A Home Theater
Based on the Sony VPL-VW10HT

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[May 2000:] The Sony VPL-VW10HT video projector is an LCD projector designed for the home. It is relatively compact (compared to normal televisions, rear projection TV's, or CRT projectors) and yet can project a very large image (Sony says up to 300" diagonally). This projector is also remarkably easy to set up and you get a pretty darn good image right out of the box. That is to say that you don't *have* to do any expensive modifications or buy additional hardware or do lots of tweaking to get an exciting image. However, it's a nature of the beast of home theater that you can spend a great deal of time perfecting the image. As with all projectors at this time, it's not perfect. There are complications.

I ordered my Sony VPL-VW10HT projector from ProjectorPeople.com in early February 2000 after seeing a demo in my area. There was a pretty long waiting list with every dealer back then, but near the end of March 2000 it appeared that Sony was finally getting this projector shipping in quantity. My projector finally arrived on 4/19/2000. I've put this web page together to help others (as I was helped) to create a little dream home theater. The information on this page comes from using this particular projector, but much of it applies to other projectors.

[February 2002:] I've never quite completed this page, but after two years I figured it was time to stop claiming that this page "was still under construction". (Yeah, right.) Hopefully you can get some value out of the information I already have here. I recommend that you also check out some of the links I provide at the bottom of this page to other sources on Home Theaters.

Oh, and to answer the single most common question I get through email: Yes, I *am* still enjoying this projector. (Two years now at the time I write this.) So, stopping putting it off! I know there are new projectors coming out every few months but how many more years are you going to wait for the "perfect" model?? Go get one and enjoy it!

And to answer the same question another way: I won't be interested in upgrading until somebody puts out a full HDTV (1920x1080 resolution) projector, in a compact package (like this one), with solid blacks, excellent contrast, same or better color rendition, an excellent scaler, same or less fan noise, no hacks or extensive mods necessary, and for a reasonable price (same or less than this one).

(Click on any image on this page for an enlargement.)

Overall Image Quality

For the price, the ease of setup, and the small form factor, this projector produces a pretty wonderful image. I'd say its strengths are probably its color rendition, brightness, and resolution (1366 x 768). Its weaknesses are its black levels, field uniformity, and the built-in line doubler -- I'll get to these negatives later. First, however, take a look at what this projector can do. Imagine these images displayed in your home on a large (six foot? eight? ten?) wide screen -- as big as you lilke:

Yes, these are photos of the actual output of my projector's image.
Not bad, eh? (Click for enlargements.) Look at those colors! Look at the detail in the shadow areas!

Now, I must note here that these images were taken after I made adjustments to the default factory settings. [At some point I'll take another photo of what one of these scenes looks like using just the default settings.]

Black Level

There's been a lot of discussion and worry over the black levels that this projector can produce. The problem is that LCD panels in current consumer LCD technology can't block all of the light from the projector bulb to produce true black (absence of light). So some light passes through and the projected result is a dark gray rather than true black. Of course, you're most likely projecting onto a white screen anyway and that's not going to appear black unless no light reaches it all. (Note that a normal television set doesn't even have a black picture tube -- it's just a very dark gray.) Those parts of the image which are not black are going to reflect light back towards the audience and the rest of the room. This light will scatter off the walls and ceiling and eventually fall on the part of the screen that's supposed to be dark.

Thanks to the way the mind interprets what we see, we can perceive black from a pure white surface if everything around it is much brighter. This is contrast. With higher contrast, the difference between the "whites" and the "blacks" is greater and so is the perceived brightness and darkness.

It is also possible to reduce the amount of scattered light which reaches the screen. Painting or covering the walls with darker colors can help a great deal. There are also many screen material types and some screen material is more directional and will reflect light more towards the audience and less towards everything else. Of course, there is a trade-off with these screens in that this also means that the image won't be quite the same from all viewing angles.

You can see in this photograph that a great deal of light is scattering off of my matte white screen on to the very low white ceiling, the walls, and then back to the screen (note the parts of the screen above and below the image).
This effect can be reduced if desired by darkening the surrounding walls and ceiling or by using a retro-reflective screen. A retro-reflective screen sends the light from the projector mostly back towards the projector and less light is scattered.

Another possibility with screen materials is to get a non-white screen -- even a silver screen! Da-Lite has a pretty nifty, silver material but it's not available at large screen sizes. (See Choosing a Projection Screen below.)

There are also other forms of projection. Two other varieties of LCD projection involve reflecting light off of or from LCD's rather than passing light through the LCD's. These technologies (DLP and DILA) can offer better blacks, but as always there are trade-offs among technologies and various manufacturers' implementations. (Check out prices, color rendition, white levels, fan noise, ease-of-use, scaling and doubling quality, etc.)

Back to this projector's black levels... it's not bad. It certainly doesn't compete with CRT projectors in this aspect, but then CRT projectors can't compete in the ambient light category (see below). With the following adjustments made, this projector does an acceptable job for me:

1) Turn on Cinema Black mode. This lowers the output of the bulb from 1000 lumens to 750 lumens. The bright scenes still seem plenty bright and the dark stuff is much improved.

2) Turn up the contrast (white level) relative to the brightness (black level). It's best to use a video setup disk like that from Avia. But even simple adjustments can make a major improvement.

3) Extra credit: If you want to go further, you can adjust the RGB Gain and Bias settings using the hidden factory menu and get much more fine control. Adjusting your RGB Gain and Bias settings can make a big difference in eliminating common green cast and greatly improving black level without losing detail. (See Factory and Service Modes below.)

Okay, so the blacks aren't all that they could be. See the difference between the black of this page (if your monitor is adjusted correctly) and the black of space in the image above?
On the other hand, look at the excellent shadow detail in this image.
So, yes, there is room for improvement... but while watching these bright, color rich, eight foot wide images in my home, I'm not complaining!

I certainly wouldn't complain about getting blacker blacks and some day I may replace this projector with something new, but I'm pretty thrilled with what I've got now (particularly in this price range).

I should mention that a number of people have been using a large neutral density camera lens filter (or similar material) to darken the output from the projector and thus lower the black level. Unfortunately, this also reduces the white level making bright scenes seem a little dim by comparison to what you normally get with this projector. I tried it with a graduated ND filter that I happen to have but I wasn't happy with it.

UPDATE: There are now grey screens available which, by all reports, perform remarkably well with LCD projectors and this projector in particular. They are available from Da-Lite and Stewart but the favorite seems to be that from Stewart despite the premium cost of their screens. You can find out more about these screens in various home theater forums like the one at AVScience.

Ambient Light

    This projector does extremely well with lots of ambient light, particularly when compared to CRT projectors.

In this shot, there's LOTS of ambient light in the room and yet the projected image is quite watchable.
(Keep in mind that this photo does *not* depict how the projected image appears to the eye. The image appears overexposed in this photo due to the limits of the camera. There's much more light reflecting off of the screen than there is light reflecting off everything else in the room. Unlike a camera, the brain can compensate for an extreme range of light in a scene like this and allow you to still see everything.)
In this shot, the overhead lights have been turned off, but reflected light from downstairs (this is a loft) still fills the room with plenty of ambient light. The point is that the output from this projector is still very enjoyable with ambient light present.

Fan Noise (or the lack thereof) and ~Heat~

A common issue with all projectors is the amount of noise that they put out as a result of discharging all the heat that their lamps produce. Many projectors are downright aggravating and people have gone to various lengths to build "hush" boxes or isolated projection closets. Happily, Sony has managed to greatly reduce the fan noise with this projector as compared to earlier LCD projectors. The noise is comparable to an average desktop computer's fan. Certainly not quiet, but very tolerable.

Another aspect of this is the heat itself. Most projectors can easily make an unventilated room uncomfortable over the period of an average movie. Since this is a loft, it already collects all the heat in my home. I've found it necessary to run the central house fan while using the projector in the summer to move the cooler air from the lower parts up to the loft. The ceiling fans just don't help much when you've got a virtual room heater running.

Problems, Issues, Caveats

These issues are all covered in great detail in Don Munsil's Frequently Asked Questions page.

Green "Fog" -- Field Uniformity

... explanation, improvements

Colored Blobs

... dust in optic path, describe defocus test. I've got two now...

Dead Pixels

Yeah, I have one stuck blue pixel that I've noticed -- don't worry about it. If you can see it from your normal viewing distance it sounds like you're either sitting too close to the screen or your projected image is too large. You shouldn't be able to see the pixels at a normal viewing distance! For an eight foot wide image, you need to get about four or five feet away to see the pixels if you have 20/20 vision. (This probably varies based on the type of screen material.) Remember the image size to viewing distance rule of thumb -- you probably won't be happy if your viewing distance isn't at least twice the height of your projected image height.

Pixels vs. Artifacts -- "Screen Door Effect"

I don't know what all this talk about seeing pixels and a screen door effect from 11 feet back is about. I have very good vision and I see the pixels disappear after about five or six feet back on my eight foot wide screen. Not one of my friends see the pixels any further back and most are looking for them since they are aware of what LCD technology is. I wonder where this 11 foot report is coming from. Perhaps from a much larger image size than my eight foot wide one?

I also wonder if some people are confusing the MPEG compression pattern from DVD's with the pixel pattern they expect to see from LCD projectors. Is the compression pattern more apparent on this projector? Could it be an effect of the scaler? There definitely is often a grid-like block pattern visible when watching DVD's (as opposed to HDTV). The grid pattern is made of many pixels per square (if you get close enough to look). Now that I have a big screen, I wish that DVD's had higher resolution! For poorly done DVD's with really heavy compression, I find this square pattern to be distracting even from very far back. Too bad they can't look like high-definition.

UPDATE: Since I've been using a higher-end, progressive-output DVD player (Sony DVP-S9000ES), I've found that the MPEQ blocky compression pattern is no longer as noticeable on even average quality DVD's. (Junk DVD's still look pretty bad.)

Choosing a Projection Screen

I waited to order my screen until after my projector arrived because I wanted to see the image quality at various sizes before deciding how large a screen to go with.

It's surprising how good an image you can get with just a plain white wall (textured yet!). Many have opted to just paint a smooth wall with an appropriate latex paint and project onto that. I decided I didn't want that quite a pemanent installation.

I also didn't have the need for the screen to roll up (either electrically or manually) and I liked the idea of getting a flatter, smoother surface by going with a wall-mounted, framed screen where the surface is kept taut.

I went on the advice of many to order screen material samples from some of the screen manufacturers (the samples are free) and try them out. I also had a loaner screen from a friend to compare with. The following page of results and photos is the result of trying out these materials:

Check out my extensive screen material test page here for the details and photos.

So, how about that.... I originally had the impression that I should just get the Da-Mat matte white but I get these samples and do all these tests and take all these pictures and agonize over my choices and narrow them down and then have my remaining choices eliminated for me to where I'm left my original notion!

Funny that.

Well... I ordered my screen from Medical Video Systems (Dennis Shepard was very helpful -- I recommend them wholeheartedly)... it's Da-Lite's Da-Mat material mounted on a Da-Snap screen. I also got a ceiling projector mount through MVS which is designed for vaulted ceilings -- it's from Peerless. It's worth noting that there is a great difference in pricing of screens of different material, different frame types, and from different manufacturers. My screen and frame was under $800 in May of 2000 while others of the same size can cost over $2000.

Hanging Your Screen & Keystone Correction

Just a tip here. I'd suggest hanging the projector first and getting the image positioned on the wall where you want it and get it level and sqaure WITHOUT using the digital keystone correction feature AND THEN hang your screen to match your projected output. The reason I say this is that one, it just seems easier to me to position the screen to match the projector's output rather than the other way around and two, the digital keystone correction feature will degrade the image quality. Sony's digital keystone correction is designed to compensate for placement of a projector above or below the screen and eliminate the naturally projected trapezoid (rather than rectangular) image. It certainly works well, but it does it by scaling the video image unevenly (either the top or the bottom will use more pixels horizontally the the other). This will have a definite effect on your image quality which is readily apparent when displaying high resolution computer output, particularly straight lines and text. So, just avoid it by placing your projector in such a way that you display an image that doesn't need keystone adjustment. (In other words, project the image directly forward rather than slightly up or down.)

Also, remember the image size to viewing distance rule of thumb -- you probably won't be happy if your viewing distance isn't at least twice the height of your projected image height.

Line-Doublers and Scalers

Line-doubling is necessary to compensate for this old interlaced video format we all still have to live with. Interlaced video reduces the bandwith of video by splitting a full video image into two frames (or fields) of alternating lines. Each field contains one half of all the lines of the image. If the two frames were present at once, you'd see the entire image intact. Unfortunately, since objects are moving in the image and each frame is taken after the other, you see every other line of where the image was followed by the alternate lines of where the object is, and so on. The result is that moving objects and images appear to have jagged edges.

Line-doubling tries to eliminate these motion artifacts by combining these two fields and applying some algorithms to clean up the image.

Here's a great explanation of line doublers and scalers from Don Munsil -- posted on The Big Picture Forum on April 30th, 2000 -- reprinted here with permission:

I wrote up a quick description of the difference between line doubling and scaling on the D-ILA forum, that I thought was apropos here as well. If I got anything wrong, please post or email; this is just my attempt to gather together a simple description of the technology.

There are two things that need to be done to display an interlaced image on a digital (LCD, DLP, or DILA) projector: de-interlacing (also called line doubling) and scaling. De-interlacing can be done really simply by just doubling each of the interlaced lines so it's repeated twice on each of the progressive frames, but you lose perceived resolution and detail, because your apparent pixels are twice as tall. Effectively you're turning a 720x480 interlaced frame into a 720x240 progressive frame. This method of de-interlacing is called "bob."

You can also grab the first field (the first half of the interlaced frame, just the odd lines), hang on to it in memory, and then fill in the even lines from the next field, then output the whole frame as a full 720x480 progressive frame. This technique is called "weave."

On certain kinds of material, weave works perfectly, specifically static pictures, and video that was originally sourced from film, like most movies on DVD. On normal video material that came originally from a video camera, weave looks really bad, because moving objects are captured at different positions on the two interlaced fields, and when you weave them together, they look funny, like they have spiky "combs" sticking out on the sides. And when the camera pans left or right, every other scan line is slightly offset, which makes the whole display look strange.

So the next step up in linedoubling is to automatically detect whether to use bob or weave. If there's lots of motion, the doubler bobs. If the scene is relatively static, it weaves.

The next step up is to selectively bob or weave different areas of the screen, on a pixel-by-pixel basis. If the doubler believes that the area of the screen is remaining static (or close enough), it weaves that area, and if there's lots of movement (i.e. the pixels are changing quickly), it bobs that area of the screen. When this is done poorly you see odd artifacts around moving objects, where the transition from bob to weave happens.

The next step up is to do motion analysis on the image to see if perhaps the doubler can weave in the next field, shifted slightly a few pixels so it matches up correctly. This can be done for the whole screen, to make pans look good, or selectively for moving areas. Again, done poorly the result is strange artifacts around moving objects.

And this is just the beginning. Really expensive doublers like the Faroudja are appplying lots of different proprietary algorithms to attempt to compensate for motion, smooth artifacts, selectively weave, etc.

Now, once the image is de-interlaced, then it needs to be scaled to the native resolution of the display. This is not necessary for CRTs, which can change their resolution as needed to match the source, but for a digital display, there are exactly X by Y pixels, and the image needs to be scaled.

Scaling is a much easier and better understood operation, and there are well-known algorithms that scaled bitmapped images with very few artifacts, but some of those are relatively computationally expensive, and so some projector manufacturers (really, most of them) have opted to cut corners and use more approximate scaling that is "good enough."

From everything I've seen, the scaler on the Sony, in contrast, is very very good. The line-doubler is adequate, but not the best. So if one wants to get better looking NTSC video, a pure linedoubler like the IScan Plus would be a great match, but a doubler/scaler like the Quadscan or Crystal Image would be overkill, and at this point would be unable to drive the projector at its native resolution anyway, so you'd have to either output 480p from the scaler, which wouldn't scale NTSC sources at all, or output 720p or 1080i, which would still be scaled by the Sony, resulting in double scaling, which is generally bad because sharpness is almost always lost every time you scale to a non-integer multiple.

Similarly, pairing a progressive-scan DVD player or PC that can output 480p is a great addition to a 10HT, because the output is de-interlaced in the digital domain (in the case of film-sourced material, it was never *really* interlaced to begin with), and again the only thing the Sony does with the image is scale it, which it does well.

Hope this is useful.

I agree with Don that that the scaler on this projector is very good and that the line-doubler is probably adequate for many people. However, I *really* get distracted by motion artifacts like the "jaggies" that this projector's built-in doubler leaves behind. You can see this on smaller television sets as well, it's just more pronounced on a BIG screen.

Even when watching normal film projection in a movie theater, I find it impossible to see what's happening when the camera pans -- everything just appears to be flashing to my eyes. The illusion of motion is lost for me if the whole scene is panned. I can't even make out the action until the camera stops again. This problem is caused by the relatively slow frame rate of film today: 24 frames per second. It's normally plenty to fool the brain in to seeing things as a steady image rather than as the flashing of 24 different images every second. However, for some people, 24 fps is not enough when the entire scene changes (because the camera is panning).

Anyway, this projector does have a built-in line-doubler but it doesn't do a great job. You will see jaggies. Thus, this brings me to external line-doublers....

External Doubler/Scaler: AVScience Crystal Image

The AVScience Crystal Image video processor does cost much less than the expensive stuff but it is still not that inexpensive compared to the cost of this projector. I bought the Crystal Image to improve on the projector's built-in line doubler/quadrupler and it does do a great job in this respect. However, the Crystal Image is a full video processor and as such it also lets you muck with the color, tint, contrast, etc. Unfortunately, that means that I then have TWO places in the chain to adjust.

I found that the default settings for the Crystal Image resulted in extreme flaring of white areas and some bleeding and over-saturation of colors. I had to set some pretty darn low values for brightness and contrast to get a proper picture with the combination of the Crystal Image and the Sony 10HT. I've also encountered some limitations using the Sony 10HT with this scaler since the projector won't sync at its native resolution and still give control over aspect ratio. (This is the projector's fault, not the Crystal Image.) I have to sync at DTV 720p signal or 480p in DTV GBR mode, rather than at native resolution because the projector won't do 16:9 when it sees any other signal.

The projector won't sync to output of Crystal Image while fast-forwarding a tape -- the projector loses the sync. This doesn't happen when using the projector's S-Video connection.

I've sold my Crystal Image and purchased a progressive scan DVD player. I decided I didn't really care about upconverting other video sources (VHS, non-HDTV) and this projector does a good enough job with its built-in doubler/scaler for these other sources. I primarily use my system with DVD's and a progressive scan dvd player can do a better job then an external scaler.

External Doubler: DVDO IScan Plus

I've seen demos of the DVDO and it does do a remarkable job. However, I don't own one. Rather than trying to describe what I've seen, I'll just suggest that you search some of the home theater forums for information on this product. See my links to forums at the bottom of this page.

External Doubler: Progressive DVD Players

Progressive DVD players convert the interlaced video on the DVD to non-interlaced form (progressive) immediately. This seems like the optimal solution to me. By doing the line-doubling in the DVD player it's possible to do this digital manipulation while the image is still in its original digital form inside the DVD player -- as opposed to converting it back to digital after it has been converted to analog on the way out of the DVD player. This seems like it would result in less degradation. And don't forget the signal still has to go back to analog after being doubled! (When are we going to get digital inputs and outputs with home video?)

There's even a long promised progressive DVD player from Proton that's supposed to make use of DVDO's newer chip and provide inputs for all your other interlaced video sources. This player will then do line-doubling on all your video sources (much as the Crystal Image and other expensive doublers do).

I'm now using a Sony DVP-S9000ES progressive player. I've found that this player produces an excellent image which is noticeably better than my previous not-too-shabby player (Sony 7700). It's better in that DVD/MPEG compression artifacts are not as noticeable and it does an excellent job with deinterlacing. For more information about this DVD player and others, check out some of the home theater sites listed at the bottom of this page.

Factory and Service Modes

... describe access to modes, show table of factory settings and adjusted values, describe differences between factory and service modes

To enter service mode, press: [ENTER] [ENTER] [UP] [DOWN] [ENTER]
To enter factory mode, press: [ENTER] [ENTER] [LEFT] [ENTER]

ROM version accessible under "Status" panel

...Recommend adjustment of RGB Gain and Bias; explain goal, quote some settings. <--- VERY WORTHWHILE ADJUSTMENT!

See Frequently Asked Questions link below!

My current custom setting: Gain -- R: 255, G: 180, B: 170   Bias -- R: 90, G: 101, B: 95

Cables, Ground Loop Hum, and Other Interference

Are you getting hum from any of your speakers or audio components? Do you see video noise on longer lengths of cable?

Ground Loop Hum: I had a subwoofer that made a loud enough when my audio compoents were on that I couldn't use it. I sent it for repair several times and nothing ever improved. And then I found out about ground loop noise introduced by.... your cable TV system! Well, check this out: Ground Loops... Or "Let Me Hum a Few Bars" and then go buy a coaxial ground breaker. Problem solved! (I wish I had searched the web to begin with!) This also seemed to eliminate noise I was seeing on a long run of S-Video cable.

    Cables: Just go buy some coaxial cable! It makes all the difference! Just be sure to get RG-6 (available in most hardware stores and Radio Shack) as opposed to the slightly cheaper, less insulated RG-59. You can also go for cables that are somehow custom designed for home theater systems (see the FAQ below) but I don't know if there is a significant difference. There IS a big difference though when using coaxial over normal RCA-type shielded video cables.

    Video Scan Noise: Do you see a horizontal pattern of interference that travels up or down your projected image for some video sources?? Get your AC power cords away from your video cables! And try to avoid coiling them -- that produces a stronger electromagnetic field.

More Photos and Information

More views of the loft I converted into a home theater.

Images and notes from a demo I saw before deciding to go with the 10HT.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here's an archived copy of the excellent FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page put together by Don Munsil.

Return to my main Home Theatre Page

(All copyrighted images are, of course, the property of their respective owners.)