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Sony VPL VW50 "Pearl" SXRD Video Projector Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 March 2007
Article Index
Sony VPL VW50 "Pearl" SXRD Video Projector
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Movies And Television
I kicked off my evaluation of the Pearl with the Rose Bowl match-up between USC and Michigan (ABC HD). Say what you want about the BCS or the pairing of these two teams: nothing could take away from the stellar picture quality of the HD presentation. In a recent conversation with publisher Jerry Del Colliano, he admitted that he’d rather stay home and watch USC games than go to the games themselves, due to the excellent quality of today’s HD sports coverage and the image he can get on a nine-foot screen with his Meridian MF1 three-chip D-ILA projector and Faroudja video processor. After my time spent watching the game on the Pearl at one-eighth of the price of the reference video system, I’d have to agree. The color rendering was punchy and vibrant, yet accurate and true to life. The Pearl’s ability to resolve and track the subtle details in varying shades of color was awe-inspiring. The image was lifelike in its three-dimensionality, with terrific edge detail and appropriate sharpness. As impressive as the color was, it was the Pearl’s low-level detail, mainly in the blacks, that showed off all that the Pearl had to offer. The darker blue hues of the Michigan players’ uniforms never became flat or one-dimensional. At times, the darker hues were richer and more enticing than the Trojans’ own scarlet red. The Pearl’s image was as free from digital and motion artifacts as any projector I’ve seen at or above its price point.

At half-time, I jumped over to catch a bit of Discovery HD’s marathon of their beautifully shot series Discovery Atlas: Brazil (Discovery HD Theater). The phrase “looking through a window” gets used a lot when describing a lot of today’s high-end HD displays. Well, the Pearl isn’t a window to the image, because windows are often dirty and have a layer of film or grime that keep them from being crystal clear. Therefore, the Pearl’s image is not like a window so much as it is the event. Having never been to Brazil myself, I’d have to say the Pearl’s presentation of the vibrant country is second only to being there. The show’s many city shots were jaw-droppingly beautiful. The decaying ancient buildings, with their striking, unique architectural details, were something to behold, going far beyond just looking old. Each of the buildings’ weathered facades told a story as individual as a human fingerprint and were portrayed without incident through the Pearl’s exceptional optics. Again, the Pearl’s ability to portray depth came closer to the feeling of being there than that of any other projector I’ve seen, ever. The show’s colors were even more vibrant and rich when compared to the Rose Bowl. To say Discovery has mastered the art of HD would be an understatement. HD can prove harsh on the “beautiful people,” but in the documentary realm, the harshness only adds to the drama, and the Pearl dished out the drama in spades. Moving beyond the descriptive, the Pearl is the first projector I’ve come across that speaks to the heart of the visual event, in the sense that it appeals to me on an emotional level more than an analytical one. I’ve never in my years of writing ever referred to a video product in this way before. The Pearl is that good.

Next, I went for some more traditional DVD flair with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Walt Disney Home Entertainment). With my Meridian G98 transport set to 480i, I braced myself for a disappointment from the world of standard definition, yet I was pleasantly surprised. Now the G98 is one hell of a DVD player, but the Pearl is no slouch, either. The lower resolution of DVD was not as dramatic a difference from HD as I had anticipated, which is a tremendous endorsement for why a Meridian DVD player should be considered for your reference system if you have a top-performing projector. The Pearl-Meridian combo handled the film’s many epic sequences with grace and composure. While HD may have it over film in a lot of ways, it can still appear a bit hyper-real, or what I like to describe as “glassy.” Well, Pirates is an excellent film-based transfer and it comes with a greater sense of lifelike realism. The colors, while not as punchy, had even greater sense of depth and dimension. The black level detail was superb, especially in the masts and hull of the Black Pearl. Edge fidelity and detail were out of this world and no scene showed this more than when we see Davy Jones’ ship, the Flying Dutchman, for the first time. If I was one of the wizards at ILM (Industrial Light and Magic), I’d want everyone to have a Pearl in their home so that all my hours and late nights spent texture-mapping the many CG elements in the film were not lost to poor displays. I’ve never seen a film as richly detailed and nuanced as Pirates and, thanks to the Pearl, I felt as if I didn’t miss a thing. DVD video was simply riveting on the Sony Pearl paired with the Meridian G98 DVD player.

I saved the best for last, and ended my evaluation of the Pearl with the Blu-ray transfer of Superman Returns (Warner Home Video). With everything set to 1080p, I was ready to rock. From the start, Superman didn’t disappoint. The first scene that caught my eye was when Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) discovers Superman’s Arctic hideout for the first time. I’ve spoken a lot about the Pearl’s black level detail and color saturation, so I’ll part with that and speak to its white levels. All too often displays, especially projectors, are calibrated, or should I say not calibrated, to take advantage of the lighter elements or white levels of the image. Well, during the hideout scene, the Pearl’s white values were pristine and well-defined, with terrific edge fidelity completely void of blooming or pixilation. I’ve spoken about the Pearl’s ability to resolve minute details in subtle color variations. The same holds true for shades of white. The Pearl’s gray scale rendering throughout the darks is equaled in its ability to resolve and render the lights with comparable precision. The reflections that occurred between each of the crystals were distinct and could be easily traced to their sources when the image was paused. The level of detail during the first cave scene is what HD, more specifically 1080p, is all about. Skipping ahead to the plane sequence, I was treated to an action smorgasbord unlike anything I’ve seen before. This sequence has it all, beautiful blue vistas, deep space, fire, rapid camera shifts, the works, and the Pearl didn’t trip up nor even bat an eye. Sony touts their dynamic iris technology a lot with their projectors and I experimented with it with varying results. Lesser dynamic iris can sometimes cause eye-jarring shifts that are anything but natural as the projector attempts to better juggle between extreme darkness and light. The Pearl doesn’t fall into this camp at all and, when implemented properly, benefits the image and, more importantly, the perceived contrast. I must say this, though: the difference between having the feature active or inactive isn’t as great as I would’ve thought. However, I did leave it on for the duration of my review. Back to the action, the Pearl was able to track it accurately and display it fully and faithfully. The baseball stadium at the end of the dramatic sequence is as captivating as any moment that comes before it. In standard definition, the sold-out crowd would’ve been but a blur, but the wide shot revealed individuals with unique fashion sense and personalities. I could even read a few t-shirts here and there from my favorite seat on my sofa; to call the Pearl a detail whore might sound mean if it wasn’t so true.


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