The home theatre projector industry is becoming increasingly competitive. Brands fight a hard battle for your purchase and are throwing anything from plummeting price points to impressive specs and convenient features into the ring.
When about a year ago, Sony introduced the VPL-VW260ES, it shook the projector world. While several DLP projector brands had projectors offering 4K UHD projectors under 10,000NZD, this was the first Native 4K LCD projector to do that. Peer LCD brands Epson and JVC were left sitting on their pixel-shift technology, which to be fair are excellent projectors in their own right. But the term ‘Native 4K’ was attracting people like a bee to honey.
It’s no secret that the move bought Sony a handsome share of the LCD projector market. Of course there was no way Epson and JVC would take this sitting on their hands. Fast forward a year and JVC has launched a cheaper version DLP 4K UHD projector and is waiting to land its answer to the Sony native 4K projectors: the DLA-N5, The DLA-N7 and the DLA-NX9. In the meantime, Epson has decided to stick with the pixel-shift for now. Somehow, I have the feeling there is a massive surprise in the make coming from them, but it looks like it will be at least a year away before we will get to see what (if anything) that might be.
But for those thinking that Sony was going to let JVC take back some of that hard-earned customer base, they are in for a surprise.
While the world was getting excited about the new JVC projectors, Sony threw a curveball and announced some new projectors themselves: Exit the VPL-VW260ES, the VPL-VW360ES and the VPL-VW550ES and hello to the VPL-VW270ES (replacing the 260), the VPL-VW570ES (replacing the 360 and 550) and introducing the VPL-VW870ES. The VPL-VW760ES remains available and -as you would expect- sits between the 570 and the 870 with 2,000 lumens and a laser light source.
The question on all our minds was: what on earth were they going to come up with to make us believe that the new releases were going to be an improvement on the older models? Last week we were invited to a Sony launch/ training session for a preview on the new models and this is what we came back with:
First of all, obviously all new models will be native 4K, utilizing a SXRD panel. All projectors are HDR (both HDR10 and HLG format) compatible, just like their predecessors.
No change either in the projector brightness department: 1,500 lumens for the 270 (unchanged from the 260), 1,800 lumens for the 570 (same as the 550) and 2,200 lumens for the 870.
The new 270 looks identical to the 260, apart from the fact that it stands about a centimetre taller, offering excellent motorised lens shift. While we have no complaints about that, it’s not really news either.
So what is the big deal about these new models?
The biggest improvement comes from video processing. Borrowed from flight simulator technology, it’s the gamers and sport watchers that have something to get excited about. The VW270ES now carries the Input Lag Reduction feature, delivering an input lag measurement of around 30ms. This is combined with exclusive Reality Creation that analyses every element of an image to provide enhanced clarity and resolution without noise.
There’s also a new HDR Reference’ mode that claims to deliver pictures closer to the director’s intention. This lets you choose between baseline brightness and highlight detailing while watching HDR sources. (That said, 1,500 lumens is still a stretch for HDR watching if you ask us. It’s our humble opinion-and many will agree- that HDR has not entirely matured as a technology. It’s improving though and I’m sure we’ll get there eventually.)
Another improvement that will be welcomed is the 18 gigabit-per-second HDMI inputs, which allows it to accept 10-bit 4K content at 60 frames per second.
And on a final note, there is now support for an anamorphic lens on all three projectors.
How did the VPL-VW270ES perform, you ask?
The guys from Sony put the 260 and the 270 side by side with identical settings, swapping the same image between both. Watching ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the jungle’, the 270 surely delivered improved contrast, with more detail in dark areas. The result was a more natural image that was very pleasing on the eye. It’s not a massive leap forward, but that was not really the expectation either. It’s more a finetuning of an already excellent product.
The obvious next question is what are the extra’s that come with an upgrade to the VPL-VW570ES?
Unlike the 270, the 570 has a dynamic iris system to boost contrast. Secondly, the 570 carries a Picture Position Memory to store lens, zoom, and shift settings for up to five screen formats. The idea is that Picture Position Memory remembers allow you to quickly change between formats and aspect ratios, including 16:9 and Cinemascope.
Tasting the VPL-VW870ES
The VPL-VW570 was not demonstrated, so not much we can tell you about our impressions there, but the we did get a taster of the new VPL-VW870ES.
Retailing at 39.999NZD, the 870 is by no means a cheap projector. But if your wallet allows, it sure is an impressive boy. It starts, but doesn’t end with the fact that the light source for the 870 is laser/phosphor, where the 270 and 570 remain traditional UHP lamp projectors.
A really jaw-dropping moment came when the lens-systems of the 3 projectors plus that of a business projector where put side by side. The VPL-VW870 boasts an ARC-F lens (which stands for “All Range Crisp Focus.). What matters is that it’s an impressive (and I mean IMPRESSIVE) 18-element all-glass lens that is finding use in Observatory environments for high precision projection with sharp imaging in every corner of the image.
Top that up with a Digital Focus Optimizer, which allegedly also helps ensure accurate focus.
The cost of the lens as well as the notoriously expensive laser source go a long way in explaining the cost of the projector.
Then it was time for a test of the projector.
‘Blue Planet 2’ is always a great way to make a first impression. It’s an astounding demo disc that easily highlights the 4K Ultra HD format’s greatest strengths.
Claims that quite a bit of the content is filmed in 4K with one of the submersibles said to be fitted with an 8K camera are abound. True or not, fact is that it has some amazing contrast with lots of bright scenes and then some pretty dark unwater scenes. Needless to say the VPL-VW870ES impressed. The animal close-ups are astonishing in their sharpness, with incredible detail in faces and fur.
‘Lucy’ is another 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray that is acknowledged for its clear focus, striking clarity and incredible vibrancy. A first class release from Universal, its pure whites are almost perfect and blacks go effortlessly deep and true. Skin tones and textures on the VPL-VW870ES were incredible, looking supremely lifelike. The projector showcased immense fine detail and truly-dynamic colour reproduction.
Introduced as the worst movie of all time, the guys from Sony showed Ang Lee’s ‘Billy Lynn’s long halftime walk’ for the simple fact that it is shot in 120fps, a good way to test the HDMI 18Gbps compatibility of the projector. This is where the new video processing blows your mind in the fast action fighting scenes. There is no blurring in sight. Motion is smooth and clear with all detail maintained. Impressive.
The 4K HDR Deadpool transfer of the film was next and the projector showed incredibly rich and solid colours with deep shadows. But it’s Deadpool’s red suit that is startlingly realistic with all the scratches, dirt and blood. The level of detail is amazing . Shot at 3K on the impressive Arri Alexa camera (that is also used by the David Attenborough crew) and then finished at 4K and with added HDR, Deadpool’s Ultra HD Blu-ray rivals the film’s theatrical presentation when viewed on the Sony.
And finally more Ang Lee with ‘The life of Pi’. Watching the movie in 4K on a big screen is quite the experience. More Arri Alexa camera shooting and mastered in 2K, it is an upscaled 4K movie. But it’s one that is extremely well done. This is where the HDR treatment really revs up the richness of the colours in a very understated and realistic way where it is needed. Fair to say the projector does the movie more than justice.
By the way, did we mention that we noticed that the projector is incredibly quiet throughout the entire viewing?
We can’t say much about ease of installation etc. That will have to wait until the new Sony babies arrive in the Rapallo showroom and we can find out for ourselves.
If you’re anything like us, you will be interested to see how the new Sony’s test against the new JVC’s. Going on both brands previous pedigree, we put our money on the fact that you can’t go wrong with either.:-)
Top Photo from Cnet