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

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The Good The Mitsubishi HC7900DW 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.

6.5 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Value 6

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.

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.

Key TV features
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
Other: 3D requires external emitter (model EY-3D-EMT2H, $99) and compatible IR 3D glasses, such as the XpanD X103 ($40)

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.

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

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