Mitsubishi HC4900

Review

posted 6/9/2008 by Dan Keener
other articles by Dan Keener
One of the late additions to our CES schedule was a visit with Mitsubishi Projectors. We were invited to come take a look at their new lineup of Home Theater projectors, including the Mitsubishi HC4900, which is a full 1080p LCD projo. After spending some time with the unit and a Mitsubishi representative, the HC4900 was one of a handful of CES 2008 products that I came away very impressed with. Specifically, the value for a full 1080p front projector was incredible, as recent models with comparable measurables were north of the $4,000 barrier. At $2,499, the HC4900 brings 1080p into the mainstream pricing point.

The Specs
Model HC4900
MSRP $2,499
Best Retail price $2,195
Native Resolution 1920x1080
Contrast 7,500:1 (open IRIS)
Response Time n/a
Lamp Life (Hrs) 2,000 - 5,000 (low setting)
Dimensions (in) 4.4 (H) x 15.5 (W) x 11.8 (D)
Weight (lbs) 12.3
Mounting Pattern n/a
Inputs HDMI (1), VGA (1), Component (1), S-Video (1), DVI (1) and Serial (1)
Outputs n/a
ANSI Lumens 1,000
Zoom 1.6x
Screen Size (in) 50 - 300
Throw Distance (ft) 10.1 - 16.5 (100 in)

Out of the Box
The Mitsubishi HC4900 was packed in a traditional soft-foam sleeve between two pieces of molded Styrofoam, which is basically a standardized packing job. Considering it is a $2,500 projector, I was thinking it might have been packed with a bit more protection, but there is nothing wrong with the chosen packing materials and it does have plenty of clearance all the way around the equipment.

A secondary box held most of the accessories that comes with the unit, and it has quite a bit of goodies to make setup of the HC4900 much easier. One thing that I was surprised to find was a European power plug, something that isn’t usually included in many North American appliances or electronic devices. Other items were an AC power cable, RGB cable, RS-232C cable (remote projector control), Remote w/batteries, User Manual (English and foreign versions), User Manual on CD, Safety Manual and Lens Cap.


Aesthetics
The Mitsubishi HC4900 has a sleek and sexy look, with a matte black finish and soft curves. When the lens cap is in place, there isn’t a sharp angle to be found on the device. Because of this design, the HC4900 literally blends in with any setting, whether it is mounted on the ceiling, a shelf or in a somewhat concealed area. The buttons and indicator lights are all grouped on the left side. They are a metallic silver color and recessed, so they offer a nice contrast to the black, but are not obtrusive. The back panel is fairly plain, with small white labels for each of the seven inputs and cable lock. When ceiling mounted, there is nary a marking to be seen with the exception of a silver strip near the back of the projo that has the Mitsubishi name and logo on it. The elegant design makes this a fine piece of equipment that anyone should be proud to show off.

Remote
I was expecting the HC4900 remote to be jam-packed with buttons and features based on the specs of the projector. However, I was surprised to find that it was, for a lack of a better word, unassuming. It doesn’t even have the Mitsubishi name or logo on it and is kind of plain looking.

There are three distinct groupings of buttons. The top section contains buttons for power, input and memory, while the middle section has the directional keypad and enter buttons. The bottom has all the buttons to control the projector functionality, such as Iris, sharpness, zoom and so on. All in all, the remote is very standard for projectors, with only the motorized lens controls (Zoom and Lens Shift) being outside the norm.

Setup
Unlike the previous projo we reviewed, we decided to go ahead and ceiling-mount the HC4900 and used a Sanus VMPR1S Universal mount. Unfortunately, the HC 4900 manual does not include any instruction relating to ceiling mounting. There are some illustrations scattered around that show an old-school ceiling mount with support arm, but nothing that shows specifically which holes on the chassis to use. After some trial and error, we located the three slots on the unit that matched the screw sizes that came with the universal ceiling mount. Although it wasn’t an exact fit (the Mitsubishi uses a three 3-hole mounting pattern) and the positioning was awkward, the universal mount allowed us to adjust the arms to accommodate the pattern. We were able to make the proper adjustments once the HC4900 was secured to the mounting plate.

While the HC4900 is being touted as a Home Theater projector by Mitsubishi, I found the collection of inputs on the back panel to be interesting. From my perspective, it is really lacking for today’s home theater setups. While the inputs include standard analog video, s-video, component, mini D-sub (15-pin VGA) and a single HDMI 1.2 (not the more current 1.3), the rest of them left me raising an eyebrow. The DVI-D with HDCP and serial (9-pin d-sub) seem to be taking up space that would have been better served adding another component and especially another HDMI. Unfortunately, a high end HDMI switching Home Theater receiver or HDMI switch may be a necessity for hooking up multiple HDMI devices when using this projector. Personally, I prefer having the choice of the most current inputs, and frankly, DVI hasn’t been found regularly in Home Theater for over two years. While I appreciate Mitsubishi’s attempt to allow the projector to be used for many purposes, if you bill it as a Home Theater projector, you should probably have that in mind when figuring out what people will, or will not, hook up to it. There are simply too many electronic devices to connect to the family home theater to not allow for the most robust connection options possible.

The lens cover was a bit clunky, as it is designed to cover the entire lens area instead of just affixing to the outer edges of the lens itself. It also has no physical means to stay attached to the projector (think a camera lens cover), and will have to be stored somewhere while the projector is in use. While this may not seem like a big issue, for those that have a ceiling mounted projector, or placed it in a hard to reach space, you may need to spend more time cleaning the lens than normal if you choose not to put the cap on after every use.

Normally, I like to have at it with a product to see how easy it is for someone with a basic understanding of a/v components to dig in without hitting the manual, but I did have to hit the HC4900 manual to figure out the location of some things in the on-screen menu. Once we found the options, we were good to go. While adjusting the screen/lens, the motor was noticeably loud. Although it starts with slow adjustment speed, it increases to a much quicker pace after a few seconds when the adjustment is significant. This extra speed is nice when the lens has to have a large adjustment made, which will almost assuredly occur during initial setup when the lens will need to be maximized to fill the desired screen size. I will point out that using the motorized zoom, focus and lens shift were very easy to get the screen to the size (92” wide) that we needed. An on-screen grid makes it extremely simple to line up everything so the image appears exactly where you want it. In a bit of irony, when we first turned up the HD off-air feed, it was a promo spot for Mitsubishi electronics during the golf tournament coverage that was being shown at the time.

One additional item of note is that while the HC4900 is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens, it does not suffer from a lack of brightness. I found it to be plenty bright from a ceiling mount and throw distance we used. Whether the lights were on, or the room completely dark, the image was bright and crisp. The Lamp life expectancy is rated at up to 5,000 hours (on low setting), but a realistic expectancy is probably closer to 3,000 depending on your usage habits and how often you switch between the standard and low bulb settings. The standard is very bright, but will cut the longevity of the lamp life to around 2,000 hours. The low setting will significantly increase the lamp life (to the rated 5,000 hours), but will cut the lumens by almost 25%. Another nice feature on the HC4900 is that the bulb is easily replaced by the owner due to the access door placement. Mitsubishi put it on the side of the projector, so whether it is ceiling or shelf mounted, it is a snap to get to and replace the lamp. The replacement bulb is listed as the VLT-HC5000LP, which has a MSRP of $459 and is clearly on the expensive side for replacement lamps. However, it appears most internet retailers have it listed anywhere from $330 - $399, so the cost should continue to decrease until a replacement is needed in a few years.


Video Performance
The HC4900 hadn’t arrived by the time the Super Bowl kicked off, but I was able to put it through its HD paces while watching HD-DVD, Blu Ray and some Network shows via off-air antenna.

I initially popped in the HD-DVD version of King Kong in order to get a gauge on the black levels and again went straight to the ending sequence. The projector flawlessly reproduced the New York street scene both in the dark and lighted areas. The details were rendered so impressively, I could clearly see individual strands of Kong’s fur flowing as he chased Adrien Brody’s taxi down the darkened streets. As the scene changed from nighttime to daylight, the climactic Kong vs airplane battle atop the building was rendered without any issues. The CGI of Kong looked great and the entire movie sequence looked as good as I had hoped for.

With the HC4900 capable of 1080p playback, I hooked up a Playstation 3 to test not only the gaming, but the Blu-Ray video playback. I chose Ratatouille as my test film and hoped that is would really show off the qualities of the projector’s 1080p playback. Unfortunately, there were some issues in the opening scenes. As the image vertically descended down the screen, noticeable choppiness made it hard to follow with my eyes. I replayed the sequence again to make sure, and it did the exact same thing. Now this could be a result of different techniques in generating the opening sequences in the movie versus the rest of the film, or it could have been an issue with how the projector handled it. Regardless, it was a subtle issue that occurred only a handful of times during the film. Despite this, Ratatouille looked utterly amazing. Animated films simply bring out the best in Blu-Ray and when coupled to the HC4900, it displayed every strand of fur on Remy and his pals in the finest of detail. Where the projector really shined was allowing the more subtle details of the background images (such as wood grain, water texture and others) to seem almost real. The human eye tends to focus on the main on-screen action, but the subtleties are what makes image its best. Having seen Ratatouille in a TXH Certified digital theater with my kids, and then in the lab with the HC4900, I can say I (and my kids) were more impressed with the image the Mitsubishi gave us than the larger theater.

[NOTE: I tested the Ratatouille Blu-Ray on my 56” DLP and the choppiness was still there. I am categorizing this as a flaw in the movie, not with the HC4900]

As for Network television, one of the best looking shows in HD is CSI: Miami. The spectacular aerial shots and vividness of the Miami skyline provide a great viewing opportunity. I was most interested in these aerials as the show opens and comes back from commercial. I knew how great they looked on my primary set, but the HC4900 helped blow me away at how gorgeous these scenes were at 92”. The water, buildings and foliage were so detailed it felt like I was riding in a helicopter over the area. Of course the cast looked fantastic in HD, as we all know that CSI labs all over the U.S. are staffed with buff and buxom employees (except you Horatio Cain!) I also was able to see some hot action that was just a bit farther north of Miami, and that was the Daytona 500. Live sporting events rule the day for HD, and the bright colors and heavily adorned vehicles allow NASCAR races to provide some fantastic visual. My main concern was how the HC4900 would handle the background as the cameras were following cars around the track. As I have come to expect, it did a tremendous job and probably provided me with the best viewing of a NASCAR race I have seen on a TV. Like I mentioned several times above, this projector and a large screen allow the viewer to become immersed in what they are watching. Smaller projectors and flat-panel televisions simply cannot deliver the experience the HC4900 did, and I was extremely impressed.

After watching many hours of video on the Mitsubishi HC4900, there wasn’t a single instance where I thought the projector wasn’t able to produce top end quality. Its video performance is among the best I have ever seen for a Home Theater projector.

Gameplay Tests
The Mitsubishi HC4900 is primarily designed to be a Home Theater projector, but gaming on today’s projectors is very common place with consoles integrated into the family Home Entertainment system. I pulled out three popular games (two Xbox 360 titles and a Playstation 3 title) and used them for benchmark testing.

One of the most vivid games I have seen on a console is Rachet and Clank Future Tools of Destruction on Blu-Ray for the Playstation 3. Because of its design and gameplay, it is also a great testing game, as the screen is constantly filled with many moving items at any given time in addition to the colors. As Rachet was moving along the areas, I was impressed with how well the HC4900 handled the many actions taking place at one time. Pretty much anything that blew up generated 10-20 small and compact pieces that flew around the screen. The projo was able to flawlessly display them even as they quickly bounced around the screen. Toss in all the bright and vivid colors, and it equals up to an impressive performance. No pixilation, screen tear or sluggishness, just a great image to watch Rachet and Clank bust some robot commando heads.

I spent a lot of time playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion with the Xbox 360 on the HC4900, as this is still my favorite game to just sit down and work my way through. I have also found that Oblivion provides many of the testing scenarios that are necessary to gauge the quality of a projector or television. The scenes constantly change from light to dark, clear to rainy and peaceful to intense. Many times the action on the screen becomes so intense (multiple actions taking place at once) that projos end up being pushed to their maximum to reproduce the images appropriately. One spot in the game I like to view are the effects around the Oblivion gates. The fire dances and sways on the screen, and only a quality projector can reproduce it without issues. The HC4900 made it feel like you would reach up and burn your hand it was so realistic. There wasn’t any pixilation or choppiness and the image was just plain smooth. In fact, just about any cave, crevice or dungeon you can venture into was being displayed in vivid detail by the HC4900.

The last game I tested with was Rock Band on the Xbox 360. Much like the previous projector review, Rock Band provided a solid testing of the response rate of the projector from controller and how well the projector handles a lot of activity on the screen at a given time. As I expected, the HC4900 easily handled the scrolling instrument graphics for the game, even while the vocals, drum and both guitars were being displayed simultaneously. I was particularly impressed with the way it displayed the note details (and subsequent graphics) as they were being struck by the players. In addition, the response rate was fantastic without any in-game calibration required. Both the drums and guitar controls were immediately reflected on the screen when one of us hit a note. Having used a projector at the 92” screen before, we had no trouble picking up the speed and tempo of the on screen notes due to the enlarged screen. For those that have not experienced a rhythm game (GH, Rock Band) on a large screen, this is a must gaming experience if you ever get the opportunity.



While gaming is not the primary function of the Mitsubishi HC4900, it provides an exceptional gaming experience for the next-gen consoles. While it does not have any specific built-in enhancements for gaming, but it doesn’t really need any from my testing results. Overall, this unit will visually provide the best gaming experience most of us will ever have.


Miscellaneous Items of Note
• Easy Lamp Replacement access
• Whisper quiet
• Irregular ceiling mount pattern, but workable
• Lens cap does not attach to projector chassis
• Menu is on small side, even for a projector

Pros Cons
Great Value Only 1 HDMI
Fabulous Picture User Friendliness Issues
Easy to Set up & Quiet Unique Mounting Pattern
Good Look  


Testing Methodology
Items utilized in the testing of the Mitsubishi HC4900 included, but not limited to:

Xbox 360 Elite, Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive, Off-air antenna, DirecTV Satellite feed, Playstation 3, Blu Ray Movies, 16:9 92” Da-Lite fixed screen.

Testing was done at a throw distance of 12’ 4” from a 92” 16:9 screen with a ceiling mount location (approx eight feet off the floor.) Seating was at a distance of nine feet from the screen.


The Conclusion
The Mitsubishi HC4900 sports high-end features and a beautiful 1080p picture at a fantastic price. The chassis is compact with sleek lines and a great look that lets it blend in anywhere in a room no matter what type of placement is used. The gaming experience was exceptional as the detailed images from the next-gen consoles literally popped off the screen. The biggest disappointment was the lack of inputs and some user friendliness problems. For a projector touted for Home Theater applications it should not be limited by its inputs with today’s technology. Regardless, the bottom line is that the HC4900 provides a fantastic looking picture no matter what type of media is being fed into it and should be seriously considered when shopping for your next Home Theater projector.




A-
The Mitsubishi HC4900 is an excellent Home Theater projector that does a great job rendering console games. The picture quality is some of the best I have seen for a projector priced under $2,500. The unit does have a few issues such as a lack of inputs and some user friendliness problems. However, consumers will be hard pressed to find a better 1080p projector for your dollar than the HC4900.