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4K Projector Experience: Sony VPL-VW665ES with Samsung Blu-ray UHD Player, Using HDR

Greetings projector fans, I am pleased to report that 4K viewing at 124" diagonal, using Blu-ray UHD has come to pass here in my home theater. It is an awesome experience!

Sony VPL-VW665ES True 4K Projector - with 4K UHD Movies!

I still have in my possession, the true 4K Sony VPL-VW665ES projector (yep, the one that's $14,999), for one more week.  I have managed to get everything to talk to each other (not easy), and do some viewing, so I'll talk here about hooking things up, picture quality and specifically HDR, including a surprise there. I'll start with the connection challenges, but it's really the picture I want to talk about! And I have a JVC RS400/X550R that arrived yesterday, that Mike is calibrating, and bringing back here to me in a few hours.  I haven't tried to get it to work with the Samsung, but I know Ron who reviewed the top of the line RS600 has been successful in most regards.

The Samsung UBD-K8500 Blu-ray UHD Player

The first shipping 4K Blu-ray UHD player finally arrived.  (Ron got his a couple of weeks ago - he ordered before me.)  By late Feb, when I ordered, no one was quoting when they would ship, so I ordered from Samsung's site (their feedback was the weakest), Amazon (who also couldn't provide a delivery date) and Best Buy, which I didn't check out until last week, but they had a 3-5 day delivery time posted.  So by then I had three on order.  The Best Buy order was delivered on time, two days ago, so I cancelled the other two.  (Had to call Samsung to cancel!) The bottom line:  I've got two projectors here capable of handling 4K Blu-ray UHD here - the true 4K VW665ES, which is currently showing Ender's Game and the pixel shifting 1080p JVC X550R/RS400, which I won't get to try until this evening. In this short blog I want to report on several things.  I've also asked Ron to do a more technical blog about some of the fun and issues that have come up.  Ron can explain the why certain strange things can happen, whereas I'm more about not the why, but how to get them to work right. Getting the UHD Player and the projector to talk to each other.  My first mistake, of course - being an optimist - was that if I just unboxed the player, plugged it into the Sony, and dropped in a 4K disc, it would work the first time.  It didn't. Don't be discouraged though, there are factors to consider, but ultimately it only took me four tries before I got a true 4K picture up on the screen. 1.  First attempt - on the fly.  I powered up the Samsung, popped in a disc.  I replaced another projector with the VW665ES and plugged in my best, fastest cable, an 8 meter Monster HDMI (one of the two top of the line series that come with a future compatibility guarantee.  I powered up the Sony, and then went back and disconnected the other end of the cable from my PS4 (and the Toslink digital audio optical cable as well), plugged them into the Samsung player. Up came the Home screen, so far so good.  I selected the movie: The Martian.  The player started doing its thing, but then with one of those In Progress graphics up on the screen a message flashed about the display device (the Sony) not being HDCP 2.2, so the player was switching to 1080p! Argh! I tried various combinations of turning on the player first, the projector first, removing and re-plugging in the cables, I visited the setup of the Samsung and made sure 4K was selected (I moved it to manual from Auto) with no particular strategy, but on try number four, bingo.  I had The Martian firing up in true 4K. Now understand, my shortest "best" throughput cables here happen to be 8 meters, so my life might have been simpler had I had a nice 2 meter cable, but my theater isn't set up that way.  Yours may not be either. I powered down later on, and had problems the next time I tried - was starting to drive me crazy.  I double checked my cable and moved it from HDMI 1 to HDMI 2 on the Sony.  Again I tried different random combinations, including disconnecting cables at both ends, reconnecting, with power on, or off.  Well eventually I got it working again. Today, however was better. I decided to try simple first.  With the cable in HDMI 2 on the Sony, I started from cold.  Everything off.  I already had the Ender's Game disc in the player so left it there. I powered up the Sony, and within 5 seconds, powered up the Samsung player.  Almost to my surprise, and to my total delight, it worked first time today.  I'm almost afraid to power down everything and try again, so I don't plan to while writing the first pass of this blog. Once it's working, I have been able to remove one 4K disc, put in another, and no issues. There's all kinds of things going on here, which Ron can far better explain.  One thing he said though was at times the Samsung player is pushing out a 4:4:4 which most currently shipping 4K LCDTVs and projectors do not support...  Ron says there have already been two firmware updates, for the Samsung, with more in the works.  I remember the early Sony PS3... so I have hopes that once Samsung gets practical, and makes sure it works with the "least common denominator" with no issues (4:2:0?), everyone's life will be simpler. If I have issues tonight getting the Samsung to send 4K to the JVC, I can always call Ron for help. But like I said:  It's the picture I really want to talk about! As I expected, the picture quality is glorious.  I'm seeing these two movies in true 4K (no pixel shifting 1080p) with this Sony.  Folks it's that old expression that fits:  "That's what you are paying the big bucks for!" Clarity!  I slid my captain's chair so that I was only 7 feet from the center of that 124" screen.  Serious immersion, and not a pixel to be seen, or even a hint at one!   Oh, I've viewed 4K content provided with review units that are just as clean, and I've previously watched movies from a 4K download service, that seemed overly compressed, (but that was expected).  What I got with the Sony was "real" movie content, definitely seeming at least as clean as a blu-ray movie with high production qualities. Both movies have scenes "to die for" in terms of wowing us. Hooray!

4K and HDR!

Surprised! I saw Sony's HDR demonstration at CES in a hotel ballroom demo against other projectors.  I was impressed with good HDR, but I was not prepared for what I have seen in the last 36 hours.
The-Martian_Blu-ray-UHD_4K disc

The Martian is one of the first movies released in 4K on Blu-ray UHD. Awesome movie, awesome picture quality!

BTW, with the VPL-VW665ES I can go into the Expert menu (off the main picture menu) and choose to set HDR for Auto, On or Off.  This allowed me to compare HDR vs no HDR.  I expected a easily visible difference, but I was not prepared for how dramatic it proved to be. When I had first put on The Martian, I was blown away by the rich saturated colors.  At the very beginning I didn't really notice that the overall picture was fairly dark.  (It opens with Martian landscape, so it wasn't like it was a sunny day on earth where one has realistic expectations of how bright that would look in my theater.) Now I realized from talking with Ron, that HDR isn't likely going to work the same way on different display devices.  Remember, I got to see that in the Sony demo, but now I've had an epiphany moment. But first.  Obviously if one is going to dramatically increase dynamic range - as HDR is all about, we're talking a wider range between white and black.  If your maximum white is limited by the brightness of your display device, then the mid-range areas are going to be darker than they would be with HDR off.  (I won't get into black level discussions here.) My best way of telling this story is to ask you to think about 3D for the moment.  No, not about it's total failure to take off in consumer space, except for theaters and those of us with projector based home theaters.  Rather, the discussion is about brightness. With 3D you need about 3X the brightness to end up with an image about as bright as normal 2D.  Folks why do you think that all those products - JVC's Sony's Epson's etc. who's home theater projectors were mostly under 1000 lumens max (and typically under 700 lumens in best modes) grew to be 1200 - 2000 lumens since 3D came of age?  We didn't need brighter 2D in our theaters we needed the extra lumens specifically for 3D viewing. Well, epiphany time.  HDR is just like 3D, well, not exactly - I'd say overall, HDR seems a little brighter than 3D.  Still, we're going to need more lumens in future generation 4K projectors (and those pixel shifters pretending to be 4K projectors). Just like with 3D, I found the Sony VPL-VW665ES just barely bright enough filling a 124" wide screen to be reasonably bright.  I haven't reduced projection size to 100" but I'm pretty sure I'll be going - "better".  Of course  it's the size that gets us the immersion, so I don't expect to really view 4K movies at the smaller size.  I will "get by with the available brightness. Now the good news is that all the 4K accepting projectors are capable of producing an image with some really good looking color around 1500 lumens, which, btw is exactly where this Sony is - 1540 lumens calibrated.  So, at least whatever 4K capable projector currently shipping, you'll have at least adequate brightness. Back to our movie.  After some concern the night before about brightness, I had friends over last night for my first full length "'screening" of The Martian in 4K.  It worked out fine.  No one complained about the brightness, but upon pointing it out, one of my friends agreed - "a little brighter would have been nice."  Mind you, from a SMPTE / ft lambert measurement, we no doubt were right in the normal range for brightness in a movie theater, it's just the mid ranges were not as bright as I would have liked, which would have called for more max lumens. I at least use a Stewart Studiotek 130 which is 1.3 gain.  Ron's screen has less gain, so I have the slight advantage there.  I don't really think I could have watched The Martian at 124" diagonal if I had a 0.8 gain screen. But I digress!  The Martian was stunning.  I really must admit that I forgot about the brightness aspects by the time I was "into" the movie.  Perfect!  That's what immersion is all about - you forget about the room, the projector, etc. and it is all about the content.  So maybe a being less bright with HDR isn't that critical because the picture quality and closer seating, allows for so much greater immersion that the real world is basically forgotten. Update:  I have shot a number of photos - mostly from The Martian, but also from Ender's Game, using both the VW665ES and the JVC RS400. One thing I discovered, that I didn't think of right away on the Sony, was to switch it to BT.2020 color space from REC 709.  That had a minor affect on image dynamics and also resulted in a touch of color shifting (very minor).  Early images shot were with REC 709.  The martian landscape was a little more red, less orange when done in REC 709.  BT.2020 looks better!

Mars - 4K HDR image projected by the Sony VPL-VW665ES true 4K projector.

  The JVC's right out of the box attempt at handling these HDR UHD discs was dismal.  But I was warned by Ron, who's enjoying is new RS600.  He sent me a link to an article that provided some respectable settings for handling HDR.  I used those for the JVC photos taken.  I went with those settings, except for also reducing color saturation which wasn't mentioned (went to -8 from 0). With out either projector being calibrated for 4K, etc., the Sony definitely still had the better color, notably on skin tones, and the Sony's gamma looked good, the JVC looks best with Gamma B, but still obviously not right.  (Gamma A has all kinds of issues, and D goes super dark when viewing HDR.)  Standard and C seem to be to bright on the mid-range (seems more like a gamma of 1.8 or 1.6 - or that's my take, but the images will give you some idea. They are being resized tonight (3/31).  I will add few to this blog, but then start a blog comparing the JVC and Sony on HDR content in a separate blog this weekend.  I wish I had had the time to have Mike figure out the HDR related "mess" on the JVC, and how to calibrate 4K and HDR, but I was only able to borrow the RS400 for a little more than 1 week here. Ron will become the expert on HDR on the JVC line-up since he's more technical than I am, and owns his so he's got plenty of time to play with it. In case you are wondering, yes, the Sony looks obviously sharper with 4K content than the JVC looks with e-shift4 operating.  What did you expect - the JVC's "pixels" are four times the size of the Sony's!   Pixel shifting can be a benefit, certainly, and it makes a 1080p JVC roughly comparable to a 4K Sony when viewing 1080p content, but not with 4K.      


Turning off HDR was a surprise.  I knew that when I did that, the overall picture would look brighter.

And it immediately did.  Now normally if you have two reasonably similar images and one is slightly brighter than the other, we will have a tendency to prefer it.

In this case, though, the overall change in brightness is huge.  yet, the HDR off image seemed so washed out by comparison, that while brightness is a factor, I definitely found HDR on to be the more desirable way to go.  Whether the JVC when I try it tonight exhibits the same differences between HDR on and off, I don't know. But from the Sony demo at CES, and my conversation with Ron, I suspect that the differences will be, well, a whole lot different.  I'll let you know.


HDR - Picture Quality on Steroids

Those of you who have been reading my reviews for years know I like to describe really good DLP projectors as having that DLP look and feel, which I usually try to describe as a difference that mostly exists on darker scenes where I would say:  "provides rich saturated colors - including skin tones - that look great without appearing over the top.

Well folks, welcome to HDR.  HDR gives this Sony VW665ES that "DLP look and feel" like it's on steroids, and it's just as obvious on brighter scenes as darker ones, unlike the basic DLP perception.  You'll see that clearly when I put up the images, especially true on skin tones, but evident everywhere!

I may have to start shooting some of my still images for reviews using the HDR capabilities of my pro Canon dSLR.  Of course the problem is our computer screens, never mind jpg, and compression will probably negate most of the difference.

Attention Projector Manufacturers:  Warning Warning!

We need more lumens!  More white lumens, more color lumens.  Epson, JVC, Sony!  BenQ, Optoma and whomever else is building UHD (not necessarily true 4K) projectors, you too

I believe that all future projectors designed to handle HDR need to be brighter.  I propose a minimum of 2500 color and white lumens - post calibration.  And if you can deliver 3000  lumens, perfect.  That's twice what I've got here now, and that should do the trick (at least with a 1.3 gain screen at 124.)

Folks that's all for now.  I'll beef up this blog tomorrow once I can drop in a half dozen or so images from The Martian and Ender's Game  (or one of the other 4K discs I haven't opened yet).

I can promise some higher res images than usual (probably I'll post as 2000 pixels wide instead of the usual 1000 we use), and a HDR vs no HDR, where I'll "balance" the brightness for one pair, while shooting at the same exact exposure for the other.  (That's where I'll probably need HDR on my camera.  I may actually upload megapixel images instead of the usual jags which tend to be about 100K.

Stay tuned.

Bottom line:  I've had 3 chip DLP's here (not in a while) I've had top of the line Sony, JVC, etc.  Nothing compares with last night's viewing.

It's all about 4K!

4K Projector + 4K Content with HDR = Awesome Realized!

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