First, I should say, that when I receive a projector for review that comes straight from the manufacturer, I normally know if it is a full production projector or pre-production. In this case, I just don't know. The Sony HS51A came with a photocopied manual, which could mean pre-production, or just that (the reviewer who had it before me, didn't return the manual. I'm also used to receiving projectors with very low mileage, typically either brand new, or with 50 hours or less on the lamps. This Sony projector, however came with 255 hours on the lamp. That could be good or bad, as lamps dim over time. In this case, the Sony is probably not as bright as a brand new one, but also probably outputs only a little more brightness than it will when it has a thousand or more hours on it. They say that the lamp dims the most in the first 500 hours on any projector.
Out of the Box performance, was very good in most areas, especially image sharpness, however, color is off a bit, and I found flesh tones, to have a yellowish green caste that I didn't like. Now, that's OK, most projectors need a little tweaking to get the colors right. And you can improve on the flesh tone handling on most, but I will note that the Sony's flesh tones weren't that far off, but they were noticeably less pleasing. The trick is to have it be easy to get things to very acceptable levels
Don't Despair: In the case of the Sony HS51A, there is more than enough control of the image to get any desired results, although it might require a little more studying of the manual than other projectors. Since I did a quick calibration of the Sony, I you'll find a screen shot down below that shows the R, G, and B settings. I would suggest trying them out, if you buy the HS51A. Given the variations from unit to unit, and lamps, these settings should get you very close. The image of Awen, from Lord of the Rings, was taken after I changed the R,G,B settings.
The Sony projector has 3 presets - Dynamic, Standard and Cinema. I worked almost exclusively with the Cinema setting (viewing DVDs), except for Hi-Def. In this case I broke out my calibration software (AVIA Pro) and light meter (Optic One), and first, did some measurments, and then did one pass of calibrating the color. In addition to the three presets mentioned above, there are three User savable modes.
If you are a plug and play person, you can skip this paragraph. . It's got technical numbers relating to the calibration:. Once you select a mode, like Cinema, to access individual red, green, and blue gain and separate red, green and blue bias, you scoll down the Picture Adjust menu to Color temperature. There you have a choice of High, Medium and Low. Low is normally your movie setting, and should have a color temperature of 6500K. When I measured the color temperature, I measured two separate readings, first, in Lamp full power mode, it was almost a dead on 6536K, but in Low lamp mode it was off a noticeable amount, not bad, but 6791K. When I finished the calibration with my gear, the color temperature was an almost perfect 6499K.
The image here of the color settings shows the RGB settings I ended up with to get that 6499K. These settings will not be right on for every HS51A, however, lamps perform differently and the color balance of a lamp will change over time, just as I found different color values in the low power and high power modes. (Perfectionists with the calibration equipment would likely re-calibrate every few hundred hours.) BTW, if you want to calibrate your projector, let it warm up for about 30 minutes, as the color temperature will change while its warming up. (The changes should be slight after the first 10-20 minutes?)
While I realize any projector does need a little adjusting, I am of the belief that the vast majority of users will want to spend little or no time fooling with lots of settings. The Sony takes a little more effort than most. Now, if you are a "tweaker" and love to play with, and adjust your projector, you will love the Sony. It gives you plenty of control, and you can really make it perform beautifully.
What's important, is that when I got done, the Sony put out a very very impressive and color accurate image. So, I would suggest that if you are going to choose the Sony, look to get it properly calibrated by a good dealer or and independant ISF calibrator, or plan to get your own calibration disk and put in a little effort. (A calibration disk like the regular Avia, is easy to use. There's a good tutorial, and it steps you through the process. Figure about one hour, and a little patience, to do it. The image above of Samuel L. Jackson in Star Wars gives you a good indication of the natural color, after the adjustments I made.