Mitsubishi HC900 DLP Projector
While plasma and LCD flat-panel TVs get all of the media attention these days as "must-have" products, they're still rather high on the dollars-per-square-foot scale. Mitsubishi's HC900 blows the glass guys out of the water in terms of visual area capability per dollar spent and shows that the transition from the boardroom-presentation-projector market to the home theater venue can have significant benefits for the savvy home-cinema shopper.
The HC900 features Texas Instruments' Matterhorn DMD (digital micromirror device) chip, a 16:9 affair that, while not quite up to the level of true high definition, is close enough that the visual result is fairly close to HD, picture-wise. Clocking in at 1,024 by 576 pixels, the Matterhorn chip falls short of TI's true HD DLP chip offerings, but projectors so-equipped can retail for thousands less than their higher-end, single-chip HD DLP brethren. So, what we have here is a near-beer, not-quite-HD DLP, but one that seems just as tasty as the HD real deal.
Mitsubishi tries to give it to you both ways, promising lots of light and high contrast. Sorry, but you can't have it all. If you want your lumens and your contrast, you have to pick one or the other. They cheerfully acknowledge that the projector puts out a way-bright picture at the standard out-of-the-box settings; but, at the same time, they also point out that the HC900 is equipped with a number of light-reduction features that can provide the deep blacks that HT-lovers crave. As with many other light-bulb projectors, the HC900 has a lower lamp mode, which drops the light output down by about 20 percent. This cuts the fan noise substantially and provides a surprising doubling of the lamp life, up from 2,000 hours in standard mode to 4,000 hours in the lower lamp mode. With most other bulb-based projectors that feature a low lamp mode, the lamp life typically remains the same as it is with the higher setting.
The HC900 also lets you dial down the light output even more via their CineFocus adjustable-iris feature. CineFocus further constricts the light output to the point where you can achieve a sufficiently bright picture, as well as experience finely detailed blacks, with about a 35 percent reduction in light output when the iris is fully stopped down.
There is more home theater goodness here, with the HC900's substantial optical offset. That is the amount of optical shift from the screen centerline that allows you to position the projector either well below the screen's bottom edge (for tabletop installation) or raised well above the screen's top edge when ceiling-mounted, which is the most likely installation scenario for most users. With my midsized, 78-inch-diagonal, 16:9 screen, the HC900 provides about a foot of offset, which means that, when ceiling-mounted, the projector is well above the screen's top edge.
To prevent flare, the lens features an eyelid that eliminates light overspray. This kills stray reflectance that would otherwise illuminate above the top of the screen and ceiling or bounce off the coffee table, should you forgo a ceiling-mount installation.
The HC900 also features a white-peaking control, called CineRichColor, which pushes up bright white scenes, providing some extra vividness and vitality. Think of it as a reverse white-crush control that extends the visual dynamic range. You can also turn it down to prevent white shimmering in bright, high-contrast scenes.
Compared with its HD siblings, the lower-resolution Matterhorn chip's downside is its larger individual pixel size and poorer fill factor, the dark spacing around each pixel. Sit too close to a too-large screen, and the dreaded screen-door effect rears its head. With my moderately sized screen and at a proper seating distance, I was never bothered by that impairment.
Happy I was too with the HC900's picture quality. On the test bench, it performed well. With HD material, I occasionally forgot that the projector isn't quite up to the true HD level. DVDs also looked fine. The set's internal deinterlacer did a great job, as did the scaler, putting up a picture that had good, deep blacks, clear and detailed bright whites, and accurate fleshtones with no upconversion artifacts. At a quite reasonable $2,995, the HC900 butts heads with true HD-spec LCD projectors in the same price range, but DLP seems to have that little extra visual punch and snap that viewers love. With the HC900, I think I've found a new favorite budget projector to recommend to my always-inquiring friends.
• Near-HD DLP resolution at a cost of thousands less
• Smart light-control options, adjustable iris
• Super-long lamp life in the lower bulb setting