Sony VPL-HW15 Projector - Image Quality
The Sony VPL-HW15 screen image photos below are from either Blu-ray or HDTV, with the exception of Lord of the Rings (standard DVD). Please note, by the time these Sony VPL-HW15 projector images get to you, through digital camera, software, browsers, and even your monitor, there are definite color shifts, saturation differences, etc. The images are to support the commentary, but keep in mind the limitations when trying to compare images from the VPL-HW15 with other home theater projectors. Take them all, "with a grain of salt"
In reality, all projectors, including the VPL-HW15, always look better live, than the images in our reviews.
9/9/09 - Art Feierman
VPL-HW15 Out of the Box Picture Quality
Impressive, skin tones, right out of the box are pretty good, just a little strong on reds. Overall, the VPL-HW15 is very watchable right out of the box. Calibrating it, however, further refines the image, and provides more natural skin tones.
Check out our recommended settings for items like Brightness, Color, etc. on the Calibration page of this review.
Sony VPL-HW15 Projector - Flesh Tones
After calibration, skin tones were excellent, and, while not the very best I've seen, certainly better than most, including almost all other home theater projectors selling for under $3000. To calibrate the projector we started with the Sony's Cinema mode, which is the same as the default User 3. We placed our new calibrated settings into User 3, for all images taken in "best" mode.
Above and below are images from the standard DVD release of Lord of the Rings, and skin tones of both Gandalf and Arwen appear very natural.
Moving to movies on Blu-ray, below are our usual three images of Daniel Craig, as Bond, in Casino Royale. These were taken under different lighting conditions (on the set, not my theater). As I always point out, skin tones should look different under different lighting conditions. You can expect significantly different looking skin tones, when switching from bright sunlight, to nighttime, fluorescent lighting, incandescent lighting, or even lighting in the shade, or a cloudy day. Consider these three images, the first, in direct sunlight, the second is a scene with fluorescent lighting, and the third, a sunny day, but Bond is sitting in the shade - indirect lighting.
Below are a number of additional images we typically use in reviews, that should give you a good feel for overall skin tone handling.
I particularly like the second image (usually a tough one because the background is so bright), and the night shot of Aeon, right below it.
Three from Aeon Flux:
From The Dark Knight:
Men In Black:
From the DVE-HD calibration disc (digital source material, not film):
and finally one from Quantum of Solace (Bond) - looks good here, but even better on the screen:
VPL-HW15 Black Levels & Shadow Detail
Well, it seems everyone this fall, is launching projectors with improved contrast specs. How that translates into improved black levels, however, is still a bit questionable. Oh, so far there seems to be improvement, but with several new projectors, the contrast specs are running higher than the black level performance would suggest.
One thing to mention first - a doubling of contrast should provide a small, but recognizable improvement in black levels. Thus, you should see about the same improvement going from 4000:1 to 8000:1, as from 30,000:1 to 60,000:1.
The VPL-HW15 claims 60,000:1. For reference, I shot it side by side with the soon to be replaced Epson Home Cinema 6500UB. The Epson bested the older HW10 in black levels, by a noticeable amount. This time around, the Epson (which btw, claims 75,000:1), still seems to have the advantage, however, it is never really a whole lot. In fact, once in a while, on just the right scene, because everyone's dynamic irises work differently, the Sony can match the Epson. All considered, I'd say that the HW15, though it can't beat the Epson, should have the advantage on other ultra-high contrast 3LCD projectors like the Panasonic PT-AE3000 and the Sanyo PLV-Z3000. Whether the VPL-HW15, however can outperform the expected new Panasonic, would be pure guesswork. With the new Epson Home Cinema 8500UB claiming 200,000:1 contrast, and considering how the Sony compares to the older Epson, the new Epson should definitely beat the Sony in black levels (though will still do better skin tones, etc.)
Immediately below, from Space Cowboys:
Below are a few side by side comparison images, and more will be added after the CEDIA show, this week. These images have the Sony VPL-HW15 on the left, and the Epson 6500UB on the right. The two projectors are pretty close in brightness, which helps, although the Sony measures a little brighter (and the Epson looks a touch more contrasty). First image, the satellite from Space Cowboys. That's followed by an image from Quantum of Solace.
In the overexposed version of the satellite, above, you can see the differences in the black levels in the letterbox area, and also in the starfield. (again, note: Sony on the left.) Even compensating for the extra brightness of the Sony (notice the pause icon in the lower left), the Epson has an advantage.
Below is a side by side, with a lower cost, but excellent projector I've recently reviewed, the new Mitsubishi HC3800 (which ships late Oct. 09). At half the price, the HC3800 has black level performance that's better than entry level, but not "ultra-high" contrast projectors like the Sony. Look closely in the dark areas, and you can see that there is a very real difference between the two.
For general black level performance examples we'll start with my favorite, the Starship image found The Fifth Element. The first is our Sony VPL-HW15. Immediately below it, is the Optoma HD8200, . Unfortunately, brightness varies even more (than with the side by side images) on these photos, making accurate comparisons of black levels a little difficult.
And below is the Panasonic PT-AE3000:
Next is the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB:
Finally, here's the BenQ W5000 (it's an old image and, unforutnately, much darker than the others, so reveals less stars, etc:)
Consider two additional (digital) images which are good ones for observing black levels.
The image immediately below is from The Dark Knight. I've intentionally overexposed it to make a point. This is the type of scene where the difference in black level performance makes a huge difference. Because the outside areas of the scene, and for that matter the mens' jackets are pretty black, with little detail at all, projectors with just "good" black levels look very flat. Below it, is a side by side with the Sony on the left, and Epson 6500UB on the right.
The dynamic iris, with almost all projectors (JVC excepted, as they manage great black levels without a dynamic iris,) of course, is key to the excellent black levels. I figure this is as good a time to comment on the iris's impact on viewing. Below are two images from the beginning of one of the Star Trek movies (The Wrath of Kahn) shot at the exact same exposure! Notice how much brighter the background is on the first image, as the iris is forced to open for the bright credit. (Both images are intentionally overexposed.) A few frames before, without the credit, the scene is just stars, and the iris closes down a good amount. You must concede, the difference is significant. Of course when you have bright areas on an image, you are a little less likely to notice the blacks.
Shadow Detail Performance
When it comes to shadow detail, the Sony VPL-HW15 does really well. Our first image compares it to the Epson 6500UB. Look to some of the roof tops and dark areas in buildings.
From LOTR: Lleft: VPL-HW15, Middle: Sharp XV-Z15000, Right: BenQ W5000:
Here are a couple additional side-by-side dark scenes from The Dark Knight: The first has the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB on the left, Sony VPL-HW15 on the right, the second, has the Mitsubishi HC3800 on the right:
The next set of comparison images, continues with the same scene with Clint Eastwood 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-HW15, followed by: Sharp XV-Z15000, Optoma HD8200, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, the older Sony VPL-HW10, and the Panasonic PT-AE3000U.
The VPL-HW15 does extremely well in shadow detail on our Clint Eastwood dark scene from Space Cowboys:
Again, from Space Cowboys, this is a cropped image. The right side is very bright (so dynamic irises will not be effective). The VPL-HW15 (top left) has good shadow detail in the dark areas of the satellite, note though, that those areas look darker than on some others. Next to it on the first row, is the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB, Those images are followed by the Sharp XV-Z15000, and the PT-AE3000U (second row). The third row is the Mitsubishi HC6500 (left), and the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 on the right.
The following images are both the same frame, from Space Cowboys. The first one is slightly overexposed, and the second one, dramatically so. Look in the brown area of the satellite on the left (and elsewhere). The VPL-HW15 does a very good job. The VPL-HW15 definitely does a solid job when it comes to shadow detail
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-HW15 performs very nicely.
Click on left thumbnail image for the Sony VPL-HW15, Optoma HD8200 in the center, and the right for the PT-AE3000U.
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-HW15, followed by the Sharp XV-Z15000, third is the Sanyo PLV-Z3000, next is the Optoma HD8200, and the last one is from the Panasonic PT-AE3000.
(Please note, the Panasonic image above is a little blurry, must have bumped the tripod. Sorry! That shouldn't affect your ability to see the shadow details. -art)
VPL-HW15 - Overall Color & Picture Quality
More to the point, the Sony really is excellent when it comes to the overall picture. It doesn't seem to have any particular weaknesses. Skin Tones, black level performance, shadow detail, are all at least very good. Adding to that, the image really does stand out - it's that "pop and wow factor" again. Yet, the Sony VPL-HW15 manages to have a dynamic looking image, without ending up a little contrasty looking, (such as the Epson 6500UB).
In other words, it's the complete package, when it comes to overall Picture Quality and Color. Oh, there are projectors that are better, in this regard, but I can't really think of any that cost less, and most cost anywhere from "more" to "a whole lot more", and then some.
Bottom Line for Overall Picture Quality and Color Handling: Excellent, especially for the money!
Here's the same image - first, the Sony, then the Optoma:
A mix of additional images to show off the VPL-HW15:
From the DTS Blu-ray test disk, consider these:
From the DVE-HD test disc:
And here are a few assorted, additional images, some of which can be found on other recent reviews:
Sony VPL-HW15 Projector: Performance, HDTV and Sports
The images above is from a Moody Blues Concert that has been broadcast in HD, and is also available on Blu-ray disc. This one was shot with minimal ambient light.
Images from HDTV sports will be added shortly after the CEDIA show. In a rush to publish this review in time for the CEDIA opening, there just wasn't enough time to do everything!