Photos by Tony Cordoza
When buying a 42-inch widescreen HDTV, you pretty much have two cut-and-dried choices. On one hand, you could plunk down around seven grand for the privilege of owning a plasma monitor, with its ultra-thin design and futuristic cachet. Or you could go with a rear-projection model like the Mitsubishi WT-42311, a slightly less futuristic 42-inch set that gives great picture and costs only $1,900. With its high-resolution HDTV image and affordable price tag, this little big-screen set gives plasma some pretty stiff competition.
Part of Mitsubishi's Gold Series, the WT-42311 looks positively shrimpy next to the company's larger RPTVs, but it's still a lot bigger than just about any available direct-view model. The cabinet is a mere 25 inches deep, making it one of the slimmest projection TVs available. It also gets style points for a high-tech silver finish and the distinctive vertical slats that run across its base. Mitsubishi offers an optional matching stand ($299) if you want to move the set off the tabletop. The WT-42311 can display signals from a progressive-scan DVD player in their native 480p (progressive) format, and it converts standard interlaced video from a VCR, hard-disk recorder, or cable box to progressive-scan with 2:3 pulldown processing so images that originate on film look smooth and clean. When paired with an external HDTV receiver/tuner, it can display high-def programs in the 1080i (interlaced) format, but the 720p programs broadcast by ABC must first be converted to either 1080i or 480p by the receiver.
This small RPTV comes with a big helping of extras. First off, its three wideband component-video inputs-one of which can also accept RGB+H/V signals-can accommodate three 1080i/480p sources. The WT-42311 doesn't come with a Digital Visual Interface (DVI) input, so you'll have to use your HDTV receiver's component-video connection for high-def.
Mitsubishi offers an optional Promise Module ($999, including installation) that upgrades the set to a fully integrated HDTV. The module, which hooks up to the back of the TV and adds about 3 1/2 inches to its depth, can receive over-the-air HDTV broadcasts from an antenna and has three FireWire (a.k.a. DTV Link or IEEE 1394) ports for connecting a D-VHS recorder or other FireWire-equipped device. With this module in place, Mitsubishi "promises" that the WT-42311 and other "HD-Upgradeable" models will be compatible with the latest advances in digital TV technology and digital connectivity.
Digital upgrades aside, Mitsubishi went out of its way with the WT-42311 to meet the needs of both couch potatoes and video perfectionists. One convenient feature lets you switch off any unused inputs via the setup menu and to give active ones names like "DVD" so family members can easily select the sources they want.
Ambitious viewers can divide their attention with the set's extensive Multi-Image Display functions. A press of the PIP/POP button-for picture-in-picture (PIP) and picture-outside-picture (POP)-brings up either two same-size images side by side, a smaller inset window that you can move anywhere you want using the remote control's cursor keys, or two strobe settings that display three or nine still frames in succession next to the main image. Best of all-the Multi-Image features work with any kind of input signal, including 480p and HDTV.
Mitsubishi's midsize remote has glow-in-the-dark buttons for the major controls, and its well-organized layout simplifies operation even in the dark. Pressing the Aspect button calls up a smorgasbord of aspect ratios, including five options that function with both 480i and 480p sources. One of these displays standard 4:3 programs center screen flanked by gray bars; another fills the screen by stretching the sides of the image while leaving the center intact.
If you don't want to see the black letterbox bars found on movies filmed in the very wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the Zoom option will fill the screen by expanding the image equally in all directions, losing some image at the sides. There are also two options for HDTV programs-one that properly displays widescreen material and another that horizontally stretches 4:3 pictures to eliminate the vertical black sidebars from high-def broadcasts of "upconverted" programs.
V ideo perfectionists probably won't like the WT-42311's nonremovable protective screen, but they'll love its extensive picture-customization options. Each video input has a separate memory for contrast, brightness, sharpness, color, and tint settings as well as advanced choices like color temperature (three settings), video noise reduction (on/off), 2:3 pulldown auto-sensing (on/off), and scan-velocity modulation (on/off). A motivated tweaker could set up one input for DVD, another for satellite TV, and a third for HDTV-the WT-42311 would remember all of the settings and engage them automatically.
Mitsubishi also added an advanced color-balance control for regular (480i) sources. Armed with a test DVD and a set of color filters, the same tweaky viewer could use this feature to adjust the TV's color decoder to accurately display NTSC-standard color (see in the lab for details). Other nice video touches include a 64-point convergence control to accurately dial in the alignment of the cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) and resets for all user controls, which gets you quickly back to square one if you mess up any of the settings.
After calibrating the TV for color temperature, brightness, and color, I was highly impressed by the WT-42311's performance. Although its screen is small for an RPTV, the set uses the same 7-inch CRTs as much larger sets, which means that you'll get bright pictures even in a well-lit room. Of course, you'll want to dim the lights for movies, but this is one RPTV that can comfortably handle daytime soaps, too. The only serious disadvantage was the relatively narrow viewing angle. When I raised my chair up or down or watched from more than 25° to either side of dead center, the picture got quite a bit darker. This problem is common to all RPTVs, but it was more pronounced on the Mitsubishi.
My first viewing test involved a movie on VHS tape, and here the set proved to be no miracle-worker. I was a little disappointed when its video noise reduction failed to make much difference, but increasing the sharpness control helped to define the image somewhat. The TV's 4:3 picture measures about 34 inches diagonal. At that size the VHS recording probably looked better than it would have on a larger TV, but not as impressive as on some direct-view sets I've seen.
With a sense of guilty pleasure during a wintry New York City night, I slipped Blue Crush, a cavalcade of surfing, swim-suited Hawaiian honeys, into my reference progressive-scan DVD player. The opening scenes of azure waves illuminated by brilliant sunlight sucked me in, and the bright little Mitsubishi did nothing to spoil the mood. At one point the surfer chicks exchange taunts with tattooed wave-jocks in a parking lot-the detail and muted colors of their skimpy outfits and of the parked cars looked very realistic in the early-morning light.
A few seconds later, the three heroines stand on the beach before a distant blue-green wave, with their backs to the camera, and the daylight creates subtle variations in their skin, the sand, and the oncoming water. Their tan skin looked a little too red, but everything else was beautiful. The set rendered a difficult nighttime scene perfectly, catching gradations of shadow and light on surfer chick Anne-Marie's partially lit face as she lay in bed. The blacks were inky and true, and shadows had the kind of detail I've come to expect from good CRT-based TVs-something I have yet to see any plasma set equal.
Next I switched over to a D-VHS tape of Ice Age to check the WT-42311's high-definition picture. This movie is no Monsters, Inc. when it comes to animation quality, but whatever features the computer animators programmed into the mammoth's fur came through clearly. Rhinoceros hides revealed subtle, realistic touches. Again I saw a tad too much red, this time in the Eskimos' fire-lit campsite, but overall the picture looked amazing. I could sit as close as 6 feet-remarkably close for a screen this size-and the image remained sharp and clear.
For anyone in search of 42 inches of video bliss, the Mitsubishi WT-42311's bright image and manageable footprint make it a great option. It may cost a bit more than some other rear-projection HDTV monitors its size, but none of these can match the level of video customization it provides. And with proper setup, this little RPTV will rival the performance of just about any plasma TV for quite a bit less money.
Color temperature(Low/6500K setting before/after calibration)
Brightness (Low/6500K setting, before/after calibration): 104/32 ftL
Of the Mitsubishi WT-42311's three color-temperature presets, the Low/6500K setting was closest to the NTSC standard of 6,500 K but still measured fairly blue, especially toward the upper end of the grayscale. After calibration, the set measured a perfect 6,500 K at the lower end and tracked the grayscale superbly, varying only about 40 K from the low to the high end. (Calibration needs to be performed by a qualified technician with specialized equipment, so discuss it with your dealer before purchase, or call the Imaging Science Foundation at 561-997-9073.) With its grayscale calibrated and picture controls properly adjusted, light output was excellent for an RPTV. The NTSC color decoder showed significant errors in the red and green channels, but after I adjusted the color balance, color rendition was nearly ideal. The color decoder for 480p and 1080i sources is not adjustable, but it showed much smaller red/green errors. Resolution measured the maximum 540 lines for DVD. The set's 2:3 pulldown processing ensured smooth pictures with film-based programs, but images shot on video showed some stairstep artifacts. DC restoration-the ability to hold a consistent level of black-was excellent. After adjustment, convergence was very good. Corner-to-corner focus was excellent, but geometry was slightly off at first, and the image shifted to the left-problems fixed during calibration. With scan-velocity modulation turned off and sharpness reduced to zero, edge enhancement was negligible. -D.K.