The Mitsubishi HC6800 (MSRP, $3,495, official street price $2,495) is one of the two new 1080p models being released this month by Mitsubishi, the other being the entry level HC3800 ($1,495). The HC6800 delivers a beautiful, sharp, natural video image with very little digital noise. It is not leading edge in terms of contrast, and it lacks frame interpolation, which several 1080p models in its price range now have. But it has a 1.6x powered zoom and focus lens that several competing units don't have. That feature can help eliminate the need for an anamorphic lens for those who want to set up a 2.40 widescreen system. The HC6800 also has almost zero fan noise, extensive calibration controls, and a better than average warranty.
Natural, filmlike picture. The single most striking attribute of the HC6800 is its natural looking image. For the videophile, the most desirable digital projectors are those that don't look digital. The HC6800 accomplishes this with flying colors. There is very little digital noise, virtually no pixelation, no overdriven sharpness, no overly brilliant or blown out highlights. The image is simply natural and filmlike, and a genuine pleasure to watch.
Excellent Cinema Brightness. For dark room home theater, the maximum lumen rating on a projector is generally irrelevant. The real question is how bright the picture is after calibration for ideal cinema viewing. This measurement almost never appears on a spec sheet. In its factory default Cinema mode, our test sample measured 703 lumens, which is brighter than most other home theater projectors in Cinema mode (measured with lens at wide angle setting, and lamp on full power).
However, the factory defaults in Cinema mode rendered an excessive green in the image. After boosting red and blue, and substantially reducing green, we were able to obtain a beautifully color-balanced picture. Those calibration adjustments reduced overall lumen output to 649 lumens.
And there is more good news--the position you choose to set the HC6800's 1.6x zoom lens has surprisingly little effect on lumen output. Remarkably, moving the lens to its maximum long throw position reduced brightness by just 13% from its reading at maximum wide angle. For a lens of 1.6x zoom range, we normally expect a 25% to 30% loss of light.
The Mitsubishi HC6800
Thus, you can plan your throw distance without much concern for light loss. For this projector, we'd recommend placing it such that the zoom lens is in the middle of its range. If you want a 120" diagonal 16:9 image, the zoom range will allow you to place the projector at a minimum of 12.3 feet, and a maximum of almost 20 feet from the screen. The ideal throw distance of about 16 feet would let you use the optical sweetspot of the lens, with only a very minor loss of light compared to wide angle. Furthermore, if you want to sit at a viewing distance of 1.2x to 1.5x the screen width (which is a comfortable range for many), you'd be sitting 10.5 to 13 feet from the screen. Thus, the projector can be placed comfortably behind the seating area on a rear shelf or free-standing rack, and the cost and effort to ceiling mount it is avoided.
Low lamp mode. Dropping the HC6800 into low lamp mode reduces lumen output by 28%. The advantage is that it is expected to double lamp life from 2000 to 4000 hours. On some projectors, low lamp mode also reduces fan noise, but the fan noise on this model is so low already, that it is not likely to be a factor in your choice of lamp setting.
The bottom line is that after video calibration, if you place the unit at mid-zoom range and put it into low lamp mode, you still get about 435 lumens. This is just about ideal for a 120" image on a low gain screen in a dark viewing room. If you want to go with a larger screen, there is plenty of headroom available by putting the lamp into full power.
Contrast. The rating on this unit is 30,000:1. That doesn't sound like much compared to the Sony VW85 at 120,000:1, or the Epson 8500 at up to 200,000:1. But on the other hand, the new Samsung A900, priced at a whopping $13,000, is only rated at 12,000:1, and that projector produces a picture some videophiles salivate over. The HC6800 has plenty of contrast to produce a brilliant, sparking image with solid blacks, good shadow detail, and excellent color saturation, even when taken to a 120" image size or larger.
Powered zoom, focus, and lens shift. This is an important feature if you want to use the zoom capability to accommodate a 2.40 format widescreen installation. Simply zoom to a wider angle setting to fill the 2.40 screen when you are viewing a movie in that format, and zoom forward to view standard 16:9 material in the center of that screen. The advantage is that you avoid the cost and bother of an anamorphic lens, and you retain the native resolution one-to-one pixel match between the 1080p display and 1080p source material when viewing 2.40 material. Several of the competing 1080p projectors in this price range lack a powered lens, so this may be a key factor in your decision.
The lens shift range is a total of 2.6 picture heights vertical, and a mere 5% of the picture width in either direction side to side. So there is not much leeway to place the projector off of dead center horizontally.
Two anamorphic modes. If you wish to set up a 2.40 rig using an A-lens (I am weary of typing out the phrase "anamorphic lens" so henceforth it shall be A-lens, or simply lens if the context is clear), the HC6800 has the capability of switching back and forth between 2.40 format movies or 16:9 material without moving the A-lens. Thus it can be installed permanently without the extra cost and hassle of the motorized track.
Fan noise. Nothing to worry about here. Mitsubishi has led the way in audible noise reduction, and this one is as quiet as they come. It is almost silent in low power mode, and not much louder in full lamp mode.
Extended lamp warranty. The projector itself has a two-year warranty, which is good but not exceptional in the industry. But the lamp has a one-year or 500 hour (which ever comes first) warranty that is quite unusual. Most vendors offer only 90-day warranties on lamps.
No frame interpolation. Frame interpolation is used to smooth motion judder and reduce motion blur. It is a controversial technology that sometimes has side effects people object to. Thus on products that feature it, it is offered as an option that the user can activate or deactivate based upon the type of material being viewed. This feature appeared last year on models from Panasonic, Sanyo, and Epson. This month, new models offering frame interpolation capability have been announced from Sony, Infocus, Vivitek and JVC. It is not available on the HC6800.
Precalibrated modes are too green. On our test sample, all precalibrated modes had a green bias. This is not unusual in high brightness modes, but the Cinema mode was too green as well. Since the HC6800 is being sold through custom installers and specialty retailers, those from whom you buy it should provide calibration services, so this is not really a big deal. But if our test sample is any indicator, be aware that if you buy it without calibration services, you may need to do some color adjustments yourself, or hire an ISF trained video technician to get the picture optimized (that service typically costs in the neighborhood of $300.)
No Internet sales. The HC6800 is being made available through authorized custom installers, and through certain retailers such as Magnolia. As such, it is not supposed to be sold on the Internet. As of this writing there are a few Internet dealers offering it at discounted prices, but be aware that there may be some confusion on the validity of the warranty depending upon where those dealers are sourcing their inventory.
One advantage to buying from custom installers or Magnolia is that they can offer installation and calibration services along with the product. Another advantage is that a retailer like Magnolia can offer low or no interest financing if they choose to. The disadvantage to buying from installers and specialty retailers is that there is usually little or no discounting.
Mitsubishi's prohibition of Internet sales is limited to their Diamond Series products, which does not include the HC3800 (although the HC3800 does have a high quality Diamond Series glass lens on it). This new 1080p model is hitting the market at a retail price of just $1,495, and all of Mitsubishi's authorized Internet dealers are carrying it.
Competition: Mitsubishi HC6800 vs. BenQ W6000
Before we get to the differences, let's note that the Mitsubishi HC6800 and the W6000 are quite similar in many respects. Both are native 1080p resolution projectors with an MSRP of $3,495, but both have street prices in the mid-$2,000 range. They have similar throw distances--to fill a 120" screen, the HC6800 requires roughly 12 to 19 feet, while the W6000 needs 14 to 21 feet. Both have about two and a half picture heights of vertical lens shift. Both have two HDMI ports, two options for component video input, a serial control port, and a single 12-volt trigger. Both have anamorphic stretch modes to accommodate an A-lens. Neither model has frame interpolation.
That is about where the similarities end. As far as differences go, they are these:
• The HC6800 is 3LCD, and the W6000 is DLP. Beyond the very subtle differences in picture quality to be discussed momentarily, this means that the HC6800 will require periodic air filter cleaning, whereas the W6000 is filter free. On the other hand, it also means that some users will experience occasional DLP rainbow artifacts on the W6000, while there will be none on the HC6800.
• The W6000 is brighter in its brightest operating modes, although these modes are not well color balanced (we got about 2000 lumens out of the W6000 in its brightest configuration, but the picture was not something you'd want to spend much time watching). Nevertheless, it has some advantage if you plan to project under ambient light conditions and are not picky about color balance. Conversely, after calibration for optimal Cinema use, we found the lumen output on the HC6800 and W6000 to be almost identical.
• The W6000 is somewhat higher in contrast. There is a greater range between black and white in any given image. However, the HC6800 is capable of deeper black levels.
• The HC6800 has powered zoom, focus, and lens shift, while the W6000 is manual. That means the HC6800 is easier to use with a 2.40 screen, if you wish to use the zoom feature to accommodate both 2.40 and 16:9 format material on a 2.40 screen.
• Both expect a maximum of 2000 hours lamp life in standard mode. In low power mode, the HC6800 is expected to get 4000 hours, while the W6000 is 3000 hours.
• The W6000 has a 280-watt lamp, compared to a 170-watt lamp on the HC6800. The HC6800 will throw off less heat in the room, and has lower fan noise.
• Mitsubishi offers a two year warranty with one year or 500 hours (whichever comes first) on the lamp. BenQ offers a one year warranty with 90 days on the lamp.
Setting aside all of the nuts and bolts issues, for many buyers it really gets down to which projector gives you the best picture. Believe it or not, this is a very difficult call. Neither projector looks very good in factory default settings, but the W6000 is decidedly more out of whack than the HC6800 in this regard. They are both biased toward green, but the W6000 is also maladjusted for contrast, brightness, and gamma as well. Both of these models need more adjustments than usual out of the box to look their best. If you are not accustomed to calibrating video systems, a professional calibration of them will improve their picture quality immensely.
What is most surprising to us is that after calibration they look extremely similar--many scenes look virtually identical. Once we had modified their respective Cinema modes, we measured lumen output on the W6000 at 658, while the HC6800 measured 649. The W6000 ends up being slightly higher in contrast, and the HC6800 is slightly smoother with less digital noise. But most viewers looking at them side by side would be most impressed with how similar they look. The differences between them are subtle, and they have to be examined closely side by side to see them.
There is no striking difference in picture quality between the HC6800 and the W6000 that would justify a price differential based on picture quality alone. However, the HC6800 does offer benefits beyond picture quality that you may care about--lower fan noise, less heat output, a powered zoom/focus lens, a more substantive warranty on both the projector and the lamp, and perhaps some calibration service depending upon who you buy it from.
The Mitsubishi HC6800 is a solid, well-constructed projector being offered at a fair price. From what we've seen in the marketplace thus far, it certainly holds its own in picture quality but does not in any special way uniquely outperform the competition. But this can and will be said about many of the new models being released this fall.
In general, 1080p picture quality is getting much better than it used to be across the board. So this year it is harder to see radical differences between the models. Currently we have the LCD-based HC6800 set up with the BenQ W6000 (DLP) and the Sony HW15 (SXRD/LCoS). The most startling aspect of the comparison is how similar they look despite their three different imaging technologies. Moreover, if you set up any of these models against the much more expensive Samsung A900 ($12,999), or the Vivitek H9080HD ($14,999), astute consumers will be left scratching their heads wondering what you get for the extra money. The differences in picture quality are quite often subtle at best. You'd think a projector that costs five times as much would look dramatically better, but it doesn't.
In the world of 1080p home theater projectors, we are moving into an era in which picture quality itself will be less of a factor in a buying decision. Rather price, extra features, service, support, and vendor reputation will weigh more heavily in the buyer's decision matrix.
The HC6800 has an array of features that will match perfectly with the needs/interests of many buyers, especially those interested in 2.40 widescreen installations. After many hours of viewing on our Da-lite JKP Affinity screen, I asked myself what I wished it had. The first and only thing that came to mind was a good frame interpolation system--for me that is a feature I'd love to have seen on this model. But I did not want it to be brighter, and I did not want it to be higher in contrast. Overall, the picture was beautifully balanced and natural, and a genuine pleasure to watch. Those who end up owning the HC6800 will enjoy it thoroughly.
(NOTE: We are delaying the assignment of 5-star ratings on this and upcoming 1080p reviews until we've seen the rest of the fall releases and can make better comparative assessments.)
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Mitsubishi HC6800 projector page.