Most Popular TVs
Sony VPL-VW 80
The Sony VPL-VW 80 is a Full HD, SXRD projector, on the market since late 2008 and currently selling from a whopping 4,000 GBP.
- Exceptional motion clarity.
- Automatic lens-protection.
- Flexible positioning.
- Sharp, contrast-rich picture.
- Comprehensive picture-adjustment options.
- Limited brightness.
- Colors and color management fall short of perfection.
- Average standard signal processing.
With its many attractive picture-improvement technologies, the Sony VW 80 will appeal mainly to home-theater enthusiasts. The projector inserts black frames between the pictures of the original signal, making motion and camera pans look so Samurai-sharp that no other projector can compete. Criticism does go to the limited brightness, the slight flicker, and the sometimes over-jolly colors. Overall, both the feature set and picture quality are highly satisfactory.
The usual story: The connections are a bit tricky to reach, but don't disturb the unit's design. The side-mounted control panel, on the other hand, is highly practical.
The VW 80's most important new feature is the "Motionflow dark frame insertion" (see Video technology in detail), which also lends the projector its slight flicker. Together with the faster image chip and more-powerful video-processing electronics, this sharpens the device's motion depiction. This unit also offers core abilities from earlier SXRD generations, such as the three-chip technology with finely controlled convergence-compensation.
Very clear: Large and intuitively positioned buttons enable easy operation of the most important functions.
Sony's newer TVs and Blu-ray players now base their menus on that of the PlayStation 3 - clearly, many consumer-electronics fans like this modern design. Then why are we glad Sony didn't use it here?
The interface becomes less and less appropriate the more complex the device. You can even see this with the PlayStation 3, where important home-theater options are tucked away within deep, nested submenu-pages.
Even with the old menu design, and the tried-and-tested remote control, it remains hard to skim through all of the settings. On first glance, some options are hard - or even impossible - to understand, but at least the most important controls (for brightness, contrast, and sharpness) are easily located. The backlit remote control has direct-access buttons for the most important everyday functions.
One of the marks of a modern home-theater projector is that it displays colors exactly how the movie-producers had in mind. Unified, worldwide production-standards define the corresponding requirements. In contrast to some earlier Sony projectors, such as the VPL-VW 60, the VW 80 fulfills these requirements well.
Our measurements of the color gamut and color temperature showed only slight deviations from the ideal values - at least, as long as the color space was set to "Normal" and the color temperature to "Low" (see Ideal settings).
The VW 80's "Wide" color space setting is indeed wide - wide of the mark, that is! Particularly green tones look synthetic.
The color temperatures "High" (9,450 Kelvin) and "Middle" (8,200 Kelvin) were too cool. If you turn off the gamma correction, the device produces a gamma value of 2.2, but this goes up to 2.4 in the "Gamma4" preset, which is therefore better suited to dark rooms.
As is familiar from earlier models, the VW-80 harbors a seemingly unlimited supply of picture contrast. Its maximum contrast (measured by comparing a fully black picture to a fully white one), which reaches almost 30,000:1, is record-breaking stuff, and even its ANSI contrast of 350:1 is astonishingly high.
The so-called "in-picture contrast" bears further testament to the projector's contrast-abilities. This value is measured using a small white area on a black background - here, the Sony achieved a stately 6,000:1. The lens hood works subtly, but makes an effective contribution to contrast-enhancement.
Two plastic covers automatically cover the lens when you switch off the projector to guard against dust and scratches.
Where there's a silver lining, however, there must also be a rain cloud - in this case, it's the projector's limited brightness that's come to spoil the fun: With correctly adjusted colors, and even with the contrast set as high as it will go, the Sony never outputs more than 600 ANSI-lumens. With the lamp set to low, this value drops to just 400 lumens.
The device becomes yet darker when inserting the clarity-enhancing, black, intermediate frames (see Video technology in detail). In its sharpest picture mode, therefore, the Sony only offers approximately 200 lumen; in this case, you should use a screen of no more than 2 meters in width, even in a darkened environment.
The VW 80 displays tricky pictures, such as this highly-detailed scene from Blu-ray "Antarctica Dreaming", sharper than any other projector we know of.
Processing of standard resolution (576i) pictures is not one of the VW 80's strong points, and - as with earlier models - the quality of the scaled-up picture is a bit of a disappointment.
In our test, however, we also tried feeding in signals via an HDTV set-top box from Clarke-Tech - in our experience, this is one of the better devices at upscaling standard signals. With these up-scaled, HD-resolution input signals, the Sony displayed standard TV fairly well. On the one hand, the Sony softens the image; on the other hand, it over-exaggerates it - this applies particularly to artifacts.
Credit is due for the projector's powerful noise reduction and sharpness enhancement, which both make the image more attractive. It's because of this strength that the Sony fared so well in our visual testing. Wherever possible, however, you should avoid using standard-resolution input signals.
With smaller screen-sizes, correct setup and high-quality HD material, the VW 80 performs excellently. Its handling of 24p is better than any projector we've tested so far. Playing cards flying through the picture in the opening credits of "Casino Royale" look sharper in "Film Mode 1" than on any other projector, and you'll easily forgive the slight flicker.
One spectacular example of the projector's motion clarity is the penguin sequence (playing time 7:41) in "Antarctica Dreaming" on Blu-ray. Despite the camera's pan past fine details and subtle brightness differences on the rocks in the background, the picture remains crystal clear and shows no artifacts whatsoever - the result is nothing short of spellbinding. Even significantly more expensive DLP projectors cannot compete with this, and tend to introduce dithering in the form of false edges.
Not all test patterns were perfect on the Sony, especially not those using the maximum resolution (see Video technology in detail), but movies tell an entirely different story: Disney's Blu-ray edition of "Enchanted" captivates the viewer with accurate colors, sharp pictures, and a wealth of contrast. The chase sequence, high-up among the skyscrapers, in "Spiderman 3" looks stunning.
Video Technology in Detail
Crisp scrolling texts of various speeds require competent video processing and fast projection chips.
"Motionflow dark frame insertion" technology:
The flicker seen on the VW 80, as well as on current Sony TVs, stems from the "Motionflow dark frame insertion" technology. The manufacturer mentions "100-hertz" technology, but essentially the technique does just two things: It inserts black frames between the images (improving the subjective impression of sharpness), and it controls the SXRD chip more precisely (increasing the motion clarity).
Put simply: Sony introduces artificial flicker to the picture, in order to move one step closer to the performance of the good old cathode ray tube. Modern SXRD technology leads to blurred motion, but the VW 80 has a new, faster SXRD chip - the manufacturer quotes a response time of just 2.5 milliseconds - and an improved Bravia 2 Engine. Together, these are responsible for the new "Film Projection" option, which is inactive in the factory setup.
The swinging pendulum from Peter Finzel's test-disc blurs significantly when dark-frame insertion is deactivated.
"Mode1" gave the sharpest picture, but included so many black frames that the brightness reduced by more than half and flicker was occasionally visible, especially with full-screen images.
"Mode2" was significantly brighter, giving 75 percent of the maximum brightness, and was especially pleasing when we also activated the "Motion Enhancer" option. Scrolling texts, the swinging pendulum of a clock, and tricky movie sequences all looked highly accurate. Despite the higher brightness, "Mode3" and "Off" were simply less attractive.
Naturally, we expect that a modern, Full HD projector can display every pixel of the HDTV signal perfectly. In practice, however, problems often stand in the way of clearly defined reproduction. In particular, you can trace these problems back to the following technical reasons:
- convergence errors, as a result of the optics or projection chips
(in the case of 3-chip projectors),
- overscan and the associated picture scaling,
- digital keystone correction and the associated picture scaling,
- active noise-reduction filters or sharpness-enhancers in the video processing.
In order to determine whether a projector can display the individual pictures perfectly, you can either connect a PC outputting the projector's native resolution, or use specially-designed test patterns - in our case, a checker board pattern with each square occupying just one individual pixel. The VW 80 can display this test pattern so that each pixel is individually recognizable, but it does not perform as well as a single-chip, DLP projector.
In this context, be careful when using the Sony's snazzy, digital convergence-correction ("Panel Alignment" in the Installation menu): This allows you set an exact picture offset, but the correction brings unavoidable scaling artifacts. The effect: There is a reduction of color fringing, but the resolution of fine picture details suffers.
This is how it should look: The test pattern shows a checker board pattern comprising single pixel squares. You can distinguish each individual pixel.
And this is how it looks on the VW 80: The details have significantly less contrast than in the original, but you can still see the structure clearly.
After convergence correction: You can now hardly make out the individual pixels, and the whole area is discolored.
Picture Mode: Cinema
Film Projection: Mode2
Color temp.: Low
Gamma Correction: Gamma4
Lamp Setting: High
Advanced Iris: Auto2
Motion Enhancer: Low
* These settings are based on realistic playback of HDTV/Blu-ray material through the HDMI interface in a darkened environment. Manufacturing and HDMI playback device deviations may necessitate slight adjustments.