VPL-VW350ES Black Level Performance
Black Level Performance is this Sony's weakest area. That's hardly surprising as this is Sony's "entry level" true 4K projector. (That's assuming anyone can rationalize that a $9999 projector is entry level.) As is the case with their "entry level" 1080p HW40ES, this Sony lacks a dynamic iris, or any iris at all.
Without one, its black level performance is definitely less than great. Up until this point I've had little but praise for Sony's VPL-VW350ES projector (other than noting that it has power lens features but no Lens Memory - something only folks with wide screens care about). That said, this is the one area that will give serious home theater enthusiasts real pause.
Don't get me wrong, this Sony does a very respectable job. In fact it looks great on bright and mid brightness scenes. The native blacks are pretty good - but, of course no match for the JVCs out there - they've been in their own class for years, and even they have added dynamic irises to their current series even though their better models do better without an iris than anyone else does with. But, enough about them, as I have noted, they are not set up to support 4K Blu-ray UHD and probably not the future 4K HDTV standards, as they lack HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2.
Back to the VW350ES. When you get to those really dark scenes (which aren't rare at all in most movies), the "blacks" end up only medium dark gray. When a projector - like their step up VW600ES - with an iris hits a dark scene, the overall brightness of the scene is reduced. That lowers everything but what you notice is that the blacks now appear much closer to black, not medium dark gray. Why is this important? Well if you have a scene with a lot of blacks, you get what looks like a flat gray area.
That's something you are likely to notice if you are any sort of enthusiast, and you have a respectably darkened room. On the other hand, if you are buying this projector for its 4K abilities, and placing it in a media room, or family / living / bonus type room without darker surfaces and some ambient light, then you probably won't be able to fully appreciate those projectors that are much better at black levels.
Perhaps, therefore, the VW350ES should be considered the worlds best "Home Entertainment Projector", rather than a really good home theater projector? Black level enthusiasts will likely share my modest disappointment. Keep in mind that the Sony performs really well - about as good as it gets (JVCs notwithstanding) for a projector without a dynamic iris, although some lower cost DLP's will rival it. In the grand scheme of things, the black level performance should come up a bit short of Sony's 1080p HW55ES or its direct competition, the Epson 5030UB for less than 1/3 the price. But of course those don't play with 4K content!
When viewing the sequence of competing projectors on the Bond night train scene, you'll notice that the Sony competes rather well. These images are similar in overall brightness (most are). The thing is, all but the VW350ES have dynamic irises and those are engaged (even the JVC's). As a result, what you are seeing is mostly native contrast compared. But the black levels in any of those others drops significantly down in pure brightness compared to blacks in bright scenes. With the iris-less VW350ES those blacks are the same brightness as in bright scenes and appear relatively to be a much lighter gray therefore, during normal viewing. Kapiche? (Got that?) Good.
Bottom Line on Black Level Performance. Native contrast gives pretty good blacks, but those really dark scenes will not get the blacks and near blacks down well enough to the eyes' idea of black to satisfy those who appreciate. And when a good chunk of a dark image is all black, it will seem like a chunk of gray - not something too dark to see any details in.
[sam_pro id=1_41 codes="true"