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Mitsubishi HC7900DW review: Low light, not-so-low price limit PJ appeal


Mitsubishi was the last man standing in the battle to keep big-screen rear-projection TVs in American living rooms, offering DLPs in screen sizes up to 92 inches. It stands to reason, then, that the Zaibatsu also puts out DLP front projectors capable of filling even larger screens.


Mitsubishi HC7900DW

The Good

The <b>Mitsubishi HC7900DW</b> projector can produce very good pictures in a dark room; exhibits deep-enough black levels and accurate color in bright areas; has lots of viable video-processing options; and its operation is quiet.

The Bad

More expensive than similarly performing projectors; relatively dim; black and near-dark areas are slightly green; must buy separate emitter for 3D; no 3D glasses included.

The Bottom Line

Although its dark-room picture quality rivals projectors near its price, the Mitsubishi HC7900DW's low light output contributes to making it a worse value.

The HC7900DW is one of the company's least expensive 3D-compatible DLP home theater projectors, but it still costs a few hundred more than similar competing products like the BenQ W1070 and Epson 3020, and even more if you want the accessories necessary to watch 3D. That price difference, combined with the HC7900DW's relatively low light output, handicaps its chances in the much smaller battle for the huge screens in select American home theater rooms.

Unlike the swoopy white Epson or the petite white BenQ, the white Mitsubishi HC7900W appears decidedly bulbous -- and not just because it contains a bulb. The blobby box is a good deal larger (15.6x12.9x5.6 inches WDH, 12.6 pounds) than most units in its price range. The entirety of each side is a vent, there's a turtle-shell-like overhang designed into the top and a chrome ring on the lens. Little else distinguishes the 7900 visually, but at least external design is less relevant for projectors than for TVs.

A door labeled Push flips open to reveal the small knob for controlling vertical lens shift, which to its credit is easier to adjust than BenQ's. The main control cluster is topside aft, with the usual array of buttons for menu navigation and power.

Mitsubishi's remote is also undistinguished -- to the point where the Mitsubishi brand appears nowhere on its surface. Red backlighting and direct access to numerous settings are nice, but the layout and labeling are confusing and haphazard. "F.R.C." anyone? Meanwhile the tiny, throwback menu system is likewise confusing to navigate, but at least it stays out of the way during adjustments.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: 3D requires external emitter (model EY-3D-EMT2H, $99) and compatible IR 3D glasses, such as the XpanD X103 ($40)
Projection technology DLP Native resolution 1920x1080 (1080p)
Lumens rating 1500 Iris control Yes ( auto)
3D technology Active 3D glasses included No
Lens shift Vertical Zoom and focus Manual
Lamp life span 3000 hours Replacement lamp cost $349

Mitsubishi is one of the principal purveyors of DLP technology, and the six-segment color wheel on the 7900 makes for superior color rendition compared with wheels with white panels (which increase light output). The modest 1,500-lumens rating betrays the 7900's biggest weakness compared with many projectors in this range: it just can't get that bright. That rating seems optimistic based on my measurements and a direct comparison with the 2000-lumens-rated BenQ W1070, a competing DLP projector that also has a six-segment wheel.

Unlike most entry-level 3D projectors, the 7900 requires you to purchase an emitter, in addition to 3D glasses, to watch 3D. The $99 emitter is infrared only, whereas Epson's units have RF (radio frequency) technology, for example the Epson PowerLite 3020 -- which happens to include 3D glasses and doesn't require an emitter. Generally RF is better for 3D because IR (infrared) requires line of sight, and has a shorter range.

Once you buy the emitter you'll need 3D glasses, and Mitsubishi doesn't sell any of its own. For this review the company shipped me glasses from XpanD labeled "For use with Mitsubishi TVs." They look identical to the X103 glasses ($40-$50 a pair online), which should also work fine with this projector. Numerous other third-party models of glasses are listed as "works with Mitsubishi projectors" on Amazon, for example these $25 specs from Okeba.

Setup: The HC7900's standout extra here is vertical lens shift, and I appreciated that its range seemed wider than that of the BenQ. The two adjustable feet on the front are a pain to operate, however, because they're tiny and recessed significantly under the body.

Mitsubishi lists the maximum screen size at 300 inches, which again seems optimistic given the projector's paltry light output. Like most units this one has a "Low" lamp power mode, but I didn't use it because it couldn't hit my target light output of 16 fL (in fact, even the Standard lamp mode had trouble doing so; see below). As a result I wouldn't recommend this projector be used with any screen larger than my 120-inch diagonal version -- and for lower-gain screens than my 1.3, you might even want to go smaller.

Picture settings: The HC7900 has a very solid selection, starting with a healthy four picture presets and three more "user" modes. The auto iris mode has three different settings designed to improve black levels somewhat compared with Iris Off.

Other advanced controls include a fully adjustable custom gamma and a color management system that worked well, improving color points drastically (with the exception of blue). BrilliantColor adds to the HC7900's light output a bit, but wasn't worth the color accuracy tradeoff, so I left it turned off. Finally, if you've been waiting to find out what F.R.C. stands for, it's "Frame Rate Conversion," another name for smoothing or the soap opera effect. It's better than most such systems, however, with numerous settings, some of which include a very light touch of smoothing.

Connectivity: Mitsubishi's back panel holds the usual ports for a projctor: two HDMI and one component video. There's also a VGA-style analog PC input that can also handle component video. Ports for the 3D emitter, 12v triggers, and an RS-232 connection (the latter two ease some installations) round out the back-panel array.

Picture quality
One major thing separates the HC7900 from the less expensive BenQ W1070 and Epson 3020: light output. The HC7900 is quite a bit dimmer than either one, making it less versatile in terms of screen material and size as well as tolerance for ambient light. In a completely dark room the HC7900 is a solid performer, with standout video processing, deep-enough black levels for the price, and accurate color in bright scenes.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
BenQ W1070 DLP projector
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020 3LCD projector
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5020UB 3LCD projector
JVC DLA-X35 D-ILA projector

Black and white level: If you use price as a proxy for black level, according to our measurements the Mitsubishi is slightly worse than you'd expect: about even with the Epson 3020 and a bit better than the BenQ. Watching the darkest parts (like the beginning of chapter 12) of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the three appeared very close to one another, and quite a bit worse than either the 5020UB or the JVC. The image of the army massing outside Hogwart's had significantly more pop and depth on the more expensive models, while the Mitsubishi, BenQ, and Epson 3020 were roughly equally washed-out in comparison.

The HC7900's shadow detail was good but in the very darkest scenes, like the shot of Hogwarts before the assault (46:23) and the Room of Requirement (57:40), it crushed detail a bit compared with the BenQ, although not quite as much as the Epson 3030.

As usual the iris mode did improve black levels visibly and measurably, so I ended up leaving it on. I chose the Auto 1 setting because it seemed to offer the best combination of black-level performance and gamma. Unlike the iris on the 3020 it was completely silent, and indeed the HC7900 was the quietest among the three lower-end projectors overall. I looked for overt iris effects -- relatively abrupt and unnatural changes in luminance -- but didn't notice any.

The Mitsubishi is the dimmest projector we tested, and that's its main weakness. After calibration it failed to achieve our target 16 fL on a 120-inch diagonal high-gain screen, topping out at just 13.4 fL. There isn't a huge visible difference from 16 fL, but it did contribute to there being a bit less pop and impact in mixed bright and dark scenes.

More issues arise if you want a larger screen, one with a more neutral gain, or if you want to watch in a brighter environment than pitch darkness. In its brightest default picture mode the HC7900 measured just 17.71 fL, which works out to just 582 lumens. That's a bit less than half as bright as the next-dimmest projector we tested, the JVC, and about a third as bright as the BenQ and Epson 3020.

Color accuracy: Despite some less-than-perfect results (listed in the Geek Box below), the overall color of the Mitsubishi was very good in bright areas. The face of the mourning Mrs. O'Brien in the opening of "Tree of Life" (7:01) looked quite close to how it looked on our reference JVC, although I did notice a slightly paler, greenish cast to some areas, and the colors weren't quite as punchy -- a difference that has more to do with the differences in black level than in actual accuracy.

The CMS did fall short of perfecting magenta and especially blue, but it was otherwise very good. The large "Blue error" listed in the Geek Box is less of a big deal than the number might indicate, mostly because such errors are less visible than in other colors. Yes, I noticed a bit less saturation in blue areas like the walls of the bedroom (7:10) and the jellyfish in the ocean (29:35), but it wasn't drastic.

The Mitsubishi's biggest color problem is one it shares with the other DLP projector, the BenQ: greenish blacks and near-blacks. Between the two the Mitsubishi seemed somewhat worse in this regard than the BenQ, because its green tint seemed to creep more into bright areas, whereas the BenQ's seemed to remain less visible. If I had to choose I'd pick the bluish near-black tint of the Epson 3020 over either one.

Video processing: Compared with the other like-priced projectors in our test, this category was a strength for the HC7900. Mitsubishi's adjustable Frame Rate Conversion system is one of the most versatile I've seen. The company mentions a 96Hz driver in its manual, and the setting consists of multiple options that offer improved motion resolution, smoothing, or both.

In True Film mode, designed for 24-frame sources like most scripted TV shows and 1080p/24 Blu-rays, the five different settings had progressively smoother effects, and I really appreciated the fineness of the gradation from one to another. The first three modes produced visible judder that I preferred to the more buttery look of modes 4 and 5, and modes 1 and 2 in particular looked very close to Off. I'd probably still choose Off for myself for films, but among all the smoothing modes I've seen, Mitsubishi's True Film is among the most palatable at its lowest settings.

There's also a True Video mode for higher frame rates, with its own five fine levels of gradation. These combinations delivered varying degrees of motion resolution (blur reduction) although, unsurprisingly, the less smooth options measured the worst in our test. True Film settings 1 and 2 (my favorites) were barely better than Off, and not until 4 and 5 (my least favorites) did the projector reach its maximum motion resolution of just above 600 lines. As usual I'll trade a bit of blurring (which I always have a tough time discerning) for true film cadence and minimal smoothing, but it's great that Mitusubishi offers so many options.

As for non-24-frame sources like sports, I'd probably choose True Video level 1, which achieved nearly full motion resolution and minimal artifacts. As I stepped up toward level 5, incidences of artifacts, for example breakup in moving objects on my test pattern, became more common.

I also noticed about the same amount of "rainbow effect" on the Mitsubishi and the BenQ. It's an artifact unique to single-chip DLP projectors, and appears as occasional, brief flashes of color as the eye perceives the color wheel's imperfect construction of light. It manifested primarily when I looked away from the screen and then back, and then mainly in highlights like the shine of the urn from "Hallows" at 59:28, or the white Pause symbol of my PS3's display in the letterbox bar. All in all it was mild, but if it bothers you I recommend getting an LCD or LCoS projector instead.

Bright lighting: As you can imagine with such a low level of light output, the Mitsubishi didn't hold up well against the competition -- particularly the two Epsons and the BenQ -- with the lights on. Its image looked significantly more washed out than any of the others on its brightest default setting. In the dark is always the best way to watch a projector, but the Mitsubishi is even less resistant than most to ambient lighting.

3D: The Mitsubishi's 3D performance was pretty good. The highlight was basically the complete lack of crosstalk during "Hugo," my favorite 3D torture test. The GK Films logo at the beginning, the floating hand as Hugo reaches for the mouse (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), and the face of the dog (9:25) were equally clean on both units, without even the merest hint of the double image. The downside, again, was its relatively dim light output. Comparing their default 3D picture modes the Epson 3020 and JVC were more than twice as bright as the Mitsubishi in 3D.

The BenQ and Mitsubishi were equally dim, on the other hand, which is a surprise given the BenQ's vast light output advantage in 2D. I'm not sure why, but I'm guessing it's an issue with the BenQ's default 3D mode, and no easy fix was obvious.

For what it's worth I also found the XpanD "Made for Mitsubishi"/X103 glasses relatively uncomfortable, with too tight a grip on the back of my head. The also-compatible X104s are a much better fit for me.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0069 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.14 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.0032 Good
Near-black error (5%) 0.606 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.995 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.863 Good
Avg. color error 4.213 Average
Red error 2.018 Good
Green error 0.518 Good
Blue error 12.915 Poor
Cyan error 1.512 Good
Magenta error 5.083 Poor
Yellow error 3.23 Average
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 600 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 48.1 Average

Mitsubishi HC7900DW CNET review calibration results


Mitsubishi HC7900DW

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 7Value 6