Sony VPL-HW50ES Home Theater Projector Review

The VPL-HW50ES projector offers almost exactly 1000 lumens calibrated.  Also, it can provide about 1200 lumens, with still good color, just not great.  It is a good deal brighter (calibrated) than all but a very few home Theater projectors under $15,000.  As such, my screen recommendations for the VPL-HW50ES will be a bit different than for a number of other LCoS and DLP projectors (where 600-700 is typical calibrated, and 800 – 1100 for “brightest” mode). -art

Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector Screen Recommendations

Again, we have the challenge of choosing a screen to match the projector that is a good “fit” for the type of room.  That isn’t too tough to figure out, but adding in 3D can really complicate things, due to the much greater projector brightness required to get the same brightness to your eyes.

As a general rule of thumb, figure that about 1/4 of the 2D brightness to your eyes, makes it when you are watching 3D.  By allowing more crosstalk, one can get more usable lumens, but we’re still talking a dramatic drop in brightness, per lumen.

While the VPL-HW50 would seem to be most at home in a dedicated home theater, or other optimized room, the projector has sufficient brightness to play in family rooms and livingrooms.  If that’s your thought, – less dedicated, optimized rooms, and the Sony works, certainly, go for it.  The challenge will be the few competitors that are almost twice as bright, which may be your better choice overall, in tougher rooms.

Let’s start in the home theater or cave environment.  We’ll get back to family rooms further down.

Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector - Screens For Dedicated Home Theater

As mentioned above, even if you want the largest possible screen, you are going to have to compromise a bit, if you also want reasonably bright 3D.  That said, on a typical screen with 1.3 to 1.4 gain, this Sony projector should be able to handle up to about 150″ diagonal, and still be about as bright as in a typical movie theater, even as the lamp approaches the end of its life – and is a good bit dimmer than new.

Now I like a bright image.  I’ve been using the Sony on a screen you probably wouldn’t pair with it.  Mine is a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  If you want that shape, you are going to be shopping for an anamorphic lens.  Nevermind that.  My 124″ is the equivalent to about 130″ in a 16:9 aspect ratio. In “best mode” – fully calibrated, I’ve got plenty of lumens to fill my 9.5 foot wide screen, when watching a cinemascope shaped flick.

I can definitely see people going a size or two larger than that.  No problem.  I was answering someone’s email, and did the math.  On a 1.0 gain screen, at 155″ diagonal, the VPL-HW50′s 1000 calibrated lumens still does about 13.5 ft-lamberts.  With a 1.3 gain screen such as my Studiotek 130, that would be about 17.5 ft-lamberts.  Your typical cineplex theaters do 12 to 16 ft-lamberts- most toward the low end of that range.

Viewing 3D changes everything.  I got by reasonably well filling the full width of my screen watching various 3D movies, as far as brightness goes, but I wouldn’t have wanted to go any larger.  3D on a 1.3 gain screen is reasonably bright around a 100″ diagonal size.

Room lighting.  If you have cave abilities (really dark), that’s great, but if you want some lights on – sconces, other low ambient light, especially on the sides of the room, then you may wish to consider screens that can deal with that.  Look to high contrast screens like Stewart’s Firehawk G3, Screen Innovations Black Diamond 2, which are especially good at that, but Da-lite, Elite, Draper, all have good HC grays screens, in terms of this type of environment, even if the two I mentioned are particularly good at “rejecting” ambient light.

One issue with HC gray screens is that they are a bit darker, so when you are thinking brightness for 3D, that becomes a downside.

Placing the HW50ES Projector - The Right Screens for Living Rooms, Bonus Rooms...

You’ve got 1200 or so lumens to work with.  Just three years ago, that would have made it one of the brighter serious projectors out there under $10K.

In my old “great room” with its rust colored walls, gold carpet, I was rather happy filling my 128″ Firehawk G3 with 600 to 800 lumen projectors for viewing at night.  In the daytime, I closed my motorized shades, but as they did not have side channels, they definitely leaked light.  Mostly I avoided movies in the daytime, but the secret to my room working in the daytime was the Firehawk G3 screen.  You can debate the benefits of one brand vs. another, but the trick is to figure out which surface, in terms of gain, viewing cone, and general material, such as “high contrast gray”, or “matte white” works best in your environment.

I owned BenQ’s back then 6-7 years ago, then JVCs.  None of them could output more than 1000, even at their brightest, and life was still good. I will concede when I had an Epson 1080UB for a while, I would often use that instead of my own ceiling mounted projector, for sports.  That Epson never had enough lumens calibrated (under 500) to do good job, but in brightest mode its 1500+ max measured lumens really was a plus.

That said, this Sony at brighest is closer in brightness (with better color too), to that old Epson, than to the maximum of those sub-1000 lumen JVC’s and BenQs.

With smaller screen sizes, say 100-110″, the Sony again should have sufficient lumens for decent 3D viewing.

Bottom line here.  If you decide to put this Sony HW50 in a family room, great room, bonus room, etc., overall I’d say “don’t push it”, in terms of big screen size, unless you really don’t care at all about 3D.

I will almost always recommend a HC gray screen unless you really have great control of lighting.

I will also discuss one alternative, and that’s High Power screens.  With gains often 2.5 or higher, if you are creating a room where people viewing are all close to being in line with the center of the screen, you can consider a high power screen. They do what they are supposed to; provide 2.5 even 3+ gains. That’s right, a 2.8 gain Da-lite High Power screen, will be twice as bright as the 1.4 gain Carada that I use in my testing room.

Perhaps more to the point, compared to this Sony with its 1200+ usable lumens projecting on to a 1.0 gain screen, using of the high power screens would be like switching to a 3300 lumen projector.

Personally I’m not a big fan of high power screens, because of more of a tendency to hot spot and have a limited viewing cone (you may spot the corners being a bit darker)  Still, it may be the right type of screen for your HW50ES, if the room demands it.  (Perhaps you have a long narrow room?) Ok, just because I’m not a fan of this type of screen, doesn’t mean they don’t have their followers.  There are plenty of users who swear by them.  As someone who prefers bright, I understand their enthusiasm for having a really bright screen.

Summary:  In the “cave”, home theater, or a particularly ideal media room, you should most likely stick to modest gain white surfaces, if you like watching without any ambient light. Only consider HC gray screens if you have some (side) ambient light to deal with, or to lower black levels.  Well, this Sony VPL-HW50ES projector has some pretty impressive black levels.  If you wanted to lower them further, an HC gray screen can help you there.  There is one other reason as well:  You bought this Sony for its excellent color and its digitally sharpened image, but you are going with a smaller screen, perhaps a 100″ diagonal.  A few of you might actually find the Sony HW50′s image, even in low power more, to be too bright for 2D viewing.  Just a few though!

If your room is fancy, you just might have some serious accent lighting that you want on (low).  Again, high contrast gray (or “black”) screens help there.  I should note there are some high contrast white screens as well HC-Cinemavision (can’t remember without looking it up), claims 1.1 gain.  In my dealer past, we sold a lot of those.

Take your time on screen selection.  You’ve got a great projector in terms of this Sony VPL-HW50ES home theater projector, so let’s be sure to match that screen to room conditions, to what you like to watch, and your projectors skills.  Get it right and your viewing experience should be noticeably better than if you bought the wrong type of screen.

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