Posts Tagged ‘Mitsubishi’

Useful Gadgets: Mitsubishi HC7800 3D DLP Home Theater Projector – Pete Putman

Shopped for a home theater projector lately? With all of the attention that new, low-cost LCD and plasma displays are getting, it might be easy to write off the home theater projector market’s future.

 

Yet, front projection is still the cheapest way to get a big image – for the immediate future, at least. And there are some really good deals out there to be found, particularly in multi-function (2D / 3D) projectors.

 

Mitsubishi has been turning out some really impressive and affordable home theater projectors for the past six years, starting with the ground-breaking HC5000 and continuing with the high-end 3D HC9000. At last year’s Cedia Expo, the HC7800 made its debut, and I finally got ahold of one to play with. I wasn’t disappointed.

 

Figure 1. Mitsubishi's HC7800 shares a lot in common with the HC9000 3D projector.

 

OUT OF THE BOX

 

The HC7800 resembles its bigger brother HC9000 in more than one way. The cabinet has that same high-gloss black finish with an aerodynamic appearance, and a silvery-gray trim around the top panel controls, as well as around the front of the lens, which is offset slightly to the left of center.

 

Directly behind the lens is a pop-up cover that reveals a knob adjustment for vertical lens offset. As it comes from the factory, the lens offset is pretty high, putting the bottom of the image at the optical centerline. The theory behind this decision is that the projector would most likely be ceiling mounted. However, you can dial the image down quite a bit, although you may see some degradation of brightness uniformity at the extremes.

 

Figure 2. The vertical lens offset knob is hidden behind this door.


 

Figure 3. Here's the connector line-up for the HC7800.


 

The standard connector complement includes a single component video input, a 15-pin VGA connector for computers, and a pair of HDMI v1.4a jacks, compatible with frame-packed 3D program formats. Mits has also included an RS-232 port and Ethernet jack for remote control, a pair of 12V triggers for electric screens and anamorphic lens adapters, and a DIN connector that drives the infrared 3D sync emitter.

 

The supplied remote control should be familiar to Mitsubishi projector users – it’s been standard for several years and provides direct access to inputs, three picture memories, and a bunch of useful tools including color management, frame rate conversion, three iris settings, and the usual brightness / contrast / sharpness / color settings. Brilliant Color mode is also supported.

 

Figure 4. Same old remote, but some new buttons!


 

INSIDE THE CHASSIS

 

The HC7800 is a single-chip DLP design that uses the latest .65” 1920×1080 DMD imager harnessed to a six-segment color wheel. You may be surprised to see mechanical lens offset married to a single chip DLP light engine, but it has become easier to achieve and essentially de rigueur for home theater projectors – especially when the preferred imaging systems make extensive use of lens shift.

 

The illumination system revolves around a 240 watt short-arc lamp that can be throttled back to 190 watts in low power mode. In theory, this should provide a pretty bright image – Mitsubishi’s spec for full-throttle operation with no image correction is 1500 lumens – but in practice, you’ll see a much dimmer image after calibration, and may require a gain screen to watch 3D content as a result.

 

Like other Mits projectors, the HC7800 is equipped with an irising system. It should provide an almost infinite black when activated, but also does some screwy things to gamma performance. My preference is to leave it off and use a low-gain screen to take care of low gray levels. However, that approach doesn’t work so well with 3D content as you will see shortly.

 

MENUS AND ADJUSTMENTS

 

Menu adjustments abound. Mits provides three User presets to store your settings, and you can tweak everything from brightness and contrast to color temperature (six presets plus RGB high and low), gamma (five settings from 2.0 to 2.4 and 3D, plus two user-defined gamma menus), and five picture modes including ISD Day and Night.

 

The frame rate conversion menu works on multiples of 24 Hz, so when switched off, you are viewing movies at 96 Hz. Want to clean up all the judder and blurred motion while (and I quote) “…retaining the clicking sensation unique to film?” Select True Film mode. There’s also a True Video mode for 30 Hz / 60 Hz content that ups the rate to 120Hz.

 

Mits has also given you five steps of motion interpolation to minimize 24 Hz blur and make film look more like video. Play with it; you’ll probably find a setting you like. And all of this stuff also works with 3D movies and video, too.

 

The iris mentioned earlier has four speed settings, plus OFF. That last one is my preference! As I said earlier, variable iris settings can dive deeper into black than James Cameron in the Marianas Trench, but the display gamma is subsequently compromised and inconsistent. Better to use a lower-gain screen and stick with a fixed gamma curve to get the best results.

 

The HDMI inputs can also be configured for different color modes and black levels settings. In RGB mode, black will be deeper than in video mode, and whatever HDMI output mode your DVD or Blu-ray player is set to should be matched on the HC7800. In theory, the projector should make this adjustment on its own, based on the signal detected from the player. You can also change video setup for every input on the projector, again with black at 0, 3.5, or 7.5 IRE.

 

The color management tools are intriguing and should only be used with some sort of colorimeter to either read out the x,y coordinates for each color adjustment, or a graphical display of where the red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow wind up as you change saturation and hue. Don’t try this adjustment unless you can measure the results accurately!

 

The HC7800 also has a color space adjustment. In Wide mode, the full gamut of the projector is used, regardless of the signal source. In Normal, the color gamut is truncated and closer to that of the Adobe sRGB color space (also closer to ITU REC.709 HDTV). Between this setting and the color management tools, you’ll get well within the ballpark.

 

Figures 5a-b: The HC7800's 'full' color gamut is so wide...


...that it covers most of the DCI P3 digital cinema color space.

 

There are so many aspect ratios supported by the HC7800 that I can’t even list them. The owner’s manual shows 38 different possibilities, including anamorphic (two settings), 4:3, 16:9, two zoom modes, and a stretch mode. Leave this control set to Auto and it will generally figure things out on its own! The dual anamorphic modes are used with an accessory lens, with Mode 1 for video playback and mode 2 for sync with computers.

 

Yep, I almost forgot – this is a 3D projector, too. The HC7800 is compatible with all 3D formats, with frame-packing detected automatically. However, for side-by-side and top + bottom frame-compatible 3D viewing, you’ll have to change the 3D menu setting manually as there is no way for the projector to know what kind of frame it is showing.

 

The 3D menu lets you reverse the sync on the 3D glasses if the images aren’t rendering correctly. I’ve never had this happen to me, but it’s nice to know you can reverse the problem. There is also a 2D-to-3D processor which results in ‘fake’ 3D imagery by interpolating relative distances of objects in a scene and creating parallax information on the fly. I have never felt any need to watch 2D content in 3D, but I can tell you that the process works – sort of. Stick to native 3D content and you’ll be happier with the results.

 

The 3D IR emitter is a compact little gadget with a swivel base that you can mount near the projector, or on top of it. The supplied 3D sync cable isn’t very long, and a super-long 3D sync cable like the one supplied with the HC9000 wasn’t included. But this emitter supposedly has a line-of-sight range of about 30 feet.

 

ON THE TEST BENCH

 

One thing I like about the Mitsubishi home theater projectors is that they come from the factory requiring little in the way of calibration. The HC7800 was no exception; all I had to do was switch to a deeper gamma setting for Blu-ray discs and fiddle a little bit with RGB contrast and gain.

 

Brightness after calibration was measured at 388 ANSI lumens in Low lamp mode, jumping to 466 ANSI lumens in High (normal?) lamp mode. That is a lot lower than 1500 lumens, but in general, you’ll see at least a 50% reduction in brightness when calibrating a projector, and maybe more if you use a steep gamma. With the lights off and my Da-Lite Affinity 92” screen, I was quite satisfied with the results.

 

Brightness uniformity is a challenge for DLP projectors and the HC7800 measured about 80% to the average corner, with the worst corner coming in at around 55%. Color temperature uniformity was within 515 degrees across the screen – not quite as ‘tight’ as I’d like to see, but for a $3,000 projector, better than average.

 

Contrast numbers were pretty good, but reveal why Mitsubishi wanted to use an irising system. Using a sixteen-square checkerboard, I calculated ANSI (average) contrast at 477:1 and peak (highest/lowest) contrast at 772:1 – nothing to sneeze at! Sequential white/black contrast registered 1048:1, while a 50/50 white/black test pattern yielded a figure of 663:1.

Figure 6a. Here's the gamma curve for 2.4 Cinema mode. Sweet!

 

Figure 6b. And here's the gamma curve in 3D mode - consistent, but shallow.

 

The HC7800’s gamma curves are seen in figures 6a and 6b. 6a shows the final gamma for 2D mode with a 2.4 curve selected, while 6b shows the projector after being switched into 3D mode. Many 3D TVs I’ve tested do very strange things to gamma performance when running in 3D mode, and that’s because the brightness and contrast are pumped up to overcome light lost in the glasses.

 

Fortunately, the HC7800 is a bit more disciplined and doesn’t jump too far off the tracks, resulting in a 1.94 gamma when showing 3D content. That’s not as steep as I’d like, but at least the curve doesn’t clip or flat-top at the high end, and the grayscale ramp out of black looks a lot like the 2D 2.4 gamma when you are wearing active shutter glasses.

 

After trying to match up the projector’s color gamut to the REC.709 color space, I came up with the plot shown in figure 7. The user controls can get you very close with red and blue, but the green hue adjustment either wasn’t working or doesn’t have enough range – I couldn’t add enough yellow to the mix to line up with the desired 709 locus. But it was close.

Figure 76. I got oh-so-close to matching the REC.709 color space. Oh well, still an improvement...

 

IMAGE QUALITY TESTS

 

For my viewing tests, I cued up 2D and 3D versions of How to Train Your Dragon, one of the better 3D movies I’ve seen. And of course, I pulled out my 3D copy of Avatar to see how it showed. For screens, I used the Affinity for both 2D and 3D viewing, and for some extra ‘punch’ set up a Vutec Silver Star 6.0 gain screen to help overcome the losses in the 3D glasses.

 

As a 2D projector, the HC7800 is a peach. I’m not a big fan of DLP for the home, preferring full-time RGB imaging found in 3LCD and LCoS projectors. But this box performed much better than I expected, and in fact comes close to the performance of the discontinued $12K Samsung SP-A900B in many ways. Its color gamut may not be as accurate, but the HC7800’s color temperature tracking is exceptionally tight and gamma performance is remarkably consistent in any mode.

 

After spending as much time as I needed on color management and getting the gamma right (between 2.3 – 2.4), I leaned back and enjoyed Dragon in good ol’ flat 2D. I also watched a few CBS and NBC prime time TV shows, caught some NCAA men’s basketball, and also a few cartoons; all the while looking for problems with black levels and color saturation. Didn’t see ‘em!

 

Viewing 3D required me to put on the ‘newly designed’ Mits eyewear, and wow – were they heavy and uncomfortable! I kinda felt like a Navy Seal on a night ops mission wearing these glasses, which supposedly have faster switching times and reduced crosstalk. But they are big and bulky, and not what I expected after using the latest lightweight 3D specs from Samsung and Panasonic. Even the HC9000 specs aren’t as clunky.

 

Figure 8. No, they're not night vision goggles. But they feel like it.


 

Despite their weight and discomfort, the glasses worked very well. Indeed; I saw very little crosstalk as I tilted my head back and forth. But I definitely needed to use the gain screen during the nighttime scenes in Dragon and Avatar – 400 lumens just doesn’t cut it with a low-gain or even zero-gain screen. I could have used 2x or even 3x that level of brightness!

 

So there’s your puzzler: The HC 7800 is a great all-around projector in 2D mode, but challenged to put enough photons on a low-gain screen in 3D mode after calibration. Aside from using two different screens to watch 3D – or a dual-mode screen, like Stewart now offers – you may want to just crank up the brightness and contrast when watching 3D content and not obsess over the gamma performance, or even the color temperature.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Amazing what $2,999 (or less) buys you these days. I couldn’t help but compare the HC7800’s 2D performance to the Samsung SP-A900B as I was calibrating it…such a deal! Even if you never watch a single minute of 3D content on this projector, you’d be very happy with it matched to a .85 – .9 gain screen. But 3D mode will require some help from the screen, or a lot brighter lamp setting. And I’m sorry, but Mitsubishi has to re-think the glasses – they are just too bulky and uncomfortable for my taste.

 

Mitsubishi HC7800 3D DLP Home Theater Projector

SRP: $2,999

 

Available from:

 

Mitsubishi Electric Visual Solutions America, Inc.

9351 Jeronimo Road

Irvine, California 92618

Phone: (949) 465-6000

Fax:      (949) 465-6013

www.mevsa.com

The Rout Is On – by Pete Putman

As things go, the flat screen TV business is relatively young. Until ten years ago, large LCD TVs weren’t even viable products. And plasma dominated the large screen (42” and up) flat screen TV business.

 

But neither technology held any substantial market share. Instead, CRT televisions (and rear-projection CRT sets) were ‘kings of the hill.’

 

Going back through some of my archives, I found that in the fourth quarter of 2005, CRT TVs held a 78.9% worldwide market share. That represented a decline of 15% from Q4 of 2004, no doubt due to the 137% increase in LCD TV market share in the same time period (yes, you read that right, 137%!).

 

While LCD TVs held a 14.7% market share, plasma TV share grew from 1.8% of all TVs sold to 3.9%, a growth rate of 109%. CRT rear-projection TVs held .9% of the market, a drop of 60% from Q4 ’04, while microdisplay RPTVs grew to 1.6% of the pie, an increase of 52% over the same time period. (All numbers compiled from DisplaySearch reports.)

 

How about the major TV brands? From Q3 ’05 to Q4 ’05, it might surprise you to learn that Sony had the top TV brand revenue share and growth, with 14% of all TV sales revenue (a quarterly growth rate of 130%)! Samsung was right behind with 11% revenue share and 36% Q-Q growth, followed by Philips (9.1% revenue share, 31% Q-Q growth), Panasonic (8.3% revenue share, 13% Q-Q growth), and LG (7.8% revenue share, 28% Q-Q growth).

 

These five companies accounted for 50% of all TV revenue in Q4 of 2005. And there was only about a 6-point spread between #1 and #5, so the pie was being divvied up pretty equally.

 

In terms of TV brand unit share, the order was changed somewhat. LG captured the number one spot with 9.8% unit share in Q4 ‘05, followed by Samsung (9.2%), TTE (7.5%), Philips (7.1%), and Sony (6.9%). The remaining 60% was chopped up among a host of brands.

 

The eye-opener here was when I went back to the beginning of 2005. For the first quarter of the year, Sharp topped the branded TV market share with an amazing 21% (a year-to-year growth of 82%). Philips was number 2 with 14.7% share, followed by Samsung (10.8%), Sony (10%), and LG (7.3%). The five brands accounted for 60% of all TV sales back then.

 

So – in a little less than a year, Sony added 7% to its brand share, while Samsung marched in place, LG picked up about 2 points, Sharp fell off the map completely, and Philips lost half its brand share. (TTE didn’t show up in the 2005 listings at all.)

 

Now, let’s jump ahead to Q4 2011. NPD DisplaySearch’s latest numbers show that LCD flatscreen TVs now account for 86.5% of all TVs sold worldwide. Plasma continues to decline as it pushes into a larger screen ‘niche,’ grabbing a miniscule 6.9% market share. Amazingly, CRT TVs still held a 6.4% share, while RPTVs managed to eke out a .0004% market share – look for this category to be killed off completely in 2012.

 

And the tables have turned completely from 2005 in terms of worldwide market share. Samsung managed the amazing feat of increasing its market share to 26.3% from Q4 ’10 to Q4 ’11, an all-time record and an amazing growth rate of 18% in an otherwise-flat (no pun intended) industry. LG was far behind Samsung with a 13.4% market share, essentially unchanged since Q4 ’10.

 

As for Sony, they also held steady at 9.8%, basically the same as a year before, while Panasonic saw a decline of 2% to 6.9%. Sharp – who continues to sell fewer LCD TVs than Panasonic, incredibly – experienced a decline of 7% from Q4 ’10 to a 5.9% market share in Q4 ’11. These five brands accounted for 62.3% of the 74,236,000 TVs sold.

 

So what does this all mean? First, Samsung has clearly blown away everyone else in the TV industry, opening up a double-digit lead over their nearest competitor (LG) in market share. And those two guys waste time arguing about whether passive or active is better for 3D viewing?

 

Second, we’re seeing the slow, inexorable end of the Japanese television industry, just as we saw it happen in the United States in the late 1970s to the late 1980s. Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic are all hemorrhaging money for the current fiscal year that ends on March 31, and the consumer TV business is the primary reason.

 

When TVs sold for $50 per diagonal inch and up, there was plenty of money on the table for everyone. But now that mainstream TVs screen sizes (up to 55 inches) are selling for $10 – $15 per diagonal inch, the Japanese simply can’t compete anymore. And it will only get worse with Chinese TV brands Haier, Hisense, TCL, and others establishing beachheads on all continents.

 

Third, it’s over. The fat lady has sung. Samsung has won. They set out in the mid-1990s to beat Sony at their own game, and by any reasonable account, have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Samsung will make a nice profit on 2011 TV sales, and LG will at least get their LCD TV business back into the black.

 

But the story isn’t so pretty for Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic. Sharp still has no explanation for their continual slide in market share, which apparently began in 2005 and continued uninterrupted, and which has now idled (by some accounts) 50% of their LCD fab capacity. As for Panasonic, they’d already shut down one LCD and one plasma factory in 2011, because demand just isn’t there. And no one in Osaka knows how to fix the problem.

 

Sony is being pressured by financial analysts in Japan to get out of the TV business altogether, a decision which, as painful as it might be to management given Sony’s long and rich history with TV manufacturing, is probably the most sensible thing to do. The company’s TV business has lost money for eight straight years – never mind the strong market share numbers that popped up early on.

 

And it’s not going to get better any time soon, as DisplaySearch stated that 2011 worldwide TV shipments actually declined .3% in 2011, reversing six consecutive years of growth. Only the LCD TV category showed any increase with a bare-bones 1% uptick. Everything else was on a downhill slide, with plasma declining 7%, CRTs falling 43%, and RPTVs in a 51% tailspin.

 

Hitachi has already pulled the plug on their TV business. Toshiba and Mitsubishi will no doubt follow suit in the next 12-24 months. And that will leave us with the Hatfields & McCoys in Korea, plus a host of Chinese brands you may want to get familiar with. (The running joke at CES 2012 is that it was the “Chinese” Electronics Show, and that’s not far from the truth!)

 

The rout is on…

Wishing Won’t Make It So

These Elite sets may look great, but you can't get by on looks anymore in the TV game.

Last Thursday in New York City, Pioneer and Sharp took the wraps off a new line of high-end LCD TVs that will carry the familiar Elite brand. These products are intended to fill a hole in the high-end television retail channel; one that was created when Pioneer pulled the plug on their Kuro plasma sets a couple of years ago.

 

For readers who didn’t know, Sharp owns a 14% stake in Pioneer, and the two companies have collaborated on products in the past. You may not remember, but Sharp once carried 42-inch and 50-inch Pioneer plasma TVs in their line. That was back in the day when large LCD panels were difficult to manufacture and very expensive.

 

It’s instructive here to remember why Pioneer pulled out of the plasma TV business. First off, Pioneer had the smallest fabrication capacity of any of the big plasma brands, cranking out a fraction of the monthly yields of Panasonic and Samsung.

 

Second, Pioneer made the mistake of continuing to focus only on high-end retail channels for their plasma TVs long after it was clear that the plasma market was being commoditized. Panasonic’s best plasma TV sets were widely available through numerous brick-and-mortar stores for much lower prices and offered comparable performance to Pioneer’s offerings.

 

Even the vaunted Kuro sets couldn’t compete. Sure, they had super-deep black levels. But the additional first surface polarizers used to pull off that trick also dropped brightness levels to the point where the Kuro sets had to be viewed in dark or near-dark rooms. Panasonic, Samsung, and LG suffered from no such limitations.

 

In the end, the math is what did Pioneer in. You can’t make money these days selling a mass-produced flat screen display product in limited quantities at a price premium. It simply will not work. That is one reason why Hitachi exited the plasma TV business and ultimately the LCD TV business in the United States.

 

It appears that Pioneer didn’t learn that lesson. Neither did Sharp, who has a seen a precipitous drop in LCD TV market share since 2006. The Aquos brand, which once commanded better than 20% of the U.S. TV market, now struggles to hold onto 3% of it. Even the new Quattron four-color LCD TVs have met largely with yawns, and it doesn’t help that TVs are a tough sell in general these days. (Notice how even market giant Vizio has been pushing tablets and phones lately?)

 

According to a story in TWICE, the motivation for the new Elite LCD TVs came from Cedia dealers who said there was a definite hole in the market after the Kuro sets were discontinued and Runco shut down its Vidikron brand. (Runco/Planar’s misadventures in the home theater channel are another story altogether.)

 

Hence, Sharp and Pioneer created an Elite sales and marketing channel, with Sharp providing the TVs and Pioneer supplying Blu-ray players and AV receivers. The Elite TVs will be sold exclusively in North America, limited at first to about 750 dealers with the possibility of expansion into a larger base.

 

Elite dealers can either order TVs directly from Sharp or through a one-step distribution process. That last sentence should give pause; moving products to distribution guarantees that prices will drop over time and more retail outlets will be found to increase the volume of sales, thereby removing the ‘elite’ part of the equation. That’s what distributors do, unless they’re not serious about making money.

 

If this is such a good idea, why haven’t Sony and Samsung taken a similar approach? Sony’s woes with TV profitability are well-documented, while Samsung (and LG, and even Panasonic) recognized that mass-produced products can’t be sold in onesies and twosies for very long. But with Sharp’s inability to reverse its six-year slide in TV market share and Pioneer’s apparent jonesing to get back into the TV business, it appears both companies will give any idea a try these days.

 

For the record, the two Elite models that were launched were the 60-inch PRO-60X5FD, shipping this week for $5,999, and the 70-inch PRO-70X5FD, shipping later this month for $8,499. Those same screen sizes in the Aquos LCD TV line can be had for about $3,300 and $4,800, respectively.

 

The usual hype accompanied the press event, with Pioneer claiming these sets have the best black levels in the LCD TV business (that’s not saying much) and no competitors can come close. Sound familiar?

 

Here’s something else to think about. According to HIS iSuppli research, the “sweet spot” for U.S. TV sales is in the range of 40 to 49 inches. In the first quarter of 2011, that bracket accounted for 40% of all TV sales. The #2 position was occupied by the 30 – 39 inch group with 25% of all TV sales. In short. these two categories combined accounted for two out of every three TVs sold in this country from January through March.

 

Screens measuring 50 inches and larger represented 23% of all TV sales in that same time period. Although iSuppli didn’t drill down, I’d bet that 60 to 70 percent of the TVs sold within that category measured between 50 and 55 inches. That doesn’t leave a lot of market share to play with, if you want to sell 60-inch and larger screens.

 

The question here – as was the case with the Kuro plasma TVs – is how many units would have to be sold to turn a profit, and how many units the pro AV and Cedia channels could absorb at the listed prices. I would suspect that the answers are (a) a lot more than Sharp and Pioneer think, and (b) a lot less than Sharp and Pioneer think.Again, it’s all about the numbers these days – competitive prices and volume of sales.

 

Sharp has additional pressure on it to perform, given that it built the world’s only Gen 10 LCD fab a couple of years ago in Sakai, Japan. Sony was supposed to hold a 34% stake in the fab, but has capped its investment below 10% and is instead looking to China for lower-cost LCD TV panels. What will Sharp do with all of that capacity? And the fact that their finished panels are too expensive when compared to Korean and Chinese glass?

 

You can’t exist on high-end TV sales alone. Mitsubishi was the latest company to figure this out and underwent a massive re-organization this past spring to try and salvage what’s left of their rear-projection TV operations. Sony has lost so much money in the television business that it may have to walk away from manufacturing altogether and just private-label Chinese-made products in the future.

 

Wishing won’t make it so.

Product Review: Mitsubishi HC9000 Diamond 3D Projector

While 3D TVs have been available for over a year, the first crop of 3D front projectors are shipping now. The models I’m aware of use either digital light processing (DLP) or liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) imaging technologies, and all of them are engineered to operate with active shutter glasses, with the exception of LG’s $15,000 CF3D, which works with passive eyewear.

Mitsubishi’s HC9000D has been in development for the better part of a year, and I had the chance to see it in the prototype stage a few times prior to this review. Those earlier versions were underpowered, making the 3D footage they projected unusually dark.

Now, Mitsubishi has started shipping a fully-powered chassis with some interesting bells and whistles inside. It comes with power zoom, focus, and lens shift, plus multi-step gamma correction and a two-position IR emitter for synchronizing its active shutter glasses.

Figure 1 – The HC9000D is definitely a ‘looker!’

OUT OF THE BOX

This is not a small projector, nor is it particularly light at 32 pounds. But it does have that cool gloss black finish that disappears into the darkness, plus an aerodynamic housing with all of the connectors along the left side, and not in the back.

The imaging engine for the HC9000D may be a surprise to you: It uses three .61” SXRD LCoS chips, just like the previously-mentioned LG CF3D and of course, both of Sony’s 3D front projector offerings. This is Mitsubishi’s first foray into reflective imaging, and LCoS offers a much lower cost than 3-chip DLP engines.

3D projectors need lots of light to overcome all of the polarization losses in active shutter glasses, so Mits has equipped the HC9000D with a 230-watt short-arc lamp. The supplied zoom lens has a ratio of 1.8:1, adequate for any home theater set-up as it easily lit up my Da-Lite Affinity 92” screen at a distance of 12 feet.

The input connectors include a pair of HDMI 1.4a inputs that also support ten different standard digital computer resolutions, and there’s also an analog VGA PC input connector for everything from 640×480 to 1080p/60. Mitsubishi has also provided a single component video (YPbPr) input, plus composite and S-video jacks. (Question: Why are manufacturers still supporting composite video on high-end 1080p projectors?)

The interface panel is rounded out by a pair of 12V triggers for powered screens and anamorphic lens adapters, an RS-232 jack for remote control, and another DIN jack that connects to the EY-3D-EMT1 IR emitter through a short (1 meter) or long (15 meter) cable. The emitter can be attached to the lower front panel of the projector, or positioned under your projection screen.

The supplied remote control is identical in function to all previous Mits remotes (I inadvertently turned on my Mits HC6000 a few times with it), except that it has a black housing. You can directly access any input, jump to preset picture modes, operate the powered lens functions, and step through the iris settings. The only exception is that the STANDBY button now toggles between 2D and 3D display modes.

MENUS AND ADJUSTMENTS

Mitsubishi 3LCD projectors are known for high image quality and part of the reason is the detailed menus provided for in-depth calibrations. That protocol continues with the LCoS-powered HC9000D. Four different picture preset modes (Cinema, Video, 3D, Dynamic) are provided for viewing, along with three USER memory slots.

Gamma correction is also possible through five presets (Cinema, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 3D, and USER), and the USER gamma adjustments offer detailed adjustments of white, red, green, and blue at 15 grayscale steps. That is a tremendous amount of tweaking at your fingertips, if you are that fanatical about precise gamma response.

Color temperature and white balance adjustments are also available for each USER mode, or you can select from one of six presets, including 5800K, 6000K, and 6500K. None of these are completely accurate, but will get you into the ballpark. There are also a set of color management controls for all six primaries that I suggest you avoid playing with, as they don’t exactly work as intended in their current implementation.

The menu complement is rounded out with three different levels of black set-up (0, 3.75, and 7.5 IRE), a ‘cinema filter,’ 3:2 frame rate conversion or ‘true’ (native) frame rate selections, and various adjustments for noise reduction and detail enhancement. The former will soften the image to hide digital noise artifacts, while the latter may enhance edge transitions too much. I’d leave ‘em both off if possible.

The HC9000D also has image warping software (referred to in the owner’s manual as ‘Anyplace’ control) built-in. It lets you re-map the pixels on a projected image to correct for off-axis projection, such as a severe high and wide angle. While it works quite well, it does impact image resolution as it decimates pixels to correct for trapezoidal distortion. (It can also fix lens distortions like barreling and pincushioning.)

You are much better off mounting the projector as close to the optical centerline of the screen as possible, and using the lens shift controls to move the image into position. Try to avoid any adjustments that manipulate pixels to correct for geometry!

The HDMI inputs have their own sets of tweaks. You can manually select the HDMI color depth (4:2:2, 4:4:4, or RGB), or let the projector configure it for you. There are also four different HDMI inputs modes – Auto, Standard, Enhanced, and Super White.

It’s best to leave this setting in Auto, as it will pick the correct color bit depth for each connected input. Enhanced is usually selected for PC input connections, but I have no idea what ‘Super White’ is intended to do: The manual just says, “Select when solid white occurs.” Any guesses?

There are also a few useful 3D image adjustments. The only 3D mode that is detected automatically by the HC9000D is the Blu-ray 1080p/24 frame-packing format, so called because it packs both left eye and right eye video into a single BD frame with 45 pixels of blanking for a total of 1920×2205 pixels. On the other hand, the so-called ‘frame compatible’ 3D formats (also known as ‘half-resolution’ formats) must be selected manually in the 3D menu, and include top+bottom (720p) and side-by-side (1080i).

You can compensate for light attenuation through polarization losses by boosting projector brightness in five steps, with 5.0 being the default setting. The sync pulse for active shutter glasses can also be reversed if needed in this menu. Normally, you should not need to play with either control (and as you’ll find out, a brighter screen will do you more good than the 3D brightness compensation settings!).

The last control I should point out is the ever-present Iris adjustment. Dynamic iris controls are de rigueur for LCD and LCoS projectors to drop black levels and improve contrast on low-level video content. I have never liked these adjustments because of the non-linear effect they have on gamma curves, and prefer to leave them off and just work with whatever dynamic range the projector manufacturer brought to the table – which isn’t as bad as you might think most of the time.

If you must use the iris settings, you have four different presets (Open, 3, 2, and 1), plus 18 steps of irising in the User menu. My advice? Set your black levels correctly and adjust the contrast for best dynamic range, and just live with it. In 2D mode, the black levels may be a bit higher than you’d want, but in 3D mode, you won’t see them anyway with the glasses on.

ON THE TEST BENCH: 2D

For my tests, I used a combination of SpectraCal’s CalMan V4.4 software and ColorFacts 7.5 to take all readings through Spyder 2 and Eye One Pro sensors. All of my calibrations were done in 2D mode, as I was most interested to see what the projector did to these settings when switched into 3D mode.

All 2D test patterns were generated by an AccuPel HDG4000, while my 3D test patterns were custom-created in Photoshop and played back @ 1280×720 resolution from a Toshiba M645 laptop computer, using the top+bottom frame compatible format. Additional 3D content came from Samsung’s Blu-ray test disc and 3D Blu-ray movie clips from Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, played back on a Samsung BD-C6900.

You will be surprised at how little tweaking you’ll need to do to get a stable grayscale out of the HC9000D. After minimal calibration, I measured 2D brightness at 635 lumens with a center color temperature of 6542 degrees. That color temperature reading varied by a maximum of just 230 degrees over nine points of measurement. So far, so good!

Brightness uniformity was lower than I expected at 69% to the average corner from center, and 55% to the worst corner. That’s bordering on hot-spot territory, as 50% is a drop of one full f-stop in brightness. Contrast measurements were much better than you’d expect with the iris off, coming in at 279:1 ANSI (average) and 538:1 peak. While those numbers aren’t as impressive as what JVC’s achieved with their wire grid dichroic design, they are still respectable for any other LCoS projector.

I mentioned earlier that Mitsubishi always does a superb job with grayscale and color temperature performance. Figure 2 shows an almost-perfect 2.3 gamma curve after calibration that’s as good as any I’ve ever seen on the best projectors. (And it was measured with the iris disabled.)

The secret? Very tight tracking of red, green, and blue levels at each luminance measurement. You can see just how tight those levels track in Figure 3, which is the RGB histogram for the target color temperature setting of 6500 Kelvin.

Figure 2 – The HC9000D produces a nearly-perfect 2.3 gamma curve after calibration.

Figure 3 – This RGB histogram shows tight tracking of red, green, and blue across the entire grayscale.

The HC9000D has a ‘ginormous’ color gamut, which (unfortunately) cannot be dialed back accurately. That means the colors you’ll see off Blu-ray discs and other HD content will be over-saturated. The color management controls will not help you here – de-saturating a color will result in incorrect display of other secondary colors.

The correct approach is to set the exact color coordinates at the factory for RGB and CMY, based on the standard used to master the content being viewed, something very few projector manufacturers bother to do. Figures 4a-b shows the full color gamut of the projector compared to the BT.709 HDTV gamut and P3 digital cinema gamut.

Figure 4a – The HC9000D’s mapped color gamut, compared to the BT.709 HDTV color space.

Figure 4b – And here’s how the HC9000D’s color gamut compares to the P3 digital cinema color space.

ON THE TEST BENCH: 3D

All well and good – the HC9000D is a top-notch 2D projector – but what happens in 3D mode? For starters, let’s see what happens when switching from 2D mode to 3D mode with glasses off and on.

To measure the changes in brightness, I placed a Minolta CL200 directly in front of my projection screen to take an incident light reading from the projector for this test. I started with a baseline (glassless) reading of 1124 lux and a measured color temperature of 6190K – a bit on the warm side. With 3D mode enabled on the projector, but no glasses in place, the readings changed to 1137 lux (3D brightness @ 5.0) and 6093K.

After positioning Mitsubishi’s active shutter glasses in front of the CL200’s sensor, brightness readings dropped to 419 lux with a color temperature of 6576K. Finally, I turned the glasses on, and saw brightness drop to 146 lux while the measured color temperature soared to 8529K. (Switching the lamp from its normal setting into HIGH mode increased brightness slightly to 66 lux.)

That’s quite a decrease! Comparing the final 3D reading with glasses to the calibrated 2D reading without glasses, the amount of light that finally makes it to your eyes has decreased by about 87%

So, what’s the solution? You will need a higher-gain screen to enjoy 3D images from the HC9000D, as it’s just not bright enough for viewing on low-gain screens with active shutter glasses – at least, not at the projection distance I use. I dusted off an older 82” Vutec SilverStar (6.0 gain) screen, and it made a world of difference with the HC9000D.

Here’s the conundrum: A high-gain screen doesn’t match up well to the projector’s 2D mode, as it will elevate black levels. Does that suggest you’ll need two screens? Maybe not, as Stewart Filmscreens just announced a combination 2D/3D screen that’s supposedly optimized for both modes. (They call it “5D” – I kid you not!)

IMAGE QUALITY

2D image quality is top-notch, as you’d expect with a projector using an HQV Reon processor. The adjustable frame rates are used to convert 24 fps filmed content to 96 Hz (quad refresh), while 60 Hz video is doubled to 120 Hz. Scaling of 720p content to 1080p is seamless and de-interlacing of 1080i channels showed absolutely no motion errors. The projector’s dynamic range is excellent (within the limits of its black levels) and my only complaint is that colors pop too much, for reasons I explained earlier.

You could be very happy just running this projector in 2D mode. In 3D mode, it’s a different story. Most of the content I looked at on my Affinity screen was too dark when viewed in 3D mode and exhibited desaturated colors with low contrast.

The Vutec gain screen helped considerably, but this projector needs to be cranking out at least 300 – 400 3D lumens after calibration to work with my screen type, size, and projection throw. If you reverse-engineer the numbers, that means almost 3000 lumens in calibrated 2D mode.

The best 3D scenes were observed with the daytime flying sequences in Dragon and the final attack sequences in Avatar. On the Vutec SilverStar screen, they punched up considerably with improved color saturation, and the viewing experience was quite enjoyable. The 24-96 fps frame rate conversion provides a smooth, bright image with absolutely zero flicker.

One problem I noticed was crosstalk in each lens. This popped up when the glasses were tilted even slightly, with the effect more pronounced in high-contrast scenes. For 3D to present correctly; crosstalk in the glasses has to be kept to a minimum. Otherwise, you will begin to feel eyestrain and may develop a headache after sustained viewing.

For comparison, Sony’s 3D active shutter glasses suffer from crosstalk problems because only one polarizer is used, while Samsung and Panasonic glasses use two polarizers and are much better at suppressing crosstalk. The Mitsubishi glasses also use dual polarizers, but their ‘extinction ratio’ isn’t as good as I would have expected. Figures 5a – 5d show sample 3D images where crosstalk is strongly evident and not quite as evident.

Figure 5a – This 3D text chart shows crosstalk (ghost images) around the letters and vertical lines.

Figure 5b – A ghost image of the center circle can be seen clearly in this photo.

Figure 5c – Crosstalk isn’t as evident when watching 3D movies, although I noticed it in this scene from How to Train Your Dragon.  (Image © 2010 Dreamworks Animation)

 

Figure 5d – Subtle ghost images were seen along the edges of the mountains and the dragon’s wings.  (Image © 2010 Dreamworks Animation)

You will clearly see double images in the test patterns, but the ghosting isn’t quite as apparent with the stills from Dragon. But it is there, along the jagged rocky cliffs and other background objects. It all depends on the angle of your head – if you tilt your head to either side, the effect becomes more pronounced. Ghosting is readily apparent with credits and other high-contrast text and symbols.

CONCLUSIONS

Mitsubishi’s HC9000D is a top-notch 2D projector, but underpowered for 3D with low-gain screens. It calibrates quickly and performs nicely, but those calibrations will shift noticeably when viewing with 3D glasses. You’ll definitely need a gain screen with this projector for 3D content, and it might be a good idea to choose one that has a slightly warm color temperature that will offset the higher color temperature in 3D mode.

More horsepower under the hood would help. As I mentioned earlier, something in the neighborhood of 3000 lumens would be required to (a) perform a full 2D calibration and (b) provide enough illumination in 3D mode to low-gain (1.0 to 1.3) screens in the 82-inch to 102-inch range, assuming  a projection distance of 10 – 12 feet.

However, if you are sitting closer to a smaller screen, then you will be in better shape: The HC9000’s measured light output after calibration should be adequate for 3D viewing on a 72-inch screen at a distance of 6 to 8 feet, as you will wind up with 3x to 4x brighter images. And you DO want to sit closer to 3D screens to get the maximum impact: My recommended seating distance is 1x to 1.3x the screen diagonal measurement. That will make the 3D images fill 50% or more of your field of view, and give you that theater-like immersive experience!

One Size Fits All

Yesterday, Panasonic and XPand announced that they have developed M-3DI, which is intended to be a new interoperability standard for active shutter 3D glasses.

 

M-3DI is actually a communications protocol used to signal and sequence the glasses in step with the rapid flashing of left eye and right eye 3D images. Until now, you couldn’t use one manufacturer’s brand of active shutter glasses to view another manufacturer’s TV, due to different signaling codes. Panasonic AS glasses do work with 2010-vintage Samsung 3D TVs, but that was the exception.

 

This incompatibility problem was one of the reasons consumers cited for holding off on 3D TV purchases last year. It will still be an issue for Samsung TVs in 2011, as the new line employs the Bluetooth communications protocol instead of infrared linking.

XPand announced last year that they would come out with so-called “universal” active shutter glasses that could learn IR signaling codes, just like a universal TV remote control does. But this announcement takes things a step further by ensuring greater support among multiple manufacturers, including Changhong Electric Co., Ltd., FUNAI Electric Co., Ltd., Hisense Electric Co., Ltd., Hitachi Consumer Electronics Co., Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Seiko Epson Corporation, SIM2 Multimedia S.p.A. and ViewSonic Corporation.

 

What really caught my eye in the press release was this statement: “The technology will let consumers enjoy the immersive 3D experience across all types of compatible 3D displays as well as at movie theaters, with a single pair of 3D active-shutter eyewear.”

 

Currently, movie theaters do not use active shutter viewing systems as the cost of glasses would be prohibitive – and they’d break down pretty quickly. Apparently, Panasonic has plans to expand into that arena, possibly with their line of high-brightness digital cinema DLP projectors, but we’ve not heard any details previously.

 

The M-3DI standard will also cover active shutter eyewear for computer monitors and front projectors for home theater and commercial AV applications.  But the big question remains: Will the other major players in active shutter 3D (Samsung and Sony) come aboard?

 

Rumors have abounded that Sony may add passive 3D TVs to their product line in the near future, something that will no doubt be influenced by LG’s success – or lack of it – with their new passive Cinema 3D TV line.

 

Regardless, this announcement is long overdue. And Samsung and Sony really ought to join the parade if only to help 3D TV sales pick up some momentum.