This is the third in a semi-regular series looking at affordable front projector systems, particularly projectors that don’t require a dedicated theater space. So far, we’ve looked at Sanyo and Mitsubishi projectors. Until recently, I had not considered Sony’s SXRD front projectors as candidates, for a couple of reasons. First, Sony projectors were not what I would classify as “affordable,” with MSRP’s typically starting at $5,000. Plus, the Ruby and Pearl models were really designed for dedicated rooms; they have limited lens adjustments and are not known for exceptionally bright output.
The VPL-HW10, sold under the Bravia brand, changed everything. With an MSRP of $3,499, it certainly fit in the “affordable” category (however, native 1080p projectors have just been announced at less than $1,000, which is really affordable). Also, the light output specs and lens adjustment options on the Bravia looked promising for use in my non-dedicated room. I have been impressed by the picture quality of the higher-end Sony’s, so was very interested to take a look at their newest entry-level projector.
- Design: LCoS; Three SXRD Panels
- Native Resolution: 1,920×1,080
- Brightness: 1,200 ANSI Lumens
- Full On/Off CR: 30,000:1
- Lens: 1.6X Zoom
- Inputs: HDMI (480i through 1080p24 and 1080p30), Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video
- Dimensions: 6.75″ H x 16.1″ W x 18.5″ D
- Weight: 22 Pounds
- MSRP: $3,499
The VPL-HW10, like its more expensive cousins, is based on LCoS (liquid-crystal-on -silicon) display technology, which Sony brands as SXRD. Like LCD projectors, LCoS displays use three panels (one for each primary color) to produce an image. Unlike LCD’s, which are transmissive (light passes through the panel), LCoS panels reflect light through a series of mirrors and prisms similar to DLP. However, because LCoS uses three panels rather than the single one found in inexpensive DLP designs, no color wheel is needed, which avoids the potential ‘rainbow effects” that bother some viewers of DLP sets. A potential problem with both LCoS and LCD-based projectors is that with three panels, misalignment of the panels can result in uneven colors. The VPL-HW10 comes with a panel alignment function previously available only in the top-of-the-line models that can fix minor panel alignment problems.
The VPL-HW10 is a full 1080p projector, with 1920 x 1080 resolution. It uses a 200W UHP lamp which is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens, one of the reasons I was interested in testing out the VPL-HW10 in my non light-controlled room. The Sony has manual zoom and focus controls, and more flexible placement options than prior Sony models. The zoom range is 1.6x, vertical lens shift is 2.4 screen heights, and horizontal lens shift is included as well. This provides a good range of placement options for use in a non-dedicated room.
The VPL-HW10 is a knock-out visually. Like other Sony projectors, it has a sleek, curved high-gloss black shape that resembles a stealth aircraft. Power and input connections are on the right side of the projector, including two HDMI inputs, component video and a D-sub 15-pin PC input. The top panel is unadorned by any buttons, save the manual horizontal and vertical lens adjustment wheels. Zoom and focus adjustments are lens-based.
The thin, fully back-lit remote has relatively few controls, including single-touch buttons that allow the user to switch between three picture modes (Dynamic, Standard and Cinema) as well as three user-defined picture modes. Navigating through the various menus was intuitive and easy for those with even a little projector experience, although I missed having automated zoom and focus controls.
The VPL-HW10 uses Sony’s BRAVIA Engine 2 video processing engine (rather than outboard solutions offered by companies like Silicon Optics, Anchor Bay Technologies and Faroudja), and can display 1080p/24 frames-per-second if your video source is capable of outputting 1080p/24. The HW10 allows independent adjustment of red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta, and has three pre-set color settings: High, Middle and Low. You can also set up to four Custom color temperatures. The Sony has an auto-iris, with two automatic and one manual setting, which dynamically increases light output for maximum black level. For most of my viewing, I used the Middle setting, which is supposed to approximate the reference 6500K color temperature, and the Cinema pre-set as I watched most material at night in a darkened room. I experimented with, but ultimately left off the various automatic noise reduction and gamma correction modes.
Placement of the VPL-HW10 was quite easy. I set up the Sony on a portable table behind the main seating position, which at a distance of about 14 feet filled my 84” diagonal screen with plenty of light output. I adjusted the zoom and focus manually without any problems dialing in a good image. Like the other tested projectors in this series, the Sony was very quiet, with no audible fan noise.
My previous impression of the more expensive Sony SXRD projectors was that they produced an image of rich, vibrant colors, reasonable contrast and a film-like picture that was not quite as razor-sharp as some other products. The VPL-HW10 essentially reinforced these impressions, but at an impressive price point. The user-level settings produced better-than-expected black level and brightness for a $3,500 LCoS projector.
V for Vendetta has a variety of color palettes as the film bounces from present to past, along with several nighttime scenes with varying black levels. The Sony threw a very pleasing image, with colors that seemed quite natural. To my eye, shadings in dark areas seemed well defined, with blacks as good as I observed with the LCD projectors I’d previously reviewed. Fast moving images and quick pans seemed smoother on the Sony than those produced by the LCD’s.
I’m a late convert to The Deadliest Catch series, but it seems like there’s always an episode on, and my cable company also provides on-demand episodes in HD. The Sony did a fine job deinterlacing the 1080i image from the cable box; ships heaved through 30 foot seas, waves crashed over the deck, with no visible break-up of the image. Whatever those deckhands are being paid, it isn’t enough. With 480p DVD output from my Oppo, the VPL-HW10 did a very nice job upconverting to 1080p. I didn’t notice any stuttering or obvious jaggies with film-based material.
On The Bench (Chris Eberle)
All measurements were taken off the screen (Carada Brilliant White, gain 1.4) from the seating position (10 feet back) using the Sony’s Cinema picture mode with the iris set to 50%. Equipment used: EyeOne Pro spectrophotometer, CalMAN Professional 3.3 analysis software, Accupel HDG-3000 signal generator.
Here is the pre-calibration color gamut and luminance chart. I measured both the Normal and Wide colorspaces. The choice is undersaturated or oversaturated. There’s no way to get the color points to the Rec 709 reference. The luminance readings were the same in either colorspace.
The out-of-box grayscale and gamma performance isn’t too bad. An average Delta E* of 5.2 is a barely visible error. The tracking chart shows that the white balance tends to be a little blue. The average gamma of 1.85 means that most dark scenes will be a bit gray and washed out. The default setting is Gamma 1, Colortemp Low.
After calibrating the Sony’s RCP (color management system), the luminance was much improved however, there’s no way to move the primaries. The Ideal Secondaries chart shows that when the actual primaries are used to calculate the secondary color position, they line up almost perfectly. Despite the inaccuracy of the color points, the color representation was excellent in actual content.
The post calibration grayscale and gamma were excellent with an average Delta E* of .9. Gamma was also improved greatly by using the Gamma 3 preset. The tracking chart shows a bit of warmth at the dark end (20% stimulus), but this was not visible on gray step patterns or in actual content.
With the iris set to 50% I measured a minimum black level of .0046fL (foot-Lamberts) and a peak white of 13.7041fL. This puts the on/off contrast ratio at 2979.15:1. This is excellent performance. This projector is bright enough to be used with a high-contrast gray screen which would improve the contrast ratio. My 1.4 gain Carada cut down the dynamic range a bit.
As you can see by the above charts, the HW10 responds very well to calibration. Out-of-box performance is above average but calibration will improve it to a high level. Choosing between the two colorspaces, I preferred the look of the Wide one. Normal was visibly undersaturated giving the image a somewhat flat look. Though Wide measured outside the Rec 709 triangle, I found the image punchy and three-dimensional without being overblown.
The Sony VPL-HW10 is an excellent entry-level 1080p front projector. It allows for flexible placement, and produces a surprisingly bright picture for an entry-level LCoS design, making it well suited in a non-dedicated room. Compared to the Sanyo PLZ-2000 and HC 5500, the Sony is more costly, but to my eyes it produced a more pleasing image than the LCD designs. Of course, that is a subjective opinion, as bench tests showed fairly minor differences between the performance of the Sony, Sanyo and Mitsubishi projectors. As always, you should take a test drive before you buy, since personal preferences vary widely.