Sony VPL VW200 SXRD Video Projector 
Home Theater Front Projectors SXRD Projectors
Written by Kevin Miller   
Tuesday, 01 April 2008

Sony’s latest top-of-the-line front projector effectively replaces the company’s original flagship SXRD projector, the Qualia 004. The new VPL-VW200 is not only superior in performance to the original statement piece, but also half its price. It is amazing how quickly things change in the world of video. The VPL-VW200 is a three-panel LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon)-based unit with a native resolution of 1080p. Probably the most impressive aspect of its performance, once you have it set up properly, is its color accuracy. In fact, it is the most color accurate front projector under $30,000 that I have tested. Nothing at or near its price ($15,000) can come close to the performance of the VPL-VW200 in terms of color.

I am a big stickler when it comes to color accuracy, and my latest pet peeve has been inaccurate primary and secondary colors. Until the 200 came along, the price tag for accurate primary and secondary colors, along with everything else required for stellar video performance, started at $30,000 with Runco’s 720p three-chip DLP projector, the VX2i.  It is refreshing to see Sony step up to the plate and deliver a projector at half that price with twice the resolution, and very accurate color reproduction. The one area where it is lacking, compared to the three-chip DLP category, is light output. The VPL-VW200 has an awesome features package for set-up and calibration, with good connectivity options. It is one of the most attractively designed projectors on the market today.

The VPL-VW200 is very similar in design and overall look to the original Qualia 004, only slightly smaller. As far as front projectors go, it is the sleekest, most high-tech-looking and attractive design to come along since the Pina Farina-designed Vidikron CRT chassis in the 1990s. The finish is a metallic gray with black accents on the top and bottom, and soft sloping sides. It measures nearly seven inches high by 19-and-a-half inches wide by 22-and-a-half inches deep, weighing a hefty 44 pounds. 

I also like the design of the remote. In fact, Sony remotes have long been my favorite remotes, as they are generally well designed in terms of ease of use and have a comfortable feel in the hand. It weighs a virtual ton for a remote and exudes exceptional build quality, not unlike the projector itself.  The GUI (Graphical user interface) or internal menu system is identical to the Qualia 004, and its smaller sibling the VPL-VW100, a.k.a. “The Ruby.”  It is simple and easy to navigate, with a vertically arrayed set of pages. I was pleased to find that it is fully backlit, making adjustments in a darkened theater environment much easier.

Features and Connectivity
This projector is definitely feature-packed. As with many projectors, there are a number of very useful features, including a few that help the marketing department brag that are best left off. One nice feature that came out of the CRT era, rare even on the most expensive fixed pixel projectors, is the blanking feature. Blanking was designed for CRT projectors that inevitably left you with some overspray of the picture beyond the borders of the screen area.  On the 200, it works the same way it did on CRT projectors by simply masking the picture to the edge of the screen’s frame, eliminating any distracting overspray.

The VPL-VW200 has vertical lens shift, which will aid in the installation of the projector relative to the screen. However, at $15,000, I was a little disappointed at the lack of horizontal lens shift, which would make it even easier to install. Perhaps the coolest feature of any projector so far to date is Sony’s Panel Adjust feature, which actually allows you to move the LCoS panels to improve alignment, much like converging a CRT. It is the most comprehensive feature of its kind, with a Zone feature that lets you tweak red and blue anomalies all around the screen. This feature will sharpen the picture on units that have some slight misalignment of the LCoS panels.

The VPL-VW200 features the usual selectable Picture Modes and color temperatures. The color temps include High, Mid, Low and three User temps, with grayscale controls for each. I found the Mid color temperature to be the most neutral and closest to the broadcast standard color temperature
of 6500 Kelvins. Modes include Dynamic, Standard, Cinema and three User modes. As with earlier SXRD models, I found the Cinema mode to be flat, uninvolving and rather two-dimensional. I chose Standard, as it had a much better snap and pop factor. In the Expert Setting, you will find Film Mode, which should be turned on, and Gamma Correction, which I turned off for the best gamma curve, and the slowest rise out of black. The Cinema Black Pro feature is the iris set-up, which gives you Auto 1, Auto 2, Manual and Off. I found the Off position to be the best, as it gave me enough light output, and blacks remained stable whereas the Auto modes change both white and black levels, as the content of the picture changes from brighter to darker and back to brighter, which is very distracting. 

Two dubious features that I highly recommend you leave off are RCP (Real Color Processing), which was originally designed as a Color Management System, but never worked well, and Motionflow, which is Sony’s version of 120Hz video processing. Now that Sony has greatly improved its color accuracy for primary and secondary color space, there is no need for the RCP feature, which never works properly and adversely affects the color decoding. If you set the Color Space feature in the menu of the 200 to Normal, the primary and secondary colors are nearly spot-on to the HDTV specifications, which make for extremely realistic-looking color. The Motionflow feature is a perfect example of the consumer being duped by marketing hype. I have yet to see this 120 Hz processing feature work well on any product. On the Sony VPL-VW200, it creates so many problems that it simply needs to be left off. Details to follow in the performance section.

Connectivity is reasonably comprehensive for a front projector. There are two HDMI inputs, which are the most important video connections, and only a single component video input. One S-Video and one composite video input might be useful for legacy Laserdisc, VHS and SVHS sources, although most folks will either switch these through an A/V receiver or an outboard video processor like the excellent DVDO VP50 or VP50Pro. There is also a 15-pin VGA input for computer hook-up, and an RS-232 port for control touch panel programming. Finally, an Ethernet port labeled Network rounds out the connectivity of the VPL-VW200.

Television and Movies
The VPL-VW200 is the most impressive effort from Sony in front projection to date. If you know where to set the key features of the VPL-VW200, and have it professionally calibrated, this projector is capable of stunningly accurate pictures. In fact, other than my Samsung SP-H710AE 720p resolution one-chip DLP projector, the Sony’s VPL-VW200 is the most color-accurate projector under $30,000 I have tested. If you’ve read any of my projector reviews in the last two years, you know that I am a stickler for overall color accuracy, and that means the accuracy of the color decoding, grayscale tracking and the primary and secondary colors all combined. On the Sony, color decoding is dead on, and grayscale tracking is excellent. The biggest single improvement over Sony’s VPL-VW100 from last year and the original Qualia 004 comes with the Color Space setting to Normal that gives us accurate primary and secondary colors. Although they are not exactly perfect, in my opinion they are so close to the HDTV standard that I don’t think any improvement is necessary, as it is extremely unlikely that anyone, even a seasoned pro, would be able to see the difference.

White field uniformity, a known performance issue with all LCD and LCoS-based displays, looked to be reasonably good for an LCD-based projector. The scene in the beginning of Chapter 5 of the Blu-ray version of The Italian Job (Paramount Home Entertainment), where they are celebrating in the snow-capped Austrian Alps, is an excellent test for this. The snow had some color splotches in it. Actually, some red blotches were visible in the upper right side of the picture. Other movies where this might be apparent would include Ice Age and Vertical Limit, both of which have a lot of bright white material. The lens on the VPL-VW200, made by Carl Zeiss, is also a step up from the VPL-VW100, and panel alignment is far superior.

I did find that the resolution is slightly rolled-off, which is an issue I see with most front projectors. It is not a major issue, as it is only a slight loss on the 200, due to the internal scaling. Amplitude is down slightly at the edge of a resolution test pattern for 1080i and 1080p at the HDMI inputs. The same thing was visible on the excellent HD DVD version of Silicon Optix HQV test disc for 1080i de-interlacing and film resolution.

With the iris set to off, I got a reasonably bright image on my 80-inch-wide Stewart Grayhawk RS screen. I measured 13 foot-lamberts, which is just slightly above 12, the reference for projected film in a movie theater. I couldn’t get more then that with the iris off without losing detail in the picture. I must say the 400-watt Xenon lamp in the projector is not capable of as much light output as I would’ve expected. The Auto iris modes will give you a little more light output, but you don’t want to use any of them, as both black level and white level changes depending on how bright or dark the picture elements are.

As you might expect, Blu-ray and HD DVD discs both looked excellent on the VPL-VW200 projector. Both Chapters Four and Five of the excellent transfer of The Italian Job on Blu-ray looked awesome, with excellent color saturation, and the overall accuracy of color was exceptional. To test the Motionflow 120Hz video processing feature, I repeatedly played back the beginning of Chapter 5.  Motionflow, whether high or low, definitely made motion look strange, almost as though you were behind the camera instead of watching the film. Also, substantial artifacts were introduced around Mark Wahlberg’s head when Motionflow was engaged. In the opening diner scene of The Departed (Warner Home Video), the motion looks very odd, especially the pan from right to left down the counter. These two scenes were enough for me to realize this was just another over-hyped video feature that is best left off.

Next, I checked the Blu-ray version of Casino Royale (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) to test black-level performance on the projector. Chapter Seven, where Bond is chasing the bad guy on the tarmac of Miami International Airport, has a lot of visible shadow detail in the dark parts of the picture. The VPL-VW200 delivered all of this detail with aplomb. Blacks were deep rich and inky on the 200, and there was little or no visible low-level noise.

The Downside
As with most projectors and HDTVs, there are usually at least a few minor things to complain about. After all, there is no such thing as a perfect piece of consumer electronics gear. On the Sony VPL-VW200, there is a slight resolution loss due to the internal scaler. Gamma is not quite perfect in its emulation of a CRT gamma curve, and the rise out of black is super-slow. black. Finally, white field uniformity is also a slight issue with the 200. This is most noticeable with bright white pictures. Skies and snow and ice are images where you will see some red and blue blotches in the picture if you look very carefully.

I must say that overall I am extremely impressed with the Sony’s performance and picture quality. I tip my hat to Sony for giving us truly accurate color reproduction at long last. I would really like to see the company improve on their video processing scheme, DRC (Digital Reality
Creation), and give the VPL-VW200 the ability to fully resolve 1080p without any loss whatsoever. There really isn’t a lot to compare the Sony to in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. Last year’s Marantz VP-11S1 at $19,999 would’ve been a good comparison, but this year’s Marantz VP-15S1 now sells for $8,999, which isn’t exactly a fair comparison price-wise. Since I haven’t gotten to test the new Marantz, it would not be fair for me to comment, but I would guess that primary and secondary color accuracy aren’t as good on the Marantz. Suffice to say that Sony’s VPL-VW200 is an awesome projector, and gives projectors at its price and well beyond a run for their money in nearly all aspects of performance.
Manufacturer Sony
Model VPL VW200 SXRD Video Projector
Reviewer Kevin Miller

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