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Sony VPL-VW50 ("Pearl") Three-Panel 16:9 1080p SXRD Digital Projector

Part II

December, 2006

Ofer LaOr

 

In Use

Our first order of business was to check all the flaws that were reported in the on-line forums about this projector and see how they affect this particular sample.

A fully black screen did show a bit of brightness uniformity issue with some of the corners (in our case, the bottom right corner and top right corner) being slightly brighter than the rest of the image. This hot spotting disappears with real world content, and it is the result of stray light that should have been "hidden away" and transformed into heat, but ended up making its way to the screen after all.

At that point I noticed how quiet the projector was. I had to put my ear inches away from it to hear anything at all.

Next, I hooked up an Accupel test pattern generator set to 1080i output and used a convergence pattern. The projector itself puts a similar pattern up when it is in Lens mode, but it uses a green pattern, while I needed a white one.

There was definitely a slight convergence issue, curiously showing up only in the vertical direction. Vertical lines were perfect, but horizontal lines were slightly smeared, having 0.5 pixel of mis-convergence (red above and blue below the center). This means that horizontal lines are actually two pixels in thickness and are visibly thicker than vertical lines.

The remote is functional, and is very easy to use, but lacks functionality. There are no discrete on-off buttons, or even discrete input selection. Sony should really rethink this for future projectors.

There were visible gaps between pixels, but they were quite small. So, the Screen Door Effect (SDE) was mostly due to the large projection area, but disappeared from a few feet away from the screen, or when we made the projection area smaller.

Menus are very easy to get around and are very extensive, providing access to color adjustment, calibration, temperature control, and so forth. We were hoping to make some useful measurements (contrast, uniformity), but the projector was already installed and this made the measurements difficult. Sony claims that the contrast ratio (using the Dynamic Iris) can reach 16,000:1.

The projector certainly seems to reach that range, but the Dynamic Iris does take its toll. The effect of the iris is completely invisible from the user and try as hard as I might, I could not spot any artifacts originating from the iris opening or closing when it was set to Auto.

The Dynamic Iris lends the projector a higher on-off contrast (called Dynamic Contrast), but the projector has a lower contrast that is intrinsic to the SXRD panels (around 4000-5000:1), which is called Frame Contrast, or Native Contrast.

The iris works great for scenes that are either bright or dark. The problem is when you have a bright background, while the foreground contains a character dressed in dark clothes. The iris system tends to stabilize on the average level of the image, which means that scenes that mix dark and bright details are subject to brightness compression.

I first noticed this effect when I viewed the film The Chronicles of Narnia. A scene with dark figures walking in the snow looked two dimensional, and there were very little nuances and detail on both the snow and the dark figures.

During calibration, we had a hard time getting the reds to stay stabile. Frequency and overscan were perfect, and it was very easy to verify native rate (dot by dot) support. I noticed no drop-offs even with very high frequencies (alternating vertical lines). Gamma was set to 2.23 and had a curious bump around 80 IRE that I couldn't shake.

RCP (Real Color Processing) is supposed to allow you to make adjustments to primary and secondary colors. I played with this repeatedly, but with minor changes to the CIE chart. This might have more of an effect on the analog inputs, though.

I next checked for scaling artifacts with various sources. As expected, both 480i and 720p sources had ringing, but 480i had a lot more ringing. An outboard scaler is definitely going to help here.
 
During normal viewing, most of the issues I described melt away. The projector gives a very detailed comfortable feeling - without the adverse affects of DLP induced headaches or LCD's screen door eyes. Scenes like Lilu's birth/escape scene from The Fifth Element were outstanding - Lilu's face was detailed and three dimensional. It's amazing that this level of detail can be purchased for such a low price these days. PQ (Picture Quality) was far superior and much smoother and more filmlike than any LCD projector I've yet seen.

This projector, however, is not very forgiving. Artifacts and bad sources don't look so hot. The better the source, the better it looks on the VW50. A Blu-ray or HD DVD player is ideal for this projector. SD DVD or SDTV sources should use a scaler or MPEG artifact remover (e.g., Digital Mosquito).

Our final test was my home movies of my youngest son, which were, for no other words, amazing.

If you have not seen a 1080p projector yet, you are in for a big surprise.

Conclusions

The Sony VPL-VW50 (Pearl) projector packs quite a punch - it's a new level of performance and resolution at an affordable price, but is definitely not perfect. Details can be lost in mixed bright/dark scenes. Most of the other projector issues are, in my opinion, overly emphasized by nitpicking users and are a lot less critical than some people would have you believe.

The picture could be sharper, but not more detailed. I watched content for over 3 hours without a hint of being tired, i.e., DLP induced headache. I could sit and watch it all day, and that's far more than I can say about most other projectors out there.


- Ofer LaOr -

Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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