|Sony Qualia 004 SXRD Video Projector|
|Home Theater Front Projectors SXRD Projectors|
|Written by Michael Levy|
|Sunday, 01 May 2005|
Page 1 of 3
Sony, an undisputed heavyweight in the world of home and professional video, has introduced a new product and product line designed to achieve the often elusive and transient goal of creating the best video image in the home theater world. With their new Qualia brand, Sony has invested significant design resources in creating a variety of special products, from 70-inch rear projection sets to headphones to the object of this review, the Qualia 004 SXRD, which is a most impressive $30,000 video projector.
Sony is no stranger to top of the line video, considering the historical market dominance of their G90 nine-inch CRT projector. In its day and for its price, the G90 was a home theater champion. Today’s consumer market no longer supports CRT projectors nor do I recommend them, considering the advances made in digital projection in the past few years. Gone are the days of low light output and the need for the constant calibration and support one will find on a CRT projector. However, some hardliners have remained steadfast in their belief in the CRT’s ability to create the best possible picture for top home theater systems. The Qualia 004 was created to prove them wrong.
The Qualia Concept
Qualia differs form the traditional Sony line in that it cannot be found in mainstream consumer electronics dealer shops. Qualia is sold at two dedicated Sony stores, one in Manhattan and the other at the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, and by top custom installers, specifically trained AV dealers. Qualia’s customer service mandate is a refreshing change in the home theater industry and a needed one in the cutting edge world of ultra-video. Sony created an 877.QUALIA3 phone number with highly trained 24/7 customer support for dealers and consumers alike. Each customer (or dealer) can use the Qualia concierge to coordinate logistics and/or arrange delivery. The actual delivery includes unpacking and removal of boxes and packing if desired as part of Qualia’s “white glove” service. This is specifically useful with the 70-inch rear projection Qualia 006, considering its size. Qualia is sold by dealers who are capable of both installing and calibrating projectors like the 004.
Description and Design Philosophy
The handsome exterior of this top-of-the-line consumer video projector hints at the innovative symmetrical straight path design contained within. The metallic blue and brushed aluminum exterior does not stand out, but silently makes a statement of quality. Measuring 23-and-one-half inches wide by 29-and-three-eighths inches long by eight inches high, weighing in at 88 pounds, it is larger than most digital home theater projectors, but is considerably smaller than a CRT projector. It has an understated elegance. The Qualia 004 lets the image it projects speak for it.
If you are ever in New York City or Las Vegas, a trip to the Sony store is a very worthwhile experience. For me, it was easy to see that the Sony store concept works extremely well in this bustling section of Manhattan. The store is full of people looking to find or find out about various Sony products. Downstairs, the Qualia division displays its products, and in the back of the store, there is a demonstration room for the Qualia 004 SXRD projector. Traditional DVDs, as well as a prototype Blu-ray disc featuring HDTV, can be played there. Although the room and screen are smaller than what I would expect this projector to normally be coupled to in clients’ homes, from a position at just under twice the width away from the screen, the image took command of the room and had the same color values and detail that I would expect from a pristine film viewed from the same perspective. Because of cost and logistics, this was the venue where I mainly evaluated the Qualia 004 projector for this review.
Film is really what it’s all about. A video projector that is designed for home theater is expected to recreate the film experience. Most projection systems were originally designed for presentation purposes. This is where Sony's design team took a new point of view. First, they looked at the application the product is being designed for. With that in mind, they dissected it into its components to find the best way of making them an integral unit with one purpose: to recreate the look of film on the screen. Everything, including the bulb, the imaging panels, the light path and the lens system was examined. The smooth detail, the deep colors, the contiguous image, the corner to corner detail and accuracy of the images this projector can display are well beyond the abilities of a normal home theater projector and are the result of this concept of what a home theater projector should do.
Start at the source. The UHP bulbs used in most projectors have a peaky light spectrum that diminishes the color detail when the imaging panel is used in an attempt to control those peaks. The pure Xenon bulb used in the Sony has the smoothest and most natural light spectrum available. The color spectrum of the bulb is very important for accurate reproduction of color. Think of it like looking at someone under a florescent bulb, compared to viewing the same person under an incandescent bulb and compare that to how they appear in sunlight. A rosy complexion in sunlight may look pale under a fluorescent lamp. The spectrum of light makes a very big difference in our perception. You get the same effect with the spectrum of light coming from a projector’s bulb.
In order to create the full color spectrum, the projector splits the light from the bulb into red, green, and blue. The industry standard does not call for monochromatic colors. It is designed to use these three video colors, which contain a band of frequencies centered at each color. Therefore, the width and smoothness of the bulb’s spectrum can alter the accuracy of the colors reproduced. Some but not all problems normally caused by a UHP bulb’s spectrum can be alleviated by filtering, but you must always pay a price in brightness. Sony solves the problem in the Qualia the old-fashioned way, by having the right spectrum coming from the bulb. The pure Xenon bulb used in the Qualia 004 has a smooth wide spectrum that closely tracks the sun’s spectrum. The result is deeper and better defined colors.
The light path is the same distance for all three colors. This ensures that the lens system will align the colors correctly from edge to edge of the image, and focus them at the same distance. The projector uses three of their proprietary 0.78 inch SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) panels, with each panel dedicated to one main color, rather than using one panel and a color wheel. This increases the gray scale detail in each color, allowing for a much more detailed spectrum of colors. It also prevents the rainbow effect that can be seen with fast motion when using a color wheel. The SXRD display technology utilized here is a reflective technology that minimizes the space between pixels. Only eight percent of the image is lost to the space between pixels, with 92 percent dedicated to reproducing the image. The small space between the pixels and the high pixel count (1920 by 1080) makes the image so smooth that the pixels are invisible until you are nearly standing with your nose to the screen. The straight path design of the projector allows the cabinet layout to have enough room for low restrictive air flow to cool the bulb properly and quiet the noise from the fans. Additionally, the case is internally lined with foamed aluminum that helps both cool and quiet the projector.
The lenses for this projector are additional. Three choices are available: a wide-zoom, a mid-zoom and a tele-zoom. They are what you would expect from a contender for a state of the art product, made by the world-renowned Carl Zeiss lens company. Any camera enthusiast knows Zeiss’ reputation. They have a multitude of elements (the mid zoom has 15 elements, for example), with at least five elements in each lens that have extra low dispersion. The result is excellent focus and color alignment from edge to edge.
Sony does not publish the rated light output of this projector, but simply states that it has enough light output for up to a 300 inch 16x9 screen. I think the decision not to publish a lumens specification is the result of the industry marketing projectors by light output, as though they were selling flashlights. In my work, I have found many companies’ ratings to be inflated and based on the wrong color settings in most projectors. The truth is that most digital projectors are now too bright for their respective screens. The Qualia 004 provides a remote-controlled iris with three settings and two lamp wattages for the bulb, allowing you to adjust the light output to match the screen. Setting the light output too high for a particular screen will degrade black level and thus image dynamics. Needless to say, unless you are designing a theater with a 20-foot-wide screen, the Qualia will likely have enough light output for your needs.