We have a pre-production sample of the Mitsubishi HC3800 in house, so I will take a moment to post our notes on this model thus far. The HC3800 is not scheduled to ship until next month, and we will update these preliminary notes with a final review once we have received and been able to evaluate a finished production unit.
Lumen output. We measured our test sample in two operating modes, Sports and Cinema. The Sports mode is the brightest of the precalibrated modes available on the HC3800. With the lamp on full power, and lens set to wide angle, the Sports mode generated 1074 ANSI lumens. Putting the unit into low lamp mode reduces lumen output by 21%, to 851 lumens.
The sample measures a very high 734 ANSI lumens in Cinema mode with lamp on full and lens at wide angle. Low lamp reduces it to 580 lumens. Using the extreme telephoto end of the 1.5x zoom reduces lumen output by 18% compared to its output with the lens at wide angle. This is a relatively modest loss for a 1.5x zoom lens.
Thus, for those with a dark viewing room, the HC3800 delivers a lot of versatility. With a maximum potential of 734 lumens in Cinema mode, there is ample headroom to take advantage of the extended 5000 hour lamp life in low lamp mode, and to set the zoom wherever it is most advantageous without worrying about lumen output being constricted too much.
Contrast. Preliminary manufacturer's specification claims a 4000:1 full on/off contrast ratio. However, actual ANSI contrast exceeds 600:1. In practical terms, during side by side viewing, the HC3800 visibly surpasses the contrast, black level, and color saturation of both the Samsung A600 and the Optoma HD20.
Sharpness. The HC3800 delivers an extremely sharp image, surpassing that of the less expensive Optoma HD20. Sharpness is comparable to the Samsung A600, a projector which also renders superb detail. However, due to the inherent contrast advantage of the HC3800 over the A600, the HC3800 appears to be slightly sharper.
The test sample has a sharpness setting which defaults to zero, with an adjustment range of -5 to +5. This means that, out of the box, there is some edge enhancement in the picture. Many users will prefer to operate with sharpness set to the zero default setting since edge enhancement artifacts at this position are minimal, but the picture does look noticeably sharper. Purists may want to reduce the setting to -2, -3, or even -5. Since this is a preproduction sample, final factory default calibration settings are not yet cast in stone, so this data may or may not change once we see production units.
Throw angle. The HC3800 has a fixed upward throw angle that places the bottom edge of the projected image 29% of the image height above the centerline of the lens. Thus if you are projecting a 100" diagonal image, it will have a vertical height of 49". There will be about 14" between the bottom edge of the image and the centerline of the lens. This will be handy for either ceiling mounting, or placing the unit on a coffee table or between the seats. Placing the projector on a rear shelf above the seats will require a tilt and keystone correction (not recommended).
Further evaluation and retesting will be done once we get a production unit HC3800 with final factory calibrations. But from what we've seen thus far, at a retail of $1,495 and street prices somewhat less, the HC3800 appears to be properly value priced compared to the Optoma HD20 at $999. Both of these projectors represent compelling values in DLP 1080p projection, and each has its unique advantages over the other. Though the Optoma HD20 delivers a remarkable image for the money, the HC3800 is clearly a step up in brightness, contrast, and sharpness. However, one needs to see them side by side to appreciate the differences.
Standing alone, the HD20 is impressive. It will amaze family and friends when they hear it is only $999. For those looking for a bargain 1080p deal, the HD20 is tough to beat. However, if you have a few hundred extra, and you are among those that want the very best picture quality your budget will allow, the HC3800 is well worth the extra cash.
We have not yet seen the Vivitek H1080FD, which is another new 1080p DLP projector for $999, but it may be yet another attractive option in the world of inexpensive 1080p projectors. We look forward to seeing it, as well as the HC3800 in its final production form, and we will write these up as soon as we can.