Sony VPL-VW260ES

We’ve so been waiting for this: a true 4K projector that was affordable to the average Joe, who is determined to put his money towards an awesome home theatre, rather than a boat upgrade.

At just $7,999, the VPL-VW260ES is the least expensive native 4K projector that has been released in NZ so far. Hands up if you’re surprised we did a happy dance when we found. Since its release we’ve been heavily testing the precious magical box.

And what do we have to say about the Sony VPL-VW260ES, you’re asking?

 

So, here’s what we are dealing with:  the Sony VPL-VW260ES is a true 4K projector (4096×2160 – same resolution as Cinema projectors), but suitable for a dedicated home theatre in design, weight and size.

It’s brightness (1,500 lumens)  is ideal for a run of the mill home theatre room that is not overly suffering from ambient light.

The VPL-VW260ES  has a motorized zoom lens that provides as good a zoom range as you are going to find on today’s home theatre projectors.  But there’s no lens memory, and also no dynamic iris.  For those features, you need to step it up to the VPL-VW360ES.

As per usual, Sony employs a 3LCoS Panel technology, which they calls SXRD. The Sony panel technology is especially known for its awesome contrast ratio. But more on that later.

The projector gets the most out of today’s UHD blu-rays and streaming services with High Dynamic Range support  (both HDR10, and the HLG standard for streaming 4K) It  also supports BT.2020 expanded colour space (DCI-P3), the same as in movie theatres. Both HDMI inputs are compatible with HDCP 2.2, the latest content protection standard.

 

So that’s the projector on paper out of the way. The real question is: how did it perform when we put it to the test?

We tested the Sony VPL-VW260ES in our 7.2.4 home theatre set-up, with a Oppo UDP-203 hardware modified blu-ray player, a Roku Premiere + for streaming and wired with HDMI 2.0 cabling. We used the Calman C6 for calibration and we are projecting on a 120 inch 16:9 fixed frame, matte white, acoustically transparent screen with 1.0 gain.

Our previous go-to projector was the JVC DLA-X5900, a really well done 1080p e-shift projector. We also reviewed the Optoma UHD65B 4K UHD projector not that long ago (a DLP projector with lower 2716×1528 x 2 resolution (pixel shifter)), so we’ll refer to our experience with these two projectors as we go. Neither are true (or native) 4K.

 

Installing the Sony VPL-VW260ES, was a real pleasure. Unlike some other true 4K projectors, the Sony VPL-VW260ES is not a monster in size or weight, so it is ok to be suspended off the ceiling. We used the strong XL projector mount, which is not the cheapest, but it makes installation a piece of cake and we’re all for that.

Added to that, we were really impressed with the 2.06:1 motorized zoom lens  (about as good as it’s going to get) and the vertical and horizontal lens shift; all motorized. It allows for a lot of flexibility in projector placement, whether it is distance from the projector screen as well as placement on the ceiling or close to the floor if that’s what takes your fancy.

A tiny annoyance is the fact that the HDMI inputs are on the side of the projector instead of the back. Luckily our HDMI cable had some extra length in it, so it wasn’t an issue, but it could have caused some headache. Unlike the JVC, the Sony HDMI inputs can't handle 4K/60p at 4:4:4. This shouldn't be too big of a problem because whether it is streaming or UHD discs you are into, the content simply isn't there. In other words, it’s a non-issue.

 

Out of the box, the Sony has a variety of 9 pre-set modes that do a very fine job indeed. Bright cinema mode was our favourite.  We want to add that skipping through the menu is very user friendly. Especially colours are pretty spot on from the get go, which makes our calibration job easy as 1, 2, 3.

At 1,500 ANSI lumens brightness, that is a good enough amount for a home theatre projector used in a dark environment, but it is not a number that will blow your socks off. We’ve just written a blog about projector brightness and how to take all that with a pinch of salt a few weeks ago. But here’s another interesting find: when Projector Reviews tested the Sony, they noticed two things: First, that the 1,500 ANSI lumens spec was quite a conservative measurement and secondly, that when measured mid-zoom vs. at full wide angle and at its absolute brightest, the Sony hardly loses any lumens at mid-zoom! Their words are :‘That makes the VPL-VW260ES a light cannon’.  

 

Now, as for our excitement about getting an affordable true 4K projector, you can argue that at a normal seating position, nobody is going to be able to tell the difference between an enhanced 4K (the JVC), a 4K UHD (The Optoma) and a true 4K projector (our Sony; we refer to our blog ‘4K is not 4K is not 4K’) but we say that our Sony VPL-VW260ES does outperform both the other projectors on details  and sharpness in our test, especially when it comes to HDR. Our favourite go-to test material is the UHD disc of Mad Max Fury Road. We know it inside out by now and it’s good to use the same material if you are comparing different projectors. The opening scene of Fury Road is excellent test material for its artefacts. Planet Earth 2 is another favourite. The result is no jagged edges, no visible pixels, amazing clear and natural detail.

The more expensive true 4K’s do even better, but that has to do with the lens quality amongst other things. The extra money needs to go to something….

There is an added bonus to true 4K resolution (the same resolution defined by the Digital Cinema Initiative for cinema distribution). The standard for blu-ray UHD is the lower 3940×2160, while true 4K is 4096×2160. In other words, Blu-ray UHD is the same basic resolution, but a slightly less wide aspect ratio (16:9 vs. 17:9 aspect ratio). So, if you play true 4K content that uses the whole 4096 across, this Sony has that extra width on its 3 SXRD panels to do that 4096 wide without having to compress the data, and lower the overall sharpness.

It also means that there might be some spillage outside your projector screen. Our home theatre has a fixed frame screen with a black border and a dark back-wall, so it’s no issue in our home theatre, but it can potentially be if you have a retractable screen with a white back-wall.

 

Not all 4K projectors do HDR and BT.2020. Yes, really! The e-shift JVC does, though, as does the Optoma. We boosted the contrast HDR setting to 80, as recommended, resulting in colours that left us smiling ear to ear. Playing around with the Sony and the different resolutions, including switching to 4K/HDR and BT.2020 is very easy. No hick-ups whatsoever. The projector simply removes many of the adjustment settings you have with HD/1080p.

That’s how it should be….

 

As for settings, we kept the 'contrast enhancer' feature at low (or even turned it off) and turned off the ‘input lag reduction’ feature, which you would only use for gaming or watching sports. Now we are no gamers by any means. In fact, we never really moved beyond the Pacman stage. But word is that while not a born-to-be-a-gamer projector, it holds its own for those who want to dabble in it.

 

The Sony VPL-260ES doesn’t have a dynamic iris. To understand the consequence of that, you need to know what a dynamic iris does: A dynamic iris is a device built into some projectors that sits between the lamp and the lens. Many times per second, the projector evaluates the overall brightness of the image being projected and then opens or closes the iris to allow more or less light through.

A good dynamic iris will make dark scenes look darker and light scenes will appear lighter (also called ‘on/off contrast’).  The downside of a dynamic iris is that they can be noisy and they can cause the image brightness to vary in an unnatural way.

 

So, is this absence of a dynamic iris an issue for the Sony?

Our favourite scene to test black levels is the night scene in Mad Max fury road. The JVC does have a dynamic lens and it does outperform the Sony in dark scenes, no question. JVC remains the firm king of black levels. Is the difference in black levels an issue for the Sony? No, it’s not! None of the dark scenes we reviewed had scenes where the blacks became a disturbing grey. The black stayed black, keeping us safely in the happy-zone.

 

There is a bit of a divide in opinion on whether 3D is a keeper or to be avoided at all cost in the Rapallo quarters, but for the fans, we can happily announce that the Sony continues its support for 3D. The Sony has a 3D radio frequency emitter built in, so we used our 3D glasses with Bluetooth connection (to be purchased separately). Bart loves a good 3D on the big screen for the super-immersion. We use The Hobbit and Avatar for 3D testing and we were pretty happy with the performance.

 

So, with all that info added together, here’s our five cents of wisdom: When it comes to the picture, and the desire for 4K capability at a reasonable price, the VPL-260ES is an absolute winner. Is the best there is around? Of course not, but you better have a beefy wallet to show for. 

When it comes to on/off contrast or black levels: The Sony VPL-260ES may not have a dynamic iris, and excellent black levels tend to be up there on the wish list for a good projector.

BUT… focusing on a single specification like on/off contrast is a mistake in that respect that there is so much more to a good projector than just black levels. As we’ve noticed first hand, projectors that use technologies that do not have the highest on/off contrast can look just as good or better than products that use dynamic irises to obtain higher contrast. Obviously, we still like the JVC very much, so if black levels are more important than native 4K viewing for you personally, by all means, go for the JVC! It’s an awesome projector!

 

But our humble opinion is that the Sony offers good colour, sharp images, proper light output, high ANSI contrast, quiet operation, appropriate lens shift, a throw ratio that fits application, good motion processing and accurate inter image contrast. And that is a lot of ticked boxes for a true 4K projector with this price tag.