Posted on December 7, 2013 By Art Feierman
This roughly $3500 net Sony home theater projector has a great picture. The VPL-HW55ES wins our HOT PRODUCT Award, and is an overall excellent choice!
VIDEO REVIEWS: Check out our short 4-minute overview or the longer 12-minute summary (subscribers only).
The Sony VPL-HW55ES is the direct replacement to one of last year’s Best In Class winners, the HW50. This VPL-HW55ES is another projector that is an evolutionary improvement, and we’ll discussed that improved performance later. Like its predecessor, this Sony projector retails for $3999, but that price includes 2 pair of 3D glasses, and a spare lamp. Thus, consider this about a $3500 projector (we will include it in the $2000 – $3500 class, in our upcoming home theater comparison report (Feb 2014).
The HW55ES is available in very dark blue-green/black, in the US, but also is available in white in the EU and some other parts of the world. In anything but a bright room, the US version looks black. It is an LCoS projector, using 3 panels. Note that Sony calls their LCoS panels SXRD, a term you’ve probably seen before.
Essentially, the HW55ES is a dedicated home theater projector, there are brighter projectors out there if you are trying to find a projector for more of a living room type environment, yet it does have pretty good brightness, so those rooms may work for you with the right screen, and one not too large. Still most of these are heading into theater/caves.
The VPL-HW55ES Projector has a manual zoom lens, and a good deal of lens shift (more on the details on this Sony review’s Hardware Tour page). I should note right now, Sony’s warranty is better than most.
What projectors compete with the HW55ES? There aren’t very many projectors in the general price range, but the major direct competition includes, the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB, a less expensive solution, and its almost identical twin, the Pro Cinema 6030UB, which is closer to the Sony’s price. JVC offers a price comparable projector, the DLA-X35, which is also sold by a different JVC division as the DLA-RS46, those both launched a year ago, and not “refreshed” this year. There are a couple of old Optoma DLP projectors still around in the price as well, for DLP lovers. There are some other lower cost alternatives, but not really serious competition. The more expensive competition is lead by Sony’s own other projectors and other JVCs – JVC has an updated projector around $1500 more, but there are others, more expensive including the lowest cost Runco projectors. We’ll take a closer look at how the VPL-HW55ES projector compares, in our Competitors page of this review.
No surprises here, as we considered it’s previous version to be about the best there is around the price. With no all new competing projectors into the price range this year, the award proved to be a slam dunk.
The key reasons are the exceptional picture quality – natural skin tones, extremely good black level performance, and an exceptionally bright calibrated picture, as well as very good placement flexibility. We explore all of that in depth, in this review.
Just curious, but how would you compare the HW55 directly with the last years HW50.
Is there more between the two models than just the added lamp life?
Just received the Sony 55ES, 3D still has too much crosstalk no matter what brightness or otherwise setting, Reality Creation adds image noise to either Blu Ray or DVD, otherwise this projector puts out the most superb 2D image that you would have to see to believe ! Hopefully the optional RF 3D emitter that Sony introduces later will clear up the 3D issues ! I have owned LCD, DLP & LCOS and for the best 2D standard image, LCOS is by far, high above the rest ! Totally Awesome !
Hi Robert, sounds about right to me. I’m not overly bothered by crosstalk, I realize it bothers some folks more than others. If one likes processing like Reality Creation (which I do), the low settings can provide a noticeable amount of perceived sharpness/detail, for minor noise. As you crank up RC more, the noise gets more visible, of course. It’s just that systems like RC can make a picture seem significantly “sharper / more detailed”, with a lot less obvious noise compared to most simpler sharpening and edge sharpening systems. That’s the advantage of smarter controls.
I like using it on all digital content such as the Discovery HD channel. I might use it for the Bourne movies, but wouldn’t for many others. All good things in moderation, though, because there are always tradeoffs! That’s the great thing, we can all be enthusiasts, and want the best most natural image in theory, but in practice, it comes down to why not watch it the way you like it best. -art
In response to the above regarding sharpness I have a couple of questions. I received my 55 es recently and with RC turned on in a low setting the image is very very sharp with wonderful detail. However with RC turned off the image is rather soft when compared to my older epson 5010. It is soft enough to the point that is almost seems slightly out of focus and i would use it with RC off. That seems to be a bit of an issue for older film movies that have grain, even with RC at the minimum setting it seems to create alot of noise by sharpening the grain, especially in scenes with matte white skies.
In your review when you praise the sharpness of the projector, I’m assuming that is with RC turned on? With it turned off I find the image to be softer than any other 1080P projector I’ve had, can you please clarify about your experience in this regard? I’m worried i might have a bad unit, but if it looks super sharp with RC turned on then it doesn’t seem possible that anything is wrong with the lens as it is projecting a super sharp image. Any guidance would be really appreciated!
Hi, have you aligned the panels? That made a significant difference on the unit I worked with. On any 3 chip (panel) projector, there’s variation from unit to unit, as to how well they are aligned. While panel alignment like Sony’s and Epson’s is a digital thing, it can really make a significant difference. The Sony I received was pretty good without the alignment, whereas the first 5030ub I had received was off more and looked softer (comparing with super-res and reality creation turned off.
Sony’s been using these optics for years now (or these newer ones are slightly improved), so see how that affects things. with RC on (or Super-Res on the Epson) you get “additional” perceived detail/sharpness. In theory, though, a single chip design with good optics is still the sharpest natural image. But, there are few projectors left for purists. JVC’s for example have the best non-enhanced black levels on their higher end models, but they still use panel alignment (and if last year’s were typical a touch softer (X35) compared with the older HW50 when I reviewed them… -art
thanks so much for the quick reply. No, haven’t aligned the panels yet. I’m having Kevin Miller come to calibrate and I will get his opinion when he is there re issue. When RC is on, the sharpness looks perfect, would that be the case if the panels were misaligned? In your review when you were saying how sharp it is was that with RC turned off? When i turn RC off there is a signifigant and immediately apparent difference to the point that i don’t want to watch anything with it turned off. With my 5020 i didn’t really notice any difference in sharpness with super res turned on/off and it seems super sharp in native (super res off mode).
For older movies with grain having a sharp image with RC off is important, so definitely want to get this figured out. Based on the above you think this sounds like a panel alignment issue?
Art, What is the largest screen that you would recommend for this projector?
Hi, Tricky question. I’ll assume you have a theater like environment – full lighting control, darker surfaces.
After that it comes down to the gain of the screen, and whether 3D is important to you. Also whether you like things like sports with more than a little light on, so that the room is fit for a social gathering. Figure that if 3D is big on your list, that reduces your screen size by a good 30%.
Now I like screens that are typically in the 1.1 to 1.4 gain range. With a projector that calibrated puts out close to 1000 lumens, for movie viewing, no sports with lights on, or 3D, in theory you have enough brightness for at least a 130″ diagonals screen, and with a 1.3 to 1.4 gain screen, you should be able to push out to about 150″ diagonal.
Even in 3D on my 1.3 gain Stewart Studiotek 130, the HW55ES was cruising along without effort on my 124″ size. I found 3D acceptable at that size, but I was happier with 3D (I don’t like dim), around 100 to 110″. I’m pickier about that, than most, because I figure it’s not just me, but “friends.” We enthusiasts tend to be willing to compromise, whereas I have friends who would simply rather watch a brighter 2D image than a dimmer 3D one.
If my screen was 150″ diagonal, I’d still be perfectly happy with the 2D brightness of the Sony. My room is very good, so I wouldn’t have problems with my rear down lights all on, for my sports viewing, which is typical when I am watching sports, including the Olympics. -art
I am in the market for Projector. I have narrowed down to Sony VPL-HW55ES , Epson 6030 or 5030. Can you please suggest which is a better projector. I have a dedicated 12 x 10 Home theater room.
Each has advantages. I give the Sony the advantage with movies. And that it’s about 40% brighter (900+ lumens calibrated vs about 650+) Both calibrate beautifully, have similar black level performance.
But for sports and other non-movie viewing, the Epson can easily be 50+% brighter than the Sony, so that comes into play. It would also for 3D, but that’s not your thing.
So, you’ll have to decide. You pay more for the Sony, and the Epsons also have the replacement program should you have a warranty problem
As I think I have said in the various reviews, say comparing the 5030ub to the Sony. Each has strengths, and both are good values at their price. if you don’t mind the difference in price, and you are mostly movies, go Sony, otherwise, Epson. -art
Thoughts on the 55 vs the 95? Better blacks on 95 but newer projector with newer motion flow, rc on 55. 3d is not of concern but sports and motion are huge to me.
While I really appreciate the 95’s better black levels, for most folks I would say this:
Save the couple grand and go the HW55ES. Save that money for 2-3 years down the road, and put it to your first 4K projector.
That’s probably the smartest play. -art
Thanks Art. Would opinion change if I could get the 95 for about $500 less than the 55 or pick up a 50 for a few hundred less than that, including full warranty. These would be b stock units but a stock 55.
I am currently shopping for a reasonably priced projector. I am also looking at the Sony VPL-HW55ES and Epson 6030. I wanted to know your opinion on the Sharp XV-Z30000 compared to these. I have the older sharp XV-Z12000 and although its a little dated, for its time it had a pretty good picture and reliable. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this unit
Hi, I really like the XVZ30000, I especially liked it when it was selling for under $2000 (promos – a year ago or so).
It’s one of the nicest DLP’s around the price range, if not the best.
Compared to the Epson (6030ub/5030ub) and Sony HW55ES:
The Sharp isn’t as bright, calibrated or otherwise
The Sharp can’t match those two in terms of black level performance
Sharp has very sharp, sharper than the others (thanks to single chip
DLP vs 3 panel projectors) (The Epson’s recent upgrade will allow
enhancement to improve perceived sharpness to rival at least the Sharp,
but with “heavy” processing comes a slightly less natural image.
you like DLP’s and the brightness is sufficient for your needs, go for
it. From a value standpoint, I tend to favor the Epson 5030UB. The Sony
(or the bundled 6030UB) cost more.
5030ub and the HW55ES for the same price I slightly favor the Sony, but
with the usual price differences, the Epson has a real advantage.
Good luck out there. -art
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