Sony VPL-AW15 Bravia Home Theater Projector – Overview

Sony AW15 Bravia - Black levels and shadow detail

Sony claims a dazzling 12:000:1 contrast ratio (the lower cost AW10, claims 6000:1). Once again, this proves that the contrast ratio spec, once considered a pretty direct correlation to how good a projector is at approaching blacks and corresponding black levels, has become an ineffective measure of black level performance. Thanks to dynamic systems, many projectors are cranking out incredible contrast ratios, but no longer does that indicate really black blacks. Dynamic systems work best in scenes where there are no bright areas. Irises can be closed down, lowering black levels, and the brighter areas equalized upward to maintain the original brightness. Great, but it doesn’t do much, or any good, if the scene has an area that is pure white, or full intensity of any color. The reason is simple, as the iris closes, those whites and full colors have to get darker – less light is allowed through the lens. Bottom line, you can improve black levels on all dark scenes but on typical scenes where there are bright areas, they are rarely effective.

Mind you, this is not the first, but one of many projectors like this – high contrast ratios and “ok” black level performance. Almost all LCD home theater projectors qualify. It is, however, the 12000:1 spec, which I have also seen on the Epson Home and Pro Cinema 1080′s that makes me take issue. These projectors (Sony or Epson) on a typical scene cannot begin to match the black levels of the better DLP projectors, even though those DLP’s don’t claim anywhere near as high a contrast ratio.

Shown immediately above, from The Fifth Element, is our starship image. The Sony does very nicely here, and also reveals a better than average number of stars.

So, how good is the Sony AV15 at black levels. The answer is – not bad at all for a low cost projector, just don’t expect it to match the performance of some DLP models that cost about the same or more, notably, two selling for around $1500; the Optoma HD73, Mitsubishi HC3000, and certainly it is no match for the BenQ PE-8720 (which is twice the price).

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Above, from Space Cowboys (Blu-ray DVD), again the black levels proved to be very good, but not truly spectacular. Another useful image (also from Space Cowboys) is from the Re-entry sequence. Click on the first thumbnail image below for a look at an overexposed version of the Sony. Clicking on the second one will bring up an overexposed version of a similar frame from the DLP Optoma HD73. The AW15 does very well here, however this is overall a dark scene without any really fill white areas, thus the dynamic iris can work pretty effectively. Unfortunately, this two frames are several seconds apart, so the lighting in the shadow areas is different, but you can see that the Sony, and the Optoma are similar, despite the Sony claiming twice the contrast ratio!

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