Is it the leader of the resolution revolution?
What is the Sony VPL-VW500ES?
There’s no denying that Sony really shook the market up when they released the VW1000.Not only was it the first native 4K projector available to the consumer but it was a remarkable technological achievement. Some might consider the £17,000 asking price a bit steep but when you consider the cost of the competition and the fact that you were essentially getting a cinema grade projector, suddenly it didn’t seem that bad. We were certainly impressed when we reviewed it here and it was only the lack of a CMS and any 4K content that prevented the VW1000 from earning a Reference Status. Sony has since launched the VW1100 which adds HDMI support for 4K at up to 60p but is essentially the same core projector with the same hefty price tag.
However at IFA, this year, Sony had a surprise up their sleeves when they announced the VPL-VW500ES. Not only did this new projector offer native 4K capabilities but it included features not found on the VW1000 like a CMS and improved HDMI support. It would also be available at a very attractive £8,500 which essentially smashed the price barrier for native 4K projection and put the new Sony in direct competition with JVC’s X700 and X900 projectors. Whilst 4K content is still rather thin on the ground, there is the potential for increased sources in 2014. So with that possibility and the promise of a performance on a par with the VW1000 but for half the price, is the VW500 the projector that enthusiasts have been waiting for?
Design and ConnectionsAt first glance the VW500 is very similar to the VW1000 with a black matte finish and a rough feel to the surface of the chassis. There is a centrally mounted lens with air intakes around and exhaust vents on either side. Along one edge there are some basic controls and along the other are a set of connections. However, that’s where the similarities end because, on closer inspection, you can see where Sony has been forced to cut corners in order to hit the lower price point. The first obvious difference is that the VW500 is smaller but that’s no bad thing as the VW1000 was a bit of a beast. The new model uses a new lens and bent optical block, which maximises imaging efficiency whilst significantly reducing the length of the chassis.
The other obvious difference is the lens itself, which was a huge 18-piece all glass affair on the VW1000. Thanks to advances in plastic lenses, Sony are able to utilise a 14-piece array with a large aspheric plastic lens at the front and a 13 glass lenses within. This allows the VW500 to deliver the required level of sharpness for 4K but at a considerable reduction in both cost and weight. The sliding lens cover has also gone and the overall construction doesn’t feel as solid as the VW1000 but, as we said, Sony had to make certain changes to shave off the production costs. That isn’t to suggest that the VW500 isn’t well made and it certainly compares to the competition in terms of build quality. The VW500 uses a 2.06x zoom ratio, along with 85% vertical and 31% horizontal lens shift, which makes installation easier and there's a lens memory feature as well.
The new model uses a bent lens block, maximising optical efficiency whilst reducing the length of the chassis.
This flexibility is also helped by the connections and lamp access being at the side. Whilst the air intake and exhaust vents being at the front means you can position the VW500 right up against a wall, thus maximising the throw distance. In terms of connections Sony have dropped all the analogue inputs (D-sub and component) which makes sense, as well as the 3D Sync which is redundant now that the VW500 has RF built-in. There are two HDMI inputs, an Ethernet port, an RS232 serial connector, an IR In and two 12v triggers. There is also a new USB port for software updates. 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, it is not compatible with 4:4:4 or even 4:2:2 for 4K at 50/60p. However since the 4K specifications are still being agreed, this is something of a moot point for now.
The VW500 comes with Sony’s standard RM-PJ24 remote and this remains 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 VW500. This year Sony have dropped their infra-red 3D transmitter in favour of a built-in RF transmitter with a 10m effective radius. The obvious advantage is that you don’t need line-of-sight but it does, by necessity, mean a new design of 3D glasses. Sony’s previous TDG-PJ1 design can not be used with the VW500 and instead you will need the latest TDG-BT500A model. This new design has an open frame, which has become increasingly popular with manufacturers, and is compatible with the active shutter RF 3D standard. It also uses a CR2025 battery and has an operating life of 100 hours. Strangely Sony don’t include any glasses with the VW500, so you’ll need to buy them separately.
MenusThe VW500 uses the same monochromatic menu system that Sony have been using for a few years now and we like it. The menus are concise, clearly laid out and easy to navigate. The Picture menu provides a number of calibrated presets that can also be accessed directly from the remote control. These presets include Cinema Film 1 and 2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema and Bright TV. The Picture menu also includes all the usual image controls such as Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Hue and again, Contrast and Brightness can be accessed directly from the remote control.
Also in the Picture menu there is the control for the Reality Creation feature and the Cinema Black Pro function, which is Sony's name for their dynamic iris feature. Next there is the Motionflow sub-menu, where you can set the frame interpolation feature, although we obviously turned it off preferring the True Cinema option which retained the film-like quality of 24p content. Then there was the Sharpness control which can also be accessed directly from the remote and which we left at the default setting of 10 because any higher added unwanted ringing and any lower resulted in a softening of the image.
Within the Picture menu, there are two further controls, one for the Colour Temperature and one for the Expert settings. The Colour Temperature control lists the correct colour temperature standards, including D65 which is the industry standard for the majority of consumer content. There are six Custom colour temperature settings which allow access to a two point white balance control for calibration. The Custom 3 setting uses D65 as its starting point, so it can also be used in lieu of the actual D65 setting if you wish. The white balance control allows the user to adjust the amounts of red, green and blue at two specific points in order to calibrate the greyscale exactly to D65.
The Expert sub-menu provides additional controls for correctly setting up the VW500 as well as a number of less useful features. There were controls for Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction, Smooth Gradation, Clear White and x.v.Colour - all of which we left off. There is a control for selecting the Gamma Correction which gives options from 1.8 to 2.6, as well as four other curves and an off setting. There is also a control for selecting the Colour Space with various choices including BT.709 which is the industry standard for most consumer content. Finally under Colour Correction there is a full colour management system (CMS).
FeaturesIn terms of features on the VW500, the most obvious is the use of a native SXRD 4K panel. This panel actually complies with the full DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) specifications for 4K which is 4096 x 2160 pixels at an aspect ratio of 17:9. However the VW500 can also accept the Ultra High Definition standard which is 3840 x 2160 pixels. This is a fairly unique feature and currently Sony are the only manufacturer to offer native 4K projectors in the consumer market. The VW500 is also a reasonably bright projector, with a claimed 1,700 lumens output. There are low and high settings for the lamp, with low is the preferred choice for 2D viewing but the VW500 automatically switches to the high power mode when projecting 3D content. There is also a dynamic contrast feature using Sony’s Advance Iris3, which opens and closes the iris depending on the brightness of the scene. The VW500 is also classified as Triluminos display which means it has a wider colour gamut, although not as wide as the VW1000 which could hit the DCI colour space.
As you would expect on a Sony projector, the VW500 has their proprietary 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 optimised image processing algorithm and an image database that Sony has accumulated over the last ten years. According to Sony, there are in fact two databases - a normal one for processing the majority of material and the “Mastered in 4K” database which is specifically for processing Blu-rays with the “Mastered in 4K” banner. The idea is that since Sony know the algorithms and filters that were used to down-convert the original 4K source to 1080p Blu-ray, these same filters and algorithms can be used to up-scale the Blu-ray and thus retain as much of the original information as possible. There is also a new accessory this year, the IFU-WH1 Wireless HDMI unit, which is sold separately. This unit wirelessly connects with the projector and transmits 1080p without the need for a HDMI cable; although it can’t handle 4K signals.
Sony has also simplified the Motionflow categories on the VW500 when compared to the VW1000. The Film Projection mode, which uses dark frame insertion, is now called Impulse, whilst the Motion Enhancer frame interpolation feature is now called Smooth High and Smooth Low. There is a new mode called Combination, which as the name might suggest combines Smooth and Impulse. There is also a True Cinema mode which turns off the frame interpolation and uses the old Auto 2 Film Mode from the previous generation of projectors. The VW500 includes a panel alignment function that can either move the red or blue panel over the entire picture or in one of 153 different zones. This allows for a high level of control, enabling the user to align the three panels precisely. As mentioned in the menu section the VW500 includes a two-point white balance control for calibrating the greyscale and a full colour management system (CMS) for calibrating the colour gamut. Finally there is a new built-in auto calibration feature that can save the calibrated settings and then use a built-in colour sensor to adjust them as the bulb ages.
The inclusion of an Auto Calibration feature that adjust the settings as the bulb ages is a nice touch.
We used the Reference preset for the out-of-the-box measurements because this setting is designed to present content as it was intended and in previous reviews we have found this to be the case. Certainly in the Reference preset the Colour Temperature defaults to D65, the Colour Space of BT.709 and the Gamma to 2.4 which looked promising. We would usually choose a gamma of 2.4 for our pitch black home cinema but we found that a gamma setting higher than 2.0 registered major errors on our review sample. After running some measurements we found that the 2.0 setting was actually the most consistent, measuring around 2.2. In the Reference preset the Noise Filtering defaults to off, as does the Advanced Iris, the Motionflow, the Smooth Gradation and the Clear White. All that was left was for us to adjust the Contrast and Brightness settings and just check that the Sharpness default setting of 10 was effectively zero in terms of doing nothing adverse to the picture, which it was.
As you can see in the graph on the top left there was an excess of red in the greyscale and although the overall errors weren't huge, there was some visible discolouration from 60 to 100IRE. The gamma tracked around our target of 2.2, going up to 2.3 in the middle of the range and dipping to 2.1 at 90IRE. The CIE chart in the top right graph shows how the colours measure against the industry standard of Rec.709 and overall they're quite accurate. There are some minor errors in the hue of red and green and you can clearly see white to be skewed away from the industry standard of D65 and towards red, which is to be expected given the excess of red in the greyscale.
The VW500 includes a two-point white balance control, so it was fairly easy to adjust the levels of the three primary colours so that they all measure at our target of 100. The result is a smooth transition from black to white with no discolouration and the errors now measured below two and most below one - which is imperceptible. There was nothing we could do to improve the gamma further but overall this was a reference greyscale performance. On the CIE chart you can now see white hitting its target of D65 precisely and unlike the VW1000, the new projector also includes a CMS. We thus able to calibrate a highly accurate colour performance from the VW500, with overall errors that were below one, and again this was a reference performance.As we've often mention in other reviews, the measurements shown in the CIE chart are only half the story because the colours are measured a 100% saturation. Obviously most content is not fully saturated, so how a display performs at lower saturation levels is equally as important. The VW500 delivered a superb performance in the saturation sweep, with all the colours measuring at or very close to their targets. This confirmed what we could already see with our own eyes, the VW500 was capable of a highly accurate performance in terms of both greyscale and colour gamut.
In the absence of any 4K content the VW500 will be judged primarily on the quality of its video processing so we started by putting a high resolution multiburst pattern up to see if there were any obvious scaling artefacts and at a normal viewing distance the Sony passed easily. The pattern looked exactly as it should and it was only when we got very close to the screen that we could see tiny scaling artefacts between the highest resolution lines. When we turned the Reality Creation function on, the test pattern appeared slightly more defined and whilst this is clearly due to a sharpening algorithm, the results were effective and didn't appear to introduce any further artefacts. When we turned it off the high resolution lines appeared slightly soft by comparison and this is probably the only example of where the sophisticated use of such techniques actually paid dividends.
Initially there was some minor misalignment of the blue panel but we were able to correct this with the panel alignment feature. We then moved on to our more general tests and VW500’s performance in these tests was very impressive indeed. In fact whilst the lower resolution of standard definition was evident, we had to remind ourselves that the Sony was scaling up to a resolution of 4K on our ten foot screen. The VW500 also performed superbly in all the tests on the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray using high definition content. With the 1080i tests, the VW500 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests and showed excellent scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. With 1080i material the projector had no difficulties in showing video text overlaid on film based material and also handled 24p content without any problems.
The VW500 handled all the other tests on the Spears & Munsil disc just as well, including showing all the peaks for the luma channels of the three primary colours and white, which was excellent. It also had no trouble showing detail all the way up to peak white, as well as only showing detail down to video level 17, below which represents reference black. This means that the VW500 was showing detail down to 17 but not below it which means it is correctly reproducing black whilst maintaining appropriate shadow detail. Using the FPD Benchmark test we could measure the motion resolution at around 300 lines which is to be expected with a 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 and in general we found the motion handling to actually be surprisingly good for a SXRD projector.
Sony VW500 Video Review
...the VW500 was capable of a highly accurate performance in terms of both greyscale and colour gamut.
Sony VPL-VW500ES Picture Quality 4KAt the risk of sounding blasé we've seen quite a lot of 4K content this year and it tends to get a bit boring watching the same travelogue shots or footage of adrenaline junkies jumping out of planes over Dubai. The VW500 quickly shook us out of our complacency as we had a rare chance to see 4K content projected onto a large screen. You can debate the merits of 4K on a smaller screen until the cows come home but projected onto a ten foot screen, the benefits are immediately obvious. The level of detail is astonishing and the VW500's bright and accurate 4K images just took our breath away. There were no signs of artefacts or sharpening and the motion handling was excellent. All that we were left with was a tantalising glimpse of the future. Hopefully Sony will launch their 4K download service in the UK next year and there's the chance 4K Blu-ray will be announced at CES because the sooner we can watch movies in 4K, the happier we will be.
In fact we'd go as far as to say that the Sony produces among the best projected images we've seen...
Sony VW500 Picture Quality SD/HDSadly in the continued absence of much actual 4K content, we are left watching upscaled 1080p Blu-rays but thankfully the VW500 doesn't disappoint. In fact we'd go as far as to say that the Sony produces among the best projected images we've seen and not just because of its higher resolution panel, although that certainly plays a part. As is always the case, the basis of any good image starts with an accurate greyscale and colour gamut and the VW500 has no problems there. It also has plenty of brightness and impressively deep blacks for a SXRD projector, resulting in a fantastic dynamic range. Sony really have made advances in terms of black levels on their projectors and you really don't need to resort to the dynamic iris any longer. Motion handling, which has never been a strong point of SXRD, also appears much improved with very little smearing or loss of resolution in moving objects.
The new lens proved to be more than up to the task and, when combined with the perfectly aligned panels, the clarity and preciseness of the imaging was astonishing. Of course the ace in the whole is Sony's Reality Creation image processing which does a remarkable job of upscaling content to match the 4K panel. The results are genuinely impressive with the algorithms taking full advantage of the additional pixels without resorting to unnecessary sharpening and on the VW500 Sony has included far greater control over the feature. Whilst the Reality Creation processing applies to all content, with Blu-rays the results are just spectacular. We knew that the VW500 couldn't add what wasn't there but would often swear the images appeared more detailed. When watching White House Down, we were just staggered at the level of detail on show and the beautifully rendered images looked remarkably film-like.
Strangely despite being a Sony movie White House Down wasn't a "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray but we did have a few to hand, including Total Recall, which we also have on "normal" Blu-ray. Despite Sony's claims the contrary we really couldn't see any perceivable difference between the two Blu-rays, so we'll probably just file "Mastered in 4K" Blu-rays along with our old "Superbit" DVDs. However that was a minor diversion because even with regular Blu-rays the results were so good that we found ourselves watching more and more of our favourite scenes. At least anyone thinking of buying the VW500 to afford themselves degree of future proofing can take comfort in the knowledge that they will gain immediate benefit from the Sony with lower resolution content.
The mediocre 3D performance is the only fly in the VW500's otherwise perfect ointment.
Sony VPL-VW500 Picture Quality 3DWe had been incredibly impressed by the 3D performance of the VW1000 and in fact we would go as far as to say it was the best we've seen with the possible exception of the £30,000 Sim2 3DS. So we had high hopes for the VW500 when it came to 3D, although we were disappointed to discover that there were no glasses provided with our review sample. Sony also hadn't shown any 3D content at the various demos we had attended because - in their own words - "3D is no longer focus". It took us over a week of asking before Sony finally provided us with a single pair of their new RF 3D glasses. Whilst we don't wish to sound like conspiracy theorists, once the glasses arrived we immediately discovered why Sony might not be so keen for us to test the 3D - it wasn't very good.
Given the absolutely staggering 2D images that the VW500 could produce , we were genuinely shocked at how poor the 3D performance was. At first we thought maybe there was problem with the setup of either the projector or the player but that wasn't the case. We had also run the bulb in for over 50 hours waiting for the glasses to arrive, so that wasn't an issue either and when we first started watching 3D content the projector had been been on for over 4 hours so the the bulb was suitably warmed up. Sadly there was only one conclusion, the mediocre 3D we were seeing were the result of the projector itself. Considering we had saved up 8 new 3D Blu-rays to watch on the VW500, it would be fair to say we were quite disappointed.
From the first scenes on the 3D Blu-ray of Turbo we could see crosstalk, it wasn't excessive but it was always there and depending on how much negative or positive parallax was being used it could be very noticeable. However, of more concern were the backgrounds, which appeared to be slightly inverted at times. This was especially obvious with the animated movie Epic, which has a lot of forest backdrops but it was also apparent on other films such as The Croods and Planes. This poor performance was all the more obvious when, using the same Oppo and Sony Blu-ray players and discs, we compared it to the incredible 3D produced by the 84" 4K Toshiba TV in the room next door.
That isn't to say the 3D was unmatchable and the VW500 had plenty of brightness and colour accuracy in its 3D images, which were major plus points. It's just that the 3D should have been better, especially after Sony had set the bar so high with the VW1000. We have read reports of users getting a better performance if they use third party glasses but frankly the glasses Sony designed to be used with their projector really should work properly. In fact, such excuses reminded us of Sony's first 3D projector the VW90 and so did the the 3D images we were watching. Perhaps the 3D performance can be improved with a software update or maybe different glasses is the answer but as it stands, the 3D performance is the only fly in the VW500's otherwise perfect ointment.
- Native 4K
- Excellent video processing
- Superb black levels
- Reference greyscale and colour
- Impressive features
- Good build quality
- Mediocre 3D performance
- No glasses included
- Preset gamma curves could be better
Sony VW500 (VPL-VW500ES) 4K Projector ReviewIt was never going to be an easy task following the VW1000 but somehow Sony has done it and at half the cost! Yes they have had to cut a few corners here and there but never at the expense of performance and they've even managed to add a few extra features like a CMS and improved HDMI support. Overall the build quality remains good and the feature list excellent, whilst the implementation of Sony's Reality Creation image engine remains impressive. Naturally 4K content looked incredible but even with lower resolution material the VW500 retained the power to stun with incredible levels of detail. The combination of image accuracy, clarity and dynamic range, along with improved motion handling and superior processing resulted in breathtaking images that were amongst the best we've seen. In fact it was only with the 3D that Sony appear to have dropped the ball, delivering a mediocre performance that genuinely disappointed. However in almost every other area Sony have delivered in spades, so if you're looking for a first class projector that includes a degree of future proofing at a semi-sensible price then there really is only one option - the VW500.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels9
2D Picture Quality9
3D Picture Quality7
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money8
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