Review: Sony VPL-HS51
One of the new products generating the most buzz at this year's CEDIA trade show in September was the Sony VPL-HS51 home theater projector. It was the talk of the show due to one truly amazing claim: this LCD projector carries a contrast rating of a stratospheric 6000:1, which as far as contrast is concerned trumps every DLP projector on the market. By now observers of the projector industry are used to regular breakthroughs in performance. But nobody expected that a projector featuring LCD technology would ever claim to beat DLP technology in contrast. This one does. So we were particularly anxious to get this one in for a closer look to shoot it out against the other hot products currently on the market.
As with all projectors, this one is not without its weaknesses. But it is an impressive product that, when set up correctly, produces beautiful home theater video. It is being added to our Highly Recommended list, but with an important qualifier: it must be used with the DVDO iScan HD+ front end video processor for optimum performance results.
Brightness: 1200 ANSI lumens
Native resolution: 1280x720, 16:9 format
Technology: Three 0.73" LCD panels with microlens array.
Lens: Manual zoom/focus with 1.55x zoom range
Lens shift: Vertical and horizontal
Lamp life: 2000 hours in normal mode, 3000 hours in eco-mode
Brightness. Upon release there was some confusion on the ANSI lumen spec on the HS51--initial indications were 800 ANSU lumens, but Sony now informs us that the official spec is 1200 ANSU lumens. The official specification does not change the measurements we have in the lab. When operated in Cinema mode for best contrast performance, the actual light output of the HS51 is about 240 ANSI lumens. So in video mode this is not a bright projector by any means. All home theater projectors benefits from a dark viewing space, but for the HS51 a dark room is more important than most.
Contrast. This projector is capable of producing better blacks than any digital projector we've seen. High contrast is achieved via a dynamically reconfiguring aperture. Thus actual contrast varies by scene content. Nevertheless the effect is one of significant dynamic range. People can and will debate whether contrast ratings achieved by the use of a variable aperture are "apples and oranges" compared to contrast ratings on projectors not using this technology. But the only practical issue is whether the picture actually looks higher contrast on the screen. When viewed side-by-side with the DLP-based BenQ PE8700, with a contrast rating of 2500:1, the HS51 does appear to to deliver a visibly higher contrast image. The BenQ is certainly brighter, roughly by a factor of two, but the HS51 delivers a very satisfying high contrast picture that is simply remarkable for LCD technology.
Manual zoom and focus. The manual zoom lens has a range of 1.55x. The throw distance range is typical of many projectors in this class, with a 100" diagonal image being achieved from a minimum throw distance of 9.5 feet to a maximum of 14.7 feet. If you are viewing the screen from a distance of 1.5x the screen width, the seating area will be in the middle of the projector's throw distance range (or 11 feet in the case of a 100" diagonal, 87" wide 16:9 screen). Thus the zoom range allows the latitude to place the unit either on a coffee table immediate in front of the seating area, on a table between the seats, on a shelf or mount immediately behind the seats, or ceiling mounted above the seats. If you wish to place seating further than 1.5x the screen width, (as many may wish to do) you lose the option for shelf or stand mounting behind the seating area.
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