Mitsubushi HC900E £1900
1st Mar 2005 | 00:00
Bright days with affordable DLP
While it only has one chip, looks functional rather than sumptuous, and suffers a lower native resolution than equivalently-priced projectors (mostly LCDs, to be fair), Mitsubishi's cheaper brother to the company's flagship HC2000 pulls a few pleasant surprises.
Not in the build stakes, however. Even though it'll be hidden from view, there's nothing boy's toy about this Mitsi; it's bland at best. But, there's a more worrying aspect to its casing - whilst having the front and sides completely grilled helps ventilation, it also bleeds light like a haemophiliac firefly.
There's no skimping on noise pollution either, certainly when operating at full brightness. During quieter, dramatic, scenes it has a tendency to hum more than a tramp's socks.
The range of inputs on the HC900E is respectable and includes an HDCP (High-Definition Content Protection) compliant DVI-D port - handy for Sky's HDTV service to be launched in 2006. There's also component video (coupled with stereo R/L), S-video, composite video/audio and VGA inputs; that's more than enough to consider the projector future-proof.
Like the build quality, the native resolution of 1,024 x 576 doesn't seem overly impressive but there's pixie magic at work to minimise artefacts and offer a picture comparable to its price-level peers - and, in some cases, better. The T1 Matterhorn DLP chip is actually a perfect match for DVD and standard-definition digital services, reducing pixel stretching and therefore blockiness.
More impressive still is the manufacturer's claim of a best-case contrast ratio of 4,000:1 and, although I think that's an exaggeration, it's capable of nearing that figure. Also, it boasts an output of 1,500 ANSI Lumens that, if coupled with its contrast, would have made the HC900E a miraculous proposition.
Unfortunately, though, it can't deliver full brightness and maximum contrast at the same time. Nonetheless, it can reach happy compromises depending on the viewing circumstances.
Driven by a 250W UHP lamp and a seven-segment colour wheel, the projector uses a white segment (the others made up of two sets of red, green and blue) combined with a CineRichColour feature to achieve full brightness.
Normally, the inclusion of a white filter has a tendency to produce a washed-out picture in both colour depth and blackness levels, but in this instance its adjustability allows you to set custom white levels, therefore enhancing, rather than impairing, the image.
For instance, in a bright room with lots of ambient light, you can set the brightness high enough to get a decent image; dropping the contrast ratio to around 2,700:1. Conversely, the brightness can be set at around 550 ANSI Lumens for a blackout scenario, allowing the contrast ratio to deliver excellent blacks. This allows for a superb quality picture in most situations.
Unfortunately, fine-tuning this model to deliver its best performance can make for a mildly frustrating experience, at least until you have become fully au fait with the clanky menu system. There are even some features on the menu screens that are so badly labelled you'll sit there for ages wondering what they actually do.
However, as this is a problem that's solved by reading the manual and using the projector for a while, you'll soon get used to its foibles. And it's worth doing so, because the picture quality outweighs any caveats.
This is mainly down to the HC900E's brightness levels, which are exemplary straight from the box. On anything up to a 2m screen, it makes an outstanding initial impression and betters many rival DLP projectors. The contrast is very distinct too, with deep, strong blacks, but suffers from some minor shadow detail loss if you don't reduce the brightness.
As previously mentioned, this depends on the ambient light situation, but minor detail loss can be excused for normal television viewing, certainly when the detail resolving ability of the Matterhorn chip makes for crisp edges, smooth transitions and a lack of image shadows.
The HC900E is very well specified for its price and must be commended for its connectivity. Although it may not be able to go head-to-head with LCD projectors for HD-ready resolution, a far smoother and more cinematic picture is offered.
It's also lacking the dreaded rainbow effect - even with its colour-wheel roots. And with a lamp-life of around 4,000hrs, the long-term cost is minimised. This truly is great value for money all-round.