Mitsubishi HC4900 1080P 3LCD Projector
Projector Central Editor's Choice Award

Editor's Choice Award

Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.

  • Performance
  • 4
  • Features
  • Ease of Use
  • Value
Price
$4,495 MSRP Discontinued

One year ago, in October, 2006, Mitsubishi released the HC5000, which brought full 1080p resolution performance to market at a rock bottom price tag of just $4,495. It seems hard to believe, but at the time it was the lowest priced 1080p projector on the market. Everything else was $4995 and higher. The HC5000 was not only low priced but it was a fully-loaded, high performance 1080p projector that, at the time, set a new price/performance benchmark in the industry.

Last week Mitsubishi decided to continue the lead in price/performance by dropping the price of the HC4900 to just $1995 after a $500 rebate. Thus, Mitsubishi is officially the first vendor to break the $2,000 barrier with 1080p resolution projectors. The HC4900 is a slightly downscaled HC5000, but it retains almost all of the performance advantages of the HC5000. And at a mere $1995, it is one of the best values in the home theater projector market at this time.

Specifications

ANSI lumens: 1000

Contrast (full on/off): 7,500:1

Light Engine: 1920x1080, native 16:9, 0.74" three-panel inorganic LCD, Micro Lens, with 160W UHP lamp.

Video Compatibility: 1080p/60/50, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i. NTSC/PAL/SECAM.

Data Compatibility: Computer resolutions up to SXGA 1280x1024

Connection Panel: One HDMI v. 1.2, one DVI-D, one 15-pin VGA, one 3-RCA component input, one s-video, one composite, one 12V trigger, one 9-pin DSub serial port.

Lens and Throw Distance: 1.60:1 power zoom/focus lens with vertical and horizontal powered lens shift. Throws a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 10.1' to 16.5'

Lamp Life: 2,000 hours, 5,000 hours in eco-mode

Warranty: Two years.

 

Advantages

The HC4900 is basically an HC5000 with two changes that we can detect. First, the HC5000 came with an HQV video processing chip, which is about as good as it gets these days. The HC4900 has a video processing set that is a bit less comprehensive, but still quite effective. The bottom line is that you see a few more deinterlacing artifacts, primarily in standard definition 480i. Second, though the HC5000 was never officially spec'd as having 1080p/24 capability, our test unit handled it with no problem. Not so with our HC4900-attempts to send it 1080p/24 resulted in an automatic conversion to 1080p/60.

A third technical difference between the two models is that the HC5000 (now discontinued) was rated at 10,000:1 contrast, whereas the HC4900 is rated at 7500:1. However, we don't see a significant difference between the two in actual contrast performance. Moreover, the HC4900 does not fall too far short of the Sanyo Z2000 where contrast is concerned, and the Z2000 is rated at 15,000:1. It strikes us that Mitsubishi was exceptionally conservative in the rating of this particular model.

At the heart of the projector is a light engine that consists of three 1920x1080 resolution inorganic LCD panels and a 160-watt high pressure lamp that can last up to 5000 hours in the projector's low lamp operating mode.

The HC4900 features a powered 1.6x zoom lens, power focus, and powered horizontal and vertical lens shift. With a 1.6x zoom lens the throw distance is quite flexible. For example, if you want to fill a 120" diagonal 16:9 screen the projector can be placed anywhere from 12 to almost 20 feet from the screen. However, there are some trade-offs to be aware of with longer range zoom lenses. First, lumen output will be affected in part by the zoom lens setting, as is true of all projectors with long zoom lenses. You will always get more light on the screen when using the widest angle setting of the zoom lens. In the case of the HC4900, the reduction in lumen output from its brightest wide angle setting to its maximum telephoto is 24%. All things considered, this is remarkably little loss for a 1.6x lens, as we typically expect to find a 24% loss on zoom lenses closer to the 1.3x range. How big of a deal is this? The maximum light output we measured on our test unit with the lens at the wide angle setting was 896 lumens. Simply changing the lens setting to its maximum telephoto position reduced lumen output to 680, or about a 24% reduction.

In addition to the HC4900's zoom range flexibility, it also offers powered vertical and horizontal lens shift. (Let us pause, and take a moment to reflect upon the fact that we are talking about a 1080p projector with powered zoom and focus, AND powered horizontal and vertical lens shift, for under $2,000. This is remarkable, in our opinion.) The vertical shift lets you move the projected image up and down a full 2.5 picture heights from top to bottom. At its neutral position, the centerline of the lens intersects the center of the projected image. Practically speaking, this means the projector can be either ceiling mounted or placed on a rear shelf, whichever is more convenient for the user. Ceiling mounting may require you to use the extreme end of the vertical lens shift range, particularly if the projector is mounted flush with the ceiling. At the extreme ends of the shift range the lumen output is reduced by about 10% but there is no perceptible compromise in image quality or brightness uniformity.

Though vertical shift range is extensive, horizontal shift is modest in range. From the neutral position the image can be shifted left or right not more than 5% of the picture width. This enables you to easily make small adjustments to fill a fixed screen, but the projector must be placed on a perpendicular line that is close to the horizontal center of the screen.

Many users will prefer to place the HC4900 on a relatively high rear shelf that allows for plenty of room to overshoot the audience. This will allow you to leave the lens close to its optically neutral position with just a mild downward projection angle. There are numerous advantages to this type of installation. First, rear shelf placement makes the projector less obvious in the room. So if you are trying to make your video system disappear when not in use, the rear shelf is often the place to put it. Second, rear shelf mounting is more economical-it saves the cost of the ceiling mount and drywall work, and reduces the length (and cost) of the video cables. Rear shelf placement also gives you easier access to the unit for cleaning or changing the air filter, which should be done every month or two depending on the amount of dust in the environment. If the HC4900 is ceiling mounted, you don't need to dismount it to change the filter, but you do need to climb a ladder. The rear shelf placement can save you that trouble. For many people it is simply the easier way to install and maintain a home theater projector.

The HC4900 has a standard lamp mode and low power mode. In standard mode the lamp life is rated at 2000 hours, and in low power it is 5000 hours. Everyone likes the concept of a 5000 hour lamp, but the trade-off is that you cut lumen output by 23%. Users of this projector, who are obviously buying it to get the best bang for the buck, will get great performance from the low lamp mode. The price of the replacement lamp is $459, or about one-fourth the cost of the total projector. That is a bit higher than the average $350 to $400 for home theater projectors in this price range. So the super-extended 5000 hour lamp life is of great value. If you intend to use a 120" diagonal or smaller, the low lamp mode will have sufficient lumen output to light up the screen as long as the viewing room is dark. If you want to go larger, the normal power mode will give you a nice boost in light output. Just remember to budget for the replacement lamp after 2000 hours of use.

There are two reasons people tend to opt for low lamp mode on digital projectors. One is to reduce fan noise and the other is to increase lamp life and save the expense of the replacement lamp. On the HC4900 fan noise is a non-issue even in high lamp mode. This is one of the quietest projectors on the market. Low lamp mode makes it virtually silent, but even with the lamp in standard mode, the audible noise is extremely low. So users won't be opting for low lamp mode just to reduce fan noise.

Disadvantages

The HC4900 has an amazing combination of features and image quality given its paltry price tag. So it is with great reluctance that we even pretend to complain about things it doesn't have. After all, how greedy can we be? Nevertheless, we need to discuss further two issues mentioned above. One is that the HC4900 is HDMI 1.2 compatible, not 1.3. Our feeling is, who could possibly care? Clearly many buyers associate HDMI 1.3 with "Deep Color" based on the unfortunate misnomer used in the marketing campaign. HDMI 1.3 will not deliver deeper, richer, more vibrant color than we currently get, even if and when we ever get sources encoded in greater bit depth. What HDMI 1.3 will deliver is more subtly differentiated colors. So for example, in a light blue sky that fades softly to a bit lighter blue, the Deep Color of 1.3 will eliminate any potential artifacts that might otherwise occur in the transition from light blue to a slightly different shade of light blue. In the vast majority of scenes in current film and video, the artifacts to be eliminated by Deep Color are uncommon and generally not noticed. So would we consider the lack of HDMI 1.3 a worrisome deficiency on a $2,000 projector? Not a chance.

The other performance feature missing from the HC4900 is 1080p/24 compatibility. And for us, the lack of 1080p/24 compatibility generates the same response as the lack HDMI 1.3 .... so what? 1080p/24 transmission certainly has the beneficial effect of reducing judder artifacts in some scenes in which the camera is panning at a moderate speed. Panning sequences can be smoother because 1080p/24 transmission eliminates the need to convert the 24 frame per second film to 30 frame per second video. However, these judder artifacts become evident only occasionally. If the camera is panning slowly enough, or as in most cases not at all, the conversion to 30 fps happens cleanly enough to make the conversion invisible. If the camera is panning rapidly, there is so much visual confusion that the conversion becomes buried in blur and rapid action, so again it is irrelevant. In the vast majority of film scenes there is no way to tell whether the material is being displayed in 1080p/24 or 1080p/60.

In short, 1080p/24 transmission does not, in and of itself, generate a substantially improved image over 1080p/60. Yes, 1080p/24 helps smooth out the panning motion in some scenes, and of course it should be a standard feature on all high-performance, high-priced home theater projectors. But there are other factors that are much more significant contributors to overall picture quality than 1080p/24 transmission (resolution, image sharpness, color balance, contrast, lack of digital noise to name a few). It is certainly possible to have one projector delivering a film in 1080p/60 and another projector next to it delivering the same film in 1080p/24, with the projector using 1080p/60 producing the more satisfying image. So the issue needs to be kept in perspective.

Mitsubishi HC4900 vs. Sanyo PLV-Z2000

The comparison everyone is asking about is how the HC4900 stacks up against the Sanyo Z2000. Both of these models are selling for exceptionally low prices, and if your budget is around two grand and you want 1080p this holiday season, you will go for one of the two of them.

In a side by side viewing, they each have advantages over the other. The Z2000 is rated at 15,000:1 contrast, and the HC4900 is half that. In actuality, the Z2000 is capable of producing incrementally deeper black levels. A 2.35:1 film being displayed in the native 16:9 frame will have blacker black bars above and below the image on the Z2000 than on the HC4900. And when the scene fades to black, the Z2000 clearly has the advantage. On the other hand, in scenes of average to above average light level, black levels within the scene on the HC4900 can rival those of the Z2000, and the differences between the two become less evident.

A key advantage of the HC4900 over the Z2000 is that it has decidedly less digital noise. This is particularly apparent in films with a lot of dark scenes such as the HD DVD Phantom of the Opera. In low to moderately lit scenes, there is typically much less digital noise on the HC4900 than there is on the Z2000, and sometimes the HC4900 shows none at all. The HC4900's lack of digital noise, even with the noise reduction filter off, is probably the biggest surprise in the review of this unit.

The HC4900 also edges the Z2000 in image sharpness. Both of these units produce beautifully well defined high definition pictures, but the HC4900 has a subtle but noticeable advantage in overall image acuity. This is in part attributable to a reduced level of noise, but even in scenes where latent noise levels are equally non-existent, the HC4900 appears a bit sharper and more three dimensional.

As with the HC5000, one of the most remarkable attributes of the HC4900 is its color accuracy. The Z2000 comes close, but does not quite match the purity of color we were able to get from the HC4900.

Advantages of the Z2000 include a longer zoom range, and longer lens shift range. In combination, these advantages may make it easier to install in a wider variety of viewing rooms. The lens adjustments are manual on the Z2000, while they are powered on the HC4900. However, for most users who intend to install it once and forget it, the powered zoom and shift features on the HC4900 are of momentary value.

The Z2000 is HDMI 1.3 compatible and it has 1080p/24 compatibility, whereas as noted above the HC4900 has neither. Buyers will have different opinions as to how important these factors may be, so you can decide for yourself.

Lumen output is pretty much identical on both machines when they are set to their optimum video performance. Both of them measured out to be about 400 ANSI lumens. Likewise, pixelation is equal on both units, which is to say that it is a non-issue from normal viewing distances. The native 1080p resolution LCD panels are of sufficient pixel density to eliminate the concern over screendoor effects or visible pixelation.

So ... what is more important to you? I would characterize the Z2000's advantage over the HC4900 in black level and contrast to be modest but definitely there. I would also characterize the HC4900's advantages in color, image sharpness, and image clarity to be modest but definitely there. These are two very evenly matched 1080p LCD projectors when it comes to overall performance. Each has an edge over the other in some important way, and neither is perfect. But for the price, they are both amazing values considering that just a year ago, the cheapest 1080p projector was $4,495. It boils down to a matter of taste.

Conclusion

The Mitsubishi HC4900 takes 1080p projection below $2,000 for the first time in the history of the industry. Though it doesn't have quite the black level and contrast strength of its most formidable competitor, it comes reasonably close, and closer than you'd imagine based on the contrast specs. For me, I found myself drawn more to the image of the HC4900 for its incremental clarity and three-dimensionality. The fact that the black level was not quite as strong as the Z2000's did not strike me as a bothersome deficiency. Moreover, I don't see the lack of HDMI 1.3 and 1080p/24 compatibility as issues of importance for 1080p projectors in this low price range. Finally, many users will be able to operate quite effectively in low power mode, and thus take advantage of the projected 5,000 hour lamp life. For these reasons, and for the fact that the HC4900 is selling for several hundred dollars less at this writing, we are giving an Editor's Choice Award to the HC4900.

However, we have scored both the HC4900 and the Z2000 identically in the 5-star ratings. There are those who will definitely prefer the incremental black depth that the Z2000 can achieve. Some may find the additional zoom and lens shift range of the Z2000 quite useful. Some will undoubtedly place more value on HDMI 1.3 and/or 1080p/24 than I have done, and would be willing to pay a premium for these features. So there is no way to make a definitive statement about which projector is better. They are both great products. No matter which model you end up with, you will be totally amazed at what a mere $2,000 (+/-) will buy you these days.

For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Mitsubishi HC4900 projector page.