If you haven't already done so, we suggest that you do a double take at the price above the Mitsubishi HC100 headline. Done it? Good. Then you'll know already what makes the HC100 such an exciting bit of kit. In fact it is, to our knowledge, the most affordable DLP home cinema projector currently available in the UK. And if the thought of being able to enjoy an image up to 300in across for just £925 doesn't set your pulse racing, then we're sorry, but you must be dead!
The HC100 aesthetically resembles the higher end Mitsubishi models featured elsewhere in this issue. Which isn't a particularly good thing, sadly, as the plasticky finish, rather old-school grilled chassis and unimaginative shaping is hardly a design classic.
Connectivity is much easier on the eye, with the HC100's astonishingly competitive price not stopping it from managing to include a DVI jack with HDCP compatibility. Images from Sky's high definition service and the new generation of digital outputting DVD players should thus not be a problem. There's also a component video input with analogue HD and progressive scan capability, a normal 15-pin PC input, and all the lower quality AV alternatives with the usual exception of a Scart.
The HC100 couldn't be easier to set up. We actually had it out of its box and working in a timed two and a half minutes! We guess some of this simplicity can be attributed to only an average degree of flexibility in adapting it to your living room space - the zoom range isn't particularly expansive, for instance. But most average-sized, rectangularshaped living rooms shouldn't find the HC100 too limiting.
The HC100's cute on-screen menus contain a surprising glut of features. Stand outs at this price point include gamma adjustment, a bizarrely named 'Set Up' feature, for enhancing black levels, low and normal lamp level adjustment and a CineRichColour feature - complete with surprisingly canny Auto option - for changing the picture's white level.
The first real signs of the HC100's budget nature appear with some of its internal specifications. The most disappointing discovery is a DLP chip resolution of just 854 x 480. This number of lines means it won't even show a normal PAL DVD or TV programme without some downscaling being necessary, never mind a high-def input. The claimed contrast of 2,000:1 is hardly world-beating, either.
Yet the HC100 really tries hard to do make the best of what it's got. To begin with, the image is really spectacularly bright for such an affordable projector. This helps bright scenes in our Fellowship of the Ring test DVD, like the trek across snow-capped mountains, really leap out. More importantly, however, it also ensures that dark scenes, like those in the Mines of Moria, look punchy and dynamic, avoiding the flatness found with lesser budget projectors.
And there's surprisingly impressive contrast levels. We've seen darker, richer blacks further up the price tree, but it delivers Fellowship's numerous dark scenes with aplomb.
Also very pleasing is the combination of vibrancy and naturalism in the HC100's colours, with flesh tones authentic. The long-distance shots of the opening battle in Fellowship are notorious for suffering with dotty noise over the moving soldiers on DLP projectors - yet on the HC100 there's hardly a trace. Sadly, that doesn't apply to the 'rainbow effect' common on budget DLP models, and it's hard to ignore here. There's also some slight visible pixel structure during very bright scenes as well as some hefty fan noise.
However, we don't want to leave you with a negative impression of the HC100. While it's perhaps not quite so assured as some budget rivals, it's cheap while still being an unexpectedly respectable performer in its own right. A real bargain.