The original ThemeScene H30 was a real budget superstar - and now it's back, revamped and reinvigorated, and bearing an extra 'A' (for Advanced!) on its chest to prove it. But as comfortably the cheapest projector in this group test (Optoma slashed the price from £1,145 to £999 just as we were going to press), can it really be a serious contender?
The H30A passes muster aesthetically thanks to the smallness of its footprint and clean, white finish.
It improves over its predecessor with the inclusion of an HDCP-enabled DVI jack, setting it up for Sky's upcoming high definition programming. Huzzah.
You also get component video inputs for analogue high definition and progressive video, a standard D-Sub PC input, and the usual video connectivity.
Boasting Texas Instruments' Dark Chip 2 chipset, the H30A claims an impressive sounding 3000:1 claimed contrast ratio and 850 ANSI Lumens brightness. The chipset's native aspect ratio is widescreen too - the only letdown being a somewhat less than HD native resolution of 854 x 480 - typical of the £1k or so set, but disappointing here.
Happily the H30A can still show HD pictures and while this is only possible by downscaling, at least Optoma provides a choice of HD scaling modes.
Other features include preset zoom modes for removing the black bars from round various movie aspect ratios; separate tweaking of the brightness/contrast of the RGB image components; white peaking adjustment; and various progressive modes.
Both the H30A's remote control and onscreen menus could do with being more intuitive, in my humble opinion.
The H30A might be cheap, but you wouldn't know by its performance. Its black levels actually make a case for being the best in its class while dark picture sections aren't remotely 'hollow'. Instead, greyscaling ensures plenty of texture and depth even in shadowy corners.
The combination of deep blacks and subtle gradations helps the H30A's colours look vibrant and largely free of noise.
The most surprising H30A strength concerns its fine detail. Even with high definition sources the H30A does a superb job of hiding its native resolution behind a wall of textures and tight edges My biggest niggle is the low-level green dot crawl in darker picture areas.
This is negligible if you rein in the contrast and brightness, but more expensive models suppress it better. Also you can make out horizontal blanking lines across the picture during bright footage, especially from a TV rather than DVD/HD source - a problem generally not seen on the more expensive models thanks to tricks like Faroudja's DCDi processing.
If slightly bettered in performance terms by more expensive projectors, in value for money terms Optoma's offering is simply off the scale.