Projector Reviews

Sony VPL-VZ1000ES 4K Home Theater Projector – Picture Quality

SONY VPL-VZ1000ES 4K HOME THEATER PROJECTOR – PICTURE QUALITY:  Out of the box, Skin Tones, Black Levels and Shadow Detail, 4K Content, Overall Picture Quality

Out of the Box Picture Quality

Originally, when Sony dropped off the VPL-VZ1000ES for me to review, I was told I would only have one week, as that unit was needed for a Sony video shoot (an unpacking the projector type short video).  As it turned out, after the week, the shoot was postponed, so I got to keep it longer.  In the end, I had it almost four weeks, but it was extended about a week at a time.

That one week at a time extension never allowed me to have the time to have Eric calibrate it, which he always does at his location.  Despite no calibration I did adjust brightness and contrast settings, but not the individual colors or grayscale, other just a slight adjustment to saturation.

I assume that anyone spending the big bucks for a $25K projector will have it professionally calibrated (or perhaps they are fanatics with their own gear and skills). Fortunately, the Sony VZ1000Es color, right out of the box was very, good, but, honestly, not as dead on as some other Sonys, but then this was an early unit.  I’ve reviewed all the other current Sony 4K projectors and they all calibrate beautifully (and typically start with better color than the competition too.)

Despite no calibration I’m prepared to go out on a limb and predict that the VZ1000ES should produce a gorgeous, accurate image in terms of color, once calibrated.  I generally find these Sony projectors to also have a very natural look.  Natural as in: The picture looks right, notably skin tones – without any awareness of what the projector is adding to the picture.  From a practical standpoint, I found that without calibration the projector exhibited a very slight red-purple cast to skin tones.  That was evident with 4K HDR, BT2020 content, but with 1080p content, it was almost dead on the money without that tendency.

I watched chunks of The Hunger Games, both in 1080p and 4K.  The Sony looked great on 1080p, with very good definition and no sense of harshness at all on the real close up shots of Katniss face.  Then playing the same scenes in 4K with HDR, although her facial tones were a bit darker, there was a lot more depth to the image.  Skin textures were more visible, but not over the top, rather richer, and a bit closer to real life.

Daytime scene from Ghostbusters – BT2020 and HDR combine to create an image that is far more alive and has more depth than projectors without!

I did the same with several other movies.  With Ghostbusters (2016), the difference, on street scenes, in their lab, and, of course, on the streets, when all (ghostly) hell breaks loose, the two most evident differences were the BT2020’s wider colors – so much more pop, and building on that, HDR.  If you skipped it, check out the comparison images of a Ghostbusters scene between the Sony and the new BenQ I’m reviewing (4K UHD DLP projector, without HDR or BT2020).  The difference is really something, the Sony easily looks a magnitude better!

VPL-VZ1000ES Skin Tones

The skin tones without calibration are off very slightly with 1080 content, but as just mentioned, a bit more off with 4K HDR BT2020 content.

Of course, the process of taking a picture of the projected image, massively compressing it for web, and the color shifting of the camera, your monitor, etc, (not to mention the lower contrast of most displays), will have more affect than the amount the color is off due to no calibration.  In other words, anything that looks good here, will look far better in real life.

The first four images are 1080p or 1080i, or 720p content using the usual REC709 color space, while the 4K images are all HDR and BT2020 color space unless noted otherwise.

In the player above, the first four images are non-4K content, the last three are 4K with BT2020 color space and HDR.

VPL-VZ1000ES Black Levels and Dark Shadow Detail

When it comes to black levels, the VZ1000ES is more than very respectable.  This is a laser projector, which helps. Overall I would describe the black level performance as excellent – with the caveat that there are blacker blacks out there, but the list of projectors that can beat this Sony is short – basically consisting only of JVC projectors (black levels are what they are best at).

In the short anticipated time with the projector I did all my images quickly, and unfortunately for many of them (despite bracketing), even the brightest version was a bit dim.  I didn’t notice before Sony retrieved their projector. This is the case for our traditional Bond Night train scene (1st image in the player) which we normally  intentionally way overexpose, to help see how good the black levels are, and to reveal how much of the dark shadow detail is visible.

The Epson LS10500, the $7999 1080p pixel shifting laser projector I would say has comparable black level performance, and might just be a tad better at it than the Sony, but too close to matter.   That’s a short list, and if you want true 4K, that list is limited to JVC’s flagship, which is $10,000 more than the Sony (and not ultra short throw). Also the far more expensive Wolf projector an enhanced OEM built around JVC’s 4K projector, but it’s in the same price range as Sony’s flagship.

Dark shadow detail is superb.  As I said, I adjusted to reveal the most dark shadow detail, and folks, it’s pretty much about as good as it gets!  That, of course, is a very good thing. Projectors with inferior black levels have brighter dark detail, but this projector keeps those details very dark, yet still allows you to resolve them.


I watched plenty of content that is 4K, with HDR and BT2020 color space – all kinds of movies and other content on Blu-ray UHD.  I did not get the chance to try streaming 4K.

Thanks to some tips from Sony, I learned that the Contrast control when in 4K HDR, has an impact similar to a gamma control on other content.  By adjusting the Contrast setting I could open up the mid and mid-low bright areas a noticeable amount if I found them too dim.  Fortunately I really didn’t have to mess with that much because this Sony handled the mid and low-mid ranges with more brightness than any other 4K and HDR capable projector I’ve had here, except Sony’s own $60K VW5000ES, which, as noted, is twice as bright overall.

That’s fair.  But what really impressed me is how much better this 2500 lumen Sony was able to handle the HDR aspects, compared with Epson’s LS10500, a 1500 lumen laser projector.  That Epson is a 1080p pixel shifter, but here we’re talking about HDR and what it takes for it to really look great.  Whether it’s just the extra lumens, (the Sony measures almost twice as bright), how they deal with HDR, or some other aspect, when switching from the Epson, which looks awfully good, overall, to the Sony, thinK “OK, the big difference isn’t the resolution, but that the Sony handles the HDR so much better in those mid and lower ranges”.

Other than real difference in resolution, the Epson and Sony are similar in enough ways (laser phosphor engines, 3 chip reflective panels, 4K content capable including HDR and BT2020).  Let’s just say, that when HDR is in use, the Sony takes the performance up a level, because it rarely comes across dim, on those certain types of scenes where the Epson sometimes will.  That really separates the Sony from the Epson, in terms of overall picture quality.

Overall Picture Quality

The only projector to grace my theater that I would say is superior to the VPL-VZ1000ES is Sony’s own VPL-VW5000ES flagship (a standard throw projector) at over 2X the price..

There are potentially others, such as the aforementioned (standard throw) JVC flagship, which is $10,000 more.  I’ll give the JVC (even without being able to get a review unit) the advantage on black levels, but, as to other aspects, whenever I’m comparing a Sony and a competitive JVC, I have found in most other ways, that I prefer the Sony.  You know, things like skin tones, dark shadow detail…  That said, I’ve only reviewed two JVCs in the last three years (plus Ron did one).