Sony's SXRD technology seriously impresses us. Its VPL-VW200 projector includes it, but the only problem is that you're looking at £8,000-plus price tag. We're rather excited by the arrival of the VPL-VW40, which brings SXRD -- Sony's version of LCOS -- technology in at the vastly more agreeable price of £2,300.
The VW200 is a pretty projector and although not quite as handsome, the smaller VW40 still looks mighty fine in its distinctive elliptical shape with a large, centrally mounted lens and two-tone white and grey finish.
It hits the ground running with its connections, too, including twin HDMI support and a 12v trigger output for driving motorised screens. Given that one of the key benefits of SXRD technology is the amount of pixels it can cram into a tiny space, it's no surprise to find the VW40 sporting a 1,920x1,080-pixel count. Other on-paper specs impress too, namely a claimed contrast ratio of 15,000:1 and Sony's 24p True Cinema processing mode for enhanced playback of pure 1080p/24 Blu-ray outputs.
Although the VW40 inevitably lacks some of the truly innovative, high-end picture options found on the VW200, it still has more than enough goodies to keep your average user happy. An auto-iris feature improves black level response and there's a facility to fine-tune gamma settings via Image Director 3 PC software.
Thankfully, the key performance benefits of SXRD technology witnessed on the VW200 have translated surprisingly well down to the VW40's much lower market position. Especially striking for a £2,300 model is how sharp pictures look. With HD sources the projector ensures that not a single pixel of data goes missing between your source and your screen, delivering dramatic, often breathtaking results with footage like the Venice scenes in Casino Royale on Blu-ray.
Even better, the outstanding sharpness isn't affected by any sort of video noise at all -- be it grain, dot crawl, scaling artefacts, motion blur or 'technology' issues such as DLP's rainbow effect or LCD's wire mess effect. This perfect clarity lets you form an exceptionally direct connection with what you're watching.
The VW40 also delivers solid black levels -- provided that you knock back its brightness settings -- and colours benefit from some really subtle blends and tonal shifts. Finally, the VW40's onboard video scaling does a decent job of upscaling standard definition fare to the projector's 1080p resolution.
The VW40's extreme sharpness can rather ruthlessly expose any flaws in your source material. But this is the fault of the source, not the VW40. The VW40 can be blamed, though, for the slightly anaemic quality of its colour tones. Rich saturations don't explode off the screen as well as they did with the VW200 -- which used an expensive xenon lamp precisely to give its colours more snap -- or, more tellingly, a few rival projectors that favour DLP technology.
It's also a slight shame that the VW40 only achieves its best black levels via a dynamic iris system, whereby light output is reduced during dark scenes to make black colours look deeper. This technique occasionally leaves dark scenes looking unstable and low on brightness.
In fact, the image lacks so much brightness once you've calibrated it to get black levels looking their best that the VW40 becomes more or less impossible to use in any sort of ambient light. We don't see this as a major issue, as we would never recommend using any projector in anything other than total darkness. But it's a point we feel duty-bound to raise for more casual users to consider.
Although the VW40's slightly drab colour saturations prevent us from being able to give it a whole-hearted recommendation, the clarity and precision of its pictures beats anything else in its class. Plus, its total freedom from technology noise could make it great for everyone out there who hates the rainbow effect problem that affects many similarly priced DLP models.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday