Sony VPL-VW70 - Image Quality
5-18-2009 - Art Feierman
Sony VPL-VW70 Out of the Box Picture Quality
This Sony home theater projector is good out of the box, but definitely improves with calibration. That said, you might well enjoy watching the Sony VPL-VW70, uncalibrated, (i.e. in Cinema mode, the image is a little too warm - a bit too much red), but, to get your money's worth out of the VW70 you will want it properly calibrated.
If budget doesn't allow that, get a good calibration disc, such as the Digital Video Essentials - HD disc, and do the best you can. Another alternative is to take the settings we came up with in our Calibration page, and drop them into your projector. Dynamic mode, out of the box, is just the opposite of Cinema with a heavy shift to blue, with weak reds. While watchable, try changing the default color temp for Dynamic, from High to Medium, for a real improvement.
VPL-VW70 Flesh Tones
After completing the calibraton of the Sony VPL-VW70 projector, skin tones were excellent. Not the very best I've encountered, but very close. (We still like best, the InFocus IN83 of all the projectors we've reviewed in the last couple of years.) The Sony, though does a great job, and, with a full calibration including the individual colors, it may well match the InFocus. I suspect it may well beat my own personal JVC DLA-RS20, in terms of skin tones, with that full calibration.
These first two images are from standard definition DVD disc; Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers. The first is Gandalf (in Gondor), followed by Arwen in the forest.
The rest of the images in this section are movies and other content on hi-def Blu-ray disc. The next three are from Casino Royale, but each scene has different lighting. As you would expect, that affects the color balance. The first image is with direct sunlight, the second one, fluorescent lighting, and the third one, filtered sunlight.
Below are a number of additional images to demonstrate handling of skin tones.
Next are images from the sci-fi flick, Aeon Flux:
VPL-VW70 Projector Black Levels & Shadow Detail
Black level performance is one of the best we've seen. The Sony VPL-VW70 is a step up from the lower cost VPL-HW10, in terms of producing blacker blacks. We've reviewed a lot of 1080p projectors in the last six months, and very few can match or beat the Sony VW70. Of the lower cost projectors, when it comes to black levels, only the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB and Pro Cinema 7500UB come close, and the Sony does best them. In the higher price ranges - where this Sony's true competition lies, it is roughly comparable to the JVC DLA-RS10, and the Planar PD8150. The JVC RS10, of course, is another LCoS projector, but one that achieves great black levels. By the way, JVC has engineered the LCoS panels and whatever other magic they do, while the Sony relies heavily on its dynamic iris. The Planar - the best of the DLP projectors I've seen in terms of black levels (it bests the BenQ W20000), should be very close to the Sony. I would have liked to run them side by side, for a number of reasons, but the opportunity never happened.
Ultimately, the Sony does a sufficiently excellent job on black levels, that only one projector we have tested can claim to be a step up, and that's the JVC RS20. That said, the Sony is sufficiently good, that if choosing between the two, other factors may prove to be more important to you than black level differences.
OK, let's start with the usual Starship image from The Fifth Element. The first two images are from the VW70. The first, intentionally way overexposed, enough so you can just make out the gray/black in the letterboxing. As you can see, to make out that letterboxing, we really had to overexpose the image. That's a good thing. Below it is the more normal, but still slightly overexposed version that is used to compare with the same image from other 1080p projectors.
Below: Sony VPL-HW10
The side by side image below has VPL-VW70 is on the left, and the JVC DLA-RS20 on the right. The image immediately below it, is the same frame, but intentionally overexposed.
Below is a side by side with the Sony on the left and the JVC RS20 on the right:
Next is a frame from the beginning of the The Dark Knight, showing the Legendary logo. As you can see, the black levels appear close to identical in this shot, however, the bright parts of the logo on the JVC (right) are much brighter (and therefore shifting toward white, as they are overexposed). The Sony's dynamic iris is compressing the overall image, so, while it lowers the blacks, whites and near whites in darker scenes, are suffering a bit. The JVC which does not have a dynamic iris, therefore produces a more spectacular dark scene.
Here are some all digital images, which are good ones for considering black levels. Look for the richness in the black part of some of the buildings and the sky in the second image. Both of these are digital hi-def images from the DVE-HD calibration disc.
Bottom line, on black levels: First off, they are extremely good. The blacks get very black, approaching the levels of the JVC RS20 (the best out there), on very dark scenes where the Sony's dynamic iris can close the most. In this regard blacks get so dark that they are barely visible in the letterbox area.
Unlike the JVC (one of the few projectors in its class that achieves great blacks without needing a dynamic iris), the Sony does compress the dynamic range of the image if any white is present on a dark scene. Let's say white, or other color combinations hitting full brightness. Most scenes such as city streets at night, or a scene in a dark room, still tend to have some very bright areas, even if small. The Sony will dim them down somewhat to let the iris close down more. This is a common attribute of most dynamic irises.
So, while the Sony is doing the same thing many other ultra-high-contrast projectors do, in terms of compressing the image, I point out the compression here because the VW70 is a projector that is almost certainly going to be compared to one of the JVC's by most buyers. This is logical as they are in many ways similar.
Shadow Detail Performance
The VPL-VW70 does really well in terms of shadow detail. Not the best of the better projectors, but close.
I give it the slightest edge over the JVC RS20 in revealing dark shadow detail, but, again, likely due to the iris, there are some scenes where the RS20 can slightly outdo the Sony. Overall, though, the Sony has the edge.
More importantly, I'm really quibbling here, the Sony rarely loses anything of significance, you really have to go looking for any loss, you won't find it casually watching.
When projectors in this range of black level performance deal with the closest information to near black, then those shadow details are going to be extremely dark, and difficult to spot. Projectors with brighter black levels will also be brighter on those same dark details. I'll take the blacker blacks every time, in exchange for the slightest loss of detail that I'm not likely to notice while watching.
Top left: VPL-VW70, Middle: Panasonic PT-AE3000 Right: JVC DLA-RS10
The comparison images below are 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-VW70, followed by the less expensive Sony VPL-HW10, and the Mitsubishi HC7000. Then comes the the JVC DLA-RS10 and RS20. The last two in the sequence are the InFocus IN83 and the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB.
The Sony VPL-VW70's performance is very good at revealing details in the window shades, in this very dark scene.
Again, from Space Cowboys, this is a cropped image. The right side is very bright (so dynamic irises will not be effective). The VPL-VW70 (top left) shows a pretty good amount of detail in the dark areas of the satellite. Still, there is some loss of detail as the dark ares are very dark, darker than some of the other projectors, making it hard to make out the darkest details. Next to it on the first row, is the Sony VPL-HW10, Those images are followed by the Panasonic PT-AE3000 and the JVC RS20 (second row). The Mitsubishi HC7000 is the last image (3rd row), and may well have the best dark shadow detail handling.
The re-entry image below, is a tough shadow detail test. Projectors with weak black levels and average shadow detail ability tend to generate an image where much of the right side of earth, looks to have that flat, lacking in detail look. All projectors pick up some of the brighter features on the right side, while better ones, pick up a lot more and usually have richer blacks as well.
On the left, is the VPL-VW70, the middle, the JVC RS10, and on the right, the InFocus IN83 which is about as good as it gets, in terms of shadow detail.
Next is the casino image at night from Bond's Casino Royale.
When comparing, look at the detail in the roof (tiles), and also in the assorted trees and plants. The small images below (all are the same) show a slightly overexposed scene. Click on the images and the larger versions from the different projectors are far more overexposed, to allow a closer inspection of shadow details.
Sony VPL-VW70 projector:
Sony VPL-HW10 projector:
JVC DLA-RS10 projector:
InFocus IN83 projector: (a more expensive projector that I've been raving about)
Mitsubishi HC6500 projector:
Here's a shot, taken of the Sony VPL-VW70 (left), and JVC RS20 (right), set up side by side.
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-VW70 looks good!
Click on left thumbnail image for the Sony VPL-VW70, Sony VPL-HW10 in the center, and the right for the InFocus IN83.
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-VW70, the second is the Mitsubishi HC7000, third is the Panasonic ,and the last one is from the InFocus IN83:
(Please note, the image above is a little blurry, must have bumped the tripod. Sorry! That shouldn't affect your ability to see the shadow details. -art)
And below is the a side by side with the Sony (left) and JVC RS20 right:
The image above, from The Dark Knight has some very bright areas, but there are lots of shadow details in the mountain and in the streets and buildings of Hong Kong. It has been overexposed a bit to make hunting dark shadow details a bit easier.
In the image below, from Aeon Flux, look at the shadow details in the form of the table surface, shadows on the table, and dark areas in the foods and around them.
VPL-VW70 Bottom Line: Shadow details
The VPL-VW70 truly does a really good job, it manages to reveal lots of very dark details. Almost all the darkest details are there, but, may be so dark, that they are difficult to see when just enjoying content.
No issue at all, with the shadow detail at all!
The image below is another good one for looking at shadow details, and can be found on most recent reviews. Look to the details in the dark area in the upper right, and, if comparing to other projectors, whether that area is more or less vibrant. Sometimes the details may be there, but the area can look pretty flat.
Sony VPL-VW70 Overall Color & Picture Quality
The VW70 is a well balanced projector. The combination of excellent black levels and really good color combine to produce a great looking image. Skin tones are some of the best we've seen.
Bright scenes are very dynamic looking, if there's a downside, dark scenes are slightly compressed due to the operation of the dynamic iris. While this is nothing new to dynamic irises, it is worthy of note, because the VW70 definitely has to compete head to head with two excellent projectors that can match or beat its black level performance - without the use of a dynamic iris and the resulting slight compression of dynamic range.
Below you'll find a mix of additional images to show off the VPL-VW70.
Before we get to those, here are several side-by-side photos of the VW70 (left) compared to the JVC DLA-RS20 (right). The JVC RS20 is one of the VW70's closest (and fiercest) competitors. As mentioned before, the two projectors were setup so that overall brightness was the same on brighter scenes. As a result, in the darker scenes, you can spot some of that dynamic range compression. You'll see blacks and near blacks that are very similar in brightness on those dark scenes, but when you look at the brightest parts of the image, the JVC is brighter. This really isn't something you'd likely be aware of without the side-by-side viewing, but still, it's there:
Below, same image as above but seriously overexposed.
From the DTS Blu-ray test disk, consider these:
From the DVE-HD test disc:
More movie scenes: From Dogma:
The latest Indiana Jones movie:
And, Aeon Flux:
And a few more assorted photos:
Sony VPL-VW70 Projector: Performance, HDTV and Sports
The VPL-VW70 did a great job on HDTV, in terms of overall color and look of the picture. I spent serious time watching sports (NBA basketball mostly), as well as segments of football games I have saved on my DVR. When viewing sports, I viewed in both Dynamic, and Cinema mode (in Cinema mode the Advanced Iris was turned off, which increased brightness to about 500 lumens, and was roughly 25% less bright than Dynamic). The slight extra brightness of Dynamic mode was nice, but the overall color was better in Cinema. Still, nothing wrong with viewing in Dynamic mode.
My number one complaint with the VW70 for watching sports, or for that matter, other HDTV and TV content comes back to brightness. With low 600 lumens as the VW70's maximum brightness, it is significantly less bright than most other projectors. Overall, we consider average brightness to be around 1000 lumens.
In the $3500 to $10,000 class of home theater projectors we define in our recent 1080p Projector Comparison Report only the Planar PD8150 and Sharp XV-Z20000 are similar in brightness to the VW70. The two JVC projectors are about 1/3 brighter in brightest mode, and the two InFocus models, the IN82 and IN83, as well as the BenQ W20000 all come in between 1101 and 1382 lumens - roughly twice as bright (a really significant difference). We also mentioned the Optoma HD8000-LV, which we have yet to test but should be the brightest of all in this price range.
The bottom line is this: Even with a smaller screen, 100 inch diagonal or less, the Sony is going to work best with the room fully darkened, or a minimum of ambient light. It just doesn't have the muscle to deal with any significant ambient light.
The first batch of images below, five in all, ending with John Lodge of the Moody Blues on bass, where taken with my theater fully darkened. Below that are additional images with some ambient light present.
In the images below, I had the two shades covering the windows on our french doors open about 18 inches, letting in some sunlight which hits the medium gold carpeting. As you can see in the image above, there is plenty of washout of the image. (note, the projected image size was just about 100 inches diagonal). You can click to enlarge the room photo.
Below are two photos of the same projected image of the Texas Tech quarterback. The first one was taken with all the shades down, and only very, very minor light leaking into the room. The image looks great.
The one below it was taken with the door shades open slightly as shown in the room shot above. As you can see, the image is washing out enough to be annoying and, more to the point, not of the quality most people would consider acceptable.
In the next two images, the exposure is a bit darker. More to the point, the two images below were taken with the same exposure. The first one is Cinema mode (iris off, for maximum brightness), and the second one with Dynamic mode (iris also off). The nature of Dynamic mode - is to get maximum lumens so no reason to ever use it with the Iris on. As you can see the difference between the two settings is not that great.
For those not just into movies, but who want want to watch general TV, HDTV content, and especially sports without turning the room into a cave, the biggest weakness of the Sony VPL-VW70 projector is its lack of brightness. Even my JVC DLA-RS20 (one of the VW70's major competitors), although also on the low side of average brightness, is just about 1/3 brighter in its Dynamic mode, than the Sony projector in its (dynamic mode). (And I wish my JVC had a little more muscle!)