Highly Recommended Award
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This is shaping up to be a year of evolution rather than revolution in home theater projectors. Mitsubishi's latest offering is the HC8000D-BL, a successor model to their HC7800D that garnered high praise for its film-like image and smooth reproduction of detail and exceptional 2D to 3D conversion. The HC8000D-BL, in a clear continuation of this tradition, incorporates some definite improvements over last year's model in terms of picture quality in both 2D and 3D. Retail price is the same as last year, $2999, but that price includes an extended warranty, an extra lamp, and a picture that packs a punch.
The HC8000D-BL is being released in limited distribution and is available from authorized retail shops and custom installers. At the same time, Mitsubishi is releasing a second model for open distribution that will be available from online Internet resellers. This model, the HC7900DW, is quite similar to the HC8000D but it is a bit higher in lumen output, lower in contrast, and costs $2499 instead of $2999. While this review will focus on the HC8000D-BL, most observations can be applied equally to the HC7900DW. The differences between the two models are spelled out in the Comparison section.
The Viewing Experience
The HC8000D-BL, like its predecessor, is a projector intended for use in a darkened home cinema environment. And while it has a good deal of placement flexibility, the easiest place to mount it for most people will be on the ceiling due to some limitations on lens shift range.
We set up the HC8000D-BL on a low table, which is the best option for folks who don't want to ceiling mount their projectors (a rear shelf mount is not a realistic option unless it is a very low rear shelf). The HC8000D-BL has some vertical lens shift, just as the HC7800D did, but like its predecessor it has an upward throw angle even at the bottom of the lens shift range.
The picture from the HC8000D-BL is solid and competitive, but not uniquely exceptional in today's market. The projector has is a smooth, natural image and accurate color in Cinema mode that conforms very closely to the Rec. 709 standard, even before calibration. It can be marginally tweaked to more or less perfect after calibration. If, on the other hand, you want a punchier, more dramatic image, switching the projector to 2.4 gamma as opposed to the default 2.2 will give the picture some additional oomph.
If you want a reference projector, this is a good place to start. The HC8000D-BL, like its predecessor, is a no-frills, all-business approach to home theater, and users will get reliable performance from it.
2D to 3D Conversion. The HC8000D-BL has a 2D to 3D conversion system that produces superb results. Usually, 2D to 3D conversion is something of an afterthought, and the resultant 3D picture is only marginally three-dimensional. On many projectors the trade-off of brightness and discomfort that you get from wearing 3D glasses makes 2D to 3D conversion not worth the hassle. However, on the HC8000D-BL, the results of 2D to 3D conversion are more dramatic and engaging than on competitive models. What you end up with is an actual 3D picture that is worthy of the name, and fans of 3D will definitely want to experiment with it using their favorite 2D movies.
Placement Flexibility. The HC8000D-BL has a 1.5:1 manual zoom lens that loses only 9% of the projector's lumen output over the zoom range. Most projectors with long zooms lose much more than that. It is not unusual to see 15% to 25% loss in a 1.5:1 zoom lens. The projector also has vertical lens shift that allows for a movement range of 34% of the image's height. However, the HC8000D-BL always has an upward throw. At the bottom of the range, the bottom edge of the image is 12% of the image's height above the lens' centerline, while at the top of the range it is 47%.
120Hz 3D Drive. One of the issues on the HC7800D was an appearance of flickering instability in 3D. This was apparently caused in part by the projector's 3D refresh rate of 96 Hz, which is low enough that flicker sometimes appears. This has been rectified on the HC8000D-BL by adding a 120Hz 3D option. By engaging this menu option, the projector ups the frame rate to 60 frames per second per eye, which is quite effective at reducing flicker.
6x speed color wheel. The HC8000D-BL uses a six-segment RGBRGB color wheel. By default, the color wheel is 4x speed, meaning that each color is refreshed four times per frame. However, at the cost of a tiny amount of color gradation, you can switch the projector into 6x speed mode, thereby reducing the chances you'd ever see a rainbow artifact to just about zero. And the evidence of reduced color gradation appears so rarely that it is not worth worrying about. We were not able to detect it during testing. This feature is only available in 2D.
Frame Rate Conversion. Frame Rate Conversion, or FRC, is Mitsubishi's frame interpolation system. It has a number of different settings. True Film is a mild enhancement meant to smooth out 24 fps film content without making that content appear artificial, while True Video is a more aggressive setting appropriate for 30 frame per second video. Either of these settings can be adjusted on a 1-5 scale for intensity, with 1 being the least aggressive and 5 being the most. Our test unit defaulted to True Film 4, which is unobtrusive but subtly effective. Only the staunchest opponents of frame interpolation will find the default settings objectionable, in which case they can always turn it off.
ISF Calibration Ready. The HC8000D-BL is ISFccc certified. If you have the projector calibrated by a professional, you'll gain access to two additional image modes, called ISF Day and ISF Night. Your calibrator will have tailored these modes for optimal picture quality in your theater. Until you have the projector calibrated, they will not appear in the mode list, but rest assured that they exist.
Light output. The HC8000D-BL is rated at 1300 ANSI lumens. The projector does not have a high brightness preset in the same way that other projectors have Dynamic or Presentation mode, but high lumen output can still be obtained by switching the projector to the 3D preset, then changing color temperature to the High Brightness setting. This combination, along with setting the lamp to full power, yields 1293 lumens.
A large portion of that brightness comes from using the high brightness color temperature setting. When you switch back to Medium, which is the default, light output drops to 913 lumens. This gives the picture the much more balanced appearance that is desired for 3D home theater viewing.
For home theater use with 2D content, the go-to setting is Cinema. Out of the box, Cinema mode provides the best contrast and color performance for high-definition film and video, and in this mode the projector produces 626 lumens with full lamp power and 454 lumens in eco mode. The 25% eco-mode reduction in light output increases lamp life from 3,000 to 5,000 hours.
The HC8000D-BL has a secondary iris system that can be set to either "high brightness" or "high contrast" and has a significant effect on black levels and overall contrast. The above readings were all taken with the iris in "High Brightness" mode. Our preferred mode for 2D high definition content is Cinema mode, High Contrast iris, Eco lamp mode. This reduces light output to 359 lumens (a 21% reduction), but the dramatic deepening of the projector's black level is more than worth the trade-off. If you need more light than that, putting the lamp to Normal power boosts output to 496 lumens even with the iris set to High Contrast.
Interestingly, despite the HC7800D being rated at 1500 lumens, the HC8000D-BL is just as bright as its predecessor in the modes that count. Whereas the HC7800D measured 609 lumens in Cinema mode high lamp, the HC8000D-BL measures 626 lumens. Specifications don't tell the whole story.
Contrast. The HC8000D-BL is rated at 330,000:1 on/off contrast, whereas the HC7800D was rated at 100,000:1. This translates into a better black level on the HC8000D-BL. If you switch the HC8000D-BL's secondary iris to High Brightness mode, the two projectors' black levels are about equal.
As for gamma, the HC8000D-BL's Cinema mode defaults to the appropriately-named Cinema gamma, which measured 2.2 on our test sample. The projector also has a preset gamma setting labeled "2.2," which measured identically. Either setting will produce the correct amount of shadow detail without crushing the low end of the image while also preventing blowout in the highlights. If you want a picture with more apparent punch, you can use the 2.4 gamma preset, which makes the picture look more three-dimensional and high in contrast at the expense of a small amount of deep shadow detail. Overall, we felt the viewing experience was more satisfying with gamma set to 2.4.
RGB levels before calibration
Color. While each projector is a little bit different, we had to do very little fine-tuning to get the HC8000D-BL looking its best. Ours came out of the box measuring around 6300K, but with slightly too much green in the image and a slight deficit of blue. After a few tweaks (we took Green Brightness and Contrast down about 4 points each and gave Blue Brightness a two-point boost), our test unit gave us a nice, smooth 6500K across the board.
RGB levels after calibration
Gamut in Cinema mode closely conforms to the Rec.709 standard color space, though there is some initial error as is found in almost all projectors. Color gamut calibration is something of an "advanced maneuver" for the average home user, and it's just about impossible to do it without a good meter, but luckily the HC8000D-BL does not differ from the specification enough to make a visible difference. For most folks, it's perfectly fine to leave the gamut right where it is.
Saturation by default is a touch subdued, so we gave that a slight boost. The resulting picture is bright and vibrant, with plenty of pop.
Sharpness and detail. The picture produced by the HC8000D-BL has plenty of detail, and HD content looks superb. However, at times it can appear slightly less detailed than its competitors due to a couple of factors. For one, the HC8000D-BL has no smart-sharpening or detail clarity system, a feature which some folks like and some don't. Secondly, while the HC8000D-BL is high in contrast, some competing units can achieve an incrementally higher contrast which can produce a slight improvement in detail definition. Using the 2.4 gamma preset narrows this gap by making the picture appear higher in contrast.
No mode auto-switching. When you switch from 2D into 3D mode or start playing a 3D movie, most projectors will automatically select the 3D preset mode. The HC8000D-BL doesn't do this--when you put in a 3D movie, the projector will start displaying that 3D movie using the Cinema preset which is not optimal. The 3D preset is much better suited for the watching of 3D movies. So, if you remember to switch modes when you switch from 2D to 3D (and back from 3D to 2D), you should be fine.
120Hz 3D does not work in 2D to 3D conversion. The HC8000D-BL has the ability to run 3D at 120Hz instead of 96Hz, which eliminates flicker. Unfortunately, the projector cannot run 2D to 3D conversion at 120Hz. If you enjoy 2D to 3D conversion, which is a selling point for the HC8000D-BL, that is definitely something to consider.
120Hz 3D disables 3D frame rate conversion. While the new 120Hz feature is definitely worthy of attention, it does not come without cost. If you do choose to use 120Hz mode, you lose the ability to apply Frame Rate Conversion. In other words, you can have 120Hz 3D for reduced flicker or frame-interpolated 96Hz 3D. There's no way to get both.
Comparison with HC7900DW
Mitsubishi is also releasing the HC7900DW this year, which is similar to the HC8000D-BL in enough ways that a comparison is merited.
Just on the surface, it's clear that the two projectors share a common ancestor. Both use the same case design, though the HC7900DW is white while the HC8000D-BL is black. Both have the same lens with the same zoom and lens shift range. Both projectors have the same connection panel. They use the same DLP chip, and indeed most of the internals are the same, as well. The HC8000D-BL is sold through Mitsubishi's network of custom installers and resellers, while the HC7900DW is sold over the internet. So what's different about these two projectors?
Irises. This is kind of complicated. Both the HC7900DW and the HC8000D have an auto iris as well as another iris further back in the light path that is fixed (non-adjustable). But the HC8000D-BL has two additional irises, for a total of four. One is fixed, while the other can be switched from High Brightness mode to High Contrast mode, thereby emphasizing black levels or light output, depending on what the situation warrants. As a result, the specifications for brightness and contrast on these two projectors differ significantly.
Lumens. While both projectors use the same lamp, the additional irises in the HC8000D-BL bring light output down slightly. The specification lists 1500 lumens for the HC7900DW and 1300 lumens for the HC8000D-BL, but our own measurements indicate a more nuanced relationship. For example, the HC7900DW measured 659 lumens in Cinema mode with the lamp at full power. On the HC8000D-BL, that same mode measures 626 lumens with the iris set to High Brightness and 496 lumens with the iris set to High Contrast. So while output is functionally equivalent with the additional iris open, using the High Contrast mode results in a modest reduction of about 25%. The spec does not fully reflect this relationship.
Black level. Likewise, using the High Contrast iris setting deepens the projector's black levels significantly. The actual spec for the HC7900DW is 150,000:1, while the HC8000D-BL's own specifications indicate 330,000:1. Indeed, using the High Contrast iris setting does create appreciably deeper black levels on the HC8000D-BL. This is especially useful in a dark room, where deeper blacks make a real difference in image quality. More casual users in rooms with less stringent light control may not be able to appreciate the difference.
3D glasses and IR emitter. The HC7900DW uses "generic" 3D glasses, whereas most projectors are tied to their specific manufacturer's 3D eyewear. That said, the HC7900DW-compatible glasses we tested, made by XpanD, are heavier than most other 3D glasses. And, at least for me, I found that the glasses pinched the sides of my head enough that, over the course of a two-hour 3D movie, I developed a headache. That might be because I have a large head (according to my wife, at least, and also the one time I went to a hat shop), but it's still something to be aware of. The good news is that compatibility with generic glasses gives you some options.
The HC8000D-BL can use either those same universal glasses or Mitsubishi's special high-performance glasses, which deepen 3D contrast compared to the universal equipment. The high-performance glasses are slimmer, lighter, and more comfortable than the XpanD universal models, as well. If 3D is important to you, that might be something worth considering.
Neither the HC7900DW nor the HC8000D-BL includes either an emitter or glasses in the purchase price. If you want to watch 3D content, that's more equipment you'll need to buy. The emitter costs $99 direct from Mitsubishi.
Case color. The HC7900DW is one of the few home theater projectors to have a white case (the "W" stands for White) while the HC8000D-BL only comes in black. If you have a white ceiling, a white case can make the projector much less visible when ceiling mounted. Conversely, those placing the projector on a low shelf might find that the HC8000D-BL is less visible.
Marketing differences. The HC8000D-BL is sold through authorized resellers rather than over the internet. It also costs a bit more, at $2999 minimum advertised price compared to the HC7900DW's $2499. That price increase also includes a few substantive changes in support: the HC8000D-BL includes an extra lamp ($349 value), an extra year of warranty (three years versus two), and three years of express replacement service should something happen to the projector. The extra lamp alone justifies most of the cost difference -- the rest is just gravy.
Mitsubishi has been making home theater projectors for many years now, and they have been consistently solid products. The HC8000D-BL is no exception. It offers a bright, vibrant picture with accurate color that is best suited to a dark theater environment. Its picture quality is competitive with other projectors in its price range. It does not have some of the operational features you may get with other products, and rear shelf mounting will be a challenge with its limited vertical lens shift. However, its one key advantage over the competition we've seen thus far is superior 2D to 3D conversion. Those with large 2D Blu-ray collections who want to see them in very satisfying 3D conversion would be well advised to take a close look at the HC8000D-BL.
Many folks will be tempted by the HC7900DW because it's less expensive and available on the Internet, while the HC8000D-BL must be ordered through limited distribution resellers. However, the HC8000D-BL's $500 premium is a bargain due to the higher performance, extra lamp, and longer warranty. The HC7900DW is a solid projector, but it does not have quite the same level of polish that the HC8000D-BL does.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Mitsubishi HC8000D-BL projector page.