Sony rolled out the VPL-HW50ES home theater projector at CEDIA in the USA and IFA in Europe as their one new projector being added to the lineup. Every year I get a detailed sneak peek of their new projectors before their market launch and this year was no different. This new Sony projector is replacing the already impressive Sony VPL-HW30ES. With a $3999 MSRP, including a spare lamp and two pairs of glasses, the VPL-HW50ES is basically selling for the same price as the older projector. The VPL-HW30ES have now been discounted by $1,000 but I still think the replacement, the VPL-HW50ES is worth the extra money over the now discounted predecessor.
As usual, this projector employs SXRD (LCoS) technology from Sony and the VPL-HW50ES is all about serious picture quality. The Sony projector has a nice feature set, including CFI (Creative Frame Interpolation) for smoothing motion – Sony calls it MotionFlow, a much improved dynamic iris (named Auto Iris 3) to help it generate that ultra contrast performance that yields impressive black levels, and Reality Creation (dynamic detail and sharpness enhancement), which designed to create the illusion of 4K projection from a 2K projector. Please remember that this is a 2K projector, NOT a 4K projector and does not have the ability to accept 4K signal of any source.
If 3D is your thing, the VPL-HW50ES, is plenty bright. In fact, this projector is brighter than almost all of the other 3D, 1080p projectors I’ve reviewed so far and as bright as the soon-to-be-released Panasonic PT-AE8000U. Furthermore, the VPL-HW50ES is actually brighter in 3D than the higher end VPL-HW95ES. This is a good news for everybody. An entry level projector with 3D performance better than its higher end counterpart!
About Reality Creation
So what’s going on here? It started with the VPL-VW1000ES, which is a true 4K projector. Sony point out that many movies today are filmed at 4K or even higher. But, by the time they get to Blu-ray, they are reduced to 2K. To deal with this problem, Sony is using a very smart technology. They believe that can take the 2K Blu-ray content (when it started originally as 4K), and “upconvert” it back to 4K. By using facial recognition, object libraries, etc., they could get fairly close to recreating the original 4K. This is similar to taking 2D content and letting today’s projectors convert to simulated 3D… But in a more intelligent way.
In the case of this projector, however, which lacks 4K panels, Sony still goes to figure out what the original 4K would look like, and then essentially the projector reprocesses that back to 2K, improved over the original 2K. It seems like a very roundabout way of doing things but it works!… Kinda…
Using Reality Creation, the VPL-HW50ES is accomplishing an equally impressive feat considering it is a 2K projector. When I say equally impressive, I don’t mean it rivals the 4K projector, but it does make a significant difference compared to not using Reality Creation on this VPL-HW50 projector. The only better way of achieving 4K-like result is by using the outboard Darbee Darblet processor.
The end result of this is a built-in detail enhancement scheme which so far, creates the sharpest, most detailed, yet still highly accurate looking images I’ve seen from a 2K projector. OK, true, we’re no longer trying to reproduce the source (Blu-ray or HDTV) perfectly, but rather, to improve the picture by essentially improving what is found on the Blu-ray disc or other source.
In the old days I was adamant in “faithfully recreating the source material” – theoretically “maintaining the director’s intent. However with this age of compressed video, do you really want to recreate the cruddy source material? These days I want to recreate the ORIGINAL pre-compressed source material, which is always better than the blu-ray source materials.
After spending more than half a day with Reality Creation, I find that the settings value of 20 to 25 (out of the 100 value) to be the cure-all numbers for virtually any HD content played through the projector and the setting value of 10 for standard definition sources. At the very least you should use the Reality Creation for the better-than-HD picture quality without the need of going 4K. I still prefer Darbee Darblet to do this better-than-HD processing, but if you don’t have or don’t want to invest $350 on the Darblet, Sony’s built-in Reality Creation is the second best way to go.
MotionFlow – Sony’s Creative Frame Interpolation
The Sony’s CFI (MotionFlow) is very smooth. There are three settings: Off, Low, and High. As usual, I left it off for most HDTV content. Consider MotionFlow, when on, to be a matter of taste, when watching most digital content, and for my taste, it just does more damage than good. In the low setting, the CFI soap opera effect is definitely visible. It completely doesn’t work for me for movie viewing, in my eyes it is really bad. On the other hand, the low setting does smooth out some occasional pans that could be smoother with CFI off. One interesting thing about Sony’s implementation of CFI on the VPL-HW50ES, is that the CFI – motion smoothing, operates not only with 2D content, but also with 3D, something that used to be able to be done by Panasonic PT-AE7000U projector.
If you think convergence is a thing of the past, think again. The alignment between R, G, and B panels can drift which in return create a convergence problem. The VPL-HW50ES is divided into 144 zones which system allows for adjusting pixels in increments of 1/10th of a pixel diameter. More impressively, the auto pixel adjust does a pretty respectable job, but of course you can go in and manually invest more time and perhaps come out even better.
The VPL-HW50ES uses a 1.6:1 zoom ratio manual zoom lens. It’s of very good quality with hardly any chromatic aberration and corner softness in its projection. Also, the focus doesn’t move too much even after six hours of continuous projection at maximum brightness.
To fill my 96” diagonal screen, the front of the projector can be as close as 9.5 feet from the screen, or as far back as 16 feet. The only downside for the VPL-HW50ES in terms of placement flexibility is that while the HW50ES is capable of being rear shelf mounted, in some rooms, you will not have enough zoom range to place the projector far enough back to be on a rear wall. I find the the 1.6x zoom power can be very limiting for the users who want to use Constant Image Height but not wanting to use anamorphic lens.
The vertical lens shift of the Sony VPL-HW50ES will allow you to have the projector positioned +/- 65% of screen height, the same amount as found on Sony’s VPL-HW30ES. Horizontal shift, on the other hand, can’t really be calculated because it varies depending on how much you’ve pushed the vertical shift. The higher the vertical shift you set the lens to, the smaller amount of horizontal shift you can apply to the lens. It’s logical, but annoying when you turn the vertical shift dial the lens also move around horizontally.
Out of the Box Picture Quality
From the colorimeter reading, Cinema 1 to offers the most accurate colour right out of the box. In other words, Cinema 1, after adjusting the brightness and contrast slightly, had the best picture, and color, without calibration. The color shift from an ideal 6500K, is slight, and only slightly cool (a touch more blues than red strength), with the colour temperature ranging from just over 6700K to just a touch over 7000K. After calibration, of course, this projector colour accuracy is heaven. Pretty much bang-on at 6500K with average gamma of 2.2
Shadow details are amazing with absolutely no black crush detected. In fact, when it comes to blacks, without spending thousands more, nothing seems to be better. So far, only the new JVC X35 gets equally impressive blacks… still not better. Given a choice at this level of projector, I see black levels as the more important performance area. Combining both shadow details and black level, this Sony VPL-HW50ES is about as good as it gets on dark scenes, and that’s what really separates the good from the great. Add to all of that – Sony’s Reality creation, and it brings out more details still in those dark scenes. Impressive.
Once properly calibrated, the VPL-HW50ES is about as good as it gets in terms of overall picture quality for projectors at this price level. True, most projectors do really good skin tones, etc., when calibrated, but it’s more than just that. Other important things such as clarity, pop, shadow details, blacks are presented very well by this projector.
Also as a 3D projector, the lamp control is approaching perfection where you can set the projector bulb under eco mode for 2D presentation and then set it to normal power for 3D presentation which yields – calculated using eco mode as the base line — 50% brighter projected image (ideally 3D requires at least 60% brightness gain due to the reduction of brightness caused by the active glasses). Coupled with the included newer, much lighter, much more stylish and near-clear optics on the newly designed 3D glasses, the 3D viewing experience is now actually close to my threshold of acceptability; which uses 3D projected image at Mann’s Chinese Theater THX-certified theatres in Hollywood.
Sony claims 22db in eco-mode, and based on my SPL meter, the number is accurate… which is very quiet. Even in normal-mode, this Sony projector is not only pretty quiet (measured at 27 dB from 1 meter), but the fan pitch frequency is low, and that’s still quiet compared to most projectors at full power. Just be sure to turn off the projector after watching a 2D movie in eco-mode. It’s so quiet that I have accidentally left it on a couple of times during this 3-day review session.
VPL-HW50ES 3D performance is unusually clean and clear. I can spot crosstalk (then again, I can always spot crosstalk even on the highest-end home and commercial 3D presentation) but if you have the glasses in settings of 1, 2, and you notice crosstalk it’s probably inherent to the content, not the projector – that or you have overly-acute vision like mine. At the brightest setting — the #4 setting — the Sony is still very good, better than anything I’ve seen any other sub $10,000 projectors be able to do in 3D to date. In the perennial balancing act between the amount of 3D brightness, setting 3, really impresses me. It definitely held its own against last year’s Panasonic PT-AE7000U (that projector has almost 500 hours on its lamp, which should not take any brightness toll). This Sony VPL-HW50ES is bright on a 96″ diagonal 21:9 screen, even in eco-mode, something only a few projectors can claim. I am able to watch this projector in normal-mode in 3D with brightness acceptable though I’m still hoping for just a little more brightness; still it’s better than most 3D theatres in the Greater Toronto Area!
Also important, when viewing in the brightest modes for 3D, I can’t think of a projector competing with the VPL-HW50ES that looks better good colour wise, including those my beloved PT-AE7000U and JVC X30s.
So if this projector perfect? Of course not, after all, it’s a sub $5,000 projector. If I really want to nit-pick the “problems” with the projector, the following is the list:
- Lack of lens memory for the group of people who would prefer a constant image height presentation with 21:9 screen instead of the standard 16:9 screens
- Reset button on the remote and its location on the remote control
- Almost bright enough for 3D, but this projector could be brighter even though at the cost of shortening the life of the bulb
- Lens shift controls a little weird where vertical and horizontal shift are linked together
I have listed all the positives and the negatives of the VPL-HW50ES, now it’s your turn to decide whether it’s worth your hard earned dollars. My take it is yes. If you don’t have a 3D projector yet, or if you own a 3D projector older than a year, it’s truly worth purchase. Tremendous performing projector at a tremendously affordable price, what more can you ask?