Projector Reviews

Sony VPL-HW65ES Projector: Picture Quality

VPL-HW65ES PROJECTOR:  PICTURE QUALITY:  Out of the Box Image Quality, Skin Tones, Black Level Performance

"Out of the Box" Picture Quality

The first HW65ES sent to me was sent by mistake.  It was an early engineering sample, which did not have great “out of the box” color.  Upon observing the “out of the box” performance briefly, I realized that the Sony wasn’t near as good as we’ve been used to.  A quick call to the Sony folks and they sent out a early full production unit.  Huge difference:

You really can’t hope for more accurate, and natural looking color without calibrating a projector, than this HW65ES.  Shouldn’t be shocking though, as the past few years, great out of the box color has been essentially standard.   Mike, our calibrator, said the VPL-HW65ES  needed only minimal adjustment.  Even better than that, the colors look really good, not just “close”.  Reference, has the best grayscale. It’s your go to movie mode, if you want “best” picture.  Mike’s changes, found on the Calibration page, were minor on the grayscale, but it was the CMS – where you calibrate individual colors that basically no work was needed at all.  Of the many provided presets in the CMS, a couple are almost perfect.

Skin tones were virtually as good as some calibrated projectors.  Considering lamp variations, that’s impressive.

Of note, the images below from movies were using the “calibrated” User mode, based on Reference.  Grayscale calibration has been done, but default (excellent) REC 709 color settings were used.  As Mike said, any adjustments would be too small to make a definitive difference.  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!

Skin Tones

Overall, the Sony’s skin tones are pretty excellent.  From Hunger Games to The Fifth Element, to Lucy, to Crouching Tiger (yes I broke that old favorite out for the first time in a long time), no disappointment.  Even the Star Trek images looked pretty good, (they come across challenging, on a number of projectors).

Compared to the closest competition, I was very impressed that the Epson 5030UB / 6030UB’s updated firmware (over a year ago) provided a more natural feel, and figured they may had somewhat closed the gap, but this Sony still has an advantage – if only slightly) when it comes to natural skin tones.

BenQ’s W7500 is a good DLP, that’s slightly less expensive, does nice skin tones, but a little rough around the edges when it comes to “natural skin tones.”  The BenQ, I think does better skin tones on darker scenes than on bright ones.

Sony VPL-HW65ES Black Level Performance

Sony VPL-HW65ES: Excellent black levels. Look to the woods and shrubs on right behind tracks, dark shadow detail also very good.
Last year's HW55ES, should be essentially the same, exposure the big difference
Epson 6030u before major firmware upgrade
BenQ W7500 a DLP, not quite as good, but close
2 that cost less: Epson 5030ub (left) slightly better blacks, Sony HW40ES (right) no dynamic iris
BenQ HT4050 a step up from entry level, no match for Sony
JVC RS49/4910/X500R - best black levels anywhere near the price, but more expensive projector
Optoma H37 - a true entry level PJ in terms of black levels. Easily inferior to all the rest

Descriptions of the Images Above

Take all of these images with the proverbial “grain of salt.”  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 one of them here.

Bottom line:  While there are better blacks around, than this Sony VPL-HW65ES serves up, its abilities are so good that other factors do become far more important.  I’ve been pretty consistent with that message since the first Epson UB’s and the old JVC RS1 which go back a good 7-8 years.  Only the Epson UB’s have the slightest advantage in terms of projectors that cost less.  If looking at spending more, the JVC RS400 (not yet reviewed), and the Epson laser – the LS9600e both have the advantage over this Sony, when it comes to black levels.  The Epson accomplishes that without a dynamic iris.  Of course, if you are plunking down for a $10K JVC, or a $15K true 4K Sony, you will get quite visibly superior black levels.