Sony VPL-HW30ES Home Theater Projector Review
Sony's VPL-HW30ES projector is Sony's new, and least expensive 1080p, 3D capable, SXRD (LCoS), home theater projector. The HW30ES is newest in a long series of "lower cost" LCoS home theater projectors that Sony's been offering for years. None of the VPL-HW30's predecessors, however, were 3D capable. The most recent models it replaces are the VPL-VWPro1, and before it, the VPL-HW15.
You may purchase the standard projector, the VPL-HW30ES - MSRP of $3699, or you may purchase, for $300 more in the US, the VPL-HW30AES, a bundle that includes two pair of rechargeable 3D active glasses, and the Sony emitter (transmitter), used to sync the glasses.
10-7-2011 - Art Feierman
Sony VPL-HW30ES Projector Overview
Perhaps the big question is not so much how good the VPL-HW30ES is, but rather, how is it so much better a deal than the $9,999 Sony VPL-VW90ES and perhaps the 90ES's replacement, the VPL-VW95ES. You really do get a Sony projector that's close in terms of performance in most areas, but a bit less feature laden - such as manual lens features, instead of motorized, and no anamorphic lens option. Still, this Sony packs a lot of performance, especially for being barely 1/3 the price of the next model up!
One thing of particular note, is that the HW30ES is actually brighter in 3D than the VW90ES that we reviewed a few months ago. This relates to improvements, including new lamp dimming, which seems to make a real difference. I have yet to fully contemplate Sony's explanation of how it works, but it is definitely brighter in 3D.
The Sony projector has a nice feature set, including CFI for smoothing motion - which Sony calls MotionFlow, and a dynamic iris (named Auto Iris 3) to help it generate that ultra contrast performance that yields some impressive black levels.
Above, Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2.
Whether you plan to watch 2D, or 3D, this Sony projector is geared for a home theater, rather than a family room. That said, it has lots of brightness - over 800 lumens in calibrated "best" mode, and an extra couple hundred lumens when you need a little extra for, perhaps, some HDTV content - sports, History HD, etc., with some ambient light.
For those looking for more of a general purpose family room projector, the Sony will work fine, as long as you've got some good control of ambient light (also true of most other projectors geared for the "theater", but some other projectors can bring a lot more brightness to the party, to allow more ambient light). The thing is, most of those, aren't a match in terms of overall picture quality.
Above, an enhanced, "colorized" scene from the movie Red.
If 3D is part of your thing, the VPL-HW30ES like every other higher quality 3D projector we've reviewed so far, could use some extra brightness. While this Sony is as bright, and brighter than almost all of the other 3D 1080p projectors we've reviewed - Optoma HD8300, JVC RS60, Mitsubishi HC9000D... note that there are some other new projectors, that will be reviewed soon, which are brighter, although some of those are geared for the family room..
One thing of particular note, is that the HW30ES is actually brighter in 3D than the VW90ES that we reviewed a few months ago. This relates to improvements, including new lamp dimming. I have yet to fully contemplate Sony's explanation of how it works, but it is definitely brighter in 3D.
Let's take a closer look at the Sony VPL-HW30ES.
Sony VPL-HW30ES Projector Highlights
- 3D capable, includes supporting both 720p and 1080i/1080p 3D, including Blu-ray 3D and all DirecTV 3D we tested
- Medium large, reasonably good looking projector
- Large backlit remote control
- Very good color controls - calibrates very well
- Ultra high contrast projector with very good black performance
- 1.6:1 zoom lens, plus vertical and horizontal lens shift for flexibility
- Excellent warranty!
- Creative Frame Interpolation for smooth motion
- Sold through authorized local dealers
- Consider VPL-HW30ES as a rather excellent 2D projector with 3D abilities, relative to the $3700 price point
Specs for Sony VPL-HW30ES
MSRP: $3699. (no 3D glasses or emitter included)
MSRP: $3999 (includes 3D glasses and emitter, VPL-HW30AES)
Technology: 3 Panel LCoS (SXRD)
Native Resolution: 1080p (1920x1080)
Brightness: Manufacturer claim: 1300 lumens; Calibrated: 814 lumens, over 1100 maximum
Zoom Lens ratio: 1.6:1 Manual zoom and focus
Lens shift: Vertical and horizontal - manual controls
Lamp life: 2000-3000 hours per Sony, no published spec
Weight: 22.1lbs. (10 Kg)
Warranty: 3 Year Parts and Labor (2 years. on lamp), with Express program
View full specifications: Sony VPL-HW30ES
Above, some college football, in 2D on the VPL-HW30ES projector. See the HDTV section of the image page for more, and even a football game image of a game in 3D.
Sony VPL-HW30ES Special Features
Sony VPL-HW30ES 1.6:1 Zoom Lens
The Sony projector's manual 1.6:1 lens provides very good placement range. Nothing new here, Sony's been providing a 1.6:1 zoom going as far back as the original projector in the series, the VPL-VW50. Of particular note are the optics. Unlike most projectors, there's very little drop off in brightness as one goes from wide-angle, to telephoto on the zoom.
VPL-HW30ES Projector 3D Capabilities
Let's talk 3D. The VPL-HW30ES uses active glasses. They do not provide any as part of the projector's price. That doesn't mean some dealers might not have a bundle, or bundle the glasses with some content, as has been fairly common.
Interestingly, the HW30ES definitely appears brighter, than the far more expensive VPL-VW90ES we reviewed earlier this year. Sony talks about using lamp dimming type features to actually increase brightness to the eye, whose LCD lens is open.
I had 3 different 3D capable projectors set up in the testing room at the same time this past week. Since my calls regarding 3D brightness are subjective, lacking a reliable measurement system, I thought I'd double check. So, I had my wife and a friend both view the projectors, two at a time.
All three of us agreed that the 3D looked brightest on this Sony projector. The other two projectors - the much brighter claiming Optoma HD33 (a $1499 projector), with its 1800 lumen claim measures about 100 lumens brighter, but seems slightly dimmer. The Optoma HD8300, which isn't as bright as either, came in last in perceived brightness of the three. Decisions were unanimous.
3D Glasses (they are optional):
Your $3699 isn't going to include any 3D glasses, unless someone is nice to you at the Sony dealer. Sony's glasses are pretty light weight, and fit comfortably over my own glasses. After a several hours or so of watching, though, I was feeling enough of the edge of the glasses arms, that I was ready to take them off. Still, not bad at all, and it's true, I have a particularly large head, so they should be more comfortable on most folks.
Relating to the glasses, you can set the projector for one of four settings relating to the duration of the frames and black frames. The settings are 1-4. I found 4 to have a lot of noise relating to the 3D. It was far worse than the 3D I just witnessed on two lower cost projectors - the Optoma HD33 and Epson Home Cinema 3010e.
Setting 3 cost a little brightness, but I still found noisy. Ultimately, I settled on the 2 setting. I gave up more brightness than desired, but the image was cleaner.
With the setting at 4, the Sony projector in 3D is actually pretty bright, actually respectable on a 100" diagonal sized typical screen, but I wouldn't want to watch it that way!
Use the lower setting, and despite the loss of brightness, you will almost certainly be happier.
I should also note, that the noise related issue seems to exist primarily when I'm watching content off of DirecTV, where the compression may be having some effect, or it just may be those lower res 720p, or 1080i content.
When I switched to either 60 fps 1080p or 24 fps movies in 1080p - both on Blu-ray 3D, the noise was not an issue!
So, at the moment - slightly split personality, with the best 3D on Blu-ray 3D content, but more noisy when viewing DirecTV, and potentially cable feeds..
VPL-HW30ES Creative Frame Interpolation - CFI - smooth motion
The Sony's CFI is rather smooth. There are two settings besides Off: Low, and High. I used Low successfully for sports viewing, didn't spend much time with the high setting. I also left it on for most HDTV content. Consider MotionFlow - CFI, when on, to be a matter of taste, when watching most digital content.
As is case with virtually all projectors I review, I've tried CFI on for movie watching, on low, but find the CFI to be apparent, with that digital video look (a bit of "soap opera"), that changes the "director's intent".
One interesting thing about Sony's implementation of CFI on the HW30ES, is that the CFI - motion smoothing, operates not only with 2D content, but also with 3D. If I recall correctly, the not that long ago review of the Optoma HD8300 Optoma, I determined that their CFI does not operate in 3D modes. I imagine only a few will, at least for this generation. As panel speeds get faster - 240hz, 480hz, it will be easier to be doing 3D and CFI...
Sony VPL-HW30ES Pixel Adjust
We've discussed this on the VPL-VW90ES. These Sony's allow you to do a pixel adjust for the whole screen, or break the screen down into 21 sections and do all of them individually. Unlike the VW90ES, you can't make adjustments in increments smaller than 1 pixel. (One pixel adjustments are the standard, when you can even find projectors offering that option). Less than 1 pixel means either physical adjustment of a panel, or a digital adjustment which means no longer 1:1 pixel mapping.