Sony VPL-VW50 “Pearl” 1080p Home Theater Projector Review: Overview

We have another winner!

I’m certainly convinced. The Sony, which I had seen many times at shows, always impressed, but I always have reservations seeing under manufacturer arranged conditions. For all the reasons stated below, the Sony VPL-VW50 easily earns our Hot Product Award, but most importantly because everything just looks natural. And I might note, the Pearl is now my favorite under $5000 1080p home theater projector.

Click to enlarge. SO close

It’s not perfect of course, nothing is, but it is about as close to “invisible” as affordable 1080p projectors come. By invisible, I mean, you find yourself enjoying the content, and just don’t notice that you are watching a projector that is “coloring” that content.

Click Image to Enlarge

Of the things I considered as potential weaknesses, before receiving the projector for review, the two significant ones were sharpness and brightness.

Once adjusted, this Sony home theater projector is a pure pleasure to watch. It is one of those projectors that just looks “right.” On movies, the magic term is “film- like”, and the Sony really does have that film-like quality.

Flesh tones, looked just great! Whether watching Ian as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, or Morgan Freeman in Batman Begins, or Clint Eastwood in Space Cowboys, everything just worked!

I am pleased to report, that despite the slight softness to the Sony VW-50 – the “Pearl”, sharpness is more than adequate. Some other 1080p projectors are actually a bit sharper, but never drastically so. As I have mentioned earlier, set up a Sony VW-50 in your theater, and you’ll never know. It looks very sharp – unless you are comparing it side by side with one of the units that have the edge on it.

That takes us to my other reservation – brightness. Let’s start by saying that it’s as bright, actually a touch brighter, than the other sub-$5000 1080p projectors on the market. The others (under $5000 US) are the Panasonic PT-AE1000U and the Mitsubishi HC5000. The more expensive DLP projectors – from Optoma and BenQ (reviewed so far), are brighter, but not dramatically so. Still they have enough extra muscle to let you choose a larger screen (not much larger – 10″ diagonal perhaps), or fight a little more ambient light. The Sony will be most at home with 106″ diagonal screens or smaller, but with the right room, positioning and screen, no problem with 110″ and maybe even up to 123″ (a common large size).

An important consideration in terms of screen size and brightness will definitely be where you place the projector in your room. If you can manage to place it fairly close (normally that means ceiling mounting), then you can get out maximum lumens and go for the larger screen. If you are wall mounting in a long room, using the telephoto end of the zoom, well, you are giving up a lot of lumens, and you will want to stay with that 106, or even better, 100″ or smaller.

Before I list the pros, cons, and areas of typical capabilities, here’s how I see it stack up against the other 4 1080p projectors reviewed so far, and a bit of speculation on two due in shortly for review.

Sony VW50 vs. Panasonic PT-AE1000U

Both exhibit a touch of softness, both have effectively invisible pixel structures, both are similar ergonomically in terms of placement with zoom lenses offering a lot of range. The Panasonic has more vertical lens shift, and also has horizontal lens shift. Out of the box, the Panasonic’s colors are better, but that’s easily fixable with the Sony projector. In terms of brightness neither can claim being particularly bright, but the Sony does have the advantage in best modes. The Sony also has better black levels and shadow detail. Both rely on dynamic iris’es for maximum contrast and black levels, and the Sony, like the Panasonic PT-AE1000U have modes which make the iris’es operation barely detectable even on the type of scenes and scene changes that bring out that limitation.

The Sony costs more, but, at least it has a respectable warranty – 2 years vs. the Panasonic’s single year. Overall, though I favor the Sony, some will opt for the Panasonic simply for being another really good projector, one that costs between $500 and $1000 less (with the current Panasonic rebate in play).

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