We thought we'd seen the last projectors with a sub 500:1 contrast ratio, but incredibly we're testing one from Sony, the self-styled king of home entertainment. Based on long standing polysilicon LCD technology, this SVGA budget projector, or frankly any projector that doesn't come up to par, is going to struggle in what is a packed budget market.
On paper the Sony is something of a disappointment. And in practice things aren't much better. The quality of PC images lacks impact, and this can be put down to the poor 300:1 contrast ratio and the pixel grid of the LCD panel. Images are washed out from the blue of the Bliss skyline to the palled whites of the windows. While there's better vibrancy in the red, greens and yellows than with DLP, these colours still lack body. The LCD grid casts a textured feel to the screen too, which doesn't help.
Video work is handled slightly better, but the colours and blacks are washed out here as well, though there is at least consistency across the range. This results in a watchable picture, which handles movement and sharpness to reasonable level. And it will handle post-PowerPoint entertainment better than it does the actual presentation.
Getting a big image out of the Sony is easy thanks to the unusually short 1:1.4 throw ratio backed with a 1.2 zoom lens. The menu system - while somewhat slow in use - offers a good range of presets and all the standard colour and brightness controls you could want. The main attraction is the 2,000 lumen's output; it's not unique, but it's unusual to find it at this price. Sony's done a good job to keep the noise under control as well.
The crux of the problem is that most budget LCD projectors, including this one, can't compete with equivalent DLP units. In terms of the picture clarity and visible grid, DLP outperforms LCD significantly. It's largely down to the contrast ratio: take the £450 Viewsonic PJ406D, which offers 2000:1 contrast compared to this paltry 300:1 LCD.
While even this budget LCD does offer more vibrant colour than DLP models, the overall washed out feel negates the benefit. Clearly this isn't Sony's finest moment. Neil Mohr