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Sony VPL-HW20 - Picture Quality and Verdict
First impressions of the HW20’s pictures are seriously good. Regular readers will know that we were fans of the HW15, but the HW20 instantly looks markedly better.
There are two main reasons for this. First and most important, the image has much more punch. By which we mean that bright image content looks richer and more dynamic, with more vibrantly saturated colours. If there was a complaint about the HW15, it was that its colours sometimes looked slightly anaemic and thus unnatural – particularly during scenes with a mixture of light and dark content. But there’s nothing even slightly washed out about the HW20’s colours.
The other area of improvement is that big TrustedReviews favourite, black level response. For while the HW15 itself delivered a good step forward in this area, the HW20 makes a giant leap. Dark scenes suffer with impressively little greyness provided you’ve calibrated the projector well, and even more importantly, there’s more shadow detail visible in dark areas than we’d expected.
Sony’s latest auto iris system is very impressive too, being able to deliver a noticeable contrast boost while generating hardly any of the obvious (and thus distracting) brightness ‘leaps’ witnessed with some Sony projectors in the past.
That said, we personally preferred to stick with a fixed iris set during calibration by the Manual iris tool. But we would certainly argue that the Auto1 iris setting provides an excellent, simple out-of-the-box way to a good contrast performance for people scared of the whole calibration arena. To be clear about this, we’re not suggesting that black levels are as natural or deep as those of JVC’s DLA projectors, or some of the very best DLP projectors. But they’re certainly terrific by the standards of the HW20’s price point.
The HW20’s impressive improvements come on top of other strengths familiar from the HW15. These include extremely impressive levels of sharpness, detail and clarity, some excellent motion handling (with or without the Film mode in play), and practically no unwanted video noise.
It’s important to say, too, that the HW20’s new-found contrast and dynamism make it a more flexible machine. For while it can certainly be calibrated to deliver a great blacked-out room performance, it can also operate satisfyingly in a degree of ambient light, or realistically driving a larger screen than its predecessor.
Yet more good news finds the HW20 delivering its impressively dynamic images without running loudly. In fact, even in its high lamp output mode it’s one of the quietest affordable projectors we’ve ever heard. Or not heard, as the case might be.
Really the only negative thing we can say about the HW20’s pictures for its money is that its colours need work via the provided calibration menus before they’re truly satisfying. Using the out-of-the-box presets, even the Cinema one, some colours seemed slightly off temperature – with marginally yellow skin tones, and slightly dreary reds and greens. But once we’d learned our way round the RCP system, we managed to make things look much more to our liking reasonably quickly.
The HW20 marks a triumphant if belated return for Sony’s SXRD projection technology, ushering in enough improvement over the HW15 to comfortably justify the newer model’s £400 price hike, and giving DLP and LCD rivals plenty to think about. It takes work to get pictures looking at their absolute best, but the tools – while unusual – are there to do the job, helping to create a projector that’s as eager to please different needs and tastes as it is excellent.