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Best Home Theater Projectors
Sony VPL-HS20 Projector Sony VPL-HS20
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1300:1 Contrast Ratio
1400 Lumens
Street Price: n/a
$3,499 MSRP

Sony VPL-HS20 for Amazing HDTV

Evan Powell, February 4, 2004


Overall, the HS20 is an excellent projector for the money, with unique and particularly impressive performance in HDTV. Due to its very high resolution LCD panels with Micro Lens Array and superb hi-def scaling, HDTV 1080i images are rendered with no pixelation, and with acute precision that is unmatched in projectors in this price range. If your primary concern is for the best possible picture from HDTV for street prices in the range of about $3,000, read no further-go order an HS20.

With DVD sources the HS20 also delivers very satisfying images. However overall image quality from DVD does not stand out above the competition in the same manner that its HDTV performance does. Part of this is due to the resolution limitations of the signal itself which do not improve with the incrementally higher physical resolution of the display. But it is also due in part to the plastic lens shield that covers the recessed lens. This shield is required to keep dust out of the machine, but it slightly softens the image on the screen. If there is an HS30 in our future, we hope Sony engineers will either eliminate the need for the shield, or incorporate a shield of higher optical purity. (Yes, the shield slightly compromises HDTV also, but the acuity of the HDTV image is so pristine to start with, it is still amazing even with the shield in place.)

There has been a lot of confusion over light output of the HS20. Some say the unit is quite bright, and others have reported that it is unexpectedly dim. The fact is that it can be either, or anything in between depending upon how you set it up. Sony's published specifications indicate 1400 ANSI lumens. As reported earlier, upon arrival our test unit was putting out less than 400 lumens even at its brightest settings. However, it turns out that the lamp was faulty. With a new lamp installed, brightness immediately improved by a factor of 2.5x.

Nevertheless, the theoretical brightness rating of 1400 lumens gives consumers the impression that this unit is substantially brighter than other widescreen LCD projectors on the market. Not so. There are a variety of ways to set up the HS20 depending on your needs and uses. But once you have optimized the system for video display the HS20 will not deliver anywhere close to 1400 lumens to the screen. All projectors fall below their theoretical lumen output specs after calibration, but this one falls farther below spec than most.

You attain the brightest possible output on the HS20 with the IRIS open, lamp/fan on high, color temperature on high, and no color-correcting filter in place (in other words, worst possible settings for good video). With this combination of settings we measured our test sample at 952 ANSI lumens. Then we began to make changes and measure the impact on lumen output.

First, we switched the color temperature from factory preset high to factory preset low, which brought it closer to the ideal temperature for NTSC video. That dropped lumen output 20%. Second, closing the IRIS to increase contrast dropped lumen output by 33%. Third, we added the optional color-correcting filter. That reduced lumen output by 40%. Finally, dropping the lamp mode from high to low reduced lumen output by 15%. So the bottom line is that, depending upon your choices in setting the unit up, you will net anywhere from 300 to about 700 ANSI lumens of actual light on the screen.

The largest single factor that impacts lumen output is the color correcting filter, which as we said cuts brightness by about 40%. Videophiles will want to use this filter for optimum film viewing in a dark theater environment, but it is not needed for video games, television, sports events, and other subject matter where precise color is already nonexistent. Keep in mind that the human brain deploys its own real-time color-compensating filters, and your brain will think flesh tones will look largely natural in most scenes on the HS20 even when the color-correcting filter is not in use.

Review Contents: Overview Performance Performance and Conclusion