Sony VPL-PRO1 Projector - Image Quality
The Sony VPL-PRO1 screen image photos below are from either Blu-ray or HDTV, Note, if comparing images with older Sony projectors, the PRO1 images from Lord of the Rings are from the Blu-ray version. Older Sony's were reviewed with the standard DVD version, prior to Blu-ray release. These Sony VPL-PRO1 projector images come to you, through a dSLR camera, software, browsers, and even your monitor, all with their own color inaccuracies. there are definite color shifts, saturation differences, etc. The images of the Sony VPL-VWPRO1 are provided to support the commentary, but keep in mind the limitations when trying to compare images from the VPL-PRO1 with other home theater projectors. Take them all, "with a grain of salt"
In reality, all projectors, including the VPL-PRO1, always look better live, than the images in our reviews - ask anyone who already owns a home theater projector!
12/24/10 - Art Feierman
Updated 1/15/11: HDTV, Sports images added
VPL-VWPRO1 Out of the Box Picture Quality
Whoa, out of the box performance for the VWPRO1 is dissapointing, but you can easily make it much better. Not sure why Sony did what they did, with the default Cinema settings, but the color temp for Cinema at default, averages almost 9000K across the range, when 6500K is ideal. That's a huge shift towards blue, and very, very, thin reds.
To quote Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: "Don't Panic" Even if you don't intend to calibrate or really fool with settings, just changing one single setting makes a world of improvement, catapaulting the out of the box quality from so-so, to very good.
All you need to do, is change the Color Temp from its default of Custom 2, to Low. Dropping it to Low Color Temp, reduces the average color temp across the range, down to about 7200K. That's still a bit cool, but has to be considered at least as good as most other projectors, overall, in terms of general out of the box performance.
Check out our recommended settings for items like Brightness, Color, etc. on the Calibration page of this review.
VPL-VWPRO1 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 Blu-ray release of Lord of the Rings, and skin tones of both Gandalf and Arwen appear very natural. The blue caste you see in the walls above, accurately reflect what I saw on the screen (except, the image above is more staturated looking).
Below, Arwen looks rather pale. This is pretty correct. The scene is in a forest, and it lends a slight green caste to the image, which gives it that pale look. You might even notice, that it's a bit more pale around her forehead, than lower on her face - as it was on the screen.
Below are our usual 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.
I have one more image of Bond, at night, which you will see below. Immediately below are some additional images we typically use in reviews, that should give you a good feel for overall skin tone handling:
The next three images are from the older HW15, and will be replaced when the second batch of images are ready, over Christmas weekend.
From The Dark Knight:
Men In Black:
and finally one from Quantum of Solace (Bond) - looks good here, but even better on the screen:
VPL-VWPRO1 Black Levels & Shadow Detail
Originally when the Sony review was published, right before Christmas 2010, discerning the the black level performance was not possible. I had only 4 days, and never got to do any side by side viewing. Now, a couple weeks later, I've viewed the Sony VPL-VWPRO1 side by side against the Epson 8700UB and the JVC RS20. Side by side pictures were taken against the Epson, with a couple shown below.
Understand, this Sony PRO1, or it may be known as the HW20a in other parts of the world, was the first projector reviewed in our new "facility". The testing room has the same Carada screen as before, but the walls are far darker, affecting black level performance. At first I thought I was seeing a significant improvement over last year's HW15, but, alas, after more viewing, it turned out to be more wishful thinking.
That's not to say that blacks haven't been improved incrementally. They are a bit better than the Sony projector it replaces, but the differences are slight. That's in line with the trend this year. Blacks mostly have been only slightly improved on a lot of projectors with inherently very good to excellent black performance.
We still have here, an ultra high contrast projector - very, very, good blacks, but it still comes off in the middel of the pack - more in line with, say the Panasonic PT-AE4000 or Sanyo PLV-Z4000, than, the even better Epson 8700UB and 9700UB projectors.
The Sony is no match at all, compared to the JVC RS20, though the Epson is probably a little closer to the Sony's performance level than the JVC's downright amazing blacks.
Immediately below, from Space Cowboys, and below it, same image, from the HW15:
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-PRO1 on the right, and the Epson 8700UB on the left. Note that the Epson image is smaller. Since the Epson already had a few hundred hours on its lamp (vs. about 25 hours on the Sony), and that the Sony is brighter to begin with (best modes), it was necessary to reduce the size of the Epson's image to achieve some sort of brightness parity, even with the Sony changed to eco-mode. (Don't worry about the color shifts, - on these long time exposures, the slightest color differences are badly amplified.)
Look closely at the two images, or rather their letterbox areas above and below. The Epson (left, letterbox - blacks - ) are much darker than the Sony which has a very visible letterbox. The Epson's letterboxing is only really noticeable at this exposure, in the lower right corner, where this Epson shows a minute red shift (not something you would notice during viewing the same scene in real time).
Click on the above - heavily overexposed - night train image from Casino Royale, for a larger version.
On these additional two dark scenes, the slightly better blacks of the Epson do seem to result in a slightly more dynamic looking dark scene. In the image below, also note, that you can make out a touch more dark shadow detail in the furniture in the room (back center). Still, the two projectors are close.
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-PRO1. (Note, the PRO1 images have been converted to grayscale, so that slight color shifts (in part due to very long exposures) do not distract. Going forward we will use grayscale for several images relating to black levels and shadow detail.
Immediately below it, is the Optoma HD8200. Unfortunately, brightness varies even more making accurate comparisons of black levels a little difficult. Still, for example, the last image, the more expensive JVC RS15, obviously still has very black blacks, yet the bright areas are the most overexposed. That indicates the best black level performance. This Sony isn't that good, and the RS15 has a similar lower cost replacement the HD250 we haven't reviewed yet, that is about the same price as the Sony VWPRO1 - HW20a projector.
Same image, intentionally overexposed:
Older Sony VPL-HW15 (LCoS projector under $3K):
Consider two additional (digital) images which are good ones for observing black levels.
The dynamic iris, with almost all projectors (JVC excepted, as JVC manages 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 Space Cowboys, (the second image with the shuttle in it was about 2 seconds further into the movie, explaining the slight shift in the position of the stars and planet).
Notice how much brighter the background is on the second image, due to the iris opening to handle the bright lights of the space shuttle. (Both images are intentionally overexposed.) Measuring the same "black" pixels in the upper right of the letterbox, the first image had RGB measurements of R=4, G=16, B=17. In the lower and brighter image (due to the iris opening a bit), the same area measures: R=7, G=18, B=21. Average that out and you've got the lower image pixels about 20% brighter! That means that the blacks are 20% brighter too. And believe me, the iris in the lower picture still isn't fully open.
Shadow Detail Performance
When it comes to shadow detail, the Sony VPL-PRO1 is superb. My favorite image for dark shadow detail is the night train scene from Casino Royale. Further down, you'll see how the Sony handles that dark shadow detail on the darkest of scenes, as well, as how many competitors do on the same frame. Before we get to those, some other images though. Direct comparison side by side images will be added when ready:
The first set of comparison images, is a scene with Clint Eastwood from Space Cowboys. This is a very dark scene, intentionally overexposed (from Blu-ray disc). 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).
The VPL-PRO1 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-PRO1 (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 older HW15, Those images are followed by the Epson 8700UB, and the JVC DLA-RS15 (second row). The third row is the Mitsubishi HC6800 (left), and the Optoma HD8600 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-PRO1 does a very good job. The VPL-PRO1 definitely does a solid job when it comes to shadow detail While the second image (VPL-HW15) is a bit brighter than the PRO1's, note also the blacks are visibily darker with the PRO1, arguably indicated better black level performance.
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-PRO1 performs very nicely.
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-PRO1, followed by the same, but more overexposed. Next, the older Sony, fourth is the Epson Home Cinema 8700UB, followed by the JVC RS15, and the last one is from the Sanyo PLV-Z4000.
Here's the same image overexposed for a better look at the dark details:
Shadow detail performance is really very good. No issue here at all. Plenty of details in the darkest areas of the woods, with the shrubs by the tracks and so on. Not the very best, but close enough. Remember, when setting brightness correctly, the difference between the two closest settings (one a tad too "bright" one too "dark") impacts the shadow detail. In the side by side above, for example the Epson slightly beat the Sony, but if I changed the Sony's brightness, by +1, it would no doubt match or beat the Epson slightly, but the black level would also raise. Again, these are small differences.
Sony VPL-VWPRO1 - Overall Color & Picture Quality
The Sony VPL-VWPRO1 projector, or, if you prefer - the PRO1, or the HW20a, is a complete, high performance projector when it comes to image quality. Post calibration color is downright excellent and natural. Shadow detail is equally impressive. Note that on a typical daytime type image with a normal exposure, the Sony (right) and the Epson (left) seem very similar in color handling.
Black level performance is very good. Not the best in it's price range -around $3000, but definitely one of the better ones. It would still seem to come up a bit short of the Epson 8700ub, and almost certainly compared to the HD250 from JVC (even though I've only seen it at shows, so far, but based on the older RS15).
On top of all that, since this Sony got a significant boost in brightness to complement, the color, etc. Overall, that makes the Sony VW-PRO1 a truly better projector than last years effort, especially since the price is essentially unchanged.
Bottom Line for Overall Picture Quality and Color Handling: Excellent, especially for the money!
Don't forget, below these remaining images is our section on HDTV and Sports viewing with the Sony VPL-VWPRO1 - HW20a projector.
A mix of additional images to show off the VPL-PRO1:
From the DVE 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 reviews:
Sony VPL-VWPRO1 Projector: Performance, HDTV and Sports
More lumens really helps. I've got my new theater running, though hardly finished. Right now, I've got ESPNHD - Sports Center running. One window has no covering on it, it's a sunny day, but no direct light near the wall with the 100" 16:9 Elite HC gray screen I'm using until my new screens arrive.
This Sony can handle more ambient light than previous models and it really helps. The image is vibrant (note my theater has all dark walls, floor and even a black ceiling). Still, turning on the back 7 recessed lights, and the window as is, the image is barely taking a hit. (Warning, that wouldn't be the case with light colored walls.)
I watched a good bit of other HD content (not just football), and found the colors to be bright and natural overall.
Anyway you slice it, though, the Sony PRO1 projector is brighter than average in brightest mode, though not by much (100 lumens). Still that beats being almost 250 lumens below average (last years model). There's no way I could have survived in my old theater, with the 128" screen, with the HW15, for sports viewing, it just didn't have the horsepower.
That's not the case with this new Sony Projector. It has the muscle, and also offers better than average color accuracy for a brightest mode. I'm extremely impressed! a few hundred more lumens would be better still, but, what a difference a roughly 40% increase brings to your viewing pleasure, when you don't want to be in a cave mode.
This is what the new theater room looked like when shooting the HDTV images in the evening:
And here's how good the Sony looks with that exact lighting: