Sony VPL-VW50 (Pearl) Review – Continued

October 12, 2006

Image Quality:

Continued from Sony VPL-VW50 (Pearl) Review – Part 1. I had a bag full of SD and HD DVD’s on hand for the review but this being a Sony projector it just felt appropriate to pull out the Superbit version of ‘The Fifth Element’. Yes this disc has many a mile on it but that familiarity was also comforting; considering I was about to critically analyze a display technology (SXRD) that I’m admittedly less than thoroughly familiar with. I’ve viewed many a disc on 1080p (DLP) rear-pros but this was a different animal.

My first impressions were quite favorable, we happened to have just un-boxed a new Denon DVD-3930ci, so hey why not right? I’m not sure if the Pearl just clicked with the Denon’s YCBR color-space at 1080p or we just lucked out, but what I was seeing in those first few minutes of standard-definition DVD viewing was promising.

To say that detail was present would be a gross understatement. Close-ups were quite impressive; it was only when the shot panned back, that it became overly apparent we were watching a SD source. The presentation was very film like, slightly different than I’m used too but the colors were very vibrant. I noticed newfound hues in the uniforms of the policemen that were trying to apprehend Leeloo, as she made her way out onto the buildings ledge.

The Pearl’s tiny pixel structure didn’t really come into play much with the standard definition source but the increased resolution afforded by the projector did seem to smooth out the up-scaled video from the Denon, which resulted again, in a very pleasant film-like presentation. At this point I lost all patience and just had to move onto some high definition.

The first HD DVD up for evaluation was Warner Brothers knockout ‘Batman Begins’, we skipped forward to the glacier scene and while it looked quite nice I could tell a full calibration was in order. Low level shadow detail appeared to be a bit muted in some shots and altogether absent in others. I wanted to move onto something I was a bit more familiar with so I chose ‘Training Day’ on HD DVD. At first, I wasn’t all that impressed with the shadow detail but this was somewhat remedied with a bit of fine tuning of the brightness, contrast and lamp settings.

As soon as I increased the brightness and reduced the contrast a bit I was seeing a more familiar color palette and level of detail with the HD disc. It was at this point I realized even a cursory impression of the VPL-VW50’s video performance was out of the question without a full calibration. So the review came to full stop until that was complete.

The Pearl’s video setting controls bear little operational resemblance to my SP-7205’s video settings, which was no doubt exacerbating the difficulties I was experiencing fine tuning the projector. For example the Pearl’s contrast can be cranked way up before noticeably affecting the image adversely, whereas even the slightest bump up or down with the InFocus ScreenPlay line [among others] will give a perceptible difference.

Long story short, once the full calibration was complete, I was still a bit leery of certain aspects of the Pearl’s video performance but satisfied overall. Next I popped in ‘Blazing Saddles’ [HD DVD]. This was much better, very film like, fleshtones were accurate, black level and shadow details were acceptable. But the Pearl just wasn’t displaying that pop I’m used to from DLP, the image was still a bit flat in comparison.

I wanted to see a bit of animation so I popped in ‘Shrek 2’, again very vivid colors, smooth film like presentation and after even further tweaking I was able to get much of that 3-D pop back. I found it interesting that I had to deviate from absolute reference numbers to accomplish this, but all in all this wasn’t that troublesome, as I have 3 image presets saved for my own projector at home, essentially breaking with true reference as the source material dictates.

One interesting note about my observations before and after considerable tweaking of the Pearl compared to the InFocus 7210, perched for comparison below. During the opening sequences of ‘Shrek 2’ there’s a bit of CGI depicting fairy dust falling down onto a storybook, as the individual pages of the book turn you can make out gold leaf script; as the pages continue to turn the light reflected off the gold leaf script bends and refracts light from the cameras point of view.

The sparkling gold dust and gold leaf just wasn’t as pronounced as with the SP7210, noticeably so, however I’m happy to say after considerable tweaking [yes more tweaking] I was able to recreate that sparkle and pop present on the 7210 with the Pearl. Overall (as with many animation titles) the image quality I achieved through the Pearl with ‘Shrek 2’ was quite impressive.

Given the circumstances of my review environment, I didn’t have access to live cable or satellite but I did have some pre-recorded content on a DISH HD-DVR. We viewed an airing of Soundstage featuring Tom Petty on Rave. Again with further tweaking I was able to get the kind of shadow detail I was used to with my 7205. Tom Petty’s black jacket no longer appeared as a single shade of black, I could now see subtle shades and fine detail in the jacket. By this point I had pretty much alleviated all the calibration headaches and was satisfied with the image on-screen.

Getting down to brass tax, I threw in something I was very familiar with, the HD DVD of ‘Serenity’. Right off the bat I was able to pick out details in River’s imagined-instructors clothing and detail in her face. Finally I had the color balance, black level contrast set to my likings and was able to just sit back and enjoy the video.

New found detail was popping out at me; I couldn’t go for more than a few minutes without seeing something new. Earlier I mentioned that I would give some general impressions about the differences between 720p front projection and front projection at 1080p. Well; if I fumble for the right words on this one, its because I’m still formulating my own opinion.

I suppose if pressed I’d have to say resolution is only half of the story, while I absolutely enjoyed some of the eye candy the additional resolution provided, if I hadn’t been able to correct the previously mentioned issues I was having with the Pearl, I would have never gotten this far into the review. My advice when shopping for a display, any display is to make sure it’s capable of the fundamentals color/black level/contrast in an accurate manner, then and only then worry about resolution.

I’m afraid the resolution trumps all mentality may leave many with a technically competent but real-world disappointment on their hands. To put some of my findings into a better perspective, if the Pearl retailed for 7-8k I’m afraid my review would differ significantly thus far. However since that’s not the case and we’re talking about a projector that does indeed make ample use of its increased resolution, I have to admit I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far.

Further Comparisons:

For kicks I wanted to re-visit the last earth shattering DVD experience I had with the InFocus 777 driven by the Denon DVD 2930ci. (easy as that very set-up was two rooms away) To my eyes the combination of the XA1 and the Pearl with chapter 23 of ‘The Raiders of the Lost Ark’, really gave the 777 and 2930ci combination a run for its money. Was it as good? No but at over $10k less, it damn well shouldn’t be. But this does affirm that resolution isn’t always the last word in real-word performance, especially considering that the 777 was projecting onto a 123” screen versus the Pearl at 110”.

Given the experience I had with the InFocus 777 in Chapter 16 of ‘Kill Bill Vol.1’ and its uncanny ability to faithfully render the night sky and falling snow-flakes above Beatrix and O’ren, I was anxious to compare the same scene on the Pearl. The snowflakes didn’t seem quite as “3-D” as on the 777, nor did the night sky appear as realistic. [even though in all likelihood, it was a soundstage] The VPL-VW50 still rendered a good presentation but not quite as satisfying as the 3-chip InFocus. Again the $10k+ price difference made this minor difference a lot easier to swallow.

Summary:

The Sony VPL-VW50 with a MSRP of $4999 makes for an easy recommendation, not simply for the fact it’s the first 1080p front projector on the market for under 9k, but because it’s actually a solid performer in other areas as well. The Pearl’s sharp, colorful images combined with the projectors tiny pixel structure really impressed me. In the end the biggest complaint I had for the VPL-VW50 was the occasionally flat, one dimensional video. It would appear as if this is one area DLP still trumps SXRD.

However I have to temper this recommendation with one caveat. The 1080p Mitsubishi HC5000BL is scheduled to launch sometime before the end of the year, the HC5000BL at $4495 is actually a tad brighter, offers a longer lamp life and incorporates the impressive HQV Reon-VX  video-processing chipset. Consider my recommendation of the Sony VPL-VW50 somewhat provisional until I complete my review of the HC5000BL.

Product Details – Sony VPL-VW50
Retail $4999 – Available now
Resolution – 1920×1080
Brightness – 900 ANSI lumens
Contrast – 15000:1
Inputs – HDMI (2), Component (1), S-Video (1), Composite (1)
Display Technology – 0.6″ SXRD (3)
Native Aspect Ratio – 16:9



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Projector Reviews, Reviews


Comments

  • D-Man

    Just wanted to share some tuning experience I had with PEARL over the past couple weeks. This is an upgrade journey, which has transformed a decent and well performing PEARL into cinema-quality performance, rivalling the best consumer market projection system regardless of price.

    Right out of the box, PEARL is an impressive performer. Colours are saturated and vivid. Shades and dark levels are impressive…still a bit short of the CRT performance I am accustomed to. The 2ms refresh of the SXRD looks really great with fast-motion action materials. The PEARL does shows great potentials!

    The built-in scaler (DRC2) in PEARL does a reasonably decent job with film-material; however the same cannot be said on video-material…it is generally quite fuzzy. The internal scaler performance appears to be very sensitive to the video quality of the feed. I would say that the video performance of the PEARL, right out of the box, as impressive, acceptable for most (small sized screen projection) set-up and excellent value…but not quite high-end.

    However, for large sized screen, a general sense of lack of sharpness appears. I am projecting on a 138” (1:1.85 aspect ratio) Stewart Ultramatte 150 THX-certified micro-perforated screen. Upon closer inspection (which is further confirmed by the subsequent upgrade exercise), it has indicated that this is neither attributed to the SXRD technology itself, nor the lens quality, but to do with the internal video signal processing and its transmission method deployed. At this point, it is vital for me to quantify that the general “lack of sharpness” occurred when PEARL was feed with video signals via the analogue component-video signal (at 480i/525i) AND when the internal scaler must be engaged to upscale the input signal to 1080p.

    In summary, here are the critical upgrades applied:
    (1) To augment the video processing requirements, I have introduced the PixelMagic Crystalio-II (VPS-3800Pro) scaler. The main improvement here is the Gennum VXP broadcast grade video scaling performance.

    (2) To preserve signal integrity and retain absolute control over all the 1920*1080 pixels on the SXRD panel, HDMI connection is used to avoid unnecessary D-to-A and A-to-D conversions (when coupled between the external scaler and PEARL). HDMI transmission is fine using copper conductors up to a few meters, but for any further distances, significant problem arises as the falling/rising edges of the signal is blurred. This is where optical fibre technology comes in. For this application a 100ft PureLink HDC series Fibre Optic HDMI cable is deployed to preserve the utmost signal integrity.

    (3) To provide the Crystalio-II with the purist digital video feed, the DVD player has been modified with a PixelMagic SDI BT656ProKit. Comparisons between the SDI and HDMI feed between the DVD player and Crystalio-II has demonstrated the superior quality of the SDI. When SDI is deployed, significant improvement on the dark levels has enabled the deployment of 1.5 gain screen (as opposed to the 1.3 in StudioTek); colour purity and rendition has also been improved vastly.

    With upgrade (1) to (3), the PEARL’s video performance is completely transformed. Any attempt to describe the improvements will be futile…as it will not do full justice to the actual projected image seen. One has to experience this for oneself.
    Suffice to say, it is the MOST movie-like experience, I have ever seen from a consumer video setup. In fact, the performance is so good that it has convinced me that it can finally replace the BARCO projector (with this, I have lived thru the evolution of 7″, 8″ and 9″ CRT, with upgraded NORITAR full optical glass lens) I have been using over the decades.

    In retrospect, another interesting point is to evaluate how critical each of the upgrade from (1) to (3) really are, in an attempt to see if the whole exercise can be ecnomized. Further experimentation to remove any item from (1) to (3) shows that all of them are on the critical path. Remove one, and you won’t get the same performance, which has completely swept me off my feet.

    If one view the procurement cost of PEARL as purely for its light engine and SXRD panel, it is actually quite a bargain, considering how much the RUBY and Qualia004 are selling for. Technically, having the highest potentials in achieving the ultimate consumer video setup, the SXRD panels are certainly not to be missed, given that they have become so much more affordable over the years to most video fans.

  • D-Man

    Just wanted to share some tuning experience I had with PEARL over the past couple weeks. This is an upgrade journey, which has transformed a decent and well performing PEARL into cinema-quality performance, rivalling the best consumer market projection system regardless of price.

    Right out of the box, PEARL is an impressive performer. Colours are saturated and vivid. Shades and dark levels are impressive…still a bit short of the CRT performance I am accustomed to. The 2ms refresh of the SXRD looks really great with fast-motion action materials. The PEARL does shows great potentials!

    The built-in scaler (DRC2) in PEARL does a reasonably decent job with film-material; however the same cannot be said on video-material…it is generally quite fuzzy. The internal scaler performance appears to be very sensitive to the video quality of the feed. I would say that the video performance of the PEARL, right out of the box, as impressive, acceptable for most (small sized screen projection) set-up and excellent value…but not quite high-end.

    However, for large sized screen, a general sense of lack of sharpness appears. I am projecting on a 138” (1:1.85 aspect ratio) Stewart Ultramatte 150 THX-certified micro-perforated screen. Upon closer inspection (which is further confirmed by the subsequent upgrade exercise), it has indicated that this is neither attributed to the SXRD technology itself, nor the lens quality, but to do with the internal video signal processing and its transmission method deployed. At this point, it is vital for me to quantify that the general “lack of sharpness” occurred when PEARL was feed with video signals via the analogue component-video signal (at 480i/525i) AND when the internal scaler must be engaged to upscale the input signal to 1080p.

    In summary, here are the critical upgrades applied:
    (1) To augment the video processing requirements, I have introduced the PixelMagic Crystalio-II (VPS-3800Pro) scaler. The main improvement here is the Gennum VXP broadcast grade video scaling performance.

    (2) To preserve signal integrity and retain absolute control over all the 1920*1080 pixels on the SXRD panel, HDMI connection is used to avoid unnecessary D-to-A and A-to-D conversions (when coupled between the external scaler and PEARL). HDMI transmission is fine using copper conductors up to a few meters, but for any further distances, significant problem arises as the falling/rising edges of the signal is blurred. This is where optical fibre technology comes in. For this application a 100ft PureLink HDC series Fibre Optic HDMI cable is deployed to preserve the utmost signal integrity.

    (3) To provide the Crystalio-II with the purist digital video feed, the DVD player has been modified with a PixelMagic SDI BT656ProKit. Comparisons between the SDI and HDMI feed between the DVD player and Crystalio-II has demonstrated the superior quality of the SDI. When SDI is deployed, significant improvement on the dark levels has enabled the deployment of 1.5 gain screen (as opposed to the 1.3 in StudioTek); colour purity and rendition has also been improved vastly.

    With upgrade (1) to (3), the PEARL’s video performance is completely transformed. Any attempt to describe the improvements will be futile…as it will not do full justice to the actual projected image seen. One has to experience this for oneself.
    Suffice to say, it is the MOST movie-like experience, I have ever seen from a consumer video setup. In fact, the performance is so good that it has convinced me that it can finally replace the BARCO projector (with this, I have lived thru the evolution of 7″, 8″ and 9″ CRT, with upgraded NORITAR full optical glass lens) I have been using over the decades.

    In retrospect, another interesting point is to evaluate how critical each of the upgrade from (1) to (3) really are, in an attempt to see if the whole exercise can be ecnomized. Further experimentation to remove any item from (1) to (3) shows that all of them are on the critical path. Remove one, and you won’t get the same performance, which has completely swept me off my feet.

    If one view the procurement cost of PEARL as purely for its light engine and SXRD panel, it is actually quite a bargain, considering how much the RUBY and Qualia004 are selling for. Technically, having the highest potentials in achieving the ultimate consumer video setup, the SXRD panels are certainly not to be missed, given that they have become so much more affordable over the years to most video fans.

  • T. Sanger

    I am about to purchase the Sony vpl-vw50, and have read the review by B. Greenway. My next purchase will be the screen. With the light output being a potential problem I’ve considered the vu-tec silverstar which has a gain of 6. My theater room has complete light control. I would greatly appreciate any thoughts on the screen or projector.

  • T. Sanger

    I am about to purchase the Sony vpl-vw50, and have read the review by B. Greenway. My next purchase will be the screen. With the light output being a potential problem I’ve considered the vu-tec silverstar which has a gain of 6. My theater room has complete light control. I would greatly appreciate any thoughts on the screen or projector.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Mark, possibly more interesting buy not as likely, the only review unit I’ve been able to arrange thus far is the Mitsubishi.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Mark, possibly more interesting buy not as likely, the only review unit I’ve been able to arrange thus far is the Mitsubishi.

  • Mark

    More interesting than the panny and the mits will be your comparison to the Optoma HD81. While the Optoma is a touch up market from the Pearl (though it includes the Gennum processor), I think it is considered to be one of the strongest competitors, particularly to those with screens greater than 100″. You have confirmed that the Pearl just might not have the brightness horsepower to accomodate those larger screens. Too bad. I saw the Pearl at Cedia and it didn’t fair too badly against the HD81 to my eyes, except of course the HD81 was filling a 177″ 2.35:1 screen versus the Pearl only on a 100″

  • Mark

    More interesting than the panny and the mits will be your comparison to the Optoma HD81. While the Optoma is a touch up market from the Pearl (though it includes the Gennum processor), I think it is considered to be one of the strongest competitors, particularly to those with screens greater than 100″. You have confirmed that the Pearl just might not have the brightness horsepower to accomodate those larger screens. Too bad. I saw the Pearl at Cedia and it didn’t fair too badly against the HD81 to my eyes, except of course the HD81 was filling a 177″ 2.35:1 screen versus the Pearl only on a 100″

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Steve, yes it was, I experimented with the auto iris off and on but ultimately left it set to “Auto 1”.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Steve, yes it was, I experimented with the auto iris off and on but ultimately left it set to “Auto 1”.

  • Steve Goff

    I’d like to know whether you employed the Pearl’s dynamic iris for your evaluation, given that use of dynamic iris would greatly affect the projector’s ability to render shadow detail.

  • Steve Goff

    I’d like to know whether you employed the Pearl’s dynamic iris for your evaluation, given that use of dynamic iris would greatly affect the projector’s ability to render shadow detail.

  • B.Greenway

    I don’t know Ben; I would call an LCD paired with a video processor (HQV) that has been proven to be a very solid performer, incorporated into a projector for $500 less than the Pearl to be quite competitive. The new C2 Fine panels in the Mitsubishi and Epson projectors are said to be quite an improvement over previous generations. Again, I can’t wait to get my hands on one to see the results.

  • B.Greenway

    I don’t know Ben; I would call an LCD paired with a video processor (HQV) that has been proven to be a very solid performer, incorporated into a projector for $500 less than the Pearl to be quite competitive. The new C2 Fine panels in the Mitsubishi and Epson projectors are said to be quite an improvement over previous generations. Again, I can’t wait to get my hands on one to see the results.

  • Ben Hobbs

    I don’t really understand how the 1080p LCD’s that will be arriving soon aren’t particularly competetive price wise with the Sony. LCD is an older technology, I’m sure the projectors won’t weigh as much or look as nice as this Sony, yet they are all within 10% of the price range.

    I don’t belive that 3 tiny 1080 LCD panels, should add $3000 over a 720p $1,500 LCD projector. At least with the Sony you feel you are paying for some new technology. All the LCD Projectors that will come out at 1080p soon by Sanyo, Panasonic, Mitsubishi etc… are all essentially the same line of products.

  • Ben Hobbs

    I don’t really understand how the 1080p LCD’s that will be arriving soon aren’t particularly competetive price wise with the Sony. LCD is an older technology, I’m sure the projectors won’t weigh as much or look as nice as this Sony, yet they are all within 10% of the price range.

    I don’t belive that 3 tiny 1080 LCD panels, should add $3000 over a 720p $1,500 LCD projector. At least with the Sony you feel you are paying for some new technology. All the LCD Projectors that will come out at 1080p soon by Sanyo, Panasonic, Mitsubishi etc… are all essentially the same line of products.

  • James

    Of course, the real competition is the new Panny ae1000 coming out soon. Should be an interesting comparison.

  • James

    Of course, the real competition is the new Panny ae1000 coming out soon. Should be an interesting comparison.