Provided you're willing to put in that bit of up-front effort, you'll be rewarded by a simply fantastic movie experience
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If you're going to cost a cool £400 more than your nearest rival, you'd better come to the party packing some heat. And on paper at least, that's exactly what Mitsubishi's HC900E does.
Let's look at the evidence. First of all, there's a native resolution on the DLP chip of 1,024 x 576. Now, while this doesn't make the projector able to show high-definition without scaling the picture down first, it does make it one of the very few projectors in the sub-£2k price bracket able to at least show our The Last Samurai DVD in lovely, unscaled 576p PAL progressive scan. Which is nice.
Also significant is a claimed contrast ratio of 4,000:1. This figure easily overcomes all the competition in this test, and could itself go some way towards justifying the price hike.
Next there's a brightness rating of 1,500:1. This, again, canes all but the NEC in this group test, and might actually be a cause for alarm - but for the massive contrast figure.
The HC900E also differs from rivals here by carrying a seven (rather than six) segment colour wheel, with the extra segment being white. Sometimes such white segments can make the picture look a bit washed out, but Mitsubishi assures us that it's kept the white filter to a very small area, while a CineRichColour processing feature lets you vary the white level manually. So that's alright then!
Hopefully we haven't blinded you with science at this point - but we had to get a bit techy on you to illustrate why the HC900E isn't as cheap as the other models here.
Getting back to more basic matters, when it comes to looks the HC900 isn't going to win 'America's Next Supermodel'. To be frank, it's pretty ugly - clunky, bulky and seriously short of pizzazz.
It scores rather better on the connectivity front, however, thanks to its provision of both a Sky high-definition-friendly DVI input and component video jacks able to handle analogue HD and progressive scan feeds.
The HC900E has all manner of setup flexibility - though it doesn't make a particularly good fist of making them accessible to the novice. Some of the menus' phrasing is pretty inscrutable, and seems to demand rather more knowledge on the user's part than seems entirely necessary.
Trying to get the best out of the HC900 uncovers some home truths about the specs. If you drive it with brightness up near its 1,500 ANSI Lumens mark, you'll probably only experience a contrast level of 2,700:1. 4,000:1 can only be approached if you choose the minimum iris setting - at which point the brightness drops to around 550 Lumens! This situation, where quoted specs can't be hit at the same time, is common - but is more extreme than usual here.
But we're inclined to see this as a sign of the HC900E's exceptional flexibility, rather than a weakness. And the reason we're this way inclined is because its pictures are great! Image brightness is initially the most notable success. The Last Samurai leaps off the screen with far more potency than from any rival here. Rich scenes, like the sunset martial arts practice, almost damage your retinas they're so bright.
And that's with the brightness actually tweaked down a notch or two from maximum. This is necessary, because using the full brightness setting removes a little too much detail for comfort from shady picture areas. Take this small measure of care, though, and the HC900E can deliver truly superb black levels, adding terrific depth of field and solidity to The Last Samurai's many shadow-filled scenes.
The HC900E's extra native resolution seems to pay impressive dividends too, as the picture pulls every last spot of fine detail from what is, after all, a terrific DVD transfer.
In fact, there's not really anything bad to say about the HC900E's performance at all. Sure, getting the very best out of it might be a challenge for an AV novice. But provided you're willing to put in that bit of up-front effort, you'll be rewarded by a simply fantastic movie experience.
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