Two outstanding projectors featuring TI's 1024x576 Matterhorn DLP chip are the Mitsubishi HC900U and the Studio Experience Premier 30HD. They are both fully-featured, widescreen home theater projectors with native resolutions designed for optimum display of the PAL and SECAM 576-line video formats, and they handle all video formats in the NTSC and HDTV worlds as well. However, resolution is about where the similarities end. Each has unique advantages over the other, as this side by side comparative review will illustrate.

HC900U Premier 30HD
Resolution: 1024x576 1024x576
Lumens: 1500 ANSI 800 ANSI
Contrast: 2000:1 On/Off 2000:1 On/Off
Display Device: Single-Chip DLP,
4x 7 segment wheel
Single-Chip DLP,
5x 6 segment wheel
Compatibility: 1080i, 720p, 576i/p, 480i/p 1080i, 720p, 576i/p, 480i/p
Lens: 1.25:1 Manual zoom/focus 1.25:1 Manual zoom/focus
Throw Distance: 100" diagonal from 11.8'-14.8' 100" diagonal from 9.9'-12.25'
Lamp Life: 2,000h std / 4,000h low lamp mode 2,000h std / 3,000h eco mode
Connection Panel: 1 Composite, 1 S-Video,
1 YPbPr Component-in, 15-pin VGA-in,
DVI-D w/HDCP
1 Composite, 1 S-Video,
2 YPbPr Component-in, 15-pin VGA-in,
DVI-D w/HDCP, 15-pin RS-232 port
Warranty: 2 years, 90 days for lamp 3 years, 120 days for lamp

Performance

Both of these projectors have the potential to look exceptionally good after some adjustments of the picture controls, but out of the box they required some fine-tuning. The HC900 had some issues with sharpness and edge definition, but the ten-step grayscale was well-defined. The 30HD had excellent color, but the grayscale was getting crushed in the 20 IRE - 0 IRE range, and edges were a bit blurry. With both of these projectors, as with most models on the market, a little fine tuning goes a long way.

In terms of brightness, the HC900 had a clear advantage in pure light output over the 30HD. However, the HC900 reaches its highest lumen output (up to a maximum of over 1000) in viewing modes best suited to data presentation or video gaming. With settings optimized for video, the HC900 will deliver 300 to 400 ANSI lumens while still retaining optimal video settings - beyond this, you start to compromise picture quality in favor of brightness. Meanwhile, the 30HD puts out a whopping 580 ANSI lumens, even after video optimization. Therefore, contrary to what you might imagine from the specs, the 30HD is the brighter of the two units when they are optimized for dark theater viewing.

The 30HD has better black levels and shadow detail as well. The HC900's blacks were not as deep, and shadow detail, while quite good, lacked the crystal-clear definition of the 30HD. Both projectors had some noticeable dither in mid-tones, but neither was severe enough to cause a significant problem.

The HC900 possesses a feature known as CineFocus, which is a manually-controlled iris which can be adjusted to boost contrast at the expense of lumen output. (This feature is only accessible through the remote control, and is not documented in the product manual.) The 30HD does not have a variable iris.

The 30HD held a slight edge in terms of color accuracy and saturation; the HC900's reds were too hot, even after calibration, and certain color edges had a tendency to halo, producing some softness in the image. The 30HD, in comparison, was very accurate with its color performance, requiring little adjustment to produce a balanced picture.

With regard to deinterlacing and scaling of standard definition NTSC video, the results were a toss-up. The HC900's motion-adaptive deinterlacing was slightly superior to that of the 30HD, yielding a picture that was a bit more stable in high motion scenes; however, its scaling rendered a marginally softer image. The 30HD did a better job of scaling 480-line signals to 576 without a significant loss of sharpness, but deinterlacing artifacts were somewhat more prevalent.

ViewSonic M1
WVGA Home Video Projector
ViewSonic M1
WVGA Home Video Projector

HDTV performance on these two projectors is exceptional. Both the HC900 and the 30HD do an outstanding job of downscaling 720p and 1080i signals back to native resolution. Of the two, the 30HD maintains a slight edge in this area, with more solid black levels and shadow detail giving the picture better snap, and delivering an overall more satisfying viewing experience.

However, when it comes to video gaming, it is the HC900's turn to shine. With most video games, you will want some ambient light in the room to allow you to see the controller while you play. It is usually a good idea to boost lumen output on the projector to compensate for the effects of this ambient light. With the HC900's capability to boost light output to over 1000 lumens, image quality from an Xbox console using a component video signal looked amazing. Even when using a composite signal (the stock cable included with the Xbox) the image was bright and clear, with sharp edges and a remarkable lack of color bleeding. Meanwhile, though the 30HD looked good, it lacks the higher lumen output that the HC900 is able to deliver. The results from an Xbox-generated composite video signal to the 30HD was acceptable, but the HC900 maintained a clear edge in performance.

Features

Both of these projectors are full-featured, and clearly built with the home-theater consumer in mind.

The HC900's 4x rotation speed, 7-segment color wheel eliminates rainbow artifacts for the vast majority of viewers. The 5x speed, 6-segment color wheel on the 30HD is incrementally faster and reduces the problem somewhat further. However, the number of people who see rainbows on a 4x speed wheel but do not see them using a 5x speed wheel is likely very small. We always recommend auditioning any DLP projector before making a final purchase commitment, just to ensure that you are not one of the few that may be distracted by rainbow artifacts.

Both projectors feature extensive color controls. The HC900's color temperature adjustment system offers gain and offset controls for red and blue. The 30HD's extremely powerful color temperature adjustment system contains brightness and contrast controls for red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow. While either system allows for a large degree of color adjustment and color temperature setting, the system built in to the 30HD allows for several degrees of control not present in the HC900.

The 30HD allows for some in-depth calibration options that the HC900 lacks, such as a comprehensive gamma adjustment tool, as well as options relating to vertical and horizontal placement of the image within the 16:9 frame. We found this last option especially useful during 2.35:1 films, where we brought the image down so that there was only one black bar at the top of the image.

The HC900 features sRGB mode, which automatically color-matches source material to NTSC, PAL, or HDTV standards. While this feature is not perfect, the improvement it provides to image quality is only topped by an in-depth calibration. For those who do not want to spend time calibrating their projector, this option is a life-saver.

The HC900's sealed light engine gives it an edge in convenience, since there are no filters to clean or change every month or two. Therefore, until it is time to change the lamp, the HC900 is more or less maintenance-free.

The cost of a replacement lamp becomes a factor in your projector purchase later down the line, but it is wise to prepare for it now. A replacement lamp for the Mitsubishi HC900u is currently around $300, while the lamp for the Premier 30HD is $400. These prices are not unusual for replacement lamps. The good news is that both of these units will normally be run in low lamp mode for normal home theater viewing. In this mode the HC900 lamp life is 4000 hours, and the 30HD is 3000 hours. But even 3000 hours equates to enough viewing time to watch 1,500 two-hour movies. So you have plenty of time to budget for the lamp replacement.

Ease of Use

Throw distance and throw angles are important considerations with these projectors. The Mitsubishi HC900 projects a 100" diagonal image from 11.8' to 14.8', depending on zoom. The 30HD will display the same sized image from 9.9' to 12.25'. The throw distance differential by itself may be a deciding factor between these two models.

In addition, the HC900 has a fixed throw angle with an offset such that the bottom edge of the projected image is 36% of the image height above the center of the lens. So, with a 100" diagonal image, the bottom edge of the image will appear 18" above the center of the lens.

Meanwhile, the 30HD offers physical lens shift, which is not present on the HC900. With the 30HD's lens shift range, the bottom edge of the projected image can be positioned anywhere from 67% of the screen height below the lens centerline to 3% above the lens centerline vertically. Horizontally, the projector allows a shift of about 8% of the screen width in either direction. This flexibility allows you to put the projector a bit off-center from the screen without worrying about keystone adjustments. For example, with a 100" diagonal image, the bottom edge of the picture can be placed vertically anywhere from 32" below the centerline of the lens to 2" above it, and allows for 7" of play to either side horizontally. This makes the 30HD ideal for a high rear shelf mount. On the other hand, the HC900's fixed throw angle is better suited to either a coffee table placement or ceiling mount installation.

Both projectors offer keystone adjustments as well. The HC900's vertical keystone adjustment allows for plus or minus 20 degrees of keystone, and does a good job of scaling the image and keeping details sharp. The 30HD's vertical and horizontal keystone adjustments allow for 15 degrees of adjustment in any direction, and the projector keeps scaling softness to a minimum. However, it is best to avoid keystone adjustments if you have the option to do so.

Both projectors feature easy-to-use menu systems (that are, coincidentally, both a bit too large on the screen for comfort) and have backlit remote controls which felt responsive and snappy during testing.

These units are comparable in audible noise from the fans, and they are somewhat louder than many home theater projectors we see these days, even in their respective low lamp modes. The HC900U is rated at 30dB in low lamp mode; the 30HD is rated at 29dB in eco mode. If you have the option, try to mount them some distance from the seating area to minimize distraction from fan noise.

The HC900 expels heat directly out the front of the case and slightly to the right; this heat travels a good distance due to the strength of the fan. It would be wise, then, to avoid seating someone in front of and to the right of this unit, to avoid discomfort. The 30HD exhausts hot air in the same direction, but its fan is not quite as powerful, and therefore it should pose less of a problem.

Last, but not least; should you encounter a problem with your projector, manufacturer warranty can make all the difference in the world. Mitsubishi offers a 2-year warranty on the HC900, with 90 days on the lamp, while the 30HD comes with 3 years parts/labor and 120 days on the lamp.

Conclusion

In scheduling this review, we did not expect to find two very different projectors, each suited to entirely different conditions; however, this is what we found.

The Studio Experience Premier 30HD is a solid performer with video, and even does a great job with NTSC video, which is unusual in a projector built for optimum PAL/SECAM display. If you plan to buy a projector primarily for standard definition and HD video, and have a dedicated, light-controlled viewing room, the 30HD is an excellent choice. The 30HD puts out an impressive amount of light when video optimized, but not enough to overcome moderate to severe ambient lighting concerns. And it is best suited to rear shelf mounting, as its lens shift range would make coffee table or ceiling mounting difficult.

The Mitsubishi HC900U is an excellent choice for those who wish to do more than just watch DVD and HDTV. Its impressively high lumen output can easily handle data, Xbox gaming, and even casual television viewing when ambient light is present. Due to the fixed upward throw angle, the HC900 is well suited for coffee table or ceiling mounting, which gives you the option of a casual set-up for weekend DVD watching or xbox gaming, or a more advanced permanent setup on your ceiling.

When choosing a projector, image quality is important, but it is not the only important factor to take into account. Your expected typical usage, viewing material, and room constraints must be considered in the selection. The HC900 and 30HD are both impressive projectors overall and they share a few common characteristics. But they are each distinctive in design and thus appropriate for different types of home entertainment use.