Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector Picture Quality
Here we will discuss the picture quality of the Sony VPL-HW50ES home theater projector, in terms of "out of the box" color, shadow detail, and black level performance. From that we assess overall Picture Quality (which in this case is truly impressive). Also found on this page of the VPL-HW50ES projector review, is a section on HDTV and Sports viewing. This page also includes a variety of images from movies, HDTV, Sports, for you to view, to get a better feel for this Sony projector.
9/26/12 - Art Feierman
Sony VPL-HW50ES Out of the Box Picture Quality
We found Cinema 1 to offer up the best color, right out of the box. Overall, Cinema 1, after adjusting the brightness and contrast slightly, had the best picture, and color, without calibration.
Overall, for those of you not planning to have your projector calibrated, and aren't even planning to try out our recommended settings, then consider this one of the better projectors out there for just turning it on, and enjoying.
The color shift from an ideal 6500K, is slight, and only slightly cool (a touch more blues than red strength), with the color temp ranging from just over 6700K to just over 7000K.
About these photo images: The images in this review can give you a very good idea of the VPL-HW50ES picture quality, but with some reservations. First, as with all other projectors, when you get this Sony projector home, it is going to look a lot better than the images. In general though, there is noticeable shifting of color and dynamics as the process goes from the projected image, to my 60D Canon dSLR, though Photoshop (for resizing, cropping), jpg compressing them for web,, your graphics card in your computer, and your display's own lower contrast, and color shifts.
It's almost amazing the pictures look this good, all considered. Nonetheless, they do provide you with a very good representation, just not a dead on one suitable for comparing the exact color balance of different projectors.
So take these images with a grain of salt (or several). On the bright side, images designed to show black levels and shadow detail work effectively when compared to other projector's images.
With the Sony HW50ES, the images as seen on my MacBook Pro, tend to show just a slight touch more yellowish tint in the colors than were on the screen. Such shifts are not unusual in our images, and we tend to identify them.
We discuss getting the best, brightest mode results, on the Performance page.
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector - Flesh Tones
Before calibration they are pretty good. Post calibration The HW50's reproduction of skin tones becomes really excellent. If you don't plan a full calibration of the VPL-HW50ES, then please try our calibration settings found on the Calibration page. If you like those better than the defaults (you should) let us know.
Above and below, as always - Gandalf and Arwen, from Lord of the Rings, on Blu-ray to start off our skin tones images..
Of the movies I viewed and took images of, many provide skin tones that I can only call natural and easy. Lord of the Rings and the modern Bond flicks I use, fit that description. By comparison, movies like Red, and Star Trek (the new one), the Bourne movies, and many action movies in general, seem to push the dynamics, and therefore provide a projector with less accurate, and less forgiving skin tones to reproduce.
Below are our three James Bond images from Casino Royale. Each has a different lighting scenario, the first - full sunlight, the second image; indoor fluorescent, and finally, filtered sunlight in the third image. And as one would expect, that causes each image of James Bond - Daniel Craig - to have different looking skin tones. All look pretty good!
More images we like for considering skin tones:
Above: Leeloo from The Fifth Element. Her skin tones looked excellent, definitely better than the image above would have you believe, (and it's not bad), throughout. Below: Morgan Freeman in RED.
Below - a really dark scene from Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix. The really good black performance and shadow detail have this scene and other really dark scenes, popping rather nicely.
It takes a really bad projector to make Scarlett Johannsen to look anything but great. As you can see, this Sony is NOT a bad projector - she does look great.
Above, Scarlett Johannsen, from Iron Man 2.
Sony VPL-HW50ES Black Levels & Shadow Detail
VPL-HW50ES Black Levels
Blacks look very good. Oh, not as good as the Sony's best 2K projector, the VPL-VW95ES ($6995), but impressive nonetheless. If you see having good inky dark blacks is really important, as I do, this Sony HW50ES projector almost certainly will not disappoint you.
Sony seems to have built this HW50 with better abilities in terms of blacks, than the older HW30ES. With this projector, Sony now is right there slugging it out for best blacks under $5000.
This Sony is definitely right up there challenging last year's sub-$5000 champ, the Epson 5010/6010 in terms of blacks. I did a good deal of side by side viewing of dark scenes. Both home theater projectors use dynamic irises (as do almost all), for deeper blacks, and are the two best around.
While viewing the two, they were very comparable. On some types of scenes the Sony had the edge, on others the Epson. First time in years anything this affordable could take on the Epson. JVC's got their RS46 / X35 coming out in a few months, they manage to do really good blacks without an iris - they actually have more dynamic range, but can't actually get blacks as dark as the Sony.
Here are a couple of side-by-sides Sony VPL-HW50ES projector vs. the Epson Home Cinema 5010. First, though, the two projectors are very different. The Epson isn't near as bright calibrated, so we had to run it, in Livingroom mode, vs. the Sony HW50 being in its best calibrated mode. Still, I couldn't get the images to exactly the same brightness. You'll note that the Sony is a touch brighter, which means when comparing the blacks (such as the letter boxing) allow for that letterbox to be a touch brighter because of that. First fairly normally exposed followed by greatly overexposed:
For the overexposed version I converted to grayscale to make things easier to see, and to remove the distraction of the color shifts in these long time exposures. On this particular night train scene below, the Sony's letterbox is brighter, a bit more so than the projector brightness advantage. Ultimately they are very close to identical, with the Epson the slightest advantage
Below, the Sony VPL-HW50ES and other projectors, with most photos converted to grayscale. For comparing: If two projectors have the starship equally overexposed, then the one with the darker letterbox, is the one that has the blacker blacks. You might also notice that in the starfield but comparing the letterbox is easier, as differences in gamma have less affect.
The less expensive Sony VPL-HW30ES
Epson Home Cinema 8700UB ($2199) the sub $7500 black level champ from two years back:
Optoma HD33 (lower cost, $1499 3D capable projector):
JVC DLA-HD250: This JVC is slightly less expensive, no 3D abilities.
Runco LS10d projector ($27,000+): This one is included to make the point, that a lot more money doesn't mean any significant improvement in black levels. Think, instead that other things become more important.
Sony VPL-VW90ES ($9995):
Sharp XV-Z17000 (direct competitor):
BenQ W6000, a "perennial favorite" lower cost DLP
Sony VPL-HW50 Shadow Detail Performance
To our regular readers, I've been showing you this "Bond - night train scene" for several years. Well, I just found another good night train, in the latest Sherlock Holmes movie. Here's a closer look, first normally exposed, then overexposed so you can really make out the detail:
The standard "Bond" night train image does a great job for checking out shadow detail as well. This too is a very dark scene overall. Look to the shrubs on the right, especially behind the tracks, and also look for shadow detail in the wood behind them. Click, as usual, for a much larger image.
Sony VPL-HW30ES - the HW50ES's little brother:
Above, to keep us all honest - below - the $1499 Optoma HD33 for comparison. (Not a lot of dark shadow detail, and the blacks are definitely lighter than most of these other projectors, as you can tell from the letterbox).
Below, the Epson Home Cinema 5010. Note the much increased dark shadow detail in the shrubs on the right, and the trees on the right, that the Epson offers. We'll be reviewing this Epson's replacement, the Home Cinema 5020, within weeks of this review.
This image below should have been a bit more overexposed yet still reveals a lot of dark shadow detail.
The JVC HD250 below is a bit more overexposed than most of the others. That makes the shadow detail more visible than the other images. Overall, though the JVC was on the good side of average.
Mitsubishi HC4000 - one of our favorite lower cost projectors (under $1500):
Sharp XV-Z30000 - a DLP projector with fairly similar street pricing, 3D capable, and with similar black level and perhaps slightly better shadow detail performance:
Black Level and Shadow Detail Performance: VPL-HW50ES Projector - Bottom Line
Pretty impressive! When it comes to blacks without spending a whole lot more (thousands), nothing seems to be better - the new Epson is probably about comparable. One could argue that the JVC X35 gets impressive blacks without a dynamic iris, (and with more dynamic range), but last year's X30 - RS45, just couldn't put up blacks as black as the best projectors with irises.
As to shadow detail, again, classic performance for the price range. Some will be a bit better, but, mostly I'd be quibbling. I consider that last mile of dark shadow detail to be relatively minor. Given a choice at this level of projector, I see black levels as the more important performance area.
Combining both, this Sony VPL-HW50ES is about as good as it gets on dark scenes, and that's what really separates the good from the great. Add to all of that - Sony's Reality creation, and it brings out more details still in those dark scenes. Nice.
Sony VPL-HW50ES - Overall Color & Picture Quality
Once calibrated, the VPL-HW50ES is about as good as it gets in terms of overall picture quality for projectors under, say, $5000.
True, most projectors do really good skin tones, etc., when calibrated, but it's more than just that. It is also clarity, pop, shadow details, blacks. Some projectors are great on bright scenes, so-so on dark ones, for example.
So far, I haven't found anything serious to complain about with this projector. The big buzz of course, is Sony's enhanced Reality Creation. I've written pages about it in this review. I want to be clear - I am really impressed...but, it's not something you may want to use all the time.
Most of the time RC (at moderate levels like 20) dramatically improves details, but there are times when it can give you a "gritty" look/feel to the image. Such as the Pippin image elsewhere in this review.
Ultimately, this Sony is now one of my all time favorite projectors in the under, let's say $7500 MSRP range. This HW50ES projector establishes Sony as one of the very top performers in terms of picture quality - and value!
A mix of additional images to show off the Sony VPL-HW50ES. All movie images were taken using the calibrated User mode. Sports and HDTV images were taken in BrightTV mode:
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector: Performance, HDTV and Sports
Most photos for this section were taken with back lighting on, and the rear window shutters partially open (hard to tell, but the shutters shown here are mostly closed, but still letting in significant light). Images of non-sports had the shutters closed almost all the way.
All the HDTV images were taken with the color mode set to Bright TV, rather than the calibrated User mode.
I've watched two full weeks of football with the Sony VPL-HW50ES, and it has not disappointed. I have a dedicated theater, but can allow a fair amount of ambient light in, and still have a great, dynamic, roughly 100" diagonal image.
That said, on Sunday's I get the NFL package, which allows me to view up to 8 games simultaneously (an example of 4 at a time is on the summary page). When doing this, I adjust the zoom to fill my 124" wide screen to full width. Sure, some of the top, and bottom of the image (mostly background) are off my screen, but the 8 games are all there on the screen, making each game roughly the same size as a 32" diagonal LCDTV (actually a touch larger).
No problem in my room with friends over and back lights and some minor outside light, on that rather large screen. Everyone comes here, because it really is rather dazzling - my own Sports Book is the way I think of it. Many games at once.
I have had brighter projectors here, in the same environment. The brightest of those have been two Epsons and last year's PT-AE7000. While both can provide more brightness for when you want some ambient light, none of those can match the color of this Sony in their brighter modes. This Sony has the BEST brightest picture of the competition.
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector: Bottom Line on HDTV and Sports
If your room is more family room, and don't want to be doing the watch football in a cave, where you can barely see your buddies, figure you can handle up to about 110-120" diagonal with limited controlled ambient light, and still have an image that looks fairly dynamic. Kill all the ambient, though, and 120" diagonal should look downright great, with almost 1200 lumens in brightest mode.
OK, Projector Reviews fans. The image above (from HDTV) was from the Live With Kelly show (shot in NYC). What is interesting about that image is not the quality, but the presence of our company (vacation). That one guy up front, clapping, is me, and to MY left, are my daughter Lisa, and wife Lori, both also employees of our company.