Mitsubishi HC3800 vs. Optoma HD20
Here we take a look at the two in expensive 1080p home projectors - the Mitsubishi HC3800, which received our Best In Class, Runner-Up award, and the Optoma HD20. We'll consider how the Mitsubishi compares to the first to ship under $1000 projector, the Optoma. The Optoma is one of three under $1000 1080p projectors that are shipping as of late April '10. I'm refering to the Optoma HD20. Basically we have here, a true entry-level 1080p projector, and another projector, several hundred dollars more, that we believe is overall superior.
In this comparison, our goal is to remind you of the differences, and to help you determine whether the Optoma HD20 or the Mitsubishi HC3800 projector will work out best for you. For many, the question is simply, is the HC3800 worth the difference in price?
4/25/2010 - Art Feierman
HC3800 vs. HD20 - An Overview
The Optoma HD20 was built to break the $1000 banner. In that regard, there's not going to be much room for added performance, or exotic features.
The Mitsubishi HC3800, as Mitsubishi's entry level 1080p projector has the luxury of a bigger budget. As it turns out, Mitsubishi has poured that extra budget into more performance, while keeping features very basic. In fact the Mitsubishi has less inputs than the HD20! They - Mitsubishi - might have at least sprung for a second HDMI input.
Both projectors are pretty limited in placement flexibility. That means ceiling mounting for most people doing a "permanent" installation.
The Optoma HD20 is nice looking, it's got a couple of curves. The Mitsubishi is more boxy, but with some sculpting, but nothing to write home about. The bigger difference is that the HD20 is white, and the Mitsubishi HC3800, a dark grey that might as well be black.
The HD20 and HC3800 have their control panels on the top, and their inputs (and outputs) located in the back. The Optoma projector has two HDMI 1.3 inputs, the industry standard. The HC3800, however has but one. For those doing switching through an AV receiver (with HDMI switchin), or routing everything through a PC, won't care. For some others it will be an annoyance, although one can buy a good little hdmi switcher for around $50 or even less. You'll need a couple extra short cables too.
When it comes to placement flexibility, let's call it a tie. For inputs though, the Optoma HD20 gets a win, besting the HC3800 by virtue of not only having a second HDMI input, but also a 12 volt screen trigger.
Below, first image, is the Mitsubishi HC3800 input panel, and below, the Optoma HD20's input panel.
Comparing the Projectors Picture Quality
Right out of the box, we were very impressed with the HC3800 projectors' performance, and the same was true of the HD20. That's right two pretty inexpensive projectors, that look pretty good, right out of the box. The Optom HD20 is a little thin on greens in best mode, while the HC3800 is just the tiniest bit too blue.
Black level performance:
Oh what a difference a few hundred dollars make, in this case. The Optoma HD20, I should note, is no slouch when compared to other entry level projectors near its price. Even without its lamp dimming ImageAI engaged (don't bother - more later), its blacks are the best of the three sub-$1000 1080p projectors. Despite that, it's not a match for the HC3800, which may well have the best blacks of any under $4000 projector that lacks a dynamic iris. Oh, there are plenty, that can do better, but those all have dynamic irises (or are the very expensive JVCs).
As I say repeatedly, take two very good projectors, and compare on bright, and mid-bright scenes, they will look very close to each other, even when considering black levels. Look at some mostly very dark images and especially those without any really bright areas (like the Bond "train" image I use in all reviews), however, and it's almost "night and day" - let's make that "night and dusk". In the case of these two projectors, it really is the black level performance that sets them apart.
Let's look at some side-by-side comparison images, as they relate to black level, and shadow detail performance. Note, the HD20 will be on the left in all of these images, and the HC3800 projector will be on the right.
All of these images show at least some of the difference, but the best of them is the third one down, an overexposed shot of the satellite in Space Cowboys.
If anything, the HD20 may have the slight advantage in shadow detail, however, I'll attribute that to the idea that mostly, the dark shadow detail is there on the HC3800, but because the same dark shadow detail will project with lower brightness (since the blacks are lower), that detail is harder to see on a projector with better blacks. What I'm trying to say, is, that at first glance, the HD20 may look like it's doing a better job at dark shadow detail, but in reality, they are comparable.
By any measure, the Optoma HD20 does a really very good job in terms of dark shadow detail. The HC3800, by comparison, hangs right in there, yet is still better than, say, the Epson Home Cinema 8100, with which it also competes.
Unfortunately I did not do any side by sides from Casino Royale, but here are the two projectors respective "train" scene images. The first is the HC3800, which is a bit more overexposed. That makes it a difficult to confirm what I have been saying.
Color accuracy - Skin Tones and Overall:
Both the Mitsubishi HC3800 and the Optoma HD20 have really very good skin tones. I'll give the slightest advantage to the HC3800, but either projector, once calibrated will do a great job with skin tones, resulting in natural looking skin tones. Please note, however, we discuss both projectors in this report, and in their reviews, with Brilliant Color turned on, and off. While BC adds a lot of pop and wow, with most projectors, it has the effect of also making skin tones a little less natural. So, when I say natural looking, I'm really talking about when both are not using Brilliant Color.
HD20 on the left, HC3800 on the right:
As both are DLP projectors, they really do have a similar "look and feel". For both projectors I recommend you try our calibration settings. If, of course you have your own calibration gear, you'll do your own calibration, but if not, you should appreciate some modest improvements. I realize that those without calibration gear (yes, that would be almost all of you), aren't likely to spend $250 - $600 to calibrate a $999 or $1395 projector. It is with that in mind, that we decided years ago, to publish our settings, so many could try them out.
Overall Look and Feel of the Picture:
As I have said, they are rather similar, both being DLPs. There are distinct differences though. The H20 simply isn't as bright, it needs about a 30% boost in best mode, and over 20% in "brightest" to be about as bright as the HC3800 projector. Those extra lumens probably do more to differentiate the two projectors than any "look and feel" differences.
Below, the first four images are of the HC3800 projector, the last four, of the Optoma HD20:
And the HD20 projector:
Bottom Line - Image Quality
If it weren't for the significant black level differences, these two projectors would be very close overall. As it is, there aren't any huge differences in image quality until you get into those really darker scenes. Once you do, however, the difference can be rather dramatic. The Optoma HD20, without its ImageAI engaged, is no match for the HC3800 when it comes to black level performance. Engaging ImageAI, on the Optoma helps, but, the affects of ImageAI are often quite visible. I could never watch movies, for any significant period of time, on the HD20 with it engaged. And as far as I'm concerned, if it's not really watchable, it might as well not be there. Black levels give the HC3800 a big win in this comparison. There are other reasons for liking the HC3800 over the HD20, but that's the one that rationalizes the difference in price.
HD20 vs. HC3800 Projector Brightness
The HC3800 projector wins in terms of brightness, and it's pretty clear cut, even if the differences are not really huge. When comparing "best" modes, the Mitsubishi HC3800 is about 35% brighter (950 measured lumens vs. 701 lumens). When you need maximum lumens in each projector's "brightest" mode, the HC3800 still comes out on top (996 to 1142), but that's only with about an extra 15% more lumens. Still, brighter, in both modes. That's a clear win.
What about sharpness
Both DLP projectors are typically sharp, which is very good. The HC3800 may maintain sharpness a little better across the whole image, and in addition, appears just a touch sharper overall. Some of you will look at the comparison images and think "whoa, it looks a lot sharper", but in reality, some of that is the slightly higher contrasty look of the HC3800, with it's bigger "wow" factor.
Both projectors take a pass in this category. They are both entry level projectors, and while they have the usual sharpness, and other controls, including some which are dynamic, there's really nothing much to talk about here.
The one exception would be the Optoma HD20's ImageAI. I've mentioned it above, but want to clarify. ImageAI is not a dynamic iris. Rather, ImageAI controls lamp brightness, raising and lowering it to suit the scene. In this regard, it's purpose and results aren't completely different than using a dynamic iris.
Unfortunately, the HD20 takes a long time after a scene change (from darker scene to brighter, or the other way around), to react. Sometines, it can be as much as 8 seconds, or even longer. Then, the image snaps brighter or darker to match the new scene. That would be great if instantaneous but not 3 or 8 seconds later, then it just looks bad.
By my take, the ImageAI on this projector is distracting, and that distraction is a bigger issue than any improvement in blacks that the ImageAI provides. I recommend not using it, but try and decide for yourself.
Optoma HD20 vs. Mitsubishi HC3800 Bottom Line
The Optoma HD20 is one of (so far), three under $1000 projectors. For about $300 - $400 more, you can instead choose the HC3800. While the Optoma is a great way to get into a full 1080p projector on the cheap, that HD20 just isn't much of a match for the HC3800. Seems the HC3800 does just about everything as well or better than the HD20, and that big black level difference definitely should allow most of us to rationalize that modest price difference.
Two last images (a little rock and roll): The first is the Optoma HD20 showing two of the Moody Blues in concert, followed by Pete Townsend of the Who, on the HC3800 projector:
The HD20 makes a great projector for your $999 (and be sure to read the three way comparsion with it doing battle against the Vivitek and the BenQ - the other under $1000 projectors in 1080p space.