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Sony VPL-HW55ES Projector: Image Quality

Posted on December 7, 2013 by Art Feierman

"Out of the Box" Picture Quality

Things really don't get much better than this when it comes to the color accuracy of a projector before any adjustment.  Mike, our calibrator, said the VPL-HW55ES  needed only minor adjustment.  Even better than that, the colors look really good, not just "close".  Reference, I believe has the best grayscale. It's your go to movie mode, if you want "best" picture.

Skin tones were almost as good as some calibrated projectors.  That's not easy.  As usual, we provide all of our calibration basic settings, and the grayscale settings on our calibration page.  Our members may also check out our CMS adjustments to the primary and secondary colors.  We really just started taking the calibration to that level, in the past months.

Of note, the images below from movies were using the calibrated User mode.  The sports and HDTV shots used an unadjusted Bright Cinema, which I preferred over their Bright TV mode.

Post calibration, the Sony's skin tones look really great.  I've been watching this projector for three weeks, and it's reasonably forgiving on less than great production quality content.  Hunger Games in particular, also the recent Star Trek.  I haven't used a Harry Potter in a while, but that too didn't disappoint.

Past years, on both HW and VW projectors (except the 4K VW1000ES), if there was any tendency, it was slightly warm feeling skin tones. Not this Sony though.  I was very impressed with the more natural look to the Epson 5030UB / 6030UB, and figured they may have closed the gap, but this Sony still has the advantage.

Some may like the "DLP look and feel", but I can't think of any DLP projector overall, that can do battle, without spending far more.

Sony VPL-HW55 ES Black Level Performance

Sony VPL-HW55ES: Excellent black levels, note the letterbox. Dark shadow detail is very good, on the right, in woods and shrubs

Descriptions of the Images Above

As this review is posting, our newly redesigned site is a dozen days old, and we're fixing many things.  In this case, this special player designed so you can see the Sony HW55ES's photo and caption at the top, and each version of the same image from other projectors can be rotated through below.  Unfortunately, the captioning isn't working on the bottom so I'll describe the order of the images.  I've included the Sony VW95ES, the only one not converted to grayscale.  You can use that as a "marker".  There's no better way, yet.

Our first image is two "to the left" of the green one.  It is from the Epson Pro Cinema 6030UB.  The Epson UB and the Sony have been slugging it out for the blackest blacks under $3500 for a couple of years, but the Epson has generally one.  This year, they seem pretty much comparable.  And that is excellent.   The image right before the green one is last year's version; the HW50ES.  The new HW55 has a slight but visible advantage.

Remember, by the time the camera captures the image, software heavily compresses, it, etc.  We lose a lot of the dynamic range, and essentially that makes comparing challenging.

The VW95ES does have visibly better at blacks than the HW55ES, but that's one of the benefits the extra $2000 provides.  The first image following the green Sony is the low cost Optoma HD25-LV a projector that's rough around the edges, but has surprisingly good black levels for less than half the price.

The Panasonic PT-AE8000U has always had respectable "ultra-high contrast" blacks, but it's in its second year, and comes up well short of the VPL-HW55ES.


Scene from Skyfall reasonably inky blacks and vibrant colors

Even older than the PT-AE8000U is Optoma's DLP projector, the HD8300.  Good blacks, but not as good, and it does have a more visible iris action than the Sony.

Finally, our last contestant is a major competitor, JVC's DLA-X35.  This similarly priced JVC, another LCoS projector, can't produce blacks quite as dark, but it lacks a dynamic iris. Basically the JVC will do better on blacks in brighter scenes.  Still, it's the darkest scenes that are the greatest challenge.  I'll give the Sony the overall advantage.

Really none of the projectors shown here can beat the Sony but its more expensive cousin.  Also with better blacks are JVC's two top end projectors but they start at $7999.  A third JVC we're waiting to review.  That one at $5000 has the same native abilities as the JVC X35 mentioned but has a dynamic iris as a bonus.  We shall see how they compare then!

Bottom line:  While there can always be better blacks this Sony VPL-HW55ES, its abilities are so good that other factors do become far more important.  Again, I can't think of a projector with blacker blacks at or below its price!


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