Sony do it again with the VW300
At last year's IFA, Sony caused a real stir when they announced their VPL-VW500ES native 4K projector.That particular model shattered the price point for 4K projection at home, costing less than half of Sony's first Ultra High Definition projector - the VPL-VW1000ES. Although that first 4K projector was itself something of a technological achievement, squeezing the capabilities of a full cinema grade projector into a domestic chassis. However, that kind of innovation doesn't come cheap and the VW1000 cost a heft £17,000 when it was launched. It has since been replaced by the similarly priced VPL-VW1100ES, which is essentially the same model but adds HDMI 2.0 inputs.
When the VW500 arrived at the end of last year, many people were wondering just how Sony managed to achieve a price point of £8,500 for a native 4K projector. Obviously the manufacturer benefited from economies of scale but it also had over a decade of experience in making 4K projectors for the professional market. Once you add in Sony's expertise in 4K film cameras and 4K film production, the Japanese giant's claim that they could deliver 4K from the lens to the living room seemed well founded.
However to specifically achieve the lower price point, there were some major differences between the VW1000 and the VW500. First of all the cheaper projector used a much smaller chassis and a lens that was partly composed of plastic rather than the all-glass optics found on the VW1000. It was also less bright but overall the cheaper model delivered a superb performance for the price, causing some observers to wonder if Sony planned to dominate 4K projection even if they had to buy market share.Sony's ambition is to dominate the 4K projector market and it's hard to see who can compete with them.This possibility would seem to be supported by the arrival of Sony's latest native 4K projector, the VPL-VW300ES, which retails for around £5,800. That's a price point comparable to a mid-range Full HD projector from only a couple of years ago and represents a possible tipping point for 4K projection. To achieve this lower price, Sony has made some changes to reduce costs but in reality the VW300 doesn't differ that much from its more expensive stable mate.
The VW300 is slightly less bright with a rating of 1,500 lumens, compared to 1,700 lumens for the VW500, and there's no dynamic iris on the cheaper machine. In fact the VW300 has no iris control at all, so effectively it's identical to the VW500 with the iris wide open and the dynamic feature turned off. There's also no lens memory feature, which might be an issue for someone with a 2.35:1 ratio screen, although there are still motorised lens controls for easier setup.However, the VW300 does include a couple of new features not found on the VW500. Firstly it has a new low latency (input lag) mode for those planning to use the new projector for gaming. You could probably achieve something similar if you just turned all the processing off on the VW500 but it's still a handy feature. The VW300 is also compatible with Creston and Control4 for home automation, which will undoubtedly go down well with custom installers.
Aside from the differences mentioned, the VW300 is identical to the previous model, with the same chassis and SXRD 4K chip set. It also supports HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, along with Sony's TRILUMINOS technology. In addition there is the company's Reality Creation image engine and Motionflow frame interpolation feature - which can be handy for watching fast-paced sports action. Finally the VW300 supports 3D of course and includes a built-in RF transmitter.
So how does the VW300 look? In a word - impressive. Sony were conducting their demonstration in a pitch black room, so we got the chance to see the VW300 in the ideal conditions for critical viewing. They were also using a fairly large 16:9 screen that was about ten feet wide. We sat only five or six feet back from the screen, which is probably closer than most would be with a screen that size but it gave us a chance to look closely for any artefacts.The images produced by the VW300 were excellent, making its price all the more attractive.In terms of brightness, the VW300 certainly had no problems lighting up what was a reasonably large screen and the slight reduction in lumens compared to the VW500 is probably of little consequence once the projectors have been calibrated. Sony were exclusively using 4K content for the demonstration - a lot of it captured at this summer's FIFA World Cup. The level of detail and clarity was excellent and even sat quite close to the fairly large screen, there was absolutely no pixel structure visible.
There were also no obvious motion artefacts, despite there being quite a lot fast-paced movement in the football footage; which is good news, suggesting that the VW300 can handle motion well. The colours also appeared very natural, with the chosen footage showing the image accuracy to its full advantage. The loss of the dynamic iris also didn't appear to impact on the performance of the VW300 either and whilst the native blacks might not be quite as deep as a JVC, they certainly looked very good on the VW300.
A dynamic iris isn't a universal panacea and it's implementation will still affect the gamma of the image, causing artefacts and possibly crushing shadow detail or clipping the bright parts of the picture. Whilst Sony's dynamic iris is certainly very sophisticated and highly effective, there are plenty of people who wouldn't engage the feature, even if it was available. Although a manual option is always welcome and sadly also missing here. The VW300 looks like a real game changer in terms of both price and performance.
We will be reviewing the VPL-VW300ES in full in the near future but, based upon our brief demonstration, it looks as though Sony's total domination of the 4K projector market will continue unabated for at least another year.
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