Mitsubishi HC5500 Home Theater Projector: Summary, Competition, Pros and Cons
OK! What we have here, in the form of the new Mitsubishi HC5500 (link to specs), is a projector both better, in terms of picture quality, and worse, in terms of placement flexibility, than the Mitsubishi HC4900 it replaces. At least initially, it's also selling for more than the HC4900, which for most of its life, was street priced around $2000 or less. The HC5500, by comparison is currently (8/08) street priced at $2495, less a $200 mail in rebate.
Because of the higher net street price, the HC5500 is priced below, but much closer to a host of other 1080p projectors, including the Panasonic PT-AE2000U, the BenQ W5000, the Optoma HD80/HD8000 series, and of course, the Epson Home Cinema 1080UB. Of all of those just mentioned, only the Optoma HD8000 sells for $3000 or slightly more (only available from local dealers), while the others are mostly in the $2500 - $3000 range.
All of the 3LCD projectors mentioned have much better zoom range, and all have better lens shift range as well. The DLP projectors; the Optomas and BenQ W5000, also have only 1.2:1 zoom lenses, although each has slightly different throw distances. The BenQ W5000 also has lens shift (the Optomas do not), with almost exactly the same range on the lens shift, as the W5000.
While the addition of a dynamic iris significantly improves black level performance, the competition is tougher these days. The Epson - the reigning black level champ under about $4000, is definitely a cut above, in this regard. Of the others mentioned, all are roughly comparable in black levels to the Mitsubishi. Further below, I'll look at how it stacks up to several of the aforementioned projectors.
Mitsubishi HC5500 Projector: Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
Mitsubishi HC5500 Projector: Pros
- One of the most affordable 1080p projectors
- Brighter than most 1080p projectors when comparing "best" color modes
- Very good color after calibration
- Extremely sharp image
- Dynamic iris, for improved black level performance
- Very good shadow detail
- Excellent gamma controls
- Extremely quiet operation
- Longest life lamp - 5000 hours in eco-mode, for low cost of operation
- Compact form factor
- One of the least expensive 1080p projectors
- Low image noise
- Very good manual, with reasonable explanations for many functions
Mitsubishi HC5500 Projector: Cons
- Limited placement flexibility due to 1.2:1 zoom lens, no match for other 3LCD projectors, and no better than DLP projectors
- Lens shift is more limited than other 3LCD projectors, the same as the BenQ DLP, but of course better than the Optoma projectors, none of which have lens shift
- No horizontal lens shift (rarely an important issue)
Mitsubishi HC5500 Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Average brightness in "brightest mode"
- Good Menus, but nothing exceptional
- Range of the remote control
- Lamp life in full power mode
- Black level performance
- 2 Year warranty is typical, although longer than some competitors
Mitsubishi HC5500 Projector: Competitive Aspects
The HC5500 is not only more expensive than its predecessor, but improved to the point that the extra few hundred dollars it sells for, is easily justified. That said, though, how does it stack up against the competition. I've already addressed the general physical placement issues above, so here's a quick take on how it compares in other ways. Also, note that the HC5500 is one of the first new home theater projectors released in the second half of 2008, and understand that most new home projectors hit in September thru January, so many of these projectors mentioned will have newer models replacing them in a few months.
Mitsubishi HC5500 vs. Sanyo PLV-Z2000
The older HC4900 was pretty close in price to the Sanyo Z2000 (the least expensive 1080p projector), the newer HC5500 though is more money, so they are not competing against each other as directly. The HC5500 crushes the Sanyo when it comes to brightness, and it also has a slight advantage in image processing. Both home cinema projectors produce extremely sharp images, although the Mitsubishi may have a slight edge there. Both look really good after calibration, although the Sanyo is slightly better (Pure Cinema Mode) when comparing out of the box color accuracy.
Two very good, lower cost projectors, but the primary battle here, between these two 1080p 3LCD projectors is price vs. lumens. If you need bright - the HC5500, if you need a real bargain, the Sanyo. Sanyo also offers an extra year warranty.
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Mitsubishi HC5500 vs. Panasonic PT-AE2000U
Again, here, brightness is a big factor. The 640 lumens we measured in best mode on the HC5500 easily trumps the 388 lumens of the Panasonic. Considering the prices are similar on these two projectors, another way of looking at it, is that the Mitsubishi HC5500, in low power mode, still has almost 100 more lumens than the Panasonic in full power mode, and in that mode, the Mitsubishi projector still manages 472 lumens, and its lamp lasts 5000 hours, in that mode, 2.5 times longer than the Panasonic at full power. In other words, you can still have the brighter projector, but likely save yourself at least one $400 lamp over the period you own the projector. By the way, Panasonic has been running a Blockbuster card promo and an extra year warranty for many months now. With the extra year warranty promo, that means they both have the same warranty.
When it comes to the all important image quality, there are tradeoffs. The Panasonic definitely has the better "out of the box" color, but both calibrate nicely. Where the Mitsubishi HC5500 shines is in terms of sharpness of the image. The Panasonic offers completely invisible pixel structure (unless you are about 2-3 feet from the screen), whereas the Mitsubishi is typical for 3LCD 1080p projectors. When I say typical, yes, maybe you can see a bit of pixel structure on credits and other signage graphics, if you sit fairly close, etc., but it's not an issue in my book!
The HC5500 with its HQV processing probably has a slight advantage in image processing (including 14 bit gamma - if that really makes a difference - hard to say), but not critical - except for some really hard core enthusiasts. On the other hand, the Panasonic has a built in waveform generator and color management system that probably envokes the same kind of excitement for hard core hobbyists, that a hot chick in a bikini does for bulk of the rest of the home theater shopping population.
Lastly, I'll give a very slight edge to the Panasonic in film-like performance for movie watching, and a bigger advantage to the Mitsubishi for HDTV, especially sports where you can really appreciate the sharpness, as I did, watching some Olympic events the last couple of days! Tough call!
Mitsubishi HC5500 vs. Epson Home Cinema 1080UB
This is the toughest competition for the HC5500. The Epson simply has the best black level performance of any projector near the price of the HC5500, and, in this regard is a magnitude better than the Mitsubishi, in an area (black levels) often referred to as the Holy Grail of home theater performance. True, the Epson sells for about $500 more, but it delivers those amazing black levels that only three or four over $4000, can match or beat. The Epson isn't as sharp, that is true, but more than acceptable for most, (and sharper than the Panasonic). The Mitsubishi still has the advantage in brightness in best mode - with its 640 measured lumens trumping the Epson's 468 lumens (essentially identical to the Mitusbishi in low power eco-mode). However, when you need lots of lumens, the Epson easily beats the HC5500, with over 1600 lumens compared to less than 1100 lumens.
The Epson has the slightly better warranty, both having 2 years parts and labor, but Epson has their overnight replacement program for both years.
Give or take all the trade-offs, the Epson in my book, is, overall, the superior projector in image quality, even though the HC5500 has a very slight advantage in shadow detail. You'll have to decide if the Epson is worth the extra $500 in your situation, but I definitely favor the Epson. The one place where the HC5500 can be the better choice, is for movie watchers with larger than 110" screens, where the Epson starts running out of horsepower.
Mitsubishi HC5500 vs Viewsonic Pro8100
The Viewsonic seems to be related to the HC5500, with a lot of the same processing, although different physical attributes. I believe they have the same dynamic iris, as well as the HQV processing. The Viewsonic Pro8100, however is sold only through local dealers and commands a much higher price. From a cost standpoint, that makes the Mitsubishi the better value, for almost identical performance. If you are buying from a local dealer, though, you expect to pay more, but, if you buy a Mitsubishi and then have a local dealer install it, you will probably find yourself paying more for the installation, as the dealer tries to recover the lost profits from not being able to make money on the Mitsubishi. Still, even that considered, the HC5500 has the price performance advantage.
Mitsubishi HC5500 vs. Optoma HD80
Finally, 3LCD vs. DLP. All the other projectors mentioned so far, are 3LCD. With the Optoma, you get the higher natural contrast of the DLP system, but black levels between these two are pretty close, with no clear winner, since the dynamic iris of the HC5500 will do better on very dark scenes without any really bright areas, and the Optoma will likely do better on scenes that have both very dark areas and some very bright ones.
Pricing is similar, so no help there. Brightness? Well, out of the box "best mode" performance has the Optoma HD80 significantly brighter (851 lumens), but forget that, as the HD80's out of the box color accuracy is not good at all. After calibrating the HD80 and getting good results, the Optoma does manage 561 lumens, not quite as bright as the Mitsubishi, but pretty close.
Both projectors measure between 1000 and 1100 lumens in brightest mode, so again, no clear winner.
Some folks prefer DLP projectors, over all, for the film-like qualities, although I didn't find the HD80/HD8000 series to be exceptional in that area. I think buyers will favor one over the other, based on their personal preference for DLP or 3LCD images. The Optoma, I should note, is always particularly good at having rich dark colors that standout. Both have about the same zoom lens attributes, but the lens shift will allow some to shelf mount the Mitsubishi, which may be a deciding factor. This is more of an Apples vs. Oranges, than a better/worse comparison. That makes it a tough call.
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Mitsubishi HC5500 vs. BenQ W5000
Now here is a real competition. We start with the basic differences between 3LCD and DLP, add to that, that the BenQ W5000 really has very good color handling, and both have similar physical attributes (limited zoom, and about the same lens shift).
Brightness is about a wash. The manual iris on the BenQ, depending on how you set it, lets the BenQ W5000 straddle the HC5500 in brightness. With the iris almost closed, the BenQ W5000 produces 472 lumens, but open, 670 lumens in "best mode" (Cinema).
In brightest mode, the BenQ, depending on whether you are using Brilliant Color, can produce from 755 lumens to 1270. I don't recommend Brilliant Color for movie watching - it does degrade image quality, but for HDTV/Sports, when you need the lumens, it comes in handy. Over all, therefore, the two projectors are pretty similar in brightness, but the W5000 can muster up about 20% more lumens if needed, but it won't look as good as the Mitsubishi at its brightest.
The BenQ W5000's post calibration picture quality is excellent, and I'll give it the advantage over the HC5500, including being more film-like for movie watching. Both are extremely sharp, so no difference there. The BenQ suffers from more image noise than any other 1080p projector reviewed, but, supposedly BenQ is working on a firmware fix (it's been 5 months now?).
Bottom line, tough call. My own personal choice would be the BenQ, overall. (But, I admit to previously owning 2 BenQ home theater projectors - the last one being the PE8720), before I jumped to 1080p and the JVC DLA-RS1, so I may have some bias. The BenQ image is simply more impressive over all, despite the image noise problem!
OK, that covers enough of the competition, especially since several of the ones mentioned will be replaced in the next 2-4 months with newer models.
Mitsubishi HC5500 Home Theater Projector: Summary
Nice projector, very nice, with three real strengths, price point, brightness, and extremely sharp image. While there are reasons to chose the HC5500 over most of the other competing 1080p projectors, and vice versa, I would have liked to see the HC5500 with a street price another $200 to $300 less, to give it our Hot Product Award. It was a close call, but the deciding factors in my mind, are the BenQ W5000 and the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB. Give or take a trade-off or two, I consider those two overall to have distinct advantages over the HC5500, and the pricing difference isn't enough for the HC5500 to stand out in terms of price/performance, by comparison.
Mitsubishi HC5500 Projector: Bottom Line
All considered, the HC5500 really is an excellent projector. If you choose to put it in your home theater, you will almost certainly be most pleased with its performance and low cost, both for the projector, and, if you run in low power, its cost of operation. More importantly the overall picture quality is very good, as its its brightness in best mode. Purists will, however favor an Epson or BenQ, for the additional dollars. The physical placement limitations will also affect its popularity, but that's a simple thing - either it works in your room from a placement standpoint, or it doesn't. When you consider the differences between the HC5500 and the older HC4900, the newer HC5500 is definitely worth the difference in price, as its black level performance is now very good, and typical for projectors in the price range, whereas the HC4900 had the weakest black level performance in the field. Certainly, it is comparable in value, overall, with the heavy competition from Panasonic and Optoma, as well as others.
The real trick for you, is to determine if it is the best overall solution for you, and your budget.
For many people, it will be, especially those on a tight budget! Afterall, there may be slightly better projectors out there, but you won't be seeing them side by side, and the HC5500 has no major flaws to detract from its overall performance, plus you've got to love the brightness, and sharpness.