Sony VPL-HW50ES - Review Summary
One more time, with enthusiasm: Sony's VPL-HW50ES is a $3999 3 panel (chip) LCoS - SXRD as Sony refers to it - projector that is designed for a home theater environment. It has more than enough brightness to handle some very nice sized screens, up to 150" diagonal in a dedicated home theater or a room with darker surfaces and proper lighting control. The HW50ES offers 3D capability as well as 2D. Your roughly four thousand dollars gets you two pair of 3D glasses, and also a spare lamp, with the projector.
Below we summarize key items written about in the previous pages of the review. Consult those pages for more details, including even our calibration settings.
9/26/12 - Art Feierman
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector - The Bottom Line
I mentioned a year ago, with the HW30ES that while I tend to find that I really like Sony projectors, I have yet to own one. I can start my summary of the VPL-HW50ES by saying that if I was shopping for a sub $5000 projector for my theater at this time, I believe it would be my top choice. True, I have the updated Epsons coming in, and then this year's minor improvements to the lowest cost JVC, but based on what I know about those projectors predecessors, this Sony may very well be the pick of the litter even against those companies' newer projectors. We shall see.
In the case of Sony's VPL-HW50ES, you will have to decide if it's the best match for you. Keep in mind, that even if it is the "best" under $5000 projector, it may not be the best for you. That said, I suspect this is going to be at least one of the best, if it's in your budget.
Serving up our Hot Product Award for the VPL-HW50ES
I didn't even have to ponder whether this Sony VPL-HW50ES would receive a Hot Product Award. From what I knew going in (price, features, CEDIA demos), it seemed like it was obvious. An hour of viewing in my theater confirmed it.
If you are placing this projector in a theater/cave, this projector is designed for the job.
On the other hand, in brighter "media rooms" family rooms, living rooms, and bonus rooms, the arguments for this Sony, are not quite as strong, but this is a projector with enough horsepower to be considered in those brighter (not too bright) environments. It certainly would be capable in my old house on a 128" diagonal screen with a two story living room, sporting rust colored walls, and the right screen for the job. My last room was definitely not a dedicated theater environment
With that said, let's revisit a few topics, for those who skipped the interior pages of this review.
Below, from The Fifth Element: a nice space scene that demonstrates the Sony's impressive black level performance
VPL-HW50ES Brightness: The VPL-HW50ES calibrated is much brighter than most $3000 to $10,000 projector.s Post calibration it measured a whopping just over 992 lumens in "best" (measured with zoom at mid-point!) At its very brightest, the projector reaches to almost 1300 lumens, but notably puts a great looking image on the screen in the 1100-1200 lumen range. Although the Sony's brightest modes (Bright TV, Bright Cinema), are a little cool in color temp, overall, they look great. For comparison, Epson's Dynamic mode may be significantly brighter (think almost 2000 lumens the way we measure), there's no comparison in color - the Epson's strong on greens, the Sony strong on looking good. By the time you go to other Epson modes that do have really good color, the Epson's no longer significantly brighter, only slightly. So for really good bright color, this Sony is really good.
I can't think of any other quality projector not costing far more, that can match the calibrated brightness of the HW50 projector.
Image below, from the last Victoria Secret Fashion Show. We're talking vibrant colors!
VPL-HW50ES 3D Performance: (If you have no curiosity or interest in 3D, skip down please!)
3D is unusually clean. You can spot crosstalk but if you have the glasses in settings of 1, 2, and maybe, in those settings if you notice crosstalk it's probably inherent to the content, not the projector. At the brightest - the #4 setting, the Sony is still very good, for example, better than anything I've seen JVC be able to do with any of their projectors in 3D to date. In the perennial battle between
The amount of 3D brightness on settings 3 and 4 (I mostly use 3), really impresses me. It definitely held it's own against last year's Epson 5010 (though that projector has almost 1000 hours on its lamp, which takes a brightness toll). This Sony VPL-HW50ES is reasonably bright on a 100" diagonal screen, something only a few projectors can claim. I am able to watch at about 125" diagonal image in 3D, with brightness "acceptable" though I'd like more, it's still better than most 3D theaters!
Also important, when viewing in the brightest modes for 3D, I can't think of a projector competing with the VPL-HW50ES, that looks better good color wise, including those Epsons and JVCs out there.
Really impressive 3D, is the bottom line. For 3D fans, it looks like a slugfest between this Sony, and the competing Epsons for top honors around the price point, the rest are probably "left in the dust."
Before it gets forgotten, regarding the Sony 3D glasses: People, your Sony's going in a home theater. That means more than two people are watching sometimes. There are 3rd party glasses (untested) as well as the Sony's, available. Remember, you do get two pair with this Sony projector. No emitter needed for 3D, but they offer an optional one if you have a really large room and should need more range.
Sony 3D glasses for this projector are NOT compatible with those provided with Sony LCDTVs.
VPL-HW50ES Color and Overall Picture Quality
Beautiful color. Seems especially sharp when you use Reality Creation, their detail enhancement feature judiciously.
For years I have always felt that Sony was still living on the reputation of the Sony Trinitron, which raised the bar on TV picture quality some 40+ years ago.
I've been reviewing Sony home theater projectors for 4-5 years now. For the first several years, no question, Sony produced some very impressive projectors - such as the first of the current series - the VW50 - known as the Pearl back then.
Above: (click for larger) - Now imagine this football player image Filling your 120" (or whatever you size prefer) screen, this taken with the Sony projector in "brightest" mode.
Nice, but I never found Sony's to be my favorite, my idea of a "best" projector at the price point. My opinion over the last two years has changed. Sony is now a top tier competitor, with all of their Home Theater models, which now number three:
The VPL-VW1000ES - their $25K true 4K projector which recently won our Outstanding Product (projector) Of the Year.
The VPL-VW95ES: Now dropped to $5999, it shared our Best In Class award (2nd highest award) for $3500 - $10,000 projector
And now we have the VPL-HW50ES. It's early in the review season. This $3999 projector comes with a spare lamp and glasses, effectively putting it at the top (price wise) of our $2000 - $3500 price range (the sweet spot of the market).
It would certainly seem to be, to be a major contender for the next Best In Class $2K - $3.5K comparison in our next Home Theater report. We won't truly know how well it compares until we review 5-6 competitors, but as I like to say: I am impressed.
I haven't been able to throw anything at this Sony that it doesn't make look great on the screen. Not much else you can ask for, except for more price performance.
Well, price performance is not an issue. For less than $1000, are the new Panasonic and one of the Epson's. Still, this Sony may well be simply delivering $1000 more value for that difference. And even if it's not brighter overall, it will almost certainly be the brightest projector once caibrated for best picture.
Enjoy these, and the dozens of other images throughout this review. Just remember, as dazzling as some look, they will always look better "live" projected onto a screen.
The dynamic (or manual) iris, has two auto modes, and manual. In Auto 1, the end result was extremely good black level performance on dark scenes, rivaling the Epson's who have been the champs in the price range, for years. I don't foresee any other forthcoming projector this fall as being able to noticeably beat this projector in terms of blacks, and only one or two that can compete with it. Epson, and maybe the lowest cost JVC, are the only likely possibles.
The Very Bottom Line on the VPL-HW50ES projector:
The picture - is accurate, and natural looking. Skin tones, as a general rule, are gorgeous.
Although a bit cool, even brightest modes have a most enjoyable picture quality, that I figure looks better than almost any LCDTV, and I'm talking this Sony at its worst. It's hard not to really revel in excellent skin tones.
Placement flexibility of the VPL-HW50ES projector is really good with 1.6:1 zoom and a good amount of lens shift. Lens shift has a little more range than last year's HW30ES, which already had very respectable range.
Below: Sony VPL-HW50ES beautifully handles the skin tones of the receptionist in The Fifth Element (although this image is a touch dark).
For your $3999 MSRP (with glasses and spare lamp), you get a projector that in most areas rivals (and in the case of Reality Creation, and some 3D) exceeds Sony's (now $2000+) more expensive VPL-VW95ES. On the other hand, I still consider the VPL-VW95ES the superior projector to own. It still has noticeably better blacks, which is to say truly exceptional back level performance. The 95 also can do Lens Memory, and has more flexibility, but ultimately, while it may be more of a purist's projector, I have to concede that the HW50ES delivers more price performance. More bang for the dollars you spend!
This is a projector that works best in a home theater environment, but can double in a light controlled family room as well. It's definitely more value than last year's VPL-HW30ES, and can easily take on the likes of the Sharp XV-Z13000, and the Optoma HD8300. It's early in this home theater season, so there are more new competitors yet to review. Still, the Sony VPL-HW50ES is definitely a top choice out there, especially when you consider how much more you will have to spent to get incremental improvements in picture quality.
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector: Pros and Cons
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector: Pros
- One of the brighter 3D capable projectors under $5000
- Almost 1000 lumens in "best" mode, no problem, even with large screens (ie: 10+ feet wide)
- Excellent overall color, and skin tones
- Lots of preset image modes
- Calibrates beautifully for really good color handling, natural look
- Good shadow detail, really good black levels
- Very good placement flexibility
- HDMI 1.4a inputs (2) allows for support for Blu-ray 3D content
- 3D glasses provided (2 pair)
- Very good CFI (motion smoothing) MotionFlow
- Reality Creation really raises the bar for dynamic sharpening and detail enhancement
- Get extra brightness in 3D with glasses control (but more image noise)
- Excellent warranty
- Fairly quiet, even at full power
- Really good remote control
- Near black finish works well in dedicated theaters
- Very good menu layout, very good manual
- Price performance
Above, Dumbledore - Harry Potter, HW50ES projector looks great on this extemely dark scene that shows off blacks and shadow details.
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector: Cons
- Lacks lens memory for the small slice of people who would prefer a 2.35:1 screen instead of the standard 16:9 screens
- Others offer lamps with longer claimed life, so you have a higher cost of operation
- I still don't like the Reset button where it is on the remote control
- Could use a third HDMI input, could offer wireless HDMI... (and other wish list items)
- And of course, this projector could be brighter - I'm thinking primarily for 3D, but also for non-theater placement
- Lens shift controls a little stiff, not real smooth (picky, picky)
- Sony need new, more comfortable, lighter weight 3D glasses. These just don't cut it anymore!
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Brightest mode brightness - "BrightTV and Bright Cinema", only a little brighter than average (although exceptional color for "brightest modes")
- Size and weight of projectors in its class
- Variety of inputs
I've already added the VPL-HW50ES onto my short list of favorite home projectors.
I'd ask Sony to leave this HW50ES with me for the next year, but truth is, as great as that would be, I'm really trying to leverage a really long look at their $25K flagship VW1000ES instead.
Excellent projector! And it would seem to be an equally good value.
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