It's typical of Sony to shun the accepted wisdom of LCD and DLP projection and come up with its own – admittedly more expensive – technology. The good news is that its latest wave of sublime SXRD projectors pushes the picture quality to the next level by doubling the claimed contrast ratio and creating some of the darkest black levels in the business.

Features

Sony's sequel looks exactly like the outgoing HW10 that we reviewed so favourably, but its improved automatic iris and shortened light path promise dramatic increases in contrast and black levels

Under the shiny, 'cosmic black' hood lurks the unique SXRD chipset and a powerful 200W lamp, that's bright enough for curtains-open viewing. There's also horizontal and vertical lens shift, which enables you to position the image precisely on the screen by moving the optics, rather than by digital keystone correction.

Sony bravia vpl-hw15 front

As you might have guessed from the Bravia branding, this projector shares some of the features you'll find on Sony's TVs including the Bravia Engine 2 processor, which smoothes out and enhances the image before it hits the screen.

Ease of use

Being a member of the Bravia family means it's as easy to operate as the TVs. The long 'candy bar' remote is backlit, and offers shortcuts that enable you to alter the picture without delving into the onscreen menu. The user interface isn't the excellent Xross Media Bar from the PlayStation division sadly, but it's almost as accessible.

Sony bravia vpl-hw15 remote control

The new motorised iris is automatic and you can just hear it adjusting the aperture to suit the brightness of what's on screen. But don't worry, this is one of the quietest projectors we've heard for a while. Unlike the more expensive HW85, the lens isn't motorised, so you have to twist the large collars to correct the zoom and focus.

You can adjust the colour temperature and brightness, for example, as much as you like, while the three preset keys on the remote enable you to save your best efforts to suit a trio of viewing scenarios.

Picture

With the image calibrated, you immediately notice the clear cut blacks and whites and the impressive contrast in between.

The Advanced Iris system is more sensitive to small areas of white on a dark background, so it can deliver improved tone across the colour scale in dark scenes. In fact, Sony claims the contrast ratio has doubled on the previous model and it certainly performs much better in a head-to-head comparison. White clouds in a blue sky, for example, look as if they have been given the Persil treatment.

The Blu-ray release of Valkyrie provides an excellent example at the other end of the spectrum, by showing just how black the officer's jack boots can look.

Much of the film consists of uniformed Nazis standing around in dimly lit offices, which presents a big challenge for most projectors, but with its high contrast and impressive grey scaling, the Sony manages to pick out the lines of lapels and pockets against grey jackets.

Sony bravia vpl-hw15 connections

To really see what this projector can do though, fast forward to the scene where Tom Cruise's character confronts one of the Nazi generals in the gentleman's rest room. The contrasting black and white décor is superbly contrasted.

Colours are warm and natural rather than vivid, so that when the camera pans across Nazi flags, the red insignia is striking, but by no means lurid. DLP projectors tend to achieve a slightly bolder palette, but you couldn't accuse the HW15 of looking washed out.

The other striking aspect of this picture is its almost complete lack of visible image structure. You would expect to see individual pixels if you peer closely at a 100in screen, but not here. Put simply, SXRD uses radical advancements in manufacture: two million closely-packed pixels on a tiny chip give you a smooth, cinematic image.

Value

The only catch is that this technology still carries something of a premium, so while DLP and LCD projectors are tumbling in price, Sony's projectors are looking a little pricey. Clearly though, there are advantages and on contrast and black and white levels, this is the mid-priced projector to beat.

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