Sony QUALIA 004 SXRD video projector Page 2

The only real downer on the first day comes when I ask Rob about lamp life and replacement cost. Sony later confirms that the life of the lamp is 1500–2200 hours, depending on usage. The projector automatically monitors the lamp condition, and, when it determines that it is nearing the end of its useful life (presumably somewhere in that 1500–2200 hour range), gives the owner warnings (on the information panel) at 50 and 15 hours before failure. After that, the projector shuts the lamp down. Sony will provide one replacement lamp at no charge at any time within the projector's three-year warranty period. After that, you're on your own. A new bulb costs $3000—the same price as a lens.

Delivery Day: First Look
After setting the lamp on Low and the iris on 2, we're ready. I pop the DVD of Digital Video Essentials into the V, Inc. Bravo D1 DVD player with its DVI output.

Wow! Even with a standard-definition source, it's clear that something special is happening. Rob and I look at a string of DVDs with both DVI and component (480i) connections (the latter from a Denon DVD-5900 DVD player), plus high-definition broadcasts I've recorded on the hard-disk drive of Zenith's HDR230 personal video recorder-receiver. The best DVDs look almost like HDTV, and the best HDTV looks breathtaking. Rob leaves with everything humming. Including me.

Delivery Day: Evening Falls
The Guide's technical editor, Scott Wilkinson, is scheduled to come over to QC the DVD boxed set of Battlestar Galactica, which he's reviewing for the next issue's "What's On?" He's surprised to learn that the Sony is here. But rather than launch into the unknown with a 4:3 transfer of a 25-year-old TV show, I start the evening with some DVDs that I know have excellent transfers.

Shakespeare In Love looks sensational. I'd love to see this in a high-definition transfer, but I bet the Sony could fool 90% of average viewers into believing that this DVD is hi-def. On a few scenes the flesh tones look a little too rosy, but I've noticed the same thing on at least two DLP projectors, so I'm inclined to blame the program material. There isn't much wrong here that can't be pinned, by a critical eye, on a standard-definition source. The same holds for two other first-rate DVDs, Hulk and Finding Nemo.

Battlestar Galactica isn't half bad. It's obvious that some shots look a lot better than others. Some—not all—close-ups look as if they could have been shot yesterday rather than a quarter-century ago. We watch part 1 of a two-parter with guest-star Patrick McNee. The interior shots are never off-putting, though the now-ancient special-effects shots of the outside of the ships look positively horrid. As for the story . . . well, McNee is always fun, but where is Mrs. Peel when you need her?

The only flaw we both see pops up when we watch part of the "Dropping the Dishes" episode from the DVD set of the miniseries Taken. This is the first really dark material I've watched on the Sony, and while most of it is fine, the blacks look a little blotchy and less than CRT-like in a few very dark scenes. I make a note to try this again after I've closely checked the projector's calibration.

High-definition, from the Super Bowl (including that infamous halftime show) to an exceptional-looking PBS documentary on Japan, knocks us back on our heels. The crisp, colorful, evenly illuminated picture is a pleasure to watch.

But even before I get to the HD material, the QUALIA 004 is showing up all the other display devices I've seen recently—except possibly in those blacks. The color is superb. The picture is bright enough, on my small FireHawk, to overcome the slightly dull look that many single-chip DLPs exhibit on that screen. I continue to use the FireHawk with those projectors because I haven't found another screen that, for me, works better with them. But there isn't a trace of that dullness here; the images are punchy and crisp but never glary, hot-spotted, or eye-fatiguing. And there are no rainbows from this projector, which has no color wheel.

But best of all, there's a smooth, grain-free look to the QUALIA's image that can't be missed, and that's unlikely to be matched by any device limited to a resolution of 1280x720. Sony uses the term "velvety" in the owner's manual, and I can't think of a better description. It's CRT-like in that respect, but sharper, brighter, and more evenly illuminated than any CRT you're likely to see. The color appears to be as good as or better than that from CRT, as well. Only the blacks remain as a potential limitation of SXRD, and I haven't really checked them that closely yet. After all, it's still only Delivery Day.

Delivery Day +1: Checking Out the Features
I spend most of the day jotting down notes from the day before and poring over the QUALIA's instruction manual. While many features are accessible directly from the remote (including focus, zoom, and vertical lens shift, all of them motorized), many others are found in the onscreen menus. Much here is familiar, including the usual video controls of Contrast, Brightness, Color, Hue, and Sharpness.

There are several preset "Modes," all of which have default settings of the above video controls and certain other menu parameters, such as Color Tem- perature. You can select different Modes for each input, or change Mode settings as you wish, and the projector will automatically change to the designated Mode—with your changes intact—when you switch to that input.

A three-position (Off, Low, High) Black Level Adjustment appears to be redundant with the Brightness control, and neither the manual nor experimentation suggests why it would ever be needed. I leave it off for all the testing. A Gamma Correction control offers three positions (Off—no gamma correction—Gamma1, Gamma2, and Gamma3), which let the user or installer tweak the QUALIA's gamma (how the range from black to peak white varies with the input signal) via computer and Sony's supplied ImageDirector software. For my testing as described here, I leave this control on Off—that is, I used the gamma setting that was set in the projector when I received it.