Our editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, ZDNet may earn a commission.

Sony VPL-CX20

  • Editors' rating
    8.3 Excellent


  • Compact and lightweight
  • stylish looks
  • auto setup and auto tilt adjustment
  • Off & Go feature


  • Not the smallest projector available
  • noisy in High mode
  • slightly fiddly menu system

The slim and highly portable VPL-CX20 from Sony is stylish, powerful and easy to use. It’s Sony’s lightest and most compact projector -- at 1.9kg it weighs a whole kilogram less than the lightest of the rest of its siblings. Its sub-A4 footprint and 5.2cm height also make it easily portable: it’ll fit into most laptop bags, often at the same time as the notebook itself. The XGA-resolution VPL-CX20 costs a relatively steep £1,130 (ex. VAT).

Any piece of mobile kit has to look good, and here Sony’s inimitable styling is a distinct advantage. Why not start impressing your clients before the projector is turned on? Finished in brushed aluminium and smooth black, the VPL-CX20 deserves to be ogled -- its curved rear is both attractive and ergonomic, being designed to fit comfortably into the hand for easy portability. The lens is contained entirely within the 27.3cm by 5.2cm by 21cm perimeter of the case, which offers both protection and a completely flush finish to the front of the unit.

When the power is turned on you won’t want to be fussing around with menus and setup, and although there are many advanced controls on offer, the vast majority of necessary adjustments are made for you. First of all, a small motorised foot is extended, automatically raising the projector to its last known angle of tilt. Then auto focus, keystone adjustment, input search and pixel alignment kick in, leaving you with a crisp, rectangular image that’s immediately ready for your presentation.

The supplied credit-card sized remote control provides access to a comprehensive menu system, which provides manual override for all of the automatic setup features, as well as many others for fine-tuning your display’s performance. In addition to the usual brightness and colour controls, these include motorised optical zoom and tilt adjustments.

Delving deeper into the menus reveals different display modes (for presentations or pictures), gamma selections and colour temperature options. Although easy to read and reasonably straightforward, the menu system itself can occasionally prove a little frustrating to operate, especially with the remote control’s tiny cursor pad. We occasionally found browsing the menu for some options a little slow due to the way the menu display changes context when adjusting parameters such as brightness.

The prominent '3LCD' branding, not unique to Sony, denotes the use of three separate LCD panels to create a full-colour image. This is achieved by splitting the light from the lamp with a prism into red, green and blue parts and directing these components to the relevant panels with system of mirrors. Although this technology is far from new, it is only relatively recently that it has been branded in this way as an advantageous feature. We found the image quality to be very good for a business projector of this size, albeit with some very slight colour misconvergence towards the top of the image.

Top ZDNET Reviews

In keeping with its intended use, the powered 1.2x zoom lens provides large images with the projector a relatively short distance from the screen. It can produce an image with a 2m diagonal when placed between 2.3m and 2.8m away from the screen.

In common with many other projectors, the VPL-CX20 supports two brightness modes: where many refer to these as 'Normal' and 'Economy' modes, the CX20 calls them 'High' and 'Standard'. It’s important to note that the default operation mode is Standard, and in this mode you’re limited to 1,500 ANSI lumens rather than High mode's 2,000. Furthermore, the option to switch brightness modes isn’t to be found with the other screen adjustments;. it’s in an entirely different Installation menu, where it could easily be missed. Switching up to High mode results in an immediate and very noticeable boost in brightness, but also increases the noise to an audible level.

Sony’s quoted specifications put the rated fan noise at 32dB, which is acceptable -- certainly quieter than our rather noisy testbed notebook. However, this is measured with the projector in Standard mode; in High mode, fan noise increases to 41dB. Furthermore, in this mode the quoted lamp life decreases from 3,000 to 2,000 hours. Sony’s specifications fail to mention these poorer results and lead you to expect the higher lamp life figure at the full 2,000 ANSI lumens.

One neat feature is Off & Go, which allows you to unplug the projector as soon as you have finished with it. After power is removed, the fan will keep spinning until the lamp has cooled to a safe temperature.

The VPL-CX20 may not be the tiniest projector on the market -- NEC’s LT20, for example, is considerably smaller and weighs about half as much. However, the LT20 can’t match the output brightness of Sony's projector.

Delivering a good mix of performance, portability and desirability, the VPL-CX20 is simple-to-use, yet sophisticated enough for use in a variety of situations. If the £1,120 (ex. VAT) is outside your budget, then consider the £850 (ex. VAT) VPL-CS20 which is identical save for its lower 800-by-600 pixel (SVGA) native resolution.