Sony VPL-HW10 vs. Panasonic PT-AE3000
Although these two projectors use different technologies, they are similar in more ways than not. Although the Panasonic PT-AE3000 picked up a Best In Class award, the Sony VPL-HW10, is a very good alternative. More to the point, those that tend to favor the PT-AE3000 compared to say the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB, are likely to be the same folks that also favor the Sony VPL-HW10 over the Epson, and others.
March 2009 - Art Feierman
PT-AE3000 vs. VPL-HW10 - An Overview
Where to start? Both projectors typically sell for less than $3000, but well more than $2000. Still, the Sony will typically (at the time of this writing), be several hundred dollars more expensive.
Both offer very good, to excellent placement flexibility, and both are relatively film-like. Each however has strengths relative to the other, so, while we granted our Best In Class award to the Panasonic, and no award to the Sony, the Sony we still see as a projector that will be favored by a number of folks comparing the two, as it may well be the better choice for their own circumstances.
Both are three chip devices. The Panasonic uses LCD technology, while the Sony uses LCoS (which Sony calls SXRD). The Panasonic has more interesting features, but the Sony has all the standard stuff, and implements everything rather well.
Let's get the cosmetics out of the way. The Sony VPL-HW10 is a really good looking projector physically, longer than wider, mostly finished in a shiny black piano finish (with dark gray in the front). The Panasonic PT-AE3000, although similar in overall size, is wider than deep, and finished in a flat gray. The Panasonic is certainly drab and industrial looking compared to the Sony's more impressive looks. The thing is, once the lights go down, who cares, it's the picture that counts.
Both projectors have a center mounted zoom lens. The PT-AE3000's lens is motorized, the Sony's is manual. The Panasonic lens offers more placement range with a 2:1 zoom compared to a more limited 1.6:1 for the Sony. Both offer manual lens shift.
Without a doubt, the Panasonic is the more flexible. For a 100 inch diagonal screen, they can both be as close as 10 feet (the two projectors vary by only 2 inches in terms of how close). It's the maximum distance that is markedly different. For that screen size, the Sony can only be as far back as 16.3 feet, while the Panasonic can be 19.8 feet. What that means to you, is that if you want to shelf mount, many of you will not be able to shelf mount the Sony in deeper rooms. In squarish rooms both should work fine. When it comes to lens shift, again, the Panasonic has a distinct advantage, which comes into play if you have higher ceilings. The Sony VPL-HW10 can be mounted as high as 7 inches above the top of that 100" screen, while the Panasonic can go as high as 24.5 inches. If you have a high ceiling, then the Sony HW10 will have to be hanging down lower on an extension pole, by that difference of about 1.5 feet.
Looking from the front, the control panel of the Sony is on the side (left), while the Panasonic has theirs behind a spring loaded door on the right. Sony's is small and a little harder to operate than the more traditional layout of the Panasonic, but, really, no one should care very much about those differences.
The VPL-HW10 has its input panel on the side, below the control panel, while the Panasonic PT-AE3000 has theirs in the back. Which you prefer, is a personal choice.
The Pansonic PT-AE3000, however, has 3 HDMI inputs compared to two for the Sony HW10.
One key difference is that the Panasonic not only has internal support for an optional anamorphic lens, but has its anamorphic lens emulation mode. The Sony VPL-HW10, much like the Epson 6500UB, does not internally support an anamorphic lens, and would require an outboard processor (think $800+) to use one.
Ultimately, the Panasonic PT-AE3000 wins the placement flexibility battle. We consider it excellent with "Greatest flexibility", while we ranked the Sony VPL-HW10 as "Good flexibility".
Comparing the Projectors' Picture Quality
Image quality is number one on my list of what's important. The critical areas here, are black level performance, shadow detail, post calibration color accuracy, sharpness, and the overall look and feel of the picture.
While we aren't that concerned with "out of the box" picture quality, as in final adjusted performance, it's always nice to start with really good image. We said this about the Sony HW10: "is pretty good out of the box, but, with calibration, performance improvement is readily apparant". The PT-AE3000, by comparison, was described as: "before any adjustments were made, yielded very good color accuracy. In fact, very little needed to be done to the color settings when we calibrated the projector. Still, calibration did yield a small, but real improvement."
In other words, the Sony is pretty good, right out of the box, and the Panasonic, a bit better, but to get your money's worth, get either calibrated, or, at least, try our settings posted in the calibration section of the individual reviews.
Skin Tone Accuracy:
This is another area where the two projectors are about equal. After our calibraton, the Panasonic looked great, but with the slightest red or rather pinkish shift to skin tones. By comparison, the Sony tends to be just a touch cool, a tiny bit thin on reds. Both look very good by themselves, the differences are most noticeable side by side. Because we could not get the two identical in brightness, the Sony is a touch brighter, which in this side by side, is washing out the contrast a bit.
Black level performance:
For all side-by-side images, the VPL-HW10 is on the left, PT-AE3000, on the right.
The Sony HW-10 wins the battle of black levels, but not by a great amount. They are close enough in this regard, that while black level performance should weigh into your final decision, the differences are small enough not to be a huge factor. Both are what we call "ultra-high-contrast" (UHC) projectors. Forget the contrast specs, the Sony sports really high numbers (30:000:1) while the Panasonic claims more than twice that. The bottom line, despite that, is that the Sony is better. In the first image below, you are looking at a black transition frame between two scenes. First, forget the brighter bluish areas in the Panasonic's upper left and lower right corners. That type of uneveness in the background is common on pre-production samples such as the one we received for review. Even disregarding that, the Sony is a bit better. The other factor is that both projectors rely on dynamic irises to achieve the best blacks on dark scenes, but black frames typically demonstrate the differences when both irises are shut down the maximum amount. Some projectors will close down a lot more on black scenes, but on dark scenes, the amount they close down may be similar. Thus, other images must be considered to get the best feel for the blacks under typical dark scenes.
The second image is a mixed scene, with little bright area. The image you see is significantly overexposed to show shadow detail. In that scene from Bond, you can see that the blacks are roughly comparable.
The third image is the overexposed Starship, from The Fifth Element. This is a very good scene for comparison, and you can again, see that the black background of space, is darker on the Sony.
Bottom line: A definite win for the VPL-HW10, but not a big one.
When it comes to shadow detail, now the Panasonic has the slightest advantage. You can start by looking at the shadow detail in the Bond office scene above. Better still is the classic night train scene (also from Casino Royale). Look to the shrubs behind the railroad track in the lower right. Note that the Sony image is the slightly brighter, but the Panasonic still reveals about as much dark shadow detail. The Sony does a rather excellent job, but the Panasonic may be incrementally a touch better.
The image above (seriously overexposed) lets you look at the details in the trees on the left, and the roof. Again, the Sony image (left) is slightly brighter.
All considered, lets call them a tie, despite what I believe to be the slightest advantage by the Panasonic. Certainly, they are so close in this regard, as to be a non-factor in a decsion between these two.
Neither projector is perfect, but both are impressively good. After our calibration, the Panasonic is a touch pinkish red, and the Sony, the opposite, with the slightest shift to brown and blue. A different calibration of both, might result in different results. In other words, both calibrate equally well, and the slight differences between them are almost arbitrary, based on final calibration settings. Between the two, with our settings, I am hard pressed to pick a winner, but it might well be the Panasonic. That call is based on my impressions during individual viewing of both projectors, rather than trying to make a call looking at the two side by side, where they are more different than better/worse.
Sony VPL-HW10 vs. Panasonic PT-AE3000: Overall Picture Quality
Despite the Sony's slight advantage in terms of black levels, I have to consider these two a tie.
The Sony is a classic LCoS projector. As such, there is almost no difference in brightness between Best and Brightest modes. The Sony is definitely brighter (604 lumens) than average in "best" mode, and about twice as bright as the Panasonic, when comparing those modes. On the other hand, when you need a bright mode to cut through ambient light, the Panasonic has the definite advantage. One thing the PT-AE3000 has going for it is a very good intermediate mode, with brightness rivaling the Sony's "best" mode. Still, this mode cannot match the Sony in black level and overall picture quality, though it comes close.
In brighest modes, the Panasonic measures 824 lumens compared to the Sony's 629 lumens.
Overall, this makes the Sony the stronger projector (in terms of brightness) for those who are focused on movie viewing. Those who will be watching a wider array of content, including sports and general HDTV viewing will favor the Panasonic for the extra almost 25% more lumens in "brightest."
What about sharpness.
Another area where the two are essentially tied! Both are average in sharpness, which, is still really sharp.
It is the feature set of the PT-AE3000 where the Panasonic holds a significant advantage over Sony's VPL-HW10.
Panasonic PT-AE3000 Anamorphic lens emulation
I discuss this in depth elsewhere in the Report, as well as in the Panasonic PT-AE3000's individual review. Therefore, I'll keep the discussion here, to an overview. As most of you know, most movies are shot in Cinemascope - with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, a shape significantly wider than the 16:9 HDTV standard aspect ratio that is native for all home theater projectors. This leaves you with a letterbox (dark gray area) on your 16:9 screen, above and below the movie content. To get rid of that, you need a wider screen (2.35:1), and a stretching of the image horizontally with an anamorphic lens. You'll also want a motorized sled for that lens, to move it out of the way for 16:9 and 4:3 content. Problem is, an anamorphic lens and sled combination costs more than either of these projectors.
Panasonic's solution is to let you change the zoom for different aspect ratios. By having the ability to save different lens settings, this makes things practical for folks to go with that Cinemascope shaped screen. It's not a perfect solution - those dark gray letterbox areas are still there, but above and below a Cinemascope lens, and essentially invisible if your wall around the screen is dark. The other limitation is that with a real lens/sled combination, the projector uses every pixel for the movie, but with Panasonic's method, only about 80% are used, so the real anamorphic lens solution is about 20% brighter. To allow this to work, it also limits the usable range of the zoom to about half of the 2:1 ratio of the lens.
Very few people go with an anamorphic lens, and I doubt that many buying the Panasonic will pair it with a Cinemascope shaped screen, but the feature is a nice one, and there for those who desire it.
By comparison, the Sony will require an outboard processor to support an anamorphic lens. That all by itself, would make the Sony (plus processor such as the DVDO Edge), about $1000 more than the Panasonic. Thus, for those considering an anamorphic lens, the clear advantage goes to the Panasonic.
Creative Frame Interpolation
No contest. The Panasonic offers the best CFI of the few projectors that offer it. The Sony is not one of those. I do like the Panasonic's CFI for sports viewing, and on some other content, although I consider CFI to be a minor feature.
There are times when CFI on the Panasonic makes movies look too digital - what I refer to as being like "live digital video". In such cases the PT-AE3000's CFI is over the top, in my book. Still, you only need to use it when you want to. By comparison, the Sony offers no CFI. Again, a minor plus for the Panasonic for most, and more significant for some. A win for the PT-AE3000.
Color Management is good on both projectors, but the Panasonic has a selection of tools that will thrill those who like to tweak, including a split screen feature to show before/after, as you change settings.
Sony VPL-HW10 vs. PT-AE3000 Bottom Line:
I'll finish this, where I started. We have here, two very comparable projectors, more similar than different. In overall picture quality they are about equal, despite the modest black level advantage of the Sony VPL-HW10.
The Sony is better for those who are completely focused on the best movie viewing image, while those watching a mixed assortment of content, may favor the Panasonic for the extra lumens in brightest mode. If you are one of those who focuses just on movies, the Sony can easily handle a screen one or two sizes larger, but if you need to deal with ambient light for non-movie viewing, than you'll lean to the Panasonic.
I think it really boils down to this. The PT-AE3000 tied with the Epson for top honors in this category, the Sony did not pick up an award. I see the reasons as follows:
The Panasonic has more placement flexibility. It has the assorted anamorphic related features, while the Sony needs an outboard processor. Panasonic offers a good (the best so far) creative frame interpolation abilities, while the Sony has none. The Panasonic has more lumens for dealing with ambient light. The PT-AE3000 projector is one of the quieter projectors when it comes to audible noise, and the Sony HW10, while in the same category, is a touch noisier.
But, if you are a movie focused individual, and don't worry about having some lights on for sports and HDTV viewing, you will likely favor the Sony, thanks to the brighter "best" mode, and slight black level performance advantage.
The Panasonic should have wider overall appeal, but those buying the Sony for the reasons I have stated, should prove to definitely be pleased with their choice, and likely would not be as enthusiast with the Panasonic.