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Sony VPL-HW40ES Projector Review - Special Features 1

Posted on July 10, 2014 by 
SONY VPL-HW40ES PROJECTOR - SPECIAL FEATURES PAGE 1: Dynamic Iris (or lack of one), Creative Frame Interpolation, Manual Zoom Lens

Dynamic Iris? No

Every so often we find it necessary to list a “feature” that a projector lacks, especially if most of the competition has that capability.  In the case of the HW40ES that missing feature is an iris.  All more expensive Sony home theater projectors have an iris that can be used dynamically, manually, or a combination of both – such as working dynamically while limiting the maximum opening – brightness, as one might do if one has a relatively small screen, and don’t need the projectors full brightness, but still want the dynamic iris benefits.

In the case of the VPL-HW40ES, the black level performance is most impressive for a projector with no iris, but there’s a real difference between it and the HW55ES in this regard.  The HW40ES is so good without a dynamic iris that it can hold its own with several competitors that we included in a 4 way shoot out, that we are about to publish.   In that shoot-out, the Optoma HD91 which uses dynamic lamp dimming instead of dynamic iris, and the BenQ W7500 which has a dynamic iris, are both in the same league as the HW40ES when it comes to black performance (albeit different).

On the other hand the Sony’s lack of an iris definitely leaves it trailing the Epson 5030UB – the fourth projector in our shoot-out, when it comes to black level performance.  Note that we consider the 5030UB almost identical to the more expensive HW55ES in terms of black level performance, and, to date, the best black levels of any projector under $3500.

With no iris, the HW40ES can’t have the blackest blacks on dark scenes, but, of course, without an iris, that also means no iris related issues, such as sometimes seeing the iris action, audible noise associated with dynamic irises.

We will discuss the actual black level performance in detail in the Picture Quality section of this review.

MotionFlow (aka Creative Frame Interpolation)

Although Sony removed a number of features from the HW40ES compared to it’s big brother, the VPL-HW40ES does retain Sony’s creative frame interpolation skills.

In addition to Off, there is a Low and a High setting.  The low setting is relatively free of that “soap opera” or “live digital video” look on movies and other content.  In trying out the Low setting during several movies, often I really didn’t notice, but there were always some times where the smoothing was visible, visible enough that one could consider it as at least slightly changing the “director’s intent.”

CFI is a feature that I consider rather personal.  If you like it on movies, or don’t mind it, go for it.  If you are like many of us, though, the judder associated with 24fps movies is part of the proper look and feel of those movies, at least until we are at the point where the Director is directing and a faster frame rate, such as 60fps is being used (or in the case of The Hobbit” – 48fps.

The High setting should be fine for sports, which is where CFI is normally most appreciated.  Some artifacts are slightly visible around the fast moving objects, but never blatantly obvious.  The Low setting is cleaner, and, by my taste, more than adequate.

1.6:1 Manual Zoom Lens

The lens is not something we normally address in the Special Features section, but one factor about this lens makes it noteworthy and “special.”  I’m talking about the amount of brightness loss going from full wide angle (closest distance possible to a give sized screen), and full telephoto.  In fact it’s the normal significant drop in brightness as one moves from wide to tele, that made me decide a decade ago, to provide the bulk of our brightness measurements at the mid-point of a projector’s zoom range.

Our  compromise (using mid-point for most measurements) provides a lumen measurement that will be off when people are at the extreme ends of the lenses range, but it minimizes the differences by being in the middle.

The Sony’s optics are interesting in that there’s almost no brightness difference reaching your screen anywhere in the range between wide angle and mid-point of the zoom.  Note that there’s still a significant drop in brightness going from wide angle to telephoto.

That’s worth pointing out, because with most competing projectors (which have zooms from 1.5:1 all the way up to Epson’s 2.1:1, you get a boost in brightness going from mid-zoom to wide angle of up to 25%, but with the Sony there’s almost none.  Keep that in mind for when you are thinking about the projector’s maximum brightness.


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Sony pairs this lens with lens shift controls that provide quite a bit of lens shift, for great placement flexibility.  Actually lens throw and lens shift numbers can be found in our Hardware Tour of the VPL-HW55ES.

One limitation of this lens that’s also worth noting is that it does leak modest amounts of light through the lens that appear on the outside of the projected image area.  You are not likely to notice this if your walls are dark, but might be noticeable on a very dark scene if the wall around the screen is fairly light in color.

The light leakage would have to be considered fairly minor as an issue, but it is more noticeable than on most projectors, although not nearly as bad as on some projectors such as the popular lower cost BenQ W1080ST which leaks a whole lot of light.  At worst, with the Sony it may have some small impact on dark scenes, however that would already be a factor in our conclusions about black level performance.

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