Sony VPL-HW50ES Home Theater Projector Review

Sony VPL-HW50ES Black Levels & Shadow Detail

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.

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VPL-HW50ES Black Levels

Normal Exposure

First fairly normally exposed followed by greatly overexposed.

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

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.

Black Levels Comparison

VPL-HW50ES
Sony VPL-HW30ES
Optoma HD8300
Epson Home Cinema 8700UB
Optoma HD33
JVC DLA-HD250
Runco LS10d
Sony VPL-VW90ES
Sharp XV-Z17000
BenQ W6000

The less expensive Sony VPL-HW30ES

Optoma HD8300:

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

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.

Shadow Detail Comparison

Sony VPL-HW50
Sony VPL-HW30ES
Optoma HD8300
Optoma HD33
Epson Home Cinema 5010
JVC HD250
Mitsubishi HC4000
Sharp XV-Z30000

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.

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