InFocus LP350 vs. Sony VPL-VW10HT

Evan Powell, October 20, 2000

NOTICE: This article was written in response to the high level of consumer interest in the Sony VPL-VW10HT and the InFocus LP350 as home theater solutions. By offering this comparative review, we do not mean to endorse these as the two best projectors for home theater on the market today. In many cases depending on budgets and other factors, there will be other projectors we would recommend as better overall price/performers than either of these two popular products. (EP, November 29, 2000)

NOTICE: See final update pertaining to DVDO iScan compatibility issues, and options for feeding higher quality signals into both the LP350 and the VW10HT. (EP, November 14, 2000)

Yes, I know. This is the second article featuring the InFocus LP350 to be posted. Normally we don't give this much coverage to any one product. But as a result of the last write-up we received boatloads of emails asking for more scoop on the LP350 as it relates to home theater. And of course the BIG question on everyone's mind is ...how does the LP350 compare to this year's home theater superstar, the Sony VPL-VW10HT?

So. Here we go with a side-by-side comparison of these two remarkable projectors. Let's start with a few of the basics...

Light engines. The biggest and most relevant difference between these two products is in their light engine technology. The Sony incorporates three 1.5-inch diagonal transmissive LCD panels and a 200-watt UHP lamp. Though the unit is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens, it has a "cinema black" mode that improves contrast over the normal mode and is preferred by many for home theater usage. Cinema black mode reduces the rated light output to about 700 ANSI lumens. After optimization with Video Essentials, the effective ANSI lumen measurement falls in the range of 500 to 550. If cinema black is not used, the picture is brighter but a bit lower in contrast. After optimization in normal mode the actual ANSI lumen output is about 750.

The InFocus LP350 uses a single reflective 0.9" diagonal DLP chip and a 270-watt SHP lamp. This projector is rated at 1300 ANSI lumens. There is no cinema black mode as contrast in normal operation is already superb. Optimizing it for best video performance drops the effective ANSI lumen output to around 1000. So in practical terms the LP350 produces notably more light output than either of the operating modes of the Sony when both projectors are properly calibrated for home theater use.

Resolution and Aspect Ratios. In terms of resolution, both products are in the XGA resolution class. However, the LP350's DLP chip has a standard 4:3 native format, or 1,024 x 768 pixels. The Sony features a unique 16:9 aspect ratio in its LCD panels, 1,366 x 768. So it has the same vertical resolution as the LP350, but the panels are extended horizontally to achieve the 16:9 format. It is this feature in particular that has made the Sony VPL-VW10HT far and away the most popular home theater projector in the year 2000.

Contrast ratios. The DLP technology in the LP350 contributes to a significantly higher contrast ratio than that on the Sony. One of the weaknesses of LCD in comparison to DLP has always been the comparatively limited contrast that it can produce, and the difference is clearly evident between these two units.

Video decoding, deinterlacing and scaling. To feed an NTSC signal into an XGA projector it needs to be converted internally from analog to digital via a video decoder, then converted from an interlaced format to a progressive format by a process known as deinterlacing or line doubling. Then the 480 lines of active NTSC video information need to be expanded and mapped onto the 768 lines of the physical displays, a process known as scaling. Some projectors have more comprehensive decoding, deinterlacing, and scaling capabilities than others. Rapid advances have been made in video processing lately, and the newer generation machines are reflecting those advances.

In the present case, the LP350 is a newer machine than the Sony. If the proof is in the pudding, the LP350 incorporates what appears on the screen to be more advanced technology in video processing. For if you run a standard S-video signal from a DVD player into the LP350, you get a remarkably stable image. Deinterlacing artifacts are minimal compared to other projectors we've seen in this price range, and scaling is smooth and stable to the point of looking essentially flawless. The VW10HT cannot match the stability and precision of the LP350's image in this regard.

Fan noise. A big issue for home theater buyers is fan noise. However there's not a lot of difference in fan noise between these two products. Both are unobtrusive and the noise pitch is relatively low frequency. There is not enough of a difference in noise to make it a decision factor in the buying process.

Portability. Not normally a concern for home theater buyers, but if portability is a desired feature, bear in mind that the LP350 is compact, has a handle and weighs 6.7 lbs. The VW10HT is comparatively bulky, it has no handle and it weighs 17.6 lbs. Bottom line: the Sony was never designed to be used as a portable device whereas the LP350 was.

Review Contents: Basic Comparisons Setup,Playback and Callibration Performance Comparisons Overall Assessment