We’ve heard a lot about laser-based projection over the last three or four years. From the outset, the technology promised low maintenance and long lamp life. Early models were cool (literally), but they were just not very bright. Finally, there are now some real laser-based options, including Sony’s most recent LED projector, the VPL-FHZ65, which is aimed squarely at the installation market.
When the projector arrived, what struck me first was its form. I am so used to projectors that present as a large lump that hangs from the ceiling accompanied by a tangle of wires–never pretty and often cursed by those who care about room aesthetics.
Sony has attended to details that don’t seem like much by themselves, but help to make the projector part of the architecture. Simple things like both black and white models to conform to the ceiling color. To deal with the rat’s nest of wires, they tucked the connection panel under the unit, creating an integral cover for the connections; the cables can be neatly covered to keep them out of sight. It may seem a small thing, but this projector looked good, even with a complement of cables connected.
The next thing that caught my attention is the connectivity itself, which is comprehensive, from composite video to HDBaseT. From the ground up, this projector is well-suited for more than just new installations. It is a great fit as the first step in upgrading an analog system that needs a new and bright display without an entire system replacement.
Here’s the rundown on the VPL-FHZ65. It is a 3LCD projector with laser engine that delivers 6000 lumens at full brightness. The aspect ratio is 16:10 with a native resolution of 1920×1200 (WUXGA). It is a full-sized projector that weighs in at 34lbs. The projector has a wide range of input connectivity that includes analog (composite video and RGB/YPbPr) and digital inputs (HDMI, DVI-D, HDBaseT).
As a part of my test, I often just start by verifying some of the features. With that said, I often challenge the published ratings. In this case, after I turned the projector on, my trusty SPL meter measured just .3 over the advertised noise measurement of only 34dB at full light output.
One of the more significant issues that I run into regularly is the need for a shorter lens. In this case, Sony built this projector with installation in mind and it comes with a 1.39 to 2.23:1 zoom lens as standard equipment. This standard lens allowed me to create a nice large image size in a fairly small space. As I often test projectors in tabletop mode, having a useable lens shift helps. With the standard lens, you have a significant amount of lens shift capability; -5°to +60° vertical and ±32° horizontal. In addition, all of the lens movements are powered including focus, zoom, horizontal and vertical lens shift.
Beyond the standard lens, Sony has provided a nice array of optional lenses for VPL-FHZ65. The line of lenses starts with a short .65:1 fixed lens and extends to a series of longer lenses. The list of options include .85 – 1.0:1; the standard 1.39 to 2.23:1; 2.34 to 3.19:1; and 3.18 to 4.84:1. In each case, the projector does allow for lens shift, but it varies according to the lens selected.
There is one more lens that Sony provided. It is an extremely short throw lens. It has a .33:1 ratio. This makes the VPL-FHZ65 capable of being used very close to the screen. Just to give you a sense of how short this really is, imagine placing the projector with the lens pointing away from the screen. Put the back of the projector 7” from the screen for a 120” diagonal image. To be clear, we are creating a 120” diagonal, 16:10 image with the farthest part of the projector no more than 37” from the screen. In those situations where we have to have ultra-short throw configuration, the VPL-FHZ65 is a high-brightness, full resolution option.
I spend a tremendous amount of time wrestling with poorly developed user interfaces. So, when I began to work with this projector, I was impressed with the supplied remote control. Now I will say that I am jaded when it comes to remote controls, but what impressed me was the ease with which I was able to access features that a non-technical user would use. The first thing I noticed was the discrete source selection buttons. This may not seem like much, but I never cared for the keep-pushing-until-you-find-your-source button. The other feature of the remote is the “Twin” button. This one makes it very easy to move between a single image display and the side-by-side dual image modes.
To elaborate on the twin mode, the VPL-FHZ65, has a side-by-side display mode. The projector can provide a split display from any two of the projector input connections. By example, there are two applications that benefit from this mode. The first is using one display to compare two source images. The second application is that this projector allows for viewing of both a shared content image and the far-end participants of a videoconference meeting.
Edge blending is one more of the capabilities of this projector. Sony has provided all of the color, brightness and black level adjustments needed. While it is important to have the tools within the projector, it is equally important to be involved in with the content creators. Edge blending is an art and in the right hands can be used to create amazing results. However, I must include a word of caution here. Just because the projectors can be edge-blended, the magic of a seamless, multi-projector created image requires knowledge and experience. With that said, the Sony VPL-FHZ65 is a very capable candidate for an edge-blending application.
Let’s touch briefly on what makes this particular projector worth serious consideration. It is more than just the LED technology. Lasers provide some significant benefits such as the obvious one: no traditional lamp to burn out or be replaced. But there are several other benefits to this particular projector. The use of a 3 LCD engine provides for a very high-quality image. Driving three LCD chips results in color accuracy and consistency is immediately visible as soon as you turn this projector on.
The published LED laser life is about 20,000 hours. Environmental conditions and usage can cause the actual life to vary a bit, but that is still a long time. To put this into perspective, if you used the projector for 8 hours a day, five days a week, you would still be using it more than 9 years from now.
I had the opportunity to talk with the product manager for the VPL-FHZ65 who pointed out one of the more clever features, that I was not able to test: The VPL-FHZ65 projector maintains itself for the life of the engine, caring for it’s own high-quality filter, so we do not have to. Any dust that might collect on the filter is periodically shaken off with an innovative hammer to “bump” the filter. This self-cleaning system could in theory make the projector run maintenance free for the 20,000 hours of LED life.
So, what else? Cost of operation is certainly something to think about. The entire VPL-FHZ65 projector only consumes about 500 watts at full power. Laser projectors do not require the cool down period prior to a restart. This means that the projector can be shut off when not needed, even it is for only a few minutes. When it is needed again, it will turn on immediately.
Color consistency is next. The color of the projected image will remain much more stable in a laser projector than a lamp-based projector. Lamps have a half-life for brightness and another half-life for color temperature. As you may have experienced, a lamp may last for 2000 to 4000 hours, but if color consistency maters, it is not the same color as when the lamp was new. Lasers do not suffer from this problem
There has been some real progress in LED technology and the results have delivered projectors that are now worthy of consideration for use in larger spaces. The Sony VPL-FHZ65 was designed to deliver on the promise of high-quality color, high brightness and low maintenance. If you have the need for a high-quality, low maintenance projector for a larger space, the VPL-FHZ65 is definitely worth a look.
PROS: Long Lamp Life, Interchangeable Lenses, quiet operation, designed for installation
CONS: Larger frame size, weight
APPLICATIONS: Installed projection for training rooms, conference rooms, classrooms, houses of worship and other medium to large sized venues
PRICE: $15,000 MSRP
6000/4000 Lumen (High/Standard mode)
Throw ratio: 1.39 to 2.23:1 with Standard Lens
Input Connectivity: Analog and digital, including HDMI, DVI-D and HDBaseT
Network Connectivity: Wired (10/100 BaseT)
Lens Shift V: -5%-60%, H: ±32% with Standard Lens
Fan Noise: 34dB (at high light output), 28dB (standard mode)
UNIT WEIGHT: 34.0lbs.
DIMENSIONS: 18.2in. x 6.7in. x 20.3in.