Sony VPL-AW15 Bravia Home Theater Projector – Overview

Sony offers a standard two year parts and labor warranty. There is no overnight replacement program. That makes the Sony warranty strictly average.

Among close competitors (price wise), Sanyo offers 3 years on the PLV-Z5, Epson’s Home Cinema 400 has two years, with a two year overnight replacement, Optoma offers two years on the HD72 and HD73, and even their sub-$1000 HD70. Mitsubishi offers 2 years on the HC3000, and one year on their sub-$1000 HD1000. Lastly Panasonic only offers one year parts and labor on their PT-AX100U, and InFocus, two years on their IN76.

Sony VPL-AW15 Bravia Projector Review: Summary, Pros, Cons

I’ll start off the summary with two key points. The Sony, on the plus side, offers a very pleasing image, with especially natural looking colors and flesh tones in its best, Cinema mode. The other major point, is that the Sony is anything but bright, and cannot handle larger screen sizes above 100″ diagonal, without you choosing particularly high gain screens and the limitations that come with them.

If, however, you are considering screen sizes between 82″ diagonal and 100″ diagonal, the Sony is worth considering, if you are more of the “purist”, concerned first and foremost with having a natural looking image.

Out of the box color is very good, but is easily improved, to excellent, with minor adjustments. Noise levels are very quiet, another plus, especially in the smaller rooms where smaller screens are more likely to be found. And, equally important, where you are more likely to be sitting closer to the projector than in larger rooms.

Despite the stunning claim of 12,000:1 for contrast, (thanks to the dynamic iris), black levels are not what you would expect with such a great contrast number. In fact, black levels are very good for a projector in this price range, but not outstanding. Shadow detail is, again, very good, but not spectacular. Although many of the low cost DLP projectors, overall, cannot match the Sony in black levels in dark scenes, some are comparable in mixed scenes with bright and dark areas. Look to projectors like the Optoma HD73 and Mitsubishi HC3000 to offer better black levels overall. The Sanyo, and Panasonic, are most similar in black level performance, and I’d definitely give the Sony the edge over the Epson Home Cinema 400. Entry level DLP projectors like the Optoma HD70 and Mitsubishi HD1000 (both DLPs) are not a match for the Sony in black level performance.

Brightness, though is the achilles heel of the Sony. If you are a sports fan, or like to watch some TV/HDTV with some lights on, the Sony just doesn’t have the muscle to compete with other projectors. Although it’s best mode is similar to other “not bright” home theater projectors, it is especially lacking in horsepower in its brightest modes.

Sony VPL-AW15 Pros

  • Very natural and pleasing image, with excellent color balance
  • Very good black levels
  • Very good shadow detail
  • Good range on zoom lens (but not as good as a couple of others) with a 1.6:1 zoom ratio
  • Excellent lens shift – both vertical and horizontal, with a maximum range of 65% of screen height (up or down)
  • Good remote control
  • Excellent menus
  • Extremely good color management
  • Very quiet
  • Sharp image – not the sharpest, but better than average

Sony VPL-AW15 Cons

  • Very “not bright” projector, which limits it to smaller screens and rooms with excellent lighting control
  • To change lamp, must remove from ceiling mount (assuming you have ceiling mounted it – of course)
  • Pixel visibility (typical of 720p LCD projectors, but no match for the DLP competitors)
  • No 12 volt screen trigger
  • Only one HDMI input

Sony VPL-AW15 Typical Capabilities

  • User manual
  • Lamp life (assumed – Sony does not publish lamp life specs)
  • 2 year warranty
  • Styling
  • Ease of use
  • Inputs (one HDMI, one computer…)
  • Price Performance

Sony AW15 Summary - the Bottom Line

In this case, it’s the lumens. As it stands, the Sony is a well designed projector with very impressive image quality, but one that simply isn’t bright enough for most people’s rooms. I have no doubt that if the projector was 30%-50% brighter in all modes, (making it about average), it would have received our Hot Product Award. it’s limitations in this regard, make me think that a high percentage of buyers will cross the Sony from their list, nevermind those opting for one of the exceptionally bright (for a home theater projector) “light cannons”, like the Epson Cinema 400, Panasonic PT-AX100U, and Optoma HD72.

Celebration image from the Sony VPL-AW15 Bravia projector.

Even among the less powerful projectors, the Sony is good but not a real standout. It’s naturalness of image is probably its greatest strength, but it lacks the “wow factor” that others have. In fairness that wow factor is probably due to being less “natural” and offering up a more dynamic image. It is an interesting trade-off for some.

End zone image from the Sony VPL-AW15 Bravia projector.

Perhaps pricing dynamics are the other strength of the AW15, but since it won’t be shipping for about another month, that remains to be seen. With its $1299 (or $1295?) list price, it may very well sell for well below that price point, we shall see. Around the $1300 mark there is a lot of serious competition, but if this Sony comes close to $1000, it then becomes the least expensive projector with its level of black level performance. The low cost Optoma and Mitsubishi entry level projectors cannot touch it’s blacks.

Phantom actors image from the Sony VPL-AW15 Bravia projector.

So, who should buy the Sony AW15 Bravia, that’s pretty easy. I’d say the “purist” class of buyer, one interested in primarily in movie watching, as TV with some lights on viewing is definitely not a Sony strength at all.

As I have said, several times, it is the Sony’s natural and pleasing image quality (and good sharpness), that is the one area where the Sony stands out. If that’s you, a serious movie watcher, in a smaller light controlled room, on a 100″ or less screen, then I expect you will really enjoy owning the AW15.

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