Sony VPL-VW40: 1080p Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
Check out how the Sony VPL-VW40 fared in our comparison report.
Since it is essentially the same as the older VW50, the Sony VW40 also performs similarly. However, when looking at images, expect significant differences. The Sony VPL-VW50 review was done about a year ago, with a different camera, with different quirks.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the causes, it is common for my camera to be "off" from what I'm seeing on the screen. In the case of the entire Sony photoshoot, images appear a touch more green, than what I saw on the screen. I could waste your time conjecturing as to exactly why, but it doesn't matter. The end result is that you can pick up that extra green when viewing these, but it is far worse than in real life. The fact that the Sony images also (like most shot with my new camera), are slightly oversaturated, probably explains part of it.
Let's get started:
The Sony VPL-VW40 Home Theater Projector: Skin Tones
The Sony is far enough off from ideal color, out of the box, that there's no point in shooting images in default mode. All these images were taken in Cinema mode (except for the HDTV ones).
Overall performance on skin tones is very good. While I note above that I'm getting too much green, when watching, that is very slight. Still, a better grayscale calibration, and/or using their color management RCP should further improve. I doubt that any but the most hard core crazed, will be disappointed, as long as a reasonably accurate grayscale calibration is done. We'll start with non-hi-def images from standard DVD - Lord of the Rings, Return of the King:
You can definitely see the green shift in the background above, but again, it was barely there on the actual image on the screen.
For those of you who like to compare images with those of other reviews, The next group (The Fifth Element) are all from Blu-ray disc, whereas until a few months ago, I was using the standard DVD for them.
So here are three images from the new Blu-ray edition:
Now, on to other Blu-ray disc movie images:
The newest Bond flick - Casino Royale, has excellent production qualities and makes a great disc for testing. As a result it has quickly become one of the discs from which I get a large number of images.
Keep in mind, that when considering skin tones, you must also consider the lighting conditions intended, in the movie. Obviously a person's skin tones will look different under different lighting. For your consideration, here are some images of Jame Bond, under varying lighting. The first one, by the plane, is under full sunlight. The second, in an airport, is under typical florescent lighting, and the third one, outside, is filtered sunlight. Once you figure that each should be a touch less green, to accurately reflect what was on the screen, you should conclude, as I did, that the Sony, once calibrated, does an excellent job:
I certainly consider the VW40 to do a very good job on skin tones!
And when it comes to great looking skin tone content, it's hard to beat the movie House of the Flying Daggers (also from a Blu-ray disc):
Three more for your consideration - Johnny Depp from the first Pirates movie, followed by Will Smith in Hitch.
Overall, the Sony did a great job on skin tones.
I'm not sure where to comment on this, but since we are in the color sections of the Image Quality page, this is as good a place as any, to discuss a potential issue.
The Sony VW40, unlike it's predecessor, and like all the new crop of 1080p projectors to come out in the last few months, supports HDMI 1.3. Older projectors support the older 1.2 standard. Now, 1.3 offers a number of additional capabilities, many of which relate to audio, and are not relevant to projectors, but one key capability is that the HDMI 1.3 standard supports Deep Color, something that has not yet started appearing in hi-def discs, but certainly will. With Deep Color, the bandwidth is wider, and the HDMI interface can pass much larger color palettes - billions of colors. While the differences are subtle, this is a very desireable feature. As of right now, Sony tells me, that while their HDMI inputs are 1.3, the projector's color system can't handle Deep Color. Whether that can be changed/fixed with a firmware patch, I don't know. This will be an issue in most 1080 projectors so I plan to go back and query the manufacturers of the all the new 1080p projectors I've reviewed this fall.
Sony VPL-VW40 Projector: Black Levels and Shadow Detail
Sony VPL-VW40 Black Levels
Sony has the same 15,000:1 contrast ratio on the VW40, as the older VW50. From extensive viewing, and despite a faulty memory, I would say that black level performance, overall, is also the same.
The Sony VPL-VW60, with its newer LCoS - SXRD - panels, does produce blacker blacks than the VW40. Not drastically so, but the VW60 is a step up. For reference, last year, I found the VW50 to be one of the best at black levels but still a step short of the JVC RS1. That holds true with the VW40. By comparison, I still favor the RS1's black levels over the VW60, but it's a much closer thing.
Manufacturers try, with each new generation, to improve native contrast. The end result is blacker blacks, however dynamic irises are now just about standard. This allows the projector to do much better black levels in scenes that are very dark with no bright areas. A dynamic iris won't help if you have a scene with lots of dark, but also containing extremely bright areas. This for example is the advantage of the JVC projectors, which have LCoS chips that definitely seem superior to Sony's when it comes to native black levels.
The Sony VW40 takes advantage of very good native blacks, by enhancing performance with a good dynamic iris system, which tends to stay invisible under most watching conditions. Once in a while in a change of scene, you might just detect something, but mostly, you would have to be looking for it.
Let's look a an assortment of the usual images:
First, a couple of space scenes. When you click on the image below of the satellite (which is only barely overexposed), you will see a more over-exposed, large version of the same frame. As you can see, the stars are very rich, and numerous. In the small image, it is the camera that is crushing blacks and losing the starts. Overall, the Sony delivers really good black levels, but not the best in class.
For comparsion purposes, consider this side-by-side image below. In this image the Sony VPL-VW40 is on the right, and the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, is on the left.
As well as the Sony does, the Epson is revealing more stars, and you can just, barely see the difference in background blacks. (Sorry, I should have overexposed it a little more, but no fear - I have other images.)
So, while we are focused on the black levels, here's another side by side compared to the Epson (left). No image, and a very long exposure.
You can see here, (and both do have their iris'es engaged), that the Sony cannot match the Epson. As with the image above, both projectors are matched in terms of brightness. The Sony (right side), shows two issues. First, the blue hotspots in the upper right and lower left. This seems to be a genuine defect on this Sony projector. With any 3 panel (or 3 chip) projector, this problem sometimes occurs, or rather, evenness of color is never perfect. In this case, however, it is a definite problem. To see this much difference between those corners and the others, usually I'm working with a pre-production sample. I've probably seen problems of this magnitude 4 or 5 times in the last year. Once in a while, it shows up in a full production projector, but in a case like this, one would consider that projector to be defective. It's normally dealt with in quality control. I should note, however, that I've seen this happen due to just too much bouncing around of the projector from shipping. With reviewer units, they go from the manufacturer to a reviewer, back to the manufacturer, then to another dealer, ad nauseum.
I notified Sony, and they will be sending me a full production projector early March. At that time, I'll confirm. I fully expect this to be an isolated problem. Afterall, the VPL-VW40 is essentially the same engine as the older VW50, and that review unit only exhibited the normal minor amount of variance. In other words, don't worry about it.
More significantly, look in the upper left corner of the Sony. There you have what I would call its normal black levels. You can easily see that the blacks are a bit lighter gray than the right corner of the Epson, opposite it. BTW, you may notice a thin border around the Sony. That is because their panels are larger than 1920 x 1080, so there are unused pixels. I presume that the border is brighter than the main area, because I figure Sony isn't using the dynamic iris on that area. That's just a guess. Of course that border will coincide roughly with the frame around your screen, which is black, so you aren't likely to ever notice it.
Here's another good space scene, from The Fifth Element:
Now, so that you believe me, when I say the Sony really is good at black levels, here's a side by side, comparing the VW40 with the Optoma HD803, my next review. The Optoma is a classic DLP projector, claiming a "mere" 8000:1 constrast ratio. As usual, click to enlarge.
Amazing isn't it. In this case, you can see that the Optoma's blacks are significantly lighter gray than the Sony. It also puts in perspective the blue corner problem. Obviously the earlier comparison with the Epson was exposed for much longer, because the Epson is so good, even then the blacks are barely gray. In this case, you see immediately that the Sony is better than the Optoma. And those "bright" blue hotspots on the Sony? Even they are below the average background level of the Optoma. The image itself, please note, is very overexposed, so you can even see the black levels. You can tell this because player's white pause marker in the lower left is obviously blurred from being over exposed.
In fact those blue corners normally aren't even visible even on dark scenes.
Bottom Line: So far, of all the 1080p projectors tested, the only home theater projector with list price under $4000 that does have a real black level advantage, is the Epson. I do not believe any of the other 3LCD or DLP projectors can match the Sony. As to other LCoS projectors, well, there really are only 3 others under $10,000. The least expensive of those are the Sony VW60, and for just slightly more than the VW60, the JVC RS1.
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Sony VPL-VW40 Shadow Details
For a brief explanation of the relationship of black levels and shadow detail check out the first couple of paragraphs of this same section, from the recent Sony VPL-VW60 review. This link will take you to the Image Quality page of that review. Just scroll down to the shadow detail section.
Here are a number of images found in most reviews, and a couple comparisons.
We'll start with an SD-DVD image from Lord of the Rings. This cropped image of a night scene in Gondor, is seriously overexposed to reveal all the dark shadow detail we can find. Just click on the left thumbnail, for some competition, the right thumbnail will show the same scene on the just slightly less expensive Panasonic PT-AE2000U:
If you look in the darkest areas, you will occasionally see some additional dark detail on the Sony, that the Panasonic lacks. You'll also note that colors in the dark areas are also more visible on the Sony.
This next image is from Lord of the Rings. This thumbnail below is normally exposed (not from the Sony), and even this small, you can see that the areas along the bottom and the shed on the right, are very dark. Click on the link, for a larger, and overexposed image from the Sony. As you can see, the Sony reveals excellent detail in the dark areas, and of particular note, in the woods of the shed itself. Overall, the Sony performs excellently. This image is found on most projector reviews, for comparison.
From Space Cowboys, this image of Clint is in a very dark room only illuminated by a down facing table lamp.
The image immediately above, was taken early 2007, with the JVC RS1, the reigning champ, at the time, and still #2, trailing only the newer RS2. Look for details in the blinds in the back. Most notably in the JVC image you can clearly, though faintly see the light vertical line in the blinds just to the right of Clin'ts hand. On the Sony, that is pretty much gone. The overall look of the two images though, is similar, but with the JVC definitely having an advantage. That would definitely be a visible, yet not dramatic difference.
Moving to another Blu-Ray movie, here is a night scene from Aeon Flux:
Click on the image for larger cropped version:
For comparison, here is the same, from the Panasonic PT-AE2000U:
While I've noted that the Sony appears greener in the photos than during actual viewing, the Panasonic images tended to be a bit redder than ideal. That accounts for the richer greens in the bushes. Other than that, these two are very close.
OK, now here's the re-entry photo from Space Cowboys. Click on the thumbnail image for an overexposed version, and look for the details on the right side. You will find this image is found on most recent reviews:
Now for a more balanced scene (where dynamic irises are not very effective). The left thumbnail (when clicked on) shows a cropped area. This scene has extremely bright areas, and dark. Look at these overexposed images to details of the satellite on the left side. On the first row, the left image is the Sony VW40, and the right one, the Epson Home Cinema 1080UB. On the second row, the left thumbnail is the Sony VW60, the right one, the JVC RS1 and the one on the third row, is the RS2. Note, the shadow detail of all are good, but when you get to the RS2, you also note that the blacks are blacker despite the image being more "overexposed" than most of the others:
Unfortunately, as usual, the exposures of the four, above, vary, so you'll just have to work a little harder to draw conclusions.
More James Bond. This Casino Royale image from Blu-ray disc, makes an an excellent test of shadow detail. You can look in the trees on the left, but primarily, concern yourself with the roof.
On many lesser projectors, when watching, the roof is basically invisible or you can see just a little of the left roof line, and maybe some detail in the roof towards the top left. On great projectors, the detail is visible throughout the roof.
That's what shadow detail is all about. Without it, you get large, dark areas lacking in detail. With great shadow detail, the image looks more complete, less like something's missing. Here are four images. The standard size images below are all the same (from the Sony VPL-VW60), however when you click on them you will get larger versions, greatly overexposed, to show you what each projector is capable of.
Sony VPL-VW40 projector:
Epson Home Cinema 1080UB projector:
Sony VPL-VW60 projector:
JVC DLA-RS2 projector:
Bottom line: The Sony does an excellent job overall. That's not to say it is best in class. Although very close, the Epson, for basically the same price, has the advantage. Understand, I've primarily compared the VW40, with other top performing projectors, as most of the competition at the VW40's price, and below, come up noticeably short. Those that do reveal good shadow detail often have significantly inferior black levels, so that detail may be there, but the images look washed out by comparison.
Sony VPL-VW40 home theater projector: Sharpness
I've always believed that the less visible the pixel structure, the inherently softer looking an image will be, all else being equal. The Sony, like the JVC, being LCoS, they have essentially invisible pixel structure, thus an apparent softness. This is also true of the Panasonic PT-AE2000U, an LCD but one with their smooth screen technology which also makes pixels invisible at any normal seating distance.
While I refer to this section as sharpness, there are two aspects, - perceived sharpness, and actual resolving of fine details. As a general rule even the softer looking images, show just as much fine detail as the sharpest (like the Mitsubishi HC6000, Optoma HD81-LV and Sharp XV-Z20000).
The thumbnails below (when clicked on), show a drastically cropped area of just the logo and dts-hd area. The five thumbnails are for the following projectors:
Top left: Sony VPL-VW40, Top right: Panasonic PT-AE2000U
2nd row left: Sanyo PLV-Z2000, middle: Optoma HD8000, right: Mitsubishi HC6000
Sharpness of the VW40 is definitely satisfactory. I've been sitting less than 12 feet from my screen, letting the Sony fill about 123" diagonal, and the sharpness is fine. (My vision is better than 20/20). That's not to say that some of these others aren't a little bit sharper.
Our last sharpness image is a close-up of this computer monitor from Space Cowboys on Blu-ray. You can click for larger images to compare the readability.
Click on the left thumbnail for a large, cropped version of the original frame on the VPL-VW40, and the middle for the Panasonic. On the right, the Sharp XV-Z20000.
Bottom line: This new VPL-VW40, definitely comes through as less than average in sharpness. Still, you've been looking at very close, close-ups. At normal seating distances the differences are far less. However, if you want the crispest looking image it won't be the Sony. That said, filling a 110" area of my screen, and sitting at 12 feet, the Sony looked just fine!
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Sony VPL-VW40 Projector Overall Picture Quality
The VPL-VW40 is pretty much what I expected. Being only a slightly reworked VW50, it is overall, similar. I will note that the older VW50 was a bit subdued in its picture, whereas the VW40 has more punch out of the box. I mostly attribute this to the color saturation being higher. With the older Sony, I typically increased the saturation slightly. With the VW40, I find myself decreasing it instead.
Overall, a very pleasing picture. Of the under $3000 crowd, in many ways, it is comparable to the Panasonic PT-AE2000U, but offers improved black levels.
The LCoS engine behind the VW40 gives it a different feel to the image - let's call that a different flavor, than the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, in that some will prefer the Sony' picture (all else being equal), while others will like the Epson better.
It seems now that we have a three horse race - DLP, LCD and LCoS all capable of high quality competing products, that each technology offers overall picture quality that does have strengths and weaknesses compared to the others.
Life was much simpler a year ago. The only LCoS projectors were more expensive than just about all single chip DLP and 3LCD projectors, and generally the DLP's had the LCD projectors beat. Life was more straightforward. Now all three technologies are quality competitive, although the LCoS in general are the most expensive, the VW40 is an exception.
That said, overall, for the quality of the image, I favor the Epson, but the VW40 is close behind in my mind. I think, so far, that these two produce the best overall picture quality of the under $3000 projectors.
Here are an assortment of images for you to peruse.
Ok, that's a wide assortment of images.
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Bottom line: The Sony, overall, provides really good depth to their image, even after reducing color saturation slightly. Colors are vibrant, and the projector itself is pretty transparent to watch. Or, rather, I should say the Sony doesn't get in the way of the picture on the screen. Only if you leave the saturation high, does it have a slightly artificial look to it.
Depending on the scene, there were times I favored the image of the VPL-VW40 over the Epson Home Cinema 1080UB, and others where I felt the Epson definitely stood out. The biggest difference between the Epson and the Sony, though, are outside of the image quality area, primarily, brightness, and warranty.
Sony VPL-VW40 Viewing - HDTV
For your consideration, here are a number of sports images, from HDTV sources (Cox cable), from a couple of football games. The first of them is cropped so you can see around the screen, in an attempt to get a feel for the ambient light. However, since the amount of ambient light, is fairly low, and the projected image, is bright, the amount of light you see on the walls and speakers, appears much darker than the way it looks to the eye:
Overall, the Sony VPL-VW40 looked very good on HDTV sources. My only complaint, is that the Sony is not particularly bright in its brightest mode, thus it cannot deal with as much ambient light as, say, the Epson Pro Cinema/ Home Cinema 1080 UB, or the BenQ W5000, the other two projectors I have here, at this time.
I certainly like the VW60, so it is no surprise that I also like the VW40, especially when you consider the price. In the VW40, we are looking at a 50% drop in the cost of a high quality LCoS projector in less than a year, and some minor benefits thrown in. The Sony is definitely a movie watcher's projector. While, after tuning, it does very well at everything, it lacks the sheer horsepower in Dynamic mode to be as good an all-around projector for sports and TV, with some ambient light, than, say the Epson. Still, when you kill the lights and hunker down in front of the screen for a good movie, you'll be hard pressed to find any serious flaw with the Sony VPL-VW40's picture quality.
Perfect? No. The slight shift to blue in the dark areas is a minor issue, and the sharpness could be a tad better. I've already pointed out that the Sony is second, overall, only to the Epson for black levels in an under $3000 projector, and its shadow detail is very good. Get it calibrated, and you are sure to enjoy!