April 3, 2007
As I mentioned in a previous update it took me nearly six months to get my hands on a Mitsubishi HC5000 but the wait was absolutely worth it. Several months ago I got my first glimpse of the HC5000, that glimpse turned into 5 or 6 full length movies, a dozen or so favorite chapters from SD and HD discs, a full spin of an evaluation disc, and some HD gaming in-between for good measure.
Before I even get started with the review; I want to get something out of the way for those of you looking for the perfect display/projector, keep looking. I don’t mean for that to come off overly harsh or indifferent but I’ve become increasingly aware of a certain ‘well I’ll just wait until (X) has (Y) feature or (A) Supports (B) technology’ sentiment lately. Videophiles have been searching for that perfect display for over 50 years now, I don’t see that search ending anytime soon.
That said, we are seeing an ever increasing amount of displays that get many more things right than wrong, with that some have relinquished the idea that technology hasn’t caught up to their needs and are ready to move forward. Sometime this year I’ll purchase my next projector and there’s a strong likelihood it’ll be the Sony ‘Pearl’, Mitsubishi HC5000, or JVC’s DLA-RS1. Not having seen the RS1 (yet) it’s hard to speculate on how what I’ve seen with the Pearl and HC5000 will weigh into the big picture (obligatory pun) of my purchase, but without giving too much away too soon, lets dig deeper into the HC5000.
Starting with the HC5000’s features and specifications; as mentioned in previous posts the HC5000 utilizes 0.74” “C2 Fine” 3-LCD (inorganic) LCD panels, features a native panel resolution of 1920×1080, 1000 ANSI Lumens, 10,000:1 contrast ratio (auto iris), powered vertical and horizontal lens-shift, 5000 hours lamp-life (low mode), a rather impressive noise level of 19db, on-board HQV (Reon VX) video processor, and at least according to ProjectorCentral the HC5000 accepts 1080p/24. Apparently this was a hardware revision made after the final documentation went to press.
So with that you can see the HC5000 sports a fairly impressive feature-set, not only among 1080p projectors but projectors in general. The fact that the HC5000 is among, if not, the least expensive 1080p projector on the market (at time of writing) is just as impressive in my book. But of course as per our mission statement here, “Specifications alone don’t tell you the whole story”; as a matter of fact they often dilute the real story. So with that, let’s get down to business and give this baby a whirl.
Setup and General Observations:
Cosmetically the HC5000 is a bit demure, I wouldn’t call it striking by any means but on the other hand its not ugly either. In the current hit-or-miss landscape of CE device designs I’d say the HC5000’s understated looks are more than acceptable and downright welcome versus some of the stranger designs we’ve seen lately. Set-up was a breeze, I was actually looking for another superlative than breeze but breeze will do.
In-short, all I really had to do was place the 5000 on my coffee table, ensure that it was square with the screen, and that was the last time I had to touch the projector. From there I sat-back and used the motorized horizontal and vertical lens-shift to align the 5000’s image with my screen and then used the motorized focus to finish it off. All-in-all about a 5 minute process, much simpler and easier than with manual focus, non-lens-shifting projectors. Light-spill was nonexistent, at least in my darkened room.
One of the most welcome attributes of the Mitsubishi HC5000 is its fan noise, or lack of. People talk about quiet projectors, sometimes they even include Db measurements for good measure (bad pun), but in all honesty until you can compare a noisy projector versus a quiet one, it’s all subjective. Here’s my stance on projector noise in general and my observations with the HC5000. First off I can tolerate a bit of background noise, hum, what have you but as the noise-floor drops I find that my immersion level increases. I don’t mean this in the sense that 24Db just ruins the movie experience for me but drop that to 20Db or lower and you have one less minor distraction, keeping you from the directors intent.
Okay, as to the HC5000’s noise level, it’s as close to silent as I’ve ever heard and yes that comparison even includes the Sony Pearl. It’s not that the 5000 is drastically quieter than the Pearl but the pitch of whatever sound that is audible is just less noticeable. Once again just as with the Pearl the ambient noise-floor in my room was louder than the projector from a few feet away. Mitsubishi claims a whisper quiet 19db noise level which would fall well under my room’s 23db noise-floor. In-short the HC5000 is a super quiet projector, and for a good portion of potential users in their mid-to-late 30’s onwards it just might be silent, unless you live in a monastery tucked away on a quiet mountainside.
HQV Benchmark Results:
It should come as no surprise that that the HC5000 passed the HQV benchmark with flying colors, as the projector is equipped with a HQV Reon-VX video processor. Obviously the benefit of having the chip in the display, not just in a source component or two, means that all video displayed benefits and not just that individual source.
•Color Bar/Vertical Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Jaggies Pattern 1: Pass – Score 5 of 5
•Jaggies Pattern 2: Pass – Score 5 of 5
•Flag: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Picture Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•3:2 Detection: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Film Cadence: Pass – Score (Combined) 40 of 40
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Horizontal Text Crawl: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Vertical Text Crawl: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Total Score:130 out of a possible 130
The first disc I popped in was ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ on Blu-ray, as I was anxious to see a 1080p source with the HC5000. I immediately began noticing new-found detail versus previous viewings with my SP7205, from little things like increased detail in brick walls as the actors file past, to more startling revelations like realizing suits contain shadows and stripes, where previously none were visible.
Later as the Axe Gang begins their dance routine, (yes if you’ve never seen ‘Kung Fu Hustle’, it really is that silly) I noticed intricate detail in the wood floor as if seeing the scene for the first time. Black level was good, perhaps as good as some low to mid-end DLPs, but certainly leaps and bounds better than the other LCD based projectors I’ve seen in the past. This (black level) as it turns out comes under great scrutiny later in the review.
Moving on to another Blu-ray favorite ‘X-Men 3′, I wanted to take a look at the opening scene where Xavier and Eric first meet Jean and her family. I honestly felt the HC5000 gave a more accurate representation of what I saw in the theater than the same scene viewed on the Pearl. Simply put, the HC5000 was sharper. This scene always struck me as a bit soft with my SP7205 and the Pearl, but much less so with the HC5000.
Moving on to a bit of HD cable, I queued up a recent recording of ‘Star Wars Episode 2: ‘Attack of the Clones’. Wow…where to begin, I suppose with color. The neon signs and electronic billboards nearly popped off the screen with lush, saturated color. I don’t know if it’s pure coincidence or just that my eye was gravitating toward the bottom half of the screen but I kept noticing textures, patterns, and new found detail in the floors throughout the various sets. I’m anxious to go back and view the same scenes with my SP7205 but the fact I was noticing them for the first time, even after several previous viewings, speaks volumes.
Later we watched a few of our favorite weekly series from the DVR in standard definition and I have to say even SD looked a bit better than I expected. I can only attribute this to the HQV video processor in the HC5000. If you’ve viewed much digital cable lately you’ve no doubt noticed subtle (and some not so subtle) differences in aspect ratios, compression noise, noise in general, and video artifacts between the various channels. What I noticed with the HC5000 was that while poor channels by and large remained so, channels that already offered acceptable image quality looked noticeably better.
One of the most welcome attributes of the HC5000 was its light output. This is a bright projector, but it was not only bright on my 1.0 gain 92” screen; for kicks we tried the HC5000 out on a 110” Stewart Firehawk screen and were nearly bowled over to find the projector easily bright enough for this screen as well. Unfortunately my limited time with the projector didn’t afford me the chance to do a proper lumens measure but I’m more than confident light output won’t be an issue with typical screen sizes.
Standard Definition DVD Observations:
From there I wanted to get a feel for SD-DVD playback so I picked up right where I left off with the Pearl and the Super-bit Edition of ‘The Fifth Element’. I skipped forward to Chapter 7 as this scene had really impressed me with the Pearl and I wanted to see if the HC5000 could generate the same kind of goose bumps. Bright, vibrant, highly saturated color? Check. Convincing flesh-tones? Check. Great facial detail in close ups? Check.
Everything was looking great so far and appeared to be on track to offer a similar experience to the Pearl. It was at this point however I started noticing newfound detail that wasn’t quite as pronounced as with the Pearl. In prior viewings much of my attention was focused on Leeloo herself but now the surroundings, from molding dimples in the concrete ledge to the subtle variations of color in the policemen’s uniforms, all jumped out at me as if they were new again. I was seeing new detail in a movie I’d viewed 20 to 30 times before.
As much as I was enjoying SD through the HC5000, I was itching to get back to some high definition source material. I grabbed my go-to HD DVD ‘Serenity’ and gave it a spin. This time it wasn’t patterns on the floors or even dimples in concrete, this time it was clothing. Intricate garments have a tendency to challenge poorly designed video processors and projectors with mediocre contrast ratios. The HC5000 suffers from neither short coming as I was able to make out complex textures, weaves, and patterns in the casts wardrobe.
Film Based Revelations:
Moving on from ‘Serenity’, I popped in another HD DVD favorite ‘Grand Prix’. My goal here was to discern how well the HC5000 handled film grain and, in general, film sourced material. Again I was surprised by what the HC5000 had to offer, I went into this portion of the review with a pre-conceived notion of what this disc “looked like” and the Mitsubishi again gave me more. The clarity in most if not all scenes rivaled the Pearl. I was absolutely blown away that a film of this vintage could offer such clarity and the HC5000 revealed even more of it than previous viewings had uncovered.
Reluctantly moving on from ‘Grand Prix’, I wanted to conclude my HD DVD viewing with ‘King Kong’. ‘Grand Prix’ had taught me to let go of whatever preconceived notions I had about how my discs “looked” and let me just sit back and see what the 5000 had to offer. I skipped forward to Chapter 35 and yet again new-found detail presented itself. From Ann’s complexion, to the reptiles’ scales, to the thick jungle under-growth, this might as well have been my first viewing of this scene, not the 21st.
One of the things that had often turned me off to previous LCD based front projection displays was their un-natural, jerky motion reproduction. I’m happy to say none of that presented itself during my time with the HC5000. Yes I realize the irony of that statement while watching a scene that heavily relies on CGI but this experience encompassed my entire time with the projector not just during this particular scene.
Even with that disclaimer, I do have to say those CGI scripted dinosaurs never looked better or moved so life-like in my viewing room than with the HC5000. Kong himself took on a whole new level of believability as well. It’s really hard for me to associate that natural looking pelt, hide, hair with computer animation but the detail provided by the Mitsubishi HC5000 made that leap of faith much easier than I would have expected.
Sony VPL-VW50 (Pearl) vs. the Mitsubishi HC5000: Of course having a Pearl on-hand I was curious to compare them head-to-head. For this segment of the review I placed the HC5000 on a stand directly below our ceiling mounted VPL-VW50 and ran an HDMI cable from the same source feeding the Pearl; this allowed me to do quick, side-by-side A/B comparisons. Where one might call the Pearl smoother, more film-like others would call it soft. I can appreciate both schools of thought but just found myself enjoying the sharper, detailed images on the HC5000. To coin an oft used, probably overused phrase, your mileage may vary.
I found the image to be somewhat sharper with the HC5000 as well as having better color saturation and uniformity overall. The 5000 just had a little more ‘punch’ for the lack of a better term. The Pearl had slightly better shadow detail and black level but overall, I still preferred the HC5000. This is one of those strange instances where preconceptions don’t necessarily hold up to the video on-screen. I’ve always considered black level and shadow detail to be critical to the overall performance of any given projector but here I was enjoying the technically inferior image over the former.
Another handy (albeit hardly essential) feature the HC5000 has over the VPL-VW50 is motorized horizontal and vertical lens shift versus the Pearl’s vertical motorized and manual horizontal shift. Again this alone would hardly be a deal breaker, I mention it only in passing. Another thing that isn’t quite so trivial is the Pearl’s minor chromatic aberration I don’t have enough time to get into those specifics here nor was I able to spend enough time with the HC5000 displaying test patterns but I’m sufficiently convinced the 5000 doesn’t suffer from this malady.
The Mitsubishi HC5000 is one of those rare products that have given me cause to re-examine what I look for in a display device. Put another way, the HC5000 is more than the sum of its parts. All things being equal the VPL-VW50 would easily relegate the HC5000 to also-ran status, however all things aren’t equal. I simply found the HC5000 to be more engaging than the Pearl, even with its superior black level.
Given the fact that these projectors are priced within $500 USD of each other I strongly recommend (as always but especially so in this case) seeing both first-hand before making a final decision. You might find yourself inclined to agree with me but then again absolute black level and shadow detail may very well win out as your preferred criteria.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I can unequivocally declare the Mitsubishi HC5000 a better projector than the Sony VPL-VW50 but I can say based on what I noticed, in the amount of time I had with both projectors I think the HC5000 would make for a better fit in my system based on my preferences. See the lengths I’m going to make sure you audition both before making your final decision? Either way it’s nice to see further examples of 1080p front projection at or under the 5k mark.
•Product Details – Mitsubishi – HC5000
•Retail $4,495 – Available now
•Resolution – 1920×1080
•Brightness – 1000 ANSI lumens
•Contrast – 10,000:1
•Inputs – HDMI (1), DVI-D (1) Component (1), S-Video (1), Composite (1), VGA (1)
•Display Technology – C2 Fine – 3-LCD
•Native Aspect Ratio – 16:9