Posted on March 14, 2008 By Art Feierman
The HC3800 home theater projector from Mitsubishi may be considered very short on features, but it is well endowed when it comes to putting a bright, quality picture on the screen.
The HC3800 starts with tons of brightness, but it also manages to have the best black level performance of any DLP projector lacking a dynamic iris. That is to say, it bests all the lower cost and some higher cost DLP projectors, when it comes to blacks. The only DLP that can beat it in this entry level class is the Sharp XV-Z15000, which is no match at all, in terms of “best mode” brightness, as the HC3800 is almost 3 times as bright (with brilliant color on, and 2x as bright, with Brilliant color off). OK, true, the HC3800 projector is not much brighter than the Sharp, when comparing brightest modes.
No lens shift, and a basic, 1.2:1 zoom lens, make for limited placement flexibility. Most of you will ceiling mount, the rest, will place on a table top.
Trading off against the strength and power of the HC3800’s picture, are its very limited placement flexibility and merely a good 2 year warranty, compared to the Epson’s 2 years, with replacement program both years. And don’t forget, the Epson does have an extra couple hundred lumens available in its “bright mode”. It really is a tough call, between these two, but, if the HC3800 places in your room, it will likely be the better choice for more than half of the folks considering it, vs. the Epson. It’s a tough call. I like both projectors. In my case, I follow my own advice, start with placement issues. In my main theater, I could use the HC3800 but it would have to be ceiling mounted hanging down about 8 feet on a pole.
While you can find better blacks for not much more in price (the Panasonic easily beats the HC3800 at blacks), these blacks are particularly friendly ones. That is, the HC3800 accomplishes them without a dynamic iris, so there’s none of the associated minor issues typical of using a dynamic iris, such as a bit of “yo-yoing” changing to slow after a major scene change. In other words, good, clean blacks. Not “ultra-high contrast” blacks but not too far short, in terms of good blacks, than the least good of the ultra-high contrast projectors.
The remote is ok, but it’s an old style business projector clunker. Its backlight could be brighter, and its range longer, but it will do.
For a lower cost projector, the HC3800, within the limits of its black handling, just wowed me, filling my 128″ Firehawk G3 screen, effortlessly in “best” mode. Add to that a very sharp image, and you hae a projector that provides a rich, dynamic, and sharp image for movie watching. For HDTV and sports, its 1100+ lumens are better than average, and again, the sharpness, really sets the HC3800 apart.
The HC3800 projector ended up in a tie with the Epson as both have their own strengths compared to the other. I know a lot of shoppers agonizing between these two projectors, as I get a lot of questions about which one of the two, to buy.
The Mitsubishi will have the advantage (compared to the Epson 8100) for large screen users, as the Epson has just 500 “best mode” lumens (a little thin when trying to fill my 128″ screen). It will also provide a sharper image for HDTV sports and high quality digital HDTV content. The Epson, on occasion, will best the Mitsubishi in black level performance, by just a little, on those darkest scenes, but the HC3800 should at least hold its own in terms of black level performance in all other circumstances, as the Epson relies on a dynamic iris. Epson’s iris action is one of the smoother ones, but, hey, if you can get just as good blacks without resorting to a dynamic iris, that’s the path you want to take. (It would make for an inteesting product if Mitsubishi also came out with, say an “HC4800” that is roughly the same, but with the addition of a dynamic iris). Based on HC3800 performance, a “HC4800” would almost certainly qualify as an “ultra-high contrast” projector.
One of the things that really impressed me when watching the HC3800 is the “pop and wow” factor. The HC3800 wow’s you. In a side by side with the Epson (tough to do due to the brightness differences), the HC3800 projects a dynamic image. The Epson, which is no slouch when it comes to making scenes pop off the screen, just can’t stay even with the Mitsubshi in this regard, in part due to the lumens, in part due to the Mitsubishi looking particularly good, and with dark colors, looking particularly rich.
Before switching to my rear shelf mounted JVCs, I had BenQ projectors hanging from poles. My wife hated it. Therefore, no HC3800 for me, she’d never let me go back to using long poles, as our main theater, is also the house’s great room, and is used a lot, even when the projector is turned off.
On the other hand, the Epson just isn’t bright enough in “best mode” to fill my screen, except maybe when the lamp is brand new. So, for me to own one of these, and have it work properly in my main theater, it would have to be the Mitsubishi HC3800 projector. That said, I’d have to trade in the wife… (Hmm, I could use all new, ultra high end audio electronics, anyone interested in a cute redhead?)
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