There seems to have been a spate of entry level Full HD DLP projectors of late with each offering big screen entertainment for not much money at all. But surely something has to give for the price point to be achieved? Can an entry level projector really offer true home cinema performance levels? Well this little DLP from Mitsubishi has left me totally surprised by the image quality on show. Read on for more…
Design and Features
The HC3800 is available to buy now for a smidge under £1200 and at the price level you would expect some compromises in design and build quality. So, it goes without saying that the main construction material used with this projector is plastic – and lots of it.
The actual size and design of the projector chassis could have you fooled into thinking it's a business model for the boardroom and not your home cinema. The HC3800 measures in at 345 x 129 x 270mm (W x H x D) and weighs a little more than 3.5kg. The body is moulded black plastic and handling the unit will have you a little worried over the build quality on offer as it doesn't feel particularly heavy or solid. Looking at the unit from the front we have the lens assembly positioned to the right hand side. The lens initially looks to be made from plastic but is actually a glass unit, just not a super expensive one by the looks of it. The focus ring is plastic with grip ridges just above the lens and just few millimetres behind it is the zoom slider. As one could have anticipated, these are totally manual. There are no motorised systems here. And that goes for lens shift as well, because there are no lens shift capabilities. This will make installation and placement difficult, so make sure you plan ahead to either ceiling mount (recommended) or have the unit on a table under the screen level. Placing it anywhere else, such as a table and angling the body will introduce keystone issues which we want to avoid where possible. The lens is a short throw unit at a ratio of 1.5:1 and will give you a 100inch image from a range of 3m to 4.5m.
Moving to the top of the projector chassis we have some manual control buttons placed at the rear of the top plate for use should you misplace your remote. These allow access to the main controls such as the menu system and power buttons. To the left and right sides of the chassis we have the air intake (and filter) and the exhaust port. If there is one thing I did notice straight away with the HC3800 was how hot the unit gets in operation. Plus the cooling fans while not as loud as a business projector do become noticeable during quiet film moments from about 4 feet and under from the viewer. One other slight niggle I found in the everyday use of the projector was that the remote control wouldn't work when pointed at the screen. I could only access the menu system and features by pointing the remote directly at the projector. The remote control is also cheap in its appearance and build quality, something we should expect at the price point, but it is logically laid out and easy to use.
Moving to the rear of the unit and we have the main source connectors. Again to keep the price of the unit down, Mitsubishi only offer us one HDMI V1.3 slot, one set of component RCA connectors, a PC/Component input and legacy connectors for composite and s-video. A nice touch at this price point is the addition of a 12v trigger for use with an electric screen or other automated device such as an anamorphic lens. Oh, yes, this budget unit does cinemascope. More on that later. There are no other automation connections such as an RS232C port, but at this level of the market that is probably to be expected.
The HC3800 uses the new 1920 x 1080 DMD 0.65 DLP chipset with a full 10bit panel driver and the brilliantcolor feature set. Plus unlike other budget DLP units which employ a dynamic iris control, we get a fixed iris which is claimed to help produce 1300 lumens and a native contrast of 33,000:1. The unit also utilises a 6 segment RGBRGB colour wheel which should cut down on the dreaded rainbow effect some users see with single chip DLP units.
So overall, the HC3800 might look and feel like a budget projector but it is also boasting some pretty advanced tech such as those mentioned above, plus full greyscale calibration controls and even a colour management system. So, with our sources connected and the projector aligned to our screen, lets have a look at the menus and features a little closer.
The HC3800 has the same design and menu layout as the higher end 3LCD projectors from Mitsubishi. Included here are just about every control you could possibly desire for setting the unit up and accessing the useful features. Lets look at the main menu first.
As you would imagine the main menu houses the vast majority of the picture set up options and features. Surprisingly, unlike other projectors and displays, the HC3800 does not have any major picture presets such as Dynamic, Normal or Cinema. To introduce changes to the picture you need to change the Colour Temperature and/or Gamma settings. The first control we encounter in the menus is the Gamma selection and this includes preset curves for things like cinema, video and sports for example. More importantly we also have a User selection that allows adjustment of the curve for all three main colours including white at the high, mid and low points. With the User selection you can fine tune the curve once the Greyscale has been calibrated which is a very useful tool indeed.
Next we have the basic front panel controls for Brightness and Contrast followed by the Colour Temperature selection. We use this feature to set the White Balance (Greyscale). Here again we have some preset settings for warm, medium and cool. We found that Normal (and not Warm) provides the closest results to our desired D65 white point. We are also given a User selection where we can manually calibrate the Gain and offsets to achieve a perfect D65 white point and greyscale. Next are the other main front panel controls for Colour, Tint and Sharpness, plus, an on/off switch for the DLP Brilliantcolour feature. Basically this is a gamut extension tool which over saturates the primary and secondary colours and is not recommended for film or TV viewing. Finally on the main page we have the selections for the Advanced Menu and the Memory Save function for saving your calibrations for various sources.
Moving to the Advanced Menu and we are given control over Screen Size (or aspect ratio), then Vertical Location of the image, CTI and Colour Management. Yes, that's correct, this £1200 DLP projector houses a CMS control for the primary and secondary colour points, but it's not all good news. Instead of adding a full 3D system where we have control over the Saturation, Hue and Luminance (Brightness), the CMS here is a 2D system covering saturation and luminance only.
We can make adjustments that will help achieve a finer control over the gamut points, but as you can see this is restricted in one direction only and if I am being honest, it's pointless in this incarnation. It means we cannot correctly position the co-ordinates for the colour points i.e. xyY. So, we could pull in a primary or secondary colour for saturation, but we have no control over the hue of that colour point. So, it's a nice thought but Mitsubishi need to redesign this feature to make it actually useful for correct calibration to the industry picture standards.
Next up we have the Features Menu which has some interesting tools for use with the image set up. The first of these is the Aspect control which has a couple of surprises for such a budget unit. There are the usual Auto, 16:9 and 4:3 settings, but, we also get two Anamorphic options. Anamorphic 1 is the usual image stretch feature which takes 2.35:1 material and vertically stretches this to fill the entire panel of the projector and gets rid of the black bars. This is done by the video processor in the projector. You then add an outboard (third party) Anamorphic lens to the front of the projector and this then stretches the image Horizontally so the image is then back to its original aspect ratio and shape. You obviously use this function with a 2.35:1 ratio projection screen. One of the draw backs of Anamorphic projection is that the lens has to be moved in and out of the light path depending on what aspect ratio material you are watching. For example with 1.85:1 material on your 2.35:1 screen will be full height of the screen but with black bars at the sides of the image and the lens needs to be out of the light path. Then when you switch to 2.35:1 material the Vertical stretch in Anamorphic 1 does its thing and the Lens needs to then swing or move into the light path and the image is the same height again but this time wider than 1.85:1 image and fills the 2.35:1 screen. When this type of system is well designed and set up it can provide the same immersive experience of a high end cinema, but a sled to move the lens in and out of the light path can be extremely expensive. So, this is where the Anamorphic 2 setting comes in handy. In this mode, instead of removing the lens from the light path when you switch back to 1.85:1 aspect films, you leave it in place and the video processing in the projector rescales the image back to the correct ratio for 1.85:1 with the lens still in place. Bang goes the need for an expensive sled assembly and this feature actually works extremely well and doesn't add in any unwanted scale artefacts either. At this point I can imagine some of our well versed readers will be questioning the point of Anamorphic projection with such a budget projector like the HC3800. Well, one thing to consider is that this projector has the Anamorphic 2 setting so that does away with the huge expense of a sled, and that lenses for quality Anamorphic projection start at £1400. So, if you so desire (and I have checked this out fully with the said budget lens system left in place with the HC3800), you could have a full Anamorphic system for under £2500 with just a half decent 2.35:1 screen left for you to buy (or make yourself). After my experiments with the HC3800 and the CAVX lens, that is one very tempting solution for getting some pretty good quality 2.35:1 images for very little money. Especially when you consider that other 2.35:1 systems can cost 5 times the price.
So, lets move on to the picture quality aspects of this projector and start with measuring its out of the box performance to the industry standards for HD and Pal playback.
Out of the Box Measurements
We start as always with a spectral scan of the UHP lamp used in the HC3800 to see what wavelengths are available and if any filtering has been introduced by the engineers when designing the projector.
As you can see the HC3800 does not employ any filters in the light path, usually, but not exclusively used in some projectors to produce brighter images at the cost of colour purity. Instead the scan points to the fact that the projector is not a light cannon, but it does have a full range of wavelengths available, which should translate to decent colour performance over the range with green the only wavelength that dips slightly towards yellow.
Moving to the best out of the box settings after careful measuring of all the available selections, we found that colour temperature ‘medium' and gamma selection 'User -cinema' gave us the following results.
Starting with the Greyscale measurements in the Tracking and Balance charts we can see that the greyscale tracks in a uniform manner which is very promising. Red is low at 95% with Blue and Green hovering around the 105% mark. Our desired goal is to have all three colours tracking at 100% across the stimulus range (0-100% brightness). This is confirmed in the Balance chart and our errors for all points are under 4 Delta E. This is a welcomed result as we are aiming for the Delta E to show errors under 4 and if possible as close to 1 or under so our eyes cannot see the errors. Gamma is also tracking in a favourable manner close to our desired 2.2 point, although things do change quite significantly as we get close to the 100% mark. However, once we calibrate the HC3800 greyscale we should be able to use the included Gamma tool to tidy up the curve results. So as an out of the box setting the Mitsubishi scores an excellent mark.
Next we look at the colour point results for the colour gamut. This should in an ideal world match the solid black lined triangle which says where the colours should be for the Rec.709 standard for HD and Pal playback. As you can see the results in the measured triangle (x,y) points are turned slightly away from where they should be. This tells us that red is oversaturated and has hue errors, green is also off and blue has a major hue error and saturation issues. The Secondary points while looking like they are trying to be at the correct co-ordinates, the fact that our primary colours are off means that is impossible. So some issues with colour accuracy that will be seen on screen during playback. The HC3800 does have a colour management tool built in, but this, as explained above, does not have the desired controls to fix the issues and correct the gamut. Even if it did have those controls, the gamut performance is also native to the projector which means that the blue point is the issue and is likely down to the blue used in the colour wheel being unable to resolve the saturation and hue we require. So even a full CMS would only resolve some of the issues here. What we can do in our calibration is correct the saturation as much as we can and also bring the luminance (brightness) of the primary and secondary colours to within desired levels. While colour performance will still be inaccurate, reducing luminance will mean that they are not affected or added to by being overly bright. So, lets see what we can do with a calibration.
We will start with a look at the Greyscale and Gamma results.
As you can see, because our out of the box greyscale was tracking in a uniform manner, using the controls brought our greyscale to the 100% marker easily. We now have errors (Delta E) under 1 and this will not be visible to the human eye, so we will not get any colour cast to the image. Plus once set it was very easy using the tools we have in the Gamma control to bring our curve to the desired 2.2 point. This is the best possible result we could have hoped for from such a budget projector and it scores a reference mark because of that.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the colour gamut performance and this is due to the native results from the projector that I mentioned above. What we have been able to do is reduce the luminance errors so colours are the correct brightness and where possible reduced the oversaturation results. However, blue performance due to a possible issue with the colour wheel in the projector was impossible to correct and even with our corrections elsewhere it has added to the colour error on blue. This is where calibration becomes a compromise to achieve an overall best result and in this case we have been able to reduce the overall errors (Delta E 1994). This is still far from perfect but we will see what the onscreen performance is like with the calibration corrections we have made.
In terms of 24p playback the HC3800 uses a doubled frame rate to playback 24p correctly onscreen with no induced judder being seen. This is a welcome result for such a budget unit and Blu-ray material played back perfectly. As you can guess given the price point there is no frame interpolation system employed on the HC3800, which personally I think is a good thing going on results from every system I have tested so far. None are perfect and some have downright hilarious results.
Moving to standard definition material and this is where we meet some issues, especially with cadence detection of various well used test scene examples. Fed an SD image the HC3800 struggled to lock on to any well known cadences for Pal playback with only the NTSC centric 3-2 test passing. Moving to scaling and de-interlacing of SD and the jaggies tests where also pretty poor from the Mitsubishi but it didn't introduce any ringing issues or attempt to add any behind the scenes image enhancements. I would suspect that the majority of users of the HC3800 will be using a good quality DVD or Blu-ray player with better video processing on board for SD material, so that's what I would feed to the projector.
As we saw from the Calibrated results the native gamut of the projector couldn't be fixed to match the playback standards for HD and Pal SD material. So, how does that affect colour accuracy with actual playback of film and TV material?
Well I have to say that overall the accuracy issues where not overly noticeable on the vast majority of material viewed and that given the price point and limitations, I would be hard pushed to criticise this projector too much. Yes, there is the odd off hue colour here and there with the odd inaccurate skin tone, but overall this doesn't distract or spoil what is a genuinely excellent image. Black performance for such a budget projector is very respectable indeed, with excellent shadow detail retrieval in both out of the box and calibrated modes. It's certainly not going to compete with the higher contrast (and higher priced) projectors on the market, but at this price point I have seen far, far worse.
For a DLP projector it is refreshing that Mitsubishi has decided to use a fixed iris on the HC3800 and this helps produce a nice, consistent image that is not changing its luminance values every few seconds with challenging material. Even with some ambient light in the room, the image holds up as well as you could expect and would be a consideration for such an environment. So black level performance and image depth is probably the best I have seen from a DLP projector at this price point and the over all dynamic range is very respectable too. Images are vibrant and natural with only the occasional off hue popping up here and there. Certainly when the greyscale is calibrated image detail and depth (where required) is highly respectable and I honestly enjoyed my time spent with this entry level model. Its never going to set the heather on fire, but as a value proposition for a home cinema, it turns in a performance above its price station in my opinion and with what I have seen in this end of the market.
And what really surprised me was how well the HC3800 married with the budget CAVX anamorphic lens when used with our 110 inch 2.37:1 screen. I was immediately struck by the fact that the excellent performance levels of the HC3800 coupled with an inexpensive lens gave superb results, with the DLP native sharpness coming through in spades. It would certainly make a very respectable anamorphic solution on a budget. Especially when there is no need for a sled approach.
Finally, Rainbow Effect. Well it is visible from time to time on challenging material, but it is not as bad as some entry level units and despite being susceptible to the effect, I didn't find it distracting. However, my advice as always would be to try and get a demo in-store or at home before buying to check if you see it and whether you can live with it.
- Excellent Greyscale results out of the box
- Reference level greyscale and Gamma when calibrated.
- Unique Anamorphic modes for use with a fixed lens
- Good black level performance at the price point
- Produces good quality images in ambient light
- Plays back 24p material correctly with no induced judder.
- Offers excellent images at it price point and punches above its weight against the competition
- Build quality is not the best
- No lens shift
- CMS system doesn't work fully
- Blue colour error likely caused by colour wheel
- Not the quietest projector around
- Slight colour accuracy issues
- Video processing of SD material is poor
Mitsubishi HC3800 DLP Projector Review
The HC3800 doesn't pretend to be anything but an entry level DLP projector, yet in turns in an excellent performance in terms of picture quality and features. Black levels are acceptably good with plenty of shadow detail and image depth where required. It can achieve reference Greyscale and Gamma results when professionally calibrated and it tries hard to produce colours correctly. I found my time spent with the HC3800 to be entertaining for all the right reasons and at the price point, this projector deserves to find quite a few new homes as I think its definitely a best buy at this level of the market.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
2D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
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