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Winner: Best in Class – Performance ($1000 - $2000): Sony VPL-HW45ES

Posted on October 28, 2016 by Art Feierman
The Sony VPL-HW45ES was basically a slam dunk winner in this category for Best Performance.  The HW45ES is an elegant just under $2000 home theater projector.  ($1999 - I wasn't kidding.)   I falsely tend to think of it, since it's Sony's lowest end HW projector, as "home entertainment." That's in part because it lacks the dynamic iris of the more expensive (2x the price) HW65ES, so can't match the black level performance on dark scenes.
VPL-HW45ES_black-and-white-projectors

Sony's HW45ES is available in black or white cases to match your ceiling, but folks, it's the great color handling that sets the HW45ES apart from the similarly priced competition.

  But, in fairness, even without a dynamic iris the VPL-HW45ES does produce some respectable black levels.  I've watched the HW45ES extensively in my theater, logging more than 100 hours of viewing over several months.  It likes very much being in a nice dark theater.  But it does have enough lumens to play in brighter rooms.  Don't get me wrong this isn't a "Bright Room" projector capable of tackling a lot of ambient light, but it's roughly 2000 lumens let's it handle less than ideal rooms fairly well, just don't throw "bad" rooms at it and expect miracles.
Understand, in a respectable family room, media room, etc., the HW45ES can look great. If there's one aspect of the HW45ES that really stands out, it's the naturalness, and accuracy of the color, which tends to have skin tones always looking pretty great. I am truly impressed not only with how good the color can be, but also that we have found that right out of the box, it's best modes are so well tuned that spending for calibration really doesn't provide any really noticeable improvement.  Mike our calibrated pointed that out in his notes, and I agree.
VPL-HW45ES_hdtv_nfl-sunday-ticket_4-screens

Football looks great - plenty of brightness, I prefer minimal "smooth motion" so I choose to use the Low setting.

  Most of the competition at or below the price, either can't match the color, or the black levels, and most seem very rough around the edges by comparison.
VPL-HW45ES_5thelement_leeloo_2

The Sony VPL-HW45ES truly excels at producing excellent skin tones.

  From a hardware standpoint, it's got a 1.6:1 zoom, that's more zoom range than most, and add to that, lots of lens shift.  Missing is Lens Memory for those who want to own a wide screen (Cinemascope type), but that is a rare feature on under $2000 projectors.  Only the now ancient Panasonic PT-AE8000 comes to mind as under $2K and having lens memory, but that projector hasn't been updated in 5 years.  (Panasonic must have a warehouse full of them somewhere?) This Sony's  predecessor didn't fair as well in last year's report because the HW45ES is first of all, an improved projector, and price changes:  The toughest competition a year ago was from Epson's 5030UB which was $200 less.  This year, that Epson's replacement, however has been drastically improved, but is also $700 more than it's predecessor, and a full $1000 more than the HW45ES.

The Sony VPL-HW45ES was basically a slam dunk winner in this category for Best Performance.  The HW45ES is an elegant just under $2000 home theater projector.  ($1999 - I wasn't kidding.)   I falsely tend to think of it, since it's Sony's lowest end HW projector, as "home entertainment." That's in part because it lacks the dynamic iris of the more expensive (2x the price) HW65ES, so can't match the black level performance on dark scenes.

VPL-HW45ES_black-and-white-projectors

Sony's HW45ES is available in black or white cases to match your ceiling, but folks, it's the great color handling that sets the HW45ES apart from the similarly priced competition.

 

But, in fairness, even without a dynamic iris the VPL-HW45ES does produce some respectable black levels.  I've watched the HW45ES extensively in my theater, logging more than 100 hours of viewing over several months.  It likes very much being in a nice dark theater.  But it does have enough lumens to play in brighter rooms.  Don't get me wrong this isn't a "Bright Room" projector capable of tackling a lot of ambient light, but it's roughly 2000 lumens let's it handle less than ideal rooms fairly well, just don't throw "bad" rooms at it and expect miracles.

Understand, in a respectable family room, media room, etc., the HW45ES can look great.

If there's one aspect of the HW45ES that really stands out, it's the naturalness, and accuracy of the color, which tends to have skin tones always looking pretty great. I am truly impressed not only with how good the color can be, but also that we have found that right out of the box, it's best modes are so well tuned that spending for calibration really doesn't provide any really noticeable improvement.  Mike our calibrated pointed that out in his notes, and I agree.

VPL-HW45ES_hdtv_nfl-sunday-ticket_4-screens

Football looks great - plenty of brightness, I prefer minimal "smooth motion" so I choose to use the Low setting.

 

Most of the competition at or below the price, either can't match the color, or the black levels, and most seem very rough around the edges by comparison.

VPL-HW45ES_5thelement_leeloo_2

The Sony VPL-HW45ES truly excels at producing excellent skin tones.

 

From a hardware standpoint, it's got a 1.6:1 zoom, that's more zoom range than most, and add to that, lots of lens shift.  Missing is Lens Memory for those who want to own a wide screen (Cinemascope type), but that is a rare feature on under $2000 projectors.  Only the now ancient Panasonic PT-AE8000 comes to mind as under $2K and having lens memory, but that projector hasn't been updated in 5 years.  (Panasonic must have a warehouse full of them somewhere?)

This Sony's  predecessor didn't fair as well in last year's report because the HW45ES is first of all, an improved projector, and price changes:  The toughest competition a year ago was from Epson's 5030UB which was $200 less.  This year, that Epson's replacement, however has been drastically improved, but is also $700 more than it's predecessor, and a full $1000 more than the HW45ES.

That makes Sony's HW45ES the best overall projector at it's price, with the first project I consider to be superior being 50% more expensive - or, relative to our report - "in a different class"  $2000 - $4000.

Sony did remove a lot of the "legacy" inputs, relying on a pair of HDMIs so it's less flexible in that regard than others, but that shouldn't be a deciding factor for most folks.  Input lag is under 25ms which makes this projector one of the better ones for serious gamers.

Bottom line:  This projector could be consider an entry level "serious" home theater projector, which is not to confuse it at all with entry level home projectors in general.  It is a projector I do recommend to friends looking in this price range.

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