Sony VPL-VW995ES Projector Review - Special Features 1

January 21, 2019

Sony VPL-VW995ES Projector Review – Special Features 1: The Laser Light Engine and Dynamic Iris, ARC-F Lens, HDR Support and 18 Gbps HDMI

The Laser Light Engine and Dynamic Iris

Sony uses a blue laser design with phosphor wheel, which seems to be the most common type.  The end result, is what we care about, which, in the case of laser projectors, includes some real benefits. The most obvious benefit is the long life – 20,000 hours to half brightness (assuming it is run at full power all the time).  This projector is designed to run 24/7 if an application calls for it.  Rotate the projector just about any way you want – no problem running it at angles, vertically, etc.  By comparison, lamp based projectors are very limited in their orientation.

The Great Wall - Sony
The Sony VW995ES - 4K Blu-ray from The Great Wall. Rich, saturated color and deep blacks!

That combination – long life, 24/7 and the ability to work at any angle, opens up this projector to commercial as well as home theater applications. Think digital signage, museums, and many other non-presentation or home viewing uses.

Not only can the laser’s brightness be controlled over a wide range, but the laser engine can also function as a dynamic iris.  This is true of all four current Sony home theater laser projectors.

That said, the VPL-VW995ES is the only one of the four Sony laser projectors that also has both the dynamic laser function and a mechanical dynamic iris. The combination, and separate control of both the dynamic iris and the laser engine’s dynamic dimming establishes the VW995ES as the Sony projector that produces the best overall black level performance.

Overall, the combination produces some truly excellent black levels – more on that, of course on the Picture Quality pages.

ARC-F Lens

The ARC-F lens is Sony’s premium projector lens.  I’ve been into photography most of my life.  I learned long ago, that there are lenses, good lenses, and really expensive great lenses.  I’ve seen the difference between a $600 Canon lens and one five times the price.

ARC-F lens graphic
A Sony provided image (which is nice). Nicer still is the sharpness and detail of the VW995ES!

It’s the same with projectors. There are inexpensive lenses often with plastic rather than glass elements, better lenses (all glass or maybe not), and really high caliber precision lens.  At the end of it all, the bottom line is what the picture looks like.

And the easiest way to describe the ARC-F lens’s effect on the picture is that it just looks clearer.  More “open” “transparent”.  If you’ve seen those 4K HDR “commercials” where they “faux – show” you what HDR does to improve the picture, converting an image from supposedly lower res and no HDR to 4K with HDR.   Well, the improvement a top quality lens brings isn’t as great as that marketing exaggeration, but this Sony, with its ARC-F lens, certainly looks like it has great optics.  1080i sports “almost” looks like 4K.  Part of that, is their Reality Creation detail and sharpness processing, but a chunk of that is this lens.

Columbia - pre-movie
Columbia graphic used at start of Passengers (and other 4K UHD discs). The Sony VW995ES comes very close to P3 color.

Here’s an observation.  The Epson HC5040UB I have here is nicely calibrated.  And its HDR brightness/gamma (aka EOTF) is similar (the way I have it set up) to Sony’s Contrast/EOTF set to 70.  As a result, when I have both projectors turned on, the overall color balance and gamma seems very similar.  The Sony is also a lot brighter, but that’s not what you notice when switching back and forth, (which takes only seconds here).  I lowered the brightness of the laser engine way down, so I had both projectors about equally bright.  And the Sony killed - even with half of its lumens sitting idle.

Epson 5040UB.  This image comes out a touch less saturated than the Sony. which in real life, is visibly superior, but also surprisingly similar.
Epson 5040UB. This image comes out a touch less saturated than the Sony. which in real life, is visibly superior, but also surprisingly similar.

Rather, the VW995ES puts up a picture that in many ways is very similar – similar color, similar gamma, and similar brightness.   But after all of that similarity, every time I switch back and forth, the impression is the same, be it a football game at 1080i, or a 4K HDR movie:

The Sony looks similar, simply much better.  Not night and day, but clear vs. slightly hazy, etc.

You might not think the Sony is worth almost 20x the Epson, but every time you go back and forth you mind will likely say:  Wow, that really is a much better (if similar) picture!

All hail the ARC-F!  And the picture clarity and sharpness it delivers!

HDR Support and 18 Gbps HDMI

The VW995ES first, of all, has 18Gbps speed HDMI, which is fast enough to do anything out there today, including native 4K content with HDR, running at 60fps.  Some of the older, less expensive Sony 4K projectors used 13 Gbps HDMI, which worked fine, except that configuration could not do 4K with HDR at 60fps, but every thing else.

Translated, that works out to a max of 4K/60fps/HDR, with 4:2:2 color sampling up to and including 12 bit color.  Or, if you want 4:4:4 that’s the only limit to 18Gbps, in that you can only get 8 Bit out.  This is true, to the best of my knowledge, of any projectors and OLED TVs on the market today.  We’re going to need a faster HDMI standard to do better.  I am not aware of anyone using an HDMI faster than the 18 Gbps.

Bottom line:  The VW995ES can handle anything 4K/HDR/60 that any other projector can handle, and more than many projectors.  That makes this Sony about a future proof as one can get, in this regard.

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