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CES 2015 Day 1: Sony VPL-VW350ES 4K Projector

Sony's most affordable true 4K projector comes to the US - finally.   The VPL-VW350ES is the US version of the VW300ES that Sony announced at IFA in the fall, and started shipping in Europe not long after.  For many of us, that Sony did not bring the projector to the US for the CEDIA show was a huge disappointment.   Well, it's here now. VPL-VW350ES Lots of interesting "stuff" to report about the VPL-VW350ES.  Including special intro pricing through February 28th (see below). It is true 4K, it uses traditional lamps (no laser light engine, etc.)   It has motorized zoom, focus, (and motorized lens shift too I believe, but I'm not 100% about that last).  The zoom lens has an impressive 2.06:1 throw ratio for lots of placement flexibility.  BTW, what it doesn't have is Lens Memory, so for anyone wanted a true widescreen that's Cinemascope shaped (2.35 or 2.4:1), it will still work, but you'll have to change the image size via the remote to zoom, etc., not essentially 1 touch like the more expensive 4K Sony projectors.  Lens Memory would have been nice, but you can still get the job done, it will just take a few more seconds when adjusting the projector between the different aspect ratios. As expected, Sony sees this as more of a media room/ living room/ bonus room projector than one for a dedicated theater.  That's in part because there's no dynamic iris to improve black level performance.  If you are running a projector with more than the minimal ambient light found in a theater, blacks do, of course wash out a bit, which negates part of the advantage of better black level performance.   Sony distinguishes their HW40ES (no dynamic iris) from the HW55ES the same way:  The 55 for a theater, the HW40ES more for the family room. The VPL-VW350ES claims 1500 lumens.  Now that's a ton of lumens in a dedicated home theater, but if you are putting this Sony in a room without good lighting control, your choice of screens will be critical. Let's talk more about that, because the rest (other than pricing - a surprise for you there), is pretty expected - such as excellent color, and of course a razor sharp image, especially with 4K content. Sony had it set up in a ballroom at the Mirage hotel.  For the entire demo they maintained a moderate level of lighting - not bright, but not even close to dim, probably like your family room with the lights on.  Sony demo'd it with two different screens.  The first was the highly regarded Stewart Grayhawk, which is great at rejecting ambient light from off angles.  But, the Grayhawk isn't a match for some of the newer light absorbing screens such as the Screen Innovations Black Diamond screens (which are pretty amazing when it comes to that), or even their newer, less expensive Slate screen.  With the Sony firing onto the Slate screen, the picture looked pretty darn good, with that ambient light.  The Grayhawk, by comparison was (for that amount of lighting) still taking too much of a bit to the contrast, so it had a lot less pop to the image. As it happens, I'm installing a motorized Slate screen in my living room by the end of this month.  My room can be very bright, so it will be fun to check out the Sony in my place on that screen (as well as testing it in our very dark theater.  I should have the screen installed in time to include images showing how the Sony can handle a bad room when paired with a great screen, in the full review. Now to the really fun "stuff".  The official price of the VW350ES is $9999, and it is shipping to dealers immediately. But here's the fun part: Sony is announcing that if you purchase a VPL-VW350ES in January or February, there is an introductory promotion - you can buy the projector for $7999! Well, that should motivate some of you to decide sooner or later.   BTW I expect to post my review in early Feburary, probably a few days after Superbowl.  Plenty of time for you to read the review, and still get your projector in time for the savings! Sony also had one of the JVCs set up for direct comparison.  The JVC definitely wins at black level performance, but the Sony's sharpness/detail advantage was impressive.  The Sony also blew away the JVC in terms of color, but then, we already know that the JVC does some fine color once calibrated.  Of course the JVC is really designed for a dedicated theater, so it's a pixel shifting 1080p projector which is more of a competitor for the more expensive VW600ES in terms of usage. if you want to compare a pixel shifting 1080p vs. a real 4K projector. Bottom line:  It's hard to think of a "home entertainment" projector - projectors for non-theaters, as being $almost $10,000, but then it is the only true 4K home entertainment projector out there. That's it for now.  Stay tuned for the full review!

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