Another great surprise was to be found in the Sony booth. Sony introduced its fourth edition of a widescreen LCD home theater solution, the VPL-VW12HT. The three previous models, the VPL-W400Q, the VPL-VW10HT, and the VPL-VW11HT were chronically contrast-challenged, although incremental progress was made in each succeeding iteration. Now with the VW12HT, it is apparent that Sony has broken the code on the contrast limitations of LCD technology. So much so in fact that they have for the first time published a contrast spec—a dramatic 1000:1 for the VW12HT. And the proof was on the demo screen. This is the first of Sony's widescreen projectors that truly has a "wow" factor rooted in genuine image quality rather than the mere technical novelty of its widescreen panels. Equally as impressive, the picture lacked much of the characteristic graininess of LCD. Overall the VW12HT produced the finest video image we've yet seen from an LCD projector. Like the VW11HT it is replacing next month, it is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens and uses Sony's 1366 x 768 native 16:9 LCD panels. Unlike the VW11HT, this one uses Micro Lens Array. Unfortunately, as of showtime, Sony was displaying some uncharacteristic confusion concerning its marketing plans. Sony said no decision had been made regarding either price or distribution channel—rather odd for a product they intend to ship in four to six weeks. Perhaps their hesitation comes from their recent experiences. The widely distributed VW10HT dominated the mid-range market for two solid years, a virtual eternity in the projector market. And on the strength of the earlier W400Q and the VW10HT, Sony enjoyed a solid reputation for bringing leading edge "widescreen format" technology to market. However, with the release of the VW11HT, Sony made a momentous change to its distribution strategy. The company decided to restrict distribution of the VW11HT and market it through a network of low-volume custom installers and specialty resellers. Accordingly the product was withheld from the higher volume resellers. Many Sony dealers who had sold the VW10HT were not allowed to sell the VW11HT, and Sony did not show it at last year's INFOCOMM. The marketing decision to restrict distribution severely curtailed the visibility of the VW11HT in the marketplace, causing it to drop off the radar screen for many buyers. And it had the unintended side effect of granting Sharp an uncontested No. 1 market position in the WXGA product class with its excellent XV-Z9000. Sony appears now to be internally conflicted about what to do with the VW12HT. They debuted it in the exhibit hall at INFOCOMM, which in itself suggests another shift in strategy. But it was quite a peculiar unveiling. They placed it in a remote and isolated part of their booth without any signage, and gave it no attention. There was no attempt to limit access to it by invitation only, so anyone who happened to stumble across it was welcome to take a look. But there was no product manager or sales rep on hand to pitch it or answer questions. There was no confirmation that professional a/v resellers would be allowed to handle it. No price was determined. But it presumably ships next month anyway. What does Sony have in mind? We don't know. But it will be interesting to see how the company resolves this marketing dilemma. Stay tuned, we will all know shortly.