Sony VPL-VW60 Home Theater Projector Review: Overview and Physical Attributes

Perhaps the Blu-ray movie I’m having the most fun with in reviews these days is the newest Bond flick, Casino Royale. The new Bond, is very photogenic, and the movie offers many good opportunities to view him under different lighting conditions. So, here are three images of Bond: the first, in bright sunlight, the second, under flourescent lights, and the third, outdoors in the shade.

As you can see from these images, the Sony does a great job on all three, and you can definitely feel that each image reflects the type of lighting present when the images were taken.

I’m not sure where to comment on this, but since we are in the color sections of the Image Quality page, this is as good a place as any, to discuss a potential issue.

The Sony VW60 unlike its predecessor, and like all the new crop of 1080p projectors to come out in the last few months, supports HDMI 1.3. Older projectors suppor the older 1.2 standard. Now, 1.3 offers a number of additional capabilities, many of which relate to audio, and are not relevant to projectors, but one key capability is that the HDMI 1.3 standard supports Deep Color, something that has not yet started appearing in hi-def discs, but certainly will. with Deep Color, the bandwidth is wider, and the HDMI interface can pass much larger color palettes – billions of colors. While the differences are subtle, this is a very desireable feature. As of right now, Sony tells me, that while their HDMI inputs are 1.3, the projector’s color system can’t handle Deep Color. Whether that can be changed/fixed with a firmware patch, I don’t know. This will be an issue in most 1080 projectors so I plan to go back and query the manufacturers of the all the new 1080p projectors I’ve reviewed this fall.

Sony VPL-VW60 Projector: Black Levels and Shadow Detail

Sony VPL-VW60 Black Levels

Sony has improved black level performance over the VW50. First, the projector claims 35,000:1 contrast up from the older model’s 15,000:1. Part of this is due to an improved Auto Iris 2 mode, and part due to newer LCoS panels.

And black level has definitely improved, although not as much as the specs would let you believe.

In a perfect world you want to get pure blacks in any scene, regardless of how bright the overall scene is. Unfortunately no fixed pixel device (LCD, DLP or LCoS) can produce black (or rather put nothing on the screen when black is called for, since black is the absence of color). As manufacturers try with each new generation to improve native contrast, the end result is blacker blacks, but most projectors aren’t satisfied with only the best the panel (or chip) technology can offer. As a result, all LCD 1080p projectors, as well as the Sony (LCoS) and several DLP projectors, add dynamic irises to the mix. This allows blacks to be much blacker still, but only if there are no bright areas on the screen. If a scene is 95% dark, and the other 5% is pure white, the iris cannot stop down to lower blacks, for, if it did, the bright white (or bright red…) would also dim.

The Sony VW60 takes advantage of both excellent native blacks of its new LCoS chips and combines it with a dynamic iris. Overall the results are excellent.

But, not necessarily the best.

Last year the VW50 was bested by the JVC, who does it all with their LCoS panel technology, and no dynamic iris. This year, I’m pleased to report, that the Sony VW60 is sufficiently improved that it is roughly equal to the JVC overall. In some cases (those very dark scenes with no bright areas) it may actually outperform the JVC RS1. The ultimate challenge, though is not the RS1 this time around, but JVC’s RS2, which is supposed to be shipping this month. It too has improved black levels, and claims 30,000:1 contrast, and does so without a dynamic iris.

Unfortunately, we had hoped that the JVC RS2 would arrive for review before I posted this review, but it’s not to be. If it does come in, in the next couple of days, I will get to run the Sony VW60 and the JVC RS2 side by side, and will report on that in the JVC review. Back to the Sony’s black levels.

The most important statement is this: Not one of the other new 1080p projectors reviewed in the last few months (Sharp, Sanyo, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Optoma HD81-LV, and so on) can match the Sony in terms of black level performance. So, it would seem beating it is up to the soon expected JVC, but also, the new Epson Home Cinema 1080UB, also expected in this month. The Epson is LCD, and is claiming 50,000:1, so things should be interesting. But now, let’s look at some images:

Blacks were very black, overall, some would describe as “inky” black. One flaw noted, however, and that is, that in the darkest blacks there seems to always be the slightest shift to blue. Oh, it’s barely there at most, and you might not notice it, except in the letterbox area of a movie, but this shift to a cool color (blue) is in line with what we saw when measuring the grayscale. This is perhaps the most serious flaw in terms of black level performance, and it is minor.

Thanks to the very dark blacks, the stars in the space scenes really stand out. Not only are they all there (not crushed – unless you go to gamma 3 mode), but they stand out as they only can when a projector has a high native contrast ratio.

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