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Sony VPL-HW45ES Projector: Picture Quality

Posted on August 27, 2016 by Art Feierman
VPL-HW45ES PROJECTOR:  PICTURE QUALITY:  Out of the Box Image Quality, Skin Tones, Black Level Performance

"Out of the Box" Picture Quality

Once again, Sony really impresses with their "out of the box" picture quality, before any adjustments. There are, of course, a wide selection of picture presets to choose from with names like Cinema, and Reference, and Stage, and Photo, and of course Dynamic.  Each has it's own goals, but with the exception of the brightness mode, they all look pretty excellent.  Brightest modes, of course are usually pushed toward green, and this Sony is no exception, except that the overall balance of Dynamic, while strong on green, looks better than most Dynamic modes which tend to be a lot further "over the top."

You'll be hard pressed to find better color, right out of a box, than with the Sony projectors of the last few years, as we've commented before.    Mike, our old calibrator for many years, said of the big brother - the VPL-HW65ES  that it needed only minimal adjustment.  Eric our new calibrator, also had to make only the most minor adjustments.  Even better than that, the colors look really good, not just measuring "close".  Reference, as is typical of Sony projectors, has the best grayscale, (and also the least processing).  It's definitely the preferred movie mode, if you want "best" picture.  Eric's changes, found on the Calibration page, were minor on the grayscale, and CMS Of the many provided presets in the CMS, a couple are almost perfect.

Skin tones were virtually as good as some calibrated projectors.  When you consider the minor variations that can occur from lamp to lamp, that's also impressive.

Of note, the images below from movies were using the "calibrated" User mode, based on Reference.  Grayscale calibration has been done built around the default (excellent) REC 709 color settings.  When it comes to adjusting the individual colors in the CMS, Eric found that while his gear calls for minor adjustments, the visible changes are barely noticeable.  I'd add to that, the thought that, there is probably more variation in the color balance from one piece of content to the next, than the amount of change seen due to the calibration.  The sports and HDTV shots used an unadjusted Bright Cinema, which I preferred over cooler (bluer whites)  Bright TV mode - which could work better for you,  if you need every last lumen!  Call choosing between those, a personal choice.

Skin Tones

Overall, the Sony's HW45ES'es skin tones are really excellent, especially for the Sony being a sub-$2000 projector.   Take your pick Cinna and Katniss in Hunger Games, Bond in Casino Royal, Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, and of course Leeloo from The Fifth Element; the skin colors look right, the textures do too, (unless you over crank up Reality Creation).  Captain Pike in the first of the new Star Trek movies looks as good as he gets.  If you think these images look really good on your computer or phone screen, wait until this Sony is projecting them on a big screen at your place. You'll really be able to appreciate the quality then, without the notable quality loss that each of these devices - my camera, compression, and your computer display - "brings to the party."

I keep using the word natural looking, in Sony review after Sony review.  Their combination of LCoS and great color tables, seems to do the trick.  In Reference mode, the skin tones look about as good as it gets, with 1080p. I think we'll need 4K with HDR and bigger color gamuts to improve on what the HW45ES can do with skin tones - of all races.


Sony VPL-HW45ES Black Level Performance

Sony VPL-HW45ES: Good, not great, black levels. Also, look to the woods and shrubs on right behind tracks, for dark shadow detail.
Sony HW65 - the next step up, at twice the price, has a dynamic iris.
The HW45ES replaces the older HW40 - similar performance
Epson 5040UB/6040UB - $1000 more, much deeper blacks
BenQ W7500 a DLP, not quite as good, but close
BenQ HT4050 a step up from entry level, no match for Sony
JVC RS400 - $3999 best blacks under $6995
Optoma H37 - a true entry level PJ in terms of black levels. Easily inferior to all the rest

Descriptions of the Images Above

Above find the same Bond "night train" image covered to grey scale for easier comparison.  These images represent a range of projectors from about $1000 up to $10,000.  Remember, by the time the my pro dSLR camera captures the image, software heavily compresses, it, it gets displayed on your monitor, a whole lot of of the dynamic range is lost, making comparing the images challenging.

My observations are based on viewing experience, although I do use the images somewhat to assess which of two projectors is better, when I only have only one of them here.

Bottom line:  There are better blacks around, than this Sony VPL-HW45ES serves up, but the ones that stand out as better, are now a good deal more expensive.

The Sony can't compare with the more expensive Sonys, or the Epsons and JVCs but all of those are from $1000 to $8000 more, so no surprises there!

But consider:  With the HW45ES's $1999 price, it doesn't compete price wise with most of these any more. Instead, it's competing against lower priced Epsons, and a number of Optomas, BenQs, Viewsonics, etc.  Of those, only Optoma has a model or two with better black levels, but I find, in general, that those Optomas are not a match overall for picture accuracy and naturalness, on normal scenes - too contrasty, they tend to crush dark shadow detail.

Consider the HW45ES to be excellent on blacks for a media room projector, used in a good, but less than an ideal room, and certainly respectable in terms of blacks for a dedicated home theater - considering the low price point.  Nicely done!

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