Mitsubishi HC5000 LCD Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors LCD Projectors
Written by Kevin Miller   
Sunday, 01 July 2007

Introduction
It has been raining 1080p HDTVs in all the different display categories, and the front-projection arena has a slew of new high-resolution models at surprisingly aggressive price points for consumers to choose from. There are three display technologies dominating front projection. They are LCD, LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon), which is a derivative of LCD, and DLP (Digital Light Processing). Unlike most manufacturers, Mitsubishi is betting on two horses in this race, as they currently make and sell both LCD and DLP front projectors. Their recently introduced HC5000 is the company’s first 1080p front projector. A three-panel LCD projector, the HC5000 is Mitsubishi’s flagship model at the time of this review. There is no display technology where this vaunted high resolution can be appreciated more then with front-projection systems where we can create truly large cinematic viewing experiences in the home.

Design
Modest and basic are the first two words that come to mind when I contemplate the HC5000's design. It is on the small side, measuring just 13.1 by 4.9 by 13.8 inches (W x H x D), and weighing in at just 12.3 pounds. My review sample was finished in white and accentuated with black on both sides, underneath the chassis and around the lens. When flipped upside down for a ceiling-mount configuration, the lens assembly is all the way on the left side of the unit, which is not quite as attractive as projectors like Mitsubishi’s own HC3000 768p resolution one-chip DLP projector, which has the lens assembly mounted square in the middle of the chassis. All the input jacks on the HC5000 are located on the rear of the projector.

The HC5000’s remote is a model of excellence in terms of design and practicality. Direct access keys for all the most important features and functionality make adjustments on the fly a snap, and will be a welcome thing for custom installers who typically need to program its functionality into a Crestron or AMX touch panel remote system. Hit any key and all the buttons instantly light up, which is another very practical feature, as it makes use in a darkened home theater quite convenient. Like the projector, it is small, fits well in the hand, and gives you thumb access to the most important buttons like Menu, Iris and Aspect ratio controls, to name just a few.

Features
As far as the video connections are concerned, I find the HC5000 a bit limited. While there is only one HDMI input, there is also a DVI input that can be used as a second digital input. However, with virtually all source components today sporting HDMI outputs, you will have to get a DVI to HDMI adaptor to make it work for digital video sources. Of course, the DVI input could also be used with an HDPC as a video source. One RCA jack-style component input and a 15-pin VGA input can be configured as RGB for PCs or component for video, effectively giving the HC5000 two component video inputs. Of course, for NTSC legacy formats like VHS, there is also one S-Video and one composite video input on board. An RS-232 control port and a 12-volt trigger for electric drop-down screens wrap up the connectivity options.

The HC5000 offers many useful features that make it quite flexible from a set-up perspective. First and most impressive, especially for a relatively inexpensive front projector, is the fact that the HC5000 gives you electronic Zoom, Focus, and Lens Shift features. Equally impressive is the fact that it offers both horizontal and vertical lens shift, which is something a lot of LCD projectors have, but very few models give you the luxury of electronically controlling these key features. For some reason, horizontal lens shift is still relatively rare in DLP projector designs. Compare this flexibility to the Sharp XV-Z20000 1080p DLP projector, which sells for twice the price and gives you only vertical lens shift and Zoom, Focus and lens shift features that are all manual, making set-up much more difficult and time-consuming. Color temperature selections on the HC5000 include Warm, Medium, Cool and User. I found Medium to be the best compromise for the color of the grayscale. It was blue on the bottom, but near the broadcast standard of 6500 Kelvins on the top of the grayscale. The Warm selection, which is usually the most accurate, was far too red.

The adjustability of the Iris on digital projectors like the HC5000 is arguably the most important feature for set-up. This is perhaps the Mitsubishi HC5000’s biggest weakness. On any projector like this, you should have the ability to select a variety of apertures on the Iris to achieve the best blacks and light output for a given system. You would normally stop the Iris down for better black level performance on smaller screens and open it up accordingly for larger screen sizes, where you need more light output. Unfortunately, this is not an option with the HC5000, which provides three Auto Iris settings and an Open setting. The Auto settings are not desirable, as white and black levels change depending upon the content of the picture, and the Open setting, while fixed, completely opens the Iris, which severely compromises the black level performance of the projector. There are several Gamma settings to choose from. Cinema and User seemed to be identical, and both these choices produced the slowest rise out of black for the best black level performance. I settled on the User gamma setting for my evaluation.

Performance
I would like to see Mitsubishi add some adjustability to the Iris on this projector, so we could get better blacks without having to resort to using one of the Auto Iris settings. I am at a loss as to why digital projector manufacturers are so caught up with the Auto Iris mechanism. Essentially what it does is change the contrast level on the fly, depending on how bright or dark the picture is. This of course simultaneously changes the blacks, floating them up too high in bright scenes, and potentially crushing them when the picture content is dark. What that means is that you will almost never have a correct black level setting. Unfortunately, this is clearly visible when watching movies, and consequently very distracting. This is one of the many consumer electronics “features” that wreak havoc with picture quality. While I would normally advise you to turn it off, the only setting with it off is Open, which opens the aperture completely, totally compromising the blacks. Therefore, I chose the best compromise, which is the Auto 1 setting.

Overall color accuracy on the HC5000 is relatively good. Color decoding is accurate for both SD and HD sources, and grayscale tracking is reasonably good for an LCD projector after an ISF-style calibration. Primary and secondary colors are not accurate, which unfortunately is the norm for inexpensive front projection systems like the HC5000. However, I must say the primary and secondary colors are not as offensively wrong as on many projectors in this category. Even at the best Gamma setting (Cinema or User), the projector comes out of black much too fast, which ultimately compromises shadow detail, as it robs the picture of many layers of gray just above black. The gamma is not as good as I have seen on similar projectors. The poor gamma characteristics, and the inability to stop down and fix the Iris to a setting that produces better blacks, means black level performance is compromised and not as good as most of the competitively-priced LCD and DLP projectors currently on the market.

On the positive side, the lens on the HC5000 is quite good for a sub-$5,000 projector. This was clearly evident to me when sizing and focusing the projector in my theater, because there were a distinct lack of chromatic aberrations, and the resulting pictures were extremely well-defined and crisp. Video processing, courtesy of Silicon Optix and their REON chip set, was clean and relatively noise-free. I was also pleased to find that it passed the Video Resolution Loss test on Silicon Optix’s new HQV Benchmark HD DVD test DVD. This is an SMPTE test pattern that shows how well, or not so well, a video processing algorithm de-interlaces 1080i HD material. This means that, with the HC5000, you get all the resolution from 1080i HD signals, which is not true of all projectors in this price range. Unfortunately, I found that the HC5000 doesn’t handle 1080p/24Hz well, truncating some of the resolution at the HDMI input. As with many digital projectors today, the HC5000 won’t accept 1080p in any format at the component input. To Mitsubishi’s credit, that’s not surprising, given the importance of HDCP copy protection. It may also be the reason that it doesn’t deliver the full resolution from 1080i HD sources at the component input, either. White field uniformity, normally the Achilles heel of all LCD-based projectors, was actually relatively good, with minimal color shift when looking at a completely white field.

My immediate impression after calibration when I fired up King Kong (Universal Studios Home Video) in HD DVD was that blacks were washed-out-looking and not as deep and rich as I would have expected. This was painfully apparent in the scene where the adventurers reach Skull Island on the boat in the dark fog. Looking into the picture, the dark areas are simply not dark enough, but rather a muddy dark gray. I have to attribute this to the Auto Iris being hard at work. Conversely, some dark material was rendered fairly well, with decent shadow detail. A good example of this is Chapter 25 of Batman Begins (Warner Home Video), which is the car chase scene that takes place at night. Oddly enough, blacks were also sometimes compromised when you wouldn’t expect them to be, with neutral or medium bright scenes earlier in the film. Blacks were particularly poor, with very bright images on a dark background. I caught a glimpse of a night-time rocket launch on my Time Warner cable HD feed, and the blacks in the background were not nearly as rich and deep as they should've been.

Brighter material generally fared better on the HC5000. Chapter 3 of Crank (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) on Blu-ray looked pretty snappy indeed. I have come to the conclusion that the HC5000 looks its best when the intensity of light is constant, which is the case in this scene. When the brightness of the picture varies a lot, then the shifting black and white levels become more visible.

Speaking of cable HD, after living with superior formats, such as HD DVD and Blu-ray, for about six months now, it is somewhat underwhelming in terms of picture quality to watch HD on cable. It is amazing how quickly we get spoiled when we are fed a diet of super-high-quality, lower-compression video. Nonetheless, the picture from my reference HD channels Discovery HD and HDNET did look reasonably good, particularly with bright images.

The Downside
Blacks and shadow detail are the Mitsubishi HC5000’s biggest weaknesses. I wouldn’t make such a big deal of this if it weren’t for the fact that the competition, both at the same price point and below it, is better than the HC5000. A simple change adding more flexibility to the fixed Iris settings would go a long way to solving this problem. I would also like to see at least one more HDMI input on the projector. This would add flexibility, given the fact that the component inputs are flawed by a loss of resolution with HD sources, and that the industry as a whole is moving toward HDMI as the standard format for connectivity.

Conclusion
Mitsubishi’s HC5000 leaves a bit to be desired in overall performance when compared to many other 1080p projectors in the $4,000 to $5,000 price range. When you consider the fact that contrast ratio is the most important element of the picture to the human eye, and that black level performance is directly related to contrast ratio, you then see why the HC5000’s lack of truly compelling blacks is a problem. One of the main competitors to the HC5000 is Sony's VPL-VW50, a.k.a. the Pearl. The 5000 definitely produces sharper, more well-defined pictures than the Sony, but the Sony beats it in the areas of black level and shadow detail. My reference projector, the Samsung SP-H710AE 720p one-chip DLP projector at about $3,000, handily outperforms the HC5000 in all areas of picture performance and is less expensive.
Manufacturer Mitsubishi
Model HC5000 LCD Video Projector
Reviewer Kevin Miller





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