Sony VPL-HW1000ES 4K Projector Review

Sony_VPL-VW1000ES_Projector__71501_zoomSony introduced its first home theatre front projector capable of displaying stunning 4K images back at CEDIA 2011. The top-of-the-line VPL-VW1000ES 4K home theatre projector model is specifically designed to meet the needs of custom installers, and its capabilities will deliver entertainment enthusiasts a more immersive, engaging visual experience with over four times the resolution of HDTV.
With 2,000 ANSI-lumens of brightness, the VPL-VW1000ES projector delivers nearly twice the output of previous Sony home theatre projectors, making it suitable for screen sizes up to 200 inches diagonally. The VPL-VW1000ES model also employs an entirely new SXRD 4K panel, which produces outstanding deep black levels, and when combined with Sony’s Iris3 technology, the projector can achieve an incredible 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast.

In addition to supporting 4K native resolution, the VPL-VW1000ES projector also features an exclusive 4K “upscaler” powered by its highly effective X-Reality PRO chip that dramatically enhances all content – SD or HD, 2D or 3D – allowing viewers to see 4K playback, even from their existing media libraries (the VPL-VW1000ES, just like any home-4K-projectors can not yet accept 4K signal due to the lack of 4K transmission standard using HDMI). For greater versatility, it can also display Full HD 3D movies, as well as 2D and 3D anamorphic films. For Full 4K 3D, an integrated IR transmitter drives the projector’s TDG-PJ1 active shutter 3D glasses.

The VW1000ES projector offers a variety of installations options, including dual triggers, a 2.1 motorized zoom, expanded throw distances, an RS232 interface, control over IP and compatibility with leading home automation systems.

After seeing a full demo during CES 2012, now I have the chance to enjoy this $25,000 projector in my client’s house down in San Francisco. Apparently he received a demo version from Sony with a special server box where he can output his RED Scarlet-X 4K video camera do the server box and from the server box to the projector. At the very least, this proves that the VPL-VW1000ES can actually handle native 4K signal which, strangely enough, is in 17:9 instead of the regular 16:9 of 1080p HD signal (isn’t it beautiful that there are so many standards which in the end resulting to no standard at all?)

What 4K is and The Upsides of 4K in General
NHK Japan has been working for more than a decade on Super Hi-Vision. Translation: the people who originally introduced the world with the concept of high-definition back in the late ’80s are back revolutionizing the video world once again. This time with four times the greatness of HDTV… and this time they predict the adoption of Super Hi-Vision (known everywhere else as 4K or Ultra-HDTV) will be around the year 2016… if the world doesn’t end by December 21, 2012, that is.

Where HDTV is equivalent to approximately 2 Megapixels, 4K is equivalent to nearly 9 Megapixels (8.8 to be exact). This means that 4K is four times the resolution of the current HD. 4K is also approximately the equivalent resolution of a good quality 35mm film. You should be able to see more details and not be able to see the pixel structure of any given display even at 50% screen height viewing distance. Furthermore, 4K, when shot and displayed properly, will give you the sharpest possible picture to date and in the near future. As a result, the viewer have the ability to sit closer and enjoy a wider and more immersive image without the distraction of aliasing on curved lines or circle, visible pixel grid (also known as SDE or Screen Door Effect) or even the notorious stair-stepping of diagonal lines. Plus remember the 4:3 (12:9) aspect ratio of Standard Definition and 16:9 aspect ratio of High Definition? Super High Definition or 4K utilizes 17:9 aspect ratio.

On that note, bear in mind that as of summer 2011, NHK Engineer Group have developed Ultra Hi-Vision which resolution is at 8K or an equivalent of 33 Megapixel and currently showing a running demo to the general public at the Tokyo Tower in Japan full with discrete 22.2 surround sound.

Sony_VPL_HW50EB3

The Upsides of VPL-HW1000ES
Well, to start, there is no point in having better resolution if the projector is not equipped with better lens and accurate colours. From these points alone, this projector have excelled most, if not all, projectors three times its price and higher. Using a grid pattern, I can see perfect focus at all corners on a 160” screen at its minimum throw distance of merely 1.27. This means even at maximum zoom, the lens does not create softness in corner focus nor it creates any colour fringing. This is literally the first consumer projector that can do maximum zoom with no colour fringing and soft corner focus at any price. Other projectors require fixed lens (zero zoom) in order to achieve this but having fixed lens creates installation a hellish process. By having such amazing zoom lens, installation can be a lot more flexible (1.27 to 2.73 throw ratio for Constant Image Width setup on a 16:9 screen, or 1.68 to 2.73 throw ratio for Constant Image Height setup on a 21:9 screen).

There are nine colour presets (called “Calibrated Presets”) in which each of them can be set to six colour gamut (oddly called “Color Space”) which includes BT 709, DCI, Adobe RGB and sRGB. Using any of the colour preset and choosing BT. 709 colour gamut and Gamma Correction set to 2.6 surprisingly generated relatively accurate colour rendition as per SMPTE/ISF/THX standards with gamma running at a relatively flat 2.0 (very close to the straight 2.2 ideal which can manually be tweaked fairly easily using ImageDirector 3 PC program included with this demo unit). Strangely, however, there is no CMS (Colour Management System) for this projector. Regardless, as mentioned earlier, the BT. 709 colour gamut is close to perfection out of the box so CMS, although nice to have, is almost un-necessary.

There are also two new options of Sony’s Cinema Black Pro on top of the usual two lamp settings (high and low), manual iris, and Advanced Iris. These useful options are within the Advanced Iris: Auto Full and Auto Limited. With Advance Iris set to Auto Full, I notice the pumping effect of the iris closing and opening during the course of a movie and I find it to be very distracting. However, setting the Advance Iris to Auto Limited, although the VPL-HW1000ES no longer shows the full 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast, the closing and opening of the iris are now look very natural, seamless and not at all distracting. This is the first time I set a Sony projector’s iris to automatically variable instead of manually fixed.

Upscaling is also extremely good in general, making regular HD content, especially animation look visibly better, yet maintaining the accuracy of the original content. The only drawback is when the projector is fed with 1080i signal. The 4K upscaled result is visible jaggies which means the scaler does the de-interlacing before upscaling the image to 4K instead of the proper way, which is to upscale THEN de-interlace. This is not really a problem, however, because as long as your Blu-ray Player can de-interlace the 1080i or 480i content properly to a progressive signal, the VPL-HW1000ES can upscale a properly de-interlaced signal without a hitch. In my test using my client’s Pioneer Elite BDP-09 (playing a 1080i signal de-interlaced and outputting 1080p signal to the projector), the VPL-HW1000ES can upscale all the concert Blu-ray Discs on hand flawlessly.

Of course, a true 4K signal such as the one generated from my client’s RED Scarlet-X 4K video camera recorded earlier in the day while we drove around the San Francisco Bay showed the absolute best picture. For this demo unit, Sony also provided a server-based native 4K materials including trailers such as The Amazing Spiderman, Men In Black III and several others. Truly there is no comparison between true 4K source versus upscaled 4K. Bear in mind, however, his demo unit is a modified one. The production unit will not currently be able to accept any native 4K signal. According to his Sony USA contact, the native 4K input can be enabled via firmware upgrade once HDMI protocol for 4K-resolution have been established. Regardless, resolution is the main item being reviewed here and be it upscaled or native 4K (but of course moreso in native 4K), the smoothness and enhanced details are absolutely astonishing, especially when the terms “smooth” and “details” were used to be mutually exclusive, even in full 1080p High Definition sources.

Brightness is even more demanding in order to submerge oneself in the glory of 4K. Whereas one may be able to get by with brightness as low a 8 foot-Lambert for regular HD, to truly appreciate the greatness and the improvements of 4K, you will definitely need to follow the THX recommendation of 16 foot-Lambert (SMPTE recommendation is 12 foot-Lambert but subjectively I don’t find it to be bright enough to immerse myself). Thankfully, the VPL-HW1000ES can achieve 17 foot-Lambert without breaking a sweat even at low lamp setting with 1.0-gain screen. At high lamp setting, this projector can achieve up to an eye-blinding and mind-numbing 21 foot-Lambert!! Definitely nobody in the right mind will require 21 foot-Lambert but this translates to 12 foot-Lambert in 3D mode… exactly what SMPTE recommend for 3D presentation… something that even far too many commercial 3D theatres (even IMAX 3D) failed to achieve. Therefore, by using this projector, your 3D movie presentation will be better than at least 80%-90% commercial theatres out there and your 2D movie presentation will be on-par with commercial THX-certified theatres!!! Imagine, the best of both worlds!!! Better yet, the VPL-HW1000ES also do the upscaling to 4K even with 3D frame-packed / frame-sequential HD signal. The only 4K projector that does that regardless of price.

The Downsides of 4K in General
With 4K, screen plays even more important role in the system. Fortunately, there is no more confusion in matching the screen to the projector anymore. It is straightforward, no-option given for the screen type. It’s only matte-white, 1.0 gain, flat (not drop-down) screen. My personal experience also seconded by my contact at Stweart Filmscreen who mentioned that screen artifacts such as un-even-ness (from a drop down screen), shimmer, colour shifts, hotspotting and mottling (unevenness of colour shown on the screen) are easily visible with 4K projection. Even Sony’s position on the matter is that their VPL-VW1000ES should be used with matte white screens to reduce screen texture and hot-spotting. Sony also mentioned that grey and silver screens are not ideal for 4K. This same view is shared also with Joel Silver of Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Joe Kane, also an industry guru and consultant.

This means, if you’re currently using a Stewart StudioTek 100, my screen of choice for ages, you’re fine. If you’re currently using a StudioTek 130, like many users out there… well, it’s time to throw away your screen and start doing what studio professionals and myself have been doing for ages; use a 1.0 gain screen. Oh, before I forget… perforated screen is also not recommended for home theatre use since the perforation will reduce the resolving resolution projected by the 4K projector.

Last but not least, you can throw away your cheap HDMI cables. It was clearly apparent when comparing a budget HDMI cable (but very well known cable usually bought online) with the much higher end HDMI cable especially at the usual length of approximately 35-feet between the source and the projector. The upscaler in the VPL-HW1000ES (or any upscaler, for that matter) can only perform its best when being fed with a very clean signal. Any distortion, sparkles or any other lack-of-clarity entering the scaling chip will look measurably worse by 400%.

Bear in mind that all the downsides of 4K are not projector specific hence is NOT Sony’s fault. It is just the nature of 4K which requires an extremely high degree of accuracy in order to be fully impactful.

The Downsides of VPL-HW1000ES
There is no real downside of this projector, really. All the downsides including the lack of native-4K capable input are 4K inherent, not of this projector. Is this a perfect projector? As a high-end projector, it beats projectors three times its price. There are better projectors out there but you will have to be prepared to spend at least $200,000 (the ultra high-end projector requires a special room for the projector due to the requirement of dedicated cooling system for it). Therefore at an eighth of the price of what I deem to be the perfect projector, this projector is “perfect enough” even for professional mastering suite.

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Conclusion
So what is my conclusion of the Sony VPL-HW1000ES 4K projector? To me personally is like buying a Lamborghini at the price of a Corvette. It is obviously can not be considered “cheap” but it is certainly an affordable luxury with immense performance.

If you have the budget, get this projector instead of anything else available currently on the market at this price level. You’ll get the most accurate picture out of the box, the best lens I have seen so far installed on a home digital projector (and that includes many $80,000+ digital projectors of various brands) which results in amazing focus uniformity, zero colour fringing and laser-sharp focus. Even if you never use it with a 4K source, this projector is an astonishing bargain for a high-end projector. Its performance is on par with commercial THX-certified theatres and leaps-and-bounds better than most commercial 3D presentation out there including many IMAX 3D theatres. Just don’t forget: get a proper wall-mount screen, hire a professional to install and set the projector up properly.

Main Equipments Used for the Review:
Sony VPL-HW1000ES projector
RED Scarlet-X 4K video camera for native 4K source
Pioneer Elite BDP-09 THX Certified Blu-ray Player
Kimber Kable HD 19e HDMI cables
Stewart StudioTek 100 160” 16:9 screen

Movies Used for the Review:
Anonymous
Men In Black
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 3D
Open Season 3D

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