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Sony VPL-VW695ES Home Theater Projector Review - Picture Quality

Posted on March 23, 2020 by Art Feierman

Sony VPL-VW695ES Home Theater Projector Review: “Right Out of the Box” Picture, Skin Tones, Black Level Performance

Right Out-of-the-Box Picture Quality

I really was surprised when I first started watching the VW695ES. More than, just pleasantly surprised that is.

Over the past 2+ years, we’ve reviewed all the current Sony native 4K projectors. We’ve also reviewed their two 1080p models: The HW45ES and HW65ES. Collectively we’re talking 5 4K models plus the two 1080ps. In addition, Sony’s “top of the line” 5000 lumens, $60K VW5000ES – now much older than the rest, but still current, we reviewed a few years back.

IMAX fish photo
Nothing fishy about the picture quality of the VW695ES! IIMAX Enhanced 4K/HDR from Journey to the South Pacific

In the past, the native 4K models started with the 2xx series (now VW295ES – then the 300 series, the 600 series, 800, and 900 series. We knew last time around, that the big difference between the 200 and 300 was the addition of a dynamic iris (and also Lens Memory.)

But, with this VW695ES replacing both the 300 and 600 predecessors, what we seem to have ended up with is not a 385ES replacement, but a noticeably improved 600 series projector for only slightly more than the old 385ES and a full $5000 less than the previous 600 series.

Two things were obvious on the first couple of movies I put on (I started with Passengers – 4K HDR – because of the excellent skin tones and a lot of great, dark, CGI for checking out black level performance, and how well really dark scenes are handled.

The first thing was that the projector offered typical color accuracy for a Sony projector – without any adjustment: Colors looked very close to “on the money”. The VW695ES appears just a little cool (not uncommon), but greyscale is well balanced so that in typical modes like Reference and Cinema Film 1, colors look right if a touch thin on reds, relative to the blues.

The second thing – I found my self watching very dark scenes, and having a good deal better black level performance than I had anticipated.

I immediately made the call, (as I often have) to not calibrate another Sony projector! Mostly because it wouldn’t help you get a better picture. But it would improve the picture of this unit – slightly. Now regulars know that we calibrate just about every over $1000 home projector we review, and then publish our settings so you can use them.

Sorry, not this time. Why? Because this Sony is probably close enough to “on the money” that the variation in color, from lamp to lamp (they vary slightly) likely vary enough that our settings wouldn’t improve, rather only be slightly different.

Passengers credit
Darks and brights from the opening of Passengers - 4K/HDR, Kaleidescape. Colors in nebula come out nicely.

I have now logged over 50 hours of viewing, and all of it using “out of the box” settings. The only setting I’ve really adjusted is for 4K HDR content, and that is the “Gamma//EOTF” setting. EOTF is basically a dynamic gamma setting for the Sony. This affects HDR. The lower the number – the more SDR like – brighter overall, but less pop. The higher the number, the more HDR – brightest areas have lots of punch – mid -brightness areas average to dim looking.

That Gamma/EOTF setting I do occasionally change, but mostly have found that 70 – 75 works best for me on 4K HDR content.

Skin Tones

One picture is worth a thousand words: Well, then this photo player is worth many thousands of words. Check out this assortment of skin tone images, and remember – this is with no adjustments at all (except possibly I was using a different EOTF on some of the 4K HDR images than the default, but that would have no effect on skin tones other than the overall image being slightly brighter or darker in the mid-tones.

Other than the sequence showing the same photo in different modes, all of the photos you are seeing of movies were taken using Cinema Film 1 (which has aa bit more dynamic look than Reference (which is usually the most perfectly tuned mode on most Sonys.)

In addition, to all the 4K content, you’ll find some of our regular James Bond in Casino Royale, photos under different lighting conditions, which demonstrate that it is the lighting, and the “director’s intent,” that determines what we perceive as good skin tones.

Bottom Line on the VW695ES’s Skin Tones: Ridiculously good considering no color adjustments made. There are projectors out there, that even after calibration won’t be as good as the better modes here. And, as an added bonus, unlike most other brands of home theater projectors,

Great news: Sony doesn’t create a “native lamp” type mode, to get the most lumens out for their claims. Every one of the Sony’s modes look pretty good, no heavy greens and yellows typical of the brightest modes of most home theater projectors (most are called Dynamic, or Bright mode, varying by brands, but other names are used as well, for “brightest” modes, that have poor color, but often 20% or more lumens than the first mode to have good color and skin tones.

Black Level Performance

Wow! A more than a pleasant surprise. I really wasn’t expecting black level performance as good as the VW695ES delivers. I really was thinking more like the last 3xx Sony, which had just added a dynamic iris, compared to the lower end 2xx series which doesn’t use an iris. Instead, I got black levels that easily exceeded my expectations, and easily blow away the Epson HC5050UB/PC6050UB I have here for comparing black levels, as the Epson’s have the best black levels of the lower cost projectors.

Without having a competing JVC here (Phil reviewed their DLA-NX7, the direct competitor, I can’t definitively compare, but if you want to go with my best guess, I would expect the Sony VPL-VW695ES to rival not the similarly priced DLA-NX-7, but the somewhat less expensive DLA-NX-5.

Note, plenty of images to view and compare really dark scenes in the player above.

Remember, on the Bond night train scene, those with the most pop – brightest bright areas, darkest blacks are the ones with the best handling of really dark scenes. Those train images are 1080p. Black levels behave differently with HDR, so there are plenty of dark 4K HDR images as well in the player.

If I was Sony, I’d be thrilled, because it wasn’t long ago that JVC’s least expensive LCoS projector had better black levels than any Sony. I don’t think that changed until Sony introduced the VW995ES (my favorite HT projector from all the projectors I’ve ever reviewed.), even if it, perhaps, still can’t match JVC’s best, (but must get very close).!

“There are always trade-offs!” For perspective, while JVC has long been the black level guys, Sony has typically offered superior image processing, most accurate color right out of the box (still the champs there), and also better 3D. But, as one would expect, over time, it’s hard to stay the champ, at anything. So that’s where I see things today.

Since I’ve been talking competition here, consider this:
Regarding black levels: I have never seen any home theater DLP projector, that gets even close to the black level capabilities of this Sony. Almost two years ago, I even mentioned that I had only encountered one DLP so far, that could beat the entry-level Sony VW295ES ($4999) which doesn’t even have a dynamic iris.

Most DLPs have relatively poor black levels – just “entry-level” like sub $1000 projectors. Acer had launched a laser light engine to emulate a dynamic iris. A laser (or LED) light engine is fast enough, a lamp is not! That Acer did have some good black levels, but that model is no longer available, and not replaced to the best of my knowledge.

695ES chandelier
Sony VW695ES: MockingJay 1, 4K/HDR. Good pop to very dark scene.

More recently, BenQ has put dynamic irises in a number of projectors, including models under $2000, and at $2500. Then there’s BenQ’s HT9060 – about $1000 less than the VW695ES. That BenQ was the last review I published. Even the HT9060, though, isn’t close to this Sony at producing the darkest blacks and near black greys, despite dimming the LED engine to emulate an iris.

HT9060 blacks Mockingjay 1
BenQ HT9060 - good blacks, but not a match vs Sony VW695ES. (note this BenQ image overall darker, due to exposure.

A quick comment on handling dark shadow detail: The Brightness setting looks to be just about right on the money, without adjustment, not surprising. Overall, excellent detail as you can see in both the Bond night train scene and in terms of 4K with HDR, the dark scenes from Passengers. I also did not notice any crushing of near-white areas, on 1080p although there maybe just a little on HDR (I notice only with certain EOTF (Contrast) settings.

Bottom Line on the VW695ES’s Black Level Performance: Excellent black level performance. Not perfect, I believe the top of the line JVCs can do even better, but, as I have long said, once black levels (“my holy grail of projector performance), reach a high level of quality, further improvements are likely secondary to other factors. i.e. sharpness, color accuracy, features, price, etc.

Next up: Picture Quality 2: 4K and HDR viewing, 1080p, Sports and HDTV, overall Picture Quality

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