What is the Sony VW360ES?
The VW360ES boasts full lens memory for enthusiasts using scope ratio screens, it is HDR 10 and HLG compatible, features Sony’s TRILUMINOS colour system for wider colours, has Motionflow for smoother images and is claimed to have a 200,000:1 contrast ratio. The build quality is the usual high standard and the lens system is yet again at the centre of the design but does the VW360ES offer enough in terms of features, performance and value for money to compete with the ‘faux’ 4K machines from JVC and Epson and the new breed of DLP ‘faux’ 4K beamers? Let’s find out...
Design, Connections and Control
In terms of design the company are aiming to get native 4K to mass-market price points and as such what we get is functional and plastic. Build quality is not quite as strong as it used to be with the chassis feeling basic in form even with its rounded top and stipple finish. That’s not to say this projector will fall apart easily, more that if you have owned or spent time with premium Sony projectors of old, the VW360ES doesn’t have the same feel. That said what we do get works well with the lens centrally mounted and surrounded by the gold coloured air intake and to either side of this on the front panel are air exhausts. With the air intakes and exhausts at the front of the projector, and the connections based at the side of the chassis, this allows the VW360ES to be placed within a hush box or right up against the back wall, maximising throw length in tighter rooms. Apart from two indicator lights at the front and a Sony and 4K SXRD Logo on the top of the unit, there is nothing else to draw the eye with the VW360ES design. Overall we get a simple and functional chassis design that is identical to the VW260ES and previous mid-range 4K units from Sony.
The remote control is the usual Sony projector unit, which is suitably backlit for use in a dark room with it’s trademark blue light. The layout is intuitive with the power and backlight keys to the top of the unit, followed by the picture mode selections for direct access to switch the picture style. We then have the menu keys and directional buttons which are fairly central and within easy reach of your thumb. These will be the most used keys on the remote so it is reassuring that they are easy to operate with just one hand on the controller. Below these are specific picture attribute controls for things like gamma and aspect ratio and to the very bottom are instant access controls for contrast, brightness and sharpness. Overall it is a well laid out and easy to use remote that fits neatly in the hand.
Features and Specs
Moving to the colour gamut (top right) and again we have a decent result for an out of the box setting. It certainly covers the Rec.709 gamut and luminance (not shown) is also very good with just some slight over saturation of the primary colours and yellow. However tracking is good and a few small adjustments should get things looking even better.
Thankfully with the colour gamut (top right) the colour management tools available allowed us to tidy up the oversaturation and get the tracking at 25, 50 and 75% saturation better as well as making sure the luminance (not shown) was also correct, giving us the best possible colour fidelity. We only had issues with red that could produce errors that might be visible with actual onscreen material, but overall the results were decent enough, just disappointing at the price point and there seems to be some behind the scenes issues with dimming affecting results.
We tested and measured the Sony by sending a 3840 x 2160 24p 10-bit 4:2:2 signal with HDR metadata and Rec. 2020 gamut signal via our Murideo which mimics a signal sent by a UHD Blu-ray player. The VW360ES detected the signal correctly and switched to HDR mode where (HDR) is now placed next to Contrast in the menu system. This contrast control is set to the mid point of 50 and in testing moving this higher does add more brightness in stages to the image but at the same time it starts to seriously clip high level detail. We found that 50 was the sweet spot for the majority of content mastered up to 2000 nits, but clipping did occur after that due to the tone mapping used. We measured the black level in HDR mode at 0.020 nits and the peak brightness on a 10% window at 401 nits in high lamp mode, which is 20,050:1 and decent for a projector.
With Rec.2020 the VW360ES managed to cover 63% of the range and that is without a filter being used in the Sony. For DCI-P3 it was 93% coverage, which is again very good.
MORE: What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?
The actual tracking of the colour points for DCI-P3 within Rec.2020 (top right) was again identical to the VW260ES, which again points to them being identical in performance terms with a few slight differences in features. Overall the VW360ES tracking is good and allows for a decent performance with wide gamut 4K Blu-rays, were colours appear saturated but natural.
One thing that stood out with SDR and HDR viewing material was the gamma manipulation and dimming which affected the image. The dynamic iris was switched off yet the image still dimmed oddly during scene switches and hand shakes and with viewing material we were seeing more in the shadows than we should. This points back to the gamma results in our testing where there is no accuracy in the selections made, so 2.0 measures closer to 2.4 but with a slight s-curve. Trying to adjust for this usually ended up in crushing detail and robbing the image of any dynamic range, but at the same time images also tended to look a little less glossy and punchy due to the gamma shifts with shadow detail. Scenes such as the cigar reveal in Oblivion (a scene I have viewed a few times with the grader and colourist on reference screens as it should be viewed) displays too much detail in the blacks where it should be solid black. A scene the JVC nails every time but where the Sony just reveals too much. There will be end users who will like the look that the VW360ES displays, but for me it was frustrating that we couldn’t get it to display the image, as it should be seen. Now that might sound like a major issue but what we are actually talking about are fine hairs in performance where the Sony just needs to change the way the gamma is being shifted. And the reason it is probably an issue has to do with how it is set up to tone map HDR content, as I can’t think of any other viable reason it would do this. Because we have a manual iris as well as a dynamic two-stage system means that black levels can be set low enough in a bat cave environment like ours to get the most dynamic range out of the image. Again the JVC X7900 is better with black levels and shadow detail when it comes to SDR material. That’s not to say the Sony is poor, no, it is actually very good and is not far from the JVC in performance terms, but the black floor is certainly raised slightly. Motion has always been a Sony strong point and even with MotionFlow switched off the VW360ES is able to portray film images with no induced judder. Interestingly we only have the Impulse setting available on the VW360ES under MotionFlow and this didn’t appear to offer any visible improvement, but at the same time it also didn’t introduce the unwanted soap opera effect to film material.
There is no doubting that the VW360ES is a home cinema thoroughbred with good brightness, superb colour reproduction and excellent sharpness with normal Blu-ray material, such as our regular test disc of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. If you’re a regular reader of our reviews I don’t need to go into the finer points of this scene in great detail, but the VW360ES manages to provide a whisper quiet performance in low lamp mode that doesn’t distract from the quietness of the soundmix developing as the camera pulls back on Caesar in the thunderstorm. Colour fidelity is superb with the greens and browns of the tree bark and moss, along with excellent shadow detail in the ape’s fur and crisp lines of the facial expressions. Blacks could be slightly deeper and there is more punch in the JVC with this scene due to better gamma tracking, but again we are nit picking here. The Sony manages a really nice cinematic performance that is bright and bold.
Passengers have excellent range with the bright stars against the black of space and the lights of the ship. Close ups on the helmet lights show excellent depth to faces and if we had any complaint it is probably that there is more detail visible than there should be, so it just feels a little flat compared to the JVC with the same scene. However swapping to The Revenant reverses the trend where the bright, crisp and cold vistas of the west are brought to life with stunning detail and realism. The clean digital image pops off the screen and even in the tricky night scenes, where natural light is all that is used, the VW360ES gives an excellent account of its capabilities. It’ll never get close to the HDR performance of an OLED and LED LCD TV in terms of brightness or latitude, but there is also something magical about a projected image where the HDR does make an improvement within the limitations of the technology and for me the Sony just pips the JVC here for absolute performance.
Finally we wanted to test the 3D capabilities of the VW360ES but couldn’t get the glasses we had to hand to work at all. Sony also don’t provide any glasses with the review samples so sadly it looks like the format is being slowly forgotten about, which is a shame.
- Native 4K projector
- Good video processing
- Excellent motion
- Excellent colour accuracy after calibration
- Good HDR performance
- Lens memory function
- Manual iris
- Easy set up
- Behind the scenes dimming and gamma manipulation
- Could be more accurate out of the box
- Mixed black level performance
- Expensive compared to competition
Sony VPL-VW360ES 4K SXRD Projector Review
We certainly found that at times the Sony really struggled to elevate itself above the much cheaper but similarly specified JVC DLA-X7900 we had in for review at the same time. Black levels are a little elevated in comparison and there is a weird behind the scenes gamma adjustment taking place which can give images too much shadow detail and not quite enough pop compared to the JVC. But at the same time the colour accuracy is good for both SDR and HDR once calibrated and we would absolutely recommend that is the case when spending this much on a projector. Plus the type of environment is important for the performance levels achievable from the Sony and it should be used in a light controlled room with dark surfaces and a high quality screen to get the best out of it. A projector like this will suffer in an all-white room.
The VW360ES is a very good home cinema projector with excellent image quality in SDR but which also gives an excellent account of itself with the harder HDR format. As we covered earlier, a projector will always struggle to give the same type of bang for your buck with HDR compared to a TV, but at the same time it has its own unique approach to how an HDR image is displayed, being a projected image and lacking absolute brightness. In this respect the VW360ES really is a great performer with a strong degree of latitude between black and highlights without too much clipping in the image. In this respect it performed slightly better with real world HDR than the JVC did. It is expensive but if you want the best native 4K projector with all the features under £10K, this is the only game in town and despite our caveats it comes recommended.
What are my alternatives?
Well the most obvious alternative, if you can do without the dynamic iris and lens memory functions but still want a native 4K projector, is the VW260ES, which has to be the better choice for £1,800 less than the VW360ES. If you want to keep all the features like manual and dynamic iris controls, with lens memory and add in wide colour, HDR, HLG, better black levels and shadow retrieval, HDMI inputs that are 18Gbps ready and will accept 4:4:4 60 4K signals along with a motorised lens cover and much more it has to be the £5,699 JVC DLA-X7900. It is not a native 4K projector but with E-Shift and at sensible viewing distances you will be hard pushed to see the resolution differences over and above the other attributes like a better black performance and shadow detail retrieval. It's also £1300 cheaper and is available in white and black finishes to match those available on the Sony. Although, if you are happy to lose the filter and lens cover, the £3,999 DLA-X5900 should also be on your demo list.
If you are happy to go with the various varieties of faux 4K technologies out there you can also get very similar performance to these higher end machines for much less cash. Keeping the motorised lens and colour filter, plus decent HDR and black levels at the stunning price of £2,999 is the Epson TW9300. It uses a similar approach to the JVC’s and also supports HDR, WCG, lens memory, dynamic iris and 3D. Slightly more expensive, but using a laser light source to give a more consistent performance is the Epson LS10500 at £5,999. It also covers 100% of DCI-P3 with HDR 10 standards and you’ll never need to buy a bulb ever again.
Finally there is also a whole new breed of faux 4K DLP projectors hitting the market from BenQ, Acer and Optoma. While the black levels and the colour accuracy can’t match the more expensive machines, the Optoma UHD65 does offer a bright and colourful image which will work in less than ideal rooms for a very reasonable £2,999.
MORE: Projector Reviews
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
2D Picture Quality
Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box
Picture Quality Calibrated
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.