Sony VPL-HW50ES 3D SXRD Projector Page 2
Last year’s VPL-HW30ES required an extra-cost, outboard 3D transmitter to trigger Sony’s rechargeable, active 3D glasses (also optional). The VPL-HW50ES has a built-in transmitter and comes with two pair of TDG-PJ1 glasses. Extras cost $130 per pair. You also get a spare lamp, which would normally cost $290 to replace. I confirmed that Sony’s less expensive CECH-ZEG1U PlayStation 3 glasses, which cost under $25 a pair on Amazon as I write this, also work well with the VPL-HW50ES.
The Sony’s video processing was impeccable, and it passed all of our standard tests without a glitch. The only oddity was a discoloration in the highest frequencies, most visible as a greenish tint on its otherwise pristine 1:1, pixel-phase test pattern—a common phenomenon with SXRD, LCOS, and LCD projectors. This was not visible on normal program material.
I did all of my viewing and testing, both 2D and 3D, on a 96-inch-wide, Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 screen (gain 1.3). With about 150 hours on the projector, the lamp on high, the Advanced Iris on Auto Full, and the Contrast control set to 88 (offering about 1 percent of headroom, clipping above a digital video level of 238), the peak brightness measured 41.7 foot-lamberts! That’s serious horsepower, suggesting plenty of headroom for a larger screen and/or reserve brightness for an ultimately aging lamp.
This was obviously far too bright for comfort, so I changed the lamp setting to Low and turned the Contrast control down to 70. The result was a punchy 18 ft-L. Both lamp settings, incidentally, were very quiet, and there was no stray light leaking from the projector’s case.
Two controls I might normally ignore helped significantly in getting the best out of this projector. The first was Contrast Enhancer. Used in its Low setting, it was sometimes effective in adding a trace of added visual depth to 2D material. But it wasn’t always a plus, and my decision to use it or not varied with the source.
The second was Reality Creation, a variation on Digital Reality Creation—long a feature on Sony displays. It’s been simplified here and includes two sub-controls: Resolution and Noise Filtering. My favored settings were Resolution on Min (Min is not off) and Noise Filtering on 25 (for 3D, I set Resolu-tion to 15 and Noise Filtering to 20). If you’re right on top of the screen with an appropriate test pattern—black lines against a white background—you’ll see subtle shading added around the black lines even in that Min Resolution setting. While the purist in me doesn’t like that, this shading was invisible at a normal viewing distance, and in its place you’ll see an increase in visible detail that’s subtle but significant.
Such processing can’t add detail that isn’t there, but it can make existing detail more visible. Unfortunately, it can also “enhance” any enhancement inherent in the source (and noise as well—thus the reason the control includes optional noise filtering). Even where the source enhancement is not normally visible, the combination of the source enhancement and the Reality Creation enhancement can add a slightly edgy and hyperreal quality to the picture. This was true even of some scenes from Baraka, a Blu-ray Disc I often use as a reference. So while I used the Reality Creation much of the time, to significant benefit, I chose to leave it off with some material. In some situations I preferred Reality Creation, in some I chose instead a small increase in the sharpness control (the sharpness was normally set to zero), and in some cases the picture looked best with neither. I never used both Reality Creation and increased sharpness together.
But with settings of these controls appropriate to the source, the Sony easily bridges the narrow detail gap that has, up to now, separated DLP projectors from LCD and LCOS/SXRD designs. And it offers the sort of black levels that no DLP, in my experience, can match.
Even before a full calibration, the Sony’s color looked respectable, and after a good calibration (quick and pain free on this projector, assuming you have the correct test tools), it floored me. Bright, computer-animated films such as Tangled and Brave looked spectacular in their 2D versions, and the rich black levels and deep shadow detail on dark, brooding fare such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 were exceptional.
The VPL-HW50ES is a rarity: a 3D projector that offers satisfying 3D brightness. For my 3D setup, I selected the Bright Cinema mode with the contrast control set to 88, set gamma to Gamma 9, chose the Maximum setting of the projector’s 3D Glasses Brightness control, and dialed in the Middle setting of the Contrast Enhancer. There is no Cinema Black Pro option in 3D; the projector automatically defaults to the high lamp mode and a fully open iris.
The peak brightness in these settings, measured through the 3D glasses, was 5.74 ft-L. While this is in no way comparable to the 2D setup (and less than 15 percent of the maximum possible brightness in 2D), for a modestly priced home theater projector on a 96-inch-wide screen with modest gain, it’s outstanding.
And 3D on the Sony looked even brighter than the measurement might suggest. Sony, like most manufacturers these days, uses tricky gamma tweaks to pump up subjective 3D brightness levels—an average of 1.42 here, in a world where the recommended gamma ranges from 2.2 to 2.4. That’s certainly part of the explanation (a lower gamma pumps up the midband brightness). But I think something else is going on here as well. Perhaps it’s an as yet unexplained psychovisual effect, since brightness below 6 ft-L would look woefully dim in 2D.
For whatever reason, however, for the first time I sat entranced by the images from an affordable 3D home theater projector without mentally juggling the pleasures of increased depth against a squintingly dim picture. Yes, the 2D brightness from this projector is still significantly better. But at last I was seeing truly big-screen 3D at home that I could actually enjoy without a constant itch to switch to 2D.
I did see a trace of 3D ghosting in a couple of places, but it was there and gone so quickly, it was easy to ignore. There’s no guarantee, of course, that some 3D scene on some 3D source won’t show ghosts (the phenomenon appears to be source dependent), but in my viewing, it wasn’t even close to being a deal breaker.
While Sony’s Advanced (dynamic) iris settings aren’t accessible in 3D, its 3D black levels are still impressive thanks to the dimmer picture and the effect of the 3D glasses. The only issue I found in 3D (and 3D only) was a low-level but (with the sound off) quite audible buzzing from the projector. Depending on your situation, this may or may not be audible. According to Sony, it was a problem with the 3D transmitter in the first production run. This had no effect on the projector’s 3D performance, but Sony is offering a free external transmitter to buyers afflicted with it.
The projector also has a 2D- to-3D conversion mode. As in other 3D displays we’ve tested, it’s modestly effective though not up to the performance possible with a true 3D disc.
Combine brightness with the amazingly deep black levelsits dynamic iris offers, with minimum side effects, together with near spot-on post-calibration color and compelling 3D, and you have a projector that can compete with anything else in its price range. And unless you’re trying to fill a 20-foot screen, it could well challenge models that cost more. Much more. The VPL-HW50ES offers a lot for the money, and if you’re shopping in this price range, it definitely deserves a very close look. Recommended without reservations.