Sony VPL-VW60: 1080p Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
The older Sony VW50 is an excellent projector, and of all the 1080p projectors we reviewed from last fall until end of this summer, it offered overall picture quality second only to JVC's similar DLA-RS1.
The new VW60 is definitely improved. Not drastically so, but I would rate it now, about the equal of the JVC RS1 in overall picture quality (and it costs less), thanks to improved black level performance. Sony claims both improved dynamic iris functionality, and new LCoS (SXRD as Sony calls them) panels, with better native contrast. It still lacks the brightness of the JVC RS1, and the improved RS2 is coming out any day now, but consider; the Sony is as much as $2000 less. Makes things interesting!
The high point of working with the Sony, is its picture quality when watching movies in a fully darkened (or almost so) room. Outstanding!
Be sure to make it down near the bottom of this page to see how the Sony performs on HDTV under modest ambient light.
The out of the box settings for Cinema mode produced very disappointing color performance, and that is especially true of how the Sony handled skin tones, but also just about everything else. The good news is that with a good grayscale calibration, the Sony becomes a superb performer in all areas.
QuickTip: Regarding the images you are about to see. Color issues:
First of all, I always warn in reviews, that my digital cameras cannot begin to capture the full dynamic range of the projected image - the camera will inherently crush near blacks and blow out near whites, losing lots of detail. In addition, the images the camera captured will look differently on my computer screen than on yours, in almost all areas - color itself, saturation, contrast and brightness, to mention a few. As a result, the images are useful in some ways, but not to be taken as faithful reproductions of what the projector put on the screen. (The images even look different on my editing software, my web design software (Dreamweaver), and again, on my browser. when viewing our website.
So, take it all with a grain (or pound) of sand. The images are there to support the review text, not the other way around.
And now, a new problem. I have just switched to a new dSLR, the Olympus E510, and I have been struggling to get the best, most accurate results out of it. So far, results have not been very good. I chose the Olympus for several reasons, including the ability to preset color temperature. Ideally, that would be 6500K, and the Olympus comes very close with choices including 6400K and 6600K (really slight differences).
There is more of an issue though. So far I have been unable to get a neutral grayscale balance, with two things happening: First, there tends to be too much yellow green in the images, and second, the amount tends to vary depending on the relative exposure, so on some images the problem is greater than on others.
For this review, (and until I solve this issue with Olympus), there are three types of images. Those using 6400K or 6600K and unaltered beyond that. Some using those same settings, where I felt compelled to adjust the image in Photoshop, to best compensate, and lastly, something I would have preferred not to do, but probably is providing the best results, and that is abandoning the custom color temperature settings, and letting the camera fix things by using Auto white balance. In the case of the VW60, the final grayscale balance was really excellent, and overall the Auto White balance works best. Let's just say this:. If you see too much yellow in some images, it's the camera, because that definitely wasn't a problem with the projected image.
The Sony VPL-VW60 Home Theater Projector: Skin Tones
Let's forget out of the box performance, and consider the Sony once grayscale is calibrated for 6500K, which is ideal for movie viewing.
Overall performance on skin tones is excellent. To further improve on what I saw on the screen - which rivals any under $10K projector I have worked with, you'll need a professional calibrator with more skills than I possess. On the other hand, I seriously doubt if any but the most hard core crazed, will be disappointed, with just an accurate grayscale calibration. For your consideration, first a couple of images from standard DVD - Lord of the Rings, Return of the King:
Some of you have been reading my reviews for quite some time, and remember images from The Fifth Element. Well, I finally got the new remastered Blu-ray version, and it's definitely superior to the original Blu-ray version (which I never used on this site) and the original standard definition (SD-DVD) disc.
So here are three images from the new Blu-ray edition:
Now, on to other Blu-ray disc movie images:
Perhaps the Blu-ray movie I'm having the most fun with in reviews these days is the newest Bond flick, Casino Royale. The new Bond, is very photogenic, and the movie offers many good opportunities to view him under different lighting conditions. So, here are three images of Bond: the first, in bright sunlight, the second, under flourescent lights, and the third, outdoors in the shade.
As you can see from these images, the Sony does a great job on all three, and you can definitely feel that each image reflects the type of lighting present when the images were taken.
Pretty impressive? I'm definitely impressed!
And when it comes to great looking skin tone content, it's hard to beat the movie House of the Flying Daggers (also from a Blu-ray disc):
Two more for your consideration - Johnny Depp from the first Pirates movie, followed by Will Smith in Hitch.
Overall, the Sony did a great job on skin tones.
I'm not sure where to comment on this, but since we are in the color sections of the Image Quality page, this is as good a place as any, to discuss a potential issue.
The Sony VW60 unlike its predecessor, and like all the new crop of 1080p projectors to come out in the last few months, supports HDMI 1.3. Older projectors suppor the older 1.2 standard. Now, 1.3 offers a number of additional capabilities, many of which relate to audio, and are not relevant to projectors, but one key capability is that the HDMI 1.3 standard supports Deep Color, something that has not yet started appearing in hi-def discs, but certainly will. with Deep Color, the bandwidth is wider, and the HDMI interface can pass much larger color palettes - billions of colors. While the differences are subtle, this is a very desireable feature. As of right now, Sony tells me, that while their HDMI inputs are 1.3, the projector's color system can't handle Deep Color. Whether that can be changed/fixed with a firmware patch, I don't know. This will be an issue in most 1080 projectors so I plan to go back and query the manufacturers of the all the new 1080p projectors I've reviewed this fall.
Sony VPL-VW60 Projector: Black Levels and Shadow Detail
Sony VPL-VW60 Black Levels
Sony has improved black level performance over the VW50. First, the projector claims 35,000:1 contrast up from the older model's 15,000:1. Part of this is due to an improved Auto Iris 2 mode, and part due to newer LCoS panels.
And black level has definitely improved, although not as much as the specs would let you believe.
In a perfect world you want to get pure blacks in any scene, regardless of how bright the overall scene is. Unfortunately no fixed pixel device (LCD, DLP or LCoS) can produce black (or rather put nothing on the screen when black is called for, since black is the absence of color). As manufacturers try with each new generation to improve native contrast, the end result is blacker blacks, but most projectors aren't satisfied with only the best the panel (or chip) technology can offer. As a result, all LCD 1080p projectors, as well as the Sony (LCoS) and several DLP projectors, add dynamic irises to the mix. This allows blacks to be much blacker still, but only if there are no bright areas on the screen. If a scene is 95% dark, and the other 5% is pure white, the iris cannot stop down to lower blacks, for, if it did, the bright white (or bright red...) would also dim.
The Sony VW60 takes advantage of both excellent native blacks of its new LCoS chips and combines it with a dynamic iris. Overall the results are excellent.
But, not necessarily the best.
Last year the VW50 was bested by the JVC, who does it all with their LCoS panel technology, and no dynamic iris. This year, I'm pleased to report, that the Sony VW60 is sufficiently improved that it is roughly equal to the JVC overall. In some cases (those very dark scenes with no bright areas) it may actually outperform the JVC RS1. The ultimate challenge, though is not the RS1 this time around, but JVC's RS2, which is supposed to be shipping this month. It too has improved black levels, and claims 30,000:1 contrast, and does so without a dynamic iris.
Unfortunately, we had hoped that the JVC RS2 would arrive for review before I posted this review, but it's not to be. If it does come in, in the next couple of days, I will get to run the Sony VW60 and the JVC RS2 side by side, and will report on that in the JVC review. Back to the Sony's black levels.
The most important statement is this: Not one of the other new 1080p projectors reviewed in the last few months (Sharp, Sanyo, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Optoma HD81-LV, and so on) can match the Sony in terms of black level performance. So, it would seem beating it is up to the soon expected JVC, but also, the new Epson Home Cinema 1080UB, also expected in this month. The Epson is LCD, and is claiming 50,000:1, so things should be interesting. But now, let's look at some images:
Blacks were very black, overall, some would describe as "inky" black. One flaw noted, however, and that is, that in the darkest blacks there seems to always be the slightest shift to blue. Oh, it's barely there at most, and you might not notice it, except in the letterbox area of a movie, but this shift to a cool color (blue) is in line with what we saw when measuring the grayscale. This is perhaps the most serious flaw in terms of black level performance, and it is minor.
Thanks to the very dark blacks, the stars in the space scenes really stand out. Not only are they all there (not crushed - unless you go to gamma 3 mode), but they stand out as they only can when a projector has a high native contrast ratio.
Sony VPL-VW60 Shadow Details
Shadow detail is different than black levels. Generally the better the black levels, the more shadow detail that is revealed, but that is not necessarily the case. Even the same projector (such as this VW60), can perform well, or poorly in terms of shadow detail, depending on settings and design. Theoretically, if the blackest a projector can do, out of the traditional 0 - 255 scale, is a black of 12 (that would mean that any gray 12 or lower all are projected at 12, since that's the darkest the projector can do), then you would expect to lose all shadow detail below that point. Truth is, however, that a display device can compensate - equalize the image to reveal that detail.
Consider, knowing that 12 is as low a gray as one can get, if there is information in the movies that calls for, say a value of 4 (very close to pure black), the projector's electronics could make that a value of 14 so that it would be visible, 2 shades brighter than the darkest the projector can do. Following that idea, an 8 might be raised to 16 and a 12 to 18, so that you can distiguish between all of these levels. We've seen that in action, especially in the Mitsubishi HC4900 which has the poorest black level performance of the 1080p's I've reviewed, yet reveals really good shadow detail.
For review purposes, we are more concerned with the end result - can you make out details in really dark areas, and are less concerned with how that is done, than the final image.
With the Black Level setting off, and Gamma either off or 1, the Sony does a great job. Increase gamma to 3 and all kinds of shadow detail disappears.
Here are a number of images found in most reviews, and a couple comparisons:
We'll start with an SD-DVD image from Lord of the Rings. This cropped image of a night scene in Gondor, is seriously overexposed to reveal all the dark shadow detail we can find. Just click on the left thumbnail, for some competition, the right thumbnail will show the same scene on the less expensive Panasonic PT-AE2000U:
If you look in the darkest areas, you will occasionally see some additional dark detail on the Sony, that the Panasonic lacks. You'll also note that colors in the dark areas are also more visible on the Sony.
The other image from Lord of the Rings. This thumbnail below is normally exposed (not from the Sony), and even this small, you can see that the areas along the bottom and the shed on the right, are very dark. Click on the link, for a larger, and overexposed image from the Sony. As you can see, the Sony reveals excellent detail in the dark areas, and of particular note, in the woods of the shed itself. This image is found on most projector reviews, for comparison.
From Space Cowboys, this image of Clint is in a very dark room only illuminated by a down facing table lamp.
The image immediately above, was taken early 2007. Look for details in the blinds in the back. You will note, that the shadow details are similar. Unfortunately, it's impossible to get exactly the same exposure. In this case, you can see that the upper image (the Sony, is a bit more overexposed). With that considered, to me, this looks about as close to a tie as one can get.
Moving to another Blu-ray movie, here is a night scene from Aeon Flux:
Click on the image for larger cropped version:
For comparison, here is the same, from the Panasonic PT-AE2000U:
Here's the re-entry image from Space Cowboys. Click on the thumbnail image for an overexposed version, and look for the details on the right side. This image is found on most recent reviews:
Now for a more balanced scene (where dynamic irises are not very effective). The left thumbnail when clicked on shows a cropped area. This scene has extremely bright areas, and dark. Look at these overexposed images to details of the satellite on the left side. The left thumbnail is the Sony VW60, the right one, the JVC RS1:
One thing you can see in the two images above, is that the Sony is more overexposed than the JVC. Sorry about that. In fact the JVC image is notably darker. Yet despite the large difference in exposure, the JVC shows about as much dark detail. If I had a more overexposed image of the JVC, likely you would find the shadow details a notch better than the Sony. Both, however are excellent, especially compared to the other competition.
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OK a new image for your consideration. This from Casino Royale on Blu-ray disc.
This image of the resort at night looks great, but when you click on the image below, you'll see a significantly overexposed version. Look to the bushes, and most importantly the building's roof. I can tell you that only the JVC so far, has done better (very slightly) on that roof. Perfectly good projectors like the Panasonic, Sanyo and Optoma HD8000 try hard, but the roof detail is virtually non-existent. Watching any of those, you would likely think it's a flat roof that you can't see.
Now that's the type of results we consider shadow detail so important:
Bottom line, the Sony does a very good job on shadow details with the proper setup. Overall, I still found the JVC RS1 to have a very slight advantage, but we are talking very close here. The real question will be whether the more expensive, new JVC RS2 will significantly exceed the VW60 as the older RS1 did relative to the VW50.
Sony VPL-VW60 home theater projector: Sharpness
I've always adhered to the idea, that the less visible the pixel structure the inherently softer looking an image will be, all else being equal. The Sony, like the JVC, being LCoS, they have essentially invisible pixel structure, thus an apparent softness. This is also true of the Panasonic PT-AE2000U, an LCD, but one with their smooth screen technology which also makes pixels invisible at any normal seating distance.
While I refer to this section as sharpness, there are two aspects, - perceived sharpness, and actual resolving of fine details. As a general rule, even the softer looking images, show just as much fine detail as the sharpest (like the Mitsubishi HC6000, Optoma HD81-LV and Sharp XV-Z20000).
The thumbnails below when clicked on, show a drastically cropped area of just the logo and dts-hd area. The five thumbnails are for the following projectors:
Top left: Sony VPL-VW60, Top right: Panasonic PT-AE2000U
2nd row left: Sanyo PLV-Z2000, middle: Optoma HD8000, right: Mitsubishi HC6000
As you can see from comparing these images, the Sony is very similar in sharpness to the Panasonic, but not as crisp as the Optoma HD8000. The Sanyo PLV-Z2000 and Mitsubishi definitely appear to be a step up, not exhibiting the softness found in the Sony or Panasonic.
Our last sharpness image is a close-up of this computer monitor from Space Cowboys on Blu-ray. You can click for larger images to compare the readability,
Click on the left thumbnail for a large, cropped version of the original frame on the VPL-VW60, and the middle for the Panasonic. On the right, the Sharp XV-Z20000.
Bottom line: This new VPL-VW60, definitely comes across as less than average in sharpness. Still, you've been looking at very close, close-ups. At normal seating distances. the differences are far less. However, if you want the crispest looking image it won't be the Sony. That said, filling a 110" area of my screen, and sitting at 12 feet, the Sony looked just fine!
Sony VPL-VW60 Projector Overall Picture Quality
Stunning! I spent a lot of time switching back and forth between the Sony VW60 and my own JVC RS1, while watching Casino Royale, House of the Flying Daggers, and other movies.
And these two projectors are very, very, close. I might still give the JVC the slightest edge in black levels, but not enough to be concerned about. Shadow detail still goes to the JVC as well, by a slightly larger margin, but the Sony shines when it comes to the depth of the image. This is an "ability" I can't quite nail down as to what combination of areas of performance make this up, but every so often, I see projectors that just have that little extra. The Sony is one, Optoma's HD81 (and brighter HD81-LV, is another).
It definitely is part of the "wow' factor of the Sony.
The bottom line, is that the Sony has it, and it yields an initial reaction of being more impressive than my JVC. Let's take a look at a wide range of images:
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Sony VPL-VW60 Viewing - HDTV
As soon as we start talking HDTV, the game changes. Now ambient light becomes an issue, because most people don't want to watch TV, and especially sports, "in a cave".
For your consideration, here are a number of HDTV images, starting with football. In all cases, room lighting was daytime, afternoon (my side windows face south - the sun), with the motorized blackout shades full down, and the usual light leakage, making the room one of low light - you could read a newspaper, but would almost certainly turn up the lighting if that was your plan.
All told, the football and other sports looked good. I did spend one full afternoon watching college football, and it worked out fine (screen size 110" diagonal). There are not many dark areas in a sports game. Thank's to my Firehawk screen, the affect of the side lighting is minimized quite a bit, although less on the left side, and far more on the right.
Because ambient light is an issue, many of these images show the whole screen, and some like the one above, some wall, as well, to let you get a feel for the ambient lighting. You can see above, that the left side is washing out visibly, but not severely, while the right side, looks very good. If I had a white surface screen, things would have been much worse.
Moving to other HDTV content was a big more challenging, as many programs do have darker scenes. I'll start with some music video images:
Pete Townsend of The Who, above, doesn't look bad, but you can find the same image on other projectors - brighter projectors, where he looks much better. The Sony is just not bright enough to give you the feel of good blacks at the 110" diagonal size, with the amount of ambient light I get in the daytime with shades all down.
Before I go further, here is the ambient light situation for all of these HDTV images:
As you can see, not exactly drenched in sunlight - the room would best be described as having moderate to low lighting.
Back to images, the next two are of BonJovi and Sugarland performing together. In the first image you can again see the hit the Sony is taking, especially in the amps, and the people on the left side of the audience. Still, enjoyable to watch, but...
More problematic is this shot of Lindsey Buckingham's band. Lighting on stage is not bright, and the image is more severely affected:
And, now for sitcom - Boston Legal, with the boys on the balcony, at night:
Lastly, my family watched the Victoria Secret annual fashion show (my daughter is hooked on anything modeling or theater related). It looked killer when we watched it at night, and the room was very dark, but not as well in the afternoon, when these images where shot:
Still, not bad at all, but this second image had a darker stage behind it, and the rich, vivid, but darker colors suffer under my ambient light:
Sony VPL-VW60 Picture Quality - Bottom Line:
The Sony is just wonderful to watch movies on. While entry level price projectors like the Sanyo and Panasonic are great projectors, with really good picture quality, the Sony, with its better black levels and other magic, is a step up projector. It's also very good on HDTV content (I don't mess around with standard def TV in my reviews), but takes a big hit if you have more than minor ambient light.
For the bucks, though, a movie watcher's dream!