Editor's Choice Award
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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.
Sharpness and Clarity. While high contrast can make a projector appear sharper, the HC3800 is also very sharp of its own accord, independent of contrast. Fine detail is displayed cleanly, even when in motion. In our review test the HC3800 passed the HQV Film Resolution Loss Test with flying colors. Furthermore, the projector has very little digital noise when compared to competing models. Areas of solid color with medium saturation, such as backgrounds and wallpaper, are clean and nearly noise-free on the HC3800.
Placement flexibility. The HC3800 has a 1.5:1 manual zoom lens, which is exceptional for a DLP projector in this category. What's more, only 18% of maximum light output is lost between the wide and telephoto ends of the zoom lens, which is slightly better than average (around 20%). This gives the HC3800 somewhat greater throw range flexibility than the 1080p DLP projectors available for $999, which offer 1.2x zooms.
The projector has no lens shift, which is not unusual for an inexpensive DLP projector. The image offset, or the difference between the center of the lens and the bottom edge of the image, is 29% of the picture height. So, for example, the bottom of a 100" diagonal image will appear 14" above the lens's centerline. This aggressive offset is useful for either ceiling mounting or placement on a low table, but it rules out rear shelf use. Since the HC3800 throws off a noticeable amount of heat, we would prefer to ceiling mount it to keep it away from the seating area.
Color temperature presets. Factory color temperature default settings need additional calibration for the projector to perform at its best. There are four defaults, labeled "High," "Medium," "Low," and "High Brightness," as well as a "User" setting which can be customized to your liking. The "High Brightness" setting shows the typical green bias trade-off one gets from pushing lumen output to maximum. Since it is intended to boost brightness for use in ambient light situations, color accuracy is not its highest priority. For Cinema mode, the "High" color temperature preset is bluish, and the "Medium" preset is a bit green. The "Low" preset is a warm sepia tone, which is ideal for viewing black and white films. The "Medium" preset was the closest to 6500K. The HC3800 has a setting that allows the "User" setting to use one of the presets as a baseline, so we started from "Medium" and adjusted from there. After some fine-tuning, the HC3800 is capable of delivering excellent color that is quite competitive with much more expensive home theater projectors.
HDMI signal strength. Some HDMI devices output stronger signals than others, and some projectors are more likely to drop weak signals than others. In our testing, the HC3800 was unable to synch with with a weakly-transmitting Blu-ray player and a 15-meter cable. This same combination of Blu-ray player and long cable functions well on all other projectors we've tested. This problem would not even be worth mentioning were it not for the fact that the HC3800 is best suited for ceiling mounting, where use of a longer cables is normally required. If you encounter a problem with signal strength, you can solve it by using an inexpensive HDMI signal repeater and two shorter cables instead of one long cable. However, odds are with a cable run of 30 feet or less, you will never encounter this problem at all.
Mitsubishi HC3800 vs Epson Home Cinema 8100
From a price perspective, the HC3800's most direct competitor is the Epson Home Cinema 8100, currently priced at $1599 with a $100 MIR. The Home Cinema 8100 boasts a much higher on/off contrast ratio than the HC3800. It also has lens shift and a longer 2.0:1 zoom lens.
Brightness. The Home Cinema 8100 is rated at 1800 lumens, and its Dynamic mode produces 1749 lumens at default settings. These same default settings also provide remarkably good color for such a high brightness image mode. The HC3800, on the other hand, has Sports mode, which produces 1349 lumens and is biased towards green.
In modes better suited to home theater, the HC3800's 621 lumens is comparable to the Home Cinema 8100's Natural mode at 598 lumens. The 8100's Theater and Theater Black modes, at 525 and 442 lumens respectively, were even less bright. So, while the Home Cinema 8100 has an edge for use in high ambient light situations, the HC3800 has the edge in a darkened theater.
Contrast. The HC3800 has incrementally higher contrast than the Home Cinema 8100 in almost every instance, save one: nighttime scenes with some highlights. In these scenes, the Home Cinema 8100 gave the impression not just of deeper black levels, but also higher contrast. These deep blacks disappear if there are too many highlights on the screen. For example, the credits at the end of a movie put the two projectors back on an even footing in this regard. If you watch a lot of movies with nighttime or space scenes, the Home Cinema 8100 may be a better choice for you; its deeper black levels and auto-iris are most effective in these scenes. However, all other scenes will be rendered with slightly more pop on the HC3800.
Color. At their defaults, the Home Cinema 8100 has better color accuracy and balance than the HC3800, and its color temperature presets are reasonable, if not completely accurate. Even Living Room mode, which produces over 1600 lumens, is reasonably balanced. Meanwhile, the HC3800's color temperature presets need some tune ups to look their best. Either projector could benefit from some fine-tuning to get the best possible picture, but the Home Cinema 8100 Cinema mode is closer to the 6500K standard out-of-the-box.
Sharpness and Clarity. In terms of overall image sharpness, the two projectors looked roughly equal. Neither showed any loss of fine detail. At factory defaults of zero, the sharpness controls add some edge enhancement, but for most viewers it is not objectionable. On both projectors you can turn down this effect if it is not desired.
Placement Flexibility. The HC3800's 1.5:1 zoom lens is impressive for a DLP projector in this class of product, but the 8100's 2.0:1 zoom and lens shift provides more latitude for placing it in a wider array of locations relative to the screen. The Home Cinema 8100 provides the option of a rear shelf placement, which is more problematic with the HC3800.
However, it is important to keep in mind that using the long end of the 8100's 2.0:1 zoom lens will cause a loss of up to 41% of its potential lumen output. Since it is already less bright than the HC3800 in its cinema modes, ceiling mounting the HC3800 at a throw distance which uses the wide angle end of its zoom can end up producing a video-optimized image that is much brighter than a rear shelf mounted 8100.
Picture Quality. Which of these two projectors has superior picture quality? It depends on the nature of the scene being viewed. In most scenes with average light level and moderate to high dynamic range, the HC3800 beats the 8100 in contrast and picture depth. Skin tones have a smoothness that is not quite there on the 8100, and overall the picture is more compelling. However, in dark scenes with low dynamic range, the 8100 clearly surpasses the HC3800 in contrast and black levels. With an image like a black screen with a white title, the 8100 is the hands down winner in both black level and contrast.
Thus, when they are set up side by side with equal lumen output and equal image sizes, one's perception of which projector has better picture quality will alternate back and forth as scenes change. If the movie has a lot of dark scenes, especially dark scenes that are low in contrast, the 8100 shines. As the movie moves to brighter scenes and/or scenes with higher dynamic range, the HC3800 kicks into high gear and outperforms the 8100. Neither projector is better than the other in all circumstances.
The Mitsubishi HC3800 is a solid and competitive new entry in low priced 1080p home theater projectors. It couples a bright video-optimized picture with excellent contrast and a 1.5:1 zoom lens. The 5,000 hour lamp will reduce maintenance costs down the line. It requires calibration, but pretty much every projector we review can benefit from calibration. Overall it is an outstanding value for the money.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Mitsubishi HC3800 projector page.