Sony VPL-HW10 - Image Quality
11/30/2008 - Art Feierman
Sony VPL-HW10 Out of the Box Picture Quality
This Sony home theater projector is pretty good out of the box, but, with calibration, performance improvement is readily apparant. That said, you can definitely enjoy watching the Sony VPL-HW10, although in Cinema mode, the image is a little too warm - a bit too much red. Dynamic mode, out of the box, is just the opposite, a heavy shift to blue, with weak reds, but again, watchable. To get the most out of this Sony projector, we recommend either a professional calibration, trying the settings we have come up with, or calibrating it with a consumer friendly calibration disc, such as the DVE-HD disc, or the AVIA disc. Many online dealers sell one or both of these.
Please note, each photo shoot is different. You'll find the Sony images to appear a little undersaturated. That is a result of the setup used. The VPL-HW10 definitely does not have undersaturated colors when viewing it directly!
VPL-HW10 Flesh Tones
These first two images are from standard definition DVD disc; Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers. The first is Gandalf (in Gondor), followed by Arwen in the forest.
The rest of the images in this section are movies and other content on hi-def Blu-ray disc.
Next are images from the sci-fi flick, Aeon Flux:
From Men In Black:
VPL-HW10 Projector Black Levels & Shadow Detail
I am most impressed. The VPL-HW10's black level performance puts it into that select group of projectors where I consider the differences to still be there, but all have good enough black levels that the differences between them, for the most point, are very secondary, when deciding between them. Other factors - brightness, color accuracy, etc., are more critical for most buyers, than the small differences in black levels. The other projectors in this group (of excellent black levels), which also includes the old Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, and almost certainly the soon to be released Home Cinema 6500 UB, and Pro Cinema 7500 UB, the Panasonic PT-AE3000, and the Sony and JVC LCoS projectors. The JVC's are still the best, but, all of these others are close. Of the best, the JVC RS2 and soon to be released RS20, are still a step up from the rest, but unless you are a fanatic, that can't live with black levels any worse that the JVC RS2, any of these should make you very happy.
Note, of the projectors mentioned above, the one with the least great black levels is the Panasonic PT-AE3000. Below you'll see a side by side, between the Panasonic and this Mitsubishi.
We start this group of images with the starship image from The Fifth Element. First, is the Sony VPL-HW10. With the VPL-HW10 image, I have decided to overexpose enough so you can make out the letterbox above and below, and on the bottom, you can also see the "real" black of the screen frame, below the letter box. Going forward, I'll try to have the letterbox area have the same amount of gray, on all projector's version of this image. That way, the more overexposed the starship itself, relative to the same level in the letterboxes, would indicate an improvement in black levels.
To keep things in perspective, for this review, though, here is the same image but at a faster exposure so it appears more similar to the other images below.
For comparison, here (above) is the same image from the Panasonic PT-AE3000, and below, the Mitsubishi HC7000.
And here's the JVC DLA-RS2, which has set the standard for black level performance when introduced last year:
The JVC RS2 still has the best blacks we've seen, but the, the VPL-HW10 is very close to the less expensive RS1x, who's black levels aren't quite as impressive as the RS2's.
Here's something to consider - and this applies to my comparisons between the Sony and both the Panasonic PT-AE3000 and the JVC RS1. Each projector with a dynamic iris (Panasonic and Sony in this case), handles things differently. One thing we noticed, is that on the darkest scenes, the iris closes down more on the Sony (as well as the Mitsubishi HC7000, than on the PT-AE3000. Translated, on some very dark scenes, the Sony will produce blacker blacks than the Panasonic. In fact on one scene, the Sony actually managed to beat my RS1 by a small amount, even though the RS1 does better blacks (it has no dynamic iris), in all but the darkest scenes (where the Sony iris is most effective).
OK here's what many of you have been waiting for, side by side images for comparing black levels. I had the opportunity to shoot the VPL-HW10 against the PT-AE3000, and that image is shown below.
The image below is intentionally overexposed. The VPL-HW10 is on the left, and the PT-AE3000 on the right. The image pair below that is the Sony, again, on the left, and my JVC RS1 on the right.
As you can see from the two image pairs above, the Sony does best the Panasonic PT-AE3000 on this scene, but can't match the JVC RS1. This starship scene has a fair amount of moderately bright areas, so the dynamic irises on the Sony and Panasonic, can't close down as far as they would on a much darker scene.
Below is a side by side with the Sony on the left and the JVC RS1 on the right:
Here's a black frame in a fade between scenes (which means a dynamic iris can pretty much close down as far as it can). Just because one projector's iris closes down more, though, does not mean you'll see a difference anywhere near this great, on a very dark scene (but not black). Sony VPL-HW10 on the left, Panasonic on the right. Please note, the Panasonic we have here is the same pre-production sample that we reviewed, and it does exhibit unevenness in the background in the form of too much blue in the upper right and lower left corners. A full production projector should not have this problem (or to a significantly lesser degree), and should have blacks throughout, comparable to the center of the Panasonic's image. Even considering that, the Sony HW10 (like the Mitsubishi) definitely provides a blacker black on this black scene.
Here are two, all digital images. which are good ones for considering black levels. Look for the richness in the black part of some of the buildings and the sky in the second image. Both of these are digital hi-def images from the DVE-HD calibration disc.
Bottom line, on black levels: The VPL-HW10 performs extremely well. We give it a definite, but slight edge over the Panasonic PT-AE3000, although, even the Panasonic does extremely well. The Mitsubishi HC7000 (which I haven't shot side by side with the Sony, because I can't come close to balancing the brightness, seems to be the equal to the Sony, or close enough to not matter. The JVC RS1, which lacks a dynamic iris, but set the standard for black levels when released 18 months ago, is still superior, overall, to any of these other projectors mentioned. The big unknown, of course will be how the new Epson Home Cinema 6500 UB, and Pro Cinema 7500 UB will stack up with the Sony, and others. As things stand, the Sony, I would say, is about the equal to the older Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, overall. The newer Epson models claim even better contrast than the older Epson, so we would expect the new Epson projectors to show some improvement.
Shadow Detail Performance
The VPL-HW10 does very well in terms of shadow detail. Not the best of the better projectors, but close.
One thing I've definitely noticed, is that anything the Sony gives up in shadow detail, it makes up for, with a particularly punchy look to dark images. I found the Sony to really perform well on dark scenes, without looking a little washed out, as some projectors with great shadow detail, but less than impressive black levels tend to appear.
Top left: VPL-HW10, Middle: Panasonic PT-AE3000 Right: Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB
The comparison images below are from Space Cowboys. This is a very dark scene with Clint Eastwood, on Blu-ray disc. The photos are intentionally way overexposed. Look for the blacks in the shades, and the details in those shades in the form of the white trim. (At this level of overexposure, don't even worry about the skin tones, as in these type of photos they always look terrible, and way oversaturated/too high contrast).
First image is the VPL-HW10, followed by the Panasonic PT-AE3000U, the Mitsubishi HC7000. Then comes the the older, but higher end Sony VW60. The last two in the sequence are the InFocus IN83 and the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB.
The Sony VPL-HW10's performance is very good, at revealing details in the window shades, in this very dark scene.
Again, from Space Cowboys, this is a cropped image. The right side is very bright (so dynamic irises will not be effective). The VPL-HW10 (top left) shows a pretty good amount of detail in the dark areas of the satellite. Still, there is some loss of detail as the dark ares are very dark, darker than some of the other projectors, making it hard to make out the darkest details. Next to it on the first row, is the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, Those images are followed by the Panasonic PT-AE3000 and the JVC RS1 (second row). The third row is the Mitsubishi HC6500 (left) (a projector that cannot match the black level performance of the others, and last, the Mitsubishi HC7000 on the bottom right, which seems to do the best job of showing dark details, of the six images.
The re-entry image below, is a tough shadow detail test. Projectors with weak black levels and average shadow detail ability tend to generate an image where much of the right side of earth, looks to have that flat, lacking in detail look. All projectors pick up some of the brighter features on the right side, while better ones, pick up a lot more and usually have richer blacks as well.
On the left, is the VPL-HW10, the middle, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, and on the right, at roughly twice the price, is the InFocus IN83 which is about as good as it gets, in terms of shadow detail, although not up to, say, the Epson 1080 UB, in black level performance.
Next is the casino image at night from Bond's Casino Royale.
When comparing, look at the detail in the roof (tiles), and also in the assorted trees and plants. The small images below (all are the same) show a slightly overexposed scene. Click on the images and the larger versions from the different projectors are far more overexposed, to allow a closer inspection of shadow details.
Sony VPL-HW10 projector:
Epson Home Cinema 1080UB projector:
InFocus IN83 projector: (a more expensive projector that I've been raving about)
Mitsubishi HC6500 projector:
Here's a shot, taken of the Sony VPL-HW10 (left), and Panasonic PT-AE3000U (right), set up side by side.
Below is a heavily overexposed scene from Lord of the Rings. The overexposure lets you see all the details in the shed on the right, the structure on the left, and the plants and ground along the lower right. The VPL-HW10 performs very nicely. Not only does the Sony do a good job, but the darker areas are rather vibrant.
Click on left thumbnail image for the Sony VPL-HW10, PT-AE3000 in the center, and the right for the InFocus IN83.
Our last comparison uses the night train scene from Casino Royale. Look to the trees and shrubs on the right, especially just above the tracks. The first image is the Sony VPL-HW10, the second is the Mitsubishi HC7000, third is the Panasonic ,and the last one is from the slightly more expensive InFocus IN83:
(Please note, the image above is a little blurry, must have bumped the tripod. Sorry! That shouldn't affect your ability to see the shadow details. -art)
The image above, from Space Cowboys shows some detail in the very dark support struts on the left and right.
In the image below, from Aeon Flux, look at the shadow details in the form of the table surface, shadows on the table, and dark areas in the foods and around them.
VPL-HW10 Bottom Line: Shadow details
The VPL-HW10 really does a good job, it manages to reveal lots of very dark details. In addition, the combination of the details and the black levels give the projector more "pop and wow" to the image than those that are just as good on shadow details, but can't match the black level performance.
The image below is another good one for looking at shadow details, and can be found on most recent reviews. Look to the details in the dark area in the upper right, and, if comparing to other projectors, whether that area is more or less vibrant. Sometimes the details may be there, but the area can look pretty flat.
Sony VPL-HW10 Overall Color & Picture Quality
The VPL-HW10 is an extremely well balanced projector, when it comes to overall Picture Quality! With great black levels, very good shadow detail, excellent post calibration color accuracy, and a dynamic looking (pop and wow) image (in part thanks to those black levels), I found the VPL-HW10 one of the most enjoyable projectors to watch. That has been true whether I'm just kicking back and watching content, or when I'm being very critical in my viewing, looking for weaknesses.
The point here, is that the VPL-HW10 has no significant weaknesses in any areas directly dealing with color and overall picture.
A mix of additional images to show off the VPL-HW10:
From the DTS Blu-ray test disk, consider these:
From the DVE-HD test disc:
More movie scenes: A couple from Dogma:
Lastly, here are a pair of images from the latest Indiana Jones movie:
And, Aeon Flux:
And a few more assorted photos:
Sony VPL-HW10 Projector: Performance, HDTV and Sports
Overall performance on HDTV was most impressive. The most critical weakness has to be the brightness issue. If you have that covered (smaller or high gain screen, great lighting control, etc.), consider the VPL-HW10 projector to be excellent.
The rich colors, the dynamic image, and the extremely sharp image really makes the VPL-HW10 shine on HDTV sporting events, and boy, does it look great on all that nature, concerts, and travelog type programming (Discovery HD, History Channel, Palladia HD (the old M-HD MTV music video channel). It really does make you think, for a moment, like you are looking out of a large window. Excellent! If only more lumens.
These football images were taken in the afternoon. When watching during the daytime (shades down, but some light coming in), the image is just a bit washed out. Very watchable, but, oh, for a few hundred more lumens. Dropping the image size down to 110 or better, about 106 inches, and the Sony does much better (with this lighting). When I watch in the evening, with some controlled lighting, the Sony looks really good, even at my full 128 inch screen size. This image shows you the room lighting when these images were taken:
Football viewing was excellent, again, within the limitation of the Sony's brightness. With my room situation, the Sony performs similarly to my JVC RS1, in that it can fill my 128 inch Firehawk screen. Still... a few more lumens would be nice, for a screen as large as mine.
Here's an image from the summer Olympics. Note the very visible jaggies, you only see those when you pause the 1080i source, not while watching normally:<
Bottom line: If you like watching HDTV/Sports with some ambient light, consider the Sony's brightness limitations as a factor, but otherwise the HW10 does just fine. One more note, however. The Sony is about average in sharpness, and looks just great in that regard, but there are even sharper images, including the Mitsubishi HC7000 and the InFocus IN83. You can detect the difference, but it's a difference between very sharp, and razor sharp. Without a side by side comparison, I doubt anyone would object to the Sony's nice, sharp image on 1080 resolution digital sources, such as a good football game. The two images below were photographed differently. The first one, of Bon Jovi and Sugarland, was shot in the afternoon, with the same significant ambient light as shown in the room shot above. The lower image, of a Moody Blues concert was photographed in the evening with a very modest amount of intentional ambient light.