Sony VPL-HW15 - Review Summary
A summary of the Sony VPL-HW15 projector's pros and cons and capabilities.
9/9/2009 - Art Feierman
Sony VPL-HW15 Projector - The Bottom Line
Newer is better! The VPL-HW15 is better, and $500 less than the older HW10. Don't expect a dramatic improvement, but overall, you do get a little more, for about 15% less dollars.
Skin tones are extremely good, bested only by a couple of projectors (the InFocus IN83 comes to mind). That said, I'd say the VPL-HW15 is the equal of my JVC RS20 (though slightly different).
Black levels, while very good, and definitely qualify the Sony as an "ultra-high" contrast projector, make it only "one of the best" under $3000 projectors, but not the best. Higher end projectors like the JVC's still have a very distinct advantage. The lower price point of the Sony is a very good, and probably necessary thing, in competing with JVC's DLA-RS10 (and HD350), which should now be a good $1000+ more. Since they are both LCoS projectors, and similar in many ways, the Sony ends up being roughly comparable, but the advantage, primarily due to blacks, goes to JVC, if you've got the extra money.
The dynamic iris of the VPL-HW15 is very good. In doing some side by sides with other projectors (BenQ, Epson, Optoma) with dynamic irises, it's the smoothest and least noticeable, though the Epson comes close. The BenQ's iris action is definitely more likely to be spottable, and the Optoma solution tends to be annoying enough that I recommend not using it on some of their projectors.
Sharpness is very good, but most DLP projectors (which don't have to worry about aligning 3 panels) have the advantage, as long as they have good optics. As such, the Sony is still "average sharpness" (I only refer to 1080p projectors' sharpness as "average" or "sharper still".)
Shadow detail is very good. No issues there!
When it comes to placement flexibility, the Sony is flexible. It's got a zoom lens with a reasonable 1.6:1 zoom ratio, which typically will provide about 5 feet of front to back placement range with typical screen sizes. The lens shift is there, and not bad, but more can be found on many 3LCD and LCoS projectors (including the JVCs).
Although 1.6:1 is a lot more than most DLP's (1.2:1), we are seeing more DLP's competing with 1.5:1 zooms. Still, if I have an objection to the 1.6:1 zoom of the VPL-HW15, it's that the lens is still pretty short throw. While projectors like the Epson's Panasonic's and JVC's, for a 100" diagonal screen, can go from about 10 feet to 20 feet, the Sony only goes out to about 16 feet. For those of you considering shelf mounting in the rear, the Sony won't work in a lot of rooms, so figure out your room depth, and how large a screen will fit, based on placing the Sony back on a shelf. If your room is deep, or your screen size not too large, it probably won't work.
The Sony has a really nice remote control, which combined with a good menu structure, makes navigating your settings rather easy. There are three user savable modes, one based on each of the three standard modes - a good design. Still, I'd prefer to see at least 2 more user modes (a second one based on Cinema, and at least one other).
With a two year warranty, there's nothing to complain about. There are projectors in this price range with only one year, but two is the standard. The thing is, a few competitors offer 3 years, and some, including Epson, provide an overnight replacement program during part or all of their warranty.
All considered, the VPL-HW15 is a formidable projector, well priced. It should have good appeal with many enthusiasts, typically those more "purist" oriented, who will appreciate the color accuracy and skin tone handling.
Over three generations - from the VPL-VW40, to the VPL-HW10, and now the VPL-HW15, the newest is firmly planted in the mid-price range, while older models were priced well above the best selling mid-priced projectors. That's another very good thing!
The Bottom Line: A very worthy projector. Solid in all areas, impressive black levels, but skin tone handling and overall color are the real strength that makes the Sony VPL-HW15 deserve our Hot Product award. The lowering of the price point simply makes the HW15 even more deserving.
The only real question is - what does the new competition look like. Unlike past years, when the Sony review units were very late getting out there, and Sony projectors were typically about the last new ones reviewed, this time Sony got their act together and provided review projectors roughly in line with the HW15's release.
Sony VPL-HW15 Projector: Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
Sony VPL-HW15 Projector: Pros
- Very good "Out of the Box" picture quality
- Extremely good color accuracy post calibration in "best" mode
- Very good black level performance for the price, one of the best mid-priced projectors in this regard, but not the best.
- Overall, an excellent, well balanced picture! Film-like
- Good shadow detail
- One of the better dynamic irises, in terms of not being intrusive
- Two HDMI 1.3 inputs, full support for 24 fps, Deep Color, CEC etc.
- Very good menus
- Really nice remote
- Nice styling and look to the projector
- Projector lamp can be changed without unmounting the projector
- On the quiet side of average audible noise - should be no problem
- Good, just above average brightness in best mode
- An very good value proposition (worth the bucks!) at least so far
Sony VPL-HW15 Projector: Cons
- One of the least bright projectors in "brightest mode" limiting it for those who want to watch content like sports with more than the minimum ambient light present
- While it's sharpness is average, it could be sharper (especially for digital content like HDTV sports)
- Relatively short throw zoom lens, may prevent a significant number of potential owners from rear shelf mounting
- While black levels really are very good, it is likely that several new direct competitors will be even better
- Dynamic iris is slow and action can be visible
- No support for an anamorphic lens
Sony VPL-HW15 Projector: Typical Capabilities
- About average brightness in "best" mode
- Audible noise (fan noise)
- Lamp life (unknown, but assumed to be average)
- Sharpness of the image, overall
- Shadow detail performance
BACK TO THE BEGINNING: VPL-HW15