Sharpness and Image Noise
I normally discuss these two aspects of performance in separate sections, but this time it seemed appropriate to combine them.
In this player I’ve got an assortment of images to demonstrate the Sony’s overall sharpness. RC was set to 20 for all of these except for the Secretary images from The Fifth Element, which show RC Off vs. On, and settings on minimum, 20, and 50. When viewing those, look at skin texture, and also the background noise in the purple and blue areas. The differences are dramatic.
The Sony VPL-HW40ES is rather interesting when it comes time to talk sharpness. A reader who contacted us before this review published, pointed out that he had seen more noise in a face close-up on the HW40ES than with the HW55ES. That got me thinking.
I had noticed that the default Reality Creation setting of 20 gave the HW40ES an extremely sharp looking image, but I also easily noticed that on close-ups of faces that they looked a bit hard due to visible image noise. I don’t remember having that issue when working with the HW55ES, or at least only if I cranked up the Reality Creation (dynamic detail enhancement) to 40 or 50 on the slider. One of the strengths of the HW55ES was that it seemed to significantly improve the perceived sharpness, without the noise becoming as immediately obvious..
Click to get a good look. Observe the texture of the priest's cheeks
I did very little watching so far on the VPL-HW40ES with Reality Creation turned off, but at the same time was sometimes aware of the close-ups issue when watching with it on
So, in thinking about it, the underlying image noise could be greater on the HW40ES, or it could mean that the Reality Creation settings behave a bit differently.
No matter. As I point out here, and in the 4 way comparison, the 20 setting is both very sharp, seeming every bit as sharp as a pair of good single chip DLP projectors I compared it to, and a bit “hard” on close-ups of faces. I had even dialed down to 10 on RC and it was still there, but just slightly less. Keep in mind we're talking subtle issues here, not dramatic ones.
Click to get a good look. Reality Creation set to 20 - just slightly hard looking skin
So, folks, you have a real trade-off to consider. I really appreciate the seeming sharpness of the Sony HW40ES projector, with RC turned on, but you are getting some visible artifacts that we should refer to as “image noise.” With RC off, the picture is softer and the noise levels look comfortably below that of typical DLP projectors.
I will suggest that this is an area where Sony’s HW55ES does a better job, or at the very least has more flexibility to come up with both a sharp looking image without as much image noise. BTW, Sony’s Noise control as part of RC doesn’t seem to accomplish a whole lot, and that was true of the HW55ES as well.
I should mention that as the HW40ES is a 3 chip projector, there is inherent misconvergence. I used Sony's digital alignment function to compensate. It takes just a few minutes to run.
Bottom Line on Sharpness: (or rather perceived detail and sharpness). The Sony looks crisp, and very sharp, but at the trade-off of a little hardness in close ups of faces with the Reality Creation engine on its default of 20. At 10 it still looks similar. Turning it off softens the faces, but at the same time, the difference in perceived sharpness between a setting of 20 on RC, and turning RC off, is pretty significant. To mention how it does against its closest competitor, the Epson HC5030UB, let me put it this way:
The Sony almost always appears a touch sharper. Even cranking up Epson’s Super-Resolution to 4 (higher than I usually would), it doesn’t appear as sharp as the Sony with default RC on. At the same time the Epson is cleaner in terms of the image noise, but being a bit softer, that too, is expected. Check out some of these comparison images: