The Sony HS10 is a widescreen LCD projector with a physical resolution of 1366x768 pixels. It is rated at 1200 ANSI lumens with 700:1 contrast. As our regular readers know by now, ANSI lumen ratings are usually based on maximum light output before calibration for optimum video performance. As with most other projectors, the actual ANSI lumen output of the HS10 in normal home theater operation is much lower than the published rating.
The HS10 is relatively compact and weighs only 12 lbs., so it is easy to move around in a family room or theater. It can be ceiling mounted or table mounted. It has both vertical and horizontal keystone adjustments that enable it to be placed at an oblique angle to the screen and still produce a rectangular image.
The HS10 is compatible with all major color systems. It will display interlaced and progressive component signals including 480i, 480p, 540p, 575i, 575p, 720p, and 1080i. It will accept computer signals from VGA through XGA.
The connector panel on the rear of the unit has one S-video port, one composite video RCA jack, a 3-RCA component port, a DVI-D port. It also has a custom "PJ Multi Input" port that will take composite, S-video, and component signals all via a single custom 10-meter (33-ft.) "PJ Multi" cable that is supplied with the unit. Using this cable makes it very easy to move the projector around in a family room, setting it wherever you want for temporary use.
There is also a Memory Stick slot in the front bezel of the projector that lets you insert Sony's Memory Stick storage medium and display either still or motion picture digital images recorded thereon. A set of two small on-board speakers will play audio from the Memory Stick, but not from any other signal source. Therefore there is no audio input on the connector panel itself. We don't have a Sony camera or other "Memory Stick" compatible device on hand, so we did not test this feature. Note that digital cameras that use Compact Flash card storage (Nikon, Minolta, Pentax, Olympus, etc.) are incompatible with this projector.
The HS10 has a motorized zoom and focus lens. The 1.3x zoom factor on the standard lens gives you good flexibility to adjust the size of the image thrown. However, the standard lens is not a short throw lens. It produces a 100" diagonal image from a distance of 12.5 to 15.4 feet. The HS10 can be fitted with optional short- or long-throw conversion lenses. These do not replace the standard lens, but are screwed onto the standard lens. For those with smaller rooms, you may need the short throw conversion lens, which will produce a 100" diagonal image at a distance of between 10 and 12 feet. Add one more foot for the projector itself and another six inches for rear clearance/cable connections to come up with the actual distance requirement from screen to rear wall.
The HS10 comes with three factory preset calibrations-dynamic, standard, and cinema. In addition there are three user programmable memories for setting your own calibrations. Controls for each setting in the main menu include contrast, brightness, color, hue, sharpness, black level (off, low, high; leave it off), color temperature (low, middle, high), and Cinema Black (on/off).
The "Cinema Black" mode of operation is essentially equivalent to a low power mode on competing units. It drops lumen output, lowers black level, increases contrast, reduces fan noise, and improves lamp life. The lamp life with Cinema Black off is 2000 hours. It is extended to 3000 hours with Cinema Black activated.
Included with the projector is an optional "Cinema Filter." This is a light magenta glass filter that screws onto the standard lens. The primary function of a magenta filter is to block green light--the reason a magenta filter looks magenta is that it allows blue and red light to pass while blocking light in the green part of the spectrum. In this case the filter is used to block excess green light in the lamp that produces a modest green bias in the image. Thus it produces better color balance. However, it also substantially cuts total lumen output, and thus reduces black level and slightly increases contrast. Overall, the use of this filter is recommended for the best video/film performance.
Note however that the Cinema Filter cannot be used with the long- or short-throw conversion lenses, as they are different diameters. The conversion lenses cannot be attached to the standard lens when the Cinema Filter is in place. If you need to use one of the conversion lenses to accommodate your installation, you will need to find an aftermarket filter. We did not have a set of these conversion lenses for review, so we cannot comment on the best solution.
The HS10 exhausts heat out the front bezel. The good news is that it can be mounted closer to a rear wall without worry of too much heat build up around the unit. The downside is that since the heat is directed into the light path of the projected image, the heat itself could conceivably induce a slight shimmering effect in the projected image when ceiling mounted. If you encounter this situation you may want to attach a deflector to migitate the problem. If you do, take great care not to inhibit the flow of air from the exhaust vent.
The lens of the HS10 is recessed into the bezel a couple of inches. Covering the lens is a plastic lens hood that is flush with the front bezel and provides a continuity of the faceplate. The lens hood keeps dust out of the light engine. It also prevents hot fan exhaust from being sucked back into the unit through the lens opening-without the hood in place some of the heated exhaust exiting the front bezel makes a U-turn and goes back into the projector. This hood must be removed in order to attach the Cinema Filter. It is simple to remove and reattach with a simple half twist if you follow the instructions in the manual.
As the HS10 is an LCD projector, the things most folks will be curious about immediately is screendoor pixelation, black level, contrast, and shadow detail, all of which have been notorious weaknesses in LCD technology.
With regard to the screendoor or pixelation effect, it is virtually absent. At a viewing distance of 1.5x the screen width, pixel structure is not visible at all in the video image. It is barely perceptible in rolling credits and subtitles, but only if you have 20/15 vision. So the short of it is that the screendoor problem does not exist on the HS10.
Black level and contrast are much improved over earlier Sony products such as the VPL-VW11HT. While black level and contrast performance do not match some of the competing DLP products in this regard, the HS10's image has plenty of sparkle and is from a practical perspective quite enjoyable to watch. Some shadow detail is lost in darker scenes of course, but you don't get a sense of excessive muddiness that was characteristic of LCD projectors of the past.
Fan noise is what we'd consider moderate in normal operation. It is louder than you'd want for home theater. However the recommended Cinema Black mode cuts fan noise down to a livable level, and increases lamp life as a side benefit.
The HS10's brightness uniformity is almost perfect. It is unusual to find a projector that illuminates a screen so evenly from edge to edge.
Color saturation is rich and bold, but not unnaturally excessive. Color accuracy is good overall. There is a slight bias toward the orange in the red channel, but it is not overly bothersome and most typical viewers would not notice it.
HDTV 1080i via DVI-D from our Samsung SIR-TS160 receiver looked superb--rock solid and precisely scaled. If you are planning to watch much HDTV, get one of the new HDTV receivers that have DVI outputs to take full advantage of the HS10's capability. (Note: the HS10 will not synch on 1080i output from the RCA DTC-100, so if you've this HDTV receiver and are planning to buy an HS10, this may be a good time to dump that unit and go for an upgrade.)
There are three color temperature settings-Low, Middle, and High. The Cinema mode defaults to Low. With 51 hours on the lamp, we measured this as being somewhat below the ideal 6500 kelvins at most IREs. On the other hand, the Middle setting measured for the most part above 7000K. The correct setting is a personal preference. Users should try them both and use the setting that produces the image that is most appealing. In any case the high setting is not appropriate for video/film subject matter.
The lumen output of the HS10 varies significantly based on the mode of operation and the use of the Cinema Filter. We normally do not publish lumen readings because they can vary quite a bit from unit to unit due to manufacturing variances. Thus a reading on one particular unit may or may not be typical. However, the relative changes in lumen output based on the mode of operation you choose is instructive since it varies considerably from the published specification. Thus we will offer some data here.
First, we conducted our lumen tests with 51 hours on the lamp. That means there is no chance we'd ever get readings matching the official specification anyway. Lamps begin to lose their brightness from the first hour of operation. So with this handicap acknowledged, we proceeded to set our test unit for the brightest possible output. This is Dynamic mode with color temperature set on high, Cinema Black off, and the Cinema Filter off. Under this condition, we measured total brightness at 984 ANSI lumens.
At this point we made several changes in settings. First, we changed the color temperature control from High to Low. This dropped the lumen output from 984 to 832. Next, we turned Cinema Black on, which reduces lamp wattage and fan noise. With the color temperature still set on Low, this dropped the ANSI lumen reading to 700. However, moving the color temperature setting from Low up to Middle boosted the lumen output from 700 back up to 851.
Finally, we added the Cinema Filter into the equation. With Cinema Black on, and color temperature at the Middle setting, adding the filter cut lumen output almost in half, from 851 to 454. Finally, dropping the color temperature from Middle to Low reduced the lumen reading to 359.
This is not unusual. Most projectors being sold for home theater carry lumen output ratings that far exceed the actual lumen output you get once the projector is set up for optimum performance. This is why we caution buyers not to pay too much attention to specifications.
Now, having said all that, what do you really get? We ended up preferring to run the HS10 with Cinema Black on, the Cinema Filter in place, and the color temperature on Middle. This setup generated a beautiful, sparkling image with quite satisfying black level and contrast. Color accuracy, while not perfect by videophile standards, has no glaring errors and will look thoroughly pleasing to most viewers who are into watching movies rather than analyzing projectors.
Scaling and deinterlacing have come a long way in the industry. The gross deinterlacing artifacts and fuzzy scaling we use to see all the time are for the most part gone. The processing on the HS10 is a case in point. Especially when taking the price of the projector into consideration, one can only say that the performance is stellar for the money.
The HS10 has both vertical and horizontal keystone correction. Sony calls the horizontal keystone "Side-Shot." It enables you to set the unit to the side, off axis from the screen, and still throw a rectangular image. We would advise against using this feature unless it is necessary, especially if you are setting up for HDTV viewing. Both the horizontal and vertical keystone adjustments add more scaling to the image, and soften it a bit in the process. It is still eminently watchable, and for those who have no other option, it is a nice benefit. But for optimum HDTV picture quality, leave the keystone settings to zero. On the other hand, for DVD and TV viewing, the impact of the rescaling is not quite so apparent.
What about this 10-meter signal cable? Any videophile pulling this cable out of the box and seeing it for the first time will say, "you've got to be kidding." It is rather thin, slightly less than ¼ inch in diameter, and it carries six signal wires-one for composite video, two for S-video, and three for component video. No self-respecting videophile would use such a cable. Right?
Well, maybe, maybe not. We did an A/B test between Sony's 33-foot cable and an expensive set of double-shielded component video cables six feet in length. The result--the Sony cable produced an ever-so-slightly softer image. However the difference was surprisingly subtle. After flipping from A to B several times, you could easily forget which cable you were watching, and you had to check to see which cable was generating which picture. If you were not studying the pictures closely for any hint of difference, you would not notice it.
The subtle difference in picture sharpness was due to the different lengths of the cables, not the thickness or shielding. Hence a comparison between a much longer high performance cable and the Sony would be expected to produce even less of a difference in image quality. How much are you willing to spend for extremely subtle improvements? Anyone willing to spend $200 or more for a 30-foot custom high performance cable to induce another miniscule improvement in picture quality should probably be buying a more expensive projector to begin with. So if we were installing the HS10 with a long cable run, we'd suggest trying Sony's cable first.
All things considered, Sony has produced an impressive projector for the money. It notably outperforms Sony's earlier widescreen offerings, the VPL-VW10HT and VPL-VW11HT, both of which hit the market at retail prices in the range of $8,000. At a retail of just $2,995, the VPL-HS10 is a singular and dramatic demonstration of how quickly high-end home theater performance is dropping into the realistic budget range of the mass consumer audience. We are pleased to add the HS10 to our list of recommended projectors.
The next obvious questions relate to competitive options. In particular, how does the HS10 compare to the Panasonic PT-L300U and the Sanyo PLV-Z1? Both of these are widescreen LCD projectors with the new 960x540 displays. They cost less than the HS10, and the question is whether the HS10 is worth the extra money.
We have just begun the review of the Panasonic L300 and intend to publish the review of it next week. We are therefore not prepared to make any comments regarding the relative merits of the L300 vs. the HS10 until next week. We will include further comparative discussion of the Sanyo PLV-Z1 with these two products at that time as well.
Another frequently asked question will be how the VPL-HS10 compares to the Sanyo PLV-70 and the Sony VPL-VW12HT, both of which are higher priced models with the same widescreen resolution. We will review the VW12HT shortly (it is on order), and we will address this three-way comparison once the VW12HT review is complete.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sony VPL-HS10 Cineza projector page.