Due in part to the current configuration of the test lab, I went ahead and used a shelf mounting configuration for the HC5500. Last year for the HC4900, we used a ceiling-mount, but due to time constraints (and a lack of a second pair of helping hands); the shelf mount was the way to go. When I flipped the HC5500 around to the back, I was pleasantly surprised to find a second HDMI port where a DVI was last year. One of my biggest gripes about the previous model was the presence of the mostly irrelevant DVI instead of a second HDMI. With the inclusion this year, the HC5500 definitely is more worthy of the title of “Home Theater” projector. This allowed me to hook up both the Satellite receiver and either the Xbox 360 Elite or PlayStation 3 at the same time and switch back and forth. A third HDMI would have been fantastic, but at this price point I won’t be greedy. The only other thing I wanted to point out was that the remainder of the input options on the back of the HC5500 are basically untouched. The only true difference I found was that the “trigger” input had moved from below the DVI to the far right of the Serial port. Otherwise, this was a pretty familiar (and standard) input board.
After navigating through the HC4900 setup last year, the HC5500 was a breeze. I hooked up the power plug and HDMI cables, fired it up and was able to use the zoom and lens shift buttons on the remote to align the projo with my screen. This took all of three minutes. From the point of unboxing the projo to getting a 92” picture took about five minutes is pretty darn good. However, that is where the easy part ends, as the next steps are particularly important because they will impact the longevity and image quality of the HC5500. The backlighting, brightness and contrast (depending on the menu options) should all be adjusted lower than the factory settings and slowly moved to a level acceptable for the viewing room. Also, setting the bulb to “low”, “economy” or whatever the setting is to consume less energy is advisable. This will promote both bulb and hardware longevity by allowing the projector to not have to work as hard to produce the image. Besides, you can always switch to vivid or a brighter mode for any event programming (or gaming) that you plan to do. Otherwise, adjustments can be made at your own discretion from the menu system or hire a professional to optimize it for you.
Unfortunately, one of my setup gripes with the HC4900 from last year was the lens cover being detached and clunky. Unfortunately, because the HC5500 has essentially the same chassis, that issue has not changed. Consumers will still have to remove it and tuck it away somewhere (if the projo is mounted out of reach) or put it on or for each use. It is a definite plus to using the cap whenever possible to help keep dust, dirt and prints off it, but some mounting placements simply do not allow for that option.
I spent a lot of time watching Blu Ray and HD signals with the HC5500 to get a handle on how well it handled everyday viewing. The majority of my testing time was spent with shows found on the Discovery, History, Sci-Fi and Travel Channels. These are shows we watch on a regular basis and I know how they look on my 56” Samsung DLP. In particular, I watched many episodes of Man vs Food, Ice Road Truckers and Warehouse 13. As much as I love my rear-projo DLP, I was blown away at how well the HC5500 displayed these shows and how detailed they were. Each show offers a little something different (including detailed close-ups on Man vs Food, breathtaking sceneries of the Alaskan Wilderness on Ice Road Truckers and lots of CGI in Warehouse 13), but the HC5500 displayed them big, bold and beautiful. Not once did I see any picture that was poor quality or had the projector struggle to reproduce any shot.
For Blu Ray playback, I focused on Open Season, which has become my new favorite test movie. Whether you liked it or not, the textures in this flick are ideal for showing off how good the playback is for a TV or projector. I was very impressed with the HC5500 and how well it rendered the fur of the various animals throughout the movie, especially the scene in which Boog and Elliot encounter Elliot’s herd in the field. The image looked outstanding with every little detail showing up crisply and how you would expect. Another great testing scene is where the beaver dam bursts and sends all the animals downstream. With all the water, animals and debris flying around on the screen, the HC5500 displayed the entire scene with a smooth, continuous flow.
In addition to the examples above, some other HD content I tested that was instrumental in my impressions included streaming HD content from Netflix via my Xbox 360 Elite, NFL Preseason games, NASCAR races and episodes of procedurals like CSI and Dark Blue. Some other Blu Ray movies I watched were the Transformers, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Dark Knight.
After the hours I spent with it, the only opinion I can give on the video playback of the HC5500 is that it truly is a high-quality experience regardless if the HD content is streamed via the internet, from Blu Ray playback or Satellite (cable) provided. In fact, I believe it actually performed better than the HC4900 did for me last year. The last opinion I would like to add is a no brainer. When you spend so much time watching HD video on a massive widescreen; you really get spoiled by the size and quality of the image and it is hard to go back to anything smaller.
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