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Sony's newest home theater projector is the VPL-VWPRO1, a 1080p SXRD model built for home cinema use. This successor to the HW15 brings several improvements to the table, but it is largely an evolutionary step. The VWPRO1 keeps the HW15's bright cinema mode and great contrast, improving both slightly. Good connectivity and quiet performance make the VWPRO1 easy to set up, as does its 1.6:1 zoom lens with both horizontal and vertical lens shift. An included spare lamp helps to ease the cost of upkeep.
With an MSRP of $3400, the VWPRO1 faces some stiff competition from lower-priced challengers. However, its large-screen performance is unmatched in its price bracket, making it the projector of choice for those seeking the ultimate in really big big-screen home theater.
Applications / Best Uses
In home theater, it's all about image quality. After adjustment, the VWPRO1 has a beautiful, film-like image that makes Blu-ray movies and other high quality HD content look its best. The picture is sharp and clear, though without even a hint of pixelation at even 0.8x the screen width (a typical viewing distance is 1.5x the screen width, according to THX). Detail is clear without appearing over-sharpened. Color out of the box appears slightly cool, but some adjustment brings it closer to spec. The projector's auto iris keeps black levels low in dark scenes, but even very bright scenes do not lose excessive shadow detail.
The VWPRO1 is built for use in a light-controlled theater environment. Its most notable feature is an extremely bright cinema mode, which is bright enough to pair with a 150" diagonal or larger screen under the right conditions. If you don't have a dark theater room, you could also go in the opposite direction and use the VWPRO1 on an 80" screen in your living room, creating a brilliant picture that will stand up well to ambient light.
Long zoom ranges and horizontal/vertical lens shift are common on many 1080p home theater projectors. The VWPRO1's range for both is sufficient for all but the most challenging of installation problems, though several competing projectors have greater range. The projector features a 1.6:1 manual zoom lens that can project a 120" diagonal image from 12' 2" to 19'. The lens shift has a vertical range of 2.5 picture heights and a horizontal range of .75 picture widths. This may give you enough range to use a rear shelf mount at the back of the room, a ceiling mount over the seats, or even a coffee table placement if you so desire. Each has its benefits, but ceiling and rear shelf mounting are the most commonly used, and rear shelf mounting is the most popular with do-it-yourself types. A ceiling mount can appear more professional, but a rear shelf mount has the potential to place the projector in the optical sweet spot, which helps to ensure even screen illumination.
To hit the optical sweet spot, choose a throw distance that lets you use the middle of the lens' zoom range. For a 120" diagonal image, this will be about 16'. You'll also want to minimize the use of lens shift, thus allowing the image to beam straight out from the projector and evenly illuminate the screen. Using the middle of the zoom range knocks about 12% off of maximum lumen output, but with a projector as bright as the VWPRO1 you should have a few lumens to spare.
Lumen output. The VWPRO1 pumps out an impressive amount of light, especially in Cinema mode. On our test sample, post-calibration Cinema mode measured 857 ANSI lumens with the lamp on high and the lens at its widest angle setting. Compared to the earlier HW15 this is about a 30-lumen increase, which could probably be attributed to measurement error or individual lamp variation. The HW15 already had one of the brightest cinema modes available. This gives the VWPRO1 the versatility to be used on large screens or in ambient light, situations that may be difficult for a competing home theater projector.
Low lamp mode reduces lumen output by 33%, which is a greater reduction than most other projectors where the average is about 20%. This will reduce Cinema mode output to 575 lumens, but that is still enough to light up a 120" screen. Since 857 lumens is excessive for a 100" to 120" screen in a darkened room, low lamp mode will likely be the preferred operating mode for anyone using a 120" or smaller screen.
The VWPRO1's 1.6:1 manual zoom lens transmits the most light when used at its widest angle setting; that is, at the maximum image size for a given throw distance. At the telephoto end of the zoom range, with the smallest image at a given distance, lumen output decreases by 24%. This brings Cinema mode to 651 lumens with the lamp at full power and 440 lumens with the lamp in eco-mode. This is the perfect amount of light for a 100" diagonal screen in a room with little to no ambient light; it produces a brilliant, high-contrast picture that pops right off of the screen.
Contrast. The VWPRO1 is rated at 85,000:1 contrast compared to the HW15's 60,000:1. As the numbers might imply, the contrast increase over the HW15 is incremental. Black level on the VWPRO1 is slightly better, and the auto-iris seems more responsive than on previous models. The result is deeper blacks in dark scenes and good shadow detail in mixed scenes. Combined with the projector's brilliant highlights, this makes for a dynamic, three-dimensional image.
Color. Out of the box, the VWPRO1 needs some color adjustment. The default "Medium" preset is too cool (around 9000-9500K), giving the image a slightly blue cast in the highlights. The "Low" preset was much closer to the ideal 6500K grayscale, but still required some tweaking--our measurements placed this setting around 7500K, which is tolerable if less than ideal. Calibration is relatively straightforward, though not without a few pitfalls. For one, not all of the VWPRO1's "Custom" modes start from the same default calibration, and each has a built-in bias that cannot be removed. On our test unit, Custom 3 was a good setting to start from, as it was not far from the 6500K standard to begin with. A boost to red along with a smaller boost to green placed us in the neighborhood of 6500K across the grayscale.
Secondly, grayscale calibration is complicated by a default color gamut that requires some fine tuning. A projector's color gamut controls how accurately it can translate the color specified by the source into the color shown on screen. Gamut adjustments are impossible to perform without a meter. Think of it this way: if the projector's idea of red is actually orange, you cannot fix it by moving the white point around. Red on that projector will always look orange until you hook up a meter and adjust the gamut. Gamut adjustments are often overlooked, but without them, a projector can have accurate grayscale tracking and still have poor color performance.
All in all, it took us about two hours to get color on the VWPRO1 to a point that reflected the projector's true capabilities. After adjustment, the projector hewed much more closely to Rec. 709 color space and D6500 white point standards. Professional calibration is definitely recommended for the VWPRO1, but the end results are very much worth it.
Placement Flexibility. Lensing on the VWPRO1 lets you mount the projector more or less anywhere you'd like. The long zoom lens can cast a 120" diagonal image from about 12' to 19', or a 150" image from 15' to over 23'. Lens shift is such that the projector can be mounted on a normal eight-foot ceiling without the use of a drop tube, placed on a coffee table without needing to tilt the projector, or placed on a rear shelf.
Audible noise. Past a certain point, audible noise ratings are just another statistic. The VWPRO1 never emits more than a soft whisper during operation, even in high lamp mode. In low lamp mode, the sound level drops to abject silence. if you and the audience are seated more than five feet from the projector, audible noise should not be a concern--especially once you have your speakers turned up.
Panel alignment feature. All three-element projectors are prone to panel misalignment, but few have the ability to correct for this defect without a trip back to the factory. The VWPRO1 has a panel alignment feature designed to bring the red, green, and blue SXRD panels into convergence for optimal image clarity. Our test sample's blue panel was slightly out of kilter, but a quick nudge of the panel alignment control brought it back to normal.
Extra lamp. The VWPRO1's 200W UHP lamp has no specified lifespan, but if it's anything like other projector lamps (and there is no reason to believe that it is not) then it should last at least 2,000 hours on average. In any case, the VWPRO1 comes standard with a spare lamp and air filter. Note how long your first lamp lasts; that way, you can purchase a third lamp before the second is due to expire.
No frame interpolation. Frame interpolation is becoming a common feature on home theater 1080p projectors, so its absence on the VWPRO1 is notable. Frame interpolation is still somewhat controversial; some people enjoy the technology while others shun it. Frame interpolation can smooth out judder in fast motion and in panning sequences. But it can also introduce strange artifacts of its own in some instances. We prefer to have the option available when it is well implemented.
Manual zoom/focus. A minor concern, but several projectors costing less than the VWPRO1 have fully powered zoom and focus, which are convenient features. One of the advantages of a long zoom range is the ability to use a 2.4:1 screen and switch between 16:9 and 2.4:1, thus eliminating black bars. A powered lens makes this easy. Some projectors even have lens memory systems to automate the process completely. With a manual lens, switching becomes an inconvenience if you use a rear shelf mount and an impossibility if you use a ceiling mount.
Sony VPL-VWPRO1 vs. Epson Home Cinema 8700 UB
Epson's Home Cinema 8700 UB is a powerhouse of a projector at only $2,199 MSRP. Despite some obvious similarities, the VWPRO1 and 8700 UB are vastly different projectors, and each has its strengths in the right application.
Light output. The 8700 UB is a solid cinema projector that puts out 660 lumens when used in its ideal cinema mode. However, the VWPRO1 is somewhat brighter still at 857 lumens post-calibration. The extra light may be handy for filling a larger than average home theater screen. At smaller screen sizes it will be incrementally more brilliant in ambient light. The extra lumen output also means you'll still have a bright image after adjusting zoom and dropping into low lamp mode.
Now, assume you're inviting friends over to watch football with a few lights on in the room. The VWPRO1 has a maximum output of 1033 lumens, which is not much brighter than its Cinema mode. The 8700 UB, on the other hand, cranks out 1830 lumens using its Dynamic setting while still maintaining decent color balance. It can produce almost 1500 lumens in low-lamp mode. So while the VWPRO1 has a brightness advantage in dark room Cinema use, the 8700 UB rules the living room.
Contrast. When it comes to deep, dark blacks, the 8700 UB is the clear winner--its black level was visibly deeper than that of the VWPRO1 in side-by-side testing. We saw slightly better shadow detail on the VWPRO1, though the margin between the two machines is slim. The VWPRO1 has brighter highlights in Cinema mode, so it appears higher in overall contrast. Three-dimensionality was more pronounced on the VWPRO1 as well. Because of the 8700 UB's advantage in dark scenes, each projector will appear higher in contrast than its competitor at times depending on the dynamic range of the scene.
Color. Out of the box, the 8700 UB required less color adjustment than did the VWPRO1, as the default gamut was closer to standards and grayscale tracking was already close to 6500K in Theater mode. The VWPRO1 can match this performance after calibration, and the two projectors begin to look very similar after some time with a meter and some fine-tuning. Post-calibration the VWPRO1 appeared slightly more natural, though without having the two projectors next to one another it would be impossible to make a determination between them.
Placement Flexibility. Both projectors have a zoom lens longer than 1.5:1 and both have H/V lens shift, but the 8700 UB has the more extensive range of the two. Whereas the VWPRO1 has a 1.6:1 lens, the 8700 UB has a 2.1:1, giving it a few more feet of working range for any given diagonal size. Lens shift is likewise more comprehensive; the 8700 UB has 20% more vertical range and 50% more horizontal range, so those who need to place the projector off-center by any significant degree (say, if using a ceiling mount in a room with high ceilings) would be better served by Epson's offering. However, using the extreme ends of a zoom lens can introduce some less than desirable effects; the ideal situation is still to use the middle of the range and relatively little lens shift.
Video delay. The VWPRO1 has a faster refresh time than the 8700 UB. When the 8700 UB and VWPRO1 are placed next to one another and driven by the same signal source, a scene change will cause the VWPRO1's picture to update, then a split-second later the 8700 UB will do the same. This delay is undetectable except when viewing them side by side, and is irrelevant to most consumers, but those who are heavily invested in video games should take note. For movies, though the VVWPRO1 is faster than the 8700 UB, both benefit from an audio delay to achieve ideal lip synch. (This is true of pretty much all home theater projectors.)
Other features. Each projector also has its own bells and whistles. The 8700 UB features Frame Interpolation and 4:4 pulldown, both of which act to make movies and television content appear smoother and less juddery. The VWPRO1 lacks these features, but it does have panel alignment, which can occasionally save a projector from a time-consuming trip back to the service center. The 8700 UB does not have this capability.
Summary. The VWPRO1 costs about $1,000 more than the 8700 UB. The incremental picture quality is worth the extra money in most scenes, with the VWPRO1's picture appearing sharper, more natural, and more three dimensional. However, in moderately rapid motion scenes or when the camera is panning, the 8700 UB's frame interpolation (FI) system will render a smoother and more stable picture than the VWPRO1. If the FI system is set to low, it achieves this without imparting other undesirable artifacts or digital video effects. A similarly capable FI feature would be a welcome addition to Sony's next generation product in this line.
Nevertheless, the Sony VWPRO1 delivers a truly beautiful image, and it represents the most outstanding value for the money we've yet seen in the Sony home theater projector line.
Sony VPL-VWPRO1 vs. SharpVision XV-Z17000
Sharp's new SharpVision XV-Z17000 is a 3D 1080p projector using DLP technology. Obviously, the VWPRO1 is not a 3D projector, so we cannot compare the two on this front. However, since the vast majority of content available is 2D, we wanted to compare the Z17000 and the VWPRO1 on their other merits.
Light output. The Z17000 has slightly higher maximum brightness than the VWPRO1; our test sample measured 1232 lumens compared to the VWPRO1's 1033 in Dynamic mode. Once optimized for video, the VWPRO1's 857 lumens is somewhat brighter than the 604 lumens of the Z17000, allowing the VWPRO1 to be used on larger screens and higher ambient light. In low lamp mode, the VWPRO1 measures 575 lumens to the Z17000's 321. While the VWPRO1 is more useful for larger screens, the Z17000 has a greater range of lumen output on the low end, allowing it to be used with smaller screen sizes in a dark theater. The VWPRO1 cannot be dimmed much farther than 575 lumens, which might be too much light for a small screen in a darkened room.
Contrast and black level. While contrast specifications never tell the whole story, they can sometimes act as a useful indicator. Compared to the Z17000, the VWPRO1 has deeper, darker blacks as well as better detail in shadows. The combined effect causes the VWPRO1's image to appear more three-dimensional, with greater depth and definition. This is notable because DLP projectors tend to edge out the competition when it comes to shadow detail.
Color. Neither the VWPRO1 nor the Z17000 has an edge in out-of-the-box color accuracy; both require fine-tuning to reach their best performance. The Z17000 required more grayscale adjustment while the VWPRO1 needed more gamut adjustment. When both are properly calibrated, the VWPRO1 appears more accurate than the Z17000 with an overall more natural picture. The VWPRO1's higher contrast also tends to make colors look more vibrant.
Sharpness and clarity. All else being equal, a higher-contrast projector will appear sharper than a lower-contrast projector. Still, the Z17000 holds its own even without the aid of its detail clarity processor, which increases the sharpness of fine detail with fewer artifacts than typical edge enhancement. Neither projector had a advantage in sharpness or clarity since both performed so well.
Placement Flexibility. The VWPRO1, with its 1.6:1 zoom lens and H/V lens shift, provides a great deal more installation versatility than the Z17000's 1.15:1 lens and fixed throw angle. In practical terms, this means you can rear shelf mount the VWPRO1 but not the Z17000, but ceiling mounting might not be affected either way. Physically, the Z17000's zoom and focus knobs feel less precise than that of the VWPRO1 and are smaller and harder to adjust properly. Adjusting focus causes the Z17000's lens to shift in its housing, which makes it feel cheap.
Other features. Neither the VWPRO1 nor the Z17000 have frame interpolation, nor do they have 4:4 pulldown or another judder-reducing mechanism. Neither projector has much in the way of special features, other than the huge one--the Z17000 has 3D and the VWPRO1 does not. The Sony does have its panel alignment mechanism, but the Z17000 is a single-chip projector, so it never has panel alignment problems in the first place.
Summary. The big question here is whether you want 3D or not. If you do, the Z17000 can produce a beautiful 3D image and give you that unique experience that some people are looking for. However, for conventional 2D theater viewing, the VWPRO1 has incrementally better image quality. If you don't think 3D will be an important part of your viewing habits, the VWPRO1 is the model to go with not only due to its edge in image quality, but its installation versatility, incremental brightness, and lower price tag.
The Sony VPL-VWPRO1 is a solid home theater projector, bringing SXRD technology into the home for a lower price than in previous years. High calibrated lumen output makes the VWPRO1 absolutely ideal for large-screen theater and allows consumers to consider truly massive screens for their home cinemas. Snappy response time will make video game buffs happy. The VWPRO1 faces stiff competition from a field full of capable, lower-priced 1080p projectors, but it holds its own in value for the extra money spent.
Sony has made some fine digital projectors over the years, but the VWPRO1 is their finest offering for the money to date. We are happy to give it a strong 5 stars for Performance and Value along with our highest recommendation.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sony VPL-VWPRO1 projector page.