Sony’s VPL-HW55ES gives people who really want an awesome image on the screen, but lacking the big bucks for a $5000 or more spend, a great alternative. This projector comes with some extra goodies at a $3999 list price including a spare lamp, but, wait, know that you should be able to find some nice discounts this holiday season! This Sony tied one of our other recommendations – the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB, for our Best In Class award in the $2000 to $3500 (street price) range.
This is a great choice for your dedicated theater or cave, it’s bright calibrated, serving up 1000 lumens, plenty for larger screens. There’s a few more hundred lumens under the hood, for when you want some lights on, that still deliver a great picture if not quite so accurate. You’ll wish that any LCDTV you’ve owned had color this good. In that theatre, you’ll appreciate the excellent black level performance, bringing the darkest scenes to life.
Are you into 3D? No problem. Want an extremely sharp image? Sony’s Reality Creation “engine” enhances detail and perceived sharpness. Skin tones are handled beautifully, as is color in general. I used to think Sony’s rep was to some degree left over from the pre-HDTV days of Sony’s legendary Trinitron TVs, but the color accuracy and naturalness of this Sony’s picture demonstrates that Sony isn’t resting on its laurels from days gone by.
This same Sony projector does rather nicely in my theater even with a reasonable amount of light coming in from only partially shuttered windows when I’m watching football, or a music video, or Discovery HD. If you’ve got a good room or a really great room to serve as a theater, you won’t find a projector that can beat its overall performance without spending a serious chunk of extra money. I wouldn’t call this a family room projector, I think it’s best in a really dark room, but, it does have what it takes to perform well in some of those brighter rooms.
So, What’s with 4K? And What is “Pixel Shifting”?
If you are paying attention – online, or at Best Buy, or Costco, you’ve almost certainly noticed that the big thing this year is 4K resolution.
You'll have to strain your brain to figure out why you need 4K if you are sitting 10 or 12 feet from a 50” LCDTV display, because you probably can’t detect any difference at all between 2K (1080p) and 4K at that distance. But if you want to sit 7-10 feet from a 120” screen, so you are immersed with a huge image, (like sitting in a good movie theater), it's easy to see how superior 4K is.
Sadly, as we enter the 2014 holiday shopping season, the lowest cost true 4K projector sold in the US has a list price of $14,999.
But there’s a technology that basically splits the difference. It’s called pixel shifting. At this time, in price ranges not reserved only for the top 1%ers, only two companies are offering pixel shifting – JVC including the RS4910 featured next, and the Epson LS10000, also featured in this holiday guide. With pixel shifting you can take the content, upscale to 4K, but since the projector panels are still only 1080p, you address them twice, but shift the second pass by 1/3 or ½ of a pixel. This gives a smoother more continuous image. There’s some real benefit there, as our demonstrations in reviews have shown.
A well implemented pixel shifting design will allow a 1080p projector to seem almost as detailed and sharp as a true 4K projector when both are displaying standard 1080p, especially off of a Blu-ray disc. In fairness, once true 4K content starts becoming readily available (almost a year out), there will be a more noticeable difference on 4K content, but pixel shifting done right is the way to get the sharpest image today, without the expense of a true 4K projector.
First all of these three models are the same projector! They are just sold by different dealer channels. Two of the three are $4999, while the third – the RS4910 is a few hundred more, but comes with a longer warranty and some extra goodies in the box, is sold by JVC’s local installing dealer network.
What’s special about about the RS4910 and friends is that JVC is the king of black level performance. The RS49/X55R currently are JVC’s “entry level” projectors, but their black performance is so good, I’m not sure why many folks will spend $8000 or $12,000 for higher end models, who’s main claim is having even better blacks.
This projector is for your dedicated home theater. Those great blacks are wonderful, but even in a room with only minor ambient light, the difference between great and merely very good black level performance is reduced to almost nothing.
But, in that home theatre or cave, dark scenes are superb. Understand, even some of the better $1000-$2000 projectors do outstanding color and picture quality on bright scenes – it’s the dark scenes that separate great home theater projectors from good home entertainment projectors!
Sharpness is another key factor. This JVC uses pixel shifting, as previously explained, to enhance sharpness, and this JVC can also input some true 4K content.
Above, the JVC showing true 4K content, despite not being a true 4K projector.
Measuring in just below 1300 lumens maximum, the JVC has sufficient brightness to do a respectable job on 3D, which demands lots of lumens, on sizes around a full 100” diagonal screen.
But it’s 2D that the JVC truly excels at, and the lumens are there for up to 150” diagonal in a dedicated theatre! While there are several lower cost home theater projectors that can compete (and in some cases beat) this JVC in some aspects, for hard core movie fans with a proper room, this projector is quite possibly the best projector available under $5000!
We’re all tired of spending $60-$100 for a family of four to go see a movie, have popcorn drinks and candy. Four IMAX 3D tickets alone are about $80! Perhaps it’s time to bring it “in-house”. A projector, screen, and sound system will pay for itself rather quickly, if you like movies. Guess what, just because you do have a home theatre projector, doesn’t mean you can’t go see some of the movies in the theatre. I know that in our house we still take in 4-6 movies a year, (we really like movies) but we watch, perhaps another 20 new releases at home as soon as they are available on Blu-ray. We have to wait a bit, but… its worth the savings well more than $1000 a year for our family..