Sony Bravia VPL-AW15 720p LCD Front Projector

the listWith 1080p front projectors selling for as little as three grand, 720p models are taking a backseat to the higher-resolution models. But if a 1080p projector can now be had at a truly affordable price, 720p units, some of which are currently selling for less than $1,000, amount to an even more incredible deal. At that price, the screen that you buy to beam the images onto is likely to cost as much (if not more) than the projector itself!

Sony's 720p LCD front projectors have been strong performers in the past, so it was only natural for us to stand up and take notice when the company announced its Bravia VPL-AW15 720p LCD front projector. Along with a 1,280 x 720-pixel resolution display, this $1,300 projector features a 165-watt UHP lamp and 1.6x zoom lens. Zoom and focus adjustments are manual, and there's also horizontal and vertical lens shift controls to aid during initial setup.

With a projector this inexpensive, chances are you're not going to make too much of a fuss over its style. Nonetheless, the Sony has an attractive silver and gray case, with the front end flaring out slightly for a more aerodynamic look. A basic set of control buttons to switch inputs, scan menus, and turn the projector on and off are located on top panel, while its lens shift controls are ensconced on the left-hand side. The Sony's back-panel connections include HDMI, component-video, and VGA inputs, along with composite- and S-video jacks and an RS-232C control port.

Sony's full-size remote control for the VPL-AW15 features a sparse keypad with a cleanly arranged, backlit buttons. I had no trouble at all using it to operate the projector in a pitch-black room. A set of buttons located on the bottom half enable you to switch directly between the Sony's six picture presets, and there are also dedicated rocker buttons for making on-the-fly brightness and contrast tweaks. Another button labeled ADJ PIC gives you quick and easy access to the picture adjustment submenu. You switch inputs by repeatedly pressing the Input button to toggle through the choices. And pressing the Wide Mode button lets you toggle through the Sony's various display modes: Normal (displays 4:3 pictures with vertical sidebars), Full (for anamorphic widescreen DVDs and HDTV), Zoom, and Wide Zoom (a combined picture stretch and zoom). All display modes can be selected for both standard- and high-definition programs.