In terms of picture quality there is no doubt that resolution is seductive, and the Pearl does deliver every pixel of a 1080i/p HD source. It also has solid contrast ratio, which is arguably the most important performance parameter in a display. Where the Sony falls short is color accuracy; the primary and secondary colors are way off the mark. Grayscale tracking is also a little inconsistent for a high-performance projector, indicating some gamma problems. By way of comparison, my current reference projector remains the Samsung SP-H710AE 720p one-chip DLP projector, because it has near-perfect color in every regard once it is set up properly, and gamma that emulates a CRT, which in combination are more important than the fact that the Sony has a lower resolution.
Another long-standing weakness in all Sony HDTVs is noisy video processing. It is important to note that the DDE feature must be in the Progressive or Film mode when watching 1080i HD material, otherwise you will lose up to 50 percent of the vertical resolution from the signal, which makes it appear noticeably softer. On the positive side, this feature allows the VPL-VW50 to fully resolve 1080i HD sources, which is not the case with many projectors in this price range.
Color decoding was spot on, which means you will get rich, saturated colors on the screen without people looking like they have sunburns. For an inexpensive projector, it has a relatively good lens, with only a few chromatic aberrations, and panel alignment looks better than on its bigger brother the VPL-VW100, aka the Ruby. The Ruby's panel alignment was so bad that in some cases it looked like a misconverged CRT projector, with fringes of colors visible along some white lines.
HD content looked quite sharp on the VPL-VW50. Watching Batman Begins in HD on my cable system revealed good blacks, great snap to the picture, and well-saturated--if inaccurate--colors. Standard-definition cable looked pretty good on channels, such as CNN, that do a reasonably good job delivering the broadcast, but it didn't look so good on some of the heavily compressed analog channels.
HD DVDs were rendered with razor-sharp clarity. Seabiscuit, one of the best HD DVD transfers to date, in particular looked quite good. Skin tones looked extremely natural thanks to a relatively good grayscale. On the other hand, red and green objects like grass, hedges, and so on weren't rendered very realistically, which is a direct result of the skewed primary colors. If the VPL-VW50 delivered the correct primary and secondary colors or Sony fixed the RCP feature so that technicians like myself could correct them, the projector would be worthy of an Editor's Choice Award.
All things considered, the VPL-VW50 is one of the better values in 1080p front projection today. It delivers all of the resolution that a 1080p projector should, has good color decoding, processes 1080i HD sources well, and the price is ridiculously low for what you get. I just wish Sony and other manufacturers would start paying attention to the accuracy of the primary and secondary colors.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7450/6600||Average|
|After color temp||6425/6581K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 263K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 58K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.666/0.324||Poor|
|Color of green||0.299/0.670||Average|
|Color of blue||0.143/0.049||Average|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|