Sony VPL-VW200 £8000
8th May 2008 | 14:39
This feature-rich, high-end SXRD projector features every video processing trick
The question is, does this high-spec monster do enough to justify its £7,000 price tag and challenge its premium rivals?
The Sony VPL-VW200 gets off to a fine start aesthetically, at least.
For although extremely large and heavy, it wears its bulk with elegance, thanks to the quality of its high-gloss blue top cover, metallic side panels and gorgeous 'stretched diamond' shape.
Connectivity, though, could be better.
The Projector flaunts only two HDMIs (Panasonic's PT-AE2000E LCD projector provides three, and that costs just £2,000) and there's only one set of component video jacks alongside the expected S-video, composite video and D-Sub PC options.
The HDMI ports are both DeepColor v1.3 compliant. Helpfully there's a 12V trigger output for integration with an electric screen (power up the PJ and the screen descends from the ceiling, you know the drill), an RS-232 input for hardwired remote control, and an Ethernet port for linking the projector into a digital network (that might be useful at some point, I guess...).
Beating away at the VW200's heart is a Full HD SXRD chipset, now able to respond quickly enough to handle the double-speed image processing that's key to Sony's MotionFlow technology.
MotionFlow adds extra frames of image data in an effort to make movement across the screen look super-fluid and sharp.
Illumination is courtesy of a 400W Xenon lamp. This is significant: its exceptional power should allow the projector to drive much bigger screen sizes than many of its rivals - including JVC's in-many-ways-similar HD100; and it also helps the projector resolve a wider colour palette than projectors that use standard lamps.
The Xenon lamp itself though is an expensive component - a search online at the time of writing found just under £600 to be the best price. Ouch.
Sony's Dark Insertion system
Looking for further features of the VW200 reveals that Sony has been very busy since the launch of the VW200's predecessor, the VW100.
This PJ boasts Sony's 24p True Cinema system for 'purer' playback of Blu-ray's 1080p/24fps format. Also noteworthy is Dark Insertion, a 'sub-element' of the MotionFlow system.
Three modes of the Dark Insertion system are included in the onscreen menus: one simply inserts extra black frames between the real image frames; one alternates between extreme bright and dark gamma settings for the 'real' and 'created' images; and one alternates between slightly different bright and dark gamma settings.
Alternating the gamma in this way reduces further the smearing and motion blur caused by the 'hold effect' inherent to SXRD, D-ILA and LCD technologies.
Improved contrast ratio
The company has also made changes to the optical system and dynamic iris functionality in an attempt to boost contrast.
Sony claims that the VW200 can achieve a ratio of 35,000:1 by reducing the amount of light the projector emits when showing dark scenes.
The downside to this is distracting jumps in brightness. For instance, on the Blu-ray of The Prestige, as Hugh Jackman chats with David Bowie on a veranda, whenever the camera cuts from the relatively dark shot of Jackman to the lighter shot of Bowie, it's possible to see the image brightness shifting through a number of gears.
Last but not least in Sony's video processing techlist is Bravia Engine Pro, a chipshop of 'proprietary algorithms' designed to improve a variety of different picture elements, including noise reduction, colours, scaling and fine detailing.
Technophobes feeling drained by this techno-waffle can relax. Despite its complexity and sophistication, the VW200 is surprisingly easy to set up and use - thanks to a combination of a superb remote control and clear onscreen menus.
A 1.8x zoom and vertical lens shifting help the VW200 adapt to most room sizes and shapes, too.
Generally speaking, image quality is good, although curiously, I found myself only really happy with the picture quality from the VW200 after deactivating the vast majority of its fancy new image processing tools.
As I worked my way through the familiar selection of high-definition Sky transmissions and Blu-ray discs, I found myself shutting down all the various high-tech picture options available.
For instance, I discovered that the Motion Enhancer element of the MotionFlow system causes quite overt haloing and fuzzing around the edges of moving objects, even in 'Low' lamp mode. This is particularly irritating if you're using the VW200 as a display for hi-def gaming.
Having to chop the processing is galling, as without the MotionFlow system engaged, there's more motion blur in the projector's images than I'm entirely comfortable with. It became a choice of choosing the better of two evils.
As for Dark Insertion... Well, I found the effects of this processing tweak to be rather bizarre, as it seemed to create a pronounced flickering effect.
I guess the idea is that inserting the dark frames produces an effect reminiscent of watching 35mm celluloid at the cinema. But it just didn't work for me at all. Another feature bites the dust.
I found that I also had to be careful with the projector's noise reduction circuitry, for it can actually soften images if set too high.
There can be trouble, too, if you over-egg the 'Cinema Black Pro' contrast-boosting settings, as the projector can end up deepening black areas so far that they start to look hollow.
By the end of my initial setup trials I discovered that I had actually deactivated as much of the VW200's much-vaunted processing as possible. Which is probably not a good sign.
I then discovered that what was left delivered some mesmerisingly good results.
Impressive colour fidelity
For instance, the projector's native black level is excellent; deep, natural and full of shadow detail.
HD images suddenly became terrifically sharp with no noise reduction in play - and provided you're using the projector's 'no overscan' mode. What's more, so long as a standard-def source is of a reasonable basic quality, the Bravia Engine Pro's upscaling talents also work very well, too.
The single most impressive part of the VW200's pictures is their colour fidelity. Thanks to that Xenon lamp and the projector's extensive colour and gamma controls, it delivers vibrant but natural colours that wouldn't disgrace a projector actually costing more.
It shone with Sky HD's recent HD broadcast of Zulu. Here, the rich reds of the British soldiers' uniforms contain exquisitely subtle shading differences.
Plus the actors' faces look as natural, three-dimensional and 'real' as possible given Zulu's vintage nature.
Remarkably quiet projector
A last positive comment should be that despite managing to be impressively bright while retaining good black levels, the Sony VW200 runs remarkably quietly.
So much so, in fact, that I never really once noticed its running noise (quoted at just 22dB) during my entire testing period.
Weighing all the evidence up, though, I can't help but feel that since so much of the Sony VW200's high-faluting technology doesn't actually work that well, its £7,500 price tag doesn't stack up.
Especially when you can get JVC's superior HD100 for considerably less.