Mitsubishi HC3 Home Theater Projector
now selling for $999
We first reviewed the Mitsubishi HC3 fourteen months ago. At the time we felt it was an exceptional value in home theater projectors (see original review). Upon its release the MSRP was listed as $2,795. Today, Mitsubishi has taken the bold step of dropping the selling price on this unit to $999. Anyone watching the projector industry has gotten used to price erosion over time, but this move signifies a new benchmark. This is the first time that a native 16:9 widescreen projector designed and built for home theater has dropped below the magic $1000 barrier. Until now, consumers in the economy budget range have needed to satisfy themselves with cross-over projectors—business machines doubling as video projectors.
Brightness. One of the leading competitive strengths of the HC3 is its light output. It is rated at 1300 ANSI lumens. We measured this unit at 1024 ANSI lumens in regular mode and 921 in low power mode. This makes it the brightest of the economy class video projectors. By comparison the BenQ 6200, which is officially rated at 1700 ANSI lumens, only measured 725 lumens in actual video operation. So the HC3 is the brighter of the two units by a significant margin.
Brightness is of vital importance to entry level buyers. Those who are spending under $1000 for a projector are not likely to be spending much on screens or dark room treatments to optimize the projector's full potential. When projecting onto a white wall, extra brightness from the projector can compensate for the punch you would normally get from a good screen. It also helps support a bigger, more satisfying picture when ambient light is present.
Color accuracy and saturation. The HC3 delivers outstanding color accuracy and color saturation due in part to its LCD light engine. In this regard the HC3 is markedly superior to any of the DLP-based cross-over products selling for $1000 or less. The reason is that, at any given moment, an LCD projector delivers all three color channels, red, green, and blue, to the screen simultaneously. On the other hand, a DLP projector can only deliver one color at a time due to its spinning color wheel. The result is that color on a DLP projector looks dull when placed next to a unit like the HC3.
Resolution and Aspect Ratio. All of the projectors selling for under $1000 at this writing are native 4:3 aspect ratio SVGA resolution machines (800x600). They create a 16:9 image by using an 800x450 pixel matrix, cutting off 25% of the active display panel. The HC3 is the first native 16:9 home theater projector to drop below $1000. It creates a 16:9 image using a pixel matrix of 960x540. This amounts to 518,000 pixels, or 44% more pixel density than you get from a standard SVGA product in 16:9 mode.
No rainbow artifacts. Since the HC3 is an LCD projector it has no spinning color wheel. So there is no possibility of being distracted by color separation ("rainbow") artifacts, like there is on many DLP projectors. This is particularly noteworthy because all of the DLP projectors selling for under $1000 at the moment have 2x speed color wheels, which is the configuration that tends to cause the biggest problem for those sensitive to them.
Though the HC3 at $999 represents an extraordinary value in entry level home theater, there are of course limitations to any product in this price range. Pixelation is slightly more visible on this model than it is on standard SVGA resolution DLPs, but not by much. If you stand far enough back from any screen the pixel structure becomes invisible; the question is how much distance is required. We indicated in the HC3 review that a viewing distance of 2.0x the screen width was sufficient to eliminate pixel structure completely. By comparison, a distance of 1.9x the screen width was required to achieve the same effect on the BenQ 6100 (DLP, SVGA resolution), and 1.6x the screen width was required with the BenQ 6200 (DLP, XGA resolution).
However, to address this issue on the HC3 it is possible to use a slight defocusing of the lens to soften the pixel structure. You don't want to defocus to the point where pixel structure is too diffused—doing so will soften the video image in an unacceptable manner. But a very slight softening of the pixel edges can be achieved without noticeable impact on video image sharpness. This reduces the definition of the pixel grid and allows for a closer viewing distance without pixelation. For this model, and at this price point, this will be a very practical trade-off option for many users.
Contrast is lower on the HC3 than it is on competing DLP products in the entry level range. However image brightness and color saturation tend to compensate for this, especially if there is any ambient light in the room. Also, image size is a compensating factor. If you set up the HC3 to project a 90" diagonal image, it looks bright and vibrant due the brilliant highlights from the high lumen output. The fact that it is rated lower in contrast does not detract from the satisfaction you get from the overall image quality. You can certainly go larger than 90" with the HC3 if you wish. We would encourage users to work with it on a white wall, changing the image size to see what happens to overall contrast and image snap as you expand the image size. Once you find a satisfactory trade-off for your taste—image size vs. image quality, then you can order a screen to fit it once you have the budget to accommodate it.
A third point that creates a lot of confusion is this: the HC3 takes both component 480i and 480p (progressive scan) video. However there are no component video inputs on the unit. Component video signals must be fed through the VGA port. This is a no-brainer, however, since Mitsubishi includes an RCA to VGA adapter with each unit. You need to use this since the projector does not have a physical dedicated component video input. Do not expect your HC3 to connect directly to your DVD player with a standard component video cable. It will work just fine with a regular S-video cable also, or even a composite cable if you have to. But image quality is optimized if you use the provided adapter, and feed a progressive scan component video signal through the VGA port.
At its new price of $999, the Mitsubishi HC3 is one of the best values for the money in the home theater projector market today. It is the first native widescreen projector to go below $1,000, and it delivers a superb image for the money. We are enthused to put a new spotlight on this product, and with its new value proposition it continues to be a very highly recommended projector.