The Mitsubishi HC3800 is a new DLP 1080p projector that bridges the gap between sub-$1000 1080p projectors that have very good but not leading edge image quality, and 1080p projectors at $2,000 and up which are more fully featured. Its bright picture and solid contrast make it ideal for large-screen use in a darkened theater, but it could easily serve secondary duty in a living room during football season. The HC3800's beautiful, film-like picture can be had for a mere $1,499. This review will cover its strengths and weaknesses, and discuss how it compares to the Epson 8100.
Lumen output. Thanks to its high lumen output, the HC3800 is appropriate for either cave-like theaters or bright living rooms. The HC3800 does not have image modes, per se, but it does offer several gamma and color temperature settings which you can mix and match to get the brightness and color balance you need.
"Sports" gamma, coupled with the "High Brightness" color temperature preset, create the brightest possible picture, which measured 1346 lumens on our test sample. This is actually higher than the 1300 lumens claimed on the spec sheet. Contrast in this mode is not as high as in other modes, nor is color balance anything to brag about, as it leans heavily towards green. But in a room with ambient light, it will provide the raw lumen power you need to put a dynamic picture up on the wall or screen.
"Cinema" gamma, coupled with one of the "User" color temperature calibrations, yields 621 lumens on our test sample. Thus, Cinema mode puts out a bright picture that is more than competitive with comparable projectors. The use of a screen up to 150" diagonal is possible in a dark room with good light control.
In many situations, 621 lumens is too bright. One way to lower lumen output is to choose Low lamp mode, which reduces light output by 15%. This not only lowers fan noise, but it also has the huge benefit of increasing potential lamp life from 2,000 to 5,000 hours. We suspect most users will want to run in low lamp mode to extend lamp life and keep fan noise to a minimum.
BrilliantColor, which despite the name does not have much of an effect on color, is enabled by default in Sports mode; disabling it reduces lumen output by 22%. BrilliantColor is not enabled by default in Cinema mode, so it is useful when you need to increase lumen output in Cinema mode and don't mind creating excessive brightness in the highlights (better for ambient light conditions).
Contrast. When a projector is rated at only 4000:1 contrast, many people assume that it is going to look dull and flat. This is not the case. The HC3800's ANSI contrast exceeds 600:1, which matches or beats that of many projectors that carry extreme on/off contrast ratings. What this means is that HC3800's black levels cannot compare with those of more expensive competitors. However, in the vast majority of scenes found in film content, the HC3800 looks just as dynamic and three-dimensional as any other projector on the market, and sometimes more so. The only time the level of black makes a big difference is when the screen goes black--for a title screen or an image of deep space, for example. You will notice a difference if you watch material involving night-time shots, as heavy shadows and night skies will look better on a projector with higher on/off contrast. But in scenes made up of average light levels, the HC3800's image is wonderful, with plenty of pop. Black levels are sufficiently black so as not to look muddy.