Sony VPL-VW12HT LCD video projector Page 2

There was also a round blotch of red discoloration an inch or so in diameter near the right edge of the picture. (This was not a defective pixel or pixels, of which I saw none on our sample.) It was usually not visible at all, but it showed up in very dark scenes. I suspect it was a dust blob on one of the LCD panels. It should be possible to clean it out, but to do so would have required disassembling the projector. I let it be.

The 12HT produced a remarkably sharp image. We've noted this effect on many fixed-pixel projectors: a picture visibly more detailed than any CRT display short of the very best 9-inch models. One can argue that this crisp image is not due to the Sony's inherent resolution (many CRTs can exceed 1366x768) but is, to a degree, an illusion caused by the display's pixel structure. The edges of the pixels provide hard outlines around images that don't exist in a CRT—or in film, for that matter. Viewed from a distance, the argument goes, the pixels disappear as individually perceptible objects, but the eye continues to sense this outline. I won't attempt to answer this puzzle here, except to note that, subjectively, the Sony looked highly detailed and natural on both DVD and high-definition material. To most viewers, that will be more than enough, no matter the reason.

I was almost never conscious of the Sony's pixel structure, but if I looked closely at very bright images, I could sometimes just make it out—the so-called "screen-door" effect. The blank spaces between the pixels in an LCD are wider than with a DLP or LCoS display (the connections that drive each pixel are routed through this area), which is why you'll often see a smoother image from these other technologies, even when they have the same native resolution. But only rarely was I bothered by the slight added graininess that this inherent design limitation can cause.

Setting the Sharpness control on the projector—as well as any sharpness controls elsewhere, such as on the DVD player—was critical in getting the best image from the VPL-VW12HT. If you increase the controls to the point where test DVDs such as Video Essentials and Avia Guide to Home Theater tell you things are right, you may actually have to back off a bit from this setting with regular video material. But with most DVDs, it wasn't too difficult to reach a comfortable compromise that looked highly detailed without going over the top to an artificially edgy image.

Rainbows? The only rainbow you're likely to see on the 12HT is Finian's. This is one characteristic in which LCDs clearly beat DLPs. I haven't yet found a single-chip DLP that was entirely free of rainbows. The best of them reduce this artifact to only a rare distraction for me (I seem to be unusually sensitive to rainbows—individuals vary widely in this regard), but the ones I've found that do so all cost considerably more than the VPL-VW12HT.

The Sony's built-in scaler worked very well. The best outboard scalers or progressive-scan DVD players, such as those incorporating Faroudja processing, can still outperform Sony's DRC in reducing artifacts, but the differences are apparent on only the most difficult material, and then only marginally. I did most of my viewing with a 480i input, leaving it up to the Sony to deinterlace the image and upconvert it to 720p, and I rarely saw any scaling artifacts.

While both DRC settings worked well, I got the best results with film-based DVDs in DRC-Progressive with CineMotion 3:2 pulldown set to Auto. In this setting, both the ship's railings in Titanic and the village rooftops at the beginning of Star Trek: Insurrection were handled well (though with some minor artifacts visible on the non-anamorphic Titanic). The 12HT had some minor difficulties with the waving flag, the pendulum, the hockey referee's striped shirt, and the mixed-content (film over video) tests on the Faroudja test DVD, but so far the only deinterlacers/scalers I've seen that handle this disc flawlessly used Faroudja processing—no surprise there.

Even with the latest updates, the Sony still showed the Achilles' heel of LCD technology: so-so blacks. But the results here were better than I'd expected. Were the 12HT's blacks better than the 11HT's? With the removable lens filter in place, and as far as I could determine without a side-by-side comparison (the 11HT was no longer on hand), I believe they were. The contrast measurements (see "Calibration" sidebar) don't show much of an improvement, but I was surprised by how well the 12HT performed on all but the darkest, lowest-contrast scenes.

The absolute minimum black still was clearly a dark (not super-dark) gray. But only on the most difficult scenes did the image take on that subtle (or not so subtle) washed-out look so familiar to me from other LCD displays. I credit this not only to the projector itself, but to the lens filter (which I used for most of my viewing) and the FireHawk screen. On Charlotte Gray, for example, scene after scene displayed a natural, film-like contrast. Nor did the picture wash out significantly even after I turned a room light on low enough so that I could take notes—for which both the FireHawk and the high light output of the Sony can share the honors.

On Ice Age, the VPL-VW12HT looked amazing for a projector in this price class, including a real sense of 3-dimensionality to complement its sharp, bright, naturally colored image. Only on difficult material, such as the star fields in Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones, did I sense anything missing. In this case, a lot of the faintest stars simply faded into the Sony's gray-looking black, and the edges of the film's 2.35:1 image were hard to distinguish from the black (gray) letterbox bars on my 1.78:1 screen. On that sort of material, a good DLP will beat out the 12HT. (And need I comment that a good CRT, properly calibrated, will produce the best blacks of all?)

The Sony looked better still on high-definition material. Its strengths—color, brightness, and sharpness—were even more obvious, while its limitations, including blacks, were no more apparent than with standard definition.

Wrapping It Up
The Sony VPL-VW12HT produces a picture that is surprisingly close to the best I've seen in my home theater—far closer than you might imagine. Of course, there are still significant refinements to be had—particularly in absolute blacks and snappier contrast—if you have thousands of extra dollars burning a hole in your checkbook. But the Sony does not constantly remind me of where it falls short. And it does so many things right for so reasonable a price in comparison to the competition that it's an easy recommendation.