Sony VPL-HW30ES SXRD 3D Projector review

Phil Hinton checks out Sony's second generation 3D projector

by Phil Hinton
Home AV Review

3

Recommended
Sony VPL-HW30ES SXRD 3D Projector review
SRP: £3,000.00

Introduction

The first Sony 3D projector was the VPL-VW90ES which we reviewed back in February 2011 and found an outstanding 2D image which was tempered by a disappointing 3D offering. There were issues with crosstalk and image parallax with 3D playback which dented the otherwise stellar image quality of that model. So it is with interest that this new entry level projector from Sony offers their second generation 3D technology and, we have our fingers crossed that it finally lives up to the promise seen with the VW90ES.
With all that talk about the VPL-VW90ES we also have to remember that the VPL-HW30ES is an entry level product aimed at a price point which will mean that some areas of performance will struggle to reach the lofty heights of its high end predecessor. But with an impressive list of features and the promise of cross talk free 3D images at the price point, we can’t wait to get stuck in.

Design, Connections and Setup

The VPL-HW30ES looks identical to the HW models that it follows on from with the same chassis design and layout. This is not a bad thing as the previous models were never considered ugly in their looks and the layout of the unit is a proven and workable design. The changes made with the VPL-HW30ES are almost entirely internal with upgraded Sony SXRD 240Hz Panels, which Sony claims to minimise image distortion and crosstalk dues to its higher refresh. Plus the projector also has a new dynamic lamp control feature that claims to raise the brightness by up to 3 times that of a normal bulb which in turn offers high efficiency. Other internal updates include an improved motionflow system and the advanced IRIS3 which Sony claims improves the contrast ratio. So, although it may look identical to the previous HW models, there are plenty of new features on offer internally.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

The lay out of the projector has the lens centrally placed in the chassis with lens shift controls on the top panel and the zoom and focus rings on the plastic lens cover. To the left hand side (looking from the front) we have the connections on the lower plate of the projectors side, with some manual controls a little higher up on the side panel. The curved design of the top cover and the rounded edges give the projector a sleek look, although design and looks are obviously a personal thing.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

The lens shift adjustment is a manual affair on the HW30ES with two adjustment wheels situated on the top plate above the lens. These are easy to use and obviously we would always recommend correctly positioning the projector on the right ceiling mount or table at the correct distance and height so other adjustments like lens shift are used sparingly. And don’t ever use keystone correction on a projector unless you want to rob your images of detail and add in artefacts. The lens adjustment is more than enough for a proper installation and the lens zoom and focus are again manual with rings on the lens. The use of such controls do save money over having a motorised system that adds to the cost, but that can also break down and stop working. However, the downsides are that the lens shift and focus does move over time. Indeed, we found the lens shift did move slightly between uses and needed a quick correction. This might be a result of the review model being used and set up over a number of times and the lens shift has more movement over time, so we won’t be too critical here. We also noticed that the focus also drifted slightly during warm up of the projector and usually left it for 30 mins to warm up and then touch up the focus slightly.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

Moving to the connections and the HW30 offers a generous range of video inputs including two HDMI slots, one component, one PC/VGA input and an RS232 port. There is also an Ethernet port for the 3D transmitter. These connections are on the left hand side of the unit (looking from the front) and just above the connections are the manual access controls for the menu and power, should you misplace your remote control.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

The remote control supplied with the HW30ES is the same model we have seen with the VW90 and previous Sony HW models. It is a substantial unit with direct access keys for all the most important functions and also has a central menu button with directional keypad. The remote feels solid and well-built with a button for a blue coloured backlit for use in the dark. It sits easily in the hand with all the important keys within easy reach and positioned logically. The layout is extremely intuitive and you will soon be accessing the important buttons as second nature within a few minutes of use.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

For the 3D side of the VPL-HW30ES it comes with an infra-red transmitter that connects to the projector via Ethernet cable and can be positioned either on top of the unit pointing at the screen, or in front of the viewer pointing back into the room. We found that bouncing the transmitter off our acoustically transparent enlighter 4K screen material did not work very well and we had sync issues. However, using a long cat6 cable, positioning the transmitter at the front of our cinema room and pointing it back towards the viewing area resulted in no sync loss issues. The transmitter itself is an awkward unit that is light weight and difficult to position when connected to the cable. Because it is so light, the actual weight of the cable moves this around into all kinds of strange positions and in the end I had to use some blu-tack on the bottom of the unit to keep it still and in place. It also doesn’t feel particularly well made and I got the impression it would be easy to break the unit by applying any kind of pressure to it when fixing it in position.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

The glasses supplied with the HW30ES are the new Sony TDG-PJ1 models, which are 18 grams lighter than the previous sets. They can be charged in 30 minutes to provide 30 hours of continuous watching and feel reasonably comfortable for short periods of time. I did find that over longer periods of time, say the length of a 3D movie, they did start to become uncomfortable around the nose and felt heavy, even though these new models are supposed to be lighter than previous glasses. However, 3D specs are very much a personal thing and they may be fine for other users over long periods of time. Sony have not yet confirmed what the cost of extra glasses will be.

Setting up the VPL-HW30 is a very straight forward affair as long as you follow the recommended mounting positions. If you need help with positioning and installing the unit we would recommend using a competent dealer to make sure you get the very best out of the projector. Like all projectors careful mounting and position to the screen is important so you are not relying on using too much lens shift and never ever use keystone correction. We found that the Sony’s 1.47 -2.18 throw ratio made it very adaptable for use in most UK rooms to provide good sized images from reasonable throw lengths. You should be able to achieve a 100” image from about 11ft and 120” from approximately 14ft away. Having enough brightness to achieve a good image at those sizes will depend on the room in which the HW30ES is used and Sony quite rightly point out that best performance is achieved in a dedicated light controlled room.

Menus

The HW30ES offers up an extensive menu system with enough controls over the image parameters to fine tune the projector for your viewing environment. Or at least that is the theory. Note that none of the picture settings shown in the images here were final calibrated settings, they are for illustration only.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

The main menu defaults to picture controls as it should and offers a number of picture modes to start with. These include three cinema modes based on digital cinema, what they call real cinema and professional monitor quality defined by Sony. There are also user modes as well as Games and Photo options. Obviously we are concerned with images that get close to the industry standards for image quality playback for film and TV so these modes were measured to find the closest options.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

Other settings here include Cinema Black Pro which controls the IRIS3 settings as well as a manual iris mode and an off option. We used the manual mode for all our testing as it provided a stable image to work from rather than one that changed with a dynamic iris. At AVForums we favour the approach of defining a stable image that holds image parameters throughout viewing and we do not like the idea of any manipulation of the image that affects the APL and gamma by constantly changing the image, no matter how fast. We would rather encourage manufacturers to build projectors with high native contrast than use an electronic means to change the contrast constantly.

Next up we have the Motionflow settings for the projector's frame interpolation technology. Again, as purists we would rather watch content, especially film, as intended without smoothing but also realise that this technology will benefit those who want to watch big screen sports. This is particularly true of our American readers and there are enough options to provide an end user with a means to experiment with the Motionflow to find the balance between smooth action and introduced artefacts. This will be an area where personal preference will rule. For us we tested it and then left it switched off as we didn’t feel it was necessary for 90% of our viewing.

Following the Motionflow option are the usual front panel controls (Contrast, Brightness etc.) and then the colour temperature settings. Thankfully the HW30ES offers plenty of choice with a full selection of temperature levels as well as full manual controls for correct calibration to D65 white (Note that is D65 white co-ordinates, not 6500K which is often mistakenly referred to as calibrated white). Rounding up the main menu is the sharpness control and an option for expert settings.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

The Expert settings menu provides controls for Noise reduction settings, Film mode for cadence detection, Gamma selection for choosing a gamma point and some manual settings along with a choice of colour space from Normal to Wider and wider. The colour space and Gamma controls are the most important in this section with the Normal selection providing a colour gamut that gets close to the industry standards for colour in film and TV playback. Whilst the Gamma controls are not fully manual and don’t allow fine tuning of the curve, there are enough selection points to hit a desired curve towards our reference point of 2.2 but also 2.4 which is arguably best suited to light controlled projection environments. The colour management system (CMS) which Sony call Real Colour Processing (RCP) is found on the second menu screen and should offer full control over the RGBYMC points for Saturation, Hue and Brightness. Except it doesn't work. More details are in the calibration area of the review.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

The 3D set up controls are frustratingly not situated with the picture set up menus, but are found about four pages away in the function menus. There are plenty of set up options here to make sure that the projector is showing 3D content correctly as well as subtle controls for depth parallax and how long the glasses shutters are open. Obviously the longer they are open the more chance you have with adding crosstalk artefacts, but unlike the VW90ES, the HW30 handles this well with no obvious issues with good sync with the glasses.

Out of the box measurements

As 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 HW30ES we chose to use the USER setting for the picture mode and set the colour space to normal, with white balance on custom 3 and the gamma set at custom 4. Here are the results.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

As you can see from the RGB balance chart the greyscale is not perfect but it is uniform in its tracking with red around 10% high and both blue and green just tracking around 5% low. The DeltaE errors tell us that in the higher range of the greyscale we are likely to see more errors on screen which is likely to look too warm. Moving to viewing onscreen images this is certainly the case and the Sony has a slight yellow tint to whites and highlights within the image. This is perfectly acceptable and in some cases more preferential to having blue whites (although blue is harder to notice). In terms of gamma it tracks low in the bottom end (black) and close to 2.2 higher up the greyscale. Again this is acceptable but does give the image a slightly washed out look, especially in the lower range (this does show up more details in the shadows, but usually of things you are not supposed to see and takes the contrast out of the image). So whilst not perfect by any means the out of the box greyscale is acceptable and can be described as good.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

Moving to the colour gamut is usually where we see most of the errors with modern displays. It is important for the colour gamut to match the Rec.709 standards which are the colour points for HDTV and Blu-ray playback. If a gamut is wider than this it is adding colour information that is not in the source and pushing the primary and secondary colours to look unnatural. The Rec.709 points are on the above CIE chart as a triangle with each primary and secondary point shown as a box within that triangle. Looking at the results of the Normal colour space selection shows us that the HW30ES does a very good job of trying to hit the correct points.

With the exception of Blue and Green, most of the resultant points here are close to where we would like to see them and the overall DeltaE errors are mostly below 4 or 5, which is a very good result from a factory set preset. There are some instances of under saturation with some points and Blue is higher than we would like, but again, as blue is the hardest colour for us to see these errors are very much within the acceptable limits. If we can correct the white balance point that should bring the secondary colours into line a little better. We also have a CMS system to try and correct the colour points, but there is an issue here.

Calibrated Results

We start with the white balance controls and the aim is to improve the greyscale so we have no visible errors on screen.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

With full custom controls for a two point greyscale correction (at 30IRE and 80IRE) we managed to get the greyscale tracking with no visible errors to our desired co-ordinates for D65. This means that the HW30 is capable of producing a greyscale that hits our reference point for reviews. Some may be asking about what looks like an overly high gamma curve but as we are reviewing the HW30 in ideal conditions the higher gamma of around 2.4 for the most part gives us a very dynamic image on screen that looks excellent with real world material, so in this case a nice looking graph is not needed, the on screen results speak louder in terms of the image quality. We could have hit the 2.2 mark with another selection in the gamma options but we felt it just looked a little washed out given the viewing conditions and the 2.4 results seemed to hit a sweet spot with this projector in this room.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

Moving to the colour gamut calibration brings up the results on graphs against what is happening onscreen. We do consistently make the point of being able to look at the results on our graphs and to always compare that with well-known reference material on screen. The HW30ES is a case in point for this as we quickly found out that the Real Colour Processing (RCP) while trying to fulfil the role of a Colour Management System (CMS) is flawed in practice and doesn’t work as expected. Using a number of techniques to try and get the colour points correct to Rec.709 standards from moving in a wider gamut, to testing the normal preset and a few other workarounds it was obvious that any adjustments made in the RCP tool resulted in very obvious artefacting in the high contrast areas of an image, pointing to colour clipping or some other luminance clipping issue. Image with low APL content also demonstrated artefacts which also pointed to a limitation of the controls and switching the RCP tool off quickly confirmed it was causing real issues with the image. We were unable in the time we had with the HW30ES to fully pinpoint the issues the RCP was having, but it is safe to say you can disregard the results in the graph above as these introduced severe artefacts in the image. The RCP does not work and we will be feeding this back to Sony.

In the end we settled for the normal preset with a corrected greyscale as our final image for assessment and whilst it is annoying that we couldn’t fully calibrate the projector to the standards the onscreen images did hold up reasonably well and were reasonably close.

Video Processing

With regard to video processing, the HW30ES manages well with a mixture of various materials and formats from a host of test discs. Blu-ray 24fps playback is smooth without any signs of induced judder or with any backdoor processing taking place. With SD material the HW30ES handles scaling duties well, with no obvious signs of edge ringing on upscaled material and no obvious signs of jaggies with its deinterlacing performance. Indeed the HW30ES managed to handle all the tests thrown at it with aplomb without causing any issues that would disrupt the viewing experience.

With Motionflow we have a frame interpolation system that tries to make images look smooth and sharp. There are obvious issues to be seen with image artefacts in the highest setting and it introduces the dreaded 'soap opera' look to film material. With fast moving sports viewing the system may well be useful for some viewers and it will be a suck it and see approach for many to experiment with. For us, it was switched off for all film and TV viewing where we found the image to be the most consistent with how the material we viewed should look.

Picture Quality – 2D

With a host of well know reference scenes we set about testing the HW30ES to see just how well it handles 2D material. It may be a 3D projector but for the majority of potential owners it will be 2D content that dominates their big screen viewing and the HW30ES turns in a very good performance indeed. Black levels are handled with confidence on the Sony with good shadow details against an impressive dynamic range and a solid black performance given its price point. Whilst it is not as deep or fluid as the some of the best on the market like the JVC, it is also not a million miles away, producing an image that has strong dynamics in mixed scenes and very good natural looking colours. It is only really in side by side comparisons where you notice the slightly off primary green and with some skin tones there can be an underlying redness that is a little sunburnt in look. But we would guess only the die-hard video purists watching reference material would really notice this slight discrepancy. Blu-ray looks excellent with no signs of any image processing getting in the way of displaying every last ounce of detail to the screen. And in terms of sharpness the lens used by the HW30 also offers a nicely focussed and sharp looking image with no signs of any problems.

Sony VPL-HW30ES

There are a few niggles with the image that are noticeable and could be distracting for certain viewers. Motion on the HW30 whilst solid and free from induced judder does show up some image smearing with fast moving objects or camera pans where the limitations of SXRD imaging usually suffer (the JVC D-ILAs are also prone to this). This is nowhere near a deal breaker and will probably go unnoticed by the majority of viewers, but it is something that will be noticeable with some content.

Screen uniformity is an important factor to take into account with projectors and the HW30 is susceptible to showing light corners in darker scenes. This was only distracting in very dark scenes, or when the projector was selecting a source signal and we are sure that it will also vary from model to model in the degree is visibility. This review sample had light corners which were only seen on occasions as described.

Overall, the 2D image produced by the HW30 is very good indeed and makes it a very strong contender in the current market with its visible contrast dynamics, strong black levels and relatively natural colour performance. The slight niggles are not enough to stop you from demonstrating this projector in 2D mode as it outperforms its price point and market position in most regards.

Picture Performance – 3D

Sony really needed to get the 3D performance of the HW30 correct as after the disappointment of the VW90ES earlier this year, a small part of Sony’s reputation is riding on the HW30 hitting the 3D sweet spot and we're happy to report they have nailed it!

Straight out of the box the 3D performance is a revelation compared to the lacklustre images of the VW90 with excellent image depth and clarity and very few instances of crosstalk. There is still a degree of adjustments to be made with the first set up of the projector to get the image married to you screen size, but within a few seconds you will soon have some excellent 3D images to savour. There are the usual issues with the 3D image as there are with every 3D display at the moment. Colour balance is the main issue and the slight yellow tinge of the glasses, used by Sony, don’t really help matters a great deal here. You do however have separate picture set up memories for 3D that won’t affect your 2D image settings. This allows some flexibility in set up and gives you the chance to get some semblance of balance to the colour performance.

The most striking feature for us was the lack of crosstalk and the instances of parallax distortion seen on the VW90, which are now fixed with the HW30. Sync issues with the glasses are also now gone once you find the ideal site for the transmitter placement in the room. The only negative we had with the Sony’s 3D performance was how much light is thrown away between the screen and the glasses. With the glasses on you are easily losing 70% of the projected light output from the projector and depending on the screen used this will impact on some users in surroundings that are perhaps not light controlled properly. This is the one area where the Sony does suffer performance wise against the JVC X3 and Panasonic PT-AT5000 which both offer markedly less light loss through the glasses. Screen and room will have an impact here so factor that into any demo you have with the HW30.

In terms of 3D performance at the price point the HW30 is a marked improvement over the VW90 and offers almost cross talk free images and once set up correctly also have an acceptable colour balance to them. Sharpness is also not an issue with the HW30 producing clean 3D even with some of the tougher examples of content out there. We don’t envy anyone in the market for this level of projector as the choice is getting tougher by the day and the Sony certainly has many strong points going for its 3D performance married to an extremely good 2D offering.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Excellent black levels and dynamic range for price point
  • Excellent greyscale when calibrated, good out of the box
  • Acceptable colour gamut performance out of the box
  • Very little visible crosstalk in 3D
  • Impressive 2D and 3D performance at price point

The Bad

  • Full calibration to standards not possible
  • RCP colour management doesn't work without adding unwanted artefacts
  • Loss of light when using the 3D glasses
  • Yellow tint to 3D glasses affects colour balance performance
  • No anamorphic stretch for 2D or 3D
  • Focus drift during warm up
  • Lens shift prone to move slightly over time
  • 3D menus should be under picture settings and not hidden away in the menu system

Sony VPL-HW30ES SXRD 3D Projector review

The Sony VPL-HW30ES hits the market just as every other projector manufacturer in the business also lines up their £4k and under 3D models for launch. It is going to be a tough market to operate in for the Sony, but as consumers and enthusiasts it is excellent to see so many new projectors offering the latest technology at ever lower price levels. The amount of movement in the 3D market place in the last 12 months has been staggering and the fact that £4k and under now buys you excellent performance in both 2D and 3D shows just how fast the market is moving. It has never been better for the enthusiast and end user with plenty of choice and performance on offer.

There are differences in all the various models available and again this means that making an educated choice for what projector will suit you and your surroundings is now better than ever.

The HW30ES offers up excellent black levels and dynamic range at its price point. Images are solid with good levels of shadow detailing on show in the best possible viewing surroundings. It offers a good level of brightness on our 110” 2.37:1 screen in our testing environment with complete light control, but this will differ for larger screens in less than ideal surroundings. Even with some levels of ambient light (or light coloured walls and ceilings) the HW30 does its best to offer an image which stands up quite well to ambient light washing out the image slightly. But as we always point out, to get the best from any projector requires a room that allows it to perform at its very best, and in such surroundings the HW30ES will take a lot to beat it at this price point. The slight downside to all this is the lack of a working colour management system which means we were unable to fine tune and calibrate the projector to hit the industry standards. The RCP control does not work without adding in image artefacts due to clipping in the higher end of the luminance which means the system is unusable. So we have to fall to the out of the box ‘Normal’ colour gamut which is a little under saturated overall with a strong blue. But falling onto this preset is not all bad news and the actual onscreen performance with film and TV material offers a good image that only the real videophile out there will be a little disappointed with.

The overall image quality in 2D is good and this also translates to the 3D side of things that are a vast improvement over the VW90ES we reviewed earlier this year. Gone are the cross talk and parallax issues that plagued that model and what we get here is an image with plenty of depth and very little visible crosstalk. It is not crosstalk free with some tough content pushing the capabilities and showing areas of ghosting, but for the vast majority of viewing material the 3D images hold up very well with nothing that would take you out of the experience. There are issues with colour balance, which is a problem with almost all 3D playback displays and this seems to be added to with the slight yellow tint on the glasses supplied by Sony, giving everything a little bit of a green tinge, but with some slight adjustments it is possible to get a colour balance that is easy to live with, even for perfectionists like us here at AVForums. I still feel the Sony glasses are a little heavy and after a movie my nose had a nice red mark where they had been resting, but again this will be quite a personal issue where some will find them comfortable enough, but I would like to see more development to make them lighter and more comfortable to wear. The last thing to mention here is the light drop off when using the 3D specs which is quite excessive with an estimated loss of around 70% of the available light. This is a little higher than some of the competition and will mean that the surroundings in which the HW30ES is used is more important with 3D playback.

So, as with almost every display out there the Sony HW30ES has some strong plus points with a good 2D image and very good 3D performance but with some issues with the colour balance and colour gamut performance. It is great to see that Sony have finally managed to get their 3D images up to the same standard as the competition out there and also offer strong black levels and good contrast. Given that we are now 12 months down the line from our review of the HW20 and of course are now seeing a higher standard of projector at this price point, our scores below now reflect that as well as the badge presented. In the case of the HW30ES we think it is very good value for money offering a very good 2D and excellent 3D performance overall and should be demonstrated by anyone in this area of the market against the competition. We don’t think you will be disappointed by what the Sony offers and it comes recommended, with the points we have made.

Recommended

Scores

3D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
.
.
6

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
.
.
6

Verdict

.
.
.
7

2D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
.
8

Image Uniformity

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
8
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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