Projector Reviews

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

Sony VPL-VW385ES True 4K Home Theater Projector Review – Special Features: No VW385ES Calibration Needed?, Lens Memory – And Wide Screen Movies, True 4K Resolution, 4K HDR, 4K Color Space – BT.2020/P3, Reality Creation – Image Sharpening, 3D, Gaming!

No VW385ES Calibration Needed?

Sure, calibrate your shiny new VPL-VW385ES. Better yet, put 100, or better, 250 hours on the lamp before you do, as lamps change color slightly, and drop brightness, a visible amount in those first few hundred hours.

The question is, how much benefit will you get? If you are a perfectionist, you’ll appreciate the subtle differences between a projector like the VW385ES calibrated or not, but with several modes looking great and differing most in which color temperature option is selected, or how gamma is set, or level of use of the Contrast Enhancer feature, it’s all good. Hey, if you have the gear to calibrate – go for it. If not, you’ll have to decide whether to shell out hundreds of dollars for a small improvement.

One reason why we haven’t calibrated this, or a couple of other recent Sony projectors, is that, best I can tell, our calibration settings more address the specific characteristics of the individual lamp in the unit (there’s always variation in color from lamp to lamp). With that in mind, my calibration might improve things with this lamp, but it might make things slightly less accurate with the lamp in another VW385ES. Hey! That’s a big advantage of laser light engines – you can expect the same color performance from projector in the batch.

Auto Calibrate

Found on the menus is the Auto Calibrate feature. Sony describes this as a coarse adjustment, still, it’s far better than none at all. Sony does a great job (in my opinion) presetting the color modes so that they all look good to great,  Problem is, that pesky lamp. Over even the first few hundred hours the color attributes (and the brightness, btw) of the lamp will shift. That is, by 500 or 1000 hours, the color balance will have changed visibly (but not drastically). This is true for any lamp based projector.

What Sony’s Auto-Calibrate does, is adjust the projector once you run this feature, to get the color coming out of the lens to be as close to the original default performance when the Sony was brand new.  Hey folks, that’s better than what others are offering (which is nothing).  I don’t get to keep a projector long enough to really test this out, but I’ll take Sony’s word for it that it certainly is an improvement over not compensating (with a fresh calibration) every so many hundreds of hours. This will keep you very close to the original (mostly excellent) color.

Lens Memory – And Wide Screen Movies

If your love is movies, or, at least, when it comes down to which you want to view larger – regular TV and sports, or a good widescreen movies, and you pick the movies, then you are probably considering going with a wide screen so you can watch traditional “Cinemascope” aspect ratio movies, without letter boxing. Sure, when you switch to sports or most HDTV, you’ll end up with some letterboxing on the sides, but it’s up to you as to which you’d rather have larger.

I’m one that likes my movies the largest, so I own a 2.35:1 screen. I can do that easily because of having Lens Memory. Without it, though, mostly one needs at least power zoom and lens shift to do it without one button operation. Technically, you can manually accomplish working with a wide screen with any projector, but if that projector is ceiling mounted, then you just might need a step ladder to change from HDTV to wide screen or the opposite.

The Lens Memory function is controlled by the Position button on the remote.  It brings up choices for 1.85:1, 2.35:1 or select from the other three additional savable lens zoom/shift combinations.

To set the lens memory, that gets done using the menus. If you want to set for a widescreen movie, fill your screen to the max with it, then go to the Screen menu, and select Picture Position.

Use the cursor to select 2.35:1 and press Enter to save it.  Then go back and fill the screen (using zoom and lens shift) with regular 16:9 content (HDTV). Go back into Picture Position, and Save that one to 1.85:1.  If you have other size/shapes, repeat and save into the other 3 memories.

Bottom Line: the Sony has Lens Memory. Put on a widescreen movie, zoom and shift the lens to fill your wide screen – save the setting. Now put on some HDTV, again adjust zoom and lens shift, and save that memory as well. That’s it – from then on, it’s one button operation to switch back and forth. Sony’s lens memory works well enough, although its slower than some others, notably the Epsons that offer this same feature. Still, waiting a few extra settings for something you do mostly at the start of a movie or program is no big deal.

True 4K Resolution

Yep, the Sony VPL-VW385ES is the real thing – true native 4K. No pixel shifting, no pixels 2 or 4 times the size of what this Sony and other true 4K projectors provide.  Still, at the end of it all, it comes down to – how sharp is this Sony? Is it sharper than those 1080p x2 Epsons and JVCs? How about those 1080p x4 4K UHDs like the BenQ HT2550, TK800, and Optoma HD50, HD51A and others? And what about compared to those 2716×1528 x2 pixel shifters?

Truth is, you won’t see any real differences that matter on content below 4K. But then, we’re buying projectors to last for years, and 4K will be everywhere in a couple more years.

But, what happens with 4K content? That gets interesting, because it’s not just the resolution of the panels/chips, but also other factors. Those 4K UHD projectors (either resolution) for example, so far, are all single chip DLPs, so they have a slight advantage over 3 panel/chip projectors – including even the 3 chip DLPs used in movie theaters – when all else is equal. But, it rarely is. The optics on $1,500 and $2,000 projectors usually leaves some real room for improvement.

The same is true for the lower end Sony 4K projectors. Sony puts “better glass” in their higher end 4K projectors. That said, I’ve been playing around asking all the 4K capable projectors to try to reproduce a 3840×2160 image that is primarily black except for 4 pixels in a square pattern – one each: red, green, blue, and white.

So far, while even the true 4K Sony can’t clearly separate the pixels (they definitely merge together so that most is white with color around the edges), it’s hardly what one would hope for – 4 clearly separated pixels, each clearly a different color.

I tried the same image with the BenQ HT2550 and also the Optoma UHD60, and the Epson 5040UB.  Of the group, the Sony came closest to distinguishing all four pixels, although none was close to the ideal, completely separated colors.

First things first – all but the DLP projectors have digital pixel alignment to get the red, green, and blue panels all aligned. A big question is whether to turn that off completely, which would give the best results assuming the pixel misalignment is minimal.

4K HDR

In a perfect world with a 1.3 gain screen to handle HDR as intended (1,000 NITS of brightness), we really need something along the lines of a 5,000 to 6,000 lumen projector for a 100” screen.

So, as is the case with many LED /LCD TVs, the lack of sufficient brightness means some compromise. And many manufacturers are struggling over this. Sony, fortunately, has done a very intelligent (and effective) thing, in how they handle HDR. When you have 4K running with HDR, the normal Contrast menu becomes what might be called a dynamic gamma control. Use the default settings of 60, though, and things with HDR tend to be somewhat dim. Sony recommends setting that control as high as 80. I stay around 75 most of the time, but I’ve used 80 as well (not much difference). The higher 80 setting will effectively lighten up the lower mid – to mid brightness ranges of an image, and that is what is needed!

4K Color Space – BT.2020/P3

It’s a lot easier to see what’s going on with the attempt to handle P3 (in a BT.2020 “wrapper”). What we’re talking about is more better color. Movie theaters have had a higher standard than home products forever, but not with 4K. Now these projectors are also going for P3/BT.2020. There’s still a difference though – the Cinema projectors are a good deal better at it than lamp based home theater projectors. Few lamp based projectors can achieve even REC 709, the standard for Blu-ray disc (not 4K) and HDTV. Most can cover 90+ % of REC709, but that leaves them some 30% short of P3.

That, folks, is a big miss. Today’s laser projectors can get pretty close to P3, however.  Since we didn’t calibrate this Sony, I can’t tell you how close we got, but I’m figuring that its got to be a lot closer to REC 709, with P3 a longer stretch.

Still, I can see some real color differences in switching between Hunger Games on Blu-ray, and on Blu-ray 4K. I’m talking richness, but not really over-saturation. It’s hard to get a handle on the subtleties though, as everything in 4K HDR is noticeably darker in the mid and lower brightness ranges.

Reality Creation – Image Sharpening

Space image close-up
Close-up of VW385ES 4K rendering from Journey To Space. Default Reality Creation setting.

Sony offers plenty of image processing options, including contrast enhancers, which tend to add some pop and make things look a bit sharper, but Sony’s primary sharpening is from their “Reality Creation” engine. As with other projectors, default settings are already adding some sharpness.

Mostly, you’ll find the useful working range of this control between 20 and 60 (out of 0-100) when working all but 4K content. 20 works well, 40 definitely sharpens further, but as with other projectors, the more you push that control, the more perceived hardness it adds to the image along with the perceived sharpness. For most viewing, I kept things at 20, or 40. On occasion I found 40 to be a little much on close ups of faces.  On the other hand, I’ve happily pushed up to about 60 for watching some sports (notably ice hockey).

Switch to 4K content and adjusting the Reality Creation still has some effect but, very little.  The difference from Off, compared to a setting of 50, shows almost no change to the image than is visible adjusting 1080p content from 20 to 40!  After all, the projector is already working with 4K content. The goal isn’t to over-sharpen, but to get it right.

Dial in as best preferred, just keep in mind that a purist would probably turn it off altogether (I’m not a purist anymore), along with other enhancement controls. Me, I like a little extra “detail enhancement.”

I have done some image comparisons in older Sony reviews, showing the effects of taking Reality Creation from 0 to 20 to 40, etc.

3D Capable

Darn, still looking for my one pair of Sony 3D glasses. I have lots of universals, and Epson 3D glasses, but they seem to have a problem syncing with these Sony projectors. As a result, I can’t tell you about 3D on the Sony, other than watching some of two movies for a few minutes with glasses that occasionally flickered (very annoying). Overall, there’s still some crosstalk present. I’d say this Sony is almost as good as the newer Epsons, and probably still a good bet better than the JVC projectors (which have tended to struggle trying to provide clean 3D.) Mind you, I haven’t been able to get a JVC for review in over 2 years. Perhaps they’ve finally made headway?

Overall, I’ve found Sony 3D to be just fine. Like HDR, 3D demands a lot of brightness.  I’m used to viewing 3D on many projectors using one of the brighter modes with less accurate colors to have the extra brightness. As such, I rarely see 3D with very accurate color. This Sony does a respectable job at 100” diagonal (could be brighter). I stretched it to about 120” where I definitely would like another few hundred lumens. Still, I do like my 3D, and the VW385ES, definitely gets the job done.

Gaming!

I’m confused.  For the past couple of years I, like most reviewers that are working with projectors, have switched to the Leo Bodnar input lag tester.  And it has proven reliable.  But this time, I am not sure what’s going on. Without optimizing the settings (such as turning on the input lag reducing feature,) this Sony has way too much input lag for normal serious fast game playing. (126ms)

But set the Sony to minimize input lag, and instead of getting an reading in the mid 30ms range as expected from other Sonys, I’m getting 0.0 ms.  That would be great, if only I could believe it.  I’m not sure what the problem is (cable?, the device?) at this time, but Checking around, the expected 35-37ms input lag speed has been reported on other sites.  Since that’s a very respectable speed that should satisfy most gamers, Let’s go with that. If I figure out what’s going on, and it turns out that this Sony really can do 0.0 ms input lag, I’ll update, but I’m not expecting to have to.

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