Shootout: Three Budget HD Front Projectors Page 7

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The Short Form

Price: $1,300 / sonystyle.com / 800-222-7669
Snapshot
This 720p projector delivers very good performance, with only minor compromises, at a very modest price.
Plus
•Crisp 720p picture •Iris feature delivers deep blacks •Very affordable price
Minus
•Screen-door effect •Poor picture uniformity on black-and-white movies
Key Features
•1,280 x 720-pixel LCD display •1.6x Zoom lens •Manual Zoom and Focus and Horizontal/Vertical lens shift •Auto and Manual Iris settings •1080p/24 input via HDMI with 48-Hz display •Inputs: HDMI, VGA, component-, composite-, and S-video; RS-232C •14.6 x 4.8 x 12.6 in / 13.3 lbs Full Lab Results
Getting down to business, I first watched a recording of last year's World Cup soccer match from ESPN-HD. The 720p-format game looked crisp and punchy on the 100-inch screen, with the blue, yellow, and green hues of the Brazil players' uniforms coming across vividly and fine details such as the texture of the field turf looking crisp and solid even during camera pans. Bright colors looked a bit too vivid to my eyes, but the skin tones of the Brazilian and French teams' players for the most part looked utterly natural.

Switching to another program - Kill Bill Vol. 1 on TNT-HD - I was impressed with how good the 1080i-format program looked when downconverted for 720p display by the projector. In a scene where O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) suddenly leaps onto a table and beheads a gangster in mid-sentence, the picture had punchy contrast, and the rapid-fire action looked solid and clear. And in a subsequent close-up shot of Liu, I could see the fine lines of her eyebrows and creased lips, as well as faint freckles dotting her face. Although I didn't have a Blu-ray player capable of providing a 1080p/24 signal during my test, the VPL-AW15 accepts signals in that format, scaling the image to 720p and then displaying it at 48 Hz, according to Sony, twice the native 24-Hz frame rate. Regular DVDs also looked very good on the Sony, although I noticed a marked improvement in the sharpness and overall clarity of 480i signals when I used an HDMI rather than component-video connection. Watching the new DVD release of Pan's Labyrinth also gave me reason to turn on the projector's Auto Iris setting. With Auto Iris switched off, dark scenes such as the one where Ofelia enters her Mom's bedroom to sleep beside her on their first night at the Captain's home looked relatively murky and flat. Switched on, the same scene had a much stronger sense of dimensionality, with dark blacks achieving inky, film-like depth.

Despite its mostly strong performance, the Sony exhibited poor picture uniformity with dark images. This was primarily an issue when looking at full-field gray test patterns, but it also showed up on scenes in black-and-white movies. Basically, the darker the black-and-white image, the greater the pink and greenish tinting that could be seen at either side of the screen. I didn't see this tinting on any of the color programs that I watched, however.

BOTTOM LINE Sony's newest LCD front projector delivers a crisp high-def image - and at a very affordable price. And its Auto Iris feature really helps boost picture contrast on dark movies. The main tradeoff here compared to a 1080p model is an increase in screen-door effect - you'll need to sit a decent span away from the screen to avoid that particular LCD-related artifact. But if you're looking to get a truly big picture at a price that barely exceeds that of an average high-end projection screen, the Sony Bravia VPL-AW15 720p LCD front projector should be on your short list of models to check out.

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