Sony VPL-VW870ES 4K SXRD Laser Projector Review

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A wealth of features but perhaps a little too rich for most...

by Phil Hinton Jun 21, 2019 at 5:25 AM

  • SRP: £24,995.00

    What is the Sony VW870ES?

    The VW870ES is Sony’s latest native 4K SXRD home cinema projector to feature a laser light source instead of the traditional bulb. The benefits of this approach are instant on/off without the usual warm up and cool down periods of normal bulb machines, as well as a consistent light output over the 20,000 hours claimed lifespan of the laser source. A nice side effect of this is that the projector will hold on to calibrated settings for longer than a bulb, which changes its light output and wavelength as it ages. Like previous Sony models, the native 4K SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) chips are ported from the professional division, so have a full 4K resolution of 4096 x 2160 but can handle Ultra HD signals (3840 x 2160) with ease and you can zoom to fill the full frame within the menus.

    This model is designed to be used in a large venue home cinema and the price tag is well out of reach for many enthusiasts.

    The VW870ES is compatible with HDR10 (High Dynamic Range) and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) content and it is claimed to cover the entire DCI-P3 wide colour gamut thanks to the TRILUMINOS technology on-board. Both HDMI inputs are full bandwidth 18Gbps with support for 4:4:4 4K signals up to 60p. Sony’s now familiar 4K Motionflow and super-resolution Reality Creation tech also make an appearance here, with fully motorised lens memory functionality for those using scope screens.

    The VPL-VW870ES uses the same chassis and tech as the previously reviewed VPL-VW760ES, but the price difference is nearly £10,000, so where does that extra cash go in performance terms?

    Sony VPL-VW850ES Video Review

    Watch our full in-depth video review


    Design, Connections and Control

    Sony VPL-VW870ES Design, Connections and Control
    The VW870ES is a professional product and is designed to be used in custom installations and professional venues. As such, it is a large and heavy unit compared to a normal home cinema projector but relatively compact when compared to the bigger professional units like the VW5000ES, also from Sony.

    It won’t win any awards for its design, but it is also not just another black rectangular box. The chassis has a rounded and sculpted look to the top, with air vents to the front and a gap around the lens housing to also allow decent airflow. Airflow is important with this being a laser projector and, unlike other Sony home cinema projectors, you need to keep plenty of airflow available to the rear of the chassis. Noise levels are also a little higher because of this.

    The layout is simple and functional with hard plastics used for the majority of the surfaces. The lens is centrally mounted and has a gap between it and the main body for airflow. There are also vents to each side. The sides of the chassis are flat with more vents to the rear for airflow. The top plate is also free from any buttons with just a Sony and 4K logo. So, even though it costs £25k, you are not getting anything special in terms of materials used on the body and design.

    Beneath the main body is a central section which houses the power socket to the rear and the connections to the left side, looking from the front. There are adjustable feet at the bottom for table mounting as well as connection points for use with a ceiling mount.

    Once again, for such an expensive machine, we are not given anything special when it comes to inputs as they are much the same as the VW570ES, with two full bandwidth 18Gbps HDMI 2.0B inputs which accept 4:4:4 60p 4K video signals with HDR10 and HLG compatibility. The rest of the connections are control based for installation in a custom cinema or large venue and include twin 12v triggers, RS232C and IR input along with a Network RJ45 and USB service port.
    Sony VPL-VW870ES Design, Connections and Control
    The remote control supplied with the VW870ES is the same large plastic unit supplied with the cheaper Native 4K projectors and that may seem a little mean for a projector costing the same as a hot hatchback, but a projector like this will more than likely be installed in a system using items like Control 4 or Crestron for home automation and control and there will be no need for a remote.

    However, should you need to use it, the remote control is laid out in a logical manner and is intuitive to use. The top of the unit has the light, input and power buttons, along with the nine available picture mode presets. Underneath these are the motorised lens controls for focus, zoom and shift.

    The main directional and enter keys are in the centre with the Position, Reset and Menu keys around these. The Position key is for moving between aspect ratios in the lens memory system.

    There are another nine buttons below this with direct image buttons for functions such as gamma and reality creation access and finally three rocker switches to the bottom for sharpness, brightness and contrast.

    Overall, the remote gets the job done and works as expected, even though it is made from plastic and doesn’t quite fit with the projector's price point.

    Features

    Sony VPL-VW870ES Features
    The Sony VPL-VW870ES is a 4K projector with a native resolution of 4096 x 2160 and uses Silicon X-tal Reflective Display SXRD technology.

    Instead of the traditional UHP lamp, it uses a Z-Phosphor laser light source which the company claims will last 20,000 hours without losing much in the way of the claimed 2200 Lumen brightness.

    An advantage of the laser source is higher quality colours along with instant on/off capabilities. As the projector uses three SXRD panels, these do need to be aligned properly and on our review sample, there were some blue edges to text and other fine lines when up close to the screen. However, at normal viewing distances, it wasn’t an issue at all. Images were extremely sharp.

    The VPL-VW870ES features an All-Range Crisp Focus (ARC-F) lens. This large-aperture lens adopts an all-glass design for its 18 elements, including six Extra-Low-Dispersion (ELD) elements. The Digital Focus Optimiser is a new feature for this year and it digitally corrects any chromatic aberration at the edges of the image, so they are as sharp and detailed as they are at the centre of the lens.

    The laser is dynamically-controlled to help with the contrast performance and an Advanced Iris is also incorporated to push this further. This dynamic and independent control of both the iris and laser helps to optimise light output for both dark and bright, well-lit scenes.

    Motion is good and we also get 4K Motionflow frame interpolation via the video processing chip. There are a number of settings available with each adding their different mix of frame interpolation and soap opera effect, but True Cinema is the best choice for 24fps material as it selects the correct pulldown for content.

    Video processing and upscaling are also present and correct with super resolution Reality Creation also on board which uses databases to match content types to better produce fine edges. We didn’t use this in our testing, opting for image accuracy, but the upscaling performance of the VW870ES is first rate, as you would expect from a Sony product, with Blu-rays looking super when upscaled to 4K resolution.

    The VW870Es also supports HDR10 and HLG static metadata HDR systems but it doesn’t support HDR10+ or Dolby Vision dynamic metadata formats. Projectors find HDR performance tricky due to the lack of brightness and being a reflective image. More on that later.

    Finally, for movie fans with scope ratio screens like the one in our testing environment, you have the memory lens functionality to change between 16:9 material and 2.40:1 ratios, thus moving the black bars off the screen with a correct ratio screen in use. We also always test projectors in our fully light controlled cinema room with a high quality screen, and not just projecting on to a white wall.

    Measurements

    We used the Reference picture preset for SDR measurements out of the box and could see that the image was really quite warm.
    Sony VPL-VW870ES Measurements
    Sony VPL-VW870ES Measurements

    This was confirmed by the measurements of the greyscale (top left) with blue energy dipping from around 30% stimulus and red and green being a tad high from the same point towards the brighter end of the image. This did mean that from 80% stim the DeltaE errors were above three, confirming what we could see onscreen. Gamma tracked well to BT.1886 with just a slight s-curve around the line. Overall, things could be better out of the box, but taking into account that a projector like this will be professionally installed in a large home theatre or venue and then calibrated, perhaps Sony is not really looking for an incredibly accurate image out of the box. Apart from the warm yellow tint to the brighter sections of the image, there is nothing here that would cause any concern for most users, as the projector will get calibrated anyway.

    Moving to the colour gamut for Rec.709 (top right) and we can see that things are also not terribly accurate out of the box. A yellow push in the greyscale is seen here with the white point in the centre of the graph heading towards yellow and pulling the other gamut points with it. This does cause minor issues with oversaturation in the reds, and magenta introduces a few hue errors for good measure. We should be able to get most points back to where they should be by correcting the greyscale and white point. Once again, we have seen far better results from much lower priced projectors than this, but as we have mentioned, at this price point the VW870ES will be professionally installed and calibrated so that is probably why we see such errors here.
    Sony VPL-VW870ES Measurements
    Sony VPL-VW870ES Measurements

    Once we corrected the greyscale (top left) using the onboard white balance controls, DeltaE errors dropped well below two and the yellow warm tint disappeared from the brighter sections of the image. Gamma also tracked well at BT.1886 and we saw no issues, with onscreen images looking incredibly accurate and natural.

    The same was the case for the colour gamut (top right) falling more or less back into place after the white point correction, with most points being around where they should be. This allowed colours to look accurate and natural, something Sony does extremely well. We could have pushed for a nicer looking chart but, with errors unseen with actual viewing material, there was no need.
    Sony VPL-VW870ES Measurements
    Moving to HDR and once again it should be pointed out that projectors, even ones costing £25,000 can’t produce the types of dynamic range images you get from an OLED or LED LCD TV. As a reflective image technology, there is just not enough brightness and contrast, even with dynamic projectors, to have the same types of specular highlights and black levels that a TV can produce. However, it is possible to display HDR images in a way that does look dynamic and impactful, but in a slightly different way to a flat panel set.

    Even though the VW870ES has a laser light engine and can produce a good brightness from it, the peak brightness is around 450nits before hard clipping. This means that most HDR content will retain details in most of the black, shadows and mid tones, but the VW870ES will clip the brighter elements in the highlights to retain a dynamic image elsewhere. This is seen in the PQ EOTF results here. The Sony produces a dynamic and consistent image with HDR content mastered at 1000 and 4000nits and only peak highlights are clipped as a result of the tone mapping used. This also allows for a good brightness level for the entire image on show, with no black crush present.
    Sony VPL-VW870ES Measurements
    The VW870ES also tries to cover the DCI-P3 wide colour gamut without the use of a filter and, as such, it does so with a good degree of colour luminance. Tracking of saturation from 75% stimulus is very good indeed with only the peak points at 100% not quite reaching the full gamut coverage, but what is covered in very impressive. We measured 91% P3 coverage XY and 92% UV. On/off contrast was measured at 17,235:1 HDR and 8,524:1 SDR.

    Performance

    The first thing you notice about the image quality from the VW870ES is the sharpness of the image. There is no getting away from just how stunningly sharp and detailed the image is. Feed it a native 4K source and it blows you away with the sheer detail and depth to the image. Then you notice the natural and balanced colours and the image this projector is capable of becomes stunning.

    However, it is not all perfect and a disappointment is certainly the black level depth. Our JVC X7900 still has the edge when it comes to completely deep and fluid black levels, where the native 4K Sony is just a tad lighter here in the total blacks and contrast pop. It’s certainly something that has been consistent so far with the Native 4K projectors from Sony we have tested over the last year or so compared to the E-shift JVC. Now, don’t get us wrong here, we are not saying the black levels and shadow detail on offer from this Sony are bad. That’s not the case at all, but if we are nitpicking, it is not quite as good as the JVC X7900. However, looking at every other attribute of the image, the VW870ES blows the JVC away completely. Sony displays never disappoint when it comes to colour fidelity and accuracy and this projector is stunningly cinematic as a result.

    SDR and HDR look stunning and every clip we played on the projector just oozed detail, sharpness, depth and accurate colours. HDR stood up well with decent shadow and mid tone details on display along with balanced and consistent image brightness. The VW870ES is designed for dedicated home cinema bat caves and high quality screens, like our testing room, where it ultimately shows you every last drop of image quality and depth. Clips we are so familiar with from hours of testing TVs and projectors just took on another level of detail and depth thanks to the Sony's capabilities. You really don’t need those last ounces of deep blacks when the rest of the image is so compelling to view.

    Conclusion

    9
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    The Good

    • Excellent SDR picture quality
    • Stunning colour reproduction
    • Excellent motion and upscaling
    • Very good HDR
    • Superb image sharpness

    The Bad

    • Expensive
    • Not the deepest blacks
    • Can be noisy in HDR mode
    • Out of the box accuracy could be better
    You own this Total 1
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    Sony VPL-VW870ES 4K SXRD Laser Projector Review

    We had the VW870ES on two occasions over the last six months and on each visit to our cinema room, we put many hours of actual movie viewing on the laser counter.

    It is expensive and will only be available to the lucky 1 per cent of home cinema fans with deep pockets, but there is no doubt, it is one of the best current projectors money can buy and it oozes image quality that film fans crave, well done Sony.

    Now whether you can justify the outlay compared to the competition, which gets 99 per cent of the way there for much less, and with slightly deeper blacks, is a question only you will be able to answer.

    For us, it is too expensive when looking at the performance, but we also have to remind ourselves that this projector is not aimed at the normal consumer. Given what it can do and that it will be fitted to a custom designed home cinema build, without the owner actually knowing what it is, what we think is probably irrelevant. Seeing what can be done at the price point when the cost is not really a factor is the interesting thing to note here and in terms of image quality, it really is a case of diminishing returns.

    That's not to say that the image quality is bad, no indeed it is jaw-droppingly good when it comes to shadow detail and colour accuracy, married to incredibly sharp and detailed pictures. It's just that you can get very close to this kind of performance already for much less. The decision is down to the end user if the performance is worth the cost.

    Overall, the VPL-VW870ES is an incredibly capable native 4K projector with an incredibly high price point, but we still think it's worthy of a recommendation if your pockets are deep enough to add it to your demo list.


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24,995.00

    The Rundown

    Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

    8

    Colour Accuracy

    9

    Greyscale Accuracy

    9

    Video Processing

    9

    Image Uniformity

    9

    2D Picture Quality

    9

    Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box

    8

    Picture Quality Calibrated

    9

    Features

    7

    Ease Of Use

    8

    Build Quality

    6

    Value For Money

    5

    Verdict

    9

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