Sony VPL-VW200 Projector - Review

Sony VPL-VW200 Projector - Review

Sony's 2007 flagship front projector, the VPL-VW200, uses the company's variant of LCoS, called SXRD, and like most high-end projectors, it features a native resolution of 1080p. Those specs and jargon may well impress your buddies, but the real story is in the picture. The VPL-VW200 is the most color-accurate front projector we've seen for less than S$45,000 (US$29,605.26), and it basically smokes anything at or near its price range in overall image accuracy. Sony must have listened to our incessant complaining about inaccurate primary and secondary colors, as the company has delivered near perfection in that area. This unit also adds some really flexible setup features, and it looks great hanging from the ceiling. As of this writing, the Sony VPL-VW200 is the new high-end projector to beat.

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In the grand tradition of Sony's upper-end SXRD projectors, the VPL-VW200 has a sleek, high-tech industrial design that should appeal to just about everyone. To our eyes, it's the most attractive projector since the days of the Ferrari-inspired, Pinafarina-designed Vidikron CRT chassis. The Sony's finish is a metallic gray, with black accents on the top and bottom, and the cabinet reminds us of an eye when seen from the front.

The design of Sony's remote is equally impressive. It seems as if it weighs 4.5kg, instilling a feeling of outstanding build quality not unlike the projector, which itself weighs a hefty 19kg. The remote is fully backlit, making adjustments in the dark a snap. The internal menu system is identical to that of the Qualia 004, the original 1080p SXRD projector, and its smaller predecessor sibling, the VPL-VW100. We found it easy to navigate, and we liked the vertically arrayed set of pages.


The VPL-VW200 is loaded with a number of useful features--and a few you need to be warned against using. Sony gets the unofficial "feature of the year award" in the projector category with its Panel Adjust feature, which enables you to move the LCoS panels to improve alignment, much like converging a CRT's three guns. It is the most comprehensive feature of its kind, and it even includes a Zone option that lets you tweak red and blue anomalies all around the screen.

Another nice option that came out of the CRT projector era, and one that is rare, even on the most expensive fixed-pixel projectors, is the blanking feature, which eliminates overspray (light leaking beyond the borders of the screen area itself) right to the edge of the picture. We were a little disappointed that the VPL-VW200 lacks horizontal lens shift, but it does have vertical lens shift to help in the installation of the projector relative to the screen.

Sony offers the usual array of selectable picture modes and color temperatures. Modes include Dynamic, Standard, and Cinema, while color temps include High, Mid, and Low, with independent grayscale controls for each. The Cinema Black Pro feature controls the iris setup, which gives you Auto 1, Auto 2, Manual, and Off. We liked Off most, as it provided ample light output, and blacks remained stable--whereas the Auto modes change black level as the content of the picture changes.

Under the Expert setting, you'll find Film Mode for 2:3 pull-down, which should be set to "on," and Gamma Correction, which we turned off for the best gamma curve.

There are also two dubious features that we recommend you leave turned off. The first is RCP (Real Color Processing), which was originally designed as a color management system but never worked well, in our experience. In fact, there is no need to even include this feature because the primary and secondary colors on the VPL-VW200 are exceptionally close to the HDTV standard in the Normal color space setting.

The second is MotionFlow, which is Sony's name for its 120Hz anti-judder video processing. MotionFlow creates enough problems, to our eye, that it simply needs to be left off; see the performance section for details.

Connectivity is reasonably comprehensive for a front projector. Two HDMI inputs are the most important video connections, followed by the lone component-video input. A single S-video and one composite-video input will serve for legacy Laserdisc, VHS, and S-VHS sources. There is also a 15-pin PC input for computer hookup, and a serial port for control touch-panel programming. An Ethernet port labeled Network rounds out the connectivity.

In terms of overall picture quality, Sony's VPL-VW200 is simply the best projector in its class by a wide margin. Most notably, the company has done an excellent job of significantly improving color accuracy over the earlier VPL-VW100, and the VW200 exhibited the most accurate color we've seen from just about any projector, with the exception of the ultra high-end Runco units.

The Sony isn't perfect, of course; we would love to see the company improve on its video-processing scheme, as well as give the VW200 the ability to fully resolve 1080p sources without any loss whatsoever, but in fairness, almost everything we see on the market exhibits the same problem. As for now, S$22,880 (US$15,052.63) can't buy you better performance--to achieve that, you will need to spend about twice as much or more.

By "color accuracy," we mean the combination of color decoding, grayscale tracking, and the primary and secondary colors themselves. The Sony's color decoding is spot-on, and grayscale tracking is excellent, but most gratifying to our eye was the accuracy of all six primary and secondary colors. While not exactly perfect, they are close enough to the HDTV standard that we don't think any improvement is necessary. We seriously doubt whether anyone, even a seasoned professional, could tell that they aren't perfect without the benefit of some very expensive test equipment.

White-field uniformity, which can be an issue with three-chip projectors, also looked pretty good on the Sony. The scene in the beginning of Chapter 5 on the Blu-ray version of The Italian Job, where the crew celebrates in the snow-capped Austrian alps, is a good test for this. The snow did have some minor color splotches--red in the upper-right side, to be specific--but it was subtle and not distracting. The Carl Zeiss lens on the VPL-VW200 is also a step up from the VPL-VW100, and panel alignment, especially after the adjustment we mentioned, was far superior.

Measuring both 1080p and 1080i at the HDMI inputs, the amplitude was down a bit, indicating a slight loss of resolution because of the internal scaling. The same thing was visible on the HD-DVD version of Silicon Optix HQV test disc. This area of performance could stand some improvement, though it isn't a major knock. Notably, the Sony passed both of HQV's resolution loss tests, indicating proper de-interlacing of 1080i material.

With the iris set to off, we achieved a nice, bright image on an 80-inch-wide Stewart Grayhawk RS screen. With that said, the 400-watt Xenon lamp in the projector is not capable of as much light output as we would have expected, and so the maximum screen size will be limited somewhat. The Auto Iris modes are a bit brighter, but you don't want to employ them because black level changes on the fly, and we found the change clearly visible and distracting, as the picture content changes.

Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs looked superb on the VPL-VW200. Chapters 4 and 5 of the excellent transfer of The Italian Job on Blu-ray looked awesome, with exceptional color saturation and accuracy. We also spun up the HD-DVD version of Batman Begins to take a look at some dark material. The very beginning scene, when young Bruce Wayne falls into the cave, revealed excellent black-level performance. In the same chapter, when the adult Wayne ends up in a Chinese jail cell, shadow detail abounded in the dark parts of the wall. Overall, blacks looked rich and inky on the Sony.

To test the MotionFlow 120Hz video processing, we repeatedly played back the opening scene in the diner on the Blu-ray transfer of The Departed. Motionflow on Low and High changed the look of the pan across the counter from filmic to cartoonish. In Chapter 5 of The Italian Job, serious artifacts were introduced around Mark Whalberg's face when it was engaged. These two scenes were enough to convince us to leave this hyped video feature set to "Off" with the VPL-VW200.