Best Big Screen Value-Rear Projection 3D HDTVs

March 1st, 2011 · 13 Comments · 3D HDTV, DLP, Front Projection, Laser HDTV, Microdisplay Rear Projection, News

Mitsubishi LaserVue

Once upon a time, all big-screen TVs were RPTVs. If you wanted something bigger than a tube TV, projection was your only choice. With the advent of flat panels, the reign of RPTVs was clearly at an end.

Except, it wasn’t. Not completely. So the question is, with today’s cheap flat panels, is there any reason why someone should get a RPTV?

Well, yes, actually.

Let’s get one thing straight up front: there’s only one company that makes RPTVs anymore and that’s Mitsubishi. So any discussion of RPTVs is going to be intrinsically linked to that brand. This article isn’t, though, a review of their various models. Instead, we’ll take a look at the technology as if Samsung,  Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, JVC, et al. hadn’t pulled out of the business a few years ago.

Pro Pro: Size
When it comes to sheer dollar-per-screen-inch value, still nothing beats RPTVs. For a comparable dollar, an RPTV could easily have 10-15 inches more screen diagonal. Take, for example, the Mitsubishi WD-65638 ($817.36 with free shipping). Compare that to the new Panasonic TC-P46ST30 or Samsung UN46D6000 (both $1,299.99). Mits has models up to 82-inches right now, with a 92-inch model coming soon. If you really just want a huge TV without robbing a bank, RPTVs are fantastic.

ProPro: 3D
All of Mitsubishi’s RPTVs are 3D-ready. With the 2010 models you’ll only need to buy Mitsubishi 3D glasses for the TV to display 3D. Previous model years are upgradeable to 3D. So if you’ve bought a Mits RPTV in the past few years, you probably have a 3D TV already. All you need is one of Mitsubishi’s 3D Starter packs.

Con Con: Size (the other kind)
Even though RPTVs are far thinner than they once were, they’re still 10+ inches deep. On the other hand, most people don’t care. Studies have shown that regardless of what they want to do before they buy it, well over 50% of the people who buy a flat panel never mount it on a wall. This means that it’s on a table/TV stand, or in a cabinet. In these cases, the depth of the TV is irrelevant.

Well, almost irrelevant (see “Not a flat panel” below).

Pro Mitsubishi WD-82838Pro: Brightness (Sort of)
RPTVs are generally on par with LCDs and plasmas in terms of brightness. More importantly, they are WAY brighter than front projectors. Front projection offers even larger screen sizes than RPTVs, but you need to have absolute light control in the room in order for them to work. Not everyone wants to always be in a dark room watching a TV. In this case, RPTVs offer plenty of brightness for such a large screen size.

Con Con: Contrast Ratio
The comparison to the Panasonic plasma and Samsung LED LCD above isn’t entirely fair. The picture quality isn’t going to be quite as good as those TVs, and that mostly has to do with contrast ratio. The DMD chip that is the core of every DLP display has a decent but not amazing contrast ratio. The recent generation of chips I’ve reviewed in front projectors have performed pretty much the same as those from 4-5 years ago. They haven’t gotten much better while LCDs and plasmas have.

That other aspect that reduces a RPTV’s contrast ratio is the amount of light inside the cabinet. Some of the light that is supposed to reach your eyes ends up bouncing around inside the cabinet. Eventually it makes its way out, but not in the same place it was intended. If there’s a lot of bright areas on the screen, the dark areas will not be able to be as dark as they would be on a plasma or local dimming LED LCD. Mitsubishi has historically had excellent cabinets with the least about of errant light in their designs, but it’s not possible to be perfect.

Yes, there are irises and variable light sources that help to create a decent dynamic contrast ratio (how dark a black screen can be compared to how bright a full white screen can be), but like all dynamic contrast ratios, this isn’t what really makes the image “pop.” A real contrasty image requires an excellent intra-scene contrast ratio, and on a RPTV that is limited by the DMD and the light in the cabinet.

If you plan on watching the TV during the day, though, this is less of an issue as you won’t be able to notice deep blacks anyway.

Pro Pro: LASERS!!!!!
Mitsubishi’s LaserVue models use frickin laser beams as a light source. There are two models, a 75-inch (L75-A91, $5,279), and a 65-inch (L65A90, $6,299). As cool as lasers are, there is little reason to pay such a substantial premium for them. The contrast ratio is still limited by the DMD, and the claims of substantial color potential is negated by the fact that even color-wheel, lamp-based RPTVs can easily exceed the maximum color potential of Blu-ray/HDTV. In other words, the “200% HDTV color” boast just means that they are more colorful, however by exceeding the rather constricted HDTV color standard they can’t be accurate. Thankfully, Mitsubishi has a mode that brings the color gamut close the HDTV standard.

The big advantages of lasers is the lifespan and low power consumption. The lasers should last a lifetime, while the bulbs in the lamp type RPTV need to be periodically replaced. The LaserVue TVs are also incredibly energy efficient, using less power that other big screen TVs.

Con Con: Lamps
With the exception of the LaserVue models, Mitsubishi RPTVs use lamps as their light source. These have a finite lifespan and must be replaced (usually around 6,000 hours). Worse, they don’t age gracefully. They get dimmer over time, and then eventually they just go “poof.” In addition, nearly all of these lamps are UHP designs which contain mercury, and mercury isn’t remotely eco-friendly so please properly dispose. (BTW, CFL lamps for standard light fixtures also contain mercury.)

Mits doesn’t exactly hide the fact their TVs need lamps. Lamps for current Mitsubishi models cost only $100, older models lamps from Mitsubishi and other companies can cost more.

Con Con: Not a flat panel
As mentioned above. No matter how big or how cool an RPTV is, it just isn’t a flat panel. Keep in mind that you’re going to have to justify your purchase to those not “in the know.” If you drive a Toyota not a Lexus, a Ford not a Lincoln, and your speakers aren’t found in Best Buy, then you probably won’t care that your neighbor doesn’t get why your TV is so deep.

If on the other hand there are logos visible on all your clothes and you own any Bose product, it’s likely you won’t be happy with an RPTV.

What it comes down to is this: if you want a really, really big TV and don’t want the strict blackout conditions required for a front projector (or having to plunder your kids college fund to build a dedicated home theater) then RPTVs are still the high-value option for a new TV, and do look pretty damn good.

Mitsubishi seems to still think RPTVs are the way to go. After all, they don’t show any signs of giving up a market they have entirely to themselves.

—Geoff Morrison


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13 Comments so far ↓

  • Jake J

    I prefer DLP for the following reasons:

    1. Bang for the Buck – best value for the 65″ & up.
    2. Movies look like movies –not like live video
    3. Matte finish screens –no reflections.
    4. No burn-in worries –great for gaming, 4:3 programming, music streaming, etc.,etc.
    5. Plenty of adjustments — for custom isf calibrations

    1. Mits does not support audio return channel via HDMI or optical –must be done with an RCA DAT cable
    2. Does not support 3D streaming via Mits’ built-in VUDU app. — You have to go to the PS3 for that! (Curious)
    2. Audio return

  • Plex

    It would be nice if Mits would drop the bulb and get LED lighting like the Samsung had. I have th 67A750 and the LED makes for a very nice and bright picture

  • Bill

    I own the 2010 version of the 65″ (WD-65738).

    It has pluses and minuses over the Panasonic 50″ plasma that it has supplimented.

    Going bigger means finding out how badly the older formats suck when blown up to 65″.

    Watching standard definition cable signals becomes virtually impossible, if you have any quality standards.

    Still have the Pany set up next to the Mits for standard def programs.

    That said, real high def formats rock!

    Watched Tron Blu-Ray last night in 1080p on the Mits. My goodness! The 7.1 soundtrack helped quite a bit, but yikes, it’s a great and cost-efficient way to spend an enjoyable night with a $1.50 Redbox flick, (and very comparable with the better theatres-in-town-that-care-around-here-about-a-quality-film experience, but not quite IMAX level – grin).

    I paid just over $1,100 for the Mits including shipping from one of the home shopping networks…plus seperately $150 each for active 3D glasses. 3D has pretty much sucked so far. I blame this on my content deliverer Comcast, who always seems to take good sources, and suck the original bit-rate of them downward to horribly intermitant rate that are unwatchable on big-screens.

    I have the unit set up only 6 feet from the primary #1 viewing seat. At that distance, in the dark, it’s like being at The Cinerama in Seattle in terms of how the screen takes up your entire vision, and sucks you into the movie experience. At that distance you can start to see the deficiency of rear projection v. plasma…and I agree with the original article that discusses light splattering about inside the set on high brightness screen items.

    One other note, the Mits video default settings it comes with in the box are really horrible. Fortunately, it is nearly infinitely tweakable in every user setting, far beyond any other tv I’ve had or demo’d.

    One unfortunate thing: with Mits being the ONLY guys doing DLP/rptv…it seems obvious that Texas Instruments (who makes the chip for the format), no longer has any incentive to make improvements for the home market. This year’s Mits are undoubtably the highest point of the arc for this type of television display. Sure TI will do the research for theatre DLP projection systems, as they and Sony dominate that market…but designing a better chip for only a single home DLP/rptv manufacturer’s future model years, along with the miniscule market for front projection systems, seems like it’ll never happen.

    Too bad…this economical product and presentation technology still had a LOT more room to run in the next generations (that will now likely never see the light).


  • Bob

    When is Mitsubishi going to introduce its 2011 DLP products. I was looking at 65 inch 838, but wanted to make sure the new product releases in that category would not trump this model.

  • Shane

    I am considering the 65″ 738 model and was wondering if you could help me out with some picture settings? There are only so many AVS posts i can read:-/

  • Csaba

    Still rocking a SONY KP-51WS520 RPTV and I LOVE it!
    720p movies looks perfect for me. And the only reason i didnt get a bigger or better tv yet because this is perfect and still working like a champ!
    Of course i want to go bigger but probably wont until this one breaks.
    Btw there was some deal going on early this month. 638 series 65″ mitsu RPTV was only $899, 738 series open box 65″ was $649!!!!!!!!!

    i didnt jump on it. Probably it was a huge mistake. But i did see 1 of these mitsu TV-s somewhere and i wasnt really blown away by the picture quality… is it possible that my old sony has brighter and better pic quality than these new rptv-s?

  • JObo

    Not to mention that RPTVs have to be aligned and lenses cleaned, etc… convergence is a pain in the ass

    You have confused old style CRT based RPTV with DLP (microdisplay) modern rear projectors. There is no need for alignment or convergence and no need to worry about dust either. Unlike the CRT style RPTVs, DLP units engines are sealed from dust and have a very small mirror.

    HD Guru

  • Alex

    Too bad for Mitsu, I live in Canada and they dont’ sell it here. I ended up buying 3D DLP projector and on 106″ display it looks fantastic.
    In the store I watched Avatar on 65″ Panasonic and was not impressed, people looked like in aquarium. 3D works only on BIG screen, the bigger the better. I am glad I didn’t buy Mitsu after all, as on 106″ screen Avatar looks just stunning.

  • pete

    I have to admit, that when i show a 3D movie to others who just bought a smaller, more expensive yet non capable 3d LCD or plasma they are quite a bit jealous, as i see them second guessing themselves. With Directv and a Mitsu DLP , you are just yearning to come home after work and plug into the 3-4 3D channels they have.

  • Houtech

    The other Con for a RPTV, I think is that the system is optical. The image can’t be as good to the edge of the screen because lenses don’t do as well at the corners of the picture. I think this is especially true with the shallow depth used these days as the lens and mirrors have to bend the light pretty severly inside such a short distance. Mirrors and lenses can also get misadjusted or knocked out of focus in use or handling of the set.

  • B

    I own one of the Mits DLP Rear Projection TV’s. The reason the 82” doesn’t look very bright is that Mits uses the same bulb for all models, therefore a 60” will be extremely bright and the 82” will look a little washed out. I opted for the 73” instead of the 82” because I wanted to make sure the brightness was up to par in a well lit room.

  • Wes Sokolosky

    Regarding contrast…it may be over rated by some. It is my understanding that in a theater, actual onscreen contrast ratio may not exceed several hundred to one. It is rare to see an image emerge out of a truly black screen. The screen before the image comes up is rather more like a dark, in the best of circumstances very dark grey.

    To my eyes, a DLP rear projector may also have a more film like image than any of the iterations of LCDs with their processing artifacts giving the video-y look, too often mistaken for increased sharpness. With adequate brightness, a DLP rear projector can give a quite satisfactory image.

    That said, I probably would not pay nearly $ 6000 for a 65 inch DLP rear projector, when a new generation plasma of that size will be about 1/3 less.

    FWIW, just my opinion.

    Wes S

  • Yoyo

    Have to disagree about brightness. Saw the 82″ in a nice shop in LA. Light control was decent but not great. The picture was sufficiently washed out that I would not consider one for anything other than a dedicated (I.e. Completely blacked out) room.

    Did you check the picture settings? Any TV can be made to look “washed out” if the settings are adjusted incorrectly. We have looked at a number of 2010 Mitsubishi RPTVs including the upcoming 92″ model and image brightness is not an issue.

    HD Guru

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