HC5000BL Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
Since the Mitsubishi HC5000BL is the first 1080p resolution home theater projector to come in for review, I think it's only appropriate to start off this section talking about sharpness.
During the course of this review, I got to spend significant time comparing the HC5000BL (link to specs) with my 720p resolution BenQ PE8720 (switching back and forth between the two in my viewing room), and observing the HC5000BL side by side with the 720p resolution Samsung SP-H710AE home theater projector and the Sanyo PLV-Z5, in our testing room.
Either way, the Mitsubishi produced a sharper image then the 720p projectors. Even the BenQ, known for its sharpness, simply cannot resolve fine details as well as this Mitsubishi projector.
Having the extra resolution produced a visibly sharper image, even on standard DVDs with their inherent resolution below either the 720p projectors or the HC5000BL. On images from HD-DVDs and HDTV, the sharpness difference is even more noticeable.
Of course if you sit far enough back from your screen, your eyes will not be able to see the difference, but I would say that only a very small percentage of those buying projectors will actually sit far enough back to not be able to see the difference.
One note of interest. The HC5000BL as received had the Sharpness control set for +2. That left us with some visible edge sharpening. I finally settled on what I thought was best, in the -2 to -4 range. You'll have to figure out what you like best, it's a bit subjective.
A few images for your consideration. The first pair are also found on the Samsung SP-H710AE review:
Click on the first image to open a larger version of the Mitsubishi HC5000BL, click on the second one for the enlargement of the lower resolution Samsung SP-H710AE: Each will open in its own window for comparison purposes
Also for comparison purposes are these images from Phantom of the Opera:
For an even closer look, here is a zoomed in shot of the jewelry, and again, you can click for an enlarged image.
In my viewing room (our great room, which doubles as a home theater), I sit closer than most - about 11 feet back from my 128" diagonal screen. With my 720p projector, HDTV looks pretty good, but I'm perhaps 2 feet too close to have it look razor sharp. With the Mitsubishi HC5000BL, however, at the same seating distance, I enjoy the feel of sharpness that would require me to back up several feet with my projector.
Click to enlarge the image below to compare detail sharpness. The Mitsubishi HC5000BL image is on the right, Samsung on the left.
In other words, I'm sold on 1080p. I truly appreciate the difference. I would say that people who, in a normal movie theater, like to sit half way back, or closer to the screen, are definitely 1080p people. Those who prefer the last row, instead, are probably fine with a 720p projector.
You can click on the image of Gandalf below for a larger, cropped version. Remember, both Gandalf below and the image from Starship Troopers immediately above, are both from standard DVD. Despite the much lower resolution of the source, there is still a sharpness difference between the Mitsubishi projector and the Samsung!
Bottom line, the Mitsubishi HC5000BL's higher resolution definitely produces a sharper appearing image that most potential users will appreciate. Whether, from an optics or other standpoint, the HC5000BL turns out to be particularly sharp (or not), compared to other 1080p projectors, it definitely exceeds the sharpness of 720p projectors, even especially sharp ones like my BenQ.
Mitsubishi HC5000BL home theater projector - Handling of Flesh tones
Time to get back on track. Normally I start with flesh tones (skin tones), as a projector that doesn't provide realistic fleshtones, isn't going to make most viewers happy.
So, I'm happy to report, that the HC5000BL does a very good job on flesh tones, right out of the box, without any calibration, and with minor adjustments, does extremely well.
Here are the usual suspect images, starting with Gandalf and Arwen. The Gandalf image was taken before any calibration. The other images - post calibration.
Overall, the flesh tone handling "out of the box" provides very reasonable fleshtones. Tweaking the projector slightly, such as using the settings listed in the Calibration section under General Performance does not bring about a radical improvement, but the improvement, nonetheless, is there and visible, and provides an even more pleasing result. Get yourself a calibration disk (less than $50), and invest an hour or so, to improve overall performance. (Or of course, even better - hire a professional calibrator who can take the calibration of the Mitsubishi HC5000BL to "the next level").
HC5000BL Black Levels, Contrast and Shadow Detail
Let's start first with contrast - once the "holy grail" of home theater projectors. Only CRT projectors can output pure black (that is, output nothing, when black is called for). As a result fixed pixel projectors (LCD, DLP, LCOS/SXRD), can only output medium dark to very dark grays, depending on how good they are. Technically, contrast provides a great measurement system for determining how close to black they can come, as contrast is the difference between the darkest the projector can produce, and the brightest - measure the "blacks" then measure white, and the ratio is your off/on contrast.
For the last three years, however, projector manufacturers have used additional technologies to improve black performance, and in most cases it results in very high contrast ratios. Unfortunately, many of those techniques only work some of the time, but the contrast ratio claimed is a fixed number. The two most common methods of enhancing black levels are to use a dynamic iris inside or behind the lens, that when closed, drops the brightness of every pixel. This works great in a scene where nothing is bright. the iris might drop the light output across the board, by 75% or more. To keep the brighter parts of the scene at appropriate brightness, the image is "equalized" you tell the near blacks to stay at their intensity, but the medium shades, the projector increases in brightness to offset the drop from the iris. The net result - blacker blacks, but still the same intensity brighter areas. Unfortunately, though, if a scene has some very bright areas - say full on white, or a full intensity red or other color, if the projector closes down the iris - part way or fully, that full white also darkens, there's no way to keep it as bright as if the iris is open. Net result, the solution is effective part of the time.
Some good news - if a scene has large very bright areas, even though the iris stays open, and blacks are brighter "dark gray", the eye adjusts and mostly follows the bright areas, so shadow detail and blacks are less noticeable. However, there will alway be plenty of scenes where there is a preponderance of black and near black and small amounts of bright white. You will see what happens in such cases immediately below.
Another technique is to dim the lamp and brighten it frame by frame to accomplish the same goals as the iris. Most projectors using these techniques - which are often call "AI" (artificial intelligence) because they compensate frame by frame after "analyzing" what's in each frame, use just an iris, although a few projectors - notably Sanyo's Z4 and brand new Z5 (our next review) use both, to further improve black levels.
OK, here's our first example. In this dark star scene, in the first frame, the iris has closed down due to virtually no bright areas, and blacks are pretty good. In the second image of the same frame, I opened a fairly large and bright HC5000BL menu. The projector treats the menu as part of the scene and adjusts acordingly. The result, the iris doesn't shut down at all, or only barely, so black levels are much brighter. Both images were shot with the same exact exposure with my camera, so you are seeing the difference in how they appear in "real life".
Of course, to best show the blacks, the exposure for both was overexposed, thus the menus are completely "blown out" In reality there is text in there. The important point, though is how much lighter gray the blacks are. A small bright moon, say in the upper right corner, occupying about the same area as the menus, would achieve the same effect.
All that explanation aside, the Mitsubishi HC5000BL does achieve extremely good black levels overall, within the limits of the technology. While, in scenes with more than a few very bright areas, it can't match a DLP projector (they are inherently better at black levels), the performance should satisfy the demands of most fairly critical viewers, and be a non-issue for the vast majority. In most scenes however, the iris will improve black levels anywhere from slightly to dramatically.
I might point you back up to the side by side shot above of the cockpit scene from Starship troopers. In a scene like this, where there are large areas of color, but nothing blindingly bright, look at the sky. The Samsung, on the left, is DLP (Darkchip2) with a 2800:1 contrast ratio, and no dynamic iris, or other AI. In this case, the HC5000BL's iris is apparently closing down enough, and adjusting the image, so that the sky (black) is notably darker with the Mitsubishi.
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Moving on to shadow detail. Contrast and Brightness, out of the box were very acceptable, and as a result, the HC5000 did very well in terms of shadow detail. The best I've seen of late, was the Samsung SP-H710AE, basically a relatively expensive 720p DLP projector using the Darkchip2, and it comes, out of the box, essentially fully calibrated. Neither my own BenQ (Darkchip3) nor the HC5000BL could bring out as much detail in dark shadow areas, but both were close. Overall, the HC5000BL's image is very good in this regard, and it (an apparent trade-off) produces an image that is punchier than the Samsung, which many will prefer. In environments with very modest ambient light, the HC5000BL image appears more dynamic.
The image above, from Lord of the Rings (DVD) is normally exposed, and the same frame below, slightly overexposed, so you can see the details in the shadow areas along the bottom and the right side. You'll find these images in most recent reviews.
In the side-by-side image below, with the Samsung on the left and the HC5000BL on the right, look at the dark areas in the lower left of the screen. This is where you simply see a little more information (shadow detail) on the Samsung. (click to enlarge)
Immediately below (also from Phantom on HD-DVD) is a side by side comparing the HC5000BL to Sanyo's equally brand new PLV-Z5. The HC5000 is on the left. As noted above, the Sanyo uses both a dynamic iris and dynamic lamp dimming, and claims a slightly higher contrast ratio (11,000:1). Since there are no very bright areas, all that technology gets to work, and both projectors do a similar job in terms of shadow detail, with some dark colors being just the tiniest bit more visible on the HC5000BL (such as in her hair). Look close, and you'll also see the slight difference in sharpness thanks to the HC5000BL's 1080p resolution, especially in the folds of Christine's cape, and in her dress.
Here are some images from Sin City (DVD), an especially dark movie, where having a projector with very good shadow detail and black levels is really appreciated:
HC5000BL Color Handling
Pretty impressive out of the box. I did most of my "work" in Cinema mode, and started with User color temperature, as it actually had settings in there (possibly since this is a review sample). I also switched from User, to Warm Color Temp and Medium color Temp. I should note that the warm setting, which I would expect to be 6500K - ideal for movies, was actually a bit too warm, and the Medium setting slightly less too cool. However both were close enough to render very, very good color out of the box. There was just the tiniest bit of too much green, but barely noticeable. With a basic color temp calibration I came up with settings in between the two (warm / medium), and almost ideal color temp settings.
Color balance was pretty consistent from low grays to bright white, better than most. The color settings I mention in the calibration setting further improved the evenness of color handling from dark to light. As I mentioned earlier, the HC5000BL image is well saturated, providing a feeling of depth.
The bottom line is that the HC5000BL really does a great job on color, out of the box, but you can improve upon it.
The image above, from Starship Troopers (standard DVD) (click to enlarge), gives you a good feel for the richness of colors. Those of you looking to compare this with similar images on older reviews, please note; this is one frame earlier in the movie, and the structures of the ship are in the dark, in the other frame they are well lit.
A few more images for your consideration:
Overall, I was very pleased with the image quality of the HC5000BL 1080p home theater projector. Its performance was comparable or better than just about any LCD based 720p projector, in image quality areas, except for brightness. We'll see how it stacks up with the other new 1080p LCD projectors as they come in for review. Then of course there are future 1080p DLP projectors, although the only affordable one shipping so far is Optoma's HD81 (very impressive at CEDIA), which appears to sell for about $2000 more, and the slightly more expensive $4995 Sony VPL-VW50 an LCOS 1080p projector.
Let's move on to General Performance aspects of the HC5000BL.