Normally, a new performance plateau is defined by products at the highest possible prices, followed by less expensive models as more consumers fund larger manufacturing volumes. For some reason, however, this is not the case with 1080p front projectors. Sure, there are some very expensive models out there, but there are also some amazingly inexpensive ones in the first wave of such products, including Sony’s $5000 VPL-VW50 (reviewed in Issue 74).
The Mitsubishi HC5000 beats even the Sony in terms of price, listing for less than $4500. The projector is based on transmissive LCD technology, which some pundits pooh-pooh as being less capable than other technologies in the black-level department. This opinion has some validity, but as the HC5000 demonstrates, it’s certainly not a hard and fast rule.
The input complement is fairly sparse as displays go overall, but actually a bit more plentiful than many inexpensive front projectors, with one each of the following: HDMI, DVI, component, VGA/ component, S-video, and composite. Also included is an RS232 port.
I was pleasantly surprised to find motorized lens shift, zoom, and focus along with an internal crosshatch test pattern in such an inexpensive projector. These features allow flexible placement and precise setup. Being able to set these parameters using the remote while standing close to the screen is better than having to stand by the projector and manipulate manual controls from much farther back.
One of the most important features affecting picture quality is the HQV 10- bit video processing by Silicon Optix. Instead of using the Realta HQV chip, the HC5000 is the first projector to use the new, less-expensive Reon VX. The Reon offers the same processing quality as the Realta but cuts back on programmability to save money.
Other than the video processor and LCD panels (Epson’s latest inorganic C2 Fine panels), the entire projector, including the lens, was designed and built by Mitsubishi. The company says it’s the world’s quietest projector with an ambient noise level of 19dBA, and I found it to be very quiet indeed. The 160W UHP lamp is side-mounted for easy replacement after an extra-long estimated lifespan of 5000 hours (in Low lamp mode). The heat-exhaust vent is also on the side.
The HC5000 can accept 1080p signals at 60 and 24 frames per second. Even better, it displays 1080p/24 at 48Hz, displaying each frame twice. This is great for Blu-ray players from Pioneer and Sony that can output 1080p/24, as it completely avoids any 3:2 pulldown headaches.
The remote is wonderful— simple and straightforward, with no universal-remote clutter. It’s fully illuminated and provides direct access to each input and many of the commonly used parameters, such as zoom, focus, lens shift, aspect ratio, gamma, color temperature, auto iris, noise reduction, and all picture controls except Tint. This is a model of good remote design.
The main menu is quite small and can be positioned in the upperleft or lower-right corner of the screen. It requires two button pushes to actually see the selected menu, which is one push too many. The menu doesn’t disappear while you’re adjusting a picture control, which is not that big a deal since it doesn’t take up much space on the screen. If you press a direct-access button for one of the controls, it appears by itself in the upper right corner, but it times out fairly quickly. By contrast, the main menu doesn’t time out at all—you must manually exit one level at a time.
The organization of the menu system is generally good, but with a few quirks. For example, the first item in the Image menu is Gamma Mode rather than the five customary picture controls. Gamma belongs in the Advanced submenu.
Also, Aspect Ratio and Cinema Mode (3:2 pulldown compensation) are in the Feature menu, and Overscan is in the Signal menu. If you ask me, these should be in the Image or Advanced menu.
Speaking of gamma, the controls offered by the HC5000 are among the most extensive I’ve seen in any display.
There are several presets as well as two user settings that provide independent control over the high, mid, and low brightness ranges for all colors or the three primaries (red, green, and blue) separately. I decided that the Cinema preset looked best on movies.
All user-control settings are stored independently for each input, and there are three additional A/V memories where you can store settings. These settings are accessible from directaccess buttons on the remote.
For this review, I used a 72-inch-wide Stewart Grayhawk RS screen at a distance of about 14 feet. The black level was very good, but the peak white level was fairly low. Granted, I was using the Low lamp mode because that yielded a more accurate grayscale at the Warm colortemperature preset. The Standard lamp mode boosted the peak white level a bit along with the black level, but it also caused both the Warm and Medium color-temp presets to be less accurate, so I opted to stick with the Low lamp mode. In either case, I recommend using the HC5000 on a relatively small screen to avoid making the picture too dim.