Sony VPL-VW50 Pearl Projector Review: Summary, Pros, Cons
We have another winner!
I'm certainly convinced. The Sony, which I had seen many times at shows, always impressed, but I always have reservations seeing under manufacturer arranged conditions. For all the reasons stated below, the Sony VPL-VW50 easily earns our Hot Product Award, but most importantly because everything just looks natural. And I might note, the Pearl is now my favorite under $5000 1080p home theater projector.
It's not perfect of course, nothing is, but it is about as close to "invisible" as affordable 1080p projectors come. By invisible, I mean, you find yourself enjoying the content, and just don't notice that you are watching a projector that is "coloring" that content.
Of the things I considered as potential weaknesses, before receiving the projector for review, the two significant ones were sharpness and brightness.
Once adjusted, this Sony home theater projector is a pure pleasure to watch. It is one of those projectors that just looks "right." On movies, the magic term is "film- like", and the Sony really does have that film-like quality.
Flesh tones, looked just great! Whether watching Ian as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, or Morgan Freeman in Batman Begins, or Clint Eastwood in Space Cowboys, everything just worked!
I am pleased to report, that despite the slight softness to the Sony VW-50 - the "Pearl", sharpness is more than adequate. Some other 1080p projectors are actually a bit sharper, but never drastically so. As I have mentioned earlier, set up a Sony VW-50 in your theater, and you'll never know. It looks very sharp - unless you are comparing it side by side with one of the units that have the edge on it.
That takes us to my other reservation - brightness. Let's start by saying that it's as bright, actually a touch brighter, than the other sub-$5000 1080p projectors on the market. The others (under $5000 US) are the Panasonic PT-AE1000U and the Mitsubishi HC5000. The more expensive DLP projectors - from Optoma and BenQ (reviewed so far), are brighter, but not dramatically so. Still they have enough extra muscle to let you choose a larger screen (not much larger - 10" diagonal perhaps), or fight a little more ambient light. The Sony will be most at home with 106" diagonal screens or smaller, but with the right room, positioning and screen, no problem with 110" and maybe even up to 123" (a common large size).
An important consideration in terms of screen size and brightness will definitely be where you place the projector in your room. If you can manage to place it fairly close (normally that means ceiling mounting), then you can get out maximum lumens and go for the larger screen. If you are wall mounting in a long room, using the telephoto end of the zoom, well, you are giving up a lot of lumens, and you will want to stay with that 106, or even better, 100" or smaller.
Before I list the pros, cons, and areas of typical capabilities, here's how I see it stack up against the other 4 1080p projectors reviewed so far, and a bit of speculation on two due in shortly for review.
Sony VW50 vs. Panasonic PT-AE1000U
Both exhibit a touch of softness, both have effectively invisible pixel structures, both are similar ergonomically in terms of placement with zoom lenses offering a lot of range. The Panasonic has more vertical lens shift, and also has horizontal lens shift. Out of the box, the Panasonic's colors are better, but that's easily fixable with the Sony projector. In terms of brightness neither can claim being particularly bright, but the Sony does have the advantage in best modes. The Sony also has better black levels and shadow detail. Both rely on dynamic iris'es for maximum contrast and black levels, and the Sony, like the Panasonic PT-AE1000U have modes which make the iris'es operation barely detectable even on the type of scenes and scene changes that bring out that limitation.
The Sony costs more, but, at least it has a respectable warranty - 2 years vs. the Panasonic's single year. Overall, though I favor the Sony, some will opt for the Panasonic simply for being another really good projector, one that costs between $500 and $1000 less (with the current Panasonic rebate in play).
Sony VW50 vs. Mitsubishi HC5000
The Mitsubishi is sharp. I like that. At very close seating pixel structure may be barely visible on the usual - screen credits, large stationary white or near white areas, etc. For those who demand "razor-sharp" you'll probably prefer the Mitsubishi HC5000, but I have to give the edge in the naturalness of the picture to the Sony. When it comes to brightness, overall, these two are pretty much a tie, and since their respective zoom lenses have pretty much the same placement range (the Mitsusbishi is 1.6:1 vs 1.8:1 for the Sony), they both, at closest, sit the same distance from the screen, and the Sony can sit a little further back (a foot or so.) As a result, brightness really is an effective tie.
So, if you like a bit more "pop" or wow, lean toward the Mitsubishi HC5000. If you just want "smooth and natural", the Sony has it, not as eye-popping, but great to watch.
Sony VW50 vs. BenQ W10000 and Optoma HD81
Both of these projectors are similar in overall performance, but very different in setup ergonomics.
To start, the BenQ can out muscle the Sony. It's very limited zoom lens provides essentially the same brightness regardless of position (wide or tele). Overall, the Sony might be able to muster a couple of more lumens in full wide angle, but after that - it's all BenQ. If the Sony is in full telephoto, the BenQ is almost twice as bright. The Optoma, when reviewed, was even brighter in best mode, but really doesn't have an optimized bright mode for cutting through ambient light. Unfortunately, I never got around to creating a Dynamic mode for it, but it shoujld be able to do a decent image around 1200 lumens or so.
The Sony has it all over these two in placement, starting with the zoom. The BenQ's vertical lens shift range is almost identical to the Sony, but the Optoma has no adjustable lens shift. It does have a lot of lens offset though, so it might be preferred in a high ceiling environment - it won't have to hang down as far.
In terms of inputs, the Sony has two HDMI's giving it a small edge on the BenQ, but the Optoma is in a whole separate league, with far more capability than either. Optoma uses that Gennum powered external processing box, that sits with your other equipment, and only two cables run to the projector. Both have excellent picture quality, but tend to be a bit more contrasty looking than the Sony. Both are setup for ISF calibration, and if you go get them fully calibrated they should rival the Sony in natural look.
Sony VW-50 vs. JVC RS-1 (Best Guess)
Well, they are both LCOS (JVC = D-ILA, Sony = SXRD tradenames) both are large units although the JVC is definitely larger. The JVC has looked great (like the Sony) everytime I've seen it at a show. The interesting thing is that JVC is claiming the same amazing high contrast as the Sony, but without the use of an iris. (hmmm.) JVC only provides one brightness stat, at D65 for movie watching ("best mode"). Their claim is 700 lumens. If they meet that claim then the JVC is going to be a step up in brightness (even in full wide angle the Sony won't hit 600 lumens). We shall see. Also the JVC when I have seen it (but never side by side) to me seems a touch sharper. We'll find out soon enough, the JVC should be arriving within the week.
Sony VW-50 vs Epson Cinema 1080p (More conjecture)
The Epson is another LCD projector, thus potentially slightly visible pixels at closest seating on the bright areas... The Epson is likely to be the brightest of the field, most Epson home theater projectors tend to be. Only the current brightness champ the 720 Panasonic PT-AX100U is brighter than Epson's Cinema 400 and Cinema 810.
So the Epson may be the play for those wanting large screens or dealing with too much ambient light. The Cinema 1080p is also $5000 ($4995) US. Due to the nature of how Epson distributes in the US (mostly local dealers), the Epson likely will sell for a few hundred more. It does have the best 2 year warranty in town, because of its 2 year replacement program.
That about covers it. Let's look at the specifics now.
Sony VPL-VW50 Pearl - Home Theater Projector - Pros, Cons, Typical Capabilities:
Sony VW50 Pros
- An excellent film-like, natural image (after color correction)
- Very good menus
- Extremely quiet
- Large but attractive
- Excellent black levels and shadow detail
- Invisible pixels at any distance (beyond two feet)
- A tremendous amount of image control from the menus
- Good remote control
- Good menu layout, easy navigation
- Good input flexibility (2 HDMI, 1 computer, 1 component, the computer input can be a 2nd component video)
- Very low image noise
- Sophisticated 6 color management system
- Wide range (1.8:1) zoom lens
- Screen Trigger
- Very good price/performance
- Very good price/performance
- Manual is better than most - actually provides rudimentry explanations of many menu choices!!!
Sony VW50 Cons
- Out of the box color needs work (definitely at minimum an end user calibration disk, like AVIA)
- Image is a little soft
- Not overly bright (like many 1080p projectors), and very "not bright" if the zoom lens is near or at full telephoto)
- Unmounting projector may be required with some ceiling mounts to change lamp (choose wisely - such as Sony's own mount)
- Average lamp life (assumed)
- Requires filter cleaning
- Works with anamorphic lenses for 2.35:1 Cinemascope (no letterboxing)
- User Savable Settings (3 - pretty basic)
- Warranty (2 years)
Sony VW50 Summary
This is easy. The VW50 is a an excellent projector and at the same time, a very good value (price/performance). It's natural film-like image is its top strength, and combining that with a moderately aggressive price, it's tough to beat.
If it was just a bit sharper, and had 30% or 50% more lumens, it would be pretty close to ideal.
I think I've mentioned and rehashed just about everything already, so I'll keep this short.
Whatever you do, if you get the Sony, get the color right, a basic user disk (no, you don't have to be technical, at all, just be able to follow simple instructions) is really needed. Of course, for a projector in this price range, I would recommend getting it setup and installed, and then bring in a professional - an ISF certified calibrator, and get it as close to perfect as possible (that means it is being calibrated for your room and screen (and ambient light).
After that, kick back and enjoy. it's all about watching the content, not the Sony...
For decades Sony has enjoyed a fabulous reputation, going back to the days when the Sony Trinitron set new standars for color TV's and professional monitors. Sony is of course a huge conglomerate, and typically, deserved or not, most people still associate the Sony name with the reputation for superior quality (give or take a cell phone battery or two) established by their TVs.
In this case, as much as I hate to say it: "It's a Sony!"