Sony VPL-VW360ES 4K SXRD Projector Review
Keeping it native...
What is the Sony VW360ES?This is Sony’s latest mid-range consumer 4K projector that will retail for £6,999.99 and once again uses native 4K (4096 x 2160) SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) panels and is compatible with the Ultra HD format (3840 x 2160). Sony are aiming to get the technology in to the consumer market at lower price points, but haven’t quite managed to break the £5K and under barrier yet. The recently reviewed VPL-VW260ES gets close at £5,199 but has had to drop a number of features to achieve that price point. The VPL-VW360ES that we are reviewing here manages to keep some of the more desirable features but is more expensive as a result.
The VW360ES boasts full lens memory for enthusiasts using scope ratio screens, it is HDR 10 and HLG compatible, features Sony’s TRILUMINOS colour system for wider colours, has Motionflow for smoother images and is claimed to have a 200,000:1 contrast ratio. The build quality is the usual high standard and the lens system is yet again at the centre of the design but does the VW360ES offer enough in terms of features, performance and value for money to compete with the ‘faux’ 4K machines from JVC and Epson and the new breed of DLP ‘faux’ 4K beamers? Let’s find out...
Design, Connections and ControlThe first thing you will notice in the photo above is that this is a fingerprint hoarder of a projector. Obviously we are using strong video lights in a black room to get these photos, but the top surface was impossible to get clean due to the finish used and the front face we cleaned with everything we could find to no avail. However this is a review sample that has been handled many times and one installed in your home cinema will not attract as many finger prints, or be seen under such strong lighting. But it is worth bearing in mind that the plastics and top surface do attract dust and prints.
In terms of design the company are aiming to get native 4K to mass-market price points and as such what we get is functional and plastic. Build quality is not quite as strong as it used to be with the chassis feeling basic in form even with its rounded top and stipple finish. That’s not to say this projector will fall apart easily, more that if you have owned or spent time with premium Sony projectors of old, the VW360ES doesn’t have the same feel. That said what we do get works well with the lens centrally mounted and surrounded by the gold coloured air intake and to either side of this on the front panel are air exhausts. With the air intakes and exhausts at the front of the projector, and the connections based at the side of the chassis, this allows the VW360ES to be placed within a hush box or right up against the back wall, maximising throw length in tighter rooms. Apart from two indicator lights at the front and a Sony and 4K SXRD Logo on the top of the unit, there is nothing else to draw the eye with the VW360ES design. Overall we get a simple and functional chassis design that is identical to the VW260ES and previous mid-range 4K units from Sony.The connections are placed on the left hand side of the chassis looking from the front and are located within a slight recess, which helps with cable management when ceiling mounted. There are only two video inputs on the VW360ES with the rest of the connectors being there for control system use. Both of the HDMI inputs can accept HDCP 2.2 and 4K/60P signals at 4:2:0 10 bit, which means they will accept all current sources and viewing material but are not 18gbps, like some of the competition. We also have an Ethernet port and RS232 serial connector, a USB port, an IR In mini jack and two 12V triggers all of which are used for system control.
The remote control is the usual Sony projector unit, which is suitably backlit for use in a dark room with it’s trademark blue light. The layout is intuitive with the power and backlight keys to the top of the unit, followed by the picture mode selections for direct access to switch the picture style. We then have the menu keys and directional buttons which are fairly central and within easy reach of your thumb. These will be the most used keys on the remote so it is reassuring that they are easy to operate with just one hand on the controller. Below these are specific picture attribute controls for things like gamma and aspect ratio and to the very bottom are instant access controls for contrast, brightness and sharpness. Overall it is a well laid out and easy to use remote that fits neatly in the hand.
Sony are still the only game in town to offer native 4K images
Features and SpecsThe standout feature for the Sony VPL-VW360ES is the fact that it is a native 4K projector that uses 4096 x 2160 SXRD panels derived from Sony’s professional line of cinema projectors. This means that the VW360ES has a 17:9 aspect ratio but can easily accept Ultra HD 3840 x 2160 signals and display them correctly using a slight zoom within the projector. You can also display these natively, which leaves a border around the image, so we suggest using the 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 zoom that doesn’t affect the image resolution or quality. The lens is high quality but Sony have been reluctant to give us the full details of the lens make up, but there are some plastic elements in there to reduce costs. However you would be hard pushed to notice any visual issues because of this. Sadly there is no motorised lens cover, just a manual plastic bung for when the projector is not in use.
The brightness is claimed to be 1500 lumens, which is the same as the VW260ES, and in all honesty the two projectors are almost identical when it comes to specifications. There’s TRILUMINOS colour, 3D playback, motionflow, High Dynamic Range (HDR10) and Hybrid-Log Gamma (HLG) support, motorised lens shift, zoom and focus controls and wide colour gamut (DCI-P3 within Rec.2020). There is no support for Dolby Vision and the VW360ES can’t be updated to accept it later on either. However there are a couple of features the VPL-VW360 does have over the VW260. The first is a dynamic iris with two settings as well as a manual iris option to improve the light output within a dedicated cinema room and the lens memory function for use with a scope screen. I certainly find that a must these days on a projector as I use a 10 foot scope screen from Screen Excellence with enlighter 4K material. Other features in the VW360 are also shared with the VW260 and include reality creation, which adds sharpening and enhancement based on Sony’s proprietary database, along with contrast enhancer features, cinema black pro and control of the lamp output. While it is a good set of features there is nothing here that we haven’t seen on previous Sony projectors or their competitors, so there is no revolutionary step forward to be had with the VW360ES.
Out-of-the-Box SettingsAs always we used our Klein K10-A colour meter, CalMAN Ultimate software and Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator to measure the best out of the box settings to find those which would get us close to the industry standards without a full calibration. We found that the Reference or User picture mode with gamma at 2.1, White Balance set to custom 2 and colour set to BT709 gave us the best results with contrast and brightness set to the room conditions and all other features (such as Reality Creation, Motionflow etc.) switched off. We will explain the gamma setting below.
As you can see in the greyscale graph (top left) we have tracking which has a deficit of red energy towards the brighter end of the scale and slightly too much green. This results in some DeltaE errors which are over the visible threshold of 3 mainly in the mid and high end, but which don’t immediately cause any on-screen colour cast issues. Gamma is also close to tracking at 2.4 for dark room viewing, but there is a distinct tendency to have a slight s-curve to the gamma, and remember this is the 2.1 setting in the menus, which gets us close to 2.4 on screen. This is an issue with Sony projectors and one that is not easy to overcome and correct out of the box and which can cause some annoying issues.
Moving to the colour gamut (top right) and again we have a decent result for an out of the box setting. It certainly covers the Rec.709 gamut and luminance (not shown) is also very good with just some slight over saturation of the primary colours and yellow. However tracking is good and a few small adjustments should get things looking even better.
Calibrated SettingsThe VPL-VW360ES has a suite of calibration controls available so we set about trying to get the image quality as close to reference as possible. The aim is to always try and see things as the content creators intended and the Sony does a decent job out of the box, but hopefully we should get even better with a professional calibration.
In most reviews you will see the graphs above and they will look really nice with hardly any issues visible. But this never tells the whole story and as you can see above (top left) the greyscale tracking is improved, but we still have deltaE errors higher than we would like and gamma is also now tracking slightly higher than we would like. The issue is a strange behind the scenes dimming feature that adjust gamma on the fly and as such doesn’t allow the greyscale to be adjusted fully, plus there are no custom gamma settings. As such the above result is the best we were able to achieve with the calibration tools provided on the Sony and in the box. There is a separate gamma editor that probably would work with the VW360ES to help slightly, but as it is not provided as part of the package and you will have to buy in-store, it wouldn’t have been fair to use it here to manipulate the results. As such we are slightly disappointed with the result here and the reason we believe it is happening – Dynamic iris was off, yet there was still some dimming and gamma manipulation going on.
Thankfully with the colour gamut (top right) the colour management tools available allowed us to tidy up the oversaturation and get the tracking at 25, 50 and 75% saturation better as well as making sure the luminance (not shown) was also correct, giving us the best possible colour fidelity. We only had issues with red that could produce errors that might be visible with actual onscreen material, but overall the results were decent enough, just disappointing at the price point and there seems to be some behind the scenes issues with dimming affecting results.
HDR ResultsWe should start this section of the review by reminding readers that HDR on a projector is not the same experience as HDR on a TV display. The two technologies are completely different in how they make up their picture and as such, with restricted brightness, a projector can’t reach the same massive dynamic shifts in image brightness and detail that an OLED and LED LCD TV can. It is a different ‘look’ on a projector where the dynamic range still counts, but specular highlights struggle and clipping is more common. However other attributes do transfer over well such as a wider colour gamut, excellent shadow detail and resolution.
We tested and measured the Sony by sending a 3840 x 2160 24p 10-bit 4:2:2 signal with HDR metadata and Rec. 2020 gamut signal via our Murideo which mimics a signal sent by a UHD Blu-ray player. The VW360ES detected the signal correctly and switched to HDR mode where (HDR) is now placed next to Contrast in the menu system. This contrast control is set to the mid point of 50 and in testing moving this higher does add more brightness in stages to the image but at the same time it starts to seriously clip high level detail. We found that 50 was the sweet spot for the majority of content mastered up to 2000 nits, but clipping did occur after that due to the tone mapping used. We measured the black level in HDR mode at 0.020 nits and the peak brightness on a 10% window at 401 nits in high lamp mode, which is 20,050:1 and decent for a projector.
In terms of tracking the EOTF PQ and greyscale performance (top left) the VW360ES was almost identical to the VW260ES in results. The greyscale tracked well with just a slight yellow tint in the brighter reaches of the image and the EOTF tracking was decent enough with clipping held back until over 2000nits or thereabouts. Again this was with the out of the box presets for contrast, in particular, at the mid-point. Any higher tidied up the graph results but started clipping highlights severely.
With Rec.2020 the VW360ES managed to cover 63% of the range and that is without a filter being used in the Sony. For DCI-P3 it was 93% coverage, which is again very good.
MORE: What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?
The actual tracking of the colour points for DCI-P3 within Rec.2020 (top right) was again identical to the VW260ES, which again points to them being identical in performance terms with a few slight differences in features. Overall the VW360ES tracking is good and allows for a decent performance with wide gamut 4K Blu-rays, were colours appear saturated but natural.
PerformanceThe VW360ES is an expensive projector in the home cinema market and of course the big reason for this is the fact that it uses native 4K panels. These are ported over from Sony’s professional cinema division and economies of scale do help in bringing the technology to the consumer marketplace, but there is still a cost associated and that reflects in the RRP here. Sony can quite rightly shout about the fact that they are the only native 4K game in town when it comes to projectors, but as we all know resolution is just one part of a far larger number of attributes that make a good quality image. We also happened to have the JVC DLA-X7900 projector turn up for review while we were testing the VW360ES and as such did a number of comparisons given the similar specs but big difference in price. So let’s get the resolution argument out of the way first of all. During testing and from a normal seating distance there was very little in it when it came down to resolution on its own between the native 4K Sony and the E-Shift JVC. As you get closer to the screen it is a bit more obvious, but again it is not night and day. It is other image attributes such as black levels, shadow detail retrieval, gamma tracking, greyscale, colour accuracy and more, which make for an excellent projected image.
One thing that stood out with SDR and HDR viewing material was the gamma manipulation and dimming which affected the image. The dynamic iris was switched off yet the image still dimmed oddly during scene switches and hand shakes and with viewing material we were seeing more in the shadows than we should. This points back to the gamma results in our testing where there is no accuracy in the selections made, so 2.0 measures closer to 2.4 but with a slight s-curve. Trying to adjust for this usually ended up in crushing detail and robbing the image of any dynamic range, but at the same time images also tended to look a little less glossy and punchy due to the gamma shifts with shadow detail. Scenes such as the cigar reveal in Oblivion (a scene I have viewed a few times with the grader and colourist on reference screens as it should be viewed) displays too much detail in the blacks where it should be solid black. A scene the JVC nails every time but where the Sony just reveals too much. There will be end users who will like the look that the VW360ES displays, but for me it was frustrating that we couldn’t get it to display the image, as it should be seen. Now that might sound like a major issue but what we are actually talking about are fine hairs in performance where the Sony just needs to change the way the gamma is being shifted. And the reason it is probably an issue has to do with how it is set up to tone map HDR content, as I can’t think of any other viable reason it would do this. Because we have a manual iris as well as a dynamic two-stage system means that black levels can be set low enough in a bat cave environment like ours to get the most dynamic range out of the image. Again the JVC X7900 is better with black levels and shadow detail when it comes to SDR material. That’s not to say the Sony is poor, no, it is actually very good and is not far from the JVC in performance terms, but the black floor is certainly raised slightly. Motion has always been a Sony strong point and even with MotionFlow switched off the VW360ES is able to portray film images with no induced judder. Interestingly we only have the Impulse setting available on the VW360ES under MotionFlow and this didn’t appear to offer any visible improvement, but at the same time it also didn’t introduce the unwanted soap opera effect to film material.
There is no doubting that the VW360ES is a home cinema thoroughbred with good brightness, superb colour reproduction and excellent sharpness with normal Blu-ray material, such as our regular test disc of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. If you’re a regular reader of our reviews I don’t need to go into the finer points of this scene in great detail, but the VW360ES manages to provide a whisper quiet performance in low lamp mode that doesn’t distract from the quietness of the soundmix developing as the camera pulls back on Caesar in the thunderstorm. Colour fidelity is superb with the greens and browns of the tree bark and moss, along with excellent shadow detail in the ape’s fur and crisp lines of the facial expressions. Blacks could be slightly deeper and there is more punch in the JVC with this scene due to better gamma tracking, but again we are nit picking here. The Sony manages a really nice cinematic performance that is bright and bold.
Passengers have excellent range with the bright stars against the black of space and the lights of the ship. Close ups on the helmet lights show excellent depth to faces and if we had any complaint it is probably that there is more detail visible than there should be, so it just feels a little flat compared to the JVC with the same scene. However swapping to The Revenant reverses the trend where the bright, crisp and cold vistas of the west are brought to life with stunning detail and realism. The clean digital image pops off the screen and even in the tricky night scenes, where natural light is all that is used, the VW360ES gives an excellent account of its capabilities. It’ll never get close to the HDR performance of an OLED and LED LCD TV in terms of brightness or latitude, but there is also something magical about a projected image where the HDR does make an improvement within the limitations of the technology and for me the Sony just pips the JVC here for absolute performance.
Finally we wanted to test the 3D capabilities of the VW360ES but couldn’t get the glasses we had to hand to work at all. Sony also don’t provide any glasses with the review samples so sadly it looks like the format is being slowly forgotten about, which is a shame.
- Native 4K projector
- Good video processing
- Excellent motion
- Excellent colour accuracy after calibration
- Good HDR performance
- Lens memory function
- Manual iris
- Easy set up
- Behind the scenes dimming and gamma manipulation
- Could be more accurate out of the box
- Mixed black level performance
- Expensive compared to competition
Sony VPL-VW360ES 4K SXRD Projector ReviewThe VPL-VW360ES is yet another native 4K projector from Sony, which attempts to get the cost of such technology down to a more reasonable level for the consumer. But there is no getting away from the fact that at £6,999 it is £1,800 more expensive than the very similar VPL-VW260ES and the only differences are the inclusion of a lens memory function plus a manual and dynamic iris, while the main accuracy for SDR and HDR image quality is roughly the same for both models. As Steve suggests in his review of the VW260 it would appear that Brexit and the value of the pound has had some impact on the costs involved to get this technology down to more affordable levels, which is a shame. The performance is very good and the features include HDR 10, Wide Colour Gamut without using a filter in the light path along with support for the upcoming Hybrid-Log Gamma (HLG) broadcast system for HDR, but there is no support for Dolby Vision. Also bundled in here is that lens memory function, MotionFlow, 3D Playback and Reality Creation technologies and the dynamic Iris. But is native 4K enough to justify the price tag?
We certainly found that at times the Sony really struggled to elevate itself above the much cheaper but similarly specified JVC DLA-X7900 we had in for review at the same time. Black levels are a little elevated in comparison and there is a weird behind the scenes gamma adjustment taking place which can give images too much shadow detail and not quite enough pop compared to the JVC. But at the same time the colour accuracy is good for both SDR and HDR once calibrated and we would absolutely recommend that is the case when spending this much on a projector. Plus the type of environment is important for the performance levels achievable from the Sony and it should be used in a light controlled room with dark surfaces and a high quality screen to get the best out of it. A projector like this will suffer in an all-white room.
The VW360ES is a very good home cinema projector with excellent image quality in SDR but which also gives an excellent account of itself with the harder HDR format. As we covered earlier, a projector will always struggle to give the same type of bang for your buck with HDR compared to a TV, but at the same time it has its own unique approach to how an HDR image is displayed, being a projected image and lacking absolute brightness. In this respect the VW360ES really is a great performer with a strong degree of latitude between black and highlights without too much clipping in the image. In this respect it performed slightly better with real world HDR than the JVC did. It is expensive but if you want the best native 4K projector with all the features under £10K, this is the only game in town and despite our caveats it comes recommended.
What are my alternatives?
Well the most obvious alternative, if you can do without the dynamic iris and lens memory functions but still want a native 4K projector, is the VW260ES, which has to be the better choice for £1,800 less than the VW360ES. If you want to keep all the features like manual and dynamic iris controls, with lens memory and add in wide colour, HDR, HLG, better black levels and shadow retrieval, HDMI inputs that are 18Gbps ready and will accept 4:4:4 60 4K signals along with a motorised lens cover and much more it has to be the £5,699 JVC DLA-X7900. It is not a native 4K projector but with E-Shift and at sensible viewing distances you will be hard pushed to see the resolution differences over and above the other attributes like a better black performance and shadow detail retrieval. It's also £1300 cheaper and is available in white and black finishes to match those available on the Sony. Although, if you are happy to lose the filter and lens cover, the £3,999 DLA-X5900 should also be on your demo list.
If you are happy to go with the various varieties of faux 4K technologies out there you can also get very similar performance to these higher end machines for much less cash. Keeping the motorised lens and colour filter, plus decent HDR and black levels at the stunning price of £2,999 is the Epson TW9300. It uses a similar approach to the JVC’s and also supports HDR, WCG, lens memory, dynamic iris and 3D. Slightly more expensive, but using a laser light source to give a more consistent performance is the Epson LS10500 at £5,999. It also covers 100% of DCI-P3 with HDR 10 standards and you’ll never need to buy a bulb ever again.
Finally there is also a whole new breed of faux 4K DLP projectors hitting the market from BenQ, Acer and Optoma. While the black levels and the colour accuracy can’t match the more expensive machines, the Optoma UHD65 does offer a bright and colourful image which will work in less than ideal rooms for a very reasonable £2,999.
MORE: Projector Reviews
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels8
2D Picture Quality9
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box8
Picture Quality Calibrated9
Ease Of Use9
Value For Money7
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