Projector Reviews

Sony VPL-VW350ES 4K Home Theater Projector Review – Picture Quality 2

VPL-VW350ES 4K PROJECTOR – PICTURE QUALITY PAGE 2:  Black Level Performance, Dark Shadow Detail, Overall Picture Quality

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.

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Dark Shadow Detail

Now we’re talking – there’s absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to revealing subtle just above black details.  The VW350ES does an excellent job.  Following are a few of the usual scenes for showing off dark shadow detail. I have for your consideration a second version of the bond train scene, even more overexposed.

You can see all kinds of subtle details lost by many projectors.  The same Katnis and Rue sleeping image is repeated.  Again, everything seems to be in there.  I’ve included after that one, the same image from the Epson LS10000 and the Sony VW600ES for comparison.  The VW350ES is a little more overexposed but all three do a great job. Look around those two darkest areas and compare subtle detail (the larger one is bottom just left of center).

Bottom Line on Dark Shadow Detail:  The VPL-VW350ES is pretty much as good as it gets!

Overall Picture Quality

Really good color right out of the box, but more importantly, the VW350ES is stunning once calibrated, with excellent skin tones, and color overall. Other strengths include excellent shadow detail, and a whole host of really good looking other modes some with more pop to them, when you are willing to sacrifice maximum color accuracy.

The VW350ES though, is not without a few things that could be better.  Most obvious is the black level performance due to lack of a dynamic iris.  The black levels are respectable, all considered, but those blacks are just a little too bright on those really dark scenes.  You’ll have to decide if your official $10K investment will make you happy knowing that.  Consider that the black performance isn’t up to Sony’s $3500 VPL-HW55ES 1080p projector (which has an iris), or the even less expensive 1080p Epson 5030UB, instead being  more like the lower cost 1080p HW40ES ($2499 which doesn’t have an iris).  Of course there are no other true 4K projectors that cost less that have better blacks since there are no lower priced 4K projectors yet.

This Sony, like others we’ve reviewed before, also does have a problem with slow pans on 24fps movie content (discussed in the Performance section – image noise), that are at just the right speed.  But since that requires just the right panning speed, don’t worry about that one too much.

Bottom Line – Great picture but black levels could be better.