Mitsubishi HC3800 Home Theater Projector "First Look"

UPDATE: The Mitsubishi HC3800 projector review has been posted.

Oh, I like this one!

And I’ve been working with an engineering sample of the Mitsubishi HC3800.

Angle photo of Mitsubishi HC3800 home theater projector

With an engineering sample,  that means it’s so early, that many things don’t even work.  Case in point, only HDMI works on this projector, not composite video, component video, etc.  The color tables (while close), I’m told are also not quite finished.

That said, the one I had here (just shipped it back to Mitsubishi, yesterday) so those of you at CEDIA later this week can see it), is really impressive for the $$$.  Let me start with a comment relating to the Mitsubishi HC3800 compared to the just reviewed HD20 from Optoma.

OK, the HC3800 MAPs at $1499 (or is it $1495?), so it’s $500 more than the Optoma HD20. I gave the Optoma our Hot Product Award, afterall, a $999 1080p projector is something to celebrated, and all considered, the HD20 does a very nice job as an entry level projector.

The HC3800, by comparison, is simply better.  If you are shopping in the $1000 – $1500 price range, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the difference, but my take is yes, it’s a step up, and worth every one of those extra $500.

Even before calibration, color handling was very good.  This unit doesn’t have proper default settings yet, so, for example film, is not the default gamma.   Forget all that, out of the box, it did very well, including skin tones.

I’m just now viewing it for the first time, on movies, since Mike brought it back from calibrating it a few hours ago.  I logged at least 15 hours though, before handing it off to Mike.

Black level performance is go0d, very good for a $1500 projector.  There is a noticeable improvement in black levels compared to the lower cost Optoma HD20, and for that matter, it did better, side by side, than the Samsung SP-A600 which is a few hundred dollars more.

I can tell you that I can’t count the HC3800 as an “ultra-high” contrast projector (such as the Epson “UB” or the Panasonic PT-AE3000, but it should prove to be better than most projectors under $2000, and definitely will be considered to have black levels a bit better than “entry-level”.  With a claimed contrast ratio of only 4000:1, you aren’t getting an impressive number, but then the HC3800 doesn’t have a dynamic iris.  Projectors with dynamic irises typically start with contrast ratios of about 15,000:1.  It should be interesting, though to see if the HC3800 can hold its own on blacks with, say, Epson’s Home Cinema 6100, a slightly more expensive 3LCD projector with dynamic iris.

The Mitsubishi HC3800 just looks really good.  In many ways it reminds me of the Sharp XV-Z15000 which is a $2000+ street priced DLP projector that does have even better black levels.  As a trade-off, the HC3800 is a significantly brighter projector… and a lot less money.  The Sharp has excellent color and the HC3800 (while I’ve just started to view it post calibration), could be just as good.  Sadly, I had to return the Sharp, because it would have made a great side-by-side comparison.

Despite being an engineering sample, this HC3800, which is coming back to me right after CEDIA, looks impressive enough to proceed with the full review, so look for it the week after CEDIA.  Because it is an early sample, though, I’ll be getting a full production one in, late October/early November, when they start shipping, so I can note any fixes and improvements.

Let’s back up a second, to define the Mitsubishi HC3800 projector:

Physically, the Mitsubishi HC3800 home theater projector is a small projector, finished in a shiny black case.  It’s basically a box, but with some minor sculpting so it’s a bit cuter than the most basic “boxes” out there.

As a small DLP, one can normally expect audible noise levels to be fairly high.  Well, that turns out to be the case.  Still, the HC3800’s fan noise isn’t that loud (definitely quieter, for example than the HD20), and is somewhat typical for lower cost DLP projectors (though there are quieter ones).

The image is nice and sharp, with perhaps a touch too much edge sharpening at the default setting.  Most should like it though.  You can turn down the sharpness if you prefer. While there was no substantial difference in sharpness between the HC3800 and the Optoma, I’ll give the HC3800 a very slight advantage.

On the downside, the HC3800 is pretty unique in that it only has one HDMI input, compared to almost all other projectors having two. Still, that shouldn’t be an issue for most folks, especially those with AV receivers with HDMI switching.  And  low cost (well under $100) HDMI switchers are available on the market.

The remote is nothing to write home about – it’s backlit – but not bright at all.  It works well enough, but I’d say, only average in range.  Let’s say that if it turns out that the remote is my biggest complaint, then the HC3800 should be a real crowd pleaser.

Color management.  While we at projectorreviews.com do not do a full CMS calibration – calibrating the individual colors – (we’ve only ever done that twice), it’s nice to report that the HC3800 does have a full CMS, allowing individual color adjustments for calibrating the primary and secondary colors.  That’s not something found on a fair number of lower cost home theater projectors.

Mitsubishi HC3800 projector:  The Bottom Line

$1499, really good color handling, and especially skin tones.  Good shadow detail, better than entry level black performance, a little noisy, but there are others louder, most will be fine.  Longer than average lamp life, and always very important in my book, good overall brightness, with over 600 lumens in best mode, and …

For your consideration, some images:

Image one: “Starship” from The Fifth Element: A look at black levels – HC3800 vs. HD20 (overexposed image, of course).  Optoma image on the left, HC3800 on the right.

Image two: Another look at the same Starship image and black levels, this time, compared to the Samsung SP-A600 (recently reviewed, $1795 when it ships in October 09).  Samsung image is on the left!

Image three: Color handling – skin tones and more.  This time, Leeloo from The Fifth Element, HD20 (left) vs. HC3800.

Image four:  Side by side, color handling – HC3800 vs. the new Sony LCoS projector (at twice the price),.  This image from Quantum of Solace.  (Sony on the left)

I could also show you a black level image compared to the Sony, but, hey, the Sony does have better blacks, it is an “ultra-high” contrast projector,  and as I said, one that should sell for twice the price, but I’ll save it for the full review!

Bottom line, for under $1500, with 1080p resolution, the Mitsubishi HC3800 looks to be a performance leader, with better than entry level blacks, very good color, and, I should note, a 2 year warranty.  You’ll want to check this one out when it ships in late October.

Folks – that’s it for now!  -art

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