Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K 3D Projector Review

Our first review in 2013 is of a cutting-edge product with a matching price tag: Sony’s VPL-VW1000ES. This is the company’s current top-end projector, and its most obvious claim to fame is its inclusion of 4K resolution (4096×2160) SXRD panels. Unlike JVC’s E-Shift system, which in some territories (such as the USA) has been mis-marketed as “4K”, the VW1000ES has genuine 4K resolution panels, meaning that it’s capable of producing 4K resolution images natively (showing all pixels 100% of the time) rather than relying on tricks which exploit the human visual system to give the impression of a higher resolution image.

Sony VPL-VW1000ES
Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K 3D projector

Of course, that native high resolution doesn’t come cheap, with the UK price of the VPL-VW1000ES sitting at around £17,000. To soften the financial blow, that high price does buy you more than just higher resolution: Sony claims that the latest revision of the SXRD panels features enhanced contrast performance owed to panel production refinements, and the lens design has been modified to make sure that the high panel resolution isn’t squandered by the optics and does actually reach your screen.

Sony appears eager to lead in higher-than-1080 resolution displays, and we wonder if they’re wary of missing the boat after being late to the flat-screen HDTV revolution, which notably saw them work together with a “before they were famous” Samsung. The VW1000ES is actually derived from Sony’s professional cinema projectors, and its release predates the finalising of the “Ultra HD” TV standard (“4K” and “Ultra HD” are not necessarily the same, as we’ll go into).

It’s likely that we’ll see the same consumer reactions with Ultra HD and 4K as we saw with 720p-ish and 1080p panels. Typically, the first reaction is a rejection of the new standard, a frustrated groan at the realisation that like everything else in the technology world, video resolutions and formats are superseded. Underpinning that, we imagine, is an annoyance that already-bought equipment is no longer on the cutting edge. Next come all sorts of stories about how the difference is invisible, only for the anal-retentive, and so on. Invariably, all of this is quickly forgotten once the higher resolution equipment becomes affordable. It happened with 768-line panels, it happened with 1080p, and it’ll happen with Ultra HD, so we may as well accept it (nobody is forcing upgrades, after all).

Of course, there is almost no native 4K content currently available to consumers, and until the Blu-ray Disc specification is extended to add support for it (which we hope won’t be too far off), your new Sony VPL-VW1000ES will largely be used to display 1080p HD content.

Stop press: before publication of this review, Sony Pictures announced a 4K movie download service at the CES 2013 in Las Vegas, which is apparently to be geo-restricted to USA-based internet accounts. Given that network delivery inevitably involves compression compromises, and that side-stepping artificial region lockouts involves some hassle and technical know-how, we seriously hope that the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) makes 4K on optical disc a reality.

Sony’s Reality Creation “detail enhancement” technology is on board here to make the transition to the 4K panel resolution as crisp and authentic as possible, and the ultra-high resolution panels do mean that the “screen door effect” should be non-existent (although this has never been a problem for SXRD projectors anyway, even at 1080p).

With a price tag of £17,000, few will ever own a VW1000ES, but all signs point to a 4K-plus future, and even in the 1080p interim, it’s normal for developments from flagship products to eventually filter down into those with more affordable price tags. So, whether you’re curious as to what the future holds, or are in a position to spend today, read on for our detailed analysis of the Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector.

At A Glance

Display Technology 4K SXRD
Approx. Lamp Life Not specified
Lens Shift Yes, H+V

Design

Not unsurprisingly for a flagship product, the VPL-VW1000ES is big and heavy. The use of curved surfaces allow it to look slick in spite of these traits, however. As you’d expect (demand?) at this price point, the lens controls are fully motorised, and there are lens memory settings for accommodating multiple aspect ratios, if your setup permits. The large lens is protected by a plastic guard which slides in and out of view upon powering up and shutting off the projector.

Remote control

The remote is almost identical to that packaged with the cheaper HW50ES (pictured), only with added buttons to directly control the motorised lens, a function the cheaper model lacked due to its manual controls. The remote is excellent, and is styled in black with blue backlighting.

Connections

  • Two HDMI inputs
  • One Component input
  • One customisable “Input A”
  • One RS232C port for system integration
  • One External 3D Sync Emitter port (optional)
  • Two 12v trigger outputs

New ITU UHDTV recommendation: how does Sony’s VW1000ES compare?

The Sony VW1000′s arrival at HDTVTest is timely: this projector was released before the ITU’s Ultra HD standard document appeared in August 2012. First of all, readers should know that the VPL-VW1000ES is a 4K projector derived from the Digital Cinema world; it was not designed from the ground up as a consumer “Ultra HD” projector. But seeing as the two are not worlds apart (they share a common interest of higher-than-HD resolution), we feel it’s beneficial to compare one against the other. Future consumer content will almost certainly conform to the “Ultra HD” spec.

First of all, resolution. There is more than one format that is commonly referred to as “4K”. The resolution used in DCI (digital cinema) projectors is 4096×2160. This is the same resolution as used in the VW1000ES, owed to the fact that this projector is derived from Sony’s professional theatrical projectors. However, the ITU “4K Ultra HD” version which will almost certainly become dominant in the home is 3840×2160 (“Quad HD”). 3840×2160 is exactly double the current 1920×1080 HD standard (it’s often called “Quad HD” because it’s four times the number of pixels, which is a more impressive sounding sales pitch).

The VPL-VW1000ES can accept both the 3840 and the 4096 horizontal resolutions via HDMI, although not always at the highest frame rates (we’ll go into this in the next paragraph). In the case of 3840×2160 input, the projector simply pads the image out with 128 pixels of black bars on the left and the right. In fact, since we, like many, are using a 16:9 projection screen, and 3840×2160 is a 16:9 resolution, we just framed the Sony VW1000ES’ image to fit the screen and shot 128 spare pixels over the edges (another possibility is zooming out and leaving black bars at the top and bottom). The effect was invisible.

Second, frame rate: Various frame rates are specified in Ultra HD, from 23.976, 24, all the way up to 120 fps. The VW1000 accepts input signals at 24, 25 and 30fps at the 3840×2160 resolution, and at 24fps only at 4096×2160. That means that there is no way of inputting higher-than-1080p native high-motion video content to the Sony VPL-VW1000ES – so you might want to hold on if you have dreams of inputting a future Ultra HD cable or satellite feed into the projector (although with current 1080i HDTV still establishing itself, this seems like an eternity away).

Ultra HD colour gamut

Third, colour gamut: on the above illustration (from an NHK technical document), the inner black triangle with the arrow pointing to it is the current HDTV (Rec.709) colour gamut which will be familiar to HDTVTest readers. No prizes for guessing that the outer triangle is the new UHDTV (Rec.2020) gamut, which covers a significantly wider portion of human vision and can produce more saturated colours.

The HDTV Rec.709 gamut we’re effectively stuck with at the moment was designed when CRT was the main display technology. (We say “effectively” because although some display devices can reproduce a wider-than-709 gamut, these are not standardised like Ultra HD now is, meaning that they are effectively useless for high quality, accurate colour reproduction since no content is designed to use the wider gamut). Ultra HD does away with these limitations and has a very wide colour gamut built into the standard.

However, as we mentioned, the VPL-VW1000ES is not an ultra high-definition (UHD) projector, but a 4K one. In fact, we’re skeptical as to whether new “Ultra HD” consumer TVs from Sony and LG can even meet the ultra-wide gamut (something we’ll be testing as those come through for review). Unusually, the Ultra HD gamut is many, many times wider than that of the DCI (digital cinema) system, which will surely have interesting ramifications for movie production. The Sony VW1000 cannot meet the extremely wide colour gamut laid out in Rec.2020 – that would surely require quite substantial changes to the light source and colour filters in the projector. Owed to its roots in the Digital Cinema world, it can fully saturate the DCI digital cinema gamut (albeit with lessened light output) – although that feature is of no use to consumers, since Hollywood keeps DCI cinema packages well out of our reach. More practically, the VPL-VW1000ES can reproduce the Adobe RGB gamut, which owners of certain still cameras can use to display accurate colour from their photographs.

Operation

As on the HW50ES, the VPL-VW1000′s top-level picture modes are picked from a menu called “Calibrated Preset”. Out of the various options, “Reference” is the accurate one which should be used for viewing in a projector-friendly environment (dark room). Skipping over the usual basic controls, we’ll explain those specific to Sony:

[Reality Creation] is the top-level picture control, and as usual is split into [Resolution] (as far as we can ascertain, a cocktail of mid-frequency edge enhancement and texture augmentation) and [Noise Filtering] (just as the name says) controls. It’s arguably the most promoted feature on Sony’s current projector lineup, and works quite differently here on the 4K VPL-VW1000ES, compared to its implementation on 1080p projectors. More on that (with closeup pictures) later.

The [Cinema Black Pro] menu allows for the lamp power, and automatic iris system to be configured. Both of those controls influence contrast performance, with the lamp power affecting light output. The iris controls can be set so that the iris opens and closes in time with the video content to achieve maximum contrast performance, or, if you’d rather have completely consistent performance, you can choose to fix the iris in place at any one of 100 different levels to achieve exactly the right amount of light output for your setup. Thumbs up to Sony for this level of control.

The [Motionflow] menu contains adjustments for [Film Projection] (dark frame insertion) and [Motion Enhancer] (motion interpolation, leave it off for films).

Lastly, the [Expert Setting] menu contains some noise reduction controls, selection of a [Gamma Correction] memory (which can be altered by interfacing with a PC) or preset, a [Color Space] selection (where standard HDTV Rec.709, Digital Cinema DCI or Adobe RGB can be selected), and [Smooth Gradation], which smooths over tone jumps (also known as contouring/banding/posterisation/false countours) should you be viewing troublesome content. The rest of the controls are unnecessary from our point of view as purists.

[Picture] menu
[Picture] menu 2
[Picture] menus