Shootout: Three Budget HD Front Projectors Page 6

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SETUP I placed the Sony approximately 13 feet away from an 87-inch wide, 100-inch diagonal Stewart FireHawk SST screen (with that size screen, the projector's 1.6x zoom lens provided a throw range of 9.5 to 15.5 feet). After initially choosing the Low lamp setting, I changed it to High when I discovered that the projector's already strikingly low fan noise increased only slightly in that brighter mode. Among the projector's presets is a relatively accurate one called Cinema. There are also three customizable User presets per input on the VPL-AW15, and I usually achieved best results when using those modes. I also ended up engaging the Custom color temperature menu adjustments to improve the projector's grayscale performance (see Test Bench for details).

Sony gives you plenty of options for tweaking black levels on the VPL-AW15 - a good thing, particularly for LCD, which traditionally suffers in that characteristic relative to other projection technologies. During setup, I ended up switching both the Black Level Adjustment and Gamma Correction menu items to Off and set Noise Reduction to either Middle or High depending on what source I was watching (both settings eliminated noise without obscuring picture detail). My use of the Sony's Auto Iris feature was also strongly program-dependent: Movies with a deep range of shadows benefited from having it turned on, while it didn't make much of a difference with regular TV.

PICTURE QUALITY Having reviewed numerous 1080p front projectors over the past year, including a few LCD models, I was surprised at how much of an issue the LCD "screen door" effect was with this Sony. (I guess I got spoiled in the interim.) From my usual seat 11 feet away from the screen, the texture of the LCD display panels - something that I didn't see at all from the same distance on the 1080p LCD models I tested - was not only visible, it was distracting. But shifting my seat back to 13 feet or more away reduced the effect to where I could barely notice it.

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