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Sony VPL-HW40ES 3D Projector Review

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Is Sony's latest projector a bargain at twice the price?

by Steve Withers May 17, 2014

  • Home AV review

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    Sony VPL-HW40ES 3D Projector Review
    SRP: £1,849.00

    What is the Sony VPL-HW40ES?

    When Sony first announced the VPL-HW40ES it raised some eyebrows among projector enthusiasts.

    Aside from the loss of the dynamic iris found on the HW55, this new projector appeared to offer an almost identical set of specifications for nearly £1,000 less. How could this be possible? One thing was for sure, with the HW55 already dominating the £2,500-3,000 price bracket and the VW500 shattering the price barrier for a native 4K projector, Sony had clearly moved their sights to the budget end of the market. The HW40 retails for just £1,849 and offers the kind of features and performance previously unheard of at that price. Whatever alchemy the Japanese manufacturer had used to create the HW40, there's no denying it worked.
    The new 1080p SXRD projector comes with the same chassis as its more expensive sibling and uses the same bulb. It also supports 3D and although it doesn't include any glasses, you can always buy those separately. It has essentially the same remote control and menu system and also includes a decent set of calibration controls. The HW40 even includes Reality Creation and Motionflow, so the only major difference in terms of picture quality will possibly be perceived blacks levels due to the absence of the dynamic iris. Of course this is just speculation based on the marketing information, so let's see how much of a bargain the HW40 is in reality.

    Design and Connections

    The HW40 uses exactly the same chassis as the more expensive HW55, so the new Sony immediately offers a level of attractive design and build quality rarely found on a projector at this price point. Just like its bigger brother it measures 407 x 179 x 464mm and weighs 9.6kg, with a solid and well-engineered feel to the construction. The entire chassis sits on adjustable feet, with intake vents on the sides and a large exhaust vent at the rear. On the left hand side there are some basic controls including on/off, input, menu, up/down/left/right and enter; just in case you misplace the remote.
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Design and Connections
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Design and Connections


    The HW40 offers the kind of design, features and build quality rarely seen in a projector at this price point.

    As with the HW55, the vertical and horizontal lens shift controls are directly above the lens housing and the zoom and focus are adjusted using rotating rings around the edge of the lens itself. However given the price point, the absence of motorised lens controls or a lens memory isn't an issue and the lens itself appears to be of decent quality. Beneath the control panel, in a recessed area along the bottom left hand side of the projector are all the connections. Here you'll find two HDMI 1.4a inputs, a VGA input, a component video input, an RS232 connector, an IR port and an external 3D sync emitter, although there is one already built-in.
    Sony VPL-HW40ES
    Sony VPL-HW40ES

    The HW40 comes with the same projector remote control as its more expensive sibling and it's well built, comfortable to hold, sensibly laid out and includes a backlight. There are buttons for all the main functions and you can also directly access certain image controls such as 3D, aspect, motion enhancer, colour temperature, colour space, RCP, gamma correction and the reality creation feature. However unlike the more expensive model, the HW40 doesn't include any 3D glasses. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as we aren't big fans of the glasses that are included with the HW55; the same type that Sony provided with our review sample.

    Menus

    The menu system is also the same as the HW55, with a number of calibrated presets that can also be accessed directly from the remote control. These include Cinema Film 1 and 2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, Bright TV and User. The Picture menu also includes all the usual image controls such as Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Hue and Sharpness; with Contrast, Brightness and Sharpness directly accessible from the remote control.

    In this menu you will also find Reality Creation and Cinema Black Pro, which is where you find the main difference with the HW55. There's no dynamic iris on the HW40 and all you'll find in the latter submenu is the Lamp Control, where you can select High or Low. As with the HW55, the projector will automatically go into High lamp mode when projecting a 3D image. Motionflow is where you can set the frame interpolation feature and also select the Film Projection mode, which uses black frame insertion.
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Menus
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Menus

    The Expert Setting sub-menu includes controls for Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction, Contrast Enhancer and x.v.Colour. There is also a control for selecting the Film Mode, as well as one for selecting the Gamma Correction which provides options from 2.0 to 2.4, as well as some other curves and an off setting. Finally there is a control for selecting the Colour Space which, most importantly, includes the industry standard of BT.709 (Rec.709).

    The HW40 includes a Colour Temperature setting which includes the industry standard of D65 along with a custom setting which allows access to a two point white balance control for calibration. There is also a menu called RCP (Real Colour Processing) which gives you access to Sony's colour management system (CMS). Here you can calibrate the primary (red, green and blue) and secondary (cyan, magenta and yellow) colours by adjusting Colour (saturation), Hue (tint) and Brightness (luminance).

    The out-of-the-box accuracy was amongst the best we've seen recently, including projectors more than twice the price.

    Calibration

    Pre-calibration

    As with previous Sony projectors we chose the Reference calibrated preset, which defaults to the D65 colour temperature and the BT.709 Colour Space, as well as turning off most of the picture processing features. With Gamma Correction set to off, it measured the same as at 2.2, so we just left it off. We also selected a Lamp Power of Low and turned off all the Reality Creation and Motionflow controls, which just left us to optimise the Contrast and Brightness settings and check that the Sharpness control was set to minimum. You can find our suggested settings here.
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Calibration
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Calibration

    As you can see in the graph above left, the greyscale is measuring very accurately, with only a slight excess of red and a minor deficit of green. The gamma was tracking around our target of 2.2 and the overall DeltaE (errors) are all below the threshold of 3, which is exceptionally good for an out-of-the-box preset. The colour performance was equally as impressive, with a high level of accuracy in terms of the luminance (brightness) of the individual colours, and the overall errors were again all below 3. This is an excellent out-of-the-box performance from the HW40 and, incredibly, is actually slightly better than both the HW55 and the VW500 that we reviewed recently.

    Calibrated
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Calibration
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Calibration

    Unlike on the HW55, there is only one custom setting for the colour temperature and it doesn't use D65 as a starting point, so we had to use the two-point white balance control more than we would otherwise. However we were quickly able to get a reference performance, with errors that were all well below 1 and the gamma curve that was still tracking around 2.2. The colour performance was also excellent, white was measuring precisely at D65, the luminance and hue of each colour was spot on and the overall errors were also all well below 1. There was only some minor undersaturation to spoil the party but as the graph below shows, all the colours were tracking very close to their target coordinates at lower saturation points. Overall this is a superb greyscale and colour performance for a projector in this price range and it essentially mirrors the more expensive HW55.
    Sony VPL-HW40ES  Calibration
    Video Processing

    As we expected, the HW40 delivered a great performance in our tests, correctly scaling and deinterlacing without any loss of detail, unwanted ringing or creating jaggies. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance was also excellent, whilst in the cadence tests the HW40 correctly detected both the 2:3 and 2:2 without any issues. It also had no problems displaying mixed film material with scrolling video text and was able to reproduce the text without any shredding or blurring.

    The HW40 performed just as well in the tests with 1080i content, correctly deinterlacing and displaying both the video and film resolution tests. The projector had no difficulties in showing video text overlaid on film based material and also handled 24p content without any problems. In addition, the Sony showed all the video levels up to peak white (255), as well as detail down to video level 17 and there was no clipping in the peaks for the luma channels of the three primary colours.

    In general the motion handling on the HW40 was very good but there were occasional losses of detail and smearing with fast movement and camera pans. However, as mentioned, 24p material looked excellent, with movement that was smooth and judder-free. The HW40 includes Motionflow technology which uses frame interpolation to create better motion handling. Whilst we wouldn't recommend using Motionflow with film-based content, it can be useful with fast paced sports action shot on video. We found that the Film Projection mode produced a distracting flicker, something wasn't apparent on the HW55, so would recommend leaving it off.

    The HW40 also includes Reality Creation which has filtered down from Sony's 4K projectors and uses dynamic sharpening and contrast adjusting algorithms at a pixel level to give the appearance of a more detailed image. It certainly works and can often be quite effective but with live action material the image can have a slightly processed look, especially where film grain is concerned. However for films shot digitally or with computer animation, Reality Creation worked very well, so to a certain extent it is a matter of personal preference. There are separate controls for Resolution and Noise Filtering, so there's plenty of room for experimentation.

    Brightness, Black Levels and Dynamic Range

    The big difference between the HW55 and the HW40 is the lack of a dynamic iris or even a manual iris control on the latter projector. In fact there is nothing within the Cinema Black Pro control, except an option to choose whether to set the lamp power to low or high. This isn't necessarily a big deal, there are those who swear by a dynamic iris and those that would never use one but the inability to even manually close the iris means that the dynamic range will be reduced slightly. In effect the native performance of the HW40 is essentially the same as the HW55 with the lens wide open, measuring around 6,000:1.

    Whilst the native black levels on the HW40 can't be improved by manually closing the iris, they were still very good, especially considering the overall brightness. Shadows were also nicely rendered and the projector did a great job of maintaining detail in darker scenes. Without being able to do a side-by-side comparison it's hard to tell precisely how the HW40 and HW55 differ but, based upon memory, there was very little to distinguish them. The HW40 certainly has a much better black performance than any of the projectors in its peer group, especially the LCD and DLP models on the market.

    The 2D picture quality was excellent and the absence of the dynamic iris really didn't impact on the overall performance.

    Sony VPL-HW40ES Picture Quality 2D

    It's fair to say that we were hugely impressed by the picture quality of the HW40 from the moment we turned it on and, after spending a few minutes performing a basic setup, we were even more impressed. As the test results show, the out-of-the-box performance was excellent, resulting in accurate colours and a pleasingly natural image. The level of detail was also impressive, as was the panel alignment, which was spot on. Despite its lower price there was nothing about the HW40's image that suggested this was a budget projector - from the quality of the lens to the overall uniformity it was all extremely good. Whilst there are those who don't necessarily like the effect of Reality Creation, it's still encouraging to see Sony include the feature on the HW40.

    In fact, although we weren't in a position to do a side-by-side comparison, to our eyes the image produced by the HW40 looked almost identical to the HW55. Whilst some might bemoan the lack of a dynamic iris, the native black levels and dynamic range on the HW40 still looked excellent, as did the level of shadow detail. The motion handling was also very good and the projector was extremely quiet, even when in the high lamp mode. The obvious competitor to the HW40 is Epson's TW7200, which is about the same price, and in our opinion the Sony is superior. In fact the HW40 is so good that you have to wonder if there's any point buying a HW55 because you can get almost exactly the same performance for nearly £1,000 less.

    We watched quite a bit of content on the HW40 and were never disappointed; with the combination of image accuracy, detail and video processing combining to deliver wonderful big screen pictures. The HW40 could upscale standard definition to great effect and it handled 1080i just as well. However it's with Blu-rays that the Sony really had a chance to shine, handling the 24p content without issue and delivering highly detailed and very film-like images. We watched a number of recently purchased Blu-rays, including Her and Three Days to Kill, both of which looked superb. We also re-watched the 1998 version of Godzilla in anticipation of the big guy's return to our cinema screens and the HW40 handled the older film just as well.

    Sony VPL-HW40ES Video Review


    The 3D performance was great, with plenty of depth, an effective amount of brightness and a distinct lack of crosstalk.

    Sony VPL-HW40ES Picture Quality 3D

    As with the 2D performance, we were just as impressed with the 3D on the HW40 and thanks to its inherent brightness, the Sony could deliver a punchy image. To achieve this brightness the projector automatically goes to high lamp mode but the colour accuracy, greyscale and gamma all remained excellent and the motion handling was also very impressive. The HW40 uses active shutter technology and could deliver detailed Full HD images that were distinctly free from crosstalk or other distracting artefacts. We watched a number of recent 3D Blu-ray purchases including Nurse and the newly arrived Pompeii and we were delighted by the performance of the HW40. These natively shot productions include plenty of depth, especially Pompeii and the Sony did a great job of reproducing the three dimensionality of the images.

    Once again, the HW40 seemed to be exactly the same in terms of its performance when compared to the HW55 and it also held its own against the TW7200, whilst managing to be considerably quieter. The fact that the HW40 doesn't come with any glasses included could be considered a good thing, because we find the type of glasses provided with the HW55 to be too dark and uncomfortable to wear over long periods of time. Whilst the HW40 includes a built-in IR emitter, you could instead buy Sony's optional RF emitter and Sony's RF glasses, which are lighter and superior to the IR variety. Whatever you decide to do, the good news is that if you're a fan of 3D, the HW40 will prove to be a wonderful performer; capable of delivering images that have a pleasing combination of brightness and depth.

    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Decent black levels and dynamic range
    • Reference greyscale and colour accuracy
    • Impressive video processing
    • Excellent 2D and 3D performance
    • Attractive design and good build quality
    • Extremely quiet in operation
    • Price

    Cons

    • None at this price
    You own this Total 21
    You want this Total 9
    You had this Total 0

    Sony VPL-HW40ES 3D Projector Review

    The VPL-HW40ES is an absolutely stonking projector for the money and, frankly, at this price Sony are almost giving it away. It has the design and build quality of the more expensive HW55; the same menu system, remote control and virtually the same feature set. There are minor differences, the most obvious of which is the absence of the dynamic iris, and there are no 3D glasses included but that's easily fixed.

    The out-of-the-box accuracy was superb and with the included calibration controls meant the HW40 could deliver a reference greyscale and colour gamut performance. The video processing was also excellent, whilst the motion handling, black levels and shadow detail were also very good. As a result the 2D images were excellent and almost indistinguishable from the HW55, even without the dynamic iris. The 3D performance was also excellent, with bright and accurate images that were free of crosstalk. The HW40 was also very quiet, even in its high lamp mode.

    The obvious competitor at this price point is Epson's TW7200 but the HW40 is definitely superior and, in all honesty, so good that it could hold its against more expensive projectors including Sony's own HW55. There is simply nothing else to currently compete with the HW40 in the £1,500-2,000 price bracket and you really have to wonder how Sony can be making any money. However if you're in the market for a new projector, the VPL-HW40ES has to be on your short list because, quite frankly, it's a steal!


    The Rundown

    Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

    9

    Colour Accuracy

    10

    Greyscale Accuracy

    10

    Video Processing

    9

    Image Uniformity

    8

    2D Picture Quality

    9

    3D Picture Quality

    9

    Features

    9

    Ease Of Use

    9

    Build Quality

    9

    Value For Money

    10

    Verdict

    9

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