Conventional wisdom is a dangerous thing in the projector industry because the truth changes so rapidly. For example, everyone knows that LCD technology can't produce deep enough blacks and good enough shadow detail to deliver top quality video performance, right? That's partly why the higher contrast DLP technology became so popular with home theater enthusiasts. But with the release of the Mitsubishi X400, the engineers at Mitsubishi have made a bold and definitive statement: it's time for a conventional wisdom update-LCD is not what it used to be.
The X400 is Mitsubishi's new top-of-the-line 3000 ANSI lumen XGA projector. It is targeted primarily for the conference room market. But at just 14 lbs it is plenty portable for road travel when high lumen output is needed. And as startling as it may sound to some, the surprising contrast and rich color palette on this unit are good enough to place it among the elite of home theater performers as well. You might assume that a 3000 lumen rating is too bright for home theater. If you do, you may be overlooking the X400 to your detriment.
The X400 is Mitsubishi's current flagship product. At the heart of its light engine are three 1.3" native XGA (1,024 x 768) polysilicon LCD panels and a 250W NSH lamp with a 1500-hour half life. The X400 will accept VGA up to an SXGA (1,280 x 1,024) data signal, and just about every video signal you can think of including HDTV 1080i, 720p, 525p, progressive and interlaced component video, DVI (digital visual interface), S-video, and composite video.
The connector panel offers a convenient variety of input options for a projector of its weight and size. Included are two 15-pin D-SUBs for analog computer input as well as progressive and interlaced component video input. There is also a DVI-D24P terminal for DVI (digital video) input, and an input switch to select either analog or digital sources. Two S-video and two composite jacks are onboard, along with audio inputs for all sources, an RS-232C, a USB port, a wired remote jack, and a 15-pin D-SUB and associated audio jack for computer output.
The X400 has power zoom and focus, with the zoom lens having a 1.26:1 range. The lens is fixed with a maximum throw distance of 39 feet. Digital keystone correction allows adjustment up to (+/-) 15 degrees in 3 degree increments. Picture-in-picture enables the display of two sources at once. A digital zoom feature, which Mitsubishi calls the "Expand" mode, offers several display options including a full frame zoom, and the use of the PinP window to display the zoomed section while the normal image remains in the full frame. (The Expand function does not work with a video source.)
There are three factory pre-calibrated color temperature settings, High, Standard, and Low. In addition, the user can set a desired temperature as well. The user can adjust red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta, as well as color saturation. The user is also given brightness and contrast adjustments for the red and blue channels. These controls enable the user to calibrate the projector to whatever temperature is desired. Serious home theater enthusiasts will want to calibrate the color temperature themselves as none of the factory presets are ideal for video. However, hand calibration enables you to dial in the 6500 degrees that is desired for NTSC video. This setting can and should be adjusted periodically as color temperature may shift during the course of the lamp's life.
The Markets for the X400
Most projectors have feature sets that address certain market niches particularly well. Most of them also have deficiencies which make them not so suitable for market niches other than those to which they are targeted.
The X400 however is more universal in scope. It offers high performance and flexible connectivity for conference room, large classroom, and small auditorium use. (The fact that it has no interchangeable lens options for long throw will make it less applicable for large venues in which long throw is required.) Its 14 lb portability makes it ideal for trade shows and certain road warrior applications where larger audiences are involved. And its remarkable video performance makes it a strong contender for home theater. So the X400 is among the first of the digital projectors that can reasonably address a broad spectrum of the projector marketplace successfully.
The LCD vs. DLP Competition
LCD technology was always known for its visible pixel grid (the notorious "screendoor" effect) and its low contrast, lack of true blacks and muddy shadows. The fact that LCD was able to deliver reasonably accurate color was outweighed by these deficiencies, causing LCD-based projectors to receive at best a lukewarm reception in the home theater market.
Then DLP came onto the scene and attacked LCD technology at the very point of its weaknesses. DLP delivered much better contrast. And the nature of the technology was such that the pixel grid for any given resolution class was much less visible. Accordingly many home theater buyers who were not excited about LCD projectors were more willing to embrace DLP-based projectors as legitimate home theater solutions. Conventional wisdom took a life of its own-if you want great video performance, go DLP and forget about LCD.
Competition ensures that both technologies continue to advance at a rapid pace. The big LCD producers were not about to sit back and let DLP take the market without a fight. One of the things competition has done is moved the state of the art for reasonably prices projectors from SVGA to XGA resolution. The increase in resolution, which in practical terms amounts to a 64% increase in pixel density, has reduced the size of each pixel and thus the visibility of the pixel grid for both LCD and DLP displays. There is still a slight screendoor effect on XGA resolution LCDs, but it is nowhere near as objectionable as it was on lower resolution VGA and SVGA class machines. Bottom line-in the XGA class, pixel visibility is no longer as much of a competitive deficiency for LCD as it used to be.
Now the other major weakness of LCD, that of low contrast, is being addressed as well. As noted previously, Mitsubishi engineers have taken LCD technology to new levels in contrast performance. The black levels on the X400 are rich and uncompromising. In video, the X400 gives shadow details a distinct definition where other LCDs deliver only muddy confusion. The result is that videophiles will not have that sense that they have compromised on contrast to get the latent color accuracy of LCD technology.
Meanwhile, the rich and accurate color palette of the X400 shows off the true strength of LCD. Not only are highly-saturated colors exciting and flesh tones entirely realistic, but subtle earth tones, pastels, and rich but muted colors in films like Shakespeare in Love are displayed with an accuracy and finesse that is altogether satisfying.
With the traditional deficiencies of LCD evaporating before our eyes, DLP will suddenly find itself on the defensive. DLP was able to slide on color quality as long as LCD was so poor in contrast and pixel structure. But the ballgame is changing. Buyers will soon become much more aware and critical of the slight (sometimes not so slight) greenish-yellow tint that is common to many single chip DLP-based projectors. And single-chip DLP machines don't have the ability to tweak red, blue, and green independently as many of the three-panel LCD systems do.
DLP's latent color disadvantage was easy to live with when LCD looked so flat by comparison. But once it is clear that LCD can match, or for all practical purposes come close enough to matching the contrast of the DLP, Texas Instruments and the DLP-based projector vendors will feel pressure to bring DLP's color accuracy and control up to the performance of LCD in order to maintain a competitive position in the home theater arena.
Too bright for home theater?
Is the X400's 3000 ANSI lumen output too bright for home theater? Conventional wisdom says yes. We say absolutely not, with a big footnote. If the actual light on the screen was really 3000 lumens, that would indeed be too bright for home theater. However, on the X400 as with all digital projectors (and televisions for that matter), by the time you reduce contrast and brightness settings to get the ideal video calibration, you substantially reduce the actual lumen output of the unit. In the case of the X400, I reduced the brightness and contrast significantly in order to optimize video performance for my 7-foot wide, 1.3 gain screen. The result of this recalibration was to reduce actual brightness to 1800 lumens.
I watched the X400 for hours to see if I would develop any fatigue or eye-strain associated with the amount of light it was producing. There never came a time when I felt the picture was too bright or that the highlights were brash or annoying. The picture remained comfortable to watch throughout the entire test period. Indeed, the picture was all the more dramatic precisely because of its high lumens. The overall visual impression created by the combined brightness, color quality, and very adequate contrast was that I was watching a 7-foot wide direct view television set with no scanlines. All things considered, an impressive experience and one that is easy to recommend.
Video signals...how to feed the X400
In order to get a great picture out of the X400, you have to give it a great signal. Nothing new in the world of projectors I realize, but it must be said again here. In particular, the internal deinterlacing on the X400 is not great. This is a projector that needs some help from the outside in this regard. Feeding it plain composite or S-video will produce an image that has so many jaggies and jitters that it becomes tiresome to watch after a short period of time.
Options are plentiful however. To clean up an NTSC signal, you can use the DVDO iScan line doubler. Interlacing artifacts are reduced significantly with the use of this little box, which is available on the street for about $600. As for DVDs, if you have a conventional DVD player with composite and S-video output, the DVDO iScan is recommended as an intermediate device. If you have a DVD player with interlaced component output, that signal can be fed into the X400 but the resulting image will have rather annoying interlacing artifacts. With the Sony DVP-S7700 DVD player for example, the overall picture quality was better using S-video from this player into the DVDO iScan rather than feeding the component output directly into the X400.
However, there are several additional methods to getting a very fine image from DVD. The new component progressive scan DVD players eliminate the jaggies that are the by-product of an interlaced signal. These DVD players eliminate the need for devices like the DVDO iScan line doubler since they already output a 480p (525p) signal.
The magic words are "progressive scan"...there are a lot of DVD players that have component video output, but they output an interlaced signal. That's not good enough these days if you are looking at a projector like the X400. I hooked the new JVC XV-D723GD component progressive player up to the X400 with great results. This player is only $600 and in terms of image stability and overall quality it's a sizable step beyond a standard DVD player with the DVDO iScan.
If you want to go even another step further you can go to a home theater PC with DVI output. DVI (Digital Visual Interface) enables a digital signal to be read from the DVD and transmitted to the projector without ever being converted into the analog domain. The result is a very stable picture that is essentially free of the jitter that a signal picks up during D/A conversion. The X400 is one of the new breed of projectors that comes ready to accept a digital video input. And the test results showed that the DVI from our Sony RX280DS produced the cleanest and most stable picture from a DVD of any source that I tested.
However, it should be noted that the improvement in image quality from DVI over the JVC progressive scan player, while definitely noticeable, was not absolutely earthshaking. The JVC does a terrific job for the money. And when one considers that the JVC is $600 while a good home theater PC is closer to $2,000, one would have to conclude that in terms of price performance, the X400 with a progressive scan DVD player will be the best DVD solution for most users.
Finally, if you want to feed HDTV into the X400, it will take both 1080i and 720p. Like many other standard XGA projectors that are HDTV compatible, the 1080i and 720p signals are compressed into a 16:9 pixel matrix of 1,024 x 576.
Now the question is always coming up...how can a projector be HDTV compatible if it doesn't have 720 or 1080 physical lines on the display? The answer is that "HDTV compatibility" in its common usage today refers to the projector's ability to recognize, process, and successfully display either 720p or 1080i 16:9 format signals. HDTV compatibility does not necessarily mean that the projector will display the original signals in their full native resolution.
So does the X400 do HDTV? Yes. Does it look good? Yes, for the same reasons it makes 480-line video look good (lumen output, color accuracy, contrast), it must be considered as a top performer among the XGA-class projectors that are HDTV compatible. Does the X400's HDTV picture look as good as it would if it were able to display 720p line-for-line without compression? No. But for the money, the X400 delivers results that many buyers will be truly excited with.
Mitsubishi has packed a lot of projection muscle and finesse into this little box. It is recommended for conference rooms, small to moderate sized auditoriums, and large classrooms. In addition, its 3,000 ANSI lumen rating notwithstanding, we believe this projector will find enthusiastic acceptance in the home theater market as well.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Mitsubishi X400 projector page.