Sony VPL-VW60 SXRD Projector

Mid 1080p take II.

Not too long ago (June 2007), we checked out this projector's predecessor. In a roundup and the Mitsubishi HC5000, we chose the JVC as the hands-down winner for picture quality, but that wasn't the whole story. The VPL-VW50 was a close second, and one participant even picked it as a favorite, finding it quieter and easier to live with than the JVC. Now, a scant seven months later, the projector landscape has changed a bit. The new Mitsubishi is down to $4,000, and the new DLA-HD100 from JVC rose up to around $8,000, leaving the new Sony all alone at the same price ($4,999) its predecessor was last year.

So, as much as I'm sure you'd all like to see these three go head to head (to head) again, that difference in price makes a direct comparison more similar to an academic exercise than anything.

What's New
The VPL-VW60 differs from its predecessor with a gray case and. . . umm. . . well, that seems to be it. Oh, the remote. The remote is different. There is still no direct input access, but the remote itself is a lot better looking and easier to use. The menus haven't changed their look, but they seem to feature fewer options. For once, I'd consider this a good thing, as Sony displays tend to have tons more controls than you'd ever use. All of the important things are here, like extensive color and color-temperature controls and several auto-iris options. Perhaps the changes are on the inside.

Tweaks
The most noticeable improvement in the VPL-VW60 over the VPL-VW50 is in its contrast-ratio numbers. The VPL- VW60 has a full-on/full-off contrast ratio of 16,720:1, roughly double that of the older model. This is a dynamic number, thanks to an auto iris. An auto iris tracks the video signal and opens and closes an iris as necessary. So, if the scene is dark, it will close the iris to create a lower black level. If the scene is bright, it opens the iris for more light output. The result is an inflated, rather artificial, full-on/full-off number. Depending on the content, you may notice a lot less on the screen. For example, if you're watching an HDTV show, say David Mamet's The Unit, night scenes can have a low black level of 0.001 foot-lamberts, while day scenes will have a maximum of 16.72 ft-L. The dark scenes will seem dark, the bright scenes bright. On the other hand, if you are watching a 2.35:1 movie, say Batman Begins on HD DVD, the experience is somewhat different. Here, the black letterbox bars are rarely, if ever, actually black. In fact, they'll brighten or darken depending on the scene. Bright scenes raise the back level considerably, so 0.001 ft-L is a best-case scenario, but it's not what you're seeing all the time. The improvement in the numbers over the previous model is mostly due to the 0.001-ft-L drop in black level, which could just be thanks to tweaks to the auto iris.

The best contrast ratio you'll get on the screen at any one moment is somewhere between the ANSI number of 317:1 and the approximately 3,500:1 full-on/full-off contrast ratio you see when the iris is disabled: as in, the maximum difference between the back and white parts of the image on the screen at one time. Both of these numbers are improvements over the VPL-VW50's 231:1 and around 1,900:1, respectively. With the auto iris off, you'll have to live with a low 5.2 ft-L if you want that 0.001-ft-L black. Or, on the other end, to get 16.7 ft-L, the black level goes up to 0.005 ft-L. Fortunately, there are about 10 iris and lamp power settings to choose from (and more, if you include each of the 101 steps in the manual mode; I included Min and Max). Thus, it's safe to say you'll find several light-output and black-level options to choose from. While these contrast-ratio numbers are decent, the picture actually looks a little better than they suggest. Auto irises produce pretty false numbers, but they do improve the image to some extent. The image on the screen doesn't look like 16,720:1, but it does look better than 3,500:1. Thankfully, you can't see the iris doing its thing, which is a concern with this technology. The last thing you want to see is the light level changing and pulsing as you're watching a movie. This is exactly what is happening, but thankfully, it happens fast enough that you don't notice it.

More Steps
On the processing side, there are a few improvements, but again, they are small steps. Using the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD, the VW60 does very well with the rotating-bar test, showing very few jagged edges throughout the rotation. This is improved over the VW50. The waving flag test, which tests video processing, is good, yet not perfect, regardless of the DDE mode. The 3:2 pickup is fast with this disc, but it's slower with the real world Gladiator clip. This is about the same as the VPL-VW50. There were some jagged edges with some 480i material, but it wasn't bad. You could stand to improve the image with a decent scaling DVD player, but it won't be a huge change.

With 1080i, thankfully, little has changed. This projector deinterlaces 1080i correctly and picks up the 3:2 sequence with 1080i with both component and HDMI. Over both those inputs, the VPL-VW60 is also capable of reproducing a one-pixel-on/one-pixel-off pattern with 1920x1080 signals. The old model had some trouble with this test, and over HDMI anyway, it is much improved. Nevertheless, component is still a little softer than HDMI.

The scaling seems improved as well. The professor scene in chapter 2 of The Fifth Element DVD shows a lot of detail. Noise has also been improved. Not that there was too much of it before, but there seems to be less now.

The Same
Like the VPL-VW50, the VW60 changes its refresh rate to 96Hz and employs a "4:4 pulldown" (each frame is repeated four times) when you give it a 1080p/24 signal. I love this feature. This removes the odd judder inherent in all 24-frame-per-second content when displayed at 60Hz (thanks to 3:2 pulldown). The result is a smoother image, but without the overly smooth, artificial look that can occur when a display interpolates frames (which some 120Hz displays are now doing). It also includes RCP, or Real Color Processing, with which you can fine-tune the color points if you have equipment to measure them. For most people, just switching the color space to Normal (from the default of Wide) will suffice, although a fully calibrated RCP mode will appear more accurate. It also still smells for the first 70 hours or so.

The Result
Not surprisingly, the VPL-VW60 looks a lot like the VPL-VW50, although it's somewhat better in all regards. There's a little more detail with video over HDMI. The scaling seems a little better, with more detail brought out in 480i material. Color is not perfect, but it can get pretty close with a calibrated RCP. In the Normal color-space mode, colors are a bit oversaturated, which is pretty typical of Sony SXRDs. Admittedly, most people would probably pick the oversaturated look over an accurate one. The onscreen contrast ratio, while not nearly what the number suggest, still looks very good.

Incrementalness
So, in the end, the VPL-VW60 performs slightly better than the VPL-VW50. Very slightly. I would like to have seen a bigger jump, but there was nothing overly wrong with the VPL-VW50. Its few mild weaknesses have been improved upon, and more importantly, the price has stayed the same. So, while I wouldn't go replacing your VPL-VW50 for this new model the VPL-VW50.1/VPL-VW60 is a great projector at a great price.

Highlights:
• 96-Hz mode is great
• Very cool panel-alignment feature allows alignment of each SXRD panel separately

For the full measurements of the Sony VPL-VW60, check out the January issue of Home Theater

COMPANY INFO
Sony Electronics Inc.
(800) 877-SONY
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