What is the Sony VPL-HW45ES?
As the industry is moving to 4K Ultra HD resolutions with wider colour gamuts and High Dynamic Range, why would you still pay just under £2,000 for a 1080p only projector with Rec.709 colour? Well that will be very much a personal choice, but for projectors it is going to take a long time to change to the new standards and see prices falling. This is because the projector market is a very small percentage of the overall display sales in the UK and with a smaller market it takes longer to develop and implement new technology at reasonable costs. Plus, TVs may be changing fast with 4K UHD HDR technology built-in, but there is still a real lack of content available to take advantage of the new standards and that is likely to be the case for a number of years yet. So with all that in mind and the fact that this projector should provide excellent accurate images for your Blu-rays and streaming services, 1080p projectors are certainly still a viable solution for most situations and budgets.
Let’s see how the VPL-HW45ES performs and if it lives up to the performance bargain claims…
Design, Connections and Controls
Looking at the projector from the front we have the lens positioned in the middle with plastic manual zoom and focus rings. This means there is no lens memory function on the HW45ES for users of Scope screens, so it will be a manual set up each time. We found that setting the focus was pretty difficult to get completely right. We were able to get most of the image area in sharp focus with just one edge that was slightly soft in comparison. We also noticed a slight misalignment of the 3 SXRD panels with a red edge visible to the bottom of sharp edges and text. This wasn’t distracting from our normal viewing distance and we mention it only in being complete with our assessment although we found that the panel alignment setting in the menus didn’t appear to make any difference.
Just above the lens are two scroll wheels for the vertical and horizontal lens shift. While these controls do what they are designed to do, being manual means that the weight of the lens causes it to move over time and between uses of the projector. It is also tricky to get accurate vertical positioning because of that fact and the slipping from time to time during adjustment moves. We know there is a need to hit a price point here with the HW45ES so understand the use of manual tools, but perhaps there is an opportunity to try and find a better design to make the vertical adjustment more secure?
Under the menu controls on the left hand side are the input connections for the HW45ES. As this is a budget model there are just two HDMI 1.4 slots, an RS232C port and IR In along with a USB slot for software updates only. At the rear of these connections is the power socket. It might seem like the connections list is short but in reality you have almost everything you will need to get up and running with your best HD sources.
The supplied remote control is the usual large Sony affair with excellent button layout, easy to reach controls and a backlight for use in a dark room. The company really know how to make decent remote controls and even at this lower end of the market the quality is extremely good with a solid build quality and feel. The larger remote sits neatly in the hand with a good weight allowing easy reach of the main controls. Our only gripe would be that you need to press the light button to get the backlight to come on, rather than just hitting any key to activate it. And the light key is not glow in the dark like other manufacturers remotes, so makes it difficult to find.
Features and Specs
One of the major differences between the HW45ES and its bigger brother the HW65ES is the lack of a dynamic iris, but in all honesty we didn’t miss it at all with the HW45. In a reasonably light controlled room the Sony is superb with excellent black levels that don’t require any manipulation. Only in an absolute bat cave with its very low black floor will you notice the lighter black levels of the projector, but in normal room surroundings it really is very impressive indeed. We also get Motion Flow with the True Cinema setting as part of three selections available to use, although we found normal motion to be very good indeed with no induced judder or unnecessary blur, but you have the choice available with the HW45. You also get Reality Creation with its database of millions of scenes to help bring out upscaled images and add sharpness with its resolution and noise filtering controls if you so desire. Cinema Black Pro is missing the dynamic iris but it does include the contrast enhancer control and to wrap up on features we also have a full CMS and White Balance calibration tools within the menus. So it may be at a budget price point, but the HW45ES is pretty well equipped for home cinema use.
Moving to the colour gamut results and again the HW45ES knocks it out of the park for accuracy out-of-the-box. Whilst it is not as perfect as the Greyscale, the gamut results are impressively close with just a slight over saturation of the primary colours and a few very slight hue errors. The 100% saturation points are over and this is to be expected for a bulb projector as they will drift back over time and aging of the bulb. The other small errors should also be adjustable with the built-in CMS without adding any unwanted artefacts, so once again another excellent result from Sony.
The colour gamut (top right) was just as easy to correct slightly with all visible errors now invisible and colours looking extremely accurate right across the saturation and luminance levels. 100% points were over slightly, but this has no effect with onscreen performance at all and is of no concern with these results. Given the performance turned in by the HW45ES during testing it shouldn’t be any surprise to find the onscreen images are fantastic.
The next impressive element of the HW45ES is the perceivable contrast of the image and stunningly accurate colours. The image can stretch to around 900lumens calibrated and with those good quality shadow details the image takes on a very nice dynamic pop with extremely accurate skin tones and a natural film-like feel. There is no unwanted noise in the image and motion is very good without any induced judder or unnatural blur. There is image blur but it is in the source and part of the capture process, it is not aggravated by the SXRD projector which manages 340lines of resolution without using Motion Flow. You can of course experiment with the Motion Flow settings but we found only True Cinema worked with any real success with film-based material and even then, it may affect different users in different ways, so it is always best to try these out for yourself.
Colour accuracy is the number one attribute to really take away from the HW45ES and like its stable mates, Sony really know how to get colour just right with their home cinema projector range. With good quality blacks and a decent dynamic range underpinning your colour performance you can start to really appreciate the subtle nature of certain scenes of a film, where the muted use of colour can affect your subconscious to help express an emotion on screen or the plight of a character. Strong vibrant primary colours jump off the screen without any unwanted gradations and banding getting in the way, and skin tones look extremely natural. Plus the image from the SXRD projector also mirrors the JVC DILA image (which uses similar technologies) to give video images that film-like look we all crave for our home cinemas. We found screen colour uniformity to be very good with no colour changes to a white raster shown on a full screen and although with fade to blacks there were slight bright corners visible now and again, there was nothing that would annoy or impact with the overall performance.
When you start to recap just how much this projector costs you start to see just what a real bargain it is. It will never get to the levels of the JVC X7000 it was sat next to during the review process, but it is also several thousand pounds less in terms of cost. Looking at the images you can see the difference but is it actually a difference worth that much extra in cost? That then comes down to environment, usage and a few other more personal points, but it does show that whilst the gap might still be there, it is not as huge as it once was.
The HW45ES is also a 3D projector (but you will need to buy the glasses) and the performance with well-known test discs was excellent with very little crosstalk or ghosting. Colours also look fairly accurate out-of-the-box in the much brighter 3D picture mode and overall we found the experience to be very good indeed with little to complain about. So if 3D is still your thing the HW45ES does a commendable job of presenting it with very few drawbacks.
Finally if you’re a gamer you’ll be pleased to note that the HW45ES produced a very quick 23.7ms of lag when measured with our Leo Bodnar Tester and when in the reduced lag setting within the picture menus.
- Good black levels for this level of the market
- Excellent colour accuracy
- Good shadow detail and dynamic range
- Excellent video processing
- Good motion
- Excellent input lag for gaming
- Good quality lens and sharpness
- Not much wrong at this price and performance level
Sony VPL-HW45ES 1080p SXRD Projector Review
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
2D Picture Quality
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box
Picture Quality Calibrated
Our Review Ethos
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