Sony treat AVForum members to an exclusive first look at their game changing VW500 4K projector.
When it comes to 4K Sony are in a unique position because, as the Japanese giant is fond of reminding us, they're involved from the ‘lens to the living room’.
They make the 4K cameras used to shoot Hollywood blockbusters, cameras that include their groundbreaking F65 and their new Cine Alta model. They own a film studio which gives them access to a huge library of existing content just waiting to be remastered and released in 4K. They are intimately involved in every aspect of the 4K work flow, which is why they recently opened their Digital Motion Picture Centre at Pinewood Studios. They even make the 4K projectors you’ll find down at your local multiplex, with 15,000 installed worldwide. Given all that, is it any wonder Sony aren’t too keen to embrace the term Ultra High Definition (UHD), as far as they’re concerned it’s 4K all the way.
In fact at no point during their presentation did they use the term UHD and to be honest we don’t blame them. The term UHD suggests the kind of bland consensus that can only be achieved through a committee. The use of the words high definition are probably going to confuse consumers, whilst 4K is distinctive, descriptive and familiar from visits to the cinema. Sony may not want to give up their 4K advantage for obvious reasons but from a marketing perspective we tend to agree.
And what an advantage it is. As Sony were keen to stress at the demonstration, they are currently the only manufacturer who offers a native 4K projector and to be honest, it’s quite possible that they’re the only manufacturer who is even capable of delivering one. Whilst they clearly leveraged off the back of their size and expertise in 4K, that doesn't diminish the technological achievement inherent in their original VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector. Launched at the end of 2012 and costing £18,000, this was essentially a 4K cinema projector reinvented as a consumer product and the results were simply breathtaking.
Is it any wonder Sony aren’t too keen to embrace the term Ultra High Definition (UHD), as far as they’re concerned it’s 4K all the way.However Sony weren’t content to be the first manufacturer to release a domestic 4K projector and at IFA they announced the VPL-VW500ES. This native 4K projector includes many of the specifications of the previous VW1000 but at a potentially game changing price of just £8,500. In fact the VW500 looks so good on paper that Sony had to tweak their VW1000 to keep it current, resulting in the new VPL-VW1100ES which will be Sony’s flagship projector going into 2014.
However the reason for this exclusive demonstration was to allow AVForums members their first look at the VW500 and give their feedback on what they thought of the new projector. The evening started off with a presentation from a familiar face, product manager Tak Nakane. Tak explained a bit about Sony’s projector history, which goes back to 1973, before bringing us right up to date with Sony’s involment in the recent 4K tests at Wimbledon and the planned use of 4K cameras at next year’s FIFA World Cup. It was interesting to note that Sony have a 41% share of the home cinema projector market, followed by Epson with 28%, Panasonic with 16%, JVC with 6%, Mitsubishi with 3%, Sim2 with 3% and the rest making up the remaining 3%.
Tak then moved on to the VW500 itself, taking the audience through the specifications and all the latest features. He explained that the VW1100 uses a completely glass optical array comprised of 18 lenses. This allows for an incredible level of detail but also adds to both the cost and the weight of the projector. Thanks to advances in the production of plastic lenses, Sony are now able to produce a cheaper optical array that still retains the necessary consistency, accuracy and level of detail required for a native 4K panel.
The VW500 has a plastic lens at the front and 13 glass lenses within the optical array itself, so as a result it is much lighter and considerably cheaper than its big brother. Sony have also bent the optical path which means that the chassis of the VW500 is smaller than the VW1100. However in most other respects the two projectors are very similar and both use a 17:9 ratio chip with a 4096 x 2160 pixel resolution. This is the same standard used in Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) commercial projectors, although the VW500 and VW1100 can also display the 3840 x 2160 Ultra HD resolution.
"I'd never seen that much detail in a projected image - even at the cinema."The two projectors include Sony’s Reality Creation image processing technology which is designed to deliver an upscaled image that makes full use of the additional resolution of the 4K panel. Both projectors also include Sony’s Triluminos technology that can provide a wider colour space, with the VW1100 being able to hit the DCI standard. They are also extremely bright with the VW500 rated at 1,700 ANSI lumens and Sony were keen to stress that the projector will remain bright even in a calibrated cinema mode.
Speaking of calibrations, the new projectors have an auto calibration feature that allows a calibrator to memorise the settings, so that as the bulb ages the projector can adjust the greyscale and colour gamut based on these initial measurements. Sony have also made improvements to their MotionFlow technology, whilst other new features include HDMI 2.0 and a built-in RF 3D transmitter. The use of the RF standard means you can use glasses from other manufacturers. There’s a wireless HDMI unit available as an optional extra, although this will only work with 1080p content.
All of this sounds very promising but of course the proof of the pudding is always in the eating and it was time to bite down on some genuine 4K content. Sony used a series of clips that included various travelogue footage, along with footage from this year’s Wimbledon tournament, a scene from Total Recall and the trailer for After Earth. They also showed a scene from Avengers Assemble in order to demonstrate how good the Reality Creation upscaling engine is. We were surprised that they didn’t use a Sony Pictures movie and more specifically one of their ‘Mastered in 4K’ Blu-rays but we have always been rather dubious of the actual benefits of the latter.
We can certainly say that having seen a pre-pre-production model at IFA the results were just as impressive but Sony had clearly made some additional improvements on the pre-production model they used for this demo. The final production models will begin shipping in a couple of weeks and Sony said that they will be even better. There was certainly no denying that the VW500 can deliver some gorgeous images, with both 4K and high definition content, and given the calibration controls available it could look even better."I’d sell the wife and kids to get a VW500!"However that’s enough of what we thought, we’ll give our in-depth opinion when we get a VW500 in for review, but what did the AVForums members think? Well the overall comments were universally positive with everyone being blown away by the 4K content in particular. Peter Gilboy (Gilbers) said that the VW500 was very impressive and that he’d never seen that much detail in a projected image - even at the cinema. He felt that with upscaled 1080p content, Reality Creation was applying a bit too much sharpening but otherwise he couldn’t fault the VW500 and basically wants one!
Ricky Jennings is a familiar name on AVForums and he was equally as impressed, saying that the native 4K content was clearly superior to 1080p. He also thought that the Reality Creation engine had been improved since last year and he was surprised at how quiet the VW500 is. Anthony Holloway (AJH) said that the 4K material "knocked his socks off" but he felt you would need a big screen to truly appreciate the higher resolution. However he was also impressed at how the upscaling managed to increase the perceived detail.
Russell Johns (Russ) felt the image was truly breathtaking, with deep colours, good blacks and subtle details. He said he now had a real dilemma and when asked if he’d sell his current projector to get a VW500, he said he’d "sell his wife and kids to get one!" Brain O’Keefe (Boks) felt the VW500 was just excellent and it reminded him of the first time he saw high definition. Finally Robert Chan felt the VW500 was simply amazing and clearly superior to his current projector. He mentioned that the 4K footage of Kyoto was so realistic that it reminded him of when he visited the city and he thinks 4K will be his next upgrade.
An AVForums audience can be tough, a combination of knowledge and experience can make our membership difficult to please, which makes those comments all the more impressive. There’s no question that Sony are going all-out to be the dominant player in the 4K projector market and whilst this is a high risk strategy it just might work. Certainly based on the thoughts of our members, the VW500 could very well be the gamer changer that Sony need it to be.
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