Mitsubishi HD1000U Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
There are certainly plenty of 720p resolution home theater projectors on the market for under $2000, however, the HD1000U (link to specs), is now one of the two least expensive 720p projectors on the market with its price reduced to $995 on 11/20/06 (the free lamp offer went away, with the $500 price drop). So, the price is great, the question is how does the HD1000U perform, in terms of image quality, and how it stacks up against primarily more expensive competition.
Let's start with how well the HD1000U projector handles flesh tones. I have always been a proponent of the belief, that overall, this is perhaps the most important single aspect. If flesh tones look unnatural, it is going to immediately be far more annoying than, say, some loss of shadow detail, or less than stellar black levels.
As you can see from the image of Gandalf, above, from Lord of the Rings, the flesh tone appears very natural (you may also click on the image for a larger version).
Also from Lord of the Rings (by the way, this is from standard DVD), is this image of Arwen, which exhibits an almost grayish caste to the skin color, which compares very well with my recollection of the movie in the theaters. (Lord of the Rings does have different color castes in use for almost every different part of Middle Earth, where the story takes place. It does seem a little softer in terms of reds, but that, in part is the result of inaccuracies in a quick calibration, and easily corrected.
In other images from standard DVD, in this case from the movie The Fifth Element, are shots of Leeloo, and below her, Bruce Willis. Both look extremely good, and natural:
Moving to HD-DVD, consider this image below from Phantom of the Opera (clicking on this image will provide a much larger version).
The skin tones are extremely believable. When I first received the projector, I hooked it up using just standard settings (Cinema...) and did watch about 30 minutes of Phantom. The results, even without adjustments are very similar to what you should be seeing here.
Quicktip: There are real limits to what you can get out of photos of projected images. My digital camera, lacks the dynamic range to get all the details from brightest to lowest, and, even more importantly, what the camera sees, what I see on my laptop display while cropping and resizing, and what you see on your monitor, are all going to be different. There is no viable way to calibrate your monitor to display accurately the colors that were projected, and even with a good camera, it too, is not going to precisely and accurately capture the colors seen on the screen. Nor can your monitor match the black levels these projectors produce. Bottom line: especially for color balance, take the images with a "pound of salt". These images should impress, and sometimes can show flaws that exist, but they are there to complement the commentary and opinions put forth, not the other way around. As nice as they look, in this case, for accuracy, one might change old saying to "why use a picture, when a thousand words will do". That may be the best advice.
Just remember: No matter how good these images may look on your computer monitor, the projector will look better in your house when properly set up, in an appropriately darkened room!
The image below is also from Phantom, and considering the "stage lighting" the skin tones look great!
Overall I was extremely impressed with the flesh tone handling, even right out of the box, and with a basic calibration, they can be even more refined.
For comparison's sake, I recently reviewed the new Panasonic PT-AX100U, one of the most impressive values I have ever seen (street price right below $2000), although half again more expensive. As noted in the review, the Panasonic after my (in that case, quick and mediocre) calibration, tended to be too rich in reds, and overall, colors were oversaturated a bit on the photos (both easily corrected).
So, below is the same approximate scene from above, taken with the projectors set up side by side, both in "best modes." Also, note the similarity in overall brightness which will get discussed later. You may click on for a larger image. The Mitsubishi HD1000U is on the left, the PT-AX100U, on the right.
HD1000U Black levels and shadow detail
As you are probably familiar, one of the challenges of a good home theater projector is to handle blacks well. None of the current technologies (except CRT) can actually project a true black (that would be projecting no light at all) LCD, DLP and LCOS technologies differ, in how close to black they can do, with DLP being the reigning champ, and LCD and LCOS a step down in this critical area. Fortunately today's non DLP projectors and also a number of DLP home theater projectors, use other advanced techniques, such as frame by frame, AI, and opening and closing of an iris in the lens, or brightening or dimming the lamp, frame by frame, to improve overall black levels. This has made some LCD projectors come out with amazing specs, but they cannot consistently lower the black levels to that of the better DLP projectors.
Unlike its more expensive sibling, the HC3000, the HD1000U home theater projector lacks a dynamic iris, and this results in a lower contrast rating (2500:1). Until all that AI, and dynamic irises and lamps, the contrast rating was a pretty consistent indication of black levels, but that is no longer true. 2500:1 is typical of DLP projectors using the Darkchip2 DLP chip (virtually every DLP projector shipping in the US for less than $2500).
After providing you with all that background, let me say that the HD1000U surprised me in its overall performance relating to black levels and shadow detail. Black levels were good overall, whether or not the scene you would be watching has bright areas or not. (Bright areas affect all those fancy adjustments). Not stellar, but perfectly acceptable for most people. Matching it with the right screen, takes black level performance up a notch, for those who want to focus on this aspect of the picture.
More importantly, the shadow detail was excellent. In this case, it definitely beat out the more expensive Panasonic. If you go back to the comparison image above, and click on the larger view, look to the dark areas for detail, the HD1000U will reveal slightly more than the PT-AX100U.
I have some additional comparison images, so I'll start with another comparison with the Panasonic. We will look at space scenes and star fields, always a challenge in terms of black levels and shadow detail. Again, the Mitsubishi HD1000U is on the left. The image is intentionally slightly overexposed, to bring out maximum stars, as well as in the letter box area, show you any differences in black levels.
The image above, from The Fifth Element, standard DVD. Click to enlarge.
Without a doubt, the Mitsubishi has a slight edge in detail, over the Panasonic, despite the much lower spec'd contrast levels.
Above "hands" is from Phantom, off of HD-DVD. It is my intention to start using this image on most of the forthcoming reviews, to reveal how well projectors handle the background, as well as detail in the Phantom's glove and jacket.
Above, standard DVD from Lord of the Rings.
The next pair of images is used in most reviews. Since the camera cannot properly expose the projected image, and still show any details in dark areas, the first image is "normally exposed", while the second one is the same frame overexposed. In the overexposed version you can clearly see the level of details in the shed on the right and along the bottom.
All that detail you see in the "dark areas" is readily visible when watching this scene on the HD1000U home theater projector.
As noted above, the kind of enhancements many projectors are using to improve black levels and shadow detail, are dynamic. Projectors using these techniques, can get great black levels on scenes lacking extremely bright areas, but those techniques mostly cannot affect images with a really bright area.
Overall, the Mitsubishi HD1000U impressed me with better than expected shadow detail. Although slight, it was better than the Panasonic PT-AX100U, and I suspect it to be better than the Optoma HD72, although I no longer have that one around for direct comparsion. I'm expecting Optoma's lower cost HD70 to arrive in a week or so for review, and will then report how it compares to the HD1000U, although Mitsubishi has traditionally done better on blacks and shadow details than Optoma (and Optoma traditionally a bit less expensive).
Since I had the Panasonic here when I started this review, I played around and have come up with some images to reveal how the two projectors stack up in terms of black levels on scenes with and without bright areas.
In summary, black levels overall were suprisingly good relative to the claimed contrast spec, and very good relative to what would be expected for a good DLP projector without fancy irises, etc. The HD1000U uses a seven segment color wheel, adding a "white" filter (clear). This allows for extra brightness that is reflected in the HD1000U's performance. It also doesn't help black levels at all.
That said, the Mitsubishi should match the black levels of the very popular and bright (one of my favorites) Optoma HD72, which is more money, but is also the projector most similar to the HD1000U in design and performance. (The Mitsubishi is the brighter of the two as well).
Comparing to the new Panasonic LCD PT-AX100U, in terms of black levels. As noted, the Panasonic uses AI and a dynamic iris. As a result the Panasonic, on scenes without really bright areas, does reduce black levels well below the HD1000U. On scenes with lots of dark areas, but with some bright spots, the two are almost identical, with my best estimate being that the HD1000U has a slight edge.
Want to further enhance the black levels of the HD1000U? Match it with a high contrast gray or high contrast light gray surface, such as the Stewart Firehawk, that I use, or less expensive screens like Elite's ezFrame high contrast gray, Da-lites HC Da-Mat, Elite's CinemaTension HC gray, etc.
Please note, this next section is more than 90% of you want to know, but to keep the other 10% happy, here goes:
HD1000U home theater projector vs PT-AX100U home theater projector - black level comparison on scenes with and without bright areas:
In the image above, with the projectors receving a frame that is supposed to be fully black, with no areas with anything but black, you can see easily that the Mitsubishi HD1000U projector on the left, puts more light on the screen than the Panasonic, on the right. The image is slightly overexposed so that you can see these near fully dark "blacks". The Panasonic projector and the Mitsubishi projector in the modes (cinema) they were in for this shot, are nearly identical in brightness, so that would not be a factor here.
In the images below, I cropped the images and seriously overexposed them. You are looking at the same two projectors side by side again (HD1000U on the left, as always). You are seeing the very top of a scene that had some very bright areas, so that the dynamic iris was barely able to stop down, thus the Panasonic's black levels are far worse than the image above. As you can see if you look closely along the top, you will make out the letter boxing of both projectors.
In the image you can make out that the two are very similar, but the Mitsubishi HD1000U's blacks are just a little bit darker.
In the image below this is a closeup of a frame with some bright areas. What you see on the two projectors is different, since you are seeing the top right of the Mitsubishi HD1000U, and the top left of the image of the PT-AX100U.
Again, the black levels are virtually identical, with the Mitsubishi being - just the tiniest bit darker. A truly, I repeat, truly, insignificant amount, that the eye would not normally be able to discriminate even side by side, because of the brightness below, on the actual image frame.
So the bottom line, on the darkest scenes, the more expensive Panasonic can deliver blacker blacks, but not on more typical frames where there are some bright to very bright areas.
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Please note, that dynamic iris action can often be visible to the eye, in some scenes, such as a fairly dark one where a bright object enters the scene. As soon as it does, the iris has to open and all the objects get a little brighter. (It's sort of like someone is playing with a dimmer on the lights in the room - when the white object enters the image the walls all get slightly lighter). Note: The PT-AX100U did a particularly good job of minimizing the visibility of the iris opening and stopping down, but if you are looking for it, you can spot it - on the right scenes, or on scene changes in some cases. Not a real issue in this case.
Additional images (and I normally add several over the first week following publication):
The image above HD-DVD from the movie Serenity (based on the sci-fi series Firefly), was absolutely stunning. Of course the camera and your display can't capture the full effect, any more than watching a commercial for a HD plasma can be fully appreciated watching on a old tv off of a regular non HD broadcast. Regardless it was so impressive I included a larger resolution version, so you can click on the image above.
Also from Serenity:
The standard DVD image of Gondor, from Lord of the Rings, above, brings out all the detail in the buildings and rocks, and you can even make out some details below the arch on the bottom right, despite, (and I apologize) this image being slightly underexposed.
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Guess what, yes, the HD-DVD image above is also from Phantom of the Opera.
You'll find this image above (standard DVD) also used on most other reviews published in 2006.
OK, sports fans, your turn. This first image along side, gives you an excellent idea of how the room lighting was when the sports images were photograph.
Back to Phantom:
You can click on the image immediately above for a larger version.
By now you should appreciate that the HD1000U produces overall, an excellent image. Fleshtones and colors in general are very accurate even right out of the box, without any tweaking of the settings. While black levels are very acceptable, they cannot match the best of class, which are more expensive DLP projectors, without the clear filter on the color wheel, and those that may also have a dynamic iris. the Mitsubishi HC3000 comes immediately to mind, being very similar, except that it does have an iris, and only a six segment wheel. the HC3000's black levels are easily a step up, if you have the properly darkened room to fully appreciate the difference. In tradeoff, the HD1000U is definitely brighter! Other projectors with significantly better black levels include the Optoma HD7100 (being replaced by the 7300) with its Darkchip3 DLP chip. Of course the Optoma is twice the price. Sony's HS-51A, an LCD projector also will have a significant advantage, but it too costs significantly more. By comparison, the Panasonic's advantage is there, but it is not that great a difference as with the others mentioned.
I am pleased for all you out there in the market, that, for less than a thousand dollars, there is now a projector, that overall, performs this well. Certainly my old BenQ 8700+ from a year and a half ago, couldn't compare in color accuracy, shadow detail, and certainly not in brightness, yet it was selling (if I recall correctly) for more than $3000 in mid-2005!
Time to consider other aspects beside image quality. We'll next look at brightess, pixel visibility, remote control, menus, inputs, screen recommendations and more (not necessarily in that order) in the General Performance section.