The primary goal of a projector is to do no harm – simply to preserve and display all of the color, contrast, and detail found in the original signal. Since SXRD panels are native 4K panels, you know that all of the signal detail is there, BUT the projector still has to get the detail from the panel to the screen for you to enjoy. Anybody who has ever been to a carnival funhouse or looked through a dirty mirror knows that optics can absolutely distort an image or obscure the detail.
All Sony projectors use a high-quality, multi-element lens system which is superior to many competitor optic solutions. The goal is to accurately extract as much signal information as is present on the SXRD panels. Sony does have two quality levels of optics. The VPL-VW325ES uses the standard lens, which is still impressive, especially when compared to the optics found on many lower-cost 4K DLP projectors (selling for much less than the cost of the VW325ES).
While the standard lens is a great lens, it’s worth mentioning the step-up ARC-F (All Range Crisp Focus) lens which is Sony’s premium projector lens and found in Sony’s more expensive models like the new VW1025ES and the VW5000ES. The ARC-F lens has a large 89mm front lens and is composed of an 18-piece, all-glass assembly.
One of the reasons why the VW1025ES close to $35,000 more than the VW325ES is that in addition to its laser light source, ultra-high-quality optics are very expensive, but they do make images sharper. The ARC-F ensures outstanding focus was excellent across the entire screen and significantly reduce chromatic aberration (color fringing). If you are projecting onto a massive screen, it is worth the premium to be able to extract every ounce of detail for the 4K SXRD panels.
For Sony projectors like the VW325ES, quality optics aren’t the end of the lens story. A high-quality lens assembly has three important factors:
Tons of zoom
Horizontal/vertical lens shift
The VW325ES optics deliver a sharp, pure image and like all Sony home theater projectors, it features motorized focus and zoom with plenty of horizontal and vertical lens shift. This level of flexibility means the VW325ES can extract as many details as possible and reduces the need for digital image distortion correction. Remember – the goal is to first do no harm. I shouldn’t have to digitally alter the image to align it to my screen. Digital keystone correction can potentially negatively impact the picture quality of the display.
While I have screens in my office/lab, I also like to spend a few days evaluating home entertainment-focused projectors in my media room. Due to their lack of lens shift and limited zoom range, many projectors just won’t work where it needs to go in that room. While I could use digital keystoning to correct any image distortion, digital correction can mean sacrificing resolution, which is something a passionate projector enthusiast is not willing to do. So even if two projectors can theoretically deliver similar picture quality, how it integrates into the room can result in one projector producing a better picture in a real-world environment.
When it comes to placement flexibility, the VW325ES has a zoom range of 2:06:1 which is a lot of zoom range compared to most home theater projectors whose zoom lenses usually range between 1.1:1 to 1.6:1, depending on the brand and model. In addition to facilitating a high-quality picture without the need for digital image correction, this level of zoom and shift capability makes installation a breeze especially when you are trying to replace an older unit that was previously fixed mounted.
While aligning the image to a screen may seem simple, many installations can be challenging due to limitations on where you can place the projector. When replacing an older projector, a broader zoom range along with horizontal and vertical lens shift makes installation much easier. A broader zoom range and greater shift capability mean you don’t need to relocate the projector mount, which can shave hours off of an install project. With this kind of installation flexibility, you can easily use the same type/model of projector in several different jobs.
You may notice that the VW325ES is a bit of a chonk and definitely bigger than most 4K competitor models (especially a single-chip DLP projector). The chassis measures approximately 18 ¼" wide, 8" high x 19 ½" deep, and weighs about 31 pounds. Why is the chassis bigger? Better optics require bigger glass, bigger glass requires a bigger box, and a 3-chip system is bigger than a single-chip system.
Let’s break it down:
The three-chip SXRD imager is a bigger system
Better optics require bigger lenses – think of the tiny lens on your smartphone compared to the sizeable lens on a nice DSLR camera, that DSLR camera is going to offer a substantially improved image over your phone
The ability to shift and zoom that bigger lens requires more space and larger components – picture a sports photographer and the size of the massive zoom lens needed to capture a distant player on the field
Bigger fans can move more air at slower speeds for quieter operation – Sony claims a very quiet 26 dB so the fan won’t distract during quieter scenes
You may happily accept a slightly larger projector with the exceptional picture quality of LCoS, a motorized lens with horizontal/vertical shift, and quieter operation.
The VW325ES has the same motorized lens assembly found in the higher-end VW715ES and VW915ES. However, the more premium models include a step-up feature called Picture Positioning, also known as lens memories. This allows you to save different motorized lens settings (zoom, shift, and focus), like one for HDTV and one for widescreen movies.
This is a valuable feature if you have a 2.35:1 screen because you can get the advantage of the maximum amount of screen area when watching HDTV and widescreen movies.
Since the VW325ES does not have Picture Positioning, you must manually adjust the zoom and shift settings every time you switch from movies to broadcast content. However, when using a stationary anamorphic lens, the VW325ES has several Aspect modes, including V Stretch and Squeeze, which can properly display both widescreen and 16x9 content on a 2.35:1 screen with the press of a button.