Highly Recommended Award
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The long-awaited Mitsubishi HC7800D is finally here. This 1080p DLP projector caught our attention back in August, when we were able to get a sneak peek of an early sample. Since then, a lot has happened. We've seen most of the projectors introduced at CEDIA 2011, and the projector market has gotten very competitive right around the $3000 mark.
If you're just going by the spec sheet, the HC7800D doesn't look like much. Its 1500 lumens and 100,000:1 contrast are not as impressive when competitors are boasting 2400 lumens or 300,000:1 contrast -- on paper, those differences look big. Its 1.5:1 zoom and small vertical lens shift range aren't as extensive as the flexibility of the latest LCD projectors. It has comparatively few bells and whistles. The HC7800D loses the numbers game handily, and that's all the proof anyone should need that it's time to throw away the spec sheets.
The competition this year is extremely close, but the HC7800D is definitely among this year's top performers in its price bracket. It produces a detailed, natural image that edges its competition in contrast and clarity. For those videophiles out there who want a great picture first and foremost and are willing to sacrifice some conveniences to get it, the HC7800D is the projector to buy. It is not a perfect projector, though. Black level does not match the competition, and some aspects of its interface and design can be frustrating at times. But when it comes down to doing what a home theater projector is supposed to do -- putting a great, natural image on the screen -- the HC7800D excels.
The Viewing Experience
To get the most out of the HC7800D, you'll need a dark room. While the projector's 1,500 lumen maximum output is certainly bright enough for a space with some ambient light, most of the projector's image modes fall under 800 lumens. We did most of our viewing using a setting based off of the projector's Cinema preset, and our test unit produced about 600 lumens using those settings. This is the perfect brightness for a 120" diagonal image, provided you don't have ambient light to contend with. On a 1.3-gain screen, you'll net 18 foot-Lamberts, while our 1.0-gain screen measured 13.9 fL. Depending on your tastes, this is just about ideal.
You will need to plan your installation of the HC7800D carefully. The projector has good placement flexibility for a DLP projector, with a 1.5:1 zoom lens and a small 35% vertical lens shift, but the lens shift does not allow for the dead-center placement required for a rear shelf mount. In other words, you can't just place the HC7800D on a rear shelf and figure out the details as you go. A ceiling mount is ideal, but a coffee table or other low placement in front of the audience is also easy to set up. The projector is whisper-quiet, so you don't need to worry about where to place the projector in relation to your audience. They won't be able to hear it.
Firing up the projector for the first time, we were most impressed with the sheer amount of detail that we could see, as well as the smooth, film-like character of the image. It is a clean, refined image that will certainly appeal to videophiles. After spending some more time with the projector and making some small adjustments, this impression has only been strengthened.
Image quality in 2D. While the HC7800D looks good no matter what type of video it is displaying, two-dimensional HD video is its strongest suit. Bright and high in contrast, the image looks ready to jump off the screen at times. Good color saturation gives the image a vibrant, life-like character. Color temperature at the projector's default Medium is a touch warm, but calibration is simple and straightforward and the results are very close to the 6500K standard. Most impressive though is the projector's ability to display every nuance of fine detail, especially from high-quality Blu-ray transfers. Frame Rate Conversion, Mitsubishi's implementation of frame interpolation, smooths out motion without much in the way of artifacts.
3D. Back in August, we published our sneak preview of the Mitsubishi HC7800D based on an advanced look at an early sample. At the time, we were most impressed by the projector's 3D performance, which was clean and artifact-free. That has not changed in the intervening months. The HC7800D produces a 3D image that has plenty of depth and virtually no artifacts, including crosstalk.
In active-shutter 3D, brightness and crosstalk are linked, and more of one usually indicates more of the other. Thanks to new glasses technology, the HC7800D improves 3D brightness without introducing crosstalk. Mitsubishi's 3D glasses are using LCD panels with a refresh rate that is claimed to be ten times faster than existing technology. This allows the HC7800D to use very short blanking times (the time during which both shutters are closed), thereby letting more light through without introducing crosstalk. Our testing indicates a transmission rate of almost 27%, which is a significant improvement over other current 3D projectors (more on this later). The downside is that the glasses are big and bulky compared to the competition, a side-effect of the new panels' fragility.
Placement flexibility. A 1.5:1 zoom lens and 35% vertical lens shift make the HC7800D more flexible than your run-of-the-mill DLP home theater projector. The vertical shift especially helps when you are ceiling mounting the projector and want to put the image a little higher or lower on the wall. Setting the projector on a table, the lowest lens shift range gave the picture a 12% upward throw offset (meaning the bottom edge of the image is 12% of the picture height above the center of the lens), while the other extreme gave a 47% upward throw offset. Note that you cannot place the image level with or below the lens centerline, which rules out a rear shelf mount unless you tilt the projector and apply keystone correction.
The 1.5:1 lens is remarkable for how little light is lost when using the telephoto end of the range -- a mere 8%. These two features, though they appear slightly lackluster in the face of 2.0:1 zoom lenses and extensive H/V shift, alleviate most of the concerns one would have when mounting the projector.
Frame Rate Conversion. Mitsubishi's version of frame interpolation has two different modes, True Film and True Video. True Film is the less aggressive of the two, smoothing judder without adding any of the dreaded digital video effect. True Video is meant for use with... well, video, including sports, live broadcast television, concerts, and other such material. It is more aggressive than True Film but still does not show much in the way of artifacts. You can adjust the intensity of each mode on a scale from 1-5, with four being the default. Higher numbers indicate more aggressive processing. The True Film setting has a refined, subtle look to it, and we actually preferred to leave it on most of the time. The judder reduction was apparent (and welcome), but the picture never took on that artificial quality associated with over-aggressive frame interpolation.
The HC7800D also applies Frame Rate Conversion when watching 3D, a capability that many 3D projectors don't have. Enabling and disabling 3D FRC is possible, but the option resides in the hidden Demo menu rather than the user menu proper. If you simply can't stand any frame interpolation at all, you'll need to open the menu and go to the Test Pattern option. Hover the selection over Test Pattern, then press Auto Position, Select, and Auto Position in sequence. That should open the Demo menu. From here, you can enable or disable 3D FRC. Be aware that disabling 3D FRC will increase the amount of flicker in the picture, and we prefer to leave it enabled for this reason.
Light output. The HC7800D has only three factory presets, called 3D, Cinema, and Video. All three measure between 600 and 800 lumens. These presets are locked, so you cannot make adjustments. However, the projector also has three AV Memory settings, which you can use to store your favorite combinations of settings. We calibrated the first of these, AV Memory 1, to be our dark-room theater setting. AV Memory 2 was used for our high-brightness settings. AV Memory 3 was used for 3D. We will refer to them throughout the review.
Our high-brightness preset used the 3D gamma setting and the High Brightness color temperature. BrilliantColor was turned on as well, and the lamp was set to Standard (i.e. full power). At these settings, our test sample measured 1455 lumens. The image had a significant green tinge, which is a byproduct of the High Brightness color temperature preset. If you need to use the projector in a living room, this is the setting to use.
As it turns out, about half of that setting's brightness comes from the High Brightness color temperature setting. Medium CT, which gives a more balanced image with less green, measures 813 lumens with the same settings. So the HC7800D can handle a bright room, but it does not give you a lot of flexibility at its high brightness setting.
Our preferred mode for home theater used Cinema gamma and the User color temperature setting. The User CT setting allows you to pick one of the projector's other presets as a starting point, and we used Medium. Our modifications are listed below. This mode measured 609 lumens with the lamp at Standard power and 440 lumens in Low power, a 27% reduction. While fan noise is not a concern (the HC7800D is nearly silent even at full power), lamp life may be -- Eco mode extends lamp life significantly, from 3,000 to 5,000 hours.
Color. The HC7800D's Medium color temperature measures around 6,000K out of the box. As far as factory calibrations go, 6,000K is a great starting point, but a little bit of fine-tuning can really bring the projector to the next level. Our adjustments looked like this:
After this, the HC7800D tracked very close to the 6500K standard for color temperature across the board. As far as gamut is concerned, the default gamut is close to the Rec. 709 standard -- so close, in fact, that our testing equipment reported that it would be difficult for the human eye to notice the difference.
Contrast. The bright, three-dimensional image from the HC7800D has excellent dynamic range. Blu-ray content especially benefits from this, and foreground separation is very good. Highlights sparkle while shadows have solid definition and smooth gradations. The Cinema gamma preset measures a smooth 2.15 across the board (the ideal is 2.2) so there is little in the way of lost detail at the extremes. Mid-tones look natural and open.
Black level. If the HC7800D has one major flaw, it is black level. The projector has an auto iris, and in-scene dynamic range is excellent, as referenced above. But blacks are just not as black as they should be, especially compared to some other recently released 1080p 3D projectors in the same price range. At screen sizes of 100" to 120" in a pitch-black room, a totally black image is still faintly visible. These days, the projectors with the best black level appear as if they are not even running under the same circumstances.
Slow menu adjustments. While the HC7800D produces a great picture, dealing with the menu system can be frustrating at times. Changing a menu option often results in a black screen and a delay of several seconds. Switching 3D on or off results in ten seconds of black screen, and there is no "Auto" option -- only "On" or "Off." Adjusting vertical location (to move a 2.35:1 image up or down within the 16:9 frame) takes five seconds per tick and you can't do more than one at a time. Since it takes at least five or six ticks to move the projector to the top or bottom of the frame, this can get frustrating rather quickly. Luckily, it's the sort of thing you should not have to do more than once.
Light leakage. There is some light spill around the lens, which you can see as a ring on the wall surrounding the image. This typically does not affect picture quality unless you have highly reflective, light-colored walls. It is, however, mildly annoying. Most people will be able to live with it just fine, but perfectionists might consider placing curtains around the screen or painting the wall behind it with dark, matte colors. Either of these will help reduce the visibility of the light leaks.
No gamut adjustments. Thanks to a good factory calibration, the HC7800D doesn't need gamut adjustments to make it watchable. However, some folks will be disappointed to hear that the projector lacks the ability to make these adjustments.
4x speed color wheel. Just to be clear, a 4x-speed, 6-segment RGBRGB color wheel is far from bad. Most people who see rainbows on 2x-speed wheels do not see them on 4x-speed wheels. However, there are other DLP projectors out there that offer 6x-speed wheels, and there are still some people who see rainbows when using a projector with a 4x-speed wheel. If you are one of those people, it's worth auditioning the projector before you commit.
Mitsubishi HC7800D, Panasonic AE7000, and Epson Home Cinema 5010
This year, there are three top-performing 1080p 3D projectors around $3000 -- the Panasonic PT-AE7000, the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5010, and the Mitsubishi HC7800D. The AE7000 and 5010 are LCD while the HC7800D is DLP. All offer full HD 3D, and all three projectors are undeniably excellent performers. The image quality differences between them cannot be seen except in a heads-up comparison, and even then they are still slight. Please try to keep this in mind as we discuss the relative merits of each.
2D Image Quality
High Definition. The HC7800D has very slight, barely noticeable advantages in a number of areas, but the cumulative effect is greater than the sum of its parts. The HC7800D has higher contrast, more three-dimensionality and depth, more accurate color, a sharper picture, and less digital noise than either the 5010 or the AE7000. It has a smooth, natural, film-like image that brings out the best in any HD content.
The only substantive area of image quality where the HC7800D is deficient is black level, where both the 5010 and the AE7000 have a visible edge. In a direct head-to-head comparison, the difference is clearly seen. In some scenes, especially nighttime scenes, the 5010 and AE7000's blacks get so deep that they make the HC7800D's black look like very dark gray in comparison. Keep in mind that when watching the HC7800D on its own, black level is not light enough to be distracting -- this is a difference that only really emerges in side-by-side testing. But some folks will undoubtedly prefer the image of the AE7000 or 5010 based on this factor alone.
Standard Definition. The differences between these three projectors are much, much less apparent when viewing standard-definition material. The AE7000 and HC7800 look almost identical, though the AE7000's Detail Clarity processor can make detail stand out more. The 5010's Super Resolution performs much the same function. It is hard to tell which system is more effective; neither has many artifacts. The 5010 had a touch more digital noise than the others in standard definition and its frame interpolation was slightly more prone to artifacts during fast motion.
When it comes to light output in Cinema mode, the HC7800's 609 lumens fall squarely between the 5010's 827 lumens and the AE7000's 526 lumens. In a dark room, Cinema mode light output will determine your maximum screen size. The 5010 can accommodate very large screens, while the AE7000 is limited to smaller ones. It is worth noting that the 5010 and AE7000 both have a variety of image modes, some very bright, that maintain better color balance than the HC7800D's High Brightness mode. And, in these projectors' brightest modes, the HC7800 is the dimmest at 1455 lumens. The HC7800D is not a living room projector. For that, the AE7000's Dynamic mode (1685 lumens) or the Home Cinema 5010's Living Room mode (1846 lumens) will provide better color balance and more light.
Our testing determined light output of each projector's 3D modes, then measured how well each projector's glasses transmit light. The table below is the apparent brightness, in foot-Lamberts, of each projector on a 100" diagonal 1.3-gain 16:9 screen, including the glasses.
When looking at these numbers, keep in mind that the glasses don't just cut the light coming from the projector -- they cut the light coming from the room, too. Ambient light reduction makes your room look darker and blacks look blacker.
If there's one thing we have learned about 3D over the past year or two, it's that differences in light output that are significant in 2D tend to largely disappear in 3D. Setting up all three projectors, the 5010 is still the brightest, but not by as much as one might expect. The HC7800D appears brighter than the AE7000 in Dynamic mode despite the AE7000's higher light output. This is due to Mitsubishi's new 3D glasses, which allow 27% light transmission. In comparison, we measured 21% light transmission using the Epson 5010 glasses and 18% transmission with Panasonic's AE7000 glasses.
|High Brightness||16.6 fL|
|Cinema 1||5.9 fL|
|3D Dynamic||18.7 fL|
|3D Cinema||12.4 fL|
Keep in mind that most commercial theaters only provide about 4.5 foot-Lamberts in 3D, which is the SMPTE recommended minimum. Any of these projectors will beat that on a 100" screen. The brighter projectors can accommodate larger screens or provide a brighter picture on the same sized screen.
As for crosstalk, the HC7800D offers the cleanest picture, with zero crosstalk to speak of. The AE7000 comes next, with some occasional crosstalk in very high contrast areas. The 5010, the brightest projector of the bunch, also has the most visible crosstalk. Still, the 5010 is leaps and bounds better than last year's projectors and even the Home Cinema 3010 from earlier this year. None of the three has enough crosstalk to qualify as truly distracting.
For 2D to 3D conversion, we liked the AE7000's system best. It gives the greatest impression of natural depth of the three. The HC7800 comes next, with the Home Cinema 5010 bringing up the rear.
The AE7000 and 5010 use very similar glasses. They are small and light, with plenty of room, and they fit over existing eyeglasses well. Both recharge over USB. The AE7000's glasses have smaller frames and use a switch for power, while the Epson glasses are a bit larger and use a button. We prefer switches because there is an unambiguous way to turn the glasses off, but this is an admittedly minor nitpick.
Mitsubishi's glasses are bigger, bulkier, heavier, and less comfortable than those from Panasonic or Epson, and the nosepiece has a tendency to fall off. Epson and Panasonic glasses cost $99 per pair. Mitsubishi's new glasses cost $199 per pair. None of the three projectors comes with glasses -- all must be purchased separately. These glasses use a new LCD panel with a faster response time, and it shows. Shorter blanking intervals allow more light to pass through without inducing crosstalk. Future generations will undoubtedly be smaller.
The HC7800D uses an external emitter while the AE7000 and 5010 use built-in emitters but can accommodate an external emitter if desired. The HC7800D's emitter is included with the projector along with a six-foot VESA connection cable. For ease of use, the HC7800D falls short since you absolutely must take the time to mount and align the external emitter before you can watch 3D, while the other two projectors in the shootout can use their internal emitters for most installations.
Black level. The AE7000 has the best black level in scenes of average illumination. The Home Cinema 5010 has the best black level in scenes of low illumination, such as nighttime shots. The HC7800D's black level is less impressive than that of the other two projectors in scenes of average illumination and appreciably worse in dark scenes.
Dynamic range. The HC7800D and AE7000 look identical except in a closely scrutinized side-by-side comparison. In such a comparison, the HC7800D has the slightest of edges over the AE7000, so slim that we're almost reluctant to mention it. It looks a touch more three-dimensional.
The HC7800 and AE7000 look nearly identical at defaults, and even more so once they're calibrated. The 5010 has a slightly bluish tint in comparison. All three projectors actually measure around 5800K at default, so none of them pulls ahead based on the strength of its factory calibration. As far as gamut is concerned, the HC7800D did not need any adjustment. Our measurements indicate that the gamut is close enough to the ideal that the human eye can't see the difference. The AE7000 is a close second.
Sharpness/clarity of detail
The HC7800 shows the most detail in HD, and it's a clear if small difference. In standard definition, that difference disappears due to the limitations of the content itself. On the other hand, both the AE7000 and the HC5010 have some sort of detail enhancement/smart sharpening system that makes them look sharper in SD than the HC7800 does.
The 5010 has the best lens shift and zoom range of the bunch. The AE7000 has a slightly smaller range, but zoom and focus are powered. The HC7800 has the smallest zoom range, a very small vertical lens shift range, and no powered adjustments. One other notable difference is that the AE7000 has a Lens Memory system, which will automatically zoom the image to fill a 2.35:1 screen when appropriate. Neither the Home Cinema 5010 nor the HC7800D has such a system.
The HC7800 is built for a ceiling or table mount, and in these installations it will really shine. Unfortunately, its lens shift will not allow the projected image to be lowered enough to make a rear shelf mount possible without tilting the projector and applying keystone correction. The AE7000 and HC5010 are built to take advantage of a rear shelf mount, but they can also accommodate ceiling or table mounts thanks to their extensive lens shift systems. On the other hand, the HC7800D is in limited distribution and generally not sold online. Most resellers of the HC7800D will provide calibration and installation services.
Looking at three of this year's hottest 1080p 3D projectors side by side has been illuminating, to say the least. The Panasonic AE7000, Epson Home Cinema 5010, and Mitsubishi HC7800D all bring something different to the table. Over the past few weeks, we have had plenty of time to spend with each of them, and the small differences between them have emerged over hours and hours of evaluation. Depending on what you're looking for, each projector has its ups and downs.
In 2D, the HC7800D's main strengths are color, dynamic range, and detail. In 3D, it is a clean, artifact-free image and the overall impression of depth. The menu system can be frustrating, especially the tendency to blank the picture for seconds at a time. Black level is not up to par with the competition. However, the HC7800D's image is nonetheless striking.
The Mitsubishi HC7800D distinguishes itself as a videophile's 3D projector, combining best-in-class HD image quality with clean, artifact-free 3D performance. It is not as feature-laden as its competitors, nor can it achieve the deepest black levels, but it makes up for this by providing an elegant picture that has a slight edge over its competition. For this reason, we have given it a full five stars for performance, despite the lackluster black level performance relative to the competition. At $2999, the HC7800D is a strong projector and a good value.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Mitsubishi HC7800D projector page.