Posted on September 19, 2020 By Phil Jones
Sony VPL-VW915ES 4K SXRD Projector Review – Special Features: Laser Light Engine, Native 4K Resolution, HDR Compatible, Frame by Frame HDR Dynamic Tone Mapping
What has always separated Sony’s video displays from the competition is superior processing. While the processing in Sony flat panels evolves every year, it has been a while since they updated their home theater projectors’ brains. In the fall of 2016, Sony released the highly rated, flagship Z9D flat panel TV with a brand-new processor, the X1. This year, the VW915ES and the VW715ES are equipped with a version of that X1 processor, optimized for projectors. The projector’s Reality Creation feature analyzes HD, 4K, and HDR content frame-by-frame to enhance detail, colors, and black level. The X1 processor ensures that Full HD is upscaled close to 4K quality.
The X1 processor also includes a brand-new technology called Dynamic HDR Enhancer to improve the look of HDR content. HDR scenes are brighter, with richer colors and a better black level. We will discuss Dynamic HDR Enhancer in greater detail later in this review.
The VW715ES also incorporates a new Digital Focus Optimizer, which digitally compensates focus loss in the image’s corners caused by the projector’s lens. While a Sony projector equipped with their higher end ARC-F lens will still deliver a sharper overall picture, this new technology improves overall focus by compensating for any optical degradation to improve corner-to-corner clarity.
The VPL-VW715ES is compatible with both HDR10 and HLG content. Since most HDR10+ and Dolby Vision content is either backward compatible with or available in HDR10, you will be able to watch most of the HDR content available on 4K Blu-ray disc and streaming services.
The second HDR standard is HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma), and it was developed for live broadcast, so you are all set to enjoy sports and award shows when the networks start broadcasting.
Sony has a habit of hiding major improvements under obscure names. The VW715ES, along with the VW915ES and GTZ380, all have a new feature called HDR Contrast Enhancer. By utilizing a version of Sony’s X1 processor optimized for projection, the VW715ES is one of the first Sony projectors that can analyze HDR content scene by scene for precise dynamic tone mapping of HDR10 content.
HDR consumer content (4K Blu-ray and streaming) is mastered for playback on a very bright flat panel, not a dimmer projector. Most 4K HDR capable projectors can only deliver between 100 nits (29 fL) and 200 nits (58 fL). This means no HDR compatible home theater projector can reproduce all the brightness (1000+ nits) found in consumer HDR content.
As a result, HDR projectors utilize tone mapping, which compromises maintaining bright highlight details and delivering full screen brightness. When the HDR info frame is detected, most HDR projectors switch to HDR mode with a fixed tone map. It is basically one size fits all, which hurts HDR performance.
Last year companies like JVC began introducing projectors with auto tone mapping, which automatically adjusts the projector’s HDR settings (tone mapping curves) to try to optimize HDR10 image quality. The goal was to optimize the projector’s brightness capabilities based on the HDR content being shown.
Since the metadata is static or often missing/incorrect, the projector’s tone mapping decisions at various points in a movie can sometimes be off. This can result in a dim or dull-looking HDR image.
For more precise tone mapping, the TV or projector needs the ability to measure the HDR content frame-by-frame to generate accurate metadata. JVC was one of the first projector companies to add dynamic measurement and tone mapping to the home theater projectors like their NX5, NX7, and NX9. This year, Sony is also introducing that capability.
Whereas dynamic HDR analysis and tone mapping is a new concept for most projector manufacturers, Sony benefits from years of experience since this capability has been available in some Sony 4K TVs since 2017 thanks to the X1 processor.
Below are a few screenshots comparing the new VW715ES against the previous VW695ES, which were shot side by side on the same screen. While improvement is far more noticeable in person, they should give you an idea of the difference.
A new version of the X1 processor specifically optimized for projectors improved details and resolution and made a noticeable improvement in the Sony HDR performance compared to the previous Sony projectors. HDR content is brighter, colors are richer, black levels are deeper, and bright highlight detail is visible.
When watching HDR content, sometimes brighter highlights will still be clipped, but Sony believes this necessary to keep most of the image on the screen as close to the director’s intent as possible.
You can adjust the tone mapping level (appearance) using the HDR Contrast adjustment. There are 3 levels (LOW, MED, and HIGH). I left the setting on LOW most of the time with excellent results.
BTW, since HLG is based on a Gamma curve just like SDR, it does not need to be tone mapped by the projector.
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