Sony may have canned its line of SXRD-based rear-projection HDTVs in favor of flat-panel LCDs, but the technology is going strong among front projectors. The VPL-HW10 is the company's lowest-priced SXRD projector yet. It starts the updated three-model SXRD line just below the VPL-VW70, which will replace last year's "Pearl" or VPL-VW60, and the high-end VPL-VW200, which stays in the lineup from last year. Despite the relatively low price, the VPL-HW10 is a very good performer, with more accurate color than last year's VPL-VW60 and those deep black levels we've come to expect from SXRD. Among projectors we've reviewed, this entry-level Sony has become the unit to beat in the sub-$4000 price range.
A black glossy finish highlights the VPL-HW10's sexy-looking design. It shares the same look as the company's more expensive SXRD models--the main thing that changes is size, as the more expensive models become progressively larger. The look consists of appealing curves with a rounded top and the lens centered on the chassis, which gives a very symmetrical design. All of the connections including the AC power, and the On/Off, Menu, Input, and the four-way arrow keys for menu navigation are on the right side of the projector when floor mounted, and the left side if flipped upside down for ceiling-mounted configurations.
Sony's remote control is well laid-out and designed. It's fully backlit, which makes tweaking in a darkened room easier. The clicker has direct access keys to all the picture modes, as well as the brightness and contrast controls. The menu and directional rocker buttons are all located slightly north of the center of the remote, which makes one-handed operation quite easy.
There are many useful features on this projector and, as always, some that need to be avoided for the best possible performance. Both horizontal as well as vertical lens shifts are available, which helps greatly in aligning the projector properly to the screen. Unfortunately, these controls are manual at the projector rather than electronic from the remote. The same goes for the Zoom and Focus features. For electronic versions of these features, you will need to step up to the more expensive VPL-VW70.
Perhaps one of the coolest features that helps improve picture quality is called Panel Adjust. This feature, which first appeared on the high-end VPL-VW200, allows you to correct minor panel alignment problems with red and blue horizontal and vertical controls that work mainly on the center of the picture. Both red and blue were off horizontally on my review sample, so adjustment tightened up the alignment and improved the sharpness of the picture.
Dynamic, Standard, Cinema, and three User Picture Modes give you a lot of flexibility in fine-tuning the picture. Selectable color temperatures include High, Middle, Low, and Custom, the latter with controls for calibration of the grayscale.
There's also a color management system called RCP, which is billed as a utility for correcting the primary and secondary colors. Unfortunately, as I've found with past Sony projectors, this is still essentially a broken feature. I selected the Normal color space in the Expert Setting menu, and attempted to correct the red primary with RCP. While I was able to get red closer to the ATSC specification, doing so adversely affected color decoding. As a result, I must recommend you leave RCP off.
The Cinema Black Pro menu has the Iris controls and a Lamp setting of either High or Normal. I used High myself, and I suspect most installations will need to as well since the VPL-HW10 is not a high light output projector. I measured 11 footlamberts on my 80-inch wide Stewart Filmscreen Grayhawk RS screen, which is on the low side for such a small screen. I also selected Manual for the Iris setting and left it at 50 in the middle of the range. This setting produced good blacks and a stable picture with white and black levels remaining correct. If you select an Auto Iris setting, these parameters will change depending on how bright or dark the content of the picture is. Unfortunately, I have not seen an Auto Iris feature that is fast enough so the eye can't see these changes with regular program material, and this Sony is no exception.
Connectivity is reasonably generous for an entry-level projector. The VPL-HW10 has two HDMI inputs, one set of component video inputs, a 15-pin VGA style RGB input, one S-Video, and one composite video input. I was pleased to also find an RS-232 control port, a feature that answers custom installer's needs to program a component's functions into a sophisticated touch-panel remote control system, such as Crestron or AMX.