Mitsubishi HC5500 1080P 3-Chip LCD Front Projector Reviewed

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mitsubishi_hc5500_projector.gifWhat happens when you take a little of the old and reliable and mix it with a bit of the new and amazing? The Mitsubishi HC5500, which is an intermediate cross between the now two-year-old HC4900 front projector and their more expensive HC6000, giving one the best of both worlds at a truly decent price. Coming from the company that pioneered one of the largest rear projection HDTV to ever hit the commercial market (1999's 80 inch 3-CRT-based rear projector), which was the size bedroom wardrobe, this relatively inconspicuous black beauty offers us the company's third-generation of 3-chip 1080P C2 Fine LCD light engine (2.07 megapixels), able to offer 1,200 ANSI Lumens and a (reported) 14,000:1 contrast ratio, with an expected bulb life of a whopping 5,000 hours (in economy mode), sets the stage for something big. Building on the success of their more expensive engine design, found in the nearly twice the price HC6000, the brand new vertically aligned liquid crystals embedded in an inorganic alignment layer (almost but not quite the same as Sony's SXRD technology as is seen in the SRX-R220 cinema projector and also in their consumer front and rear projectors of the last five years) can produce the types of enhanced black level, superior gray scale tracking, and a smooth but detailed image 1080P is coming to represent.

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Incorporating the Emmy award-winning HQV (Hollywood Quality Video) high-performance video processor is easily 50 percent of what makes for this projector's great picture quality. The Reon-VX video processing chip is usually found only in much more expensive front and rear projectors and delivers advanced noise reduction with reduced chroma up-sampling distortion on 480 and 720P sources and superior video performance with all sources. A new dynamic iris system is said to improve black fidelity and offer a wealth of subtle details, thanks to 14-bit processing and accuracy to less than 1/60 of a second (field rate). The simple 1.2:1 motorized zoom and focus lens offers image sizes from 50 inches up to 250 inches, with a 50 percent vertical lens-shift, allowing for a minimal amount of set-up options. And thanks to careful attention to such things as correct color space, which includes Rec. 709 and Rec. 601 memories that reproduce HD and SD sources accurately, pictures available from all inputs will come out looking the way they are supposed to. The input apron includes two HDMI 1.3 jacks, one component video, RGB on D-sub HD 15-pin) for your computer or laptop), an "S-video jack, and even a composite input on an RCA jack. The projector can accept signals from 480i up to 1080P @ 24, 30, 50, and 60 fps. The 12.3-pound Mitsubishi comes with a two year warrantee, and is thoughtfully priced at $2,495 MSRP.

With so many medium and high-end projectors offering sometimes amazing picture quality but at considerable prices, I can tell you that Mitsubishi has raised my expectations for what is possible, given a fixed, economically viable price point. Given its full 1080P HD resolution coming from a new 3- chip LCD composed of an inorganic variety of vertically aligned crystals, this projector can stand up there with the best of them. Although there is no horizontal lens shift, owing to Mitsubishi's desire to remain affordable (and the lens of any projector is a critical and expensive component), the HC5500 is simple to set up on a tabletop, bookshelf, or ceiling mounted using a bracket. It's 1,200 ASNI Lumen bulb can effectively light up a large screen (100 inches diagonal using a Stewart StudioTek 130, for example) to levels approaching those seen in the best cinemas, about 16.5 foot-Lamberts.

But the fact that the bulb can last up to 5,000 hours (in economy mode), which is twice what any other bulb is likely to do, and is very, very easy to replace even when the projector is ceiling mounted makes this one of the best value projectors on the market. Add to this the thoughtful inclusion of the Reon-VX video-processing chip, which improves interlaced sources to a level previously only possible with a $5,000 outboard video scaler from Faroujda, and you have a terrifically detailed image for not even half the price of that particular scaler. Given the two-year warrantee, and ultra-quiet exhaust, it is difficult to criticize a device that so accurately fits the market requirements for an entry-level product.

Read about the high points and the low points of the HC5500 on Page 2.

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