Sony VPL-VW100 SXRD Video Projector Part I Page 3

I could give a dozen other examples, but you really must see this for yourself to understand how important it is. The peak contrast ratio of the VPL-VW100 with its Advanced Iris engaged is astonishing (more on that below) but without those deep blacks a high contrast would only be half the story. The blacks available from the VPL-VW100 are not quiteas rich as the best I've seen from a good CRT display. But they're arguably as deep as any CRT front projector I've seen apart from a few products that sell (or sold, when they were available) for upwards of $60,000—with the video processor/scaler an optional extra that could cost nearly as much by itself. And the VPL-VW100's blacks are certainly darker than the best I've seen in any commercial movie theater.

We've come a long way, and even the CRT die-hard appreciates how the changes have brought a true home theater experience—with a projector and big screen—within the reach of more and more buyers.

1205sony.4.jpgThere's More?
The black level from the Sony is so impressive that it's easy at first to overlook its other attributes. It produces a very sharp, yet at the same time very creamy-smooth picture. Most of my watching so far has been to DVDs, and it isn't all that easy to see the improvement that upconversion of a 480i source to 1080p brings in contrast to the more common 720p. A number of other price-competitive projectors will equal the Sony with respect to subjective sharpness, detail, and color (though remember, a full color calibration of the Sony is coming in Part II), and some provide more flexible setup controls (though they're really only useful if you have test tools). Occasionally these will even look slightly sharper than the Sony on some program material. But then never look better overall—thanks to those great blacks. Nor are they less audibly intrusive—thanks to the quiet fan. And many of them are at least a little compromised by the rainbows that still afflict all single-chip DLP projectors (some more than others, but this is not a factor at all with the Sony's three-chip SXRD configuration). And all of those that challenge the Sony in other respects apart from its black level are priced as high or higher.

High Definition
As great as a good DVD looks, high definition on the Sony looks even better, with a consistency between 1080i and 720p that eludes most 1280x720p projectors (which usually look at least a little better with a 720p source). The color is superb (even pre-calibration), the detail such that the projector almost crosses that "looking out a window" barrier (I have yet to see a display that unequivocally does), and those blacks provide a punchier image than I recall even from the QUALIA 004. In short, it's a picture that makes me fear for the future usefulness of my 1000+ DVD collection (and makes me sympathize with those having huge collections of LPs that they'll never be able to replace with CDs—even if they wanted to.

Of course, HD is a smaller step up from DVD than DVD was from laserdisc, so maybe there's still hope. In any case, good DVDs can still look great on a first-rate projector like the VPL-VW100.

The VPL-VW100 and the QUALIA 004
So how do these two projectors compare? I can't really tell you without a side-by-side comparison, which isn't in the cards. It's been over a year and a half since I've spent QUALIA time. But even without a QUALIA on hand, some differences are obvious. The QUALIA 004 costs three-times as much. That does buy you a few benefits. It's brighter, and can be used on bigger screens. It offers three lens options, each of them at least theoretically of higher quality than the VPL-VW100 can manage. It has more picture adjustments, and a much cooler remote control.

But without a significant upgrade in the form of Advanced Iris (which it currently lacks) the QUALIA will have a hard time keeping up with the VPL-VW100 in overall image quality on a modestly-sized screen (I'd recommend a maximum screen size of 87-inches wide—100-inches diagonal—if you're using a screen with just a little gain, like the 1.3-gain Stewart Studiotek 130).

The VPL-VW100 and the SXRD PTVs
Sony's new SXRD rear projection televisions are exceptional products. But they could be better yet. The race to the bright showroom floor has saddled them with a too-bright image—an epidemic with digital rear projection designs of all stripes. And while its blacks were very good, its Advanced Iris, at least in the pre-production samples we tested, wasn't nearly as impressive as in the Sony front projectors I've seen in bringing the blacks down to "Oh Wow" levels.

All of this could be improved by an updated combination of a lower gain screen and iris modes that provide for the choice of a bright image for the showroom and weekend afternoon football watching, or a more subdued-lighting-friendly, home theater experience.

But there's no doubt that the developments that resulted in an affordable SXRD rear projection set also brought us the VPL-VW100—an astonishing performer by any measure.

As good as the blacks are in the VPL-VW100, they could be even better. The problem is with the evenness of the black level. It's a little lighter in the corners—twice as high in the upper right hand corner as in the center—though still as good or better than any other digital projector I've measured.

Our sample also produced a rare but odd glitch. Four times in the 60 hours or so I've put on the projector so far, the image turned to a bright, multi-level white, with details roughly outlined by fields of multi-colored dots of noise. I don't know how else to describe it. I would have loved to get a picture of it—it was startling when it occurred just as a fake dinosaur was being brought down in King Kong--but it only lasted a couple of seconds each time and would never repeat on the same section of program material. I'm virtually certain that this was a pre-production sample flaw, and did not appear to affect any other aspect of the projector's performance (I mention it only because its our policy never to ignore any operational problem we experience with a product). Sony indicated that this same sample was demonstrated at CEDIA and an engineer there experienced the same problem—a good indication that it was a pre-production glitch in this specific projector. This sample, by the way, did not look anywhere near as good at CEDIA as it does in my system).

My final conclusions will have to wait for the completion of Part II. How well does the projector calibrate? What affect does the Advanced Iris have on the gray scale and gamma tracking? And I'll have a lot more to say about my on-going experiences in watching real images, both standard and high definition, on this projector. Our usual Highs and Lows section will wait until then, too.

But if you can't wait, I see little downside in taking the plunge. Those yet to be completed measurements may reveal a flaw or two we haven't discovered yet, but it will take an earthquake (just kidding, San Andreas), to shake my enthusiasm for the VPL-VW100 so far.