Sony VPL-HW10 - Projector Screens
12/01/2008 - Art Feierman
VPL-HW10 Projector Screen Recommendations:
A projector like the HW10, which is very bright in "best mode" but only the slightest bit brighter in brightest mode, makes for some interesting screen choices, depending on whether you are strictly a movies person, or also watch a fair amount of TV, HDTV and Sports. The Sony has more than enough lumens for a fairly large screen. it works beautifully with my 128" diagonal Firehawk G3, a light gray surfaced, high contrast screen, when watching movies with the room fully darkened. In fact, running in low lamp mode even works. On the other hand, it can't quite to fill the full screen when I tried to watch sports at what I consider a satisfactory level. Close, but no cigar!
Where the Sony's brightness can be a problem, is when you want to enjoy watching with moderate amounts of intentional ambient light, such as watching sports with friends, where you don't want to be watching in a "cave" (fully dark room). In my own theater, the problem was college football. With modest ambient light levels (blackout shades all down, but they leak light in around the sides), the Sony can't quite cope with my screen. Both weekends I had it in the theater, I swapped out the Sony for either a Home Cinema 1080 UB, or the InFocus IN83, either of which is at least 80% brighter than the Sony in brightest mode.
Now, don't let me scare you off. The Sony isn't so dim, as to be not viable in such circumstances, it's just a little bit thin on lumens. In fact, on paper, the VPL-HW10 measures just about the same lumens as my own JVC RS1, which I have been using for a year and a half. Not sure why, but my JVC does just a little better than the Sony. I was concerned about my sports viewing when I bought the JVC, for the same reason, and while it does a satisfactory job, I also wish the JVC had another 25% or more lumens in brightest mode.
When watching the Sony for football, I've been keeping the image size a little below the full 128" of my screen, about 115 - 118" diagonal. At that side, it's doing reasonably well.
Since black levels are extremely good on the Sony VPL-HW10, a high contrast gray surface, like my Firehawk, isn't necessary, although if you have some side ambient lighting, those types of screens can help by "rejecting" the ambient light coming in from the sides. Of course, black level fanatics, may still want to go HC gray.
In my testing room, the HW10 looked really good on my 1.4 gain (Carada's claim) white surfaced, Carada Brilliant White. Blacks were still very good, although I had to drop the Sony down into eco-mode, as the projector, for movie watching, was a bit bright, even for me, and black levels of course become more noticeable if your image is very bright.
If you are a movie only person, figure you can go up to about 128 inch diagonal, without problem, however if you are someone who plans to watch sports and TV with some ambient light, the projector doesn't really have the muscle for a screen that size. As a result, I'd say, for mixed viewing (with some ambient light at times), you should stick to 118" or smaller screens.
To reiterate, the HW10 doesn't demand a high contrast gray surface, but, assuming brightness is otherwise handled, you can certainly consider a HC gray. I took a quick look at my 100" Elite HC (light) gray surface, and for movie watching, preferred it's handling of blacks over the Carada solution, but unless there is that side lighting issue, the Carada had a distinct advantage for sports and HDTV viewing, thanks to the extra gain.
Of course, virtually all major screen manufacturers offer both HC gray, and white surfaces.
One last option, if you want to go large screen for both movie and HDTV/sports, you could go with a higher gain screen. For example, a 1.8 gain screen will deliver about the same brightness at 128" diagonal, as a 1.4 gain screen on a 100 inch diagonal screen. Just remember, by the time you get up to 1.8 gain, your viewing cone narrows and you can spot that the corners and sides are a little less bright than the center. Not too bad, but important to consider. Personally, I'm not a fan of higher gain screens (like 1.8 to 2.5), but they have their uses, and many swear by them.