Sony VPL-VW90ES Projector Review
This projector review is of Sony's new VPL-WV90ES, their first, and top of the line 3D home theatre projector. The ES in the VPL-VW90ES is the designation for the top of the line series in Sony products - their top of the line AV receiver line, LCDTVs, etc. all end in ES.
It is, as expected, an excellent 2D projector, and there's lots to discuss about 3D as well. We loved the improvements in the far less expensive Pro1, when we reviewed it in December (2D only). Let's see if the Sony VW90ES impresses as well.
March 2011 - Art Feierman
Sony VPL-VW90ES Projector Overview
The obvious big news is the addition of 3D and more brightness. As with any number of 3D projectors that have been announced and shipping, though, this year, the boost in brightness, is a compromise for 3D. In reality, we'd like to see any new home theatre projector, or business projector, for that matter, that is based on an older 2D model, to exhibit about 3 times the brightness of the older model, which would let those projectors be roughly as bright in 3D, as the older ones in 2D. More on that later.
We really appreciate the boost in brightness in this year's Sony VPL-VW90ES, as it is really nice to have for 2D, but, as with every 1080p 3D projector we've looked at so far, except the 2500 lumen LG CF3D (which is more commercial projector than home theater), you will find 3D underpowered. That's just the way it's going to be, it seems, with only an exception or two, at least until the end of 2012, when the next crop of home theatre projectors arrives at an authorized dealer (or online store) near you.
As with previous VW series home theater projectors, the Sony VPL-VW90ES projector relies on a dynamic iris to produce some very nice "ultra high contrast" type blacks. As has been the case for the last few years, Sony does a really nice job, but it's one area where the Sony has been playing catch-up for a few years, to JVC and Epson. No worries, as we will discuss in the Sony's Image Quality page
With a price tag of $10,000 - ok, $9995, this Sony VW90ES is out of reach price wise of a lot of our readers, but then, there are, also plenty who may be considering it.
As I like to look at it, if you decide to lease a Toyota Camry for three years, instead, of say a similar sized Lexus, I'm sure you could afford a Sony VPL-VW90ES, instead of, say a $2000 projector. Of course, the problem is being able, first, to afford to lease a Lexus. Still, if you consider the Sony as a 5 year investment... In the grand scheme of things, many of us, if we really want one, (wives allowing), we can find a way.
Look for the VW90ES to be a really serious contender in our next home theater projector report - our big, annual 1080p Home Theater Comparison Report. I should note, that this year, looks like we are moving the report back, a bit, to probably late May, so that I can get out our other major report for education projectors, in mid-April. That education report's timing is more critical, needing to be more in line with school buying season, so the educators can take more advantage.
However, it also means that there will be a competitors section to this review shortly after it publishes, so you don't have to wait for the report.
To quote Kelsey Grammer (in Down Periscope) "Let's kick this pig." (which means let's see what this thing can do! OK, back in World War II, US submarines were referred to as pig boats). OK, enough trivia, and on to the Sony VPL-VW90ES, Sony's first 3D (and 2D) projector.
Sony VPL-VW90ES Projector Highlights
- A modest increase in brightness, compared to last year's VW85
- Brighter than average in "best mode"
- Excellent post calibration color,
- "Out of the box" color could be significantly improved,
- An ultra high contrast projector - very good black levels (though there are better), it still trails a few projectors that are legendary for their great blacks.
- Zoom lens is relatively short thow, may not work shelf mounted in deep rooms, or in typical rooms with small to medium sized screens, best ceiling mounted
- Adjustable vertical and horizontal lens shift
- Sony's dynamic iris is nicely smooth, even in the more "active" of two modes. Rarely dectectable during normal viewing. One of the better ones
- Pricey, but you get 3D (and other improvements) for the extra $2000 more than last year's projector.
- Supports an anamorphic lens, with or without sled.
Specs for Sony VPL-VW90ES
Technology: LCoS (SXRD) 3 panels
Native Resolution: 1080p (1920x1080)
Brightness: 1000 lumens claimed, 796 lumens highest we measured (at full wide angle, 751, at our normal mid-point on the zoom)
Zoom Lens ratio: 1.6:1
Lens shift: Vertical and horizontal
Lamp life: Sony does not provide info, we assume 2000 hours at full power
Weight: 26.5 lbs. (11.8 Kg)
Warranty: 2 Years Parts and Labor
View full specifications: Sony VPL-VW90ES
Sony VPL-VW90ES Special Features
VPL-VW90ES 3D Abilities
The VW90ES uses active shutter glasses, for 3D. The glasses themselves aren't bad, comfort wise, a little snug over my glasses. Future generations of active glasses will get lighter... The Sony projector has an Auto mode for 2D and 3D. Or, you can manually take 3D content and show as 2D. The VPL-VW90ES comes with two pair of active shutter glasses, each with a nice soft little black bag. The VW90ES is a quite capable 3D projector. We'll discuss how it looks doing 3D, elsewhere in this review.
Some folk are not overly compatible with active shutter glasses solutions. That method has the projector broadcasting to one eye at a time, and blanks the other eye. This seems to bother some people. I've heard from at least one person who says it gives him headaches, which he says passive glasses solutions do not. Still most people with eyes "compatible" with viewing of 3D, shouldn't have a problem. In that regard, I expect its along the lines of the Rainbow effect. It affects a significant number of people, but it doesn't bother most people enough to deter them from a single chip projector. There will be people who have more problem with this design than with passive glasses. Problem is finding projectors going the passive route. We've tested the LG CF3D, at $15,000. That's it so far.
Let's talk 3D active glasses:
For 3D, of course, the Sony VW90ES uses active glasses which means if you have a lot of friends, more money for glasses. I would recommend looking at 3rd party glasses for your extra pairs, you can probably save money, buy a universal pair that will work on your friends projector if they bought a different brand, and because I don't particularly like the design of these Sony's, although they are comfortable enough for 3D active glasses. I wear glasses, and Sony's glasses fit nicely over mine.
In Sony's attempt at cool glasses, there's a bad reflection (of the image you are watching) off of the glasses design at the top. I find it occasionally annoying. Although now that I think about it, perhaps some black tape can block the reflection. Still, that's sloppy design!
Below, on the left, the Sony VPL-VW90ES, on the right, the Sharp XV-Z17000. You are looking at a 2D image of the two projectors projecting 3D onto one of my screens. The glasses mute most of the Sony's slightly over the top blues you see here. You don't get this feel when viewing in 3D, it looks a lot more natural. The Sharp is a little closer to more accurate if looking at these two, but the Sony does have the "better looking" image, and that's not just me. My wife passed through the room and liked the Sony.
2D to Simulated 3D on the VPL-VW90ES
This isn't the same thing as nVidia re-rendering 2D games back to 3D (ones that were originally rendered in 3D in the creation process as in - many/most). Here you are starting with basic 2D. I didn't spend a lot of time playing with it, but mostly it seems to rely on just a basic separation of the left and right image, for the entire picture, but leaving the letterbox alone. This gives the effect of the whole picture being behind the outer box of the image. And that translates to an impression of 3D, but it's not giving you legitimate depth between different objects in the picture. There are probably other things going on, but, basically I'm not dazzled by the 2D to 3D, and I'm sure not going to give up almost four times the brightness to watch something pseudo 3D. You may get the feel of 3D, but upon close inspection, the 3D depth isn't real, objects are not correctly deep.
Sony VPL-90ES Gamma Modes
Sony now offers 10 different preset gamma modes (#11 is "off" (default). Per Mike's measurements, the gamma mode closest to the target of 2.2 is gamma 4, which averaged 2.23 gamma. (Interestingly, the lower cost VWPRo1, also has gamma 4 as its best at 2.22, essentially identical). Four is a great mode for movies, though purists who remember CRT home theater projectors might be happier with a higher gamma. There is some correlation between the gamma numbers (2,3,8,9, etc.) and their performance, but it seems almost like two groupings, gammas 1-5, and 6-10. I hadn't asked Mike to take a close look to determine what Sony's doing, so he just comes back with the best recommendation, in this case: Gamma 4. The higher gammas aren't "linear."
That is to say, one might just alter the low end darker areas, not the brighter ones, whereas 1-5 are linear. One of the higher ones, for example might have an average gamma of 2.1, but average 2.2, everywhere except for between 10 and 20 IRE, where it might be only 1.8 (that would lighten dark shadow detail).
Sony SXRD panels - (LCoS)
A sort of short history of LCoS panels in projectors: It is true, that the largest percentage of home theater projectors use either DLP or 3LCD technology. Sony uses Liquid Crystal on Silicon, a reflective panel, as opposed to the translucent typical LCD panels. Sony calls their LCoS implementation SXRD. In the under $10,000 price range, JVC and Sony are the primary manufacturers of LCoS home theater projectors. with (in the US), LG making their move (they use Sony panels). We're finally seeing relatively affordable LCoS projectors, which is great news for all of us. Between Sony and LG, you now have a choice under $3000.
But let's concern ourselves now with the more expensive LCoS. The advantages of LCoS, these days, are twofold: First, LCoS panels have, for all practical purposes, invisible pixel structures, way below visibility at normal seating distances with a 1080p projector. Only the 3LCD Panasonic PT-AE4000, with its addition of their SmoothScreen technology, has less visible pixels, and it comes with a price - a slightly softer image.
Pixel visibility, and screen door effect are, effectively, non-issues with this Sony, thanks to the LCoS panels.
The second advantage, it seems, is in terms of black level performance. While some 3LCD and DLP projectors can match some of the LCoS projectors, at this point in time, the Sony, but more so, the JVC LCoS projectors, outperform almost most of the non LCoS competition, in black level performance. And The Sony's are pretty much comparable to all but one or two other brands in blacks.
Image below - Leeloo, from The Fifth Element
Individual SXRD panel adjustment
A very nice touch, this Sony allows individual adjustment of each panel for more precise alignment. This feature carried forward from the HW10 and their older more expensive models too. This isn't an end all, there are still limits to the coarseness of the adjustments. If a panel is off 1/3 a pixel, that's too small to compensate for. By breaking the screen down into nine segments, it allows more precise results, than, for example, the single pixel shift design used in the JVC projectors and some others. It's a nice extra to have, although I have to think of it providing only minor benefit, at best.