Sony Bravia VPL-VW85 SXRD Projector Review

Can the new Sony take the crown of reference projector from JVC? It looks like it will be a close battle!

by Phil Hinton
Home AV Review

3

Highly Recommended
Sony Bravia VPL-VW85 SXRD Projector Review
SRP: £5,500.00

Styling

The first thing that strikes me with the VW85 is the stylish chassis and finish. The unit looks and feels like a premium product with its sloped top plate and the midnight black colour with blue sparkling glitter finish. The lens is centrally mounted with the exhaust and air intake vents positioned to the sides of the chassis. The connections are also hidden under the left side panel (looking from the front). The unit measures in at (W x H x D) 470 x 179.2 x 482.4 mm and is a reasonable 12Kg in weight. The entire chassis feels solid even though the vast majority of the body is made from plastic. Build quality is very good.

Looking at the lens system and what we have here is a quality piece of glass that looks like it should belong on a more expensive unit. When in standby the lens is protected by an electronic cover which opens on 'power up'. This will be ideal for those who decide to ceiling mount the projector and will protect from dust build up. Described as a high resolution ARC-F (All Range Crisp Focus) unit the lens offers a 1.6x motorised zoom with both vertical (65%) and Horizontal (25%) shift adjustments allowing a wide range of mounting solutions. And the quality of the lens is very noticeable with images on screen. More on this later.

Sony VPL-VW85

Sony’s SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) is based on Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) technology that has not just spawned Sony’s SXRD but is also used for the similar D-ILA chip that JVC uses. This allows a three chip approach for the Red, Green and Blue colours on separate panels and the chip size is a staggering 0.61-inch thanks to its super-fine panel micro-architecture with a pixel size of 7Um. Sony claim that this approach will improve not only colour performance but also does away with any visible pixel structure on screen. Because the projector uses three separate chips, panel convergence becomes an issue where any misalignment can cause issues with the sharpness and colour performance of the image. Thankfully Sony has introduced an in-depth panel alignment function allowing users to eliminate any colour bordering on the edges of object on screen. The system allows selection of red and blue panels and users can align each individually to the fixed green panel in both the horizontal and vertical direction. If you are an old CRT projector enthusiast this procedure will feel very similar to old fashioned tube alignment.

Sony VPL-VW85

Moving on and the VW85 claims a contrast ratio of 120,000:1 using its Advanced Iris 3 technology. As always we will take this with a very large pinch of salt as the contrast figures these days never resemble any real life performance levels. However, the Iris system used in the VW85 offers quite a number of selections so you can get the performance to a level you are happy with. This includes selecting two auto routines that dim and open depending on content along with further sensitivity selections between low, fast or recommended. If you still have issues with the iris even with the full user selections available, you can also set it manually to a fixed point. This works in the same way as the recent system employed by the JVC D-ILA models where you can change the fixed Iris level, but offers far more flexibility giving users 99 selection points. I found the manual fixed Iris option offered the most consistent image quality as I was still able to see picture luminance adjusting with the auto Iris, even with all the selections available.

Rounding off our look at the optical features, the Sony VPL-VW85 also offers full support for Constant Image Height (CIH) anamorphic set up. This allows the use of a 2.37:1 aspect ratio screen by stretching 2.40:1 ratio Blu-ray and DVDs within the projector to get rid of the black bars and using the full projector panel. You then add an anamorphic lens to the front of the projector to pull this image horizontally and back to its correct ratio. Almost all of the new projectors we have tested recently have the anamorphic stretch function and the VW85 offers a truly immersive experience when used with a third party lens and correct ratio screen. Obviously, this type of approach does add the expense of buying a lens and Cinemascope screen, but you can also use the zoom function to achieve the same results with just the expense of a new 2.37:1 screen. This is however a manual affair where you will have to zoom and focus between every aspect change. As they say, the choice is yours…

As with most new projectors in the same price level of the VW85 we see the introduction of Frame Interpolation technology. Sony’s version of this is called Motionflow and is part of the Bravia 2 processing engine which also adds in dark frame insertion. As with similar techniques used elsewhere, the Sony system pulls frames from upcoming scenes and works out what it believes to be missing frames. It then makes and inserts these between real frames of the video or film material which smoothes the material and makes it look like it was filmed on a digital video camera. For material like fast moving sports the technology can improve the perception of movement and judder, but as with any video processing it is prone to introducing artefacts. When used with fast moving film material, such as the building site chase in ‘Casino Royale’ the processing adds in pretty severe artefacts with backgrounds suddenly chasing the actors as they run past walls. With film material none of the motionflow options produced acceptable film like images, instead there was a distinct ‘Soap Opera’ sped up feel to the content. It’s a technology that those aiming for accurate reproduction of film material will dislike with a passion, but others may enjoy the odd looking effect. It’s easy to see that some users will prefer the false frame techniques (as they like 'dynamic' modes for pictures), thinking they are seeing more detail. I can see the appeal for some users but can reassure you that the VW85 handles motion fine when displaying doubled 24p images wihout frame interpolation technology.

There is an option for processing called Film Projection which used on its own, with motionflow off, mimics the flicker of a film projector in three optional steps. The first affects luminance levels by darkening the image and adding a slight flicker. The second and third options expand the amount of flicker seen, usually more noticeable in bright or white areas of the image. This is achieved by adding dark frames to mimic a projector. Again, this is certainly a love it or hate it processing trick. Using both processing modes at the same time introduced some very strange looking results which personally I couldn’t recommend using, but again some individuals will no doubt think it's worthwhile. Like Marmite.

Sony VPL-VW85

Rounding up our overview of the VW85 are the connections positioned on the left hand side of the chassis when looking from the front. Here we find two HDMI v1.3 slots, legacy connections for composite and s-video along with a three RCA component input. Also included are D-sub 15 pin connector for analogue RGB or Component signals. For custom installation use are a 9 pin RS232C port and two mini jack ports, one for power and one to switch to anamorphic zoom.

Menus and Set up

Once set up with our sources connected its time to break into the VW85’s onscreen menu system. Owners of previous Sony projectors will be familiar with the layout and design of the main menus and their easy to navigate nature. The opening menu is the most important of them all - picture set up.

Sony VPL-VW85

The picture mode selection has five picture presets and one user mode. Initially it may seem to be an oversight having just one user mode, but as picture settings are saved on a per input basis, the unit can be configured for all your sources with independent settings using the separate inputs. The built in picture presets include Dynamic (ouch!), Standard and Cinema 1, 2 and 3. Images in the dynamic and Standard modes are as expected pushing blue and colour tones to produce bright and in your face images. The Cinema settings however are far more restrained in most cases. Selection one attempts’ to follow the Rec.709 colour gamut used for HD and Pal content, with Cinema 2 and 3 following the wider gamut’s for digital cinema specifications. The obvious choices for out of the box settings are Cinema 1 and the colour temperature closest to D65 (in the VW85’s case, that’s user 3).

Sony VPL-VW85

Below the Picture mode selections we are given an option for Cinema Black Pro. Selecting this gives us access to the Advanced Iris 3 controls and the lamp setting. As explained above the Advanced Iris settings are comprehensive along with a manual fixed Iris selection. The Lamp settings allow us to use low for a bat cave environment and high for rooms with more ambient light.
The Motionflow controls are next up on the menu page and give us two choices; Film Projection and Motion Enhancer. Moving to Film Projection first and this allows picking between Off/Mode1/Mode2 and Mode3. These vary in the intensity of adding in dark frames to replicate the look of a traditional film projector. The Motion enhancer options relate to the frame interpolation system with two selections of Low/High and the important Off button.

The choice for colour temperature settings (the most important area of an image to get right) are extensive. We have a choice of High, Middle and two low settings. None of these manage to get close to the D65 picture standards. However we are also given five custom presets that start at various temperatures and offer manual adjustment to get the greyscale correct. The closest of these custom settings to D65 is setting 3 (which you can see the results of below in the out of the box measurements). The full controls of the two point greyscale correction (Gain/offset) can be configured using a meter and software to produce excellent results (see calibrated results below).

Sony VPL-VW85

The rest of the selections on the initial menu page include the front panel controls for Brightness, Contrast and so on. Next is the advanced menu which first of all gives us control over the Noise Reduction features of the VW85. We are given both a mosquito noise and block noise control which can be configured using a graph system. In testing the noise reduction used in small measures with Standard Definition material provided acceptable results in an effort to clean up the images without adding in obvious artefacting. Next is a Black level adjustment which is followed by what appears to be a comprehensive Gamma selection tool. You have six gamma options which vary from producing s-curves (where low is dark, mid is bright and high darkens again), to the most accurate out of the box setting of a 2.0 curve (option 3). Obviously this is lower and brighter than the industry standard of 2.2 we use for assessment and well below settings of 2.5 sometimes used for film production. Sony do have an Image Director CD-Rom which when run on a windows PC and hooked to the VW85 by the RS232 port allows custom adjustment of the Gamma curve, this was not available to us for review with this sample, so we had to fall back on the preset 2.0 level gamma.

Rounding up the advanced menu is an on/off selection for x.v.Colour (for camcorder playback with the appropriate camera) and the selection of a colour space (Gamut). The colour space selector is very good and allows four selection points; Normal, Wide1, Wide2, Wide3. The normal preset offers a Gamut that is under the Rec.709 co-ordinates, Wide 1 is fairly accurate to Rec.709 and the last two selections are wide of the desired colour space for Rec.709. These gamuts can be seen below in the Measured data. The final feature to mention in the menu system is RCP (Real Colour Processing). This is an attempt at a colour management system by Sony but it is not particularly accurate and requires quite a bit of measured work using a meter and software to produce any meaningful results. We would prefer Sony to develop a system similar to that used by Epson and JVC which provide more accurate 3D Systems.
The rest of the menu options on the VW85 are initial set up controls and set once and forget in nature. So with the menus explained and a basic set up performed on the VW85 out of the box, what are our measured results?

Measured Results Out of the Box


Sony VPL-VW85

As always we start with a look at the UHP lamp and its colour spectrum characteristics. Looking at the results and we see a normal UHP performance with green very much into the yellow areas and two filters between the primary colour bands. The lamp here was surprising in its slightly elevated red energy as Sony have not stated to us that they are using any filters of boosted red energy. Overall there is nothing special on offer but with a fairly uniform spectrum we should be able to calibrate without losing too many lumens.
I measured all the various presets and colour temperature settings available on the VW85 to find the closest to the industry standards. I settled on the User mode with User 3 selected for colour temperature, colour space Wide1 for the gamut selection, Gamma 3 and a manual iris of 75. Brightness, Contrast etc were set up using the regular test patterns for the room and screen.

Sony VPL-VW85

I found that the Normal colour space selection produced a gamut that was under the Rec.709 points and appeared on screen to be under saturated. I have included that measurement above.

Wide 1 was the most accurate and as you can see below provided very good results out of the box. This results may vary slightly from machine to machine (and if you are using a coloured screen like a greyhawk), but measured from the projector we get a good idea of what this preset is capable off. As you can see error points (the deltaE boxes are under 3 overall which means that most small errors are unlikely to be seen by the eye. Most of the co-ordinates (within the triangle) are just very slightly out. Overall, out of the box the colour gamut performance can be considered excellent.

Sony VPL-VW85

Moving on we get to the most important part of any image and that’s the greyscale.

Sony VPL-VW85

Out of the box the greyscale looks as good as can be expected for a picture preset. Looking at the RGB tracking we can see that Red is high with a more uniform result for the Green and Blue channels. The idea with the greyscale is that all three lines in the tracking box should overlap each other across the range at 100%. As it stands with errors (deltaE box) under 3 for the majority we consider that for a preset the VW85 offers a greyscale that we will score as excellent. The slight disappointment (which will continue with the calibrated results) is that the Gamma results hover around the 2.0 point. This means that although shadow details will be more obvious, the image will lose some of its dynamic look. Some mistake a low gamma as offering more detail in the darker areas of the image and may prefer that kind of look, as always we are looking for the projector to be able to hit our reference targets. But overall we are very happy with the VW85 out of the box as it offers a level of performance that is very close to presets like THX.

Calibrated Results

So, we move to calibrating the VW85 to the industry standards using professional calibration techniques. We are offered control to adjust most of the image areas to try and reach our reference points apart from gamma. For some reason Sony only see fit to allow gamma adjustment via an off board laptop running a CD-Rom based image editor. For this review we were not supplied with the CD-Rom so were unable to test the gamma adjustments. We would suggest to Sony that JVC and Panasonic offer a better solution that is based within the projector and they should add this type of flexibility to future models.

Sony VPL-VW85

Looking at the greyscale and gamma results first and we are able to achieve reference results for the greyscale using the custom colour temperature controls. Errors are now under 1 which means that any slight errors with the results here will not be seen by eye. Gamma as explained is fixed at 2.0 for the majority of the scale, so we are not able to reach our reference point here. This will however allow the VW85 to resolve more of the slight shadow details (which videophiles will argue you are not supposed to see anyway).

Sony VPL-VW85

Moving to the colour gamut performance we were able to get a little more accuracy out of the points, but the RCP colour management tool is not the most accurate of systems. Because of this as we corrected one area it would move the results in another which was more than a little frustrating. So as you can see with Blue and Cyan we actually ended up with slightly larger errors here by trying to correct the green and red points. In this case I would actually recommend that if your out of the box results are as accurate as ours here, there is no way to improve over that using the awkward and frustrating RCP system. Again I would say to Sony that JVC and Epson do it better and in an easier to use fashion that provides more accurate control.

Overall we are satisfied with the results produced by the Sony and while the results are not as outstanding as our reference projector, the resulting image performance from the VW85 will offer (hopefully) a very good accurate as possible image.

Video Processing

It seems that the Bravia Engine in the VW85 varies in its quality of results over the same system we have seen in their TVs. The projector passed every test thrown at it for Standard Definition material at 576 and 480, the upscaling was very good with jaggies reduced to just the bottom bar in the test looking just slightly off at the extremes. I couldn’t fault any cadence issues either with the most commonly used passing with flying colours.

High Definition performance was also spot on – as it should be for a premium display – with 24fps looking good without any processor induced judder. There were also no issues with any back door video processing being added (something Sony has form for doing with their TVs).

So overall, I couldn’t fault the most common video processing required by content you will throw at it. However the Film Projection and Motionflow interpolation technology was definitely a love it or hate it performance. We noticed the usual film based issues of sped up digital camera – ‘soap opera’ - results. You might want to use it with sports footage, but for film purists I see no viable reason for these two technologies. It will certainly be up to the purchaser of the VW85 what they do with these options, but for the rest of this review (and indeed the time I spent watching the VW85) both were switched off.

Picture Quality

So we move to the picture quality of the VW85 and apart from some reference scenes I have used for a number of years now, this is the only subjective area of this review, but backed up with the evidence above. The first thing that makes the Sony stand out with out of the box and calibrated results is the quality of its lens. Like JVC’s D-ILA tech and Panasonic’s use of smooth screen, the Sony produces an image that looks very filmic and detailed. It is a step away from the ultra sharp edged DLP look that I sometimes describe as digital. (That means that the image is very digital looking and you know you are watching a digital projector.) SXRD doesn’t have that digital look instead it follows the two others mentioned above by offering a sharp and detailed image which has an almost film like texture as apposed to an image that has ultra sharp (usually processed) lines and edges. The technology produces an image where pixels are invisible up to the point where you press your nose against the screen. And the quality of Sony’s lens here really adds to that texture and look. When compared to our reference HD950 it’s quite obvious that the Sony has the better glass. It’s not something that jumps out; instead it’s a subtle difference in absolute fine detail and focus resolution and I would suggest is only possible to see when running both next to each other as we have done here.

Moving to the important issues of black levels and dynamic range the Sony again offers an image that is very close to reference level. Whilst it just doesn’t quite have the dynamics across the entire range as the JVC HD950 or quite as fluid a black performance, the difference is not as great as last years models. Indeed, unless you compared both in calibrated modes against each other on the same screen and in the same room, I could understand comments that they both look very similar in regards to dynamic range. Blacks are a little more than a subtle difference but not by a huge margin and in isolation I wouldn’t complain. Moving the JVC gamma levels down to match the Sony 2.0 point both resolve the same detail levels within the image, especially in the lower reaches. At this point the Sony is offering a performance that is a vast improvement over the outgoing VW80 and gets within a whisker of the HD950.

Colour accuracy and greyscale performance from the Sony also produces a very accurate and natural looking image extremely close to the standards and our reference points. Again picking a difference between the VW85 and HD950 is not an easy task with the JVC in my opinion just having that little bit of an edge in absolute accuracy terms. And again, unless you find a dealer where you can compare both correctly ISF calibrated and in light controlled surroundings it’s going to be a difficult task. The only area where I found big differences was with image uniformity in darker scenes and with 0-20ire rasters. Here the review sample of the Sony had some issues with brighter corners against the centre of the image. Both had similar hours on the bulb yet the JVC is far better with its uniformity. But some may think that’s nit picking on my part.

One area where I have had emails asking me to check and compare the projectors have concerned an alleged problem with image judder and detail loss. The VW85 offers the same performance levels as the HD950 in terms of 24fps playback with motionflow and CMD switched off. Both offer a doubled frame approach and I didn’t see any issues with either projector where judder or resolution loss with moving images was a stand out issue. Having done some research on the web with these claims, funnily enough they seem to emanate from dealers selling one model or the other. There is no difference here that I can report on.

One issue that does happen with some users is to do with the sample and hold effect that is reported from some viewers. Again I don’t see this and it would appear that it is not such a common occurrence. Research shows that this type of issue is not a problem with the SXRD or D-ILA technology but actually comes down to the individual user and their perception of images. Some will pick up on such an issue and will see an image effect. But this is not the projector technology but is an issue with the individual watching the image. It is very much like the reported rainbow effect with single chip DLP projectors, but instead of the projector technology adding to the effect some people perceive, the SXRD and D-ILA tech is not something that the projector produces and the effects are down to the individual viewer’s vision perception. I have tested this research and see no reason to doubt the results. Like I have said I don’t see any issues with both the projectors with judder or resolution loss that is extraordinary in nature. Certainly nothing to separate the two units.

For me, and this is my personal opinion having both here and running so many comparisons, the JVC just edges it in absolute image terms. However, the Sony gets so close to our reference machine that only slight issues with absolute accuracy in results and some uniformity issues stop it achieving that reference badge. But its so close a competition that choosing either is going to be a tough task for consumers.

Just make sure that they are professionally calibrated when you audition them. And I would add that at this price and performance level, an ISF calibration is a must.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Ultra quiet running noise
  • Excellent black levels
  • Excellent out of the box results
  • Reference calibrated greyscale
  • Very good image accuracy to the standards
  • Anamorphic lens option
  • Good quality video processing for SD and HD material
  • Good remote control
  • Good level of installation flexibility

The Bad

  • Motionflow interpolation system not ideal for use with 24fps material if you are after accuracy
  • RCP is inaccurate and should be replaced with a better system
  • Slight uniformity issues
  • Gamma control should be in the projector

Sony Bravia VPL-VW85 SXRD Projector Review

I think JVC (who were recently awarded our reference badge for the HD950) should be worried and the consumer looking for a projector at this level should feel lucky to have a hard choice ahead of them. The VW85 has some excellent attributes and offers a performance that is within a few whiskers of reference level.

Image quality, accuracy, depth and black levels are all top drawer and only very slight issues stop the Sony from achieving our reference level badge. And I don’t think I can add anything else to this review other than the comment that we have never had it this good in the world of home cinema projection. I don’t envy anyone looking at this end of the market and being forced to make a decision between this projector and the JVC offering. For me the JVC edges it, but as I have said, it’s a close run thing. Well done Sony and the VW85 comes extremely and highly recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
8

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Image Uniformity

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
.
8

2D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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