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Sony VPL-VW385ES True 4K Home Theater Projector Review – Hardware

Posted on May 2, 2018 by Art Feierman

Sony VPL-VW385ES True 4K Home Theater Projector Review – Hardware: Overview, Inputs and Connectors, The Lens


The Sony VPL-VW385ES is a fairly-largish home theater projector. It is in the same size class as the JVCs, and the BenQ HT8050 and HT9050, a size larger than the Epson 5040UB and 6040UB, and a couple of sizes larger than the typical BenQ, Optoma, and most of the other brands of DLP projectors.

It is finished in dark gray/black, a combination of coarse and smooth finishes. It should disappear nicely into your ceiling it is painted dark. If you have a light colored ceiling, then it will just be a fairly large, but clean and impressive looking projector that will impress your friends, but only a fraction as much they will be impressed once the projector is fired up and they get to see the picture quality.

The front is “clean” – only the recessed lens, and an IR sensor for the remote control.  The top only has the Sony logo (and you can see the edges of the door for the lamp compartment. Now that I think about it, the whole projector has a very clean, minimalistic look. If gazing at the VW385ES from the front, the side on the right has all the inputs and connectors (there aren’t that many), but they are located just up from the bottom, all in a row, and recessed nicely.

On the opposite side you’ll find the control panel, which, again, like the other Sony home theater projectors, consists of a number of very small buttons mounted along the edge (right above the bottom recessed area). The buttons are designed to blend in, so you might not even notice them from four or five feet away, unless you were paying attention!

The back only has the power cord receptacle, which is also recessed – this time by several inches. As I said – a very minimalistic look. No offense to small $1,500 4K UHD projectors, but this Sony physically makes them all pretty much look like fancy electronic toys, while this Sony, by comparison, looks downright serious – which, of course, it is.

Inputs and Connectors

Like most of the other more expensive Sonys, the VW385ES his pretty minimalistic in that it relies almost exclusively on its two HDMI inputs. For many, that means relying on an AV receiver, or a properly 4K switching system. There’s nothing, of course wrong with that. I rely on my Anthem receiver to switch for whatever projectors I’m reviewing.

From the back to the front:

Closest to the rear is the LAN RJ45 connector for networking. That’s followed by a USB, then the pair of HDMI inputs. They support HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 copy protection. The HDMI ports handle up to 13.5 ghz, per Sony. That’s not quite as wonderful as the full 18 ghz HDMI on some projectors including Sony’s high end 4K models, but it should be good enough for just about everyone.

These HDMI inputs support 4K HDR BT.2020 content up to 60fps and 8, 10, or 12 bit data. The difference lies with what is called the sub-sampling. There, (and only at 60fps), having 13.5 ghz vs 18 ghz make any difference, and that difference, will be slight, at the very most, and that only if you can somewhere find any 60fps content that has higher than 4:2:0 sampling which this Sony can handle. The Sony does 4:2:0 at 60fps at 8, 10, or 12 bit. By comparison, a full 18 ghz, allows 4:4:4 at 8 bit, 4:2:2 at 10 bit, and the same 4:2:2 at 12 bit. Think of it this way, you would definitely much rather have 4:2:0 at 10 or 12 bit, than 4:4:4 at 8 bit.

I haven’t heard of any streaming that gets close to 60 fps, 10 or 12 bit with 4:4:4, or even 4:2:2, and of course Blu-ray UHD discs aren’t 60 ghz, so the Sony supports the full 4:4:4 at 24, or 30 fps, if only you could find a disc that has any 4:4:4.

Sony VPL-VW385ES Inputs
The Sony VPL-VW385ES has a very simple control panel.

Bottom line on the HDMI: Don’t worry about it! This Sony’s 13.5 basically handles everything I’m aware of that exists today, and probably anything around for the next 5 years. And even if someone does produce some of that content, the way things work, the source will “talk” with the projector, and send 4:2:0 at 60fps, because it’s all about devices feeding displays the best signal the display can handle, rather than there being a failure to communicate, and no picture.

Sony didn’t even bother to put 18 ghz on their $8K and $15K 4K projectors – only those at $24,999 and up.  I don’t have a problem with that, as it’s highly unlikely that any 60fps content will come along where that difference in sub-sampling will be visible at all.

Enough about HDMI and technical aspects of it. Next as we move toward the front is an RS-232 serial port for “old school” command and control of the projector over a serial connection. That’s followed by a jack allowing you to hard wire the remote control, in case you have a setup where the remote is too far away (or rear screen setup). With an optional cable, you can put that remote far away, on the other side of walls, etc.

All that’s left are the two 12 volt triggers, which could be used with compatible devices, such as properly equipped motorized screens, perhaps some motorized shades, etc.

That’s it, except of course there’s the usual power receptacle, which is found on the back of the projector, down low, near the other side.

The Lens

Sony VPL-VW385ES Lens

The VW385ES shares the same 2.06:1 motorized zoom lens and light engine as the VW285ES, which means that, like the VW285ES, we’re talking about an improved lens (and light path), compared to the older series (i.e. VW365ES, VW350, etc.). That’s important because with 4K, of course you want better optics than for good old 1080p, and Sony has taken some criticism in the past for the older lens. Not that it isn’t better than, say, the optics on the smaller DLPs, but it could be better, and isn’t as good as Sony’s $25K and up projectors. If Sony wants to better separate itself from those lower cost projectors for sharpness, these optical improvements are important.

I should mention that a 2.06:1 zoom is about as much placement flexibility as you can buy (short of far more expensive projectors that offer interchangeable lenses). The only others I can think of with more offer 2.1:1, just a smidgeon more. The Sony also offers plenty of lens shift, far more than than most. Most 4K UHD projectors for example, have 1.3:1 or 1.5:1, or even 1.1:1 zooms, and have either no lens shift or very little.

I can confirm that the end result of the VW385ES’s improvements are visibly, if only slightly, better than the earlier models. It’s evident, particularly, if one looks at 4K small text, or test patterns, but, of course, you’ll mostly just be enjoying a slightly sharper picture, and we are talking nice and sharp.

As mentioned, everything is motorized – that means focus, zoom, and lens shift. In addition, the projector supports lens memory, allowing for you to choose a wide screen for your theater or media room, instead of the usual HDTV 16:9. With lens memory, you can set everything for each aspect ratio and save them so that you basically have one button operation to get the largest picture possible for each image aspect ratio.

By comparison, the less expensive VW285ES also has the same motorized features, but lacks the firmware to offer lens memory. You can still accomplish the same function, but have to manually adjust zoom and lens shift each time (which might take 30 seconds or so).

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