lens shift and the zoom range is a paltry 1.1x, which means the only real adjustment you can make to get an image centered on a screen is to physically move the projector. Livolsi notes that the best placement to completely fill a screen will be on a low table or suspended from a ceiling mount.

We also saw some excellent feedback for the Epson MegaPlex MG-850HD (*Est. $680) , a budget LCD projector. Accolades include an Editors' Choice award from PCMag.com and a Highly Rated designation at ProjectorCentral.com, along with a host of good to great reviews elsewhere. All agree that this cheap LCD projector won't impress videophiles, but that's not its intended audience. The MG-850HD is clearly designed for family viewing at a budget-friendly price -- and it seems to fill that role well.

Reports say that this is one bright video projector, much too bright, in fact, for a dark home theater room, but it's perfect for watching big-screen entertainment is a moderately lit space, such as a living room or family room. It also has a relatively powerful 10-watt per channel stereo sound system. That can't take the place of a well-designed surround sound audio system, but experts such as those at CNET and Wired say that it is surprisingly satisfying. It also serves to make the MG-850 an excellent portable projector, an approach that's emphasized by the built-in carrying handle and other touches, including an integrated sliding lens cap and recessed ports with snap-on caps. "In other words, the MG-850HD isn't just portable because it weighs very little; it's portable because it was designed to be, writes Bill Livolsi at ProjectorCentral.com.

The feature that drew the most attention when the MG-850HD was released was its built in docking port for an iPod, iPad or iPhone. Of course, as Apple fans certainly know by now, Apple ditched its long-standing docking port in favor of the new Lightning Port. The good news is that the projector is full usable as designed with older versions of Apple's mobile devices. It also still works perfectly well with standard program sources, such as a Blu-ray Disc player.

In terms of picture quality, reports say that it is very good for its price class. The big shortfall -- no surprise given the projector's brightness -- is its black levels. But, as ProjectorCentral.com notes, black level becomes "functionally irrelevant" in a well-lighted room, such as a living room or a family room. Color performance, on the other hand, draws mostly raves, and experts say they are impressed with accuracy and saturation right out of the box.

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Optoma HD66, HD (720p), 2500 ANSI Lumens, Home Theater Projector
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New: $599.00 $574.45   
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