Sony VPL-HW30ES Projector - Image Quality
Here we will discuss the picture quality of the Sony VPL-HW30ES home theater projector, in terms of "out of the box color", shadow detail, and black level performance. Post calibration, we take a closer look at the HW30's handling of skin tones and overall color.
10/13/11 - Art Feierman
Sony VPL-HW30ES Out of the Box Picture Quality
We found Cinema 1 to offer up the best color, right out of the box. Overall, Cinema 1, after adjusting the brightness and contrast slightly, to have the best picture, and color, without calibration.
Over all, for those of you not planning to have your projector calibrated, and aren't even planning to try out our recommended settings, then consider this one of the better projectors out there for just turning on, and enjoying.
The color shift from an ideal 6500K, is slight, and only slightly cool (a touch more blues than red strength), with the color temp ranging from just over 6700K to just over 7000K.
About these photo images: The images in this review can give you a very good idea of the VPL-HW30ES picture quality, but with some reservations. First, as with all other projectors, when you get this Sony projector home, it is going to look a lot better than the images. In general though, there is noticeable shifting of color and dynamics as the process goes from the projected image, to my 60D Canon dSLR, though Photoshop (for resizing, cropping), jpg compressing them for web, your graphics card in your computer, and your display's own lower contrast, and color shifts.
It's almost amazing the pictures look this good, all considered. Nonetheless, hey do provide you with a very good representation, just not a dead on one suitable for comparing the exact color balance of different projectors.
So take these images with a grain of salt (or several). On the bright side, images designed to show black levels and shadow detail work effectively when compared to other projector's images.
With the Sony HW30ES, the images as seen on my MacBook Pro, tend to show just a slight touch more yellowish tint in the colors than were on the screen. Such shifts are not unusual in our images, and we tend to identify them.
I mentioned that some projectors are better right out of the box. Let me simplify for you. Some projectors offer a THX mode, which from past experience on a number of projectors, generally provides default color as good as this Sony, or better. That said, the same type of people not into "tweaking", are probably fine with the Sony, without doing any tinkering.
With the brightest modes, you can get a bit more than 25% more brightness out, but greens get too strong (typical of most projectors), and the image gets cool (thin on reds).
We discuss getting the best, brightest mode results, on the Performance page.
Sony VPL-HW30ES Projector - Flesh Tones
Before calibration they are pretty good. Post calibration The HW30's reproduction of skin tones becomes really excellent. If you don't plan a full calibration of the VPL-VW30ES, then please try our calibration settings found on the Calibration page. If you like those better than the defaults (you should) let us know.
Above and below, as always - Gandalf and Arwen, from Lord of the Rings, on Blu-ray to start off our skin tones images..
Of the movies I viewed and took images of, many provide skin tones that I can only call natural and easy. Lord of the Rings and the modern Bond flicks I use fit that description. By comparison, movies like Red, and Star Trek (the new one), the Bourne movies, and many action movies in general, seem to push the dynamics, and therefore provide a projector with less accurate, and less forgiving skin tones to reproduce.
Below are our three James Bond images from Casino Royale. Each has a different lighting scenario, the first - full sunlight, the second image; indoor fluorescent, and finally, filtered sunlight in the third image. And as one would expect, that causes each image of James Bond - Daniel Craig - to have different looking skin tones. All look pretty good!
More images we like for considering skin tones:
Above: Leeloo from The Fifth Element Her skin tones looked great, throughout. Below: Morgan Freeman - and the back of Bruce Willis.
Above, Lord of the Rings and Scarlett Johannsen, from Iron Man 2.
Sony VPL-HW30ES Black Levels & Shadow Detail
VPL-HW30ES Black Levels
Sony's black level performance, i.e.,how close the HW30 comes to getting inky blacks, rather than medium dark grays, is very good.
The HW30's black level performance is great, but it isn't going to match the best of the more expensive projectors, and even a couple of lower priced ones. If you are a black level fanatic, like me, you can be very happy with the VPL-HW30ES, even knowing that there are a few projectors that can do better still. I identify the Sony as a very good "ultra high contrast" projector. Forget the claims, I use the term subjectively, as a way of saying, "black performance we only dreamed about 4-5 years ago" (except in comparison with those old CRTs which really can do a true black).
From a practical standpoint the Sony does well enough, with likely only one less expensive projector that does a bit better, the Epson Home Cinema 8700UB, and therefore also likely, the Home Cinema 5010 that will replace it. That said, black levels are just one element. The new Epson though, is in the same price range as the Sony. My point, however is that "ultra high contrast" projectors do black levels well enough, that you will in most cases, be considering other features as at least as important, when comparing two such projectors.
That is to say, you have found a very acceptable level of black performance for the vast majority of folks. Consider placement flexibility, ease of calibrating, final color, audible noise, brightness, and other features which will likely all be factors in your choice. The difference between black performance in this price class, is real, and visible. Remember that the difference in black level performance between the Sony, the Epson, the Optoma HD8300, JVC HD250 (being discontinued), and others, is hardly "night and day".
Below, the Sony VPL-HW30ES (converted to grayscale so the tints are less distracting):
Epson Home Cinema 8700UB ($2199) a black level champ:
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-HW30 Shadow Detail Performance
Over all, we found the Sony projector's dark shadow detail to be very good, which is to say, rather typical of our highest price class of projectors (from $3500 - $10,000 and change). No objections at all, with the shadow detail performance.
Our primary comparison image is the night train scene from Casino Royale. Look to the trees and shrubs on the right, especially just above the tracks. The first image is the Sony HW30 projector, then the Optoma HD8300, followed by the lower cost Optoma HD33, Epson Home Cinema 8700UB, the JVC DLA-HD250, Mitsubishi HC-4000, the BenQ W6000, then Sony VPL-VWPro1, the Sharp XV-Z17000.
The VPL-HW30ES comes across about average in terms of revealing dark shadow detail, for projectors of this quality. We make this determination based on viewing, after contrast and brightness has been adjusted as part of our calibration. This image, however, is a bit too dark, compared to some others, and will be replaced with a more overexposed version. We have seen other competing projectors with similar "ultra high contrast" black level performance, that do reveal a bit more dark shadow detail.
That said, it's not like 4-5 years ago, when seeing the darkest shadow details was easier, because those older projectors had (compared to projectors like this Sony), inferior blacks, and everything was lighter. Just remember, rarely is the important stuff in the darkest details, rather, you mostly want to avoid having large "flat" areas where all detail is lost. That's something, generally, I only really encounter today, on entry level home projectors, but, that tendency years ago, is what put "black level performance" in the forefront of enthusiasts attention. (If the projector is just flattening the near blacks, and all that detail is gone, then you want that area to be "black" not medium dark gray, making black level performance important.) But, let's move on to the images.
The night train image does a great job for checking out shadow detail. This 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.
Above, to keep us all honest - below - the $1499 Optoma HD33 for comparison. (Not a lot of dark shadow detail, and the blacks are definitely lighter than most of these other projectors, as you can tell from the letterbox.
Below, the Epson Home Cinema 8700UB. Note the much increased dark shadow detail in the shrubs on the right, and the trees on the right, that the Epson offers. We'll be reviewing that Epson's replacement within weeks of this review.
The JVC HD250 below is a bit more overexposed than most of the others. That makes the shadow detail more visible than the other images. Overall though, the JVC was on the good side of average.
Mitsubishi HC4000 - one of our favorite lower cost projectors (under $1500):
Sony VPL-WVPro1, the predecessor to the the HW30ES projector:
Sharp XV-Z17000 (similar street pricing, 3D capable, and with similar black level and perhaps slightly better shadow detail performance):
Black Level and Shadow Detail Performance: VPL-HW30ES Projector - Bottom Line
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.
Sony VPL-HW30ES - Overall Color & Picture Quality
In all the past reviews of Sony's I have generally considered the color to be better than most. That holds true again. Skin tones came out excellent, post calibration. The colorspace (Natural) was extremely good according to Mike, so that the VPL-HW30ES really didn't need adjustment of individual colors. That's not something we normally calibrate, but those individual colors is where one adjusts to adjust saturation of say, green. If a color like green is too saturated, then, even with proper grayscale balance of 6500K, you would see greens being too strong...
A mix of additional images to show off the Sony VPL-HW30ES:
For those of you who missed this year's MTV awards, the guy singing below, is Lady Gaga! She stayed in character for the whole awards show. Very cool.
Sony VPL-HW30ES Projector: Performance, HDTV and Sports
Most photos for this section were taken with back lighting on, and the rear window shutters partially open (shown here). Images of non-sports were normally taken with those lights still on, but the shutters closed most of the way, (and leaking only very minor light). This photo shows them in the most open position I used. That lets in quite a bit of light. Even without the overhead lights on, you could easily read a newspaper, while sitting on that couch.
My theater, with all its dark front surfaces, allows for a still rich and dynamic image with that rear ambient light. As such, I primarily watched sports and HDTV in "best" mode, I also viewed in "brightest" with its 25%+ additional lumens. "Brightest" mode isn't bad as Mike set it up. Greens are a bit too strong (typical of "brightest" modes), but better than the default Dynamic mode. Very watchable. When I have the Sony set up in my testing room with my side and rear surfaces about 50% off-white, that room more closely resembles a family room, in operation. In that type of environment I switched to "brightest" mode, when allowing some ambient light. Images below, with the History channel markings were taken with the shutters closed more than the football shots, but still letting in real ambient light.
Sony VPL-HW30ES Projector: Bottom Line on HDTV and Sports
If you have a great room (lighting control, dark surfaces), this Sony can rise up, and handle some rather respectable screen sizes. I viewed HDTV source material as large as the equivalent of 131" diagonal for 16:9 aspect ratio, and could tolerate some controlled ambient light.
If your room is more family room, and don't want to be watching football in a cave, where you can barely see your buddies, figure you can handle up to about 110" diagonal with limited controlled ambient light, and still have an image that looks fairly dynamic. Kill all the ambient, though, and 110" diagonal should look downright great, with about 1065 lumens in "brightest" mode.
Below: No, you aren't going blind. While there may be no practical way to photograph a projector doing 3D, so you can see what the 3D looks like (yet), below is a photo from a football game broadcast in 3D. You can see the double images!
This last image above - the 3D football game was photographed at a different time - at night - with very limited ambient light present, so may have the most contrast of any of the images in this HDTV / Sports section.
All considered, the Sony is well balanced, with picture quality on sports and HDTV, comparable in performance to movie viewing. I'm telling you, people, some of these images will just blow you away (such as History channel HD), if you were watching them on the Sony in your theater - or even a family room or bonus room.