Prices: Sony HS51A vs. the competition
I consider the typical prices I find, and not the lowest price out there. I look primarily to direct authorized dealers, as with them, you can expect at least some level of support.
With the Sony now buyable for significantly under $2500 from a number of dealers, that still makes it far more expensive than the Panasonic PT-AE900u, or Sanyo PLV-Z4 which have rebates currently running. (The Panasonic gives you a $400 cash rebated and a $300 Blockbuster rental rebate, the Sanyo, has a free spare lamp (we consider that $350). That means both of those net out around $1500 - $1600 (most people won't consider the Blockbuster rebate to be worth $300). So, the Sony is still far more expensive, but as you will read below, there are many reasons why you would be willing to pay more
Optoma's HD72, the DLP projector is just under $2000, so still a few hundred less, but as a DLP projector, it has some limitations that may not work for you. There is also Mitsubishi's HC3000 (not reviewed) which seems to be about the same price as the Sony, and it too, is a DLP projector with some limitations.
Epson's Cinema 550 projector is now slightly more expensive than the Sony VPL-HS51A, instead of being a couple hundred less, almost 3 months ago.
Lastly there is InFocus's new Play Big IN76, (we published that review last week). The IN76 is currently more expensive than the Sony, and is a DLP, also with the usual placement limitations.
So, What's So Great About The Sony VPL-HS51A?
Black Levels and Shadow Detail
More importantly is the image quality. Overall, the black levels were the best of any of the LCD projectors we have seen, and appear to be very close to the best DLP projectors that use the Darkchip3. In addition, the Sony did very well in terms of resolving shadow details. In the full review I mention the different AI and iris modes, which have a lot of impact on the final image, so let me say this. If you want the blackest blacks, the Sony has the settings to outperform their LCD competitors, although you will lose some shadow detail. It will even do blacker blacks than the Optoma HD72 or BenQ PE7700 if you go that route, but those projectors will then have better shadow detail.
And the blacks are very black, not blue-black, or redish black, etc. That is a plus, since few projectors maintain a really neutral black.
Like most LCD projectors using AI auto irises, dimming lamps, etc., the Sony's black levels with everything engaged, vary from frame to frame. All that technology works best if the frame has lots of dark areas and no areas that are very bright. If a scene has both darks and very bright areas, the AI can't dim the image to get better blacks. So, you could say, on the right scenes the Sony projector will actually do better blacks than even the competing DLPs, but not on other scenes.