Sony VPL-VW50 (Pearl) Review

October 12, 2006

Sony VPL-VW50 The front projection price to performance ratio mimics the personal computer market in many ways, while processors and memory do indeed fall in price from quarter to quarter, what was adequate last quarter may not satisfy our ever growing desire for bigger, better, faster and more. Back when 200 MHz processors were first introduced 1 GHz seemed like the holy grail of processing, now many of us are eyeing 3 GHz or better chips for our computing needs.

The net result of this ever elusive brass ring is we never quite catch-up to the current technology at yesterday’s prices. This phenomenon is completely understandable but every now and then a product comes along that offers an entry point into the latest upper-echelon of performance, without taking out a second mortgage. Relatively speaking of course.

For example just a few months ago if you were interested in a 1080p front projector you would have been looking at SXRD or D-ILA projectors from Sony or JVC that ranged anywhere from 27k to 10k, hardly entry level. Even Marantz’s recent (DLP) entry into 1080p front projection, carries the if-you-have-to-ask price tag of 20k, again not exactly budget minded.

Now 5k might not exactly entice droves of consumers to plop down their credit cards, especially considering the median price of a HD capable projector hovers in the 3.5k region, but it is a step in the right direction. That is if you consider the right direction to be a projector that retails for the price of a decent used car rather than a new one.

Throughout this review I’ll interject a few general observations on 1080p front projection versus 720p; I’ll try my best to separate those general observations from the specifics of the Pearl. However as this is one of the first 1080p capable front projector I’ve viewed at length, (the others were demos where I had no control over the source material) some general comparisons are inevitable.

Setup and General Observations:

We picked up our VPL-VW50 about 10am Friday morning and by 11am the unit was already in place and warming up back at the store, oh boy was it warming up but I’m getting ahead of myself. First off the Pearl’s size my be deceiving until seeing it in person. As soon as the sales rep pulled the box from behind the counter, I realized I had over estimated the projectors footprint based on the photos I’d seen thus far. While certainly smaller than the Ruby, the pearl is only moderately larger than the InFocus 72XX series projectors.

Wow this is one stylish piece of equipment; I have to say that Sony really did their homework and covered all the bases with regard to fit, finish and perceived build quality. From an industrial design standpoint the Pearl is nearly flawless, it’s stylish enough to cater to those of us who care about such things yet not so far removed from typical front projection designs; to turn off those who prefer simple unobtrusive designs.

The Pearl is good bit heavier than the average DLP/LCD projector however, (24.3 lbs to be exact) I would most definitely recommend hitting solid wood if you’re ceiling mounting this projector. Four sheetrock anchors may be enough to support light-weight LCD or DLP projectors (many come in at 10lbs or less) but don’t risk it with the 5k 25lb VPL-VW50.

The Pearl distinguishes itself in another area as well, it’s quiet. No it’s really really quiet, how quiet? Well oddly enough so quiet that my DB meter couldn’t pick it up over the room’s ambient noise floor. This speaks more to the insensitivity of my sound meter and trying to take measurements in a commercial building, than the Pearl approaching true silence but it was one of, if not the quietest projectors I’ve heard to date.

This whisper quiet operation comes at a cost however. Sony was rather ingenious with the airflow design of the Pearl, I have to imagine that part of the reason the Pearl is as quiet as it is, boils down to how the exhaust is funneled out of the front of the projector through vents rather than just being pulled through the case by large exhausts fans. The low whir of exhaust noise doesn’t get louder as you scan your ear from front to back, or side to side but the escaping heat is noticeably hotter than the relative warm air emanating from typical projectors.

How hot? Hard to say without a shared reference point but hot enough to make me think twice about mounting it on a sofa table right behind my head, again as the exhaust air escapes out of the front of the Pearl rather than the back or sides. As it turns out this wasn’t a problem even in our temporary tabletop installation, as the Pearl’s throw distance was short enough to push it in front of our recliners and of course this would be a non-issue altogether in a ceiling mount configuration.

As mentioned above we settled on a table-top setup for our initial testing and as luck would have it, the three-tiered stand used facilitated an InFocus 7210 on the shelf right below the Pearl. This facilitated an excellent reference point as we’re (a) extremely familiar with the 7210 and (b) the 7210 retails for $5,999 but InFocus currently offers a 1k rebate, which puts it right at the Pearls MSRP of $4,999. More on those comparisons later.

With the VPL-VW50 warmed up and in place the image wasn’t striking the Stewart Studiotec 130 (1.3 gain) 110” screen at the proper vertical height, so I shifted it up a hair with the Pearl’s motorized lens shift, gave it a quick focus (motorized focus almost feels like cheating when your standing at the screen, staring at the individual pixels) and was on my way. Not being overly familiar with Sony projectors, all-in-all the initial setup process was quick and painless. Calibration as it would turn out was an entirely different matter.

Ah lets see; what else, Oh the VPL-VW50’s pixel-structure is tiny, at 4.5’-5’ away from the screen I couldn’t make out the individual pixels, which is quite impressive. I noticed no vertical banding, halo’s or ghosting from DVD, HD DVD or Satellite throughout the review. I did however notice a few minor annoyances with the Pearl’s optics.

The VPL-VW50 exhibited a bit of light spill, (spill is an over-cast of excess light around the screen, not to be mistaken with light leakage from the projectors housing) it wasn’t overly distracting but there nonetheless.

As to light leakage, I didn’t notice anything overly distracting but do keep in mind our Pearl was table-toped, it’s possible some light leakage would have been present with a ceiling-mount configuration and this is one area I wish I would have been able to examine in more detail.

Also as with the Sony Ruby, I noticed the notorious panel mis-convergence. The horizontal convergence was off by about .5 pixels and roughly 1.5 pixels vertically. Again, given the Pearl’s tiny pixel-structure this malady isn’t perceivable from normal viewing distances but worth mentioning nonetheless.

The back-lit remote was utilitarian but workable. One minor annoyance with the remote was the fact that it offers no discrete-direct input commands, hopefully these will appear in the form of a download at a later date, for universal remote integration.

One last general observation about the Pearl before I move on, I want to speak to the VPL-VW50’s light output. The Pearl is rated at 900 ANSI lumens and while this is indeed on-par (or slightly less) with similar projectors in the Pearl’s price range, that 900 lumens is while running in high-lamp mode, which of course will result in a shorter lamp life than the low-mode.

The lumen output in low-lamp drops to around 500 lumens, 500 lumens is workable for moderately sized screens in a light controlled room, but I suspect that anyone running at 92” or greater in a room subject to minimal levels of ambient light would prefer the high-lamp mode.

Even with the lamp set to high-mode, moderate levels of ambient light entering our demo room had a negative effect on the image quality. I wouldn’t characterize this as a deal-breaker, not by a long shot but keep in mind a rating of 900 lumens drops a bit after calibration. I measured the Pearl illuminating our 110” screen at 11.39 foot-candles, which is more than adequate but not quite the light-cannon brightness we’re used to from InFocus. Obviously the 1.3 gain of our Stewart screen bumps that real-world measurement closer to 15.00 foot-candles.

HQV Benchmark Results:

I used my Toshiba HD-XA1 at 1080i, connected via HDMI for the HQV benchmark. The results were respectable but a bit short of the numbers attained with other displays recently tested. All in all I noticed nothing I would characterize as overly disappointing and as always without the ability to turn off all video processing in the player, your mileage may vary.

•Color Bar/Vertical Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Jaggies Pattern 1: Pass – Score 3 of 5
•Jaggies Pattern 2: Pass – Score 3 of 5
•Flag: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Picture Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 5 of 10
•3:2 Detection: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Film Cadence: Pass – Score (Combined) 40 of 40
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Horizontal Text Crawl: Pass – Score 5 of 10
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Vertical Text Crawl: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Total Score:116 out of a possible 130.

Continued – Part 2: Sony VPL-VW50 (Pearl) Review

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