#2 in our 4-Way Comparison: Sony VPL-HW40ES Home Theater Projector

The Sony VPL-HW40ES is the most recent review I’ve posted.  It’s still in my theater as I write this.  It is also the least expensive to purchase (just slightly) of the four projectors in this shoot out. A three panel (or chip) LCoS projector – (reflective LCD), it’s a very bright projector.

In many ways it’s similar to its big brother, which is one of my favorite projectors, Sony’s VPL-HW55ES.  It is brighter, but, is missing a number of features found on the roughly $1000 more expensive HW55ES.

Read the full Sony VPL-HW40ES review here.


Skip ahead to the shootouts containing this projector
Optoma HD91 vs. Sony VPL-HW40ES
Epson Home Cinema 5030UB vs. Sony VPL-HW40ES
BenQ W7500 vs. Sony VPL-HW40ES

VPL-HW40ES Projector - Relative Strengths

Brightness —  The Sony is bright – the second brightest of the four projectors once calibrated.  If you need maximum lumens, it’s the third brightest, but not very far behind the two that beat it.  That makes it suitable not only in dedicated theaters/caves, but in family / media / living rooms, where there’s some ambient light.   The Sony’s Bright TV mode, for example, has a lot more pop, slightly over saturated colors than calibrated “best” mode.  When I let a fair amount of light in my theater, all those lumens allowed my viewing of the soccer finals to look pretty good.  By comparison the only slightly less bright, calibrated “best” mode, was a lot more washed out.  There was a significant difference!  Nicely done.  (Without a fair amount of ambient light you would probably reduce the color saturation of this mode.)

Best “Right Out of the Box” Color — Perhaps the most spectacular strength of the HW40ES is how good it looks right out of the box.  Color is extremely accurate, contrast and brightness settings are dead on (for maximum dark shadow detail, and best possible black levels that the Sony is capable of).  Ultimately, even after calibration (where changes are slight), the projector’s final calibration numbers aren’t as perfect as some others, but close enough that I wouldn’t worry about it.  If there’s a flaw, it’s slightly heavy reds in very dark areas, and the background when it’s supposed to be black. But that extra red is very slight, not enough for me to complain while watching dozens of hours of movies.

Warranty– Is an excellent 3 years parts and labor, as long as warranties get in this price range (or even much higher prices).  No replacement program is included.

Audible Noise — I do like it that the HW40ES is reasonably quiet even with the projector on Full lamp power, and very quiet in eco.

Sharpness and Detail —  The Sony is inherently pretty sharp.  In part that’s due to Reality Creation.  Normally LCoS (and 3LCD) projectors are at a slight disadvantage to single chip DLP projectors, but With a little bit of Reality Creation engaged, it sure seemed like the Sony seemed as sharp/detailed as any of the four.    Editor’s note:  I say “seemed” because these fancy dynamic detail enhancement controls “seem” to increase detail and sharpness, but that’s not necessarily a true sharper image.


Price — Let’s not forget price.  Based on official selling prices, the Sony is the least expensive of the four projectors.  All of these companies are capable of promos and sales that can temporarily change that, or future price reductions which might change the balance.

While the  Sony officially is the least expensive, but don’t forget to “adjust” for what’s in, or not in the box.  One of the four comes with two pair of 3D glasses, another comes with one, the Sony comes without any, and if you to go RF glasses (recommended) as two of the others do, that’s about an extra $200 for an RF emitter for the HW40ES. Note you can go IR – not as good, without the extra cost of an emitter.  Further down, we discuss lamp life and cost of operation separately.

Assuming there are no special promos running, the Sony would still be the least expensive if you didn’t care about 3D, and would be the 2nd least expensive if you do want 3D.  But there wouldn’t be enough difference in the net costs, either way, between the Sony and the Epson, to really affect purchase decisions.

Click Image to Enlarge

VPL-HW40ES Projector - Relative Weaknesses

Cost of Operation — Lamp life could definitely be better.  True, 5000 hours in eco-mode is excellent, but the Sony claims only 2000 hours at full power.  The best of the three lamp based projectors in this shootout offers 4000 hours at full power (and 5000 in eco),  but also charges more for their lamps.  (Of course, one projector has a 20000 hour LED light engine.)

The lamp is in the $350 list range, and low prices for genuine lamps seem to be in high $200s.  That’s a real incentive to take advantage of all that inherent brightness of the VPL-HW40ES, by running the Sony in its eco mode (Low Lamp).

Black level performance – Like the other three projectors, the Sony is an ultra high contrast projector – that is, it produces some pretty darn good blacks on dark scenes. But, unlike Sony’s more expensive HW55ES, Sony doesn’t have a dynamic iris in the HW40ES.  That limits how good (how black) those blacks are. The more expensive HW55ES offers blacks as good as the best of the projectors in this four way shoot out, whereas the HW40ES comes in well short of that Sony and the Epson. That said, the Sony even without an iris, does a better overall job than the two DLP projectors. Call them very good blacks but the best in class is a step up in performance.

3D — 3D is something Sony is still sorting out – not in terms of the quality of the 3D, but in what you, the owner, has available. There’s a built in IR emitter for working with Sony and other compatible 3D glasses, but today’s RF glasses offer a better picture (for various reasons). The Sony can (almost) go RF, but it’s a hassle for another month or two. You see the Sony has a connector for an external RF emitter, which you can buy from XPAND, but to make it work you need a custom $60 cable. The total package – emitter and cable will set you back about $250. By the fall though, XPAND, working with Sony, will bundle the emitter with the right cable mass built (the custom ones look a bit “back room construction”, for $199).

I really favor RF based 3D, and on top of that the Sony’s internal IR emitter isn’t overly powerful. I can sit in some very reasonable positions close to screen and projector, and still on occasion the glasses lose the sync signal briefly.  Therefore, I recommend the RF solution – got to use it when reviewing both Sony true 4K projectors. Just factor in that $200 or so, to go the RF route – plus the cost of 3D glasses. BTW, as an added bonus for going RF, Sony’s IR glasses are a good deal heavier, and less comfortable than their RF ones.

The 3D has minor crosstalk, as expected. There are two settings, the brighter one with more crosstalk and the lower brightness with less. Lower is better, and you have plenty of projector brightness to make it work, but even the brighter mode with more crosstalk isn’t bad.

That said, yesterday, the XPAND RF emitter for the Sony arrived, with some compatible glasses.  They are a definite improvement!


Fun Tweaking the Projector — For the hard-core enthusiast (often with their own calibration gear), and who love to play with their projectors, the Sony, by being the best setup of the four, right out of the box, is the least fun to play with for that reason.  Not exactly a weakness, but worth a comment.  Well, it is a weakness if you have more fun adjusting your projector than watching the content.

Smaller Feature Set — This Sony is also missing a number of features found on the more expensive Sony, in addition to the lack of a dynamic iris.  They include a lot of non-performance features (like menu position options) but also limited gamma choices.  Note that when Mike measured gamma, it missed the target 2.2 by a bit more than we would like.

We talk more about some of these things in the full Sony review.  Also its Reality Creation, – detail enhancement, for some reason doesn’t seem to be as good as the HW55ES, as skin tones seem (even with the modest 20 out of 100 default setting), to provide too much noise in close ups of faces and in large background areas, as you can see in the comparison videos we shot.

VPL-HW40ES Bottom Line

The HW40ES projector is our easy #2 choice.  It’s extremely bright, capable of handling very large screens in theaters and still fairly large ones in other rooms with the right screen.  Picture quality is extremely good, color excellent, black levels second only to the Epson, and they manage them without a dynamic iris.  3D requires some decisions. Well, I just wrote about that, but it’s very watchable, and a lot of brightness to support the video.

As mentioned if cost of operation is something you are concerned with, that can be mostly controlled by running the Sony in Eco mode, to get the 5000 hour lamp life, instead of 2000 hours at full power.  Of course you would have to get by with barely over 1100 calibrated lumens (which is still a lot).

I may have ranked the VPL-HW40ES 2nd of the four, but I consider it a close second.

Time to check out the projector I ranked #1 of the four:  Epson’s Home Cinema 5030UB

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