Sony Cineza HS51A - General Performance
The Sony HS51A is not one of the brighter projectors around despite a claimed 1200 lumens. Set in its best movie watching mode (low power/Cinema mode), a couple of quick measurements showed that the Sony put out only 21% less light in low power mode than with the lamp on full power. . I measured in Cinema/low power mode, only 221 lumens. Most home theater projectors claim 800 to 1200 lumens, but typically put out from the low 200 lumen range, to the high 300 lumens range, depending on the model, in their best, darkest, and highest contrast modes - which are typically called Cinema. Of course, if you switch the projector to high power lamp, and either the Standard or Dynamic preset modes and you get far, far, more lumens (at the sacrifice of some performance in terms of contrast, black levels and shadow detail).
At first I was unimpressed with Sony's remote control, but that changed after using it quite a bit. My biggest complaint is that the backlit buttons could be brighter. That said, this is a very uncluttered remote compared to most, and within a day or so, I pretty much knew were everything was, without looking.
The Light button is on the top left, and next to it the input. Power is the green one on the right.
After that, are the three regular presets:
Dynamic (for fighting ambient light), Standard, and Cinema) followd by 3 User savable settings.
Below that are the four arrow keys, with Enter in the center. Strangely Sony uses a bar for the left, enter, and right arrows, and it took a little getting used to, but works fine.
On the next row, your most important button is MENU. which provides access to the main menu. From there you use the "arrow keys" and Enter, to navigate. More on the menus later.
Of the other buttons, of note are the Adjust Pic, which, each time you press it, it toggles your through all the picture settings, so you can adjust any of them. They include, Contrast, Brightness, Color, Black Levels, Gamma, etc.
You can hit the Reset button to reset the current item (ie. brightness), to reset it to factory default. Wide mode toggles you through the aspect ratio options (zoom, squeeze...)
There is a button for RCP (Real Color Processing) a feature I didn't work with, and that few (I think) will use.
Below are an up and down for brightness and contrast. Makes you feel like you have a regular TV.
This is a good remote. There are many with far more buttons, but I like the layout, easy to find buttons in the dark. If only they hadn't put the RESET right below the Menu button. That did trip me up a couple of times.
Sony's menus are organized logically, but the Picture menu is many layers deep, a bit cumbersome if you are trying to fine tune colors.
Part of the menus are translucent.
The Main menu also shows the first level menu that is selected. Here you see the Main menu on the left, and the first layer of the Picture menu on the right. This next image shows the Adjust Picture sub menu, which, in turn contains most of the control of color, etc. for the projecto, including Contrast, brightness, Color (saturation) Black Level adjust, Gamma, and Color Temperature.
The next image shows the Color Temp menu, and if you select one of the Customs, you finally get to RGB settings.
Each of the Custom menus allows you to plug in different settings.
When calibrating the projector, I made the changes to the Red, Green, and Blue brightness and contrast here in the Custom 3 menu.
Above we discussed the controls for navigating the menus on the remote control. If you look back on the Overview (first) section of the review, you will also see the tiny "joystick" for navigating the menus on the side of the HS51A projector.
Sony rates lamp life as 2000 hours in full power and 3000 in low power, typical for most home theater projectors. Please note, a lamp rated 2000 hours probably has a 50/50 chance of lasting that long. Expect a noticeable percentage of lamps to only last 1500 hours or less, others will last over 2500. This is the way it is with projector lamps. Also, your lamp will dim over time, with most of the dimming in the first few hundred hours. For that reason some people replace their lamps earlier than 2000 hoursas they find their projector has gotten a bit dimmer. (Again, this is the case for most projectors, not specifically the Sony HS51A.
Projector Screen Recommendations
My new testing room now has a Carada "Brilliant White" 1.4 gain screen (106" diagonal), however for my measurements, and photo shoot, I only fill an 82" diagonal. For side by side shots I'm running two projectors, each doing 50" diagonal.
On the 82" sized image, even in low power/Cinema mode, the Sony is plenty bright, so I would say that the HS51A can handle screens to 100" or perhaps a little larger,, depending on screen type, and room issues (such as ambient light, and whether your walls are light or dark), without having to move up to the lower contrast Standard or Dynamic modes.
Despite the high contrast ratio, this is still an LCD projector and it can't get as close to doing a black (and preserving shadow details), as more expensive DLP projectors. Thanks to the Auto Iris and other "AI" techniques, in scenes without bright areas, the Sony can compensate, and improve shadow detail, and lower the black levels, but, its still not going to match the blacks of a Darkchip 3 DLP projector, on most normal scenes.
As a result, if you are not going with a large screen, I would recommend a high contrast gray screen, but those will cost you some lumens. I don't think I would be comfortable with a Dalite Cinema Contour, or Carada gray surface any larger than 100" diagonal. The light gray Firehawk would be my preferred, but that may be a bit pricey for many.
Please note, these are my screen preferences. The difference between how a projector looks on one type of screen vs. another, is greater than the general differences between similarly priced projectors, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I did view the Sony extensively with the 1.4 Brilliant White Carada. The blacks are too gray at the 82" size I viewed at, but a screen like this one, or a StudioTek 130 from Stewart, might be good ways to go if you want as large a screen as possible, say 110".
As mentioned in the image quality section, I did a good basic calibration to improve the color balance. The image below shows the diamond shaped marker that indicates the color balance of the projector sitting dead on top of the little square which represents where the color balance should be. This particular graph shows the results at 80 IRE (light gray) (80% of the way to white from black).
For those of you who buy an HS51A, you can try these settings below. They yielded the basically perfect color temperature. (The accuracy varies depending on what level of grays you measure, but, these were close to dead on at 30 IRE (30%) and 80 IRE. They are slightly off at 50 IRE.
And I said near perfect. Here's what the meter reads. Perfect would have R, G and B values all at 100%. Close.... very close:
By comparison, below are the original measurements before calibration. You can see, on the right, how far the white (diamond) is from the square target. If you look to the left to the Bar Graph, you can see how far down the red is (only 83.15%, the Green was over 105%, and the Blue at 92.37.
The Sony is very quiet in Low Power mode, not the quietest, but its a non issue. In full power mode, the fan runs louder, and noise may be noticeable, especially if you have your projector on a table top. I would say it is a little noiser than most in full power, but still significantly quieter than the Epson 550 and 800 projectors in their full power modes. I consider them too noisy in full power mode, loud enough to bother some, while movie watching when there are quiet scenes. The Sony, however, should be satisfactory even in high power.
These are faint vertical lines sometimes seen on LCD based projectors on large light colored areas of an image. The Sony exihibited some vertical banding, but it was slight enough, that I doubt anyone would notice, unless looking for them, (and probably moving closer to the screen then where they would normally sit.
Seating distance - Screen Door Effect
This is a typical LCD projector, and that means that the pixels are more distinct than DLP projectors. Sitting too close to the screen results in what is referred to as the Screen Doore Effect (SDE). To avoid this, I recommend a seating distance of 1.3 time your screen width. I definitely found the Sony to allow seating closer than Sanyo's Z4. I mention this in particular, because, like the Sony, the Sanyo produces a very sharp image. If you like sitting closer to enjoy the theater feel, (with a 110" screen I'd say you can sit 2 feet closer than with the Sanyo. This difference is SDE may be all the reason you need to justifying the extra on the Sony.
LCD Panel Alignment
There have been reports on several different LCD projectors, where the color is not consistant across the whole screen. The Sony I tested had some variations, that can be clearly seen on this image of a dark gray (30 IRE) test projection. Despite this, I never noticed it during normal viewing, but, you can see shifts to red and slightly to green in different areas. Note: when I calibrated I made sure to place my light meter just about dead center, avoiding the shifted areas.