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Sony VPL-VW100 projector review: Sony VPL-VW100 projector

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The Good Impressive picture quality with deep blacks and vibrant colours. Practically future-proof, thanks to inclusion of a HDMI connector and ability to output at 1080p. Sleek design. Whisper-quiet operation.

The Bad Large and bulky. Limited lens shift options. Replacement lamps are expensive.

The Bottom Line If you’re a home theatre enthusiast looking for a cream of the crop projector, then the Sony VPL-VW100 is hard to pass.

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Sony's VPL-VW100 is the Qualia for the rest of us -- the rest of us that can afford a AU$15,000 projector that is. Featuring technology only previously found in Sony's extremely high-end Qualia branded projectors, the VPL-VW100 promises to offer true videophile quality images in a future-proof box. And from our extensive tests here at CNET.com.au, it looks like the VW100 has more than lived up to its potential.

Design
Just like its price tag, the Sony VPL-VW100 is a bulky unit. Measuring in at a whopping 496x175x574mm (WxHxD) and clocking in at a hefty 19kg, the VW100 isn't exactly a dinky projector that can be kept out on a coffee table. Rather, this is a projector that's meant to be installed as part of dedicated home theatre set-up, and is especially ideal for ceiling mounting.

Despite its size, the VW100 is still an extremely attractive projector, featuring a design that, when viewed from the front, makes it look like a large eye. The ellipse-shaped projector has the lens situated front and centre (giving it the eye look), and is generally clutter-free throughout. Build quality is generally impressive -- the entire unit is decked out in cool silver and grey. It is plastic for the most part, but still retains an attractive sheen. A particularly nice design feature is a Sony logo on the top of the VW100 which glows white when the projector is turned on.

Unusually for a projector, all of the VW100's connectors are arrayed at the side of the unit (as opposed to the rear). The main connectors (including all the inputs and the power) are at the bottom half of the projector's left side, while controls for power, lens and menu settings are found behind a sliding panel on the top half. The rear of the VW100 features the projector's ventilation holes (or exhaust).

The VW100's remote is a simple one, but it feels rather plastic for such an expensive projector. It does, however, feature a backlit keypad, making it easier to use in the dark. The provided lens cap similarly feels cheap for such a high-end projector. But overall, this is a projector that will invite looks, both for its sheers bulk and its sleek design.

Features
Sony's VPL-VW100 features a specs list that should have all but the pickiest of home theatre aficionados rubbing their hands in glee. The VW100 features Sony's proprietary SXRD display technology -- which is technically most similar to LCoS and D-ILA-based projectors (as opposed to DLP or LCD models). According to Sony, SXRD projectors generally feature the impressive black levels you'd find on a DLP with the vibrant colours of an LCD. This particular projector features three SXRD panels (one each for red, blue and green) that each have a native pixel resolution of 1920x1080.

Televisions and projectors with a native resolution of 1920x1280 pixels are still quite rare, but that isn't even the most impressive thing about the VW100. While the vast majority of display devices top out at being able to display 1080i images, Sony's new projector has the ability to show 1080p images. That's a major plus, but is significantly blunted by the fact that there are currently no home entertainment machines that can output at that high a resolution (not counting computers). The highest quality sources available in Australia now are 1080i (such as the HD television signals from channel's Nine and Ten and the Xbox 360). But its 1080p capabilities essentially make the VW100 future-proof, as next generation DVD formats like Blu-ray and HD-DVD will be fully 1080p compatible (although it seems first generation HD-DVD devices are only 1080i).

But it's not just with resolution that the VW100 impresses. The Sony projector claims a whopping 15,000:1 contrast ratio -- one of the highest of any projector on the market. Brightness isn't as great, however, and is rated at only 800 ANSI lumens. The VW100 features a 400W Xenon lamp inside, and is rated at 2500 hours lamp life.

Speaking of future proof, the VW100 also features a HDMI slot for all digital connections. Other connectors in the Sony includes one S-Video, composite, component, DVI-D and RGB.

As befitting a projector in this price range, the VW100's various lens functions are all motorised, meaning you'll never have to put your hands near the lens to make adjustments such as focusing. The Sony has a decent 1.8x zoom and features a vertical lens shift which allows you to move the projected image up or down. Sadly, there's no motorised horizontal shift available, meaning you'll have to carefully choose where to position this unit in your living room. If you're super keen on shifting the image horizontally, it can be done manually on the VW100, but it's a fiddly process that requires you to unscrew the mechanisms around the front of the lens.

Performance
The number one question most of you will have is: "Is it worth paying AU$15,000 for a projector?" On image quality alone, the Sony VPL-VW100 makes a compelling argument for the affirmative, producing images that rival much more expensive three-chip DLP projectors (such as the high-end InFocus ScreenPlay 777 which retails for AU$23,999). We hooked the Sony up via component to a DVD player and were blown away by the results -- the projector produced an excellent, deep black, as well as vibrant colours that leaped off the screen.

While some may scoff at Sony's claimed contrast ratio of 15,000:1, what we did find in our tests was that the VW100 produced an impressive level of detail in dark scenes, levels we've come to expect from three-chip DLPs and other high-end projectors (such as Sony's own Qualias). We took the Keanu Reeves movie Constantine (one of our regular test discs) for a spin, skipped to the mainly dark nigh time bug attack sequence, and were more than happy with the results. Plenty of detail lost on lesser screens popped out, such as moisture on Reeve's face and clothing and subtle folds in his dark coat. Black levels are equally top notch -- the VW100 in our opinion produced a deeper black that LCD projectors just can't match.

Colour reproduction was also spot on. The VW100 is one of the few projectors we've seen that passed the colour fidelity tests on our Digital Video Essentials disc straight out of the box -- that is, it accurately displayed colour without any tedious manual calibration. The Constantine nightclub scene, which features deep red and blacks that can bamboozle other projectors and televisions, came out flawlessly without any blurring or pixilation. For those who do want to set their own colour levels, the VW100 comes with a Real Colour Processing system, which allows users to individually set levels in red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta.

We also tested the VW100 with a HD television tuner to test out its high resolution capabilities. The 1080i pictures from the Nine and Ten Network feeds were a pleasure to watch, with the images displaying depth and realism.

If you're a home theatre enthusiast looking for a cream of the crop projector, then the Sony VPL-VW100 is hard to pass. Not only does it give a performance comparable to much more expensive three-chip DLP units, it is practically future proof thanks to its 1080p capabilities. Having said that, the 1080p capable source gear that you'll need to make the most out of this Sony may be months or even years away, not to mention 1080p content. And who knows? By then projectors of this ilk may be thousands of dollars cheaper.

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