Now Sony have stolen the limelight again with last week's launch of the VPL-VW500ES at IFA, which offers the reality of 4K projection at a rather more accessible price of £8,500. The VW500 uses the same DCI specifications as the VW1000, which means it can deliver both the full cinema 4K resolution of 4096 x 2160, as well as the new Ultra HD resolution of 3840 x 2160. The image is created using three native 4K SXRD panels that leverage off the back of Sony’s 4K expertise from the professional digital cinema market and deliver a response rate of 2.5ms.
The VW500 also features Sony’s proprietary 4K upscaler called Reality Creation, which is designed to enhance high definition 1080p content, allowing viewers to enjoy 4K images with their existing Blu-ray Discs, even in 3D. Furthermore, the VW500 has an original 4K up-scaling algorithm designed for “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray Discs from Sony Pictures Entertainment, which is supposed to enable a more accurate 4K native picture quality when upscaling. We remain somewhat skeptical of these claims but there was no denying that upscaled Blu-rays looked superb when we had a private demo of the VW500. Sony has also upgraded their Motionflow frame interpolation software, creating a 'combination' mode that uses both the Film Projection and Motion Enhancer features. However the purists amongst us will be glad to hear that there is also a 'True Cinema' mode that retains the look of 24fps film.
The VW500 also has a claimed contrast ratio of 200,000:1 which is higher than the VW1000, although this is achieved through a combination of Sony's 'Advanced Iris 3' dynamic iris and the same SXRD panel found on the VW1000 that has improved native contrast performance. There is an electronic panel alignment feature which allows the red and blue panels to be adjusted with respect to the green panel by as little as 0.1 pixels. The VW500’s optical engine and SXRD panels also incorporate Sony’s Triluminos display technology, allowing it deliver a wider colour space. The VW1000 always included Triluminos technology but Sony have only just started marketing that fact now that it has been given a brand name.
Unlike the VW1000, the cheaper projector includes a full colour management system which allows users to adjust the hue, saturation and brightness to obtain a calibrated picture. There is also an auto calibration feature, that uses a built-in colour sensor to store the original measurements and periodically adjust the settings as the bulb ages. Sony has also included a built-in RF transmitter for the active shutter 3D, which provides further installation flexibility with a strong wireless signal for wider coverage. There's also an optional wireless HDMI emitter/receiver kit for Full HD up to 60Hz, allowing you to wirelessly connect the VW500 to your various sources.
When we moved on to upscaled Blu-rays the Reality Creation engine really came into its own, taking full advantage of the higher resolution panel to deliver images that you would almost believe were native 4K. Sony used the 'Mastered in 4K' copy of The Amazing Spider-man and whilst some of Sony's claims regarding these Blu-ray discs are slightly dubious, there's no denying it looked superb on the VW500. The images were bright, blacks looked deep, colours natural and there was a fantastic level of detail without any noticeable processing. Despite its relative brightness, the VW500 was also a very quiet projector and at no point during the demo were we aware of the projector's presence.
The VW500 certainly looked as impressive as the VW1000 did when we had that projector in for review last year and although both models will be available concurrently, we really can't see any reason to pay twice as much for the VW1000 when the VW500 looks this good. It's early days in the 4K projector wars but currently the only two available are both made by Sony, which effectively means the Japanese manufacturer has the market to themselves. There will undoubtedly be other 4K projectors launched in the coming months but with its combination of performance, features and price, Sony's VPL-VW500ES is going to be a tough act to follow.