Sony QUALIA 004 SXRD video projector Page 3

There are six Color Temperature settings: Low, Middle, High, and three Custom settings. The Custom settings can be adjusted in the user menu, the others only in the service menu.

Four different deinterlace options are provided for interlaced inputs; one of them, DRC High Density, provides something called the DRC Palette, which lets you choose your favorite mixture of Reality or Clarity. Feel free to play with it. "Reality," to me, suggests avoiding such features, so I choose not to fiddle with it, instead letting the QUALIA switch automatically between DDE Film (a film mode said to deal properly with 3:2 pulldown) and DDE Progressive (for video-originated material).

The Cinema Black Pro menu provides access to the iris and lamp level settings. The Adjust Signal control lets you slightly change the image size and shift its position on the screen for inputs A and B. (When I try it, it allows both size and shift adjustment for 480p and 720p inputs, but only shift for 480i and 1080i.) Several Auto Wide settings enable the QUALIA to respond automatically to changes of aspect ratio, although these don't appear to work at all with progressive-scan sources, and they are erratic with interlaced signals, depending on how the source material was encoded. I find it easier to switch off this Auto Wide mode and make my aspect-ratio selections by hand. One of the options is a mode that stretches 4:3 material to fill a 16:9 screen; the Sony's implementation of this produces more obvious distortion in the middle of the image than others I've come across.

Other menus are mainly devoted to various installation and information issues. The QUALIA is specified to display all SD and HD formats, including 1080p/24fps (not yet available from any consumer source) and a wide range of computer resolutions.

Delivery Day +2: The Parade Begins
Because I have a shorter time than usual to live with the QUALIA 004, I invite over as many people as possible to experience the projector and contribute their impressions. Today's visitor, who works for an important Los Angeles film- and DVD-sound company, is more involved with the audio than the video industry. But he's spent many hours watching the best video projectors available, including the highly tuned, 9-inch-CRT projectors produced by Reference Imaging and Accurate Imaging, both driven by Teranex video scalers.

We start off with many of the same DVDs already mentioned, and he's initially put off a bit by scaling artifacts that haven't bothered me up to now. The likely culprit is the 480i-to-480p conversion. There's no time to alter the setup tonight, but I make a note to experiment with different options tomorrow. I still think DVDs look great, and a full calibration is yet to come (so far, I've tweaked only the user controls). We both agree that, apart from the scaling issue, the best DVD sources look pristine.

He's also put off by the occasional MPEG artifact, particularly with HD sources, but that's clearly not the QUALIA's fault. In fact, I feel that the Sony may well be better at revealing these artifacts than devices with lower pixel counts. We note that some of the HD material looks a little flat and 2-dimensional, but that other programs have plenty of depth. Again, I believe that this is simply the projector doing its job of showing it like it is.

Delivery Day +3: The Parade Continues
I'm really enjoying my time with the QUALIA 004—it's settling in nicely here, and it won't be a pretty scene when it has to go back. But now it's time to investigate that scaling issue. I feed the projector an interlaced signal and pop my old standby test for scaling, Titanic, into the drawer of the Denon DVD-5900 DVD player. The result is respectable but not perfect performance. A few jaggies are visible on the Titanic's rails and sharp angles as the camera pans and swoops around the ship's largely computer-generated superstructure, but they don't take me out of the film.

The Faroudja test disc is a bit more of a challenge. Motion artifacts range from significant (fast-moving shots of a hockey game) to subtle (a waving flag, a swinging pendulum). On the 3:2 pulldown test for handling of film-based material (mastered without the digital flag in the datastream that, on most film-based DVDs, signals a scaler set for auto detection to switch to a film mode), the QUALIA's scaler never locks on securely to the 3:2 cadence. This may have caused the problems noticed by my Delivery Day +2 guest. The QUALIA's deinterlacing and scaling produce some smearing with the Faroudja disc's mixed-content clip of film over video, and its bad-edit detection is only fair. Both Faroudja- (not surprisingly) and Silicon Image–based scalers have performed noticeably better with these test clips.

This is confirmed when I switch the Denon DVD player to its (Faroudja DCDi–based) progressive mode. The waving flag and other motion tests are much smoother, with no jaggies at all; the image now locks onto a 3:2 pulldown cadence quickly; and both mixed-mode and bad-edit detection are handled cleanly. Because the QUALIA is still scaling the image from 480p to 1080p, its weakness would appear to be in the 480i-to-480p conversion. My experience suggests that this is nearly always the most difficult part of any deinterlacing/scaling operation.

On the night of Delivery Day +3, I watch a single movie all the way through for the first time with the QUALIA: Lost In Translation. I find the movie little more than mildly interesting, and I can't understand all the critical praise. Moreover, the transfer, or perhaps the original photography itself (I can't say for sure; I didn't see the film in a theater), looks as if it was shot on 16mm film with cheap lenses. In any event, this film isn't the best showpiece for the Sony. After it ends, I pull out several DVDs I know look great and watch favorite scenes. Everything looks great again; playing Lost In Translation didn't break the projector.

Delivery Day +4: A Little Experimenting, a First Calibration
Time to investigate a few small technical details and jump into a first calibration. The Sony will not display below black on a PLUGE pattern in either interlaced or progressive component mode from either a Denon DVD-5900 or Panasonic DVD-RP-56 DVD player (though it will from a DVI input). This makes setting the Brightness control more difficult, but with the three-bar PLUGE patterns on Digital Video Essentials, that's not an insurmountable obstacle. I later discover that turning up the Brightness control on the Denon brings up the below-black PLUGE bar, but that's a clunky solution. I speculate that a Sub-Brightness control in the service or factory menu might perform the same function, but when I locate one in the Sony's Factory menu, it doesn't bring up below black. So I stick with the control tweak on the Denon player.

I also find that DVDs look best on the Sony projector with the Denon player's progressive output, and Sony's Sharpness control turned all the way down (Off). The QUALIA's Sharpness control appears to be all boost and no cut.

For my first calibration check, I use the Denon player in progressive mode, with most of the tests coming from the original Video Essentials DVD. There are no surprises. The little bit of noise I see on the 10 IRE (very low level) window pattern disappears when I switch to the Avia Guide to Home Theater or Digital Video Essentials test DVDs. The resolution is superb—the best that DVD can offer. Black-level retention isn't perfect, but it's never less than good.

Up to now, I've been using the QUALIA in its Low lamp mode, with the iris at its smallest setting (2). This produces plenty of light on my Stewart FireHawk screen in a darkened room, and—at least in theory—the best contrast and the deepest blacks. The Color Temperature setting I've been using, Middle, looks good, but an objective measurement proves it to be a little on the cool side, ranging from about 7500 kelvins at 30 IRE to 6750K at 80 IRE. The Low color-temperature setting ranges from 6000K to 5700K—more consistent, but not really any better. And High, at 9100K (low end) to 8000K (high end), should not be used, as is known by anyone seeking accurate colorimetry.