Sony VPL-VW590ES 4K SXRD Projector Review

X1 for Projector chip and better Dynamic HDR... but not dynamic tone mapping

by Phil Hinton
SRP: £6,999.00

What is the Sony VPL-VW590ES?

The Sony VPL-VW590ES is a replacement for the outgoing VPL-VW570ES and sits above the VPL-VW270ES and below the VPL-VW790ES in the 2020/21 Sony line-up of native 4K projectors for the consumer market. It is a 4K projector using three 0.74” native 4096 x 2160 SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) chips carried over from the VW570 along with an identical chassis and design. Indeed, looking at the VPL-VW590 there are no differences from the outgoing model and the only way you would be able to tell between the two would be looking at the serial sticker to see the model number. 

The VPL-VW590 is a bulb based projector using a 280W high-pressure mercury lamp, which Sony claims provides 1800 lumens brightness in high lamp mode. There is also a dynamic iris system as seen on the outgoing model and Sony claims a dynamic contrast ratio of 350,000:1 as the iris can close down completely when fed a 0% image. There are two lamp modes with fan noise around 28dB in the high setting and a pitch that shouldn’t be annoying to the vast majority of end-users. 

New features for 2021, and that separate the VW590 from the outgoing model, are the X1 for Projector processing chip and the new dynamic HDR enhancer. The X1 processor is carried over from the high-end 4K Bravia TVs from Sony and adds-in advanced video processing and upscaling. The Dynamic HDR Enhancer is not to be confused with Dynamic Tone Mapping, which the VW590ES is not capable of. The Dynamic HDR Enhancer adjusts the brightness and black levels on a mechanical basis, including using the iris and lamp control, to improve the HDR dynamic range on a frame by frame basis but it is not tone mapping. 

Other features include full motorised lens control and, as such, there is a lens memory system for use with 2.40:1 scope screen. You can set up a number of different ratios and also add in digital masking to those. We did find however that the lens memory didn’t always manage to hit the correct points on a regular basis and it was also very slow in operation. 

Motion is controlled by the MotionFlow settings that can be switched off and which also feature True Cinema and Smooth High and Low. We found that True Cinema provided excellent motion with 24fps material without any judder and would be the best option for the majority of viewing material. The smooth settings can be useful to some users watching fast-moving sports, such as football, but you should refrain from using these settings with film content, or you add in soap opera effect and artefacts.

The VPL-VW590ES is also fully compatible with HDR10 and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) high dynamic range content, but it doesn’t support Dolby Vision or HDR10+. The VW590ES is a Sony TRILUMINOS display and as such it attempts to create Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) material without the use of a filter in the light path, which can dim the image, so it remains bright and fairly accurate to at least the DCI-P3 gamut used for 4K Blu-ray and other UHD content.

The VW590ES is also capable of 3D when used with the correct 3D glasses and a Blu-ray player capable of 3D playback. The performance was really good with only the occasional instance of crosstalk being visible with fast moving content. Black levels were good and colours looked natural is not entirely accurate, but overall, for 3D viewing the Sony is very good and the emitter is built-in, you just need to buy the glasses separately. 

Design, Connections and Control

The design and connections are identical to the VW570ES which the VPL-VW590ES replaces with the same remote control also used. The VW590 is available in a black or white finish and is made from hard plastics with a textured finish to the top and sides. The chassis measures in at 496 x 205 x 464 mm (W x H x D) and weighs approximately 14kg. 

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Sony VPL-VW590ES 4K SXRD projector - front view

The high-quality lens is centrally placed with no motorised lens cover, instead, you use a plastic cover manually. Around the lens is a patterned air intake that is bronze coloured with exhaust vents and further intakes to each side of the lens area. As the air intakes and exhausts are to the front of the projector chassis, this allows for the unit to be placed flush with a rear wall to get the most out of the throw ratio.

The top of the projector is free from any controls or other items with just a Sony and 4K SXRD logo visible. The power socket is positioned to the rear right (when looking at the projector from the front) and is within a recess, with the connections placed on the left side of the projector.

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Sony VPL-VW590ES 4K SXRD projector - left view

The connections include two 18Gbps HDMI 2.0b ports that are full bandwidth and are the only video inputs on the projector. The rest of the connections are a LAN port, two 12V triggers, an IR port, RS232C and a USB power socket (it doesn’t accept media files).

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Sony VPL-VW590ES remote control

The supplied remote control is the same one used with the VW570ES with a long body and all the main controls positioned within the central part, with the enter and directions keys around the menu and position buttons. There is also a backlight to assist you within a dark cinema room, which is the best environment for the VPL-VW590ES.

Measurements

Out of the box

As we always do with our reviews, we measured the out of the box picture presets to find those that get as close as possible to the industry standards. The idea is that a projector must get close to these standards in at least one of its picture modes so end users can see content as it was mastered and intended to be seen.

We use Calman colour calibration software, a Murideo Seven Generator and Klein K-10A meter for measurement and calibration.

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Out of the box greyscale

Looking at the greyscale first and we can see that blue has a drop of around 10% at some points and green is high by around 5% for most of the greyscale tracking. This equates to a visibly warm-looking image on the screen with a slight yellow tint. Our DeltaE errors are also above the visible threshold of three and this is why we can see the errors on-screen with normal content. Gamma tracks well with a slight darkening in the mid-tones that is not seen within actual viewing material. As an out of the box preset we would expect something a little better given the market position of this projector.

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Out of the box Rec.709 colour gamut

Because of the push towards yellow with the white point, our Rec.709 colour gamut and saturation tracking are also pushed slightly out of position. This results in hue errors most noticeably in magenta, with red slightly oversaturated and other points slightly out of alignment. Correcting the white balance and greyscale will most likely fix the majority of these issues, but it would have been nice to have had some better accuracy out of the box.

Calibrated

Given the price point of the VW590ES, we would always recommend a professional calibration if you decide to buy one. There are enough controls within the menu system to get accurate results without any visible errors, but a professional calibrator will also have the experience and supplemental software access on some products to dial them in. 

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Calibrated greyscale

The results were very good using the available menu-based control with the greyscale perfect with DeltaE errors well under two, which is well under the visible threshold of three. This means that the yellow tint seen out of the box is now completely gone and video white looks correct. Gamma also tracks well with no visible issues at all and we were pleased with the results after watching actual film and TV content. 

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Calibrated Rec.709 colour gamut

Our Rec.709 colour gamut results were also almost perfect with no major visible issues seen with any saturation tracking or colour points. DeltaE errors were 0.7 on average with nothing distracting from a very accurate looking colour performance with TV and film content on the projector. For SDR content the Sony is very accurate indeed. We would have liked a gamma editor and more greyscale controls to make finer adjustments and perhaps Sony can look at adding those in future models, but given the controls we have, we had no issues at all with accuracy and the end results.

HDR Results

As always, it is important with projector reviews to point out that HDR on a projector is not the same as it is on a direct-view display, such as an OLED or LED LCD TV. The approach with projectors is different from that of direct view displays as you don’t have pixel-level dynamic range or the same brightness levels to play around with. But as you watch a projector like the Sony VW590ES in complete darkness, that allows the lower output to be used effectively to have more perceived dynamic range with HDR images. It is not uncommon for projectors to max out with HDR signals at around 100nits in a typical Batcave setup. Tone mapping is also important to make sure that image attributes are visible within the brighter reaches of the image as well as keeping blacks and shadow details visible, retaining as much of the original intent as possible.

 

The Dynamic HDR Enhancer is not to be confused with Dynamic Tone Mapping

The Sony VPL-VW590ES automatically switches to HDR mode when it receives an HDR signal and it uses the same picture preset as SDR viewing, but adds in settings for BT.2020 colour, PQ EOTF at ST.2084 and keeps the D65 white balance. It does this within the HDR Auto setting which mimics the HDR10 option. You do have the ability to change this within the Auto menu settings to HDR Reference. This means that when auto-switching, it will use the mode you have chosen and when going back to SDR it switches these options off. If you select the HDR10 or HDR Reference options themselves outwith the Auto menu option then it remains in these setting even with SDR content and looks weird. So use the Auto setting and choose either HDR10 which covers both 1000 and 4000 nits content or HDR Reference which hard clips like a reference broadcast monitor at 1000 nits.

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Out of the box PQ EOTF tracking to ST.2084

The EOTF tracking was good with greyscale looking accurate out of the box and the EOTF tracking ST.2084 as closely as it could. This was, however, with the Dynamic HDR Optimiser in use and switched on, as without, the tracking was too dark. Even with some adjustments here and the Optimiser running, the lower reaches of the EOTF tracking are still a little on the dark side, which means that blacks are darker than they should be for absolute accuracy. However, everything else tracks as well as it can to the limitations and capabilities of the VW590ES, with a gentle roll-off preserving as much detail as possible in the brighter reaches of the image, before clipping that detail to white.

Sony VPL-VW590ES
Out of the box DCI-P3 saturation tracking

The VW590ES also doesn’t rely on a colour filter in the light path for DCI-P3 wide colour gamut tracking as that can also dull down the light output available. Instead, it uses Sony TRILUMINOS technology to try and cover as much of the gamut and volume as possible without the use of a filter, retaining as much brightness as possible. This is quite successful on the VW590 with most points below 75% saturation tracking reasonably well, if a little oversaturated at most points. The projector is also not capable of reaching out to the full gamut from blue to green, with cyan also short of 100% as you can see on the left side of the DCI-P3 triangle in the graph. We didn’t see this error causing any major issues with actual viewing content as few images require the full 100% points of any colours within most common scenes. For the most part, colours are strong and well saturated with HDR10 content on the VW590ES.

We had positioned the VW590ES on our projector rack at the rear of our room 13ft 6” from our 120” Screen Excellence 2.39:1 Enlightor 4K (0.9 gain) screen, giving us a 94” diagonal 16:9 image with the zoom at 1.53x. Contrast measurements were taken with the DI switched off as, when on, it simply closed fully when sent a 0% black image. Measured from the screen, SDR calibrated mode measured 8,181:1 on/off and with our Murideo sending an HDR10 signal to the VW590ES it measured 15,737:1 on/off. 

Sony VPL-VW590ES
BT.2020 coverage

BT.2020 gamut coverage was XY 60% and UV 65% and P3 came in at XY 84% and UV 88% which is less than measured on the outgoing VW570ES, but there are changes using the HDR optimiser which may account for those differences. 

Sony VPL-VW590ES
P3 coverage

Performance

The VPL-VW590ES is a home cinema projector that is designed to be used in a dedicated light-controlled environment with very little ambient light. We tested it in our dedicated Batcave cinema room with no reflective surfaces and dark wall coverings, with no light leakage into the room. 

We set it up initially next to our resident JVC DLA-N5 to do some side by side testing using a 4K HDR splitter for our sources, before setting up the Sony as the main projector and entering lens memories for use with our 2.39:1 screen. This was where we witnessed our first disappointment with the VW590ES, as no matter how we set up the lens memory, it never returned to exactly the same point as initially input. The JVC manages this perfectly every time, so it was disappointing to see some drift with the Sony. 

Looking at the image uniformity and with an all-black screen input we did notice some faint darkening to the corners and a slightly brighter middle, but this was not visible with any film of TV content playing, including tricky dark scenes. With 100% bright screen there was no obvious colour shift across the screen width or any darker edges or corners. As the VW590ES uses three SXRD chips we did check the alignment and we did have a slight blue edge to text and menu items when viewed close to the screen. However, this was not visible from our normal seating position of 8.5ft.

 

... it was disappointing to see some drift with the Sony

Image sharpness is very good indeed and a strong point of the VW590ES, thanks to a high-quality glass lens and excellent image sharpness from the native panels. There is also processing that can add sharpness to the already sharp image, such as Super Resolution Reality Creation and the Digital Focus Optimiser. All of this processing can give the Sony VW590ES a very digital or processed look, which is very sharp but that can also add a few artefacts and aliasing. It works best with lower resolution content being upscaled to the native 4K resolution. We found it was also best to remove the sharpening and Reality Creation for HD and 4K film content to look more natural, but it still has a processed look, even with everything switched off. You need to look at switching on the Input Lag setting to make sure all processing is indeed off and not being applied behind the scenes. 

Compared to the JVC N5, the VW590ES has a more digital or processed look, whereas the N5 is sharp but more analogue looking in nature, it looks more organic like film content does. This is obviously just an observation on my part as I am used to the N5 image more than the VW590ES and I’m really splitting hairs at this point, but I think it’s a worthwhile comparison for those interested. 

MotionFlow in the True Cinema setting worked best for 24fps material without any induced judder. If you watch fast-moving sports like football then you could experiment with the Smooth Low & Smooth High settings which add-in image smoothing as the name suggest, but that also includes Soap Opera Effect and artefacts. Again, your mileage is going to vary with regards to how much of a processed and smoothed image you want to have, but with film content, we recommend True Cinema as the best option.

While in our testing the Sony VPL-VW590ES didn’t quite have the absolute blacks we witnessed on the JVC N5, it does have excellent black levels and superb shadow detail retrieval capabilities. In a Batcave, the quality of the lower end image comes to life with superb detail within the shadows and a mid-tone balance that really brings pictures to life with extra depth. I would say that at the just above black area with SDR content the Sony has a little more detail on show and that adds to the depth on offer. With HDR content the JVC is the better option with the Sony crushing those lower-level details slightly. In comparison, each has its pros and cons.

 

We did note that the posterisation issues we found with the VW570ES are no longer an issue for the VW590ES, with excellent gradation

With SDR we really cannot fault the Sony VW590ES as it produces superb cinematic images with film content, be that on Blu-ray disc or streamed, with excellent sharpness and motion. Colours are also a highlight here and in our comparison testing, I preferred the slightly more subtle colour palette performance of the Sony when compared to the more saturated looking colours of the JVC. It’s subtle but noticeable in longer viewing tests. Both the VW590 and N5 are more or less neck and neck in terms of SDR playback, with the Sony, perhaps looking a little sharper, but more processed compared to the JVC’s more natural, organic sharpness; but again this will come down to personal preference for most users. 

With HDR we have differing approaches from Sony and JVC and as such, there are differences to be noticed in side by side testing. Watching the beginning of John Wick: Chapter 3, the film opens on a dark, wet and colourful New York at night. There are strong blacks, deep shadows with detail visible as well as the glow from the neon lights and signs. With the VW590ES, we have strong blacks but there is a noticeable amount of crush within the shadows, so some details are missing, but the mid-level shadows are well defined and there is a nice punch to the colours from the neon lights. The image is also incredibly sharp. Watching the same scene compared to the JVC N5 and the main difference is the just above black shadow details which are more evident on the JVC, with strong mid-tones and highlights which have more detail in the brighter reaches, whereas the Sony clips these. It appears that Sony has a tone map that is ‘s-curve like’ in how the PQ EOTF tracking is applied, giving more forced black levels and bright highlights, but with clipping, to appear dynamic. You can watch this effect in practice by switching between the Dynamic HDR Enhancer modes. It also means that with some HDR content you need to fiddle around with the settings to get the correct look, something that to be fair you need to do with all projectors, including the JVC, but we prefer the dynamic tone mapping approach of the JVC overall, which has a more set and forget approach to HDR.

 

Image sharpness is very good indeed and a strong point of the VW590ES, thanks to a high-quality glass lens and excellent image sharpness from the native panels

All of that is not to say that the Sony is not good with HDR, in fact, it is a very good projector for watching back 4K HDR content with excellent colours, sharp details and an excellent image balance. It just doesn’t have the same detail retrieval compared to a display using dynamic tone mapping to retain black and highlight details, while also having a dynamic look. Of course, you can always add an external video processor to your chain to take care of the dynamic tone mapping and the Sony would certainly benefit from that approach, as would most projectors. However, we will stick to what the VW590ES can do on its own for this review assessment and that is to produce excellent SDR images and an incredibly good HDR performance. We did note that the posterisation issues we found with the VW570ES are no longer an issue for the VW590ES, with excellent gradation, presumably thanks to the X1 for Projector chip.

If you fancy some big-screen gaming then the Sony VPL-VW590ES offers a decent 39ms of input lag which should be fast enough for most casual gamers. There are no HDMI 2.1 inputs or features with the VW590ES, but then again this is a high-end home cinema projector and is not marketed as a serious gaming machine, but for most users, it will perform very well with all consoles. 

 

... we found the image quality with HDR content to be very good indeed with strong blacks, good colour performance and excellent image detail and motion

Overall, the Sony VPL-VW590ES offers up some superb calibrated SDR images that really offer the most accuracy we have seen at this market level for a long time, beating its rival JVC for shadow detail retrieval and excellent colours. It also displays some excellent HDR images with a nicely balanced image that has a real sharpness and pop. It does this by slightly crushing black and clipping the brightest parts of the image to create that image pop you expect with HDR. This is down to the fact that the HDR Enhancements it offers are not produced by dynamic tone mapping, but rather an application of EOTF shifting to create dynamic looking HDR images. The end result is very watchable with 4K native HDR content and, with superb sharpness and very good colour reproduction, the VW590ES offers a very good all-round performance.

Verdict

The good

  • Superb calibrated SDR image quality
  • Very good HDR image quality
  • Excellent just above black detail in SDR
  • Sharp and detailed images
  • Excellent lens
  • 2 x 18Gbps HDMI inputs
  • X1 for Projector video processing
  • Very good motion with 24fps

The not so good

  • Could be more accurate out of the box with SDR
  • No dynamic tone mapping with HDR
  • Some black crush and clipping with HDR Enhancer modes
  • Lens memory failed to return to the same spot in use
  • Some backdoor image processing present

Sony VPL-VW590ES 4K SXRD Projector Review

The Sony VPL-VW590ES is a great projector for native 4K playback of SDR and HDR content within a light controlled dedicated home cinema. It adds in a new X1 for Projector processing chip which is carried over from the BRAVIA TVs and it also has the new dynamic HDR enhancer which promises more dynamic-looking HDR images. This is not the same as dynamic tone mapping which is used on the competing JVC projectors and some external video processors, but that doesn’t mean the HDR performance is lacking on the VW590ES. 

Indeed, we found the image quality with HDR content to be very good indeed with strong blacks, good colour performance and excellent image detail and motion. Peak highlights were well balanced again a deep black level, with just a slight crush seen at the lowest end of the black scale. There is also some clipping of the brightest highlights with HDR content, but this is done in a way that balances the image for an overall appealing look. 

SDR playback is also where the Sony VW590ES is a superb performer with stunning shadow detail and mid-tone details that add in a real depth to images with superb colour reproduction. Images are also incredibly sharp and detailed, so much so that you really don’t need to take advantage of the Reality Creation settings. 

In SDR the black levels are excellent and just above black is a real highlight, especially with tricky dark scenes, where excellent levels of detail are available to be seen. It’s just a shame that HDR performance isn’t quite as good due to the s-curve approach of the EOTF tracking, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

So is it worth upgrading to the VPL-VW590ES if you already have a VW570? No, I don’t think it would be worth it due to the small improvements over the outgoing model. They are basically still the same projector but with some tweaks to the image processing and HDR, which are not a massive enough improvement to warrant the cost of change. However, if you are new to the Sony 4K native line-up and you need something better than the entry point VW270ES, then this projector comes with a highly recommended badge and we would encourage you to add it to your demo list. 

What are my Alternatives? 

At this price point, you have two options available to you and both come from JVC. For around £1500 more you could step up to the JVC DLA-N7 which is a native 4K projector with frame adapt dynamic tone mapping for HDR and a colour filter for DCI-P3 colour coverage and you can read Steve’s updated review.

Your second option is the JVC DLA-N5 which is similar to the N7 but drops the colour filter. However, because there is no filter the colour gamut performance is still very good for HDR with added brightness due to no filter obfuscation in the light path. Plus you get the superior frame adapt dynamic tone mapping and HDR Optimiser to calibrate the performance to your screen size and room. Both JVC’s have superb blacks and excellent just above black with HDR content as well as SDR, with a natural and cinematic look to images, versus a sharp and digital look of the Sony VW590ES. 

If you are in the market for a projector at this market position we would highly recommend that you try to demo all of the contenders to give yourself the best possible chance of picking one that best suits your needs. 

Highly Recommended

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
9

Colour Accuracy

.
9

Greyscale Accuracy

.
9

Image Uniformity

.
9

Video Processing

.
9

2D Picture Quality

.
9

Picture Quality Out-of-the-Box

.
.
8

Picture Quality Calibrated

.
9

Features

.
9

Ease Of Use

.
9

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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