Home Theater Projector Review: Sony VPL-VW40 LCD Projector: Summary, Pros, Cons
The Sony VPL-VW40 is certainly one of the very best, of the lower cost 1080p projectors. These days, in the US, 1080p projectors can be found for hundreds less than $2000, so the Sony, with a $2999 list price, isn't really competing against the lowest cost models. Right now, that would be the Sanyo PLV-Z2000 and the Mitsubishi HC4900. It does however price right there with some of the toughest competition, including the Panasonic PT-AE2000U, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, and the Optoma HD8000.
Moreover, the VW40's performance is in many ways closer to the more expensive LCoS projectors including Sony's own VW60, and the two JVC's; the DLA-RS1, and RS2, even though it can't quite match any of those.
The Sony's strengths will make it appeal to those primarily interested in movie viewing, especially those with a critical eye, and a limited budget that precludes the more expensive projectors.
While the sample sent to us for review does have an obvious problem with evenness of the image - with blue hotspots in two corners, we do not believe this to be a flaw with the VW40, but rather just with this unit. A 2nd Sony projector will be sent to us, to confirm. The fact that the "engine" is essentially identical to the older VW50, is more ammunition to convince us that this is not a problem with the design, but more likely shipping damage, or possibly, this is a pre-production unit (can't tell from the packaging), where problems like this one, are more common.
Back to business. The Sony offers black level performance second only to the Epson in this price range, and both are a cut above the rest of the competition. Shadow detail is also extremely good.
If I must take Sony to task for any issues, I come up with only two. The first, is the relatively mediocre color performance out of the box. This projector begs, no, it cries out for a professional calibration, or at least a serious attempt by users, using one of the "user friendly" calibration discs like AVIA.
My second complaint is the one year warranty - too short, but you can supplement that with either an affordable 3rd party extended warranty, or a much more expensive Sony one.
How does the Sony VW40 stack up?
This will be brief; after all, the complete 1080p Comparison report starts in a couple of days, and will go into much greater detail.
Sony VPL-VW40 vs. Epson Home Cinema 1080UB
This is a serious contest. Picture quality of both, after adjustment, is excellent, although the Epson definitely has the black level advantage. Both produce image quality, that until the last year and change, was unattainable for less than $10,000, and that's one big improvement in terms of the value proposition.
Above - Epson on the left, Sony on the right
From a picture quality standpoint, for movie watching, black levels notwithstanding, this is more of a difference in "flavor" than overall better/worse. Some will prefer the Sony's overall picture, others the Epson. Personally, I favor the Epson, but I can appreciate why many will choose the Sony.
Above: Epson on the left, Sony on the right, click for larger, overexposed versions.
Perhaps the most significant differences are this: The Sony isn't as versatile, in that it isn't anywhere near as bright as the Epson when you need maximum lumens for viewing with some ambient light - typically HDTV/TV/Sports. The two are similar enough in brightness in their best modes, but when it comes to watching the "game", the Epson has a clear advantage. Also, when I trick out the Sony and come up with about 900 lumens, its color balance is no match for the Epson, when it is outputting over 1500 lumens. Even the Epson in its unadjusted Dynamic mode, produces a better color balance, and in that case, the Epson has over 1800 lumens - twice that of the Sony. Then, there's Epson's two year warranty, with overnight replacement for both years, compared to Sony's basic one year warranty.
Sony VPL-VW40 vs. the DLP projectors
The Sony simply produces blacker blacks than any of the DLP's recently tested. And, it is a significant improvement. DLP projectors have their own flavor, and some would say, they have more depth than the LCoS or 3LCD competiton, but, again, each technology has its advantages. From a brightness standpoint, most of the DLPs match or slightly beat the Sony in best mode, and the same is true for brightest modes. The Optomas (notably the HD8000/HD80 in particular), typically will output around 1000 - 1200 lumens in brightest modes, and deliver slightly better color than the Sony, doing the same thing. However, from more of a purist standpoint, the real advantage in black levels of the Sony, make it superior to any of the recently tested DLP's, in that regard.
Above, Optoma HD803 is on the left, Sony VPL-VW40 on the right
The possible exception are the incredibly bright, and very expensive Optoma HD81-LV, and the really expensive Sharp Z20000, both of which are more than double the price, and not really direct competition.
Sony VPL-VW40 vs. VW60 projectors
Well, the VW60 does better black levels, costs more, but comes with a 2 year warranty. If Sony is your thing, buy the VW60 if you have the extra bucks, but then, you need to also look at the VW60's closest competition, for even more money.
Sony VPL-VW40 vs. Panasonic PT-AE2000U
Both are film like, but there is a big difference in black levels, so while I really like the Panasonic PT-AE2000U, and many of its features, I definitely lean toward the Sony.
Review continues below this advertisement.
Sony VPL-VW40 vs. Sanyo PLV-Z2000
With the Sanyo PLV-Z2000 selling for roughly $1000 less, the Sanyo is the best lowest cost 1080p projector for those into picture quality. The Sanyo can't match the black levels of the Sony, but it produces an excellent image for far less money, and comes with a 3 year warranty. If the Sony really sounds great to you, for your serious movie watching, but you can't find the budget, the Sanyo is definitely worth a serious look.
Let's look at the pros and cons.
Sony VPL-VW40 projector, Pros, Cons, andTypical Capabilities
Sony VPL-VW40 Projector: Pros
- Great color - dynamic and accurate - after proper grayscale calibration
- Very good at shadow details
- Better black level performance than most of the competition
- Very good remote control
- 1.8:1 zoom lens for very good placement flexibility
- Supports HDMI 1.3, and 24fps
- 3 user savable settings
- Very good color management system
- Zoom, focus and vertical lens shift are all motorized
- Very quiet projector
- Excellent Price/Performance and Value
Sony VPL-VW40 Projector: Cons
- Out of the box color performance, needs serious work requiring a good grayscale calibration, as the default for Cinema, is way too cool (blue)
- No support for a 3rd party Anamorphic lens for those wanting true Cinemascope aspect ratio 2.35:1
- Very limited brightness (one of the least bright) in its brighter modes (Standard and Dynamic)
- Inputs on the side, can be a little more messy looking in some rooms
- One of the larger units (but that's not a "con" to most)
- Only 2 HDMI inputs (although that's average, a 3rd would be a plus)
- Based on list price, more expensive than its predecessor
- Has HDMI 1.3, but no support for Deep Color
Sony VPL-VW40 Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Average brightness in Cinema mode
- Average sharpness
- Typical documentation, a good user manual, but limited descriptions of how to use many features
- Lamp life
Review continues below this advertisement.
Sony VPL-VW40 Summary: The Bottom Line
Definitely a serious contender, the Sony will appeal to those that are "movies first" and less concerned, or not planning to watch a lot of HDTV/TV, or sports.
If you aren't planning to get the Sony VPL-VW40 tuned - calibrated, at least with a basic calibration disc, or better, by a professional, then the Sony probably is not a good choice. If you are serious though, this Sony belongs on your short list of 1080p projectors selling for less than $3000.
If your room offers fully controlled lighting, and you don't mind watching things other than movies, in a dark environment, the Sony makes a lot of sense.
Just remember, part of the low price you are getting, is at the expense of a decent length warranty, so I recommend you do something about that.
Certainly, the Sony makes an excellent low cost alternative to the more expensive VW60, as well as JVC's RS1. Your toughest call, will be choosing between the VPL-VW40, and the current champ of the new 3LCD projectors, the Epson.
Both however, are really excellent projectors, and, I believe a cut above most of the similarly and lower priced competition, from a price performance standpoint. You'll have to sort out the tradeoffs.
If you decide on the Sony, and get it properly tuned up, you will be hard pressed not to fully enjoy the experience.