After last year's disappointment with the VW90's 3D performance can Sony find its feet again with the VW95ES? Phil Hinton finds out.
IntroductionWhen Sony released the VPL-VW90ES around this time last year we were all excited to see how Sony would compete in the mid-range sector of the market and especially how well its projector would perform against the JVC model that has been a dominating model at this price point for many years. With 2D pictures the VPL-VW90ES did very well when tested in side by side conditions against the JVC X7, with very little to separate the two. But, sadly the same couldn’t be said for the Sony’s 3D picture quality which was not up to scratch with the competition, even in the budget areas of the market. So, it is again with great anticipation that we line up this year’s model, the VPL-VW95ES, against its contemporaries to see if lessons have been learnt and if Sony have managed to finally give us an all-round star performer at this price point.
Looking at the chassis you would be hard pressed to tell the new VW95ES apart from the outgoing VW90ES as they look identical. However, where the differences should be noticeable is with the new technology under the hood such as quicker switching SXRD panels and dynamic lamp control. The Sony is going to have to perform extremely well to compete in a 3D projector market that has exploded in the last few months with prices being lowered and quality images becoming more easily obtainable from lower end models. In fact the Sony’s very own smaller brother the HW30 has been one such star performer in the lower price range, offering superb 2D images married to excellent 3D performance. Indeed, the HW30 made last year’s higher end VPL-VW90ES look poor with 3D images. So can the Sony VPL-VW95ES get rid of the demons that plagued last year's model with 3D images and provide the kind of performance you would expect at this price point? We are about to find out.
Design and FeaturesUnlike some manufacturers who change their chassis design every two years, Sony have used the same basic chassis design we have here with the VPL-VW95ES for the last 4 years at least (going back to the VPL-VW80 in late 2008). However, that doesn’t mean that advances have not been made to the technology on-board the VPL-VW95ES to give us high quality images and features. The design is sleek if dated and has the lens centrally mounted with exhaust and intake vents to the front and rear of the unit. The body is available in black only and offers a rounded top plate and connections hidden on the left side (looking from the front). There is a lens cover that automatically opens and closes when the projector is powered on and that is about your lot in terms of design. If you have seen any of the previous VW models over the last four years then you get the idea of what this unit looks like.
The connections are positioned to the side of the chassis and placed on a recessed lip of the body to provide some flexibility when ceiling mounting. This should allow some cable management options so that installation is neat and tidy. We are also given a good deal of connections for the typical home cinema installation with two HDMI slots, one component input, a VGA/PC input and various control slots such as an RS232C port and triggers. There is also a 3D sync socket available if you decide to by-pass the built-in emitter and add an external unit for larger rooms for example. Above the connections bay on the main chassis are some manual menu and control options should you misplace the remote control. These are hidden under a cover when not in use. The rest of the projector chassis is free from any other controls or connections.
The remote control provided with the VPL-VW95ES is the same remote design size we have seen on the HW and VW models for a while now, but with slightly revised key positions. This is a well-made and solid feeling remote unit that sits easily in the hand, if a little on the large side when compared to its peers. There are plenty of options available on the unit for direct access to important image adjustments, like the new position feature which we will come back to in a minute. Overall, we have no complaints about the remote control layout or functionality.
The VPL-VW95ES utilises SXRD technology with a refresh rate of up to 240Hz for 3D playback to combat crosstalk issues which also marries into the Dynamic Lamp Control technology which boosts image brightness in the 3D mode to increase the amount of light that reaches the 3D glasses, a usual downside to 3D watching. As 3D performance was below par with the VW90 we will be testing this fully within the review here. The VPL-VW95ES also offers separate picture control settings for both 2D and 3D which allows separate calibration for each type of viewing on the projector. There is also a 2D to 3D conversion mode if that tickles your fancy and you feel like watching Eastenders in simulated extra dimensions.
One feature that immediately caught my attention (being a 2.37:1 scope screen owner) is the new memory lens position feature available on the VW95ES. Much like the systems offered on projectors from Panasonic and JVC, the projector can memorise up to five different lens zoom, shift and focus points and save these. This allows scope screen users to set the projector to display 16:9 material in the centre of their screen with black bars to the side (masked if you have masking) and then with a push of a button the image will move to a 2.35:1 image to fill your scope screen and get rid of the black bars off the top and bottom of the image. When using this function it is best to have your screen on a black coloured wall to hide the image that is still projected off the top and bottom of the screen in a scope zoom. We found the accuracy of the memory lens feature to be spot on with positioning and focus after moving a few times between 16:9 and 2.35:1 material although it does take a little time to get everything aligned.
However, even though it takes a little time to do this, it is still more preferable than manually adjusting or spending thousands on an anamorphic lens. Obviously there are plus and minus points to both approaches for scope viewing with an anamorphic lens costing a great deal of money as well as the requirement to move it in and out of the light path, but you gain with less brightness dropping off than zooming. It will be up to the end user which approach they take, but for us in our testing room, we found the lens zoom feature to work perfectly well and didn’t notice any real world brightness drop off. We also found the direct position button on the remote to be extremely useful for quickly changing between aspect ratios. Well done Sony for listening to not only our requests for this feature to be added, but also the many forum members who also wanted to see this adopted on your projectors.
Other features in the projector include Sony’s Motionflow frame interpolation technology which has various strength settings available. Like all such smoothing technology it is creating new frames and inserting these between frames that exist in the footage you are watching. This does smooth out the image but it also has side effects as it is guessing what the movement on screen is when it recreates frames. In the higher settings this introduces what we refer to as the soap opera effect. What this means is that the image on screen looks like it was filmed on a cheap video camera as the motion is too smooth. This can ruin the look of film material and it also adds in unwanted artefacts. Using this technology is very much a personal choice for the end user and if you are a sports fan and watch lots of fast moving action on your projector you may feel this technology is worthwhile. As film purists here at AVForums, with an ethos that we want an image as close as possible to what the director intended, with little to no artefacts or distractions, we always turn this feature off.
Only JVC produce projectors which rely on their native contrast performance, without any workarounds or dynamic iris functions to try and improve contrast performance. Sony feels the need with the VW95ES to continue using their Advanced Iris 3 technology to help improve the dynamic contrast of the projector. Again, this is an area for debate amongst some projector fans and image purists where the use of an iris is frowned upon because it dynamically changes the brightness and gamma curve to improve black level performance within complicated mixed contrast scenes.
However, as has been shown with JVC’s approach the obvious answer it seems to us is to produce a projector where the native contrast is high enough not to require such devices to be used and to get in the way of the image consistency. We always test these iris systems on projectors that have them and often find that the most consistent and best image available is with the iris deactivated. We found the same here with the VW95ES. Yes, the iris system works as it is intended and it changes the image as you would expect in mixed scenes to try and improve the dynamic contrast of a scene, but more often than not, it performed extremely better and more consistently with it switched off. It is again a marketing tool as well as a feature on projectors and it will be down to the end user if they utilise it.
The VW95ES does allow manual setting of the Iris in much the same way as the JVC DLA-X70R and we chose to use this option for the most consistent image quality.
Menus and SetupThe menu system on the VW95ES is extensive and in some cases, in our opinion, is too cluttered with many unnecessary preset options for picture set up. Now, I bet you never expected to ever see us say that about a display's menu system as we are normally asking for more not less. But in the case of the VW95ES is has just too many options for Gamma and white balance settings, without indicating what they actually do! It would be far easier to agree with their approach if for example the Gamma selection were marked 2.0, 2.1, 2.2 and so on. But they are not and the name they carry is a number which has no bearing on what is trying to be achieved with the preset. We would suggest that this is updated for future models with a clearly defined name for each preset. In its present form we have had to measure each preset option to see what it is actually doing to the image and what curve (for Gamma) it is trying to follow.
The main menu is logically laid out with the first selection the picture mode you want to use. There are a number of choices with the VW95ES with the likes of Dynamic, Standard, Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Cinema 3, Photo, Game and User 1 & 2. There are no presets that get close to the industry standards straight out of the box so we found the User selection the best option here and then chose our white balance (Colour Temp), Gamma and colour space to get the best out of the box settings. Cinema Black Pro allows the Iris settings to be applied or switched off, plus there are the lamp control options.
Motionflow offers the frame interpolation settings called motion enhancer, plus there are options for adding film projection like modes. Both are best left off in our opinion. We then have the main front panel image controls (Contrast, Brightness etc.) and then the Colour Temperature settings. Again, Sony has gone overboard with the amount of options available to choose from and we had to spend some time measuring all of them to find out what they actually did to the image. We would much prefer Sony named these presets to reflect what they are supposed to do, such as D55, D65 and so on. Instead we have High, Middle, Low 1, Low 2 and then 5 further custom selections which have varying starting points; but none of these are as logical as you would expect them to be. Rounding up the main menu is the sharpness control.
Next we move to the expert settings menu which offers further picture controls. The most important of these are the Gamma and Colour Space options. Again Sony have gone over the top with the amount of Gamma presets available here with no suitable naming system to say what the gamma curve was supposed to be following. When measuring all the various options we also found that the vast majority of them introduced an S-curve which either dipped at the low end and rose at the high end, or vice versa. We didn’t find any that offered a suitable 2.2, 2.4 or 2.6 curve out of the box for example. There are further basic gamma custom controls where you can manipulate the top or bottom end of the curve to try and get a more consistent result to the reference points we use for evaluation.
The Colour Space control adjusts the colour gamut from normal to various wide options. The wide options do exactly what you expect and provide gamuts where red and green are over saturated with hue errors to replicate the DCI standard for example. This would be fine if content we watched at home has colour performance to match, but we don’t, so choosing any of these will add in colours that do not exist in the material you watch on the VW95ES.
To access the Real Colour Processing (RCP) menu we have to leave the picture menu and select the next option down on the side menu panel. Ideally this should be positioned in the expert menu as it is a basic Colour Management System (CMS) and the logical place for it is with the expert settings. However, it has its own menu and unlike the HW30’s version of this control, we found that RCP worked as a 3D CMS system on the VW95ES and offered excellent results in attaining Rec.709 compliance. More of that in the calibration section of the review. The rest of the other menus feature options are very much 'set once and forget' and we don’t need to cover those in any great detail here. Suffice to say that the set up options are plentiful and we should be able to get the VW95ES producing some excellent images.
Out-of-the-box measurementsAs always in this section of the review we set out to measure each of the available picture modes and picture options to find those that are the closest to the industry standards for film and TV playback. In doing so we can quickly find what the best settings are likely to be with a display and with the contrast and brightness controls set for the review environment we can get a good idea of how close the picture settings can get to our desired goal.
With the VPL-VW95ES we found that using the User 1 Picture Mode with the Custom 2 Colour Temperature setting, along with Gamma set to Custom 3 and the Colour Space selection of Normal, gave the best results. Contrast and Brightness plus the manual Iris were set for our room conditions which is a complete 'bat cave'.
Looking at the Greyscale performance first and an initial look at the graphs may give you the feeling that things are all over the place. However, looking more closely at the results and what the performance on screen is like, we can see that the results are actually very good. Our RGB tracking results look wide, but the actual scale of the graph is misleading here as it is in 5% splits rather than the normal scale I use, so my mistake here. Tracking is actually not that bad with 5% errors for the most part in Red and Blue with Green almost tracking at 100% for the majority.
The DeltaE errors also back this up with the mid section just creeping over the ideal 4 marker, so errors will be hard to see for the majority of viewers. Only those who look at reference images every day would probably notice any colour shift in the greyscale. We did have issues with all the possible Gamma selections available with the VW95ES and settled on the custom 3 setting. You can see that the gamma tracking does have a S-curve look to it with the high end getting a little bright around 90%. This error is difficult to notice with real world viewing and is better than a drop at the low end which would affect black level and make the image look more washed out than at the top end as we have here. So it is not a perfect result, but for an out of the box preset we think it is acceptable and only the eagle eyed would see any real issues in the greyscale and gamma performance.
Moving to the colour gamut we chose to select the Normal Colour space option and we can see that it does its best to try and match the Rec.709 standard we are looking for. There are a few issues with red and green being a little undersaturated and magenta and yellow with slight hue errors. But in terms of Luminance (the most important and most forgotten aspect of colour) we have excellent results here which keeps the over DeltaE errors down below 4. In most respects this is an excellent result that matches the type of performance we would expect to see from a preset aimed at the Rec.709 standards. With on-screen material we saw no issues with colour performance or skin tones that looked odd. In fact this is an excellent result with all things considered and again only the most eagle eyed professional would probably see any issues if at all.
Calibrated ResultsAs always we start with our Greyscale calibration as that is the most important part of the image to get correct. It is our canvas for correcting and building the rest of the image on.
The two point greyscale controls are provided for each custom colour temperature selection on the VW95ES and we used the Custom 2 selection to work with here and Gamma set to Custom 3. The controls are a little coarse in use and we found we had to go back and forth a little more than normal to finally level off our results and also try and adjust the Gamma curve as best we could with the limited manual controls we had available. In terms of RGB tracking we have an excellent result with less than 2% variance in total and DeltaE errors well below 2 which makes any error unperceivable to the human eye in most cases. Only Gamma gave us any concern and we were unable to raise the top end to match our reference of 2.2 for testing purposes. This does slightly dampen the results somewhat, but on-screen, which is where it matters, we found no issues with the final image quality. Usually for a projector in a bat cave like our testing room we would tend to go a little higher with gamma to around 2.4 and this can be obtained with a little more calibration work if that is what you would prefer.
The RCP control on the VPL-HW30ES we tested a few months back added in image artefacts and clipping to the image and that caused us some concern when moving to the VW95ES in case we encountered the same issues. However, I am pleased to report that the RCP control worked perfectly as a 3D CMS and allowed us to dial in excellent results which were checked at various stimulus points to check there were no clipping issues or under saturation elsewhere. Thankfully we found no such issues and the results obtained were perfect on-screen as well as in our graphs here.
Video ProcessingThe VPL-VW95ES continued to impress when we moved to the various video processing tests with our usual assortment of SD and HD test discs. With SD material the scaling and deinterlacing performance was first class as expected with no ringing or haloing seen on edges and with good SD material, the image looked sharp with no obvious issues. Even with complicated video and film cadence tests the projector passed with flying colours and wasn’t tripped up, even with some pretty obscure tests. Motion handling was good in SD and HD with no signs of induced judder and as with SXRD technology detail was only lost on very fast movement. Using our usual motion tests the VW95ES managed to produce around 700 lines during moving plate tests, which for an SXRD model is very good.
We also found no issues with 1080i playback of music video Blu-rays that can trip up some HD displays and with 1080/24p material we saw no issues or induced judder from the video processing. Motionflow is a technology that purist film fans will hate and that some sports fans will love. We would never use it for watching film based material, even in the low setting, but again it will come down to the end user to decide if it works for them with video material and sports. Overall, the VW95ES offered reference performance which is what you would expect to see from a projector at this price point.
Picture Performance – 2DExcellent. We could use all kinds of expressive phrases to sum up the 2D performance of the VW95ES as it produces the type of picture that almost reaches reference quality. Black levels and dynamic range are stunning with a fixed iris setting. In our testing room which is a 'bat cave' with no ambient light and dark non-reflective wall surfaces we were blown away by the quality of the images on show.
Where the Sony trumps other projectors below this market position is with image depth and a filmic look that is outstanding with calibrated settings. Shadow detail is visible well into the lowest ranges of the image when available and this adds to a feeling of depth with fluid black levels. Skin tones are spot on and with the high quality lens images are super sharp but retain that cinematic look.
We had both the Sony VPL-VW95ES and the JVC DLA-X70 set up firing at the same screen in the same room and both calibrated within an inch of their lives and we found it very difficult to separate both of them in most image attributes. For us the JVC just pipped the Sony for absolute image quality, dynamic range and colour accuracy, but we really are talking about less than a few percent in overall differences and trying to split hairs at this point, subjectively. We felt that E-Shift just added a little more balance to motion and image sharpness but in reality, it was a tough call and both blew us away with the image quality on offer. Get a demo in the best surroundings possible with both correctly calibrated and we think it would probably be the hardest choice to make for anyone looking at a projector at this price point. We really couldn’t find anything to complain about with the VPL-VW95ES and its 2D picture performance. It is by far Sony’s best projector to date that is for sure.
Picture Quality – 3DLast year we were very disappointed with the VW90ES and its 3D performance which was not what we expected from Sony. Images were pretty much riddled with crosstalk and issues with parallax where images were blurred and lost detail. These issues had been taken on board with the HW30ES when we reviewed that a few months after the VW90ES and we had high hopes that the VW95ES would be better again.
So, has it improved? Yes it has and by some margin. In fact we were extremely impressed with the 3D performance offered by the Sony which was engaging, had great depth and clarity to images and which had very few issues with crosstalk. It is not crosstalk free, but then again no projector in this price range or lower is completely free from image artefacts in 3D, even the excellent DLP models towards the budget range which are almost crosstalk free have issues. The only projector that I have seen that is truly crosstalk or artefact free costs about four times that of the VW95ES.
We did find that setting the glasses to the highest brightness setting did introduce some flicker but this was solved with just taking the control back one click. We also noticed that the IR emitter is a lot stronger this year compared to the VW90ES last year. How did we know? No technical testing was required actually. We couldn’t use our IR remote controls in the room when the VW95ES was running in 3D mode, something we were able to do with the VW90ES. Not scientific but something we clearly noticed. We didn’t lose sync with the glasses provided with the VW95ES and they were comfortable enough for long viewing periods, although this point will be more of personal taste for users. In terms of image quality we found colour balance issues were present in presets that were not calibrated but nothing that was overly distracting. It is possible to calibrate the 3D setting separately from the 2D picture controls, so if you get the projector calibrated, make sure you get a pro in who can also calibrate the 3D image.
In terms of image brightness we didn’t find any major issues in our testing room. There is an obvious brightness drop once you don the 3D specs and we would estimate this to be around the 50% mark, which is noticeable at first but as long as the projector is situated in a room that compliments the VW95ES it is definitely bright enough to enjoy the 3D experience without any major issues. In terms of comparison with the JVC DLA-X70 in 3D mode we noticed no major differences in performance between the two, both offer an exceptionally good 3D experience.
- Superb black levels and dynamic range that are very close to Reference
- Excellent greyscale and colour gamut performance when calibrated
- Excellent out-of-the-box colour gamut preset
- Excellent out-of-the-box greyscale preset
- Lens memory functionality is perfect for 2.35:1 use
- Quiet in use
- Excellent dynamic range performance which is close to reference
- Excellent remote control
- Manual iris offers best control of image stability
- Too many gamma & colour temp selections, needs to be renamed with most accurate for D65 and 2.2, 2.4 etc.
- RCP is still not a convincing colour management system, although it works ok
- Motionflow is still soap opera 'tastic
Sony VPL-VW95ES 3D SXRD Projector Review
What can we say, the VPL-VW95ES is without doubt Sony’s best projector to date. It offers exceptional 2D calibrated images with excellent dynamic range and black levels. Colour accuracy is superb with strong skin tones and a sharp, yet cinematic look to its images. This is the most important point for any projector, even in today’s 3D world. You can get exceptional 3D performance for very little money with projectors from Optoma and Epson to name two, but where they fall down in most cases is not being able to also provide the type of 2D image that makes the likes of the JVC X70 and this Sony VPL-VW90ES utterly exceptional. If you are a home cinema enthusiast who wants the very best 2D image and also some 3D escapism then the Sony offers an utterly compelling case in itself.
During assessment of the objective data and real world viewing with the Sony it was extremely difficult to separate it from the JVC X70 which is its main rival. We had many days full of agony going over the entire plus and minus points of both machines, as well as hours and hours of side by side viewing and testing. With that we don’t envy anyone in the market looking at these two projectors, both are exceptional and to split them is like splitting hairs. And that is just with 3D material. Moving to 2D performance is just as hard and as you are likely to be watching 90% more 2D content than 3D it makes this area of assessment even more important. This is also where the VW95ES separates itself by some margin from the budget 3D projectors.
We could wax lyrical for a few thousand more words and come back to the same point. The VW95ES offers excellent black levels, excellent shadow detail, excellent dynamic range, superb colour accuracy and greyscale tracking. It will meet the needs of many home cinema enthusiasts looking for a cinematic image with bags of detail and sharp and accurate images. There are a few negatives to take on board but they are far from putting any kind of dampener on what counts performance wise. Go and see this projector if you can in the best possible surroundings and see for yourself what an excellent and utterly compelling image it produces and then try and separate it from the competition at the price point. Good luck!
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels9
2D Picture Quality9
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use8
Value For Money7
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