Sony Cineza HS51A Review – Their latest LCD powered, home theater projector

I have mixed feelings about the Sony Cineza HS51A projector. There is no question that it is a very good projector, but it sells for significantly more than other popular LCD powered projectors, like Panasonic’s PT-AE900u and Sanyo’s PLV-Z4. At the same time, it is significantly less expensive than Epson’s excellent Pro Cinema 800. It does offer a slightly sharper image than the Panasonic or Epson, and comparable to the Sanyo Z4. Out of the box color accuracy, is not as good as the Panasonic or Epson Cinema 800, but better than the Sanyo.

As I stated, if you invest in a little effort calibrating the Sony, color accuracy can be as good as you can expect.

My real concern with the Sony, is not how it compares with the three other LCD projectors just mentioned, but how it compares with the slightly more expensive Optoma H78DC3, a Darkchip3 DLP projector that produces significantly better black levels and shadow detail. I should note that, out of the box, the Sony color accuracy (out of box) is definitely better than the Optoma projector. The Optoma, by virtue of being a DLP, also has less visible pixels, and as a result, no Screen Door Effect to speak of. The Sony, by comparison requires you to sit about 30% further back to have the same level of pixel visibility. Optoma’s H78DC3 is by far, the least expensive Darkchip3 projector currently shipping. If it wasn’t on the market, you would be spending at least $1000 more for any other Darkchip3 projector, and if that was the case, the Sony would have picked up one of our Hot Product Awards.

Pros

  • Very sharp image – at least as good as any LCD home theater projector we have tested
  • Lens shift (vertical and horizontal)
  • Post calibration color accuracy
  • 3 Preset modes, plus 3 User savable modes
  • Separate customizable R, G, B settings for gain and bias, in the color temperature menu
  • 4 Gamma settings to choose from
  • Good range on the zoom lens, makes shelf mounting practical
  • Good remote
  • Quiet in low power mode
  • The manual – it actually does a good job in explaining what all those options do, like the gamma modes, color temperature, and Auto Iris
  • 12 volt screen trigger

 

Cons

  • One of the least bright projectors around (in best mode)
  • Flesh tones are off, out of the box, needs some “tweaking”
  • Black levels and shadow detail do not rival the lowest cost DLP projectors with Darkchip3 DLPs
  • Price/Performance – Although the Sony is worth more than the lower cost LCD projectors, it just can’t match the price performance of the Optoma H78DC3 DLP projector which costs only sightly more.
  • A little noiser than most in high power mode

Typical

  • Warranty (2 years)
  • Menus – not bad, but the layout is nothing to “write home about”
  • Types of Inputs (although we would have liked to see a 2nd HDMI or Component video connector)
  • Lamp life
  • Vertical banding (this is an issue with most LCD home theater projectors). The banding on the Sony was not normally noticeable at normal seating distances, so this is a non-issue.

So, from what you have read, I like the Sony, but do believe that the Darkchip3 DLP projectors have the advantage. Of course, each technology has its limitations. While the LCD “powered” Sony has more visible pixels, the trade of is, that some people see the “rainbow effect” with DLP projectors. If you are one of those, then the Sony becomes your top choice at this price point. The Optoma H78DC3 is due for replacement soon by an HD7300. If the HD7300 comes out at a higher price, this would make the Sony a better overall value.

Finally, once I calibrated the projector, it really performed extremely well, with one of the most natural looking images around. Again, it got within one projector (Optoma H78DC3) of capturing a Hot Product Award. Alternately, if the street price was $300-$500 lower today, (putting it significantly less expensive than the Optoma), it would have received the award. Properly set up, the Sony is almost certain to exceed your expectations.

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