Incremental improvement is the name of the game with Sony’s new HW20 SXRD projector. Targeted at the budget end of the market it promises improved colour accuracy and better black levels along with quiet operation and flexibility in set up against last year’s HW15. The one omission in this new version of the projector is 3D ready playback, something that JVC has added to their entry level at a slightly higher price point. However, many of those interested in a projector like the HW20 are perhaps not that concerned about 3D when comparing the entry point pricing and 2D performance boasts. So how does the new baby Sony perform?
Design and Connections
Looking at the design of the VPL-HW20 you immediately notice that it is identical to the last two incarnation of the product line. The chassis layout and design is identical to what has gone before it and I suppose ‘If it ain’t broke’ then why change something that has a proven record. Obviously most of the slight improvements to the HW20 are internal in nature and not immediately noticeable by looking at the skin of the machine. It is also still a larger than normal chassis compared to competing models which is well built and solid, giving the Sony a reassuring sense of quality. Obviously at this price point the chassis is a plastic moulding and the lens assembly also feels a little cheap in its design, but overall the projector looks the part from a design stand point and is light enough to allow easy ceiling installation. The unit measures in at 407.4mm x 179.2mm x 463.9mm (W x H x D) and weighs in at 10Kg. The remote control that comes bundled with the projector is one of the best we have seen at this price range. It is a sturdy unit with a blue backlight and all the buttons are well laid out and intuitive to use. You could be mistaken for thinking that it belongs with a far more expensive projector than the HW20, so top marks here.
The chassis features a centrally mounted lens unit and light path which has manual operation wheels on the top plate of the unit to set the lens shift. The lens is a Sony ARC-F (All Range Crisp Focus) design that offers a 1.6x manual zoom with 65% vertical and 25% horizontal manual shift adjustments. Focus is also a manual affair using the focus ring on the end of the plastic lens cover. The heart of the VPL-HW20 is its Silicon X-tal Reflective Display panels (SXRD) which offer a full 1920 x 1080 high definition resolution. There are three such 0.61 inch SXRD panels used in the unit offering a 6,220,800 pixel count with a 200 watt UHP lamp providing the light output. Contrast is claimed to be in the 80,000:1 range with around 1300 lumens brightness on offer and the unit also features the new Advanced Iris 3. The HW20 offers a throw ratio of 1.47 - 2.18 which should suit most installations in UK homes.
So far there is little difference between the outgoing HW15 and the new HW20 and that continues to be the case in respect of the connections available at the side of the chassis. Here we find two v1.3 HDMI slots, one component, s-video, PC RGB and an RS232c port. The power socket is also positioned to the rear of these inputs with manual controls for the projector positioned 4 inches higher on the chassis. Unlike the more expensive VW85 and VW90 projectors which manage to hide the cabling when ceiling mounted, I found the space available on the HW20 not to be as wide, so careful positioning will be required, especially if using high quality and well-built HDMI cables.
Menus and Set up
Note that none of the settings shown in the images are calibrated settings.
The menu system available on the HW20 is comprehensive and in most cases easy to use to set up the image for your cinema room. The main menu as you would expect has the main front panel picture controls allowing basic set up of the image to your viewing environment. The main picture presets include a very good cinema mode option. The other options here add in more brightness but at the expense of image subtleties. Cinema Black Pro controls the Auto Iris system and allows fine tuning of the iris or a manual set up. We preferred the off option here so there was no interference to the image for complete assessment of what the projector is actually capable of natively. Next we have the main picture controls with options for Colour Temp. (white balance) where we can set a custom greyscale (using a meter and software) or choose a close out of the box preset. Next up is the expert setting menu.
Here we have a few options that need to be defeated to get the native picture quality of the projector, these include the Black level Adj setting and the Mpeg noise reduction which makes no discernible advantage to image quality. The other options here are also very important with Gamma set up and colour space being the most important. We found that normal selection for the colour space gave us a very close Rec.709 gamut plot. Gamma is low in most settings but Gamma 3 gave us as close as possible to the 2.2 curve we desire. It is a trait with Sony products that they come with low (2.0) gamma as standard, so this needs to be manually changed.
Finally we have the custom Colour Temp. controls which we can use to set the Greyscale and also the Real Colour Processing controls which act as a basic Colour Management System (CMS). These should allow full calibration control of the image.
Out of the Box Measurements
We set up the HW20 in the best out of the box settings we could find and set the brightness and contrast using simple test patterns most users will have access to. We found the cinema preset, with colour temp 3 and gamma 3 selected along with colour space normal the best selections. We did find that in colour space normal with the HW15 the gamut was under saturated so we held our breath to see if Sony had taken that feedback on board for this new model.
Starting with the out of the box Greyscale first we can see that the HW20 does a brilliant job with a uniform greyscale track with very few large errors to be seen. In fact most users would be hard pressed to visually see any obvious errors within the greyscale with these results. Yes the graph doesn’t look perfect with blue 4% high and red and green not quite perfectly tracking the 100% line, but in all honesty give me a result with those deltaE errors and no discernible visual errors with most displays and I would be very happy indeed. Only gamma was off tangent slightly higher than our desired 2.2 curve, but in all honesty again this is not a bad result and in a dark room will probably be a little more desirable. Overall the HW20 scores very highly here!
And the colour gamut performance is also excellent from the HW20 in the normal setting out of the box. This is light years ahead of last years preset and is almost perfect in terms of colour accuracy. It is rare to get such results from such a budget projector so Sony need to be congratulated here for listening and improving the performance of this new model in this area of image quality.
With excellent out of the box results likely to be very similar across the HW20 models out there, some users may not feel the need for a full professional calibration, but as always we want to push review samples to their limits and that’s what we did with the HW20.
After a full calibration to ISF and THX standards we can see that the Greyscale can be brought to absolute perfection with no visible errors. The controls were also less coarse than last year’s model as well that allowed excellent fine tuning. Gamma was still a little high with no absolute manual control to improve it, but being frank, it will make very little difference to the image quality.
With the Colour gamut after completion of the greyscale calibration we didn’t find any need to try and use the RCP control’s to fine tune the results. Yes there are a couple of places where that may have helped, but with experience of the RCP controls I felt we could live with the excellent results on screen, without any further fine tuning. The art of calibration is always how it looks onscreen with the help of graphs and I saw no need to make the graph look prettier when the onscreen picture quality was already excellent.
With regard to video processing, the HW20 manages well with a mixture of various materials and formats. 24fps playback is nice and smooth without any signs of induced judder. With SD material the HW20 does better than most with no obvious signs of edge ringing on upscaled material and no obvious signs of jaggies. Indeed the HW20 managed to handle all the tests thrown at it with aplomb and we were not aware of any issues which would cause problems.
In both out of the box and calibrated modes the HW20 offers exceptional picture performance for the entry level it is aimed at. Blacks are solid and deep with just a slight lack of the very darkest tones managed by the slightly more expensive JVC models. Image depth and dynamic range in perfect black out viewing conditions are excellent with natural skin tones on show in both calibrated and out of the box modes. Shadow detailing, even with the higher gamma curve was excellent with very few instances of a lack of contrast resulting in large areas of black emptiness.
Fast moving images were also handled well with no use of frame interpolation technology. Only the fastest of pans resulted in a blurry mess. Both SD and HD material was faithfully reproduced to the best of the projectors capabilities with strong image depth where required. Obviously these comments are based on using the HW20 in perfect viewing conditions of our light controlled (and black) review room. You will lose absolute contrast performance and some of the ultimate dynamic range as soon as you introduce this projector to a white coloured room, or normal living room conditions. However, even when we introduced some ambient lighting to proceedings the HW20 was still capable of producing an acceptable is slightly less punchy image. Blacks suffered the most by introducing ambient lighting as you would expect.
There wasn’t anything major that I found disappointing with the HW20 given its market position and pricing. They only slight niggle I had was absolute image uniformity where there were signs of brighter corners on show with darker scenes, but this is just a small niggle and given the price point it is far from a deal breaker. It doesn’t quite reach the absolute contrast performance of the JVC HD550/HD350 (even with the Iris in the highest setting) but it is more accurate in the colour department out of the box. Against the 3LCD models it offers a step up in picture quality over the continuing AE4000 model from Panasonic with stronger dynamic range and colour performance out of the box. However, the Panasonic does offer the cinemascope feature that many users seem to want. In terms of the Epson and Mitsubishi models in this price range the Sony offers the better overall image performance in our opinion at this moment in time. As always we would suggest you go and audition the HW20 against the competition and make your own mind up on what features and performance gains you require.
- Improved Black level performance without the auto iris gives the image a strong back bone
- Improved contrast and dynamic range
- Excellent Greyscale performance out of the box with low dE errors
- Excellent colour performance close to Rec.709 in Normal mode
- Very quiet in low lamp settings
- Excellent remote control
- Good menu system
- Improved greyscale (white balance) controls that are not as coarse as last year's model
- Good quality scaling and video processing with no induced judder
- CMS system is still not easy to use
- No stretch mode for use with anamorphic lens
- Some signs of light corners in black out conditions less obvious in brighter rooms but at cost to contrast performance
- Auto iris still has obvious luminance shifting and is best left off for consistant performance
Sony HW20 (VPL-HW20) SXRD Projector Review
As always with a projector the surroundings that you use make a major impact on the picture performance. In our completely light controlled (black) review room the HW20 offers exceptionally good images at this price point that many of the competing models struggle to match in every department. In the right environment and set up in the best out of the box settings the HW20 offers exceptional accuracy in greyscale and colour performance, which brings movie material to big screen life. In more restricted environments the image quality is still strong but the black levels are the first thing to suffer as expected. The HW20 also offers excellent control over image calibration to get the best out of the unit and it’s picture processing is strong with good 24p playback capabilities.
As always we would encourage a full demonstration of the HW20 even at this price point and also against some of the competition. It is a great all-rounder which offers accuracy and strong black performance in ideal conditions. Overall Sony has produced an excellent entry level to high quality home projection and it comes highly recommended.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
2D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
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