Sony Cineza HS51A - Image Quality
First, I should say, that when I receive a projector for review that comes straight from the manufacturer, I normally know if it is a full production projector or pre-production. In this case, I just don't know. The Sony HS51A came with a photocopied manual, which could mean pre-production, or just that (the reviewer who had it before me, didn't return the manual. I'm also used to receiving projectors with very low mileage, typically either brand new, or with 50 hours or less on the lamps. This Sony projector, however came with 255 hours on the lamp. That could be good or bad, as lamps dim over time. In this case, the Sony is probably not as bright as a brand new one, but also probably outputs only a little more brightness than it will when it has a thousand or more hours on it. They say that the lamp dims the most in the first 500 hours on any projector.
Let's get started.
Out of the Box performance, was very good in most areas, especially image sharpness, however, color is off a bit, and I found flesh tones, to have a yellowish green caste that I didn't like. Now, that's OK, most projectors need a little tweaking to get the colors right. And you can improve on the flesh tone handling on most, but I will note that the Sony's flesh tones weren't that far off, but they were noticeably less pleasing. The trick is to have it be easy to get things to very acceptable levels. Don't Despair: In the case of the Sony HS51A, there is more than enough control of the image to get any desired results, although it might require a little more studying of the manual than other projectors. Since I did a quick calibration of the Sony, I you'll find a screen shot down below that shows the R, G, and B settings. I would suggest trying them out, if you buy the HS51A. Given the variations from unit to unit, and lamps, these settings should get you very close. The image of Awen, from Lord of the Rings, was taken after I changed the R,G,B settings.
The Sony projector has 3 presets - Dynamic, Standard and Cinema. I worked almost exclusively with the Cinema setting (viewing DVDs), except for Hi-Def. In this case I broke out my calibration software (AVIA Pro) and light meter (Optic One), and first, did some measurments, and then did one pass of calibrating the color. In addition to the three presets mentioned above, there are three User savable modes.
If you are a plug and play person, you can skip this paragraph. . It's got technical numbers relating to the calibration:. Once you select a mode, like Cinema, to access individual red, green, and blue gain and separate red, green and blue bias, you scoll down the Picture Adjust menu to Color temperature. There you have a choice of High, Medium and Low. Low is normally your movie setting, and should have a color temperature of 6500K. When I measured the color temperature, I measured two separate readings, first, in Lamp full power mode, it was almost a dead on 6536K, but in Low lamp mode it was off a noticeable amount, not bad, but 6791K. When I finished the calibration with my gear, the color temperature was an almost perfect 6499K. The image here of the color settings shows the RGB settings I ended up with to get that 6499K. These settings will not be right on for every HS51A, however, lamps perform differently and the color balance of a lamp will change over time, just as I found different color values in the low power and high power modes. (Perfectionists with the calibration equipment would likely re-calibrate every few hundred hours.) BTW, if you want to calibrate your projector, let it warm up for about 30 minutes, as the color temperature will change while its warming up. (The changes should be slight after the first 10-20 minutes?)
While I realize any projector does need a little adjusting, I am of the belief that the vast majority of users will want to spend little or no time fooling with lots of settings. The Sony takes a little more effort than most. Now, if you are a "tweaker" and love to play with, and adjust your projector, you will love the Sony. It gives you plenty of control, and you can really make it perform beautifully.
What's important, is that when I got done, the Sony put out a very very impressive and color accurate image. So, I would suggest that if you are going to choose the Sony, look to get it properly calibrated by a good dealer or and independant ISF calibrator, or plan to get your own calibration disk and put in a little effort. (A calibration disk like the regular Avia, is easy to use. There's a good tutorial, and it steps you through the process. Figure about one hour, and a little patience, to do it. The image above of Samuel L. Jackson in Star Wars gives you a good indication of the natural color, after the adjustments I made.
For most of my viewing, I had the projector in low power mode, had the gamma control set to Gamma 2 (it seems to lighten dark areas and enhance contrast), and had the Iris on Auto. This provided some very respectable black levels and very good, but not spectacular shadow detail. Unfortunately I did not have another LCD home theater projector like the less expensive Sanyo Z4 or Panasonic PT-AE900u for comparison, but did have the slightly more expensive Optoma H78DC3 for some side by side comparison. Despite the high 10,000:1 contrast ratio, LCD projectors just can't match the DLP projectors using the Darkchip 3 when it comes to doing the best black levels.
BTW, the Auto Iris seems to work best on dark scenes without extremely bright areas. When I viewed scenes with a lot of dark detail but also very bright areas, the iris didn't seem to do much, (as expected) and it cost some shadow detail. There is a third option which is Iris On, which provides the least bright image. Like most projectors, there are so many options that it is very hard to find the optimal settings with all the "AI" type control of the image from frame to frame.
Theres still another control which is the Black control. You get "richer blacks (seem darker) if you engage the control and set it for Low, Blacks jump out even more with Black level set to High, but the loss of shadow detail is very noticeable. I found the Low setting a good compromise.
Overall, I found black levels to be roughly comparable to other LCD projectors and not quite as good as the Darkchip 2 DLP's but close enough that the fancy frame by frame "AI" like adjustments, like the Auto Iris, may make one projector look better on one scene and not quite as good on another.
Here are some more of the usual images I shoot to demonstrate shadow detail: The image immediately to the right looked very good, but the Sony lost some shadow detail on the cliff face on the right, compared to the BenQ PE7700, and noticeably more so, when compared to the slightly more expensive Optoma H78DC3 (both DLP projectors).
This scene from Star Wars looked particularly good on the Sony. It did a surprisingly good job of handling the image, with the Iris in Auto mode. It maintained good shadow detail, while not losing the highlight details in the signs on the left.
Stars were plentiful on this opening sequence from Star Wars. The Sony did about as well of any projector tested, except for the more expensive Darkchip 3 DLP's - the Optoma H78DC3 and the BenQ PE8720.
The image on the right, and the one below it give you a good idea about how it handles shadow detail. The top image was exposed to look the way this scene appears when viewing. But, due to the limits of the digital camera's dynamic range, most of the detail on the right is lost in the photo.
To show you what the Sony captures, this second image was intentionally overexposed when I photographed it, so you can see all the detail that the projector actually displayed. There is some expected loss of details in the darkest areas, but about comparable to other competing LCD home theater projectors.
Highlight detail was better than I found on the two less expensive LCD projectors, the Sanyo Z4 and the Panasonic AE900u, but not quite as good as BenQ's DLP PE7700 (the newest version with new firmware).
Again, I think that having great looking flesh tones is about as important an issue as there is for a projector. No matter how good black levels are, and highlight details, etc., if flesh tones do not look natural, it spoils the rest. So, again, I emphasize, with a good basic calibration, the Sony HS51 does really impressive fleshtones
I was particularly impressed with the naturalness of the flesh tones on Gandalf, above and of Will Smith in I, Robot, to the right.
The Sony is sharp! I have a Panasonic 900u inbound again, and I plan to compare the two, for sharpness, and will eventually update this, but my memory usually serves me well, and I would say that the Sony is definitely sharper than the Panasonic when viewing both DVD's and Hi-Def. I would say it is comparable to Sanyo's Z4, an exceptionally sharp projector for its price. The Sony does not come off quite as sharp as my own BenQ 8720, but that is a projector that sells for close to twice the price.
I am starting to use this image pair to observe sharpness, with reviews going forward: The image at the right, shows the full frame. The image below it, is a section of the left side of the screen. I zoomed close, and you can see the sharpness of the text.
Unfortunately, I don't have comparative shots from older reviews of projectors, yet. But, those of you that read other reviews posted after Feb 1 2006, should find this same image in the review for comparison.
As indicated elsewhere in this review, the Sony HS51A home theater projector is not one of the brighter ones out there. True, the reveiw unit they sent me had just over 250 hours on the lamp, so the lamp is a bit dimmer than a projector with a new lamp, but the difference should not be dramatic. Yet, on this two images, you see the BenQ PE7700 (a DLP home theater projector) on the left, and the Sony on the right. The difference in brightness is stunning. Both projectors were in their best (and darkest) preset modes for these shots.
It should be noted that the HS51A appears to be a touch sharper than the BenQ PE7700, although you cannot see the difference in these small images.
Here are a few screen shots from my D-VHS tape player. The source is 1080i output as component video and fed directly into the Sony projector.
The images are sharp, and colors are excellent.
Click on the General Performance link below, to continue this projector review. That section has info on the Remote Control, menus, lamp life, screen recommendations and more.