Sony Cineza HS-51 LCD Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors LCD Projectors
Written by Jeremy R. Kipnis   
Wednesday, 01 June 2005

No sector of the home theater is hotter than HDTV and, with recent advances in video technologies, it is now possible for the mainstream consumer to buy a projector that is capable of beaming a gigantic picture onto a screen that is nearly twice the width of even the largest big screen sets. Historically, it cost tens of thousands of dollars to accomplish this feat in rooms that were dedicated for home theater use. Today, thanks to technologies like DLP, LCD and D-ILA, you can enjoy a bright, beautiful picture from a projector that weighs less than Paris Hilton’s dog and fits in a Jimmy Choo shoebox.

The Sony Cineza HS-51 video projector is a three-chip LCD machine that is priced relatively affordably at $3,495.00. The HS-51 includes a number of unique features that contribute to its overall success as a terrific home theater projector. One of these features is the incredibly bright 135 watt UHP bulb, which allows one to create images as wide as 16.6 feet (200 inches, according to the manual). Installation and set-up for the mainstream user is pretty simple, thanks to the manual vertical and horizontal lens offsets. This allows the projector to be extremely far off-center and still create a beautifully square image without the usual keystone effects. Positioning of the projector can be as far off as the sides of the screen. A manual zoom (1.23-1.46) and focus ring provide quick adjustments that will let you create an image on a wall or screen in less than five minutes. The input complement features options for composite, S-Video, Component (YPrPb SD and HD 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i), D-Sub 15 (computer/Sat RGB input) and HDMI. The arrangement is physically a little tight, but it is far better than the extension cable input that has been featured with earlier Cineza projectors.

Initial Set-up
I was able to get a terrific image in one my testing labs, which features an 18-foot x 10.125 foot Stewart Snowmatte 1.0 gain screen with a light output of as much as 7.2 foot-Lamberts, fully calibrated, using the Minolta CS-100A photo spectrometer and my own analysis and data-gathering software. The measured contrast was 1657 ANSI Lumens (using the standard checkerboard pattern) with the iris off and the bulb on the high setting, which is much better than earlier Cineza or VPL series projectors like the VPL-12. With the HS-51’s new “Auto Iris” setting activated, the projector modulates a camera-like iris between the lamp and the prism that splits the light beam into red, green and blue sectors.

The “auto iris” monitors the incoming signal and makes continuous adjustments, closing down the iris during dark scenes in order to enhance the apparent black level, and opening up during bright scenes where light output becomes critical. With “auto iris” engaged, the 3 -1366 x 768 LCD panels (erroneously noted as 1280 x 720 in the manual) can produce a contrast ratio of 3129 ANSI Lumens. This measurement shows how the HS-51 is competitive with many DLP designs in terms of contrast when comparing the projector to ones costing more than twice as much.

The HS-51 came, as nearly all projectors do, in the dynamic mode. For the purist, this feature comes with what I consider some nasty picture enhancements, which help with daytime viewing, but mar the picture under optimal viewing conditions. Fortunately, there are five other picture modes, (Standard being my choice), each of which can be set up any way you like.

I found the Standard color temperature setting to be close to the D6504 Kelvin standard (+1562/-1871), but it was noticeably green in the darkest part of the picture.

The HS-51 makes beautiful, bright images with standard definition (SD) sources like DVD, DirecTV or TiVo but truly accelerates when fed high-definition (HD) sources, such as Optima HD Cablevision, D-VHS or an HD camcorder like my HDR-FX1 (1440 x 1080i). DirecTV HDTV looked good, but not as good as cable HD. Gamers take notice: video games and the output from a computer or laptop were things of beauty with this projector. X-box, Playstation 2, and Gamecube all displayed fantastically rich and bright colors with a complex degree of shading never hindered by the lack of absolute black level output, even with Halo 2 or Star Wars Battlegrounds. The analog inputs were quite nice, although not as crisp and noise-free by any extent as the HDMI input. It is my recommendation to stick with digital HDMI connection wherever possible for any variety of video displays, ranging from projectors to plasmas to big screens.

I was particularly impressed and surprised that the HS-51 was able to easily sync with my Apple G4 computer’s video card, creating a wide screen desktop resolution of 1280 x 768 WXGA, a vast improvement over the previously crippled operating systems found in so many wide screen projectors. It is amazingly easy to surf the web in widescreen projection glory.

The Picture
Many hours of joy were spent watching the fine films on the Universal HD network such as “Apollo 13” (Universal), with its claustrophobic scenes in the command module. Director Ron Howard’s choice of subtle color shades can be clearly seen to modulate from the clean and bright characteristics at the beginning of the film through to the much darker, brooding character of the finale. Sony’s choice to continue using a 1366 x 768 LCD panel to increase actual resolution with 1080i sources by 6.7 percent over the equivalent DLP 1280 x 720 engine must be commended. Even the untrained eye could see the differences.

A recent viewing of “The Chronicles of Riddick” (Universal) on HBO-HD revealed significant differences between projector engines. The HS-51 looked much sharper and better defined than any comparable DLP, such as the Yamaha DPX-1200 (which I have in one of my reference systems) that shares many of the same features as the HS-51.

Like the Yamaha, the HS-51 also provides “Real Color-Processing” (RCP), which neatly allows you to adjust the color and hue of each target of the projected picture you specify independently. You can thus obtain a picture “more suitable to your taste” as the owner manual suggests. This is a strong set-up feature without question. A professional video calibrator like the ones that are trained by the Imaging Science Foundation can help you manually get the colors even more dialed in. However, this tool allows the everyday mainstream consumer to have a shot at getting the colors closer to perfect. The days of blindly raising and lowering color, contrast and tint controls on your old set are thankfully over for good.

DVDs and HD programs looked more transparent than on most DLP projectors, regardless of price. You need to look to projectors priced in the stratosphere to start to see noticeable improvements like JVC’s HS2U or HD2K projector or the recently reviewed Sony Qualia 004 video projector. Some of these projectors cost as much as $30,000. Considering the price, it is easy for the untrained eye to see that the Sony HS-51 is about the best bargain for its size and cost.

During the great cityscape scene in “The Fifth Element” (Columbia TriStar), where Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) jumps from the skyscraper, it was much easier to spot individual flying cars deep into the image. As much as the added detail improved the immersion factor, the range of colors and subtlety of texture made possible with the three-chip LCD system proved to be very intoxicating. The sense of proper color saturation, even in complex subjects like flesh tones, wood furniture, or green leaves on trees, are some of the best you will find at four times the price.

Great scenes in the Superbit version of HDTV versions of “The Patriot” (Columbia/TriStar) were spellbinding for their distinctive use of color and texture. The cinematographer carefully decided how color and its saturation would play a role in the story. Many exterior battle scenes take on an almost overly gory appearance, thanks to judicious panning close-ups of devoured flesh. “Lawrence of Arabia” (Columbia TriStar) offered similar visual relief by contrasting the lush interior locations that feature rich fabrics and faded wall decorations with the totally stark and frequently barren exterior shots of the desert, even at night. The simplicity required to make a field of sand stand out like you were there was the clearly a strength of the Sony HS-51.

The Downside
I preferred watching 720p programs at 1080i because the picture was noticeably sharper and filled the same screen area. I would like to see Sony address this scaling issue with an option in the user menu to resize 720p or present as a pixel for pixel recreation. Otherwise, 720p will be window boxed on a screen set up for 1080i.

The “auto iris” effect, while initially compelling, ended up leaving me wanting more after evaluation. The opening crawl from any of the “Star Wars” (20th Century Fox) films looked damped down and lacking in sparkle and impact. The yellow typography didn’t leap from the screen, nor did I get chills when the Star Destroyer raced into view, filling the entire screen. Admittedly, the blacks were significantly deeper and richer, much as you would expect from a CRT projector. Nevertheless, the bright spots in each scene didn’t have the crisp, three-dimensional qualities that the non-iris mode exhibited.

The dreaded screen door effect, visible to the trained eye, is often seen in affordable video projectors. This is particularly troublesome with a field of white like the snow scenes on Hoth in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (20th Century Fox). I also was bothered by this effect when any richly saturated field appeared like Captain Kirk’s yellow shirt on the original “Star Trek.” The very texture of the shirt is well defined, but marred by an insufficient fill factor (space between the pixels).

I also must admit that while the blacks are improved over the previous generation of LCD projectors, it only feels like a CRT’s jet blackness under a very narrow group of installation circumstances. Properly calibrated for the best signal sources, black rarely got below 4.5 percent, as seen on the SMPTE Standard Gray Scale Chart in the black 0/5 percent box here.

Another issue is visual fast-forward or rewind with older laserdisc or VHS/Beta players. I found the HS-51 could lose sync and black out the screen for a few seconds. I know they are old formats, but it still noteworthy. Nevertheless, the playback fidelity was really wonderful on these older video formats, considering that great-looking tapes and discs usually pale in comparison to modern SD and HD programming. There were plenty of controls in the HS-51’s user menu that helped to bring out the very best of these vintage sources.

For the price of a good big screen TV, any sports, television or film buff can own a projector that is capable of projecting a bright, color-accurate picture and has very nice black levels. The HS-51 is capable of lighting up a screen that is far larger than most homes can accommodate, with a picture that is enough to impress the neighbors on Movie Night or for a summer baseball game on ESPN HD.

In comparison to other projectors in its class, specifically DLP projectors costing as much as double the price, the Sony HS-51 must be considered a value. Don’t get me wrong, the picture isn’t perfect, but considering its price, you might be able to find it in your heart to not mind not getting the same black levels you get from Sony’s $30,000 Qualia 004.

I own two Sony Qualia 004 projectors, along with a host of other high-performance video products, in my various video testing labs. I can say without question that, whether it was a test pattern on a screen or an all-out car chase in a big-budget film, the Sony Cineza HS-51 was up to the challenge. Overall, I am duly impressed and, considering the money, I am ready to sing this projector’s praises to the masses.
Manufacturer Sony
Model Cineza HS-51 LCD Video Projector
Reviewer Jeremy Kipnis
Chipset 3-Chip

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