Sony has been working hard on their line of consumer projectors over the last few years, resulting in improved performance with each new model, and in the case of the VW90ES, the introduction of 3D playback. This new projector sits above the previously reviewed VPL-VW85 and the end initials of ES point to the VW90 becoming a new addition to the high end product line from Sony. Obviously it is the introduction of 3D that will have the majority of readers interested in this projector. But it can also be argued that with the competition also introducing new models at this price point and below, 2D picture quality is as always just as important to get right, especially with the current lack of 3D content.
So does big screen 3D finally bring home the same immersive effect as seen at the multiplex and does the VW90 improve its 2D picture offerings? We are about to find out…
Design, Set up and connections
Looking at the VPL-VW90ES you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually the previous VPL-VW85 as both look extremely similar and share the same chassis. The only obvious difference is the lens assembly which now has a circular sync transmitter built-in for the active 3D glasses. The sync signal is bounced off the screen and back to the glasses for 3D use, which is a very neat solution with no sync transmitter having to be placed on top of the unit. There are also solutions available for more difficult installations from Sony should this approach not work at its best. The chassis design is smart with a rounded feel to the top plate which is free from any control buttons, making ceiling mounting a neater affair. However, the connections for sources are still positioned on the left hand side of the unit (looking from the front), slightly recessed into the lower portion of the chassis base. This may cause some issues when using HDMI cables with high build quality as they will stick out the side of the unit. Some careful installation will be required here to get a cable free look to ceiling mounting.
The remote control supplied by Sony for the VW90ES is also a high quality and well-designed unit which is also similar to that used with the VPL-HW20. It is intuitive to use with the main controls nicely spaced out with the remote sitting nicely in the hand. Plus it has a blue backlight which is easily switched on and off for use in a well set up (dark) cinema room. I found easy access to all the features I required for setting the projector up and making fine adjustments straight from the remote.
The actual size and weight of the projector also points to excellent build quality even though the entire chassis is moulded plastic. The VW90ES measures in at (W x H X D) 470 x 179.2 x 484.9mm and weighs approximately 12KG and could be ceiling mounted with no issues. The black finish is also welcomed for use in a well designed cinema room where avoiding light coloured walls and equipment is a must to get the best out of a projector.
The lens used in the VW90ES is their high quality ARC-F lens system with motorised lens shift available from the remote to add to the simple set up of the projector in the viewing room. I should point out here as I always do that while keystone correction is provided, it should never be used at any time with a home cinema projector. Want proof? Just load up a sharpness test pattern and move the keystone control just one click either way and see the results for yourself. I have to always add this bit of advice as there are a few projector guides out there in internet land that do tell you to use these controls. Correct alignment of the projector with your screen is the paramount set up procedure to get correct for the best possible picture quality. The addition of 25 per cent horizontal and 65 per cent vertical lens shift will allow further fine tuning of your installation. We would always recommend reading the manufacturers guide to correct alignment, or employ the experience of a good dealer or installer, as getting it right will give you the absolute best results. At this price point you will want to get the very best from the VW90ES so we highly recommend you spend the time and effort in correct installation, as well as calibration.
Another nice addition to the VW90ES that we have seen with previous high end models from the company is the lens protector that moves in and out to cover the lens compartment on power up and power down. This uses two doors that move to meet each other in the middle of the lens and while noisy (like the JVC version) I don’t see that as any issue as you will no doubt switch on and warm up your projector for at least 30 minutes before serious movie watching, so your guests will never hear it. The advantage of having such a protector is that it will stop dust build up on the lens, which has to be a good thing.
Moving to the most important source inputs we have two HDMI inputs along with PC/VGA, component inputs and a legacy composite RCA. Plus there are two 12v triggers (use for electric screens, or anamorphic lenses) and RS232C for control.
The 3D active shutter glasses supplied with the VW90ES are very similar to the Bravia TV units but with the additional filter added for use with the projector. These are quite comfortable to wear for long periods of 3D viewing and are battery powered. We received extra batteries in our review sample box but we are unsure if that is the same for the retail market. As always with active shutter glasses they are quite expensive if you need to add further pairs for more than two viewers and the build quality would probably not withstand an accidental case of sitting on them, so take care of your investments. Also some viewers may be more sensitive than others to the shutter speed and flicker so it is perhaps an idea to have a good demonstration of these in use before purchase. Flicker detection is a very personal optical trait and varies from individual to individual.
Using a 3D IR transmitter can also cause some issues that many probably haven’t considered. With the VW90ES the sync signal is sent from the transmitter surrounding the lens and bounces off the screen and back to the glasses. With the JVC transmitter placed on top of the X7 projector we have had quite a few issues with the IR signal flooding the room and interfering with other remote controls, such as those for adjusting the volume on your AVR. Thankfully this was not an issue with the VW90ES but we did find the odd occasion of sync loss with the glasses even if looking away from the screen for a few seconds.
To access the 3D picture controls they are frustratingly well hidden in the menu system, but once you find them they offer a few options. One important point here is the hand shake between your 3D Blu-ray player and detection of the Full HD 3D flag. I found that using our Reference Panasonic DMP-BDT-300 3D BD player caused a few issues where the flag was not detected by the VW90ES and it automatically went into 2D to 3D conversion mode, instead of Full HD mode. We found that after a ritual of switching the BD player on after the projector (or just switching it off and back on again while the projector is running) solved that annoying little issues. Plus the VW90ES also couldn’t detect the Full 3D flag if the HDMI signal from the BDT300 was sent through our year old Reference Onkyo TX-NR5007 Receiver even in pass through mode. Thankfully the Panasonic DMP-BDT300 has two HDMI outputs so we could send audio to the Onkyo via the HDMI secondary output and a direct HDMI signal to the VW90ES which solved that issue. Obviously when looking at adding the VW90ES to your system you will have to investigate the approach you will need to take to get both HD audio and 3D pictures in your existing system if you use an older AVR for switching, sometimes only testing can show up any issues.
The 3D menu system in full HD mode offers a Parallax (or convergence) tool that allows slight adjustments to the depth of the 3D image. Our advice would be to leave it set at 0 for use with 3D Blu-rays as any adjustment made actually made crosstalk issues far worse and just moved those issues from the front of the image to the rear with no advantage to image quality. This control is more useful if you use the 2D to 3D conversion mode, something we did briefly to laugh at the mess that appeared on screen. The other control that must be set correctly for the best 3D image the Sony can manage is the Glasses brightness control. For images with the least amount of crosstalk this should be set to LOW, which while taking some brightness from the image, it is also the fastest mode for the glasses to tackle crosstalk. If you set it to high, it is brighter because it leaves the shutters open slightly longer to get more light through, but the image is now full of crosstalk issues. More on the actual 3D performance later in the review.
As you would expect with a high end Sony projector the menu systems are comprehensive and very useful for picture set up and control. Please note that menu images shown here do not contain the final calibrated settings.
The main menu has all the basic front panel controls for image set up as well as a wealth of picture preset options. Also included here are the controls for the cinema black pro and motionflow picture processing modes. While it is nice to see some thought going into picture processing on high end projectors, we have found that these particular processing modes add nothing to improve the image in a way that purists will like. I am sure that some of the motionflow controls will be used, hopefully in the lowest settings for some fast moving sports, the results of these modes is a change to film material that adds in strange motion which goes against most purists preferences for an image as close to how it was intended. But the choice is there for owners to experiment with.
The one thing we did find with the VW90ES (and the VW85 before it) is the huge amount of choice when it comes to presets for white balance, gamma and gamut. This not only causes us more work in measuring every set up option to find the most accurate to the industry standards, it is also in our opinion too much choice. White balance for example is the same D65 standard for every available mastering system from SMPTE-C to NTSC and Rec.709. So why have so many different choices? Surely a D65 setting and perhaps 5500K for photos, 8000k and 9300k is all that is required to cover all the option bases? Thankfully each selection that starts with the word custom can be fine-tuned to get the best greyscale performance. Also note I said D65 and not 6500k as the latter is not a co-ordinate for perfect white balance or greyscale and is of no use in measurements as 6500k can cover a large area of white!
Another area where we have custom control is with Gamma and again we get 11 choices of curve presets. Gamma is a slightly different beast when it comes to industry standards and front projection in particular. There is no industry wide agreed standard ranging from 2.2 to as high as 2.6 and with front projection in ideal black out light controlled rooms it is perhaps desired to be up towards 2.4 because of the nature of projection in those environments. A Sony trait here with the Gamma curve presets is that the vast majority hover around the 2.0 range which will show more shadow detail, but it has to be argued that this extra detail in the shadows is not intended to be seen by the film maker and the image has a uniformly more washed out look all round. So by taking that on board perhaps Sony could cut down the amount of lower presets and include those that are more appropriate such as 2.1 – 2.6 as well as custom modes. The VW90ES is supposed to come with a separate program CD with their gamma correction tools which was missing from this review sample box. Perhaps Sony could take the same step as Panasonic and JVC with a full custom set up system built-in?
The last areas to look at are the anamorphic stretch control along with the RCP (Real Color Processing) system that is Sony’s version of a Colour Management System. I have never been overly convinced with the Sony CMS and again I would rather they designed a more straight forward and accurate version. Funny enough it seems that JVC has with the X7 copied the RCP layout this time around and it is not that welcome, as last year's was far better. So some work to do with the RCP layout and end goals. I had no issues however with the VW90ES anamorphic mode and it worked very well with our scope screen and lens, producing an immersive, filmic image with no visible artefacts introduced.
Out of the Box Measurements
In this section of the review we measure every possible picture set up option to find the out of the box settings that give an image which is close to the industry standards for HD colour and white balance. This allows users to select the same presets and then adjust the brightness and contrast controls for their viewing room. These results were measured from the projector to take out any effects of the room and screen. Our testing facilities include a fully light controlled cinema room with dark walls, ceilings and black screen wall and this allows the best possible measurements to see the full potential of the projector. Obviously there will be slight variances between each unit of this model and the room used by a consumer is likely to also affect the actual performance of the image produced. This is why we also recommend to get the best out of the projector being tested the end user considers professional THX/ISF calibration and using the projector in the most suitable room possible to get the very best out of it.
We found that with the VW90ES the selection of Preset: Cinema 2 along with Colour Temp: Custom 4 plus Gamma: 4 and Colour Space: Normal, along with all NR and Cinema Pro Black/Iris3/Motionflow switched off, gave the following results once brightness and contrast was set for the room used.
Looking at the greyscale and gamma results first we can see that the VW90ES using the above settings produces an excellent result. The greyscale tracks in a uniform manner with all three colours close to tracking correctly at 100%. Blue and Green track the closest from 40% stimulus and above, with Red only 3 to 5 percent high of our target. This gives us a very good DeltaE error track that is under 3 until the highest stimulus. So what this means is that for all intents and purposes the results point to errors that will be almost invisible for most users, with grey looking grey for the vast majority of the greyscale. This is an excellent result and with gamma above our 2.2 reference, tracking around 2.3, we can truly say that the chosen out of the box settings give us an excellent result here which will be more than acceptable for most users.
Moving to the colour gamut results we are looking for the VW90ES to get as close as possible to the Rec.709 HD colour gamut points. Looking at the results we again see that the VW90ES produces a reference result out of the box. It is fantastic that Sony has listened to the calls from enthusiasts for as accurate as possible results out of the box and the VW90ES has excelled here. You would struggle to see such results even from THX certified projectors. So providing that all the production models also try and follow the same preset results here, owners should get excellent image quality straight from the box.
So we move on to a professional calibration to THX/ISF standards using the available picture controls and basing the calibration on the above picture preset results.
The greyscale controls offered by the VW90ES are a little on the coarse side which takes a few runs to get as close as possible to reference levels and that is exactly the result obtained. We kept the higher gamma point as it looked better on screen within our reference room and the greyscale tracking was perfect. Remember that nice looking super flat charts are really impossible in most respects with consumer products, but we can see that the DeltaE errors are well under 2 and as such almost every viewer will never see any error in the colour of grey. Reference result.
Moving to the colour gamut and no matter what I tried with the RCP controls provided I couldn’t really improve any more on the out of the box settings other than some slight tidying up of some points. For instance green is sitting in the native gamut position for the normal preset so cannot be moved back, but as it stands with no luminance errors this is actually not seen on screen and our deltaE results are also very good indeed, with no visible errors seen. Again it’s not a perfect looking chart on paper but amateur calibrators should never get hung up about just the chart results. Our areas for major concern hit the right spots and there are no visible errors with actual viewing material, so once again it’s a reference result for the consumer projector.
Straight off the bat the VW90ES did an excellent job with SD material with good quality scaling with no obvious ringing and excellent results on our HQV tests with no signs of jaggies. SD images even blown up to large screen sizes were very good and the projector even managed 2:2 cadences as well as 3:2.
HD performance was also excellent with good 24p playback with no obvious induced judder. Only on the fastest scenes did the resolution drop into blur. This was with the motionflow processing switched off.
Again we tested all the frame interpolation technology along with the dark frame insertion and projection modes. These really are a love it or hate it type of feature and users have the option to switch them off as well as experimenting. Personally I found the native processing and playback to be the most accurate for film watching without the need for these processing modes, but at least users have a choice.
Finally we have Iris3 technology to help the VW90ES with black level reproduction. As is always the case with such iris systems you are compromising the overall image to varying degrees. At its lowest setting it was harder to notice every change the iris made, but at the same time we could tell that there were compromises being made. Obviously the VW90ES has a very good native dynamic range and very contrast performance. We found leaving the iris set to manual and adjusted for our viewing conditions was very acceptable and offered a very nice contrast range, even in mixed scenes.
Picture Quality – 2D
So starting with our out of the box settings used above the VW90ES offered an excellent performance with every piece of reference film clips we threw at it. The black levels in manual iris mode were excellent with superb shadow detail and image depth available with darker material like ‘The Dark Knight’. Colour performance was also excellent with accurate skin tones and a convincing colour palette. With the layout of the SXRD panels there was also a very filmic feel to images on screen with a sharp and detailed look.
I really couldn’t fault much about the 2D performance of the VW90ES and there were only a few little niggles I had. The main area that was a slight disappointment on our review sample was brighter corners to the image uniformity. During darker scenes this was visible even watching film material. Using the auto iris made this more difficult to see when watching material, but at the same time introduced further compromises I wasn’t personally happy with. However, this effect may well be different from model to model; there was no way for us to check that.
Apart from that slight issue I was very impressed with the VW90ES performance with 2D images and it certainly competes with the JVC X7 in its price range. Indeed, I put the Sony and JVC next to each-other in calibrated modes and finding an outright winner was quite difficult. They both offer excellent colour accuracy, contrast and black levels. However, if pushed, I would probably go with the JVC, just for that little better native contrast and black performance, but I recommend you personally demo both if you can with 2D material performance. And remember room environments will impact more on performance than a side by side in perfectly dark demo facilities, so if you can blag a home demo, that’s the best approach. In 2D mode, the VW90ES is excellent!
Picture Quality – 3D
So we move onto the new trick that the VW90ES can perform and that is its 3D playback capabilities. This has been the most difficult area of the projector to assess because performance here is so variable and in some regards disappointing.
Before I go any further please re-read the 2D results above and remember the lack of 3D content available. You are more than likely going to use the VW90ES as a 2D machine for the vast majority of your viewing, and as such, the projector is excellent and wins its badge on that aspect alone. Now, the addition of 3D…
I did a lot of fault finding, testing and experimenting with the 3D performance of the VW90ES and the first slight negative I had was with the loss of light output when using the Sony active glasses. This made 3D images just that little bit too dull and in conservative picture settings the colour balance was difficult to set for more convincing playback. Moving to the brightest modes available on the projector certainly didn’t fix issues with colour balance and being honest here, the brighter the image the more issues we had with the 3D image.
Using 3D Blu-ray first of all and no matter what set up options we tried the image produced by the VW90ES has lots of image crosstalk. As explained above in the 3D section you can adjust the glasses and how much light they receive by changing the length of time the shutters stay open. The longer the shutter was open (in bright mode) the more crosstalk and ghosting made itself known. Indeed with most material on 3D BD we just couldn’t get away with the amount of crosstalk in the image which became very annoying. Even with the glasses set correctly to the low (fastest) setting and image brightness set at conservative levels to keep as much colour accuracy as possible, we just couldn’t get away from the crosstalk and ghosting seen. Even reference discs such as AVATAR suffered even if it was to a less obvious level with that disc. I also tried hard to set the depth control in varying configurations with the glasses yet nothing managed to get rid of the constant appearance of crosstalk.
Moving to SKY 3D material was sadly no better and the 2D to 3D conversion was not very convincing at all. But let’s face it producers with millions of pounds of equipment can’t make 2D movies like Clash of the Titans or Alice in Wonderland look very convincing in added 3D, so a processing chip in a TV or projector is never going to offer anything but a gimmick.
What really brought home the crosstalk issues I found with the VW90ES was when it was put up against the JVC DLA-X7. I also didn’t have great expectations for the JVC in 3D mode and it is very true that it’s images still have instances of crosstalk, but they are so subtle and few and far between (with 3D BD), and it was visually so much brighter and more accurate with colour balance issues, that I was shocked at how poor the Sony was performing in comparison. Like I have said I did lots of testing to fully check that there was no fault with the Sony or its glasses or the sync signal. I can therefore only make conclusions on the information and experiences I have in front of me. What makes it more surprising for me are some comments from reviewers out there that they didn’t see any crosstalk, really? That is certainly not the case with the Sony (and lets be fair here the JVC is not perfect either, just better at what it does) in the comparison here. Both projectors were the same distance from the screen in the same room.
Now the conclusions I have come to here are based on testing and experiences watching a wide variety of material, and let’s remember that both the Sony and JVC are first generation 3D machines so we need to be balanced and fair to each. I would therefore say that if it is 3D you want and you are going to spend this much, you really would be silly not to fully demo both at some length and if possible in the same room and see what you think. Remember that there is also a lack of 3D material so the largest point of reference for you should be 2D performance and both excel in that department.
- Superb 2D images
- Excellent dynamic range without using Iris3
- Excellent black level performance
- Excellent out of the box colour accuracy
- Excellent out of the box greyscale performance
- Good real world lumens output for normal sized screens
- Anamorphic stretch mode
- Excellent remore control design
- Good custom installation features
- Good video processing
- Very good 'filmic' look when correctly calibrated
- 3D performance is average with almost all content tested
- 3D Crosstalk performance a disappointment
- 3D controls hidden away in menu system
- 2D -3D conversion introduces too many artefacts and odd looking images
- Some instances of bright corners due to uniformity
- Frame interpolation distracting and produces video like image motion, low setting acceptable for SD material & sports
- Dark frame insertion and film projection processing modes distracting for film purists
- Too many gamma, white balance and colour gamut presets that are far away from picture standards
Sony VW90ES (VPL-VW90ES) 3D SXRD Projector Review
As a 2D home cinema projector the Sony VPL-VW90ES is an excellent performer with rich black levels, good dynamic range and very accurate colour reproduction in the best picture settings. It is well built and offers the type of performance you would expect at its price point. There is good connectivity with a good level of control options and the remote is well made and is what we would expect to see at this level of the market.
There are lots of options available to the end user in terms of picture set up and video processing. Whilst these features might not sit that well with purists, at least the choice is available for all possible types of user. In the best out of the box settings, as well as professionally calibrated modes the VW90ES offers excellent performance and gets very close to its peers at the same price point, such as the JVC DLA-X7 which we compared with the Sony at length.
The trick with the VW90ES is its ability to playback 3D whether that is from 3D Blu-ray, Sky or in 2D to 3D conversion modes. The VW90ES is a first generation 3D projector and as expected there are issues to consider with its 3D performance, the most important of these is the prevalent crosstalk on show. Our testing of the Sony in 3D mode was disappointing and we have no doubt any viewers of the VW90ES will notice this artefact and at times it can really take the viewer out of the movie being watched. While the glasses are comfortable and with discs like AVATAR you might be able to ignore the amount of crosstalk visible in conservative picture modes, move to bright modes and you are back to square one. The fact that you will be using at least an 80inch screen with a projector also adds to the fact that image artefacts like crosstalk will be far more apparant than on a plasma or LCD TV.
So should the lacklustre 3D performance put you off? Well, with a continued lack of 3D material being available we would argue that the VW90ES really needs to be assessed first and foremost as a 2D high end projector. In that regard the projector picks up the highly recommended badge for its 2D image quality alone, forgetting the 3D side of things. If you must have 3D for the big screen at this price point we would recommend you seriously test both the Sony VW90ES and its competing peers from JVC in conditions that are closest to your home system and make your own mind up on 3D.
But overall, the VW90ES offers excellent 2D performance (with the added addition of 3D) and we highly recommend you add it to your demo lists!
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value For Money
2D Picture Quality
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels
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