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Sony Qualia 004 SXRD Video Projector Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 May 2005
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Sony Qualia 004 SXRD Video Projector
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The Downside
While the internal scaler for the 004 is as good as any internal processor I have seen to date, it is not as smooth or as free of artifacts on non HD sources as some of the better available external processors. If you are a stickler for the absolute best image and have at least an extra four figures to invest, I could recommend using a top video processor for DVD-Video sources. Be sure to choose one that can output at 1080i. The projector does not accept 1080p 60 frame sources. It will only accept 1080 format HD material from 1080i 60 field sources that it converts to 1080p internally. I recommend using the digital input. Using the component input with a DVD source, the noise level was elevated, and ringing was evident at the edges of images, even when I set the detail level to zero. These artifacts are caused by image enhancement and they were far less evident on digital sources. They disappeared on high definition sources, which truly had the look and feel of film.

Contrast ratio is comparable to a fine film projector. It is a very dark gray that the eyes see as black on almost all images. It only fails when compared to a CRT on low-contrast, dimly lit scenes like those in the caves on “Star Trek: Insurrection.” Please understand that I am not suggesting people go out and buy nine-inch CRT projectors. However, while it is no longer the reigning champion of video, the nine-inch CRT can still make some very black blacks. Still, the Qualia 004 gets exceptionally close to that long-standing standard. Sony has started using a dynamic iris on its new LCD projectors to improve black level on dimly lit scenes. I don’t mean to try to redesign what is a truly fine video projector, but it makes me wonder if this technology could be adapted to make the Qualia 004 even better.

Understandably, the retail venues where I was able to view the Qualia 004 limited my ability to calibrate and test the projector, so I asked a fellow calibrator, Jeremy R. Kipnis of Video Calibration Labs in Connecticut, for his measurements. He personally owns two Qualia 004 projectors and was among the first to get one in the United States.

According to his measurements, a brand new bulb put out approximately 16 foot-lamberts on an 18-foot-wide screen. This equates approximately 2,900 lumens. The bulb’s light output diminishes with time as it burns down, and after about 600 hours at the high bulb setting, it stabilizes at 50 percent of light output. After 1,500 hours, one of the bulbs indicated that it needed changing. Sony replaced it for free as defective – a hint as to how responsive the Qualia folks are. Strangely, there is no published life expectancy for the bulb. Other top projectors promote life expectancy of 1,000 hours with the hardware no longer functioning after that point, so the Qualia 004 can be considered to have a long-lasting bulb even at 1,500 hours, with the potential to last considerably longer, especially if you use the bulb at the lower setting.

Gray scale calibration at 6,500 degrees Kelvin was so accurate that it could be brought to within single digits of the reference. The true contrast ratio was about equal to film and approximately 33 percent of a reference CRT. Also, the projector has a color correction program that allows you to correct the color temperature in eight zones to level the lighting across the screen for an exceptionally evenly lit screen. In this aspect, it amazingly outperformed film.

While $30,000 may seem a high price to pay for a projector, it is actually a price breakthrough for a state of the art unit. Without question, the Sony Qualia outperforms systems that cost over $100,000 just a few years ago in almost every way I could experience or measure. To say I am impressed is to understate the obvious.

I will go on record to say that, at $30,000, the Sony Qualia projector is an outright value for its price, in addition to being a technological breakthrough at the high end of video. Because of its ability to create a picture that handily beats the best CRT ever available at any price and to impressively compete with the all-time reference of film, the Qualia 004 should be considered a cornerstone for any home theater system being designed in the $50,000 to $75,000-plus range. In comparison, to get the state of the art in audio today and create sound as impressive as the picture you would see from the 004, you would need to spend much more than the price of the Qualia 004.

When watching an HD source on a Qualia 004 on a good screen, you have the best image available in the home theater world at any price. In many ways, the Qualia 004 has the chops to compete favorably in the professional world, where projectors can cost far more than $100,000. It is time for the hardliners to give up the fight. There is a new champion being crowned in the home theater arena: the Qualia 004.

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