Mitsubishi HC3000 £1900

1st Mar 2006 | 00:00

As another HD Ready DLP projector breaks the £2k barrier

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

For a DLP projector for under £2,000, this is a good effort

Like:

<p>Good value</p>

Dislike:

<p>Not pretty</p><p>Lacking in detail</p>

The arrival of high-definition in the UK has seemingly caught DLP technology on the hop - and in doing so opened a window of opportunity for its LCD rival.

The problem for DLP is that Texas Instruments has only relatively recently developed an affordable 16:9-ratio DLP chipset with the 720 lines (minimum) of resolution necessary to earn the HD Ready badge. These chipsets still demand more of a premium than more readily available, similarly-specced LCD systems.

The result is that DLP HD Ready projectors have struggled to compete with LCD models on price. So, while cheap LCD HD competitors are now fairly common, and even quality offerings like Hitachi's PJ-TX200 and Panasonic's PTAE900 both break £1,500, the Mitsubishi HC3000 is to date only the second DLP model I've seen to sneak under £2k (the other being BenQ's impressive PE7700). The question is, how severely has the HC3000 been compromised to hit its price point?

To be honest, the HC3000 presents a pretty ugly face to the world - unless you happen to find swathes of plastic, bland shapes and industrial looking grilles particularly attractive.

Connectivity considerably improves my mood though, by including an HDMI jack and component video inputs. There's good support, too, from a D-Sub PC interface, a 12V trigger output, USB and serial connectors, plus S-video and composite video options for anyone willing to sully their nice new projector with such standard-definition sources.

The HC3000's native resolution is not the 1280 x 720 usually found on DLP projectors, but rather 1280 x 768 - a subtle distinction perhaps, but one which makes it more compatible with WXGA or XGA computer standards, and means you've got 48 lines to play with for shifting the image up or down a little if it helps your installation.

Other key stats include a claimed 4000:1 contrast ratio and maximum 1000 Lumens brightness.

On the features front, the HC3000's most intriguing is its BrilliantColour option. Designed by Texas Instruments, BrilliantColour in its fullest form is intended to improve colour tones by using a new processing chipset in tandem with a special colour wheel. But actually this Mitsubishi doesn't use the special colour wheel, instead adapting the BrilliantColour chipset to work with a standard six-segment, four-speed affair.

Another trick of interest to movie fans is the projector's Low Lamp mode. As well as reducing fan noise (to very low levels) and increasing lamp life, this also benefits black level response - though the brightness drops down to 700 Lumens.

Black levels can be increased even further courtesy of an iris open/close toggle, with the closed option reducing the amount of light let through the lens.

Setting the HC3000 up proves reasonably straightforward. I liked the provision of both horizontal and vertical keystone adjustments for correcting the image shape, even if the projector is set to the side of (as well as above or below) the centre of your screen. The only downer is a zoom range of only x 1.2, which potentially limits the room sizes it will comfortably work in.

Let loose on various movies and TV shows, the HC3000 shows little sign of its cut-price nature.

The first thing I noticed during my evaluation was how impeccably free the pictures are from DLP's common problems with fizzing noise over motion, dot crawl, or low-level green tizzing over darker images. This gives them a directness that immediately draws you into the movie's world.

Black levels are outstanding for such an affordable PJ too - provided, at least, that you run the projector in its Low Lamp mode. With this activated the richness and naturalness of the HC3000's dark areas clearly betters the BenQ PE7700 DLP model, as well as Hitachi and Panasonic. I wouldn't particularly recommend that you also call in the Iris Close option though, since this goes a bit too far, obliterating background and shadow detail, and in doing so making the picture look flatter.

More good news comes from the HC3000's colours. For the vast majority of time they are superbly natural in tone, and delineated with unusual subtlety. Initially, though, they don't seem especially vibrant - but switching on the BrilliantColour feature sorts this out. BrilliantColour noticeably improves mid-tones without impacting those nice, dark shadow areas, resulting in an image which, in terms of sheer dynamism, rivals anything else at a similar price-point in the DLP world and outdoes anything LCD can manage. Only the very occasional over-wrought colour tone showed that there might still be room for improvement with any future BrilliantColour 2 system...

The HC3000 really only has one Achilles heel: DLP's characteristic rainbow effect. Even by DLP standards this tendency for stripes of colour to become evident over contrasting parts of the picture seems more prevalent than usual - and it is, of course, especially noticeable if considered alongside rainbow-free LCD technology.

I guess it's also fair to say that some of this Mitsubishi's rivals fare slightly better when it comes to fine detail response. Premium HD footage on the HC3000 lacks some of the clarity and texturing witnessed on some more expensive DLP models and, more pertinently, some much cheaper LCD models - especially Hitachi's excellent PJ-TX200.

This isn't to say that the Mitsi's HD portrayal is substandard; it's actually still a pleasure to behold, and very cinematic with it. But if razor sharpness is your thing, the Hitachi PJ-TX200 may suit you more - and save you a few hundred quid into the bargain.

If I had to choose I'd take a better visual dynamic range over greater sharpness when it comes to movie viewing. So for me, even with its occasional rainbow effect problems, the HC3000 still does enough to justify its extra cost over its main LCD rivals - as well as comparing well with its main DLP rival, the BenQ PE7700.

The HC3000 may not be a looker, but its pictures will steal your heart - if you can stand the rainbows. John Archer

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