Editor's note, 12/13/07: This review has been rerated since its original publication to reflect changes in the competitive landscape. Sony has also released an updated, improved model, the Sony VPL-VW200.
Projectors can produce comparatively enormous pictures, so a high native resolution is even more important in a projector than in a standard HDTV. After all, if the picture measures 100 inches diagonally as opposed to 50 or 42, you'll have a lot more opportunity to discern individual pixels and notice other problems, such as a reduction in detail, that can arise with lower-resolution displays. A 1080p native resolution, the highest currently available among home-theater projectors, has always been elusive and expensive. Until recently, your choices have been limited to a JVC D-ILA, a Fujitsu 3 LCD, or a Sony Qualia SXRD, with retail prices in the $20,000-to-$30,000 range. Sony has revolutionized the high-end front-projection market with its VPL-VW100, a projector with full 1080p resolution for a retail price of a penny under $10,000. For now, its closest direct-price competitors are all 720p designs with a single DLP chip, although we'll see 1080p DLP models hit the market later this year. Those models may well rival this Sony's performance, but in the meantime, the VPL-VW100's picture quality surpasses that of any like-priced projector.
Sony uses a contemporary form factor for the VPL-VW100. The rounded top and bottom, along with the center lens placement, combine for a look that's reminiscent of the heads of the Tripod robots from the recent release of War of the Worlds. Bulky by portable-projector standards, the decidedly nonportable VPL-WV100 measures about 19.5 by 7 by 22.6 inches and weighs 41 pounds.
An outstanding feature of this projector is its ability to run almost silently. The VPL-VW100 is rated at a very low 22dB, and it sounds dead quiet from any viewing position, unless you put your ear directly up to the exhaust port. This is quite an accomplishment, considering its fan must cool a hefty 400-watt xenon lamp. It's worth noting that the lamp is costly to replace at $1,000 (list price) and has a rated life of 2,500 hours.
The remote control is in line with the type Sony provides for its commercial projectors. The input selection is sequential, though the projector has an option to automatically sense which jacks are occupied. The silver-finished remote sports separate direct-access buttons for lens features (zoom, height, and focus), as well as picture adjustment, RCP (color preferences), aspect ratio, picture modes (Cinema, Dynamic, Standard), brightness and color, and other menu items.
At the heart of the Sony VPL-VW100 are its three SXRD microdisplay chips. SXRD, which stands for Silicon X-tal (Crystal) Reflective Display, is Sony's take on LCoS, and we've been impressed by its performance in rear-projection sets such as the KDS-R60XBR1. The chips have the smallest die (0.61 inch) used in any native 1080p projector design to date, and since smaller chips require bigger lamps to produce a given brightness, the Sony's 400-watt bulb translates to a rated 800 ANSI lumen. That's not as bright as some projectors in this price range, a factor that limits the maximum screen size. We used a 92-inch screen for testing and would recommend a screen no larger than 100 inches diagonal.
The VPL-W100 has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080, otherwise known as 1080p, which means it displays all 2.0736 million picture elements from a 1080i broadcast or from any 1080i or 1080p source, such as video from HD-DVD or Blu-ray players. Unlike many 2005 1080p devices, the Sony VPL-VW100 can accept 1080p sources at both 24 and 60 frames per second. All sources, whether high-def, DVD, standard TV or computer, are scaled to fit the native resolution.
Sony has provided a huge array of controls to customize the picture. These include six aspect-ratio modes for standard-def (but, strangely, none for high-def); three separate independent custom picture memories in addition to the three adjustable presets; three preset and three custom color-temperature settings; three levels of noise reduction; three iris-control settings; four gamma-correction settings; and three to adjust black level. There's also a Real Color Processing (RCP) option with three custom memories that allows independent adjustment of red, blue, green, cyan, magenta, and yellow.