Comparing the Projectors' Picture Quality
Image quality is number one on my list of what's important. The critical areas here, are black level performance, shadow detail, post calibration color accuracy, sharpness, and the overall look and feel of the picture.
While we aren't that concerned with "out of the box" picture quality, as in final adjusted performance, it's always nice to start with really good image. We said this about the Sony HW10: "is pretty good out of the box, but, with calibration, performance improvement is readily apparant". The PT-AE3000, by comparison, was described as: "before any adjustments were made, yielded very good color accuracy. In fact, very little needed to be done to the color settings when we calibrated the projector. Still, calibration did yield a small, but real improvement."
In other words, the Sony is pretty good, right out of the box, and the Panasonic, a bit better, but to get your money's worth, get either calibrated, or, at least, try our settings posted in the calibration section of the individual reviews.
Skin Tone Accuracy
Click to enlarge. so close. This is another area where the two projectors are about equal. After our calibraton, the Panasonic looked great, but with the slightest red or rather pinkish shift to skin tones. By comparison, the Sony tends to be just a touch cool, a tiny bit thin on reds. Both look very good by themselves, the differences are most noticeable side by side. Because we could not get the two identical in brightness, the Sony is a touch brighter, which in this side by side, is washing out the contrast a bit.
Black level performance
The Sony HW-10 wins the battle of black levels, but not by a great amount. They are close enough in this regard, that while black level performance should weigh into your final decision, the differences are small enough not to be a huge factor. Both are what we call "ultra-high-contrast" (UHC) projectors. Forget the contrast specs, the Sony sports really high numbers (30:000:1) while the Panasonic claims more than twice that. The bottom line, despite that, is that the Sony is better. In the first image below, you are looking at a black transition frame between two scenes. First, forget the brighter bluish areas in the Panasonic's upper left and lower right corners. That type of uneveness in the background is common on pre-production samples such as the one we received for review. Even disregarding that, the Sony is a bit better. The other factor is that both projectors rely on dynamic irises to achieve the best blacks on dark scenes, but black frames typically demonstrate the differences when both irises are shut down the maximum amount. Some projectors will close down a lot more on black scenes, but on dark scenes, the amount they close down may be similar. Thus, other images must be considered to get the best feel for the blacks under typical dark scenes.
The second image is a mixed scene, with little bright area. The image you see is significantly overexposed to show shadow detail. In that scene from Bond, you can see that the blacks are roughly comparable.
The third image is the overexposed Starship, from The Fifth Element. This is a very good scene for comparison, and you can again, see that the black background of space, is darker on the Sony.
A definite win for the VPL-HW10, but not a big one.
When it comes to shadow detail, now the Panasonic has the slightest advantage. You can start by looking at the shadow detail in the Bond office scene above. Better still is the classic night train scene (also from Casino Royale). Look to the shrubs behind the railroad track in the lower right. Note that the Sony image is the slightly brighter, but the Panasonic still reveals about as much dark shadow detail. The Sony does a rather excellent job, but the Panasonic may be incrementally a touch better.
The image above (seriously overexposed) lets you look at the details in the trees on the left, and the roof. Again, the Sony image (left) is slightly brighter.
All considered, lets call them a tie, despite what I believe to be the slightest advantage by the Panasonic. Certainly, they are so close in this regard, as to be a non-factor in a decsion between these two.