OK here's what many of you have been waiting for, side by side images for comparing black levels. I had the opportunity to shoot the VPL-HW10 against the PT-AE3000, and that image is shown below.
The image below is intentionally overexposed. The VPL-HW10 is on the left, and the PT-AE3000 on the right. The image pair below that is the Sony, again, on the left, and my JVC RS1 on the right.
As you can see from the two image pairs above, the Sony does best the Panasonic PT-AE3000 on this scene, but can't match the JVC RS1. This starship scene has a fair amount of moderately bright areas, so the dynamic irises on the Sony and Panasonic, can't close down as far as they would on a much darker scene.
Here's a black frame in a fade between scenes (which means a dynamic iris can pretty much close down as far as it can). Just because one projector's iris closes down more, though, does not mean you'll see a difference anywhere near this great, on a very dark scene (but not black). Sony VPL-HW10 on the left, Panasonic on the right. Please note, the Panasonic we have here is the same pre-production sample that we reviewed, and it does exhibit unevenness in the background in the form of too much blue in the upper right and lower left corners. A full production projector should not have this problem (or to a significantly lesser degree), and should have blacks throughout, comparable to the center of the Panasonic's image. Even considering that, the Sony HW10 (like the Mitsubishi) definitely provides a blacker black on this black scene.
Here are two, 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: The VPL-HW10 performs extremely well. We give it a definite, but slight edge over the Panasonic PT-AE3000, although, even the Panasonic does extremely well. The Mitsubishi HC7000 (which I haven't shot side by side with the Sony, because I can't come close to balancing the brightness, seems to be the equal to the Sony, or close enough to not matter. The JVC RS1, which lacks a dynamic iris, but set the standard for black levels when released 18 months ago, is still superior, overall, to any of these other projectors mentioned. The big unknown, of course will be how the new Epson Home Cinema 6500 UB, and Pro Cinema 7500 UB will stack up with the Sony, and others. As things stand, the Sony, I would say, is about the equal to the older Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, overall. The newer Epson models claim even better contrast than the older Epson, so we would expect the new Epson projectors to show some improvement.