Sony VPL-AW15 Bravia, LCD Home Theater Projector Review: General Performance
User Memory Settings
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
SDE and Rainbow Effect
Audible Noise Levels
Lamp Life and Replacement
Projector Screen Recommendations
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Menus
I generally like the way Sony set up their menus. They cram a lot of items in the Picture menu, and its sub-menus. Unlike most projectors, lamp brightness is even in there, a real plus in my opinion.
For those that like to play with settings, this Sony has plenty to amuse you.
Of course, the Picture menu has the usual Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness settings, but also those for Color Temperature, Black Level controls, Gamma Correction, and more.
The first main submenu, is the Picture Mode, inside of the Picture Menu (Ok, even I'm confused). Shown here, it offers three standard modes. Dynamic, for when you need all the lumens the AW15 can scrape up, a standard mode, probably best suitable for TV watching, and, of course, a Cinema mode.
In addition, there are three user savable settings.
The Cinema Black Pro submenu, is a tasty one, for, within it, you will find control of options for the Sony's dynamic iris. Overall, though I found that Sony did a good job on the Iris functions, and was only ever to spot it at work on the right type of scene transitions, and only when I was looking for the telltales.
From inside the Cinema Black Pro submenu, you can also chose between the Lamp's high and low settings. I would have preferred that Lamp options be right on the main Picture menu, instead of buried in the Cinema Black Pro, but I find it still bette than putting it on a separate "main" menu.
The Color Temp menu is an important one. In addition to the three color temperature choices - High, Middle and Low, there are three Custom settings, each allowing your to modify separate R,G, and B settings.
Below you can see the usual separate Gain and Bias settings for each primary color.
In addition, here's a look (below) at the Gamma settings submenu, which offers you a choice of three separate gamma curves, which will affect how light or dark the middle ranges of brightness appear, with little to no effect on nearly fully bright and fully dark areas.
For your consideration, I have provided images of both the Installation main menu, and the Setup main menu.
The Installation menu offers keystone correction control (best avoided, since it slightly degrades the image). Of course, since the AW15 has horizontal and vertical lens shift, you shouldn't need keystone correction at all. From this menu, you can also set the position type for the projector - front or rear screen, ceiling mount (inverted) or table.
The Setup menu let's you choose menu language, fan settings, standby mode, auto select for the inputs, and provides lamp information.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: User Memory Settings
As mentioned above, the Sony AW15 has 3 User Savable Settings, these will take into consideration, not just the changes to made to various settings like contrast, but also the Custom RGB settings which can be saved separately, and become part of the overall User setting. Overall, a decent setup, but I prefer projectors to have a few more user savables, especially for those with lots of different sources, and different lighting conditions. Of course the average user, may not even use them at all.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Remote Control
I liked the Sony's remote control, in general. It puts the backlight button on the top left, easy to find in the dark. Next to it, the Input (source select) and on the top right, the Power button. (One for on, twice for off).
The next row includes controls for Freeze frame (nice), Auto Picture (for computer images). This can be set to automatic in the menus, but the button here, easily allows you to have it redo the settings if less than perfect. Last is the PC muting.
Below that is the main control panel, with the four arrow key layout, and centered Enter button. I didn't like the Reset button being right there, however, where it is easy enough to hit by mistake. The large blue button is the Menu button.
Immediately below, are what Sony calls RCP - Real Color Processing. It consists of three buttons, from the left, the Wide mode (strangely named) controls the Aspect ratio of the image. the RCP in the center opens up Sony's sophisticated color control system, which, by the way, is not available on the less expensive AW10 projector.
The RCP allows you to fine tune the color balance of each of the primary and secondary colors (red, green, blue, and cyan, yellow and magenta.
On the right is the Adjust Pic button which allows you to toggle through all the menu items found on the Picture menu, such as brightness contrast, lamp, iris, etc. In each case, it brings up a small menu at the bottom of the screen.
OK, that takes us to the next two rows, which are discreet buttons for each color mode: Cinema, Dynamic, Standard, User 1,2, and 3.
After that there are only two more (larger) buttons one for brightness, and one for contrast.
The Sony remote control is not exceptionally large, but easy to navigate with one hand. Overall, a very good and functional remote.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Lens Throw and Lens Shift
As noted in the Physical Tour, the Sony's 1.6:1 zoom offers very good placement flexibility. Far better than any of the competing DLP projectors even if it is less than most of the other home theater projectors in its price range. Measured from the front of the lens the Sony AW15 can be as close as 9 feet 8 inches, or as far back as 15 feet 8.25 inches.
The Sony also offers horizontal and vertical lens shift, and, as is typical, one affects the other. If you are using vertical only (as do most people), the range is +/- 65% of the screen height. For example a 100 inch diagonal 16:9 screen has a vertical height of 49" and change. (we'll assume 50" here, for round numbers). This wil allow the projector to be placed as high as 12.5 inches above the top of the screen surface, to as low as 12.5 inches below the bottom.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Screen Door and Rainbow Effects
Since the Sony is an LCD projector, it has no color wheel, and therefore no potential for the rainbow effect that a small percentage of the population can detect.
Screen Door Effect, on the other hand, is typical of 720p LCD projectors. You'll probably want to sit a good 1.5 times screen width back to minimize pixel visibility to things like credits and other titling, as well as large stationary bright (whitish) areas. Those of you "pixel adverse, will want to sit further back. (Note, this is the advantage of DLP projectors, as you can typically sit at least 25% closer before you see the same sliight pixel visibility.) Most of us, at 1.5x screen width, just won't notice the pixel structure at all, unless looking for it, and of course, those pesky white credits on a black background so typical at the end of movies, where you will be able to notice it (but who cares).
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Light Leakage
I didn't notice any overt issue, but, as I mentioned at the start of this review, I got to spend far less time doing general viewing than normal. Still, if there was a real problem, I should have noticed it.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Audible Noise Levels
In low power mode Sony claims an exceptionally quiet 20 db. That's about as close to silent as we have come. Even in full lamp power mode, where the fan ramps up, the Sony remains pretty quiet, although the jump in noise level is, I would guess, a bit more than some other projectors. At worst, though, in full power mode, the Sony is significantly quieter than the typical DLP projector, and about average compared to competing LCD projectors. The bottom line here, is that audible noise is not an issue.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Brightness
Alas! Sony just doesn't seem to be "into" building bright home theater projectors. The Sony is possibly the least bright 720p projector we have tested in some time. There are projectors out there that are drastically brighter, like the Panasonic PT-AX100U, the Epson Home Cinema 400, and the Optoma HD72. All of which can "blow away" the Sony, in this regard, and therefore work better with larger screens, or a bit more ambient light in the room.
From a numbers standpoint: Best mode - Cinema, the AW15 puts out only 281 lumens in low lamp mode, but a much more respectable 444 lumens with lamp on high (that's a significantly larger difference between lamp modes, than found on most other projectors. All other lumen measurements below were with the Lamp on High power.
Standard Mode, with Color Temp set to Middle, lamp on full power yields 488 lumens, not exactly what I would call a bright projector.
A more dissapointing showing still, for a projector claiming over 1000 lumens, is the measurement of the AW15 in Dynamic mode.
Dissapointing, but not shocking, considering many projectors don't hit their claims. This Sony, though performs worse than average in that regard with only 653 lumens. Note that the slightly higher rated Epson Home Cinema 400 easily beat it's spec, making it more than twice as bright as the Sony (and that is a huge difference). Also consider the not drastically more expensive Panasonic PT-AX100U which actually beat its spec slightly with more than 2000 lumens - three times as bright!
For these measurements the zoom lens was set as close to the middle position as I could get it, so it will be a bit brighter in full wide angle, and dimmer in full telephoto.
Since I mentioned the Sanyo PLV-Z5 as a direct competitor, and another one of the dimmer projectors; even the PLV-Z5 looks bright by comparison. It has a lot more modes, but consider. Best mode (full power lamp) Pure Cinema 262 lumens with iris closed, 304 open.
However it has a nice compromise brighter Cinema mode called Brilliant Cinema, that can put out 540 lumens. And when you need real "horsepower", it's Vivid mode does 861, and Dynamic mode 963, about 45% brighter than the Sony. The Sanyo PLV-Z5's Livingroom mode, which might be the closest to the Standard mode on the Sony, recorded 559 lumens.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Lamp Life and Replacement
Sony is one of the few projector manufacturers that does not publish average lamp life specifications. (Another that comes to mind is Sanyo.) Therefore the best I can do is suggest that lamp life performance is average, which would be around 2000 hours with lamp in full power mode (which most of you would use, since the Sony isn't that bright to begin with.
In low power mode, lamp life would probably increase to 2500 to 3000 hours, which is typical. Truth is, lamps vary significantly in life expectancy. Having a 2000 hour rated lamp, doesn't guaranty 2000 hours life. In fact, probably half of the lamps would not make it to 2000 hours, and probably 25% wouldn't make it to 1500 hours. There are, however, no reliable numbers in the industry, to provide more accurate predictions.
As to replacing the lamp, the door for the lamp, is on the bottom of the projector, and will be partially covered by a ceiling mount. As a result, to replace the lamp, the Sony AW15 projector will have to be unmounted from the ceiling mount.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Projector Screen Recommendations
With its good black levels, and less than stellar brightness, I would generally recommend a white surface screen, with a gain of 1.0 to 1.4. You can, of course go with higher gain screens, keeping aware of the tendency for them to hot spot a bit, and to have a narrow viewing cone. Remember, if you go with a higher gain screen - say 1.8 or higher, such tendencies are greater, if the projector is mounted closer to the screen. As a result, there is a trade-off. Mounting the projector further back, produces a less bright image, but less of a hotspot and slightly wider viewing angle.
For a fixed screen, Carada's Brilliant White immediately comes to mind, along with one of Elite's white surface screens, and Da-lite's Cinemavision. I don't see the need for an "HC" - high contrast version. For pull-downs or motorized, Da-lite, Elite and others have various screens that will go well, and I would probably say go for the 1.3 to 1.5 gain rather than the 1.0 or 1.1 variety.
Assuming screens in that 1.3 gain range, I would not recommend the Sony AW15 to be paired with screens larger than 100" diagonal, even if you can fully darken your room. You can, of course go larger with a 1.8 or 2.5 gain screen, and are willing to "suffer" the limitations, that come with such high gain solutions. Another alternative is to look at some of the new breed of "lights on screens", but sadly they tend to cost a lot more than the Sony, so if you have the bucks there are other combinations of projector and screen that would serve you better.
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Calibration
Pretty straightforward. Out of the box, in Cinema mode, the color temperature was a little warm, especially in the lower ranges.
100 IRE 6482K
80 IRE 6532K
50 IRE 6202K
30 IRE 5871K
After applying the following changes to the RGB settings, adjusting the RGB came out this way:
RGB gain: Red 0, Green 0, Blue 0
RGB bias: Red -9, Green +1, Blue 0
100 IRE 6702
80 IRE 6735
50 IRE 6489
30 IRE 6387
This reduced the spread in color temperature from about 650K from top to bottom, to only 315K, very tight, and about as good as it gets.
Other notes, Dynamic mode is extremely cool, with Color Temp on High, a way too bluish, 10,725K temperature. Knocking down the color temp to 9485K, still too cool, dropped lumens to only 514, from 653. Since this is the "brute force" mode, you'll probably want the maximum lumens.
Standard mode, yielded a Color Temp of 8214K, very nice, just a little higher than the ideal range for TV viewing (typically between 7500K and 8000K), but more than acceptable, as visible in thisHD image from the Superbowl:
Sony VPL-AW15 Projector: Image NoiseIn the rush to get the Sony back to Sony quickly, before I left on vacation, I somehow never ran my Silicon Optix test disk, which has tests for jaggies, motion artifacts, general noise, and cadences. That said, I noticed no particular problems while viewing normal content.