Sony VPL-VW365ES 4K Home Theater Projector Review – Picture Quality 2

VPL-VW365ES 4K PROJECTOR – PICTURE QUALITY PAGE 2:  Black Level Performance, Dark Shadow Detail, Overall Picture Quality

VPL-VW365ES 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 HW45ES, 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-VW365ES 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 a hard core home theater enthusiasts something to consider, that’s less than ideal.

The VPL-365ES does a respectable job in terms of black levels. 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 – (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, forget JVC, they have announced their first true 4K projector, but it has a list price of $35,000, so it’s not exactly competition for this $9999 Sony!  I should also point out that Epson’s 4K capable pixel shifting laser projector, the LS10000, which is being replaced with an HDR supporting LS10500 also has significantly superior black level performance, but again, its a 1080p pixel shifter, not true 4K (for $2000 less than the Sony).

Back to the VW365ES.  When you get to those really dark scenes (which aren’t rare at all in many movies), the “blacks” end up only medium dark gray.  When a projector – like their step up VW675ES – 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 dark gray area – the darker the better, and an iris visibly helps with that.  BTW when I say really dark scenes, I’m not talking about things like night city scares, they have enough bright lights, to limit the working range of dynamic irises.  I’m talking about scenes, were everything is very dark or dark, where even the bright areas of the scene are still very dim.

The black level shortcoming is something you are likely to notice if you are a hard core enthusiast, and you have a respectably fully darken-able 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 (walls, floors, ceilings) and even minimal ambient light, then you probably wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate those projectors that are a lot better at black levels, such as Sony’s own VW675ES.  Are you a technical perfectionist or someone who just wants to watch a great looking, true 4K image, with all the glory that implies?

I tend to therefore almost  think of the VW365ES as perhaps worlds best “Home Entertainment Projector”, rather than home theater projector.  But that’ really isn’t fair.

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 HW65ES or its direct competition, the Epson 5040UB, but those are inherently 1080p projectors.

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 VW365ES 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 VW365ES those blacks are the same brightness as in bright scenes and appear relatively to be a lighter gray than those projectors with dynamic irises.

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 demand close to perfection.

For most viewers, the Sony picture is great. But if you are a fanatic like me, who counts black levels as one of the most important aspects, you’ll probably be happier if you can scrape up the extra thousands ($14999 list) for the VPL-VW675ES (which has some other advantages too!)  We’ve fully reviewed the VW665ES but the just about to ship VW675ES has one major improvement, it’s the first projector I’m aware of to support Hybrid Log-Gamma – a techie name for a new “standard” that may be way we stream 4K content going forward.  (Will it be the only way, or the favored way? or even catch on?  No way to tell yet.)

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 VW365ES 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 Katniss and Rue sleeping image is repeated.  Again, everything seems to be in there.  I’ve included after that one, the same image from a number of projectors, including most of the other 4K capable, all the way up to the $60K, VW5000ES, and down to the $2999 Epson Home Cinema 5040UB.  All are intentionally overexposed (but vary in how much). 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-VW365ES is pretty much as good as one could want.

Overall Picture Quality

Really good color right out of the box, but more importantly, the VW365ES’s color is stunning even without calibration, 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 VW365ES 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. If you aren’t a technical fanatic you are probably just going to love the 365ES.   Overall,  that the black performance isn’t quite up to Sony’s $3999 VPL-HW65ES 1080p projector (which has an iris), or the even less expensive 1080p Epson 5040UB,  Rather, the VW365ES is to Sony’s lineup of four, true 4K projectors, what their HW45ES is in their line-up of 1080p projectors.  Essentially, the VW365ES is Sony’s “entry level” 4K projector.   Just be thankful, that Sony’s idea of “entry level” is pretty wow.

 

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. I have a couple of movies (notably RED) where there is a scene that triggers that heavy judder, but if you only see this a few seconds out of hundreds of hours of viewing… do you really care?  I treat the panning issue as a technical tidbit, rather than something to factor into any decision.

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

Current dealer prices for Sony VPL-VW365ES

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