Sony VPL-HW45ES Home Theater Projector Review

The VPL-HW45ES offers great color and a bright picture.  Ideal for media rooms, and home theaters, this 1800 lumen 1080p projector is Sony’s most affordable for the home, listing for only $1999.

Sony’s VPL-HW45ES is another “evolutionary” update for Sony, in this case from the just “retired” HW40ES.

When I reviewed the step up model, the VPL-HW65ES a few months ago, I was surprised by how much improvement that projector represented vs the HW55ES that came before. Much brighter, and more.  Sony delivered enough extra performance to even be able to rationalize an effective increase in street price of roughly $500.

The Sony VW-HW45ES also improves its value proposition, but performance improvements are a small part of that, bigger is the 20% price cut to $1999! Think of it this way, the way Sony packaged the older models, there was roughly a $1000 street price difference.  This time around, the difference is roughly $2000.

Note:  This review has just been published 8/27/16.  As is usual for us, additional comments, images will be added, and lots of proofing will be done over the first two weeks.

VPL-HW45ES Overview

Without spoiling all your fun, consider this:  With the HW45ES under $2000, it now faces a whole different group of competitors.  Many of them are more Home Entertainment, than Home Theater oriented, including projectors from BenQ, Optoma, Viewsonic, etc.  That’s especially noteworthy since the HW45ES’s predecessors’ biggest perennial competition has been Epson’s UB series, and Sony’s next model up the food chain.  The latest Epson UB projectors just launched, priced much higher than earlier versions.  Instead of $2299 (slightly less than the old HW40ES) the new UBs start at $2999, so that one is now 50% more than the HW45ES!

As long as we’re talking price, let’s position this Sony in their lineup.  At exactly double the list price is the similar, but more advanced VPL-HW65ES. For your extra money, the HW65ES delivers better overall black levels, and therefore better picture, thanks to the addition of a dynamic iris.  There’s also a PJ calibration app, better interfacing to home automation thanks to a LAN – local area network capability, and a 12 volt screen trigger.  Moving up from there, the  next projector to be considered in the Sony line-up is the  $9999 VW365ES which from a performance standpoint is sort of the true 4K equivalent of the HW45ES.  It too lacks a dynamic iris, but does have lots of other bells and whistles, including motorized lens features including Lens Memory.  The VW665ES at $14,999 is the 4K equivalent to the HW65ES (but again, with some extra features, more performance).

Editor’s note:  Price drop notwithstanding, the HW45ES is extremely similar to the older HW40ES, as a result, after this page, and except for the summary (and areas where I’m comparing to the competition), some of this review has been rewritten from the original HW40ES review. That folks simplifies things when a new projector is over 90% the same as its predecessor.  

The HW45ES is one of the physically largest projectors you will find in the $2000 and below price range.  It’s a couple times the size of the DLP competition.  The dark finish is a hint that this is a projector suitable for mounting in a really good room, a dedicated home theater, or at least a media (or other) room where ambient light can at least sometimes be reduced to truly minimal levels.  If you have a terrible room, there are projectors out there in the price range that can be twice as bright or more, but then this is really too elegant a projector for a poor choice of a room.

VPL-HW45ES_hungergames_katniss_peta

From the Hunger Games: Katniss and Peeta

Notes about the photos from movies, sports, etc., throughout this review:  All sports images were taken with a fair amount of ambient light present.  All other HDTV images were taken in low ambient light conditions, while projected movie scenes were photographed with the room dark.  Because of the healthy amount of ambient light in the sports images, they won’t “pop” as well as they would with lower light levels.

The HW45ES is a standard 1080p projector with a minimum of electronic frills. It’s got 3D, of course, and it does offer its Reality Creation – for very smart detail and sharpness enhancement processing. BTW, upgrading Reality Creation is one of the changes found in this projector. CFI – smooth motion, as well.  We discuss these types of capabilities on the Special Features pages of this review.

Sony has eliminated a number of “legacy” inputs such as S-video, composite video and even an analog computer input.  Fair enough considering  most computers these days have HDMI,

Sony is the only current manufacturer of true 4K projectors for the home – (as noted, starting at $9999 list price) with the VPL-VW365ES which I’m reviewing next.  It’s therefore no real surprise that this is a  standard 1080p projector.  Sony hasn’t gone into pixel shifting as a (hardly perfect) substitute for having higher resolution panels, as some other brands have done.  Why should they, if you’ve got the budget, they’ve got the real McCoy – true 4K projectors.

Sony has gotten really good, these past 3-4 years, in setting up their projectors.  I can’t think of any company offering up projectors that look as good – or rather as accurate, right out of the box as this HW45ES and other Sony models.  That’s going to be a real plus for some of you:  Unbox, plug in, great picture!

I normally have a tendency to compare the HW series Sony’s with more expensive projectors.  With the HW45ES now under $2000, it’s going up head to head with a number projectors that really aren’t serious competition, and very few that are.

Let’s look at the quick highlights, and then it will be time to take a close look various features and their benefits, before getting into the hardware tour, and specific picture quality discussion.  Enjoy!

VPL-HW45ES Highlights

  • Very good brightness – 1800 lumens – allows use in good media rooms as well as theaters
  • Quieter operation than most projectors
  • 1.6:1 manual zoom provides good placement flexibility
  • Extensive lens shift helps with placement
  • 9 different preset color modes (most look really good)
  • 3 year warranty (longer than most under $2K projectors
  • 6000 hour lamp (in low power mode) – an improvement over last year’s Sonys
  • 3D now uses in internal RF emitter for a better 3D experience than IR glasses (the older HW40ES required an almost $200 3rd party solution to do RF 3D)
  • Available in both dark and off white finish
  • Exhaust vents out the front, allowing for rear shelf mounting

OK, time to get into the details!

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News And Comments

  • Angelos G

    Hello Art! First of all thank you for always putting in the time and effort with your detailed analysis. Nobody does it better. Again Thank You! Secondly, I have been an Epson fan for years and most recently keep coming across this projector. I just sold my Epson 3500 and was eyeing the 3900 and 5040. Over the years as I continually upgrade, contrast ratio and lumen count generally also increase. It just seems like taking a step backwards by going back down to 1800 vs the Epson’s 2500-2700 lumen count on those units. That is almost double the Sony and they have similar contrast ratio when comparing to the 3900. I do partly understand that calibration alters the lumen count. In this case though, I generally use your recommendations per model and that has worked out very well in the past. I do have a controlled lighting environment, run my bulbs on high, periodically use 3D, only use my space for watching Blu-ray, and would like to move into 4K sooner than later. However the Sony is $1K less than the 5040. I Keep going back and forth. Is it as equally bright as the 3500 calibrated? Is it worth the extra grand for the 5040? I guess what I’m looking for is a significant improvement all around over the 3500, and I loved that projector.