While 3D viewing continues to be brought to our living rooms mainly by TVs, a far more fitting display technology has taken a backseat. Now the humble video projector could be about to make a play for prime time.
We've seen a number of small, low-budget 3D gaming projectors come onto the market, but those waiting for a high-performance home-cinema model have had to kick their heels. That's changed with the launch of Sony's VPL-VW90ES, a high-spec Silicon X-tal Reflective Display (SRXD) model that supports active-shutter glasses. We recently got our hands on this game-changer and were blown away.
That's just as well, because the VPL-VW90ES typically sells for around £5,400.
New but not that new
The VPL-VW90ES is essentially a cleverly upgraded version of the well-received VPL-VW85. It uses the same chassis but sports a number of minor tweaks that integrate the gubbins required to drive 3D eyewear. Like its predecessor, the VPL-VW90ES is a largish, glossy black model that's beautifully built.
As part of the 3D upgrade, Sony has ingeniously placed a sync transmitter within the lens assembly of the projector itself. This means the code required to activate Sony's 3D glasses is beamed to and bounced from the screen fabric itself. In the small viewing room we used for our audition, this was enough to feed a handful of 3D goggles. If the VPL-VW90ES is to be used in a larger room, or there are some intermittent syncing issues, an outboard transmitter can be used. The standard Sony 3D Bravia upgrade pack, sold for the brand's 3D-compatible TVs, will do the job.
You'll need to run a long length of RJ45 cable to the projector from the transmitter, which should be placed near the screen, facing the audience. The glasses are the same as those used for the Sony TVs, save for a small filter which you'll need to place on their shuttered lenses.
3D as it's meant to be
When liberated from the confines of a TV's display panel, 3D at home makes enormous sense. Suddenly, 3D effects become truly immersive. Issues regarding field of vision disappear when you're running Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on a screen over 100 inches wide. The VPL-VW90ES is compatible with frame-sequential 3D Blu-ray and side-by-side 3D (as used by Sky 3D and the Xbox 360), plus some other variations.
Older SXRD projectors have had issues with brightness, so we were intrigued to see how images from the new model would cope when run through light-hungry active-shutter glasses. The short answer is: they look great. The VPL-VW90ES is bright and offers high contrast. Sony claims a dynamic (rather than native) contrast ratio of 150,000:1 using its Advanced Iris 3 technology -- up from 120,000:1 on the VW85.
We've always rather liked SXRD projection technology. It's blessed with great black levels, excellent colour reproduction and astounding sharpness. A Blu-ray disc of Japanese composer Seiji Ozawa and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra looked spectacularly vibrant. Amazing levels of detail pulled from Ozawa's mad, wiry barnet showed the ruthless nature of the VPL-VW90ES' delivery, while the glinting instruments sparkled dynamically. This visual punch is retained for 3D.
Look Ma, no crosstalk!
At the heart of the VPL-VW90ES is an upgraded, fast-response, SXRD, 240Hz panel, which really helps keep motion blur to a minimum. To help control crosstalk (double imaging) artefacts, 3D depth adjustment and brightness controls are available. These allow you to calibrate the projector for minimal crosstalk interference. The resulting movie experience is clean, sharp and totally involving -- almost like being at the cinema, really.
As with Sony's LCD 3D TV range, the VPL-VW90ES can simulate 3D from any 2D source. It's only moderately effective, though. We ran the opening sequence of Iron Man 2 in fake-D, when Shellhead flies down to the stage at the Stark Expo, but it was just a bit of mess. Still, gamers will salivate at the prospect of hooking up a PlayStation 3 and playing some old gaming classics in 3D.
At around £5,400. the Sony VPL-VW90ES sits at the high end of the serious home-cinema projection market, but, all things considered, we still think this represents good value. In a nutshell, the model manages to deliver gorgeous 2D and simply mind-blowing 3D.
Edited by Emma Bayly