Editor's note, 12/13/07: This review has been rerated since its original publication to reflect changes in the competitive landscape. Sony has also released an updated, improved model, the Sony VPL-VW200.
Projectors can produce comparatively enormous pictures, so a high native resolution is even more important in a projector than in a standard HDTV. After all, if the picture measures 100 inches diagonally as opposed to 50 or 42, you'll have a lot more opportunity to discern individual pixels and notice other problems, such as a reduction in detail, that can arise with lower-resolution displays. A 1080p native resolution, the highest currently available among home-theater projectors, has always been elusive and expensive. Until recently, your choices have been limited to a JVC D-ILA, a Fujitsu 3 LCD, or a Sony Qualia SXRD, with retail prices in the $20,000-to-$30,000 range. Sony has revolutionized the high-end front-projection market with its VPL-VW100, a projector with full 1080p resolution for a retail price of a penny under $10,000. For now, its closest direct-price competitors are all 720p designs with a single DLP chip, although we'll see 1080p DLP models hit the market later this year. Those models may well rival this Sony's performance, but in the meantime, the VPL-VW100's picture quality surpasses that of any like-priced projector.
Sony uses a contemporary form factor for the VPL-VW100. The rounded top and bottom, along with the center lens placement, combine for a look that's reminiscent of the heads of the Tripod robots from the recent release of War of the Worlds. Bulky by portable-projector standards, the decidedly nonportable VPL-WV100 measures about 19.5 by 7 by 22.6 inches and weighs 41 pounds.
An outstanding feature of this projector is its ability to run almost silently. The VPL-VW100 is rated at a very low 22dB, and it sounds dead quiet from any viewing position, unless you put your ear directly up to the exhaust port. This is quite an accomplishment, considering its fan must cool a hefty 400-watt xenon lamp. It's worth noting that the lamp is costly to replace at $1,000 (list price) and has a rated life of 2,500 hours.
The remote control is in line with the type Sony provides for its commercial projectors. The input selection is sequential, though the projector has an option to automatically sense which jacks are occupied. The silver-finished remote sports separate direct-access buttons for lens features (zoom, height, and focus), as well as picture adjustment, RCP (color preferences), aspect ratio, picture modes (Cinema, Dynamic, Standard), brightness and color, and other menu items.
At the heart of the Sony VPL-VW100 are its three SXRD microdisplay chips. SXRD, which stands for Silicon X-tal (Crystal) Reflective Display, is Sony's take on LCoS, and we've been impressed by its performance in rear-projection sets such as the KDS-R60XBR1. The chips have the smallest die (0.61 inch) used in any native 1080p projector design to date, and since smaller chips require bigger lamps to produce a given brightness, the Sony's 400-watt bulb translates to a rated 800 ANSI lumen. That's not as bright as some projectors in this price range, a factor that limits the maximum screen size. We used a 92-inch screen for testing and would recommend a screen no larger than 100 inches diagonal.
The VPL-W100 has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080, otherwise known as 1080p, which means it displays all 2.0736 million picture elements from a 1080i broadcast or from any 1080i or 1080p source, such as video from HD-DVD or Blu-ray players. Unlike many 2005 1080p devices, the Sony VPL-VW100 can accept 1080p sources at both 24 and 60 frames per second. All sources, whether high-def, DVD, standard TV or computer, are scaled to fit the native resolution.
Sony has provided a huge array of controls to customize the picture. These include six aspect-ratio modes for standard-def (but, strangely, none for high-def); three separate independent custom picture memories in addition to the three adjustable presets; three preset and three custom color-temperature settings; three levels of noise reduction; three iris-control settings; four gamma-correction settings; and three to adjust black level. There's also a Real Color Processing (RCP) option with three custom memories that allows independent adjustment of red, blue, green, cyan, magenta, and yellow.
The Sony VPL-VW100 employs a dynamic iris that can deepen the black level of the projector by sensing a dark scene and closing its aperture to cut down on light output. When a normal or bright scene occurs, the iris opens, maximizing the light output. There are also preset adjustments for gamma, the rate of transition from black to white. Gamma two provided the most ideal setting and was used for performance testing.
The VPL-VW100 has one of each major type of video input: HDMI, DVI with HDCP, VGA-style RGB (15-pin sub-D) for PCs, component, S-Video, and composite. That's a comprehensive selection that allows you to hook up two digital sources directly, one via HDMI and the other via DVI, which is easily adaptable to accommodate a second HDMI source.
In short, the Sony VPL-VW100 exhibited excellent video quality with just about every source, although we still found a few signs that Sony was building its projector to hit a price.
The evaluation began with a series of test signals, which the Sony generally aced. Its internal scaler did a commendable job of upconverting standard-definition 480i content to 1080p, introducing few artifacts or jagged lines. It also properly de-interlaced 1080i content to 1080p, using all 1080 lines in every frame. A number of 1080p rear projectors we've tested use only a single 540-line field for each frame when upconverting, dropping half of the resolution, which softens detail in 1080i sources.
The VPL-VW100 passed the highest-frequency multiburst signal, indicating it will display every pixel of 1,080x1,920 sources. Color was excellent, with rich crimson reds and nonyellow greens. The Warm color-temperature setting came reasonably close to the 6,500K standard, and after " 4520-7874_1-5108543-3.html"="">calibration, it was tuned to near perfection. One minor anomaly did appear during setup. The contrast control would clip light areas of the image, obscuring detail in whites, if set to more than 53 out of 100. Usually a projector clips or crushes detail at a setting that is much closer to its maximum.
The Sony's optics yielded a sharp image, although there were some chromatic aberrations, which appeared as some colored fringing around white lines, visible from a viewing position close to the screen. This was not an issue at the optimum viewing distance for 1080p displays (3.2 times the screen height), which on a 92-inch-diagonal screen worked out to a viewing distance of about 11 feet. White-field uniformity was good but not perfect, but the slight color imbalance in white areas was not notable with real-world content, only with test signals.
After looking at test material, we moved on to sample DVD content. The built-in scaler did an admirable job of scaling standard-definition content to 1080p--the best we've seen to date on a front projector that costs less than $10,000. Black levels were admirably deep, and colors looked excellent.
Next we changed to high-definition sources, beginning with broadcast HDTV. The Sony did a tremendous job with broadcast content, providing outstanding images that showed every detail and every flaw. As with every other 1080p display we've seen, the high native resolution exposes broadcast MPEG-2 compression artifacts in the source, such as mosquito noise, seen as wispiness around objects and people. These aren't the Sony's fault, or course.
The ultimate viewing experience came when we connected the Sony VPL-VW100 to a Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player. We watched a variety of HD-DVDs, including Serenity, The Last Samurai, Apollo 13, Training Day, and Rumor Has It, allowing the Sony to de-interlace the HD-DVD player's 1080i output. The image was outstanding--crisp and clear without the compression artifacts seen on broadcast HD. When displaying such a high-quality source, the Sony provided the sharpest, most amazing front-projection home-viewing experience we've seen to date.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,230/6,305K||Good|
|After color temp||6,460/6,470K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 200K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 19K||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|