written by Mike Shea on 29 August 2002
For three years I had used the Sony VPL400Q LCD front projector as my primary home theater monitor. It performed well but ended up breaking down just after the warranty expired. During its tenure there were many problems I discovered with such a device. Poor black levels, high fan noise, lack of progressive inputs and high maintenance costs all ended up hurting the use of this projector.
After its death, I went back to the basics of my home theater philosophy to come up with the specifications of an ideal home theater monitor. Much of this philosophy and conclusion can be read in Digital TV part 2. The conclusion is that three gun CRT based rear projection TVs are still the most stable, long lasting, high quality and affordable displays you can buy. While LCD, DLP and Plasma technology is getting better every year, it is all relatively new technology and suffers from a lack of long term use.
Shopping at Circuit City, Best Buy and my local home theater dealer, Myer Emco pointed me at Mitsubishi sets. Research at Home Theater Forum, Home Theater Spot and Audio Review gave me enough consumer data to confirm my thoughts towards the Mitsubishi 55819. A price tag of $3350 including a five year warranty and in-home delivery fit well within my $3500 budget and all the features fit my ideal home theater monitor.
The Mitsbishi 55819 has all the features you would expect from a solid high-end home theater monitor. It has all possible video modes to squeeze, expand, or zoom any picture coming in from any input including progressive. The display has three sets of progressive component inputs, one of which can take in a 1080i HDTV signal. It can also accept a RGBHV signal from the HD input. There are three sets of composite / S-Video inputs as well. The remote was usable but I quickly programmed my Pronto to do the daily operation.
There is currently a big debate over the transfer of HD signals in the digital domain. Once again the film-raping suits of Hollywood are warping what would otherwise be a great boon to home cinema by demanding expensive quality diminishing copy protection on top of the Digital Video Interface (DVI) standards. The Mitsubishi is one of the few sets that didn't embrace the standard outright, but a special adapter port and a guarantee to upgrade to any new HDTV standard for less than $1000 helps solve that problem.
One small feature, a little green LED on the front of the set, bothered me to no end. A friend pointed out an amusing paradox. Why, when you have a 55" huge screen showing a giant picture, do you need a little green light to tell you it's on? After staring at it for hours on end while trying to capture the directors vision of "Shallow Hal", I finally put a 1/2" piece of electrical tape over the light. Problem solved.
The set is a big one, weighting about 350 pounds, and square cabinet shape does nothing to try to diminish it's size like some newer Sony or Panasonic HDTV sets do. In my screening room I was not concerned for the size of the cabinet but needed plenty of room for a good sized center speaker. Make sure to keep this in mind when shopping for a big tv.
I definitely recommend having the TV delivered. With a nice cleared out spot, the two burly yet home theater savvy delivery guys put it right where I wanted it and had it all hooked up without a hitch. A set this big definitely needs some work to move around.
The screening room this monitor inhabits is a darkened living room 12 feet by 14 feet. The single window has both Venetian blinds as well as a black curtain that filters out 80% of the light during the day and 100% at night. The TV is centered at the end of the room with a 8' viewing distance from the front of the screen to the primary viewing position. If you want to get the best picture and use out of this monitor, it is recommended that you set it up properly in a dedicated room. This is not a casual TV set like you might put in a living room full of antique furniture and rocking chairs. This is a set for a dedicated screening room with proper light, acoustic, and environmental control.
The main source for the monitor is a Panasonic RP-56 Progressive DVD Player using a progressive component signal.
Viewing was always done with all room lighting turned completely off. If you have any lights behind your viewing position or in front of the set, it WILL reflect. Higher end Mitsubishi Diamond level monitors have a glare-free screen but I did not feel it was worth the extra money. All viewing was done under the constraints of the Liquidtheater Certification Checklist.
Once physical connections were in place and after some initial tests, I tuned the TV using both Avia and the THX Video Optimizer on the Moulin Rouge DVD.
Based on the red push mentioned below, I purchased a custom attenuator, a device that lowers the red level through a small filter that fits between the TV and R-Y component cable. The attenuator cost $30.
When I first turned on the Mitsubishi and stuck in the Superbit version of Desperado I was NOT impressed. Once properly calibrated and fed an anamorphic progressive signal, however, the display quality improved considerably.
I started by calibrating the set withAvia and the THX Optimizer on the Moulin Rouge DVD. The only problem with any of the color, brightness, contrast or sharpness controls was the obvious red push, a known issue with Mitsubishi sets. I later purchased a small red push attenuator, basically a resister, that sits within the R-Y component signal. This brought red back into the normal range when running the AVIA three color bars.
Enough technical crap. How does it look? Incredible.
Over the past three months my love of this TV has grown. I have watched over two dozen movies, some older movies and some newer. None has ever looked any worse than the source material should. Newer movies like the Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge, Seven, Phantom Menace, Unbreakable, The Royal Tenenbaums, A Beautiful Mind and Monster's Ball all look sharp, rich and deep. Blacks are black, brights are bright, there is no blooming or fading and no scan lines or artifacts.
I did notice a little bit of over enhancement of edges when a dark figure walks on a bright background, I believe this is due to a high setting of the scan velocity modulation setting. Unfortunately this must be changed within the service settings and cannot be turned off in the normal setup.
The TV is dead quiet. I had no idea how much of a difference this would make but sitting in a room with nothing but the sound of the movie is the best way to watch. I now run around my apartment shutting off every humming electronic gizmo so that the room sounds completely dead when I turn it on. Not a sound comes out of this huge box.
Because of my almost exclusive use of DVD, I was unable to test the television as an HDTV monitor.
The Mitsubishi 55819 made me love movies more than ever. The sheer presence it brings to every film you throw at it pulls you in and doesn't let go. Every time a new movie comes out I am impressed with the excellent detail, sharpness, and life this monitor brings to the source.
As a buyer of this TV, you have a duty to properly set it up and set up the environment around it. Proper lighting, sound control, room setup, viewing distance and picture calibration are required in order to get this TV anywhere close to it's optimal capability. Not only will you not get the ideal use out of the TV, but without proper calibration you could damage the TV quite easily. Buy a copy of Avia and walk through the Liquidtheater.Com Certification Checklist.
After a total of about $3600 for this TV, delivery, a 10 year warranty and the red-push attenuator, this is one purchase I never regretted. With just about every other electronic device running anywhere near this price I have a twinge of buyers remorse. I had it with the Sony VPL-400Q when I saw my first green dust bunnies and heard the 1954 Volkswagon fan it had inside. With this set there was never any doubt in my mind that I made the right purchase and got a great deal on such a great TV.
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