Sony VPL-VW260ES 4K SXRD Projector Review
It's the cheapest native 4K projector to date
What is the Sony VPL-VW260ES?The VPL-VW260ES is the latest native 4K SXRD projector from Sony and, along with the VPL-VW360ES, is an attempt by the company to offer 4K projection at a more competitive price point. The VW260ES is specifically designed to deliver native 4K projection at just under the psychologically important barrier of £5,000. Sadly as is often the case when it comes to Sony pricing in the UK, whilst the company suggests one price the actual cost set by their distributor is invariably higher. The VW260ES is a good example and despite Sony's sub-£5,000 claims at IFA, it will actually set you back £5,199 as at the time of writing (October 2017). However that is still significantly lower than previous Sony 4K projectors and a lot less than their other 'cheap' model, the VW360ES, which retails for £6,999.
So how do the two differ? Well the VW260ES doesn't have a lens memory or a dynamic iris but otherwise the two appear very similar, so if you don't need the former and you're not planning on using the latter, the VW260ES could be very tempting. It doesn't just have a native 4K (4096 x 2160) panel, it also supports High Dynamic Range and Wide Colour Gamut, includes Motionflow and Reality Creation and has a claimed brightness of 1,500 lumens. However the projector market is hugely competitive at the moment and Sony can't expect to rely solely on native 4K resolution if they want the VW260ES to succeed. It will need to perform well in all the other key areas of image quality if it hopes to justify its price tag compared to some significantly cheaper models from the competition. So, let's see how it performs.
DesignThe VPL-VW260ES uses exactly the same chassis as Sony's other recent 4K projectors and is identical to the VW360ES in this regard. The design is fairly plain, which is surprising for Sony, and whilst it's not unattractive, it's very much function over form. There's a centrally mounted lens and air exhaust vents on either side of the projector's front facia, with a dark silver circular air intake vent around the lens itself. As opposed to some of the competition, who offer motorised lens covers, Sony provide a plastic cover to place over the lens when the projector isn't in use. Overall it's a fairly simple chassis design, with adjustable feet at the front, a power connector at the rear, some basic controls on the right hand side as you face the lens and the connections on the left hand side. The VW260ES comes in a choice of black or white with a matte textured finish and the plastic construction is fairly solid and comparable with the more expensive Sony models, although not as good as some of the (cheaper) competition. In terms of dimensions, the VW260ES measures 496 x 195 x 464mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 14kg.
The VW260ES retains the design and build quality of its more expensive siblings
Connections & ControlAs previously mentioned, the connections are located on the left hand side as you face the lens and here you'll find a fairly typical selection for a projector. There are two HDMI inputs, an Ethernet port and a RS232 serial connector for system control, a USB port, an IR In mini jack and two 12V triggers. It should be pointed out that only HDMI 2 supports HDCP 2.2 and the HDMI inputs can't handle 4K/60p at 4:4:4, something that our Apple TV 4K was quick to point out. These limitations seem rather mean on a projector that costs £5,199 but shouldn't have any real impact because you'll be running your sources through a soundbar or AV Receiver first, so you'll only be using one HDMI input any way, and you can still send 4K/24p 4:4:4 to the VW260ES and use 4:2:0 for 4K50/60p signals.In the unlikely event that you misplace the remote, there are some basic controls located on the right hand side, as you face the lens. You can access the menu system using these controls and there's a multi-directional key for navigating the various sub-menus. However the main method for setting up and controlling the VW260ES is the provided remote, which is the same design that Sony have been using for a few years now. The remote is fairly large, comfortable to hold and easy to use with one hand. It has a centrally positioned navigation wheel and Menu and Pattern buttons, with the later proving useful if you plan to use the VW260ES with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio screen. You can also easily select inputs, picture modes and various calibration controls, whilst the remote itself has a blue backlight that is very handy when using it in a darkened home cinema.
There's the usual connections and Sony's standard projector remote control
Features & SpecsThe headline feature of the VPL-VW260ES is its support of native 4K resolution thanks to a 3-chip SXRD design that uses 4096 x 2160 pixel panels. This is actually the resolution used for commercial cinemas due to Sony porting over technology from their professional projector division and, as a result, the VW260ES uses a 17:9 aspect ratio, which is slightly different from the 16:9 aspect ratio used by Ultra HD (3840 x 2160). The projector can accept any resolution up to 4096 x 2160 but if you're sending an Ultra HD signal, which is the most likely scenario, you'll need to use either the 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 Zoom options, depending on the aspect ratio of the screen that you're using. Sony claim that their 2017 4K projectors use a new lens array that is superior to previous generations. When we asked them directly about the composition of the lens array, the company was a bit vague, but it is a combination of glass and plastic lenses.
Other features include a claimed brightness of 1,500 lumens, TRILUMINOS colour, Motionflow, 3D and motorised focus, zoom and shift controls. The VW260ES supports High Dynamic Range (HDR10) and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), along with Wide Colour Gamut, specifically DCI-P3 within Rec.2020. Unlike their TVs, none of Sony's 4K projectors support Dolby Vision and they can't be updated to do so either. As mentioned in the introduction, Sony have dropped a couple of features in order to get the price down, so unlike the VW360ES there's no dynamic iris, or manual iris control for that matter, and no lens memory feature. Although there's no iris control the VW260ES does still have a Cinema Black Pro section, which contains the Contrast Enhancer feature and Lamp Control. Finally there's Sony's Reality Creation which uses image processing to add sharpening and enhancement based on propriety algorithms and database.
There's a decent set of features but no dynamic iris or lens memory
Picture Settings – Out-of-the-BoxWhen setting up the VPL-VW260ES we would recommend using either Reference or User, the two are identical, because they provide the most accurate starting point. For the purposes of testing we turned off Reality Creation, Motionflow and Contrast Enhancer and for Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) content we used the Low Lamp Control setting. We set the Contrast control to 80, which was the point at which there was no clipping, and left all the other controls at their default settings, including a Colour Temperature setting of D65, a Colour Space of BT709 and a Gamma of 2.2, although it actually measured closer to our 2.4 target.
We ran the projector for 20 hours before taking any measurements, in order to let the characteristics of the lamp settle down, and all our measurements were taken with a Klein K-10A colour meter, a Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator and CalMAN Ultimate calibration software. For more information on how to correctly set up your Projector, you can take a look at our PicturePerfect Guide.
The out-of-the-box performance of the VW260ES was rather disappointing, with an excess of red and a deficit of blue that resulted in noticeable shift in white towards yellow. The errors in the second half of the scale were over the visible threshold and, as mentioned in the previous section, the 2.2 gamma setting actually measured closer to 2.4. When you consider that much cheaper projectors are able to deliver a more accurate out-of-the-box performance, we really expected better from a model that costs £5,199. Although we appreciate that anyone spending this kind of money will most likely get their new projector professionally calibrated, we still think Sony are capable of a more accurate out-of-the-box performance.Sadly this lack of accuracy extends to the colour gamut as well. The tracking isn't too bad but the excess of red and deficit of blue in the greyscale has skewed white towards yellow, which is fairly obvious in the graph above. The excess of red in the greyscale has also caused red to be over-saturated at every saturation point, as well as creating hue errors in magenta which resulted in flesh tones being redder than we would have liked. However the luminance measurements, which aren't shown on the graph above, were excellent. Thankfully we can address both the greyscale and the colour gamut using the calibration controls but once again, cheaper projectors can deliver a better level of out-of-the-box accuracy, so we remain somewhat disappointed by the VW260ES in this area.
The out-of-the-box image accuracy was disappointing for a projector at this price point
Picture Settings – CalibratedIn terms of the calibration, we left most of the controls at their default settings for the Reference preset but we did change the Colour Temperature to Custom 3, which not only equates to D65 but also provides access to the two-point white balance control. We also turned the colour management system on, so that we could calibrate the colour gamut.
Since there was too much red and not enough blue in the greyscale, all we needed to do was bring red down and blue up using the gain settings in the white balance control. We immediately saw an improvement in the accuracy of the greyscale and as you can see from the graph above, it was tracking across the entire scale with equal amounts of red, green and blue. As a result the errors were now all below one and the yellow tinge to whites was gone. The gamma was still tracking around 2.4, with a slight dip down at 10 and 80/90IRE. We were extremely happy with these measurements and the greyscale and gamma were now delivering near reference levels of accuracy.After calibrating the greyscale, the colour temperature for white was now actually D65, as evidenced by the graph above, where white is hitting its target for the industry standard. The colour accuracy also improved once the greyscale had been calibrated, with the primary and secondary colours tracking their targets more closely. It was then just a case of fine tuning the performance using the colour management system. There was a slight under-saturation of red at 75% but otherwise everything else, including the luminance, was accurate, resulting in near-reference performance and overall the VW260ES delivered a very accurate greyscale, gamma and colour gamut.
The Sony delivered a very accurate greyscale, gamma and colour gamut after calibration
Picture Settings – High Dynamic RangeAs always we tested the VPL-VW260ES by sending an HDR signal created using our Murideo Fresco Six -G pattern generator. This 3840 x 2160 24p 10-bit 4:2:2 signal includes HDR metadata and uses the Rec. 2020 wide colour gamut, thus replicating the output of an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. When the VW260ES detects an HDR signal the Contrast number changes to 50 and has HDR next to it in brackets. The Colour Gamut also changes to BT2020 but otherwise all the other settings stay the same, although we would recommend turning the Lamp Control to High to get the most dynamic range out of the projector. Before we run through the HDR measurements, it's worth pointing out that a projector will never be able to deliver the kind of peak brightness seen on an HDR TV but as long as it's able to tone map the content creator's intentions accurately, it can still be an excellent experience.
As you can see in the graph above, the VW260ES did a good job of tracking the PQ EOTF, although it isn't quite as precise as previous Sony HDR projectors. However the greyscale was tracking well, aside from a drop off in blue at 90 and 100IRE, and the colour temperature was close to D65, which is the industry target for both SDR and HDR. There were errors where the projector's curve rolled off against the PQ target but overall this was a decent performance for a projector. In testing we found that VW260ES didn't begin to clip HDR content until 2,500 nits, so everything below that was properly tone mapped.
In terms of the SDR black level and peak brightness, the VW260ES was capable of a blacks with a measurement of 0.017 nits and a maximum brightness of 224 nits in its calibrated Reference mode using a 10% window. That equates to an on/off contrast ratio of 13,200:1. When it came to HDR content, the Sony could deliver a black level of 0.021 nits and a peak brightness of 397 nits, which equates to an on/off contrast ratio of 18,900:1. Although these aren't the best measurements that we've seen, they're still pretty good for a projector.In terms of its coverage of the Rec. 2020 colour gamut, the VW260ES managed over 65%, which is actually a slight improvement on previous Sony HDR projectors that we've reviewed. It isn't the widest we've measured, the Epson EH-TW7300 managed a massive 78%, but since the Sony achieves its colour gamut without resorting to a colour filter, that means it's a bit brighter in the luminance department. The tracking against Rec. 2020 wasn't too bad either, at least within the limitations of its native colour gamut. The colour gamut of the VW260 also equated to 90% of DCI-P3 using xy coordinates and 93% using the uv coordinates.
A display's ability to track against Rec. 2020 isn't actually that important because although material is delivered using that colour gamut, most content is created using the DCI-P3 colour gamut. So what is of greater importance is how the display tracks DCI-P3 within the Rec. 2020 container. As you can see in the graph above, the VW260ES actually did a pretty good job and tracked most of the saturation points very well, aside from cyan and green at 100% but that's just the limitation of the projector's own native colour gamut. Overall the Sony proved to be a very capable HDR projector, at least in terms of our measurements and tests, making it equal to and, in some cases, slightly better than previous generations.
Sony VPL-VW260ES Video Review
Picture QualityWe should start this section by pointing out that although the VW260ES does support 3D, unfortunately Sony failed to provide any active shutter glasses. Since there's no mention of the feature on the VW260ES's product page, we should be grateful that it does support 3D, especially as recent 4K DLP projectors have dropped it. As a result we weren't able to test the projector with any 3D content, although we will test it in our review of the VW360ES, which is almost identical and thus should offer a similar level of performance.
When setting up the projector all we needed to do was zoom, shift and focus the image to our screen and tweak the panel alignment slightly. The result was a pin sharp image, which suggests that the latest version of the glass and plastic lens array is proving effective at handling the native 4K images. Of course resolution isn't everything and we do feel that Sony have been guilty of using the native 4K nature of their projectors to justify higher prices and less capable machines in other areas. In direct comparisons with a JVC e-shift projector (we can run multiple displays from a single source thanks to our Digital Zone S6) there was no real difference between the perceived resolution of the two projectors at a normal viewing difference, even when using native 4K content. Obviously as we got closer to the screen the native 4K nature of the VW260ES became apparent but it's worth remembering that most films are still finished at 2K, so resolution is only one factor in what makes a good image.
We started with standard dynamic range content and the VW260ES immediately impressed with a detailed and highly natural image. Initially there was a slight yellow tinge to the whites but after we had calibrated the projector, the results were impressive with accurate colours and a pleasingly bright image. The brightness of the VW260ES and the lack of any iris control, manual or otherwise, means that the black floor has been elevated, which is a shame as Sony have made big improvements in this area of late. The black levels were certainly one area where the JVC was superior to the Sony and the same goes for shadow detail retention, which wasn't as good on the Sony. However the motion handling was very good on the Sony and although there is Motionflow the only option was Impulse, which appeared to make no real difference in our tests – neither improving the motion resolution nor adding any soap opera effect. The VW260ES was suitably quiet in operation and the Reality Creation feature could be effective with some content, although it had a tendency to exaggerate film grain. We certainly found that our regular test discs like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Moana could look very nice on the VW260ES with lovely images that really popped. The same was true when it came to streaming video and shows such as The Expanse, with its detailed effects work, looked particularly impressive projected on to the big screen. However we did feel that our JVC projector had the edge over the Sony in terms of overall image quality with standard dynamic range content.
When it came to high dynamic range content, the VW260ES remained impressive although we should caveat that by pointing out that no projector can deliver an HDR performance that can compete with a TV, which will be capable of much brighter specular highlights. However the VW260ES was still able to take full advantage to all the benefits that Ultra HD has to offer and not, as we've already mentioned, just the increased resolution. The 10-bit video depth eliminates most banding and the wider colour gamut produces more vibrant and saturated colours, which the Sony was able to render with excellent accuracy. Despite the elevated black floor, the VW260ES was still able to deliver improved detail in the darker parts of the image, combined with more detail in the brighter parts that resulted in a picture that could have real impact. We did need to use the High Lamp Control setting, which obviously increased the fan noise, however we weren't aware of it when actually watching a film. A reference Ultra HD Blu-ray like The Revenant looked superb on the Sony, with the projector creating a sense of realism that was certainly the director's intention. This disc was encoded at 1000 nits, which the VW260ES had no problems tone mapping without introducing any clipping. However with a 4000 nits disc like Pan, there was some clipping of the sun in the 'Arriving at Neverland' scene for example. When we moved on to streaming services the results were equally as impressive with HDR shows like Star Trek Discovery and Mindhunter (four episodes of which were directed by David Fincher) looking stunning on the VW260ES. We definitely felt that when it came to high dynamic range content the Sony had the edge over the JVC, with a better overall performance.
The VW260ES is a great native 4K projector with a rather impressive HDR performance
- Native 4K panel
- Excellent accuracy after calibration
- Impressive HDR performance
- Great video processing
- Easy to setup and operate
- Attractive design and good build quality
- Inaccurate out of the box
- Blacks could be better
- No lens memory
- No dynamic iris
Sony VPL-VW260ES 4K SXRD Projector Review
Should I buy one?The Sony VPL-VW260ES is an exciting new model from the Japanese manufacturer because at £5,199 it brings native 4K projection to a level that is approaching a more realistic price point. Sony's efforts to deliver the VW260ES at that price, along with the higher spec'd VPL-VW360ES at £6,999, is even more impressive when you consider that the VPL-VW550ES, which was originally launched at £8,499, now costs £9,899 in this brave new Brexit world. So what do you get for your hard earned and rapidly depreciating cash? Well the VW260ES includes everything you would expect from the more expensive models with native 4K resolution, HDR10 and HLG support, Triluminos colour, 3D, Reality Creation and Motionflow. There are also motorised lens controls but the lens memory feature has been dropped to save money, as has the dynamic iris.
The out-of-the-box accuracy was disappointing considering the price, although to be fair the VW550ES wasn't any better when we reviewed that model towards the end of last year and it costs almost twice as much. Thankfully the VW260ES was very accurate after calibration and it also performed well in our HDR testing, with some measurements that were better than the VW550ES. We certainly found the VW260ES to be a great performer, delivering a lovely SDR image that was detailed and boasted natural colours and good motion handling. The black levels could have been better and appear to be a retrograde step compared to recent Sony projectors but overall the VW260ES impressed us. It also proved to be a good performer with HDR, at least as far as projectors go, with good tone mapping, saturated colours and reasonable brightness.
The problem is that as good as the VW260ES is, the HDR projector market is very competitive and there are other manufacturers who can deliver models that are not only better in some respects but also considerably cheaper. The fact that the Sony is a native 4K projector simply isn't enough when watching at any a sensible viewing distance and other factors like black levels, brightness, tone mapping and colour gamuts are equally as important. However, the Sony VPL-VW260ES does represent a significant step in the evolution of native 4K projection and for that reason, along with its overall performance, comes recommended.
What are my alternatives?There are a number of alternatives, not only at a similar price but also for less. JVC have always been strong in the £3,000 to £6,000 price bracket and their current line-up includes the excellent DLA-X5900 at £3,999 and the superb DLA-X7900 which costs £5,699. Whilst these projectors aren't native 4K, they can accept an Ultra HD signal and, thanks to e-shift, deliver an image that is indistinguishable at sensible viewing distances. Naturally being JVC projectors their black levels are impressive, especially the X7900, they have a brightness of 1,900 lumens and colour gamuts that approach 100% of DCI-P3. The Sony might have the edge in terms of HDR performance but the JVCs include a dynamic iris, a lens memory feature, HDMI inputs that both support HDCP 2.24K/60p at 4:4:4 and, in the case of the X7900, a motorised lens cover.
Another manufacturer that has been very strong in this price range is Epson, especially with their EH-TW9300 which offers exceptional value at £2,999. This projector uses a similar approach to JVC's e-shift and also supports HDR, WCG and 3D, it also includes a motorised lens cover, a lens memory and a dynamic iris. Epson were also the first manufacturer to offer a laser projector at anything approaching a sensible price and the EH-LS10500 is another great alternative. It currently retails for £5,999 and includes the same resolution enhancement features found on the TW9300 but obviously uses a laser light source with a longer and more consistent lifespan. The LS10500 also supports both 3D and HDR and, whilst not the brightest projector, its laser light source can deliver over 100% of DCI-P3.
Although JVC and Epson have dominated the sub-£5,000 market of late, there have been a number of DLP projectors that, whilst not native 4K, are capable of accepting a 4K signal and use four million mirrors and diagonal shift technology to deliver a higher resolution experience. Of the ones that we've reviewed so far, the Optoma UHD65 is the most impressive, offering a great SDR performance and excellent motion handling, along with a decent HDR performance. Although the projector lacks WCG and 3D support and the lens controls aren't motorised, it also retails for just £2,999 making it a bit of a bargain in projector terms.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels8
2D Picture Quality9
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use9
Value For Money8
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