Sony VPL-HW50ES SXRD 3D Projector Review

Sony hopes some of the magic from the VW1000 will rub off on their latest projector

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Highly Recommended
Sony VPL-HW50ES SXRD 3D Projector Review
SRP: £2,800.00

Introduction

It's been quite a year for Sony in terms of projectors, after something of a false start with the VW90ES, the Japanese manufacturer bounced back with the excellent VW95ES and the equally impressive HW30ES. Then there was the remarkable VW1000ES, less of a projector and more of a technological statement of intent, the VW1000 brought the full power of 4K digital cinema into the home. Many of the innovations present on the VW1000 have since found their way in to other Sony products, with the company's flagship Blu-ray player, the BDP-S790, incorporating 4K upscaling. Now we have the VPL-HW50ES projector, which is the latest Sony product to inherit cutting edge technology from the VW1000, with the inclusion of Reality Creation. This is the most recent generation of Sony's image processor that is designed to improve picture quality using a proprietary database and advanced algorithms. That's not all that's new this year, as this 1080p 3D projector also includes increased brightness to make it more suitable for less than ideal viewing conditions.

That shows a degree of pragmatism on the part of Sony, who realise that people buying projectors in the sub-£3,000 range, usually don't have them in bat caves. Sony hope that the HW50 will be able to deliver bright and accurate images, even in rooms with light coloured walls which would normally wash-out the picture. The VPL-HW50ES appears to be the only new projector Sony are launching this year, which means they have a lot riding on its success - let's see if it justifies their faith.

Design and Connections

The HW50 inherits the exact same chassis as last year's HW30 and, once again, it is available in either black or white. The option to buy the projector in white helps cater towards the lower end of the projector market, where consumers tend to install them in rooms with light coloured walls and ceilings. Despite the HW50's price point, it still has all of Sony's design flair and the overall look of the projector is very attractive - whichever colour you choose. The HW50 also incorporates Sony's high quality build standards, with a solid and well-engineered feel. In terms of dimensions, the HW50 measures 407 x 179 x 464mm and weighs 9.6kg. The lens appears of a reasonable quality, with no obvious defects or issues, which is good as the lens and optical path are often the first areas to suffer as the price drops.

Sony VPL-HW50ES

The HW50 has a x1.6 zoom lens and an improved lens shift range for more flexible placement and installation. However it uses manual controls for zooming, shifting and focusing the lens, which, whilst not unusual at this price point, does put it at a disadvantage to its direct competitors - the JVC X35 and the Panasonic PT-AT6000. Both of those projectors have fully motorised controls which not only make installation easier (manually focusing on your own can be tricky) but also include lens memory features for use with a 2.35:1 screen. The vertical and horizontal lens shift controls are directly above the lens housing and the zoom focus is adjusted using rotating rings around the edge of the lens itself. The entire chassis sits on adjustable feet, with intake vents on the sides and a large exhaust vent at the rear; whilst some basic controls and all the connections are on the left hand side as you face the lens.

Sony VPL-HW50ES

These basic controls on the left hand side include on/off, input, menu, up/down/left/right and enter, so whilst you could control the HW50 using them, it's probably best not to lose the remote. The connections are in a recessed area along the bottom left hand side and here you'll find two HDMI 1.4a inputs, a VGA input and a component video input using RCA connectors. There is also an RS232 connector for serial control, an IR port and an external 3D synch emitter, although there is already one built-in.

Sony VPL-HW50ES

The remote control provided with the HW50 is the standard design that Sony use with all their projectors; it is well built, comfortable to hold, has a backlight and is sensibly laid out. At the top there are the on/off and input keys, along with buttons for directly accessing all the preset picture modes. In the middle there are the directional controls, the enter button, the menu button, the reset button and a pattern button to aid setup. Below these are buttons that provide direct access to certain image controls such as 3D, aspect, motion enhancer, colour temperature, colour space, RCP, gamma correction, advanced iris and the reality creation feature. At the bottom of the remote there are individual controls for sharpness, brightness and contrast.

Sony VPL-HW50ES

The HW50 has a built-in infrared 3D emitter and comes with two pairs of active shutter glasses (TDG-PJ1). We really liked these glasses because they have large lenses which afford a wide field of view when wearing them, which is useful when looking at a big screen. They also fit comfortably over regular glasses and the width of the frames and the sides make them very effective at blocking out any ambient light. The lenses themselves aren't overly tinted and we didn't experience any problems with loss of sync or flicker; they also seemed more tolerant to tilting your head. There is an on button and a small LED indicator on the top right of the frames and a micro-USB connector hidden under a cover on the right hand side of the glasses for recharging. They can be recharged in 30 minutes and when fully charged can provide 30 hours of continuous use.

Menus and Setup

The menu system on the HW50 is also the standard Sony design, which is concise, clearly laid out and easy to navigate; if rather monochromatic in appearance. There are seven sub-menus - Picture, RCP, Screen, Setup, Function, Installation and Information. The Setup sub-menu includes settings for Status (on-screen display), Language, Menu Position, Cooling Setting (depending on altitude), Standby Mode (Standard or Low power consumption), Power Saving (goes into standby mode if no signal is received for 10 minutes) and Lamp Setting (for when you replace the lamp). The Function sub-menu includes the 3D Settings which include selecting whether to project in 2D or 3D, which 3D format (Side-by-Side, Over-Under or Simulated 3D), 3D Brightness, 3D Depth Adjust and Simulated 3D Effect. Other controls include the HDMI Setting, HDMI Dynamic Range, Auto Input Search, Background and Settings Lock.

Sony VPL-HW50ES
Sony VPL-HW50ES
TheInstallation sub-menu includes the V Keystone (which you should never use), Image Flip, Blanking and Panel Alignment. The panel alignment feature uses 144 zones and you can adjust in steps of 1/10 pixels. The alignment of the panels on our review sample was actually very good but it is good to know that if they are slightly misaligned, you at least have this feature to correct it. Finally, before moving on to the picture settings, there is the Information sub-menu, which shows the Lamp Timer and the Screen sub-menu, where you can select the Aspect Ratio and there is also a control to turn Overscan on or off - always leave it off. Unlike last year's VPL-HW30ES, the HW50 includes an anamorphic stretch mode, which is handy if you want to use the projector with an anamorphic lens.

Sony VPL-HW50ES
Sony VPL-HW50ES
The Picture sub-menu provides a number of ‘calibrated’ presets that can also be accessed directly from the remote control; these include Cinema Film 1 and 2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, Bright TV and User. At least some of them involve the use of an additional filter which you can hear moving in and out of place as you change preset. The Picture menu also includes all the usual image controls such as Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Hue and Sharpness, with Contrast, Brightness and Sharpness directly accessible from the remote control.

The Picture sub-menu is where you will also find the control for the Reality Creation feature (more on this later), as well as the Cinema Black Pro controls. This is Sony's name for their dynamic iris feature and there is a choice of Auto Full, Auto Limited, Manual and Off. Here you will also find the Lamp Control, where you can select High or Low, although the projector will automatically go into High lamp mode when projecting a 3D image. Next there is the Motionflow sub-menu, where you can set the Motion Enhancer frame interpolation feature, which we obviously turned off. However we left the Film Projection mode on, which inserts a black frame rather than any interpolation and thus doesn't result in any unnatural smoothness. There is also 24P True Cinema, which is optimised for correctly displaying film motion with 24p content.

Sony VPL-HW50ES
Sony VPL-HW50ES

The Expert sub-menu provides additional controls for correctly setting up the HW50, as well as some less useful features. There were controls for Noise Reduction, MPEG Noise Reduction, Contrast Enhancer and x.v.Colour - all of which we left off. There was a control for selecting the Film Mode, there is a choice of Auto 1, Auto 2 or Off. We found that Auto 2 produced the best results in the video processing tests. There is also a control for selecting the Gamma Correction which provides options from 1.8 to 2.6, as well as four other curves and an off setting. Finally there is a control for selecting the Colour Space with a number of choices, including BT.709 which is the industry standard for most consumer content.

Sony VPL-HW50ES
Sony VPL-HW50ES

Within the Picture menu, there is also a Colour Temperature setting which lists the correct colour temperature standard of D65 along with custom colour temperature settings which allow access to a two point white balance control for calibration. The Custom 3 setting uses D65 as its starting point, so it can also be used in lieu of the actual D65 setting if you wish. The white balance control allows the user to adjust the amounts of red, green and blue at two specific points in order to calibrate the greyscale exactly at D65. There is also a final sub-menu called RCP (Real Colour Processing) which gives you access to Sony's colour management system. Here you can calibrate the three primary (red, green and blue) and three secondary (cyan, magenta and yellow) colours by adjusting Colour (saturation), Hue (tint) and Brightness (luminance).

Out-of-the-Box Measurements

The HW50 uses reasonably informative names for its various picture settings and it also includes Sony's Reference preset which offers the most accurate out-of-the-box selection. In this preset the HW50 was already set to a Colour Temperature of D65, a Colour Space of BT.709 and a Gamma of 2.2 which looks promising. Ordinarily we would choose a Gamma of 2.4 for a projector in a light controlled environment but after running some measurements we found that the 2.2 setting was actually measuring close to 2.4, so we left it at that setting. We were also pleased to note that in the Reference preset the Noise Filtering was off, the Advanced Iris was off, the Motion Enhancer was off and the Contrast Enhancer was off. It would seem that the Reference preset actually does do what the manual claims and leaves the image largely unmolested. All that left us to do was optimise the Contrast and Brightness settings and just check that the Sharpness control was set to minimum.

Sony VPL-HW50ES

Once we were happy that everything was set up correctly we measured the greyscale performance and generally the results were excellent. As out-of-the box measurements go, the HW50 delivered one of the best, with all three primary colours tracking reasonably close to target of 100. This resulted in DeltaEs (errors) of less than three for most of the scale, especially in the important mid-part between 30 and 80 IRE, and only at 90 and 100 IRE, did the errors manifest as some slight discolouration on a stair step greyscale pattern. The Gamma Point was also tracking reasonably well, measuring between 2.2 and 2.4 which is probably about right for most viewing environments. Overall this was a very good performance for an out-of-the-box setting and since the HW50 includes a two point white balance control, we would expect to improve this performance still further.

Sony VPL-HW50ES

The triangle on the CIE Chart represents the colour space Rec.709 which is the industry standard used by almost all the content we watch. Looking at the results of our measurements, the colour performance of the HW50 was excellent for an out-of-the-box measurement, with all six colours delivering overall errors of less than two (the tolerance is three). Best of all, the most crucial element of colour - luminance - was spot on, which is important because our eyes are most sensitive to errors in this area. There was some slight under saturation in all the colours and a minor error in the hue of green but, overall, the colour accuracy was excellent. Calibrating the greyscale will improve the colour accuracy slightly and Sony has included a colour management system for further fine tuning.

Calibrated Measurements

For these tests we chose the Colour Temperature setting of Custom 3 which gave us access to the two point white balance control and used D65 as its starting point. We also used the RCP (Real Colour Processing) controls to fine tune the colour space to get it as close to Rec.709 as possible.

Sony VPL-HW50ES

The out-of-the-box greyscale showed red and blue tracking at angles to each other, which always makes calibrating with a two point white balance control tricky. The problem is that as you adjust at one point, it has an adverse affect at the other point, so a successful calibration becomes a balancing act. As you can see from the graph above, the two point white balance control was ultimately effective at calibrating the greyscale, resulting in a near reference performance. All three colours are tracking near the target of 100 and the errors are all less than one, with the exception of 100 IRE, which we couldn't quite get below a DeltaE of three. The Gamma Point is still tracking around our target of 2.4, which is good but should you need to you can use the ImageDirector3 software to fine tune the gamma.

Sony VPL-HW50ES

The RCP (Real Colour Processing) featured on last year's HW30 was faulty, with only minor adjustments resulting in very noticeable artefacts in the image. Thankfully the HW50 uses the new RCP Version 2, which does not appear to cause any artefacts when used. In fairness after the greyscale had been calibrated, there were very few errors left to correct, so calibrating the colour space became more an exercise in fine tuning. Ideally the three controls in a CMS - Colour, Hue and Brightness - should all be independent of one another.

Unfortunately this wasn't the case with Sony's RCP and adjust the Brightness would affect the Colour and vice versa. This meant that we ultimately had to compromise and as such we choose accurate Brightness (luminance) measurements over the Colour (saturation). As a result, red, green, cyan and magenta were still slightly under saturated and we were unable to completely correct the slight error in the Hue (tint) of green. Hopefully in future versions of RCP, the controls will have a greater degree of independence. However the overall DeltaEs were less than two and most were less than one so, as with the greyscale, this is a near reference colour space and an excellent performance from a projector at this price point.

Brightness, Black Levels and Dynamic Range

One of the big selling points of the HW50 is its claimed brightness of 1,700 lumens, which Sony hope will make the projector better suited for use in peoples' living rooms and boost the brightness in 3D mode. The HW50 not only uses a 200W bulb but also includes Sony's Dynamic Lamp Control Technology which is designed specifically to boost the brightness of 3D images.

Sony have also included Bright Cinema and Bright TV modes, which they claim can boost the brightness whilst retaining colour accuracy and contrast, to allow the projector to be used in well-lit environments. The reality is that these brighter settings quickly lose any semblance of accuracy, although it could argued that it's not as important when using a projector in a well-lit room. In actual fact, the brightness begins to drop very quickly as soon as you start using the low lamp mode (which is much quieter) and a more accurate preset such as Reference. This brings the brightness down to around 1,000 lumens which, in fairness, is still quite bright and can certainly light up a decent size screen.

Of course this brighter image was achieved with the manual iris wide open but this results in a fairly poor black level of 0.84cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 6,500:1. By closing the iris fully, you can improve the black level to 0.25cd/m2 and increase the contrast ratio to 10,700:1 but of course this is at the expense of overall brightness. Sony has certainly made improvements in their black levels over the last few years and whilst not at JVC levels, the blacks on the HW50 were certainly very good and so was the shadow detail.

Ultimately it becomes a trade-off between a brighter image or better blacks and a higher contrast ratio but we'd go for the latter. The better the blacks on a projector, the better the dynamic range and the more solid and film-like the image appears. Depending on the size of your screen and the viewing environment, even with the iris fully closed the HW50 should have plenty of brightness and you can then open the iris as the bulb dims with age. You can always use the dynamic iris and contrast features to improve the perceived dynamic range but there's no such thing as a free lunch and you'll end up losing detail as you crush blacks and clip whites.

Video Processing

The HW50 uses three 0.61" SXRD panels with a native resolution of 1080p and as we would expect from a Sony product, the video processing was excellent. Starting off with the SMPTE 133 test pattern, the HW50 was able to correctly scale the standard definition images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing.

With the video deinterlacing test the results were equally as impressive with no jaggies on the rotating line, except at an extreme angle. In the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance was also excellent, with only very slight jaggies on the bottom line. In the cadence tests the HW50 correctly detected both the 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) format and the 2:2 (PAL - European) format without any issues. It also had no problems displaying mixed film material with scrolling video text and was able to reproduce the text without any shredding or blurring.

The HW50 performed just as well in the tests with high definition content and with the player set to 1080i the projector correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests and showed excellent scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. With 1080i material the projector had no difficulties in showing video text overlaid on film based material and also handled 24p content without any problems. On the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc, the HW50 passed all of the tests including the Dynamic Range High test, showing all the video levels above reference white (235) up to peak white (255) and the Dynamic Range Low test, showing detail down to video level 17 which represents reference black. In fact the only test that HW50 initially had problems with was the peaks for the luma channels of the three primary colours, where all of them were clipping. However reducing the Contrast control by a few notches fixed that.

Since the HW50 uses SXRD which is derivation of LCD, it inherits that technologies weakness with motion handling. That's not to say that the motion handing on the HW50 was bad, in fact it was very good, it's just a limitation of the technology. As a result there were occasional losses of detail and smearing with fast movement and camera pans. However, as mentioned, 24p material looked excellent, with movement that was smooth and judder free. The HW50 includes Motionflow technology which attempts to address this inherent weakness in the technology by using frame interpolation to create better motion handling.

The downside of this technology is that it results in motion artefacts that are far worse than the perceived weakness of the SXRD panel and these artefacts are more obvious on a large screen. It also creates the tell-tale 'soap opera' effect, with unnaturally smooth motion that will ruin the look of film based content. Motionflow can be used with fast paced sports action shot on video but should be avoided when watching films or dramas.

2D - Picture Performance

Considering its price point, the HW50 is capable of a genuinely impressive 2D performance, with all of the projector's strengths coming into play to create a wonderfully engaging image. The impressive out-of-the-box settings result in a highly accurate image that can be fine tuned thanks to the available calibration controls. The black levels are handled with confidence, especially if you take the time to set the HW50 up correctly, and combined with the excellent shadow detail the results are extremely impressive. Thanks to its improved brightness, the HW50 can deliver an image with an excellent contrast ratio and once you include the superb video processing you get a projector that can punch well above its weight. As a result the HW50 can deliver detailed and entertaining images that display strong dynamics in mixed scenes and very natural looking colours. It's also worth mentioning that in low lamp mode the HW50 is very quiet, well below the threshold expected of a projector.

Working our way through a mixed selection of normal content, the HW50 rarely put a foot wrong, creating a genuinely exciting and enjoyable big screen experience. Of course with a large image, the better the source the better the picture, but the HW50 was able to render images from DVDs and standard definition TV broadcasts that held up to scrutiny. High definition TV broadcasts looked even better and Blu-rays looked excellent with no signs of any image processing getting in the way of displaying every last pixel of detail on the screen. In terms of the lens and panel alignment on the HW50, the image is focussed and sharp-looking with no signs of any issues that would impact on the excellent pictures. Screen uniformity is another important factor to take into account with projectors and the HW50 also performed well in this area, showing a nicely even and uniform image. As we mentioned in the test section, motion on the HW50 is solid and free from induced judder but does show up some image smearing with fast moving objects or camera pans where the limitations of SXRD imaging usually suffer.

The big new feature on the HW50 is the inclusion of the Reality Creation technology found on the VW1000 and whilst we liked the feature on that projector, we were less convinced on the HW50. Since the VW1000 was scaling all content up to its native 4K resolution, the dynamic sharpening of Reality Creation was very effective. However with the 1080p HW50, Reality Creation becomes more of an acquired taste, much like the recently reviewed Darbee Darblet. The Reality Creation feature works in much the same way, using dynamic sharpening and contrast adjusting algorithms at a pixel level to give the appearance of a more detailed image. It certainly works but with live action material the image has a slightly processed looked and it struggles with film grain, so we preferred to leave it off. However with computer animation Reality Creation worked very well, so to a certain extent it is a matter of personal preference.

3D - Picture Performance

Sony have made great advances in their 3D performance in the last year and the HW50 continues this winning streak, delivering a fantastic performance with stereoscopic content. The 3D pictures produced by the HW50 revealed excellent image depth and clarity and very few instances of crosstalk. There is still a degree of adjustment to be made when you first set the projector up to optimise the image with your screen size, but very quickly you will have some excellent 3D images to immerse you. You also have separate picture set up memories for 3D that won’t affect your 2D image settings and will allow you to optimise both your 2D and 3D viewing experiences.

Thanks in part to its increased light output, the HW50 was able to deliver wonderfully bright 3D images that really gave the added dimensionality impact. Despite the presence of the active shutter glasses, the 3D images had vivid and well saturated colours and an impressive dynamic range. Of course in 3D mode the HW50 uses the higher lamp setting and whilst this increases the noise level, it was never really noticeable, expect during very quiet scenes. Aside from the inherent weakness of SXRD panels, we found motion handling to be smooth and well defined and the 3D images were mostly free of any artefacts. Using the 3D torture test that is Happy Feet Two, we could see some crosstalk but it was very minor and on other Blu-rays such as Prometheus and The Amazing Spider-Man there was almost no crosstalk visible.

We have seen the Spider-Man trailer at countless Sony demos, in 2D, 3D and even at 4K and we were genuinely impressed with how good this newly arrived 3D Blu-ray looked on the HW50. Thanks to all the previously mentioned strengths of the HW50 when it comes to 3D, the film had a real sense of depth, layers in the frame were clearly defined and three dimensional objects had a wonderful solidity. There were never any of the distracting elements that can sometimes shatter the 3D illusion and draw you out of the experience. The HW50's ability to deliver large screen 3D images that were vivid, bright and largely free of crosstalk, created an amazingly immersive and enjoyable experience.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Excellent black levels and dynamic range
  • Impressive greyscale and colour out-of-the-box
  • Near reference performance after calibration
  • Excellent video processing
  • Very little crosstalk in 3D
  • Impressive 2D and 3D performance at price point
  • Extremely quiet in operation

The Bad

  • Motion handling could be better
  • Manual lens controls
  • 3D menus should be under picture settings

Sony VPL-HW50ES SXRD 3D Projector Review

There's no mistaking the VPL-HW50ES's pedigree, with its attractive curves and styling, it could only be a Sony product. Despite its price point, the build quality is excellent, the remote well designed and the connections adequate. It also comes with two pairs of active shutter glasses included and the new design is a great success, adding to the 3D experience. Our only complaint is that the lens controls are manual, which makes focussing the HW50 tricky and precludes the addition of a lens memory function.

Aside from the manual lens focus, set up is very straightforward and the menu system is concise, well labelled and easy to navigate. The HW50 has a reasonable set of features with only the location of the 3D menu worth complaining about. There are a number of preset picture modes, including two that are designed for use in a well-lit environment. However the Reference picture mode is the best, offering a genuinely impressive level of accuracy out-of-the-box. There are calibration controls to help fine tune this performance and we're glad to see that RCP (Real Colour Processing) has been improved from last year.

The 2D performance is excellent and when properly set up, the HW50 is able to produce a bright and accurate image, whilst also delivering suitably deep blacks that result in an impressive dynamic range and contrast ratio. When you combine this with the accurate greyscale and colour and the superb video processing, the HW50 can produce fantastically detailed images that really enthral, regardless of whether you're watching standard or high definition material. The same level of performance applies to 3D, with the HW50 producing bright and accurate images that are largely free of crosstalk or other artefacts and display an immersive level of dimensionality.

Sony's much-vaunted Reality Creation feature is something of an acquired taste, working well with computer animation but giving live action content a slightly processed look, it also appeared to struggle when it came to film grain. It certainly works but whether you use it or not will be a matter of personal preference. As is always the case with SXRD projectors, the motion handling could be better with some smearing and loss of detail on camera pans. However most people are unlikely to notice this, so it's a minor complaint and, besides, the alternative is to use the Motionflow frame interpolation feature which looks far worse.

The VPL-HW50ES possesses all the strengths we have come to expect from Sony, it has the well-engineered looks, the great build quality and the impressive performance. It isn't perfect but our complaints are minor and at this price point, it really should be on anyone's short list - Highly Recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

3D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8

2D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
.
8

Image Uniformity

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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