Sony's VW300 brings affordable 4K to the projector market
What is the VW300ES?The VPL-VW300ES is Sony's latest native 4K SRXD projector and brings Ultra HD projection to a previously unheard of price point. The VW300ES can be picked up for £5,800, which might sound like a lot but when you compare it to previous native 4K projectors it represents a real breakthrough in terms of price. The first 4K projector we reviewed - Sony's VPL-VW1000ES - retailed for over £17,000, whilst last year's VPL-VW500ES would have set you back £8,800. So considering that the VW300 shares many of the same features as the VW500, that £5,800 asking price starts to look very attractive.
What have Sony dropped to hit that price point? Surprisingly little actually. The VW300 loses the dynamic iris found on the more expensive machine, although it's debatable whether that's actually much of a loss. It's also slightly less bright at 1,500 lumens instead of 1,700 and there's no lens memory function, although that's only really an issue if you use a 2.35:1 screen. Sony have however added a couple of new features including a low latency (input lag) feature for gamers and compatibility with Creston and Control4 for home automation, which will please the custom installers.
Design & ConnectionsThe VW300 uses exactly the same chassis as the more expensive VW500 and that's no bad thing. The design is attractive, with a matte black finish and textured rough surface; whilst the build quality is very good. The large lens is centrally mounted with an air intake vent surrounding it and exhaust vents on either side. Along the right hand side there are some basic controls and on the other side is an access panel for changing the lamp. The VW300 uses a 2.06x zoom ratio, along with 85% vertical and 31% horizontal lens shift. The lens controls are motorised but there is no lens memory feature.
The VW300 retains the attractive design and decent build quality found on the more expensive VW500.
All the connections can be found in a recessed area along the left hand side of the chassis and here you'll find two HDMI inputs, an Ethernet port, an RS232 serial connector, an IR In and two 12v triggers. There's also a USB port for software updates and the HDMI inputs can handle 4K signals (both 4096 x 2160 and 3840 x 2160) at up to 60p but only with 4:2:0 chroma subsampling and 8-bit video. They are not compatible 4:4:4 or even 4:2:2 for 4K at 50/60p, although since the full Ultra HD 4K specifications have yet to be agreed that might not be an issue, and HDMI Input 2 is compatible with HDCP 2.2 copy protection.
The VW300 comes with Sony’s standard projector remote control (RM-PJ24), which is a well-designed and easy to use controller. There is a backlight for use in the dark and the buttons are sensibly laid out, allowing you to quickly access all the key features on the projector. The VW300 supports active shutter 3D but doesn't come with any glasses included. However it is compatible with Sony's TDG-BT500A glasses, which you can buy separately. These glasses use the active shutter RF 3D standard, require a CR2025 battery and have an operating life of 100 hours.
Features & SpecsThe VW300 uses a native SXRD 4K panel which complies with the full DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) specifications for 4K - 4096 x 2160 pixels at an aspect ratio of 17:9 - and can accept the Ultra High Definition standard which is 3840 x 2160 pixels with an aspect ratio of 16:9. The VW300 is also a reasonably bright projector, with a claimed output of 1,500 lumens and low and high lamp settings; although there is no dynamic or manual iris feature. The VW300 is classified as a Triluminos display which means it has a wider colour gamut, although not as wide as the DCI colour space.
The VW300 includes Sony's Reality Creation image engine, which is optimised to scale SD, HD and 3D content to match the higher resolution of the panel. It does this by using an image processing algorithm and image databases that Sony have accumulated over the last decade. There is one database for processing the majority of material and another which is specifically for processing Sony's 'Mastered in 4K' Blu-rays. Since Sony know the algorithms and filters used to down-convert the original 4K source to 1080p Blu-ray, they can be used to up-scale the Blu-ray, thus retaining as much of the original information as possible.
As with other Sony projectors, the VW300 includes Motionflow which offers a total of five different settings. The first two are Smooth High and Smooth Low, which apply frame interpolation and the next is Impulse, which uses dark frame insertion. Then there is a setting called Combination which, as the name suggests, combines Smooth and Impulse. There is also the True Cinema mode which turns off the frame interpolation and instead projects 24p content at a multiple of that number in order to retain that film-like quality with motion.
Another useful feature on the VW300 is a panel alignment function that can either move the red or blue panel over the entire picture or in a number of different zones. This allows for a high level of control, enabling the user to align the three panels precisely. The VW300 also includes a two-point white balance control for calibrating the greyscale and a full colour management system (CMS) for calibrating the colour gamut. Finally the VW300 is compatible with Sony's 1FU-WH1 wireless HDMI adapter, which makes connecting the projector easier if long HDMI cable runs are impractical.
Despite the reduction in price, the VW300 retains many of the features found on the VW500.
The best picture preset to select is Reference, which turns off most of the unnecessary picture controls and selects the settings closest to the industry standards (D65, Rec.709). The gamma setting you select will depend on your environment but for our pitch black room we selected a 2.4 curve. Since there is no dynamic iris or a manual iris control, you only have the choice of low or high lamp control; we'd recommend Low for normal viewing and High for 3D content.
Subject to the type of content you are watching you can experiment with the Motionflow settings but we would always use True Cinema for 24p Blu-rays. The Brightness and Contrast settings can be adjusted depending on your environment and the Sharpness default setting of 10 was effectively zero in terms of doing nothing adverse to the picture. Since the native panel is actually 17:9, there is an Aspect Ratio control that scales 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 content to fill the panel. If you would like to learn more, take a look at our useful PicturePerfect guide and you can find the detailed settings for this particular review sample here.
The VW300 actually delivered a better out-of-the-box performance than the VW500, although that just might be because we had more time to run the lamp in during the review process. It's certainly an excellent set of measurements, with the greyscale largely staying below the threshold of three and the gamma curve tracking around our target of 2.4. There was a slight excess of red and deficit of blue in the brighter part of the scale but at least, unlike the VW500, we didn't have any problems with the gamma curves. The colour gamut performance was also an improvement over the VW500 but again it might just be the result of a longer running in period; you really need to put at least 50 hours on a new bulb before calibrating. The luminance (brightness) performance was excellent and the overall errors were below our threshold of three. There were some errors in the hue of red and here and saturation of magenta but in general this is a great out-of-the-box performance.
The VW300 includes a two-point white balance control and given the excellent starting point it didn't take long to correct what errors there were. The Custom 3 setting in the Colour Temperature sub-menu is the same starting point as the D65 setting and after a few clicks on the gain and bias controls we had a reference performance. As well as two-point white balance control, the VW300 includes a colour management system (CMS) with control over the hue, saturation and brightness of all three primary and all three secondary colours. We were thus able to quickly correct the minor errors in red and magenta, resulting in a reference colour performance. The VW300 also delivered an excellent performance in the saturation sweep (25 to 100%), with all the colours measuring at or very close to their targets. This just confirmed what we could already see with our own eyes, the Sony was capable of a highly accurate performance in terms of both its greyscale and colour gamut.
The greyscale and colours were excellent, whilst the Sony gave a reference performance after calibration.
Sony VPL-VW300ES Video Review
Sony VW300 Picture QualityWhilst we didn't have a VW500 on hand to make a direct comparison, based upon memory and re-reading the original review, the VW300 appeared to deliver an almost identical performance. In fact in some ways it even seemed slightly better and the out-of-the-box performance was definitely superior, whilst we didn't have the same problems with the gamma curves and 3D.
This is a key area when it comes to a native 4K projector because, for the time being, almost all the content you watch will be upscaled to match the higher resolution panel. Here the VW300 is identical to its more expensive sibling and delivered a fantastic performance, scaling content effectively without introducing any obvious artefacts. The VW300 passed all of our usual video processing tests and overall the quality of the deinterlacing and scaling was excellent.
It's debatable how effective Reality Creation is on a Full HD display because there's a tendency for the algorithms to give content a processed and artificial look. However with a native 4K display it can be very effective in giving high definition the appearance of greater detail. It's a trick of course, Reality Creation can't add resolution that wasn't in the original content but the processing does a remarkable job of upscaling lower resolution content to match the 4K panel.
The resulting images are genuinely impressive as Reality Creation takes full advantage of the additional pixels without resorting to unnecessary sharpening. Whilst the processing can be applied to all content, with Blu-rays the results are just spectacular. We knew that Reality Creation couldn't be adding what isn't there but images did appear more detailed. This was especially true of content shot digitally but we found that the algorithms struggled more with film grain, so some experimentation is probably best.
We used our FPD Benchmark test disc to measure the motion resolution of the VW300 at around 300 lines which is to be expected with an SXRD projector. This could be improved to around 450 lines by using the Motionflow feature but we would never use this with film based content; although there is room for experimentation when it comes to sports or games. When watching 24p Blu-rays we always used the True Cinema mode and in general we found the motion handling to be rather good for an SXRD projector.
Black Levels and Contrast Ratio
Sony have made some impressive advances in terms of black levels on their projectors and so the absence of the dynamic iris isn't as big a loss as some might expect. We have always disliked using a dynamic iris as a way of improving the perceived black levels and dynamic range of a projector and would probably turn it off even if the VW300 did have one. However as it stood the native black levels were actually very good and with a lamp rated at 1,500 lumens the VW300 could produce an effective dynamic range. We would have liked to see a manual control for the iris because that way you could close it down to improve the blacks and then open it out as the lamp ages; however overall we were impressed by the black levels on the VW300.
Native 4K Performance
Sony kindly provided us with a media drive that included various clips at 4K resolution, with some at 60p and others at 24p. Sadly we still haven't managed to watch an entire film in 4K on a Sony projector, which makes you wonder why they even bothered buying Columbia Pictures if they aren't going to use the films to help promote their technology. Still our annoyance was mitigated as soon as we started watching a clip from Elysium in 4K on the VW300. Whilst you can debate the merits of 4K on smaller screen sizes, there's no denying the impact and benefits on a ten foot screen. As we went through the various clips the level of detail was astonishing and the VW300 delivered wonderfully bright and accurate 4K images. There were no signs of artefacts or sharpening and the motion handling was excellent, so all we need now is some more 4K content!
High Definition Performance
Sadly in the continued absence of much actual 4K content, we were left watching upscaled Full HD Blu-rays but thankfully the VW300 didn't disappoint in this area. Just like the more expensive VW500, the Sony produced a lovely projected image that took full advantage of its accurate greyscale and colours, along with its higher resolution panel. We watched a number of Blu-rays including Jurassic Park III, Star Wars, Back to the Future and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and the results were always spectacular. The images were detailed and natural, the blacks levels were very good and there shadow detail was excellent. The VW300 handled motion well and Reality Creation made sure the images matched the native 4K panel effectively. Overall the VW300 delivered a very film-like and highly entertaining experience.
This was one area where the VW500 definitely disappointed us when we reviewed it last year. The 3D suffered from excessive crosstalk and an issue with inverted backgrounds. It might just have been a problem with our review sample but we have heard reports of similar problems from some VW500 owners. Thankfully these problems seemed to have been eliminated because although there was still occasional crosstalk, especially with objects in extreme parallax, there were no issue with inverted backgrounds and overall the 3D performance of the VW300 was excellent. The VW300 will switch to high lamp power with 3D content but you can still use the calibration controls to fine tune the performance.
As with the VW500, there are no glasses included but Sony provided some for the review. We like the new glasses, the lenses are less tinted, the frames lighter and they're much more comfortable to wear. There is a lack of shielding at the sides but this isn't a problem in a darkened home cinema and the glasses paid with the VW300 without any issues, maintaining a robust connection. We watched James Cameron's Deepsea Challenge documentary on 3D Blu-ray, along with the 3D Blu-rays of X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In each case the VW300 delivered an effective and highly immersive 3D experience, with bright images, natural colours, plenty of depth and minimal crosstalk.
We're not sure that many gamers are going to drop £5,800 on a native 4K projector but if gaming is important to you, Sony have added a low latency feature. This is designed to reduce input lag by by-passing certain processing, although since we had most of the processing turned off, we're not sure exactly what else it was by-passing. However the VW300 certainly proved responsive in terms of gaming, especially with the new feature on, and made a great companion to our PS4, which is undoubtedly what Sony had in mind.
The VW300 delivered a fantastic performance with 4K but was just as impressive with Full HD and 3D.
- Native 4K projection
- Excellent video processing
- Decent black levels
- Reference greyscale and colour
- Good build quality
- Great price
- No dynamic iris
- No lens memory
- No 3D glasses included
Sony VPL-VW300ES (VW300) 4K Projector Review
Should I buy one?
Some people might question the logic of awarding a Best Buy badge to a projector that costs £5,800 but when you take into account the price of Sony's other 4K projectors it starts to look like remarkable value. In fact when you consider how similar the VW300 is to the much more expensive VW500, you wonder how Sony is actually making any money. The chassis is nicely designed and well made and the features and accessories are very good. The setup is easy, the out-of-the-box performance excellent and the calibration controls effective. The VW300 might be missing the dynamic iris but the blacks are still surprisingly good and it delivered plenty of brightness. The motion handling was good for an SXRD projector, the 3D was immersive and Reality Creation took full advantage of the 4K panel when scaling high def content. Although if you've got any actual 4K content to watch that will, of course, look spectacular on a big screen.
What are the alternatives?
If you're in the market for a native 4K projector then Sony is currently the only game in town and the VPL-VW300ES sets a new benchmark in terms of price. It would be nice if Sony could get the VW300's price below the psychological £4,999 barrier but either way it still offers an excellent level of performance for the price. The only real alternatives at this price are JVC's DLA-X700, which currently retails for around the same price, and the DLA-X500 which costs about £3,999. Both include deeper blacks, a dynamic iris and lens memory but they don't use a native 4K panel. Instead JVC has included their proprietary e-Shift technology, although both projectors can accept a 4K signal. The X500 and X700 are excellent projectors but if you're looking for native 4K at anything approaching a sensible price, then the VW300ES is the only game in town at this price point.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels9
2D Picture Quality9
3D Picture Quality9
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box9
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money10
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.