Sony VPL-HW10 SXRD Projector Review

Sony release their most promising budget priced projector yet. Phil Hinton spends some time with the VPL-HW10.

by Phil Hinton
Home AV Review

10

Best Buy
Sony VPL-HW10 SXRD Projector Review
SRP: £1,800.00

Introduction

It wasn’t that long ago that a full HD (1920 x 1080) projector would cost the best part of £3,000 or more to invest in. Even at that price; performance would still be an issue, with poor blacks and a cheap chassis. So with that in mind it is quite remarkable that in late 2008 the choice of quality projectors and their price points is nothing short of revolutionary. Indeed our review room has seen a multitude of the latest models in the past few weeks; and each one has amazed us with the quality and features available. That is certainly the case here with Sony’s £1800 budget SXRD unit.

There is a sense of disappointment when unpacking this projector from its box as it all looks very plastic and cheap. Indeed the manual wheels for lens adjustment and the lens casing don’t fill you with much hope for high quality. The unit is based on the same chassis lay out as the higher end projectors in the range, with a central lens mount and left side mounted inputs. There is an attempt to make the projector case look stylish with a rounded rear and sculpted front end. But to be perfectly honest, you can tell that this projector has been built to a price point and our hopes before switching it on were that the money had been spent on the actual performance components.

Sony VPL-HW10

Looking at the connections available, the VPL-HW10 has plenty to offer the home cinema enthusiast. There are two v1.3 HDMI slots, one component, s-video, PC RGB and an RS232 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. Air vents make up the remaining body work with the main input and output to the front of the projector. As you would imagine on a budget machine the lens shift, zoom and focus are all manually controlled via the wheels positioned above the lens unit and the lens itself.

The remote control provided in the box is again a bit of a disappointment and cheap looking. It reminded me of my old Betamax video controller from the 1980’s with its silver and black fascia and minimal button layout. However in its defence, the remote is backlit for using in the dark projection environment and everything you could possibly want to control can be accessed from the remote easily. It’s just a rather odd design to be honest.

One thing that did surprise me about the projector even before I switched it on was the quality look of the lens glass. It looked to me that at least some of the development money had been spent wisely on the lens unit, which the company are calling ARC-F (All Range Crisp Focus). The lens offers a 1.6x manual zoom with 65% vertical and 25% horizontal manual shift adjustments.

The heart of the VPL-HW10 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 30,000:1 range with around 1000 lumens brightness on offer. I will go into detail of just how well this performs later in the review.

The feature count on the VPL-HW10 is also quite promising, with many that I wish some more expensive machines would implement. Picture processing is managed by the company’s Bravia Engine 2 with support for the x.v.Colour gamut along with a real colour processor, which is basically a 2-D colour management system. Also included is full 24fps playback and HDMI CEC controls.
As you can see although the initial cheap design and materials made me worry at first on what the VPL-HW10 could offer, the feature count and quality lens might just save the day.

Sony VPL-HW10

Once up and running it was time to look at the menu systems and see what the VPL-VW10 could offer us in set up controls and features. The main picture menu had everything you would expect to see for a basic calibration and set up. There is a choice of ‘Dynamic’, ‘Standard’, ‘Cinema’ and three user memories for picture mode along with the usual Contrast, Brightness, sharpness and colour settings.

Sony VPL-HW10

Also refreshing is a choice of colour temperature settings as well as a full custom mode to set the greyscale correctly. These custom settings work with a choice of 4 custom areas at differing temperature points; custom mode 3 is the choice for D65 set up in a calibration.

Sony VPL-HW10

There are also options for picture processing including a nifty graph implementation for Mosquito and block Noise Reduction and the real colour processing is a fully working 2-D colour management system.

Sony VPL-HW10

Unlike the JVC implementation of LCOS with their D-ILA technology and a fixed lens, Sony’s SXRD uses a dynamic iris system to improve on black level performance. If you are a regular reader of my reviews you will know that I am not a fan of this approach within LCD machines. The system used on the HW10 is adequate in normal use, but again I felt the picture was more consistent and accurate when the iris was not in automatic changing mode.

Sony VPL-HW10

However the clever thing with this latest system is that you can manually set the iris level to your desired output where it is fixed. This is much the same as JVC’s aperture control on the new HD750. The full range of adjustment is from 0 to 100 in individual steps giving you superior control of the light output. I wish other manufacturers would add this flexibility to their projectors using an iris as I find it far more accurate than a moving mess that normally ruins image consistency. Well done Sony! One last plus point here is that when its running in low lamp and calibrated settings the fan noise is only 22db from the unit.

So as you can see already the Sony in terms of features available is very flexible and in some respects streets ahead of even more expensive models. So just how well will this translate to the actual performance capabilities of the VPL-HW10?

Out of the box and Calibration

For me the most important point of any display review is to actually measure its performance out of the box. There is no other way to see exactly what a display is doing or how it has been designed to display its images. Only with objective data available can we confidently tell you, the reader, exactly what the display is capable of and how accurate its performance is. And in this age of HD displays and trying to get exactly what was intended by the production crew to be reproduced on screen, there is no other way to fully review a display product.

So with this in mind, we first of all need to know how close the display can reproduce the Rec.709 HD standard and how good the greyscale mix is with the out of the box settings. For this we measure in each picture mode provided to find the exact settings available, and which ones get close to D65 and Rec.709. Now, unless the unit is well designed, most displays will only be able to get as close as possible with a basic set up calibration, but we would always recommend this is your first step to getting the best from any display. So what did we find out about the VPL-HW10 and its basic settings?

Sony VPL-HW10

The first step is to see what energy the bulb is outputting by looking at a spectral scan. UHP lamps are a saviour as they are cheap to make and offer a long life, but their energy output can affect certain parts of the colour spectrum. This is where projector design comes into its own and with the use of filters and careful engineering brightness is not unduly sacrificed for colour accuracy.

Sony VPL-HW10

In full standard mode the HW10 looks to have been developed to produce a bright image yet tries to retain as much colour accuracy as possible. As is common in this type of design much of the green energy is towards yellow. Plus there appears to be a filter between yellow and red which has removed most of the orange tones available. This may impact on scenes such as sun sets where such hues would be required. So how does that equate to the CIE measurement in this mode? Well as you can see above in standard mode the colour saturation in the green and yellow is reflecting what we see in the spectral scan, however the Sony is capable of a more accurate colour performance by using the cinema picture mode which has a little effect on overall brightness. With this mode selected along with normal colour space and low colour temperature we get the following results.

Sony VPL-HW10

Colour temperature out of the box RGB out of the box Luminance out of the box
Sony VPL-HW10
Sony VPL-HW10
Sony VPL-HW10

As you can see the colour gamut available in cinema mode is very close to the Rec.709 standard if a little under saturated (as it lies inside the target triangle). However this is certainly more preferable than the standard mode or wide colour space which over saturates the image. Colour temperature (Greyscale or white balance) is also not that far away with the mix just lacking slightly with red around 10% down and blue 5-7% over. The promising thing here is that all track pretty well and calibration with the right tools should get this perfect. Gamma in these settings is also not that far away in terms of hitting the desired 2.2 point. So, overall the Sony manages to turn in surprisingly good out of the box settings, which will get most users in the right ball park for accurate viewing, and points to good design from the Sony engineers.

However if you want your display to look at its very best and get as close as possible to the playback standards for HD and other material, you need an ISF calibration. Once I was happy we couldn’t tweak anymore from the basic settings it was time to do a full calibration on the HW10.

Sony VPL-HW10

Colour temperature calibrated RGB calibrated Luminance calibrated
Sony VPL-HW10
Sony VPL-HW10
Sony VPL-HW10

Now the eagle eyed amongst you will immediately ask why I didn't use the CMS controls and calibrate from the wider gamut, to get the colour points exactly correct. Well that’s because the CMS on the Sony is 2D and doesn’t allow for luminance correction, so to avoid issues I decided that the slightly under saturated points were a better option with this projector. As you can see the results are very good indeed with very little error in colour accuracy and a greyscale that is 1 DeltaE and under across the range. Gamma is also now capable of hitting the desired 2.2 result, so well done Sony; the HW10 is very capable of hitting the accuracy stakes.

Video Processing performance

In terms of video processing the HW10 manages very well with a mixture of various materials and formats. 24fps playback is nice and smooth without any signs of induced judder.

Sony VPL-HW10

Playing standard definition material and feeding the projector interlaced pictures was also handled well with multi axis processing reducing any signs of jaggies or other artefacts. Indeed the HW10 managed to handle all the tests thrown at it with aplomb and we were not aware of any issues which would cause problems for most users. The only slight issue with the HW10 was with fast moving scenes where detail would be lost. This only happens now and again but may be an issue to some users.

Now it was time to see just how well this objective data transferred to the screen with normal material.

Out of the box performance

Using the Sony VPL-HW10 in the best set up settings out of the box, I subjected it to a mixture of DVD and Blu-ray material to see just how well it performs. A favourite test scene is Gladiator (Region 1 DVD) chapter 15 which I have used with every display I test. It has a good mixture of darkness and light at the start, fine details in the armour and then a 360 degree pan of the coliseum. The HW10 managed to play this scene back with no problems at all, there was plenty of shadow detail present in the dark areas and image movement was good.

There was an issue with fast movement where detail would begin to disappear from the image but this was only visible within certain scenes. Colour although looking under saturated in our tests was pleasing on screen with a vividness that remained natural. Skin tones were sublime and fine details were displayed with good sharpness. Indeed that is one of the Sony’s plus points. It has real sharpness to its images thanks to a high quality lens for such a budget machine. It does this without making images appear like they are being forcibly sharpened.

Moving on to Blu-ray and the fourth adventure of Indiana Jones provided the HW10 with material to make it shine. Detail levels with the projectors sharpness of image were very good and the colour balance was excellent with a natural and accurate feel. Black levels are very good with the Sony and certainly compete with other projectors in its class. Whilst not as deep and fluid as the JVC models, the HW10 can certainly compete with the new Panasonic and Mitsubishi in this regard.

Sony VPL-HW10

The projector's contrast ratio in real world surroundings (our light controlled room) was also very impressive with a result of 3564:1 using the iris in manual mode and at stop four. This is a measure in a real world set up and can be compared to other projectors we have reviewed in this very same room and distance. Another feature of the HW10 is a good level of screen uniformity with only a slight issue of bright corners. However this is only seen when the screen is completely black.

Out of the box, users will find that the VPL-HW10 is a fine performer with an image that looks more expensive than its price tag would suggest.

Calibrated performance

Moving to calibrated settings and the image certainly benefits from an accurate greyscale performance and correct colour points. Both DVD and Blu-ray performance was superb with stunning clarity in the image and a well balanced colour performance. Black levels and shadow details were great with a nice depth of field. Our only slight niggle was with resolution loss on fast moving pans or action scenes with certain material. This is a technical limitation of the SXRD technology and like LCD it cannot be completely removed. But other than that slight niggle I couldn’t fault the VPL-HW10 with its performance levels and given the price point this projector comes in at - it’s a bargain!

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Good quality optics ensures a sharp image on screen
  • CMS and Temp controls for ISF calibration
  • Out of the box performance is fairly accurate in the right modes
  • Good Video Processing for SD and HD signals
  • Handles 24fps material with ease
  • Good black levels and real world contrast ratio
  • Excellent value for money

The Bad

  • The design looks cheap
  • Remote control looks like an after thought
  • Slight issues with resolution detail on fast moving scenes

Sony VPL-HW10 SXRD Projector Review

As a sub £2k projector the VPL-HW10 sets a high performance standard for this price point. It has very good black levels, excellent contrast figures and manages to get fairly close to accurate out of the box using the right picture options. Once calibrated it also offers exceptional accuracy in its images and offers black levels on a par with competing models, just not quite at the JVC standard of fluid black.

So overall we were very impressed with the VPL-HW10, it offers excellent performance for the money and as such we award it our best buy status. If you are in the market for a full HD projector make sure you add the Sony to your demo list!

Best Buy

Scores

Features

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.
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7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

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.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

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.
.
7

2D Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Video Processing

.
.
.
7

Image Uniformity

.
.
.
7

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Colour Accuracy

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.
7

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

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.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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