The VPL-HW30AES is Sony's addition to an ever-growing and competitive field of sub-$5,000 3D projectors. With an MSRP of $3,999, the VPL-HW30AES falls in the middle of this genre - a step up from the Epson Home Cinema 3010 and Optoma HD33 and a step down from the JVC DLA-X3 and Optoma HD8300. This 1080p projector uses SXRD technology, which is Sony's version of LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon). In the specs department, it claims a 70,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio and a brightness of 1,300 lumens, and it has a 240Hz refresh rate with 2D content to reduce motion blur and film judder. The VPL-HW30AES has a 200-watt UHP lamp and supports an image size of 40 to 300 inches.
The VPL-HW30AES is an active 3D projector that uses frame-sequential technology, meaning that the projector alternately flashes a full-resolution left-eye and right-eye image. Active 3D does not require the use of a special projection screen material (as is the case with passive 3D projectors), but does require special glasses that contain shutters which open and close in sync with the signal to direct the appropriate image to each eye. It also requires a 3D sync transmitter that sends the signal from projector to glasses. While some manufacturers choose to build the 3D transmitter into the projector itself, Sony goes the add-on route; the TMR-PJ1 IR transmitter connects to the projector via a LAN cable. The VPL-HW30AES package includes the transmitter and two pairs of glasses for the $3,999 asking price. (Sony previously offered the VPL-HW30ES projector with no glasses or emitter for a lower price of $3,699; however, the company says it will now offer only the packaged kit under the VPL-HW30AES name.)
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Setup & Features
The VPL-HW30AES is average in size, measuring about sixteen by seven by eighteen inches and weighing about 22 pounds, larger than a true budget projector but not unwieldy. It sports a center-mounted lens, with manual 1.6x zoom and focus rings. Lens-shifting dials are located on the top panel, just above the lens. Sony offers 25 percent horizontal and 65 percent vertical lens shifting - not the best percentages out there, but certainly respectable (especially compared with the budget Epson and Optoma models that don't offer lens shift at all). Adjustable feet, an onscreen setup pattern, and vertical keystone correction are also available. I had no trouble positioning the image on my 75-inch-diagonal Elite screen, located about 12 feet from the projector. I did find the manual dials to be less sturdy and a bit less precise than other dials I've used.
The connection panel is located on the left side panel (when viewed from the front) and includes dual HDMI 1.4, VGA, and component video inputs, as well as RS-232 and an IR input. There's also an RJ-45 jack to which you connect the 3D transmitter. The supplied remote control is long, slender, and fully backlit; surprisingly, it lacks dedicated source buttons, yet includes direct access to each picture mode, numerous picture adjustments, and the 3D setup menu.
Speaking of picture adjustments, the VPL-HW30AES includes the key tools required to craft an outstanding-looking image. You get nine picture modes for both 2D and 3D content, including three Cinema modes and two User modes. Advanced adjustments include: four preset color-temperature choices and five custom modes with RGB gain and bias controls; four color spaces (Normal, Wide 1, Wide 2, and Wide 3); nine Gamma Correction presets, with black- and white-level adjustment for each; noise reduction; advanced color management, which is oddly located in its own menu called RCP (Real Color Processing). The RCP user interface is not the most intuitively designed I've seen, but it does allow you to adjust the color, hue, and brightness of all six points. The Cinema Black Pro sub-menu is where you'll find controls for the lamp mode and iris. You can choose between Low and High lamp modes (lamp life is listed at 3,000 hours in the Low mode and 2,000 hours in the High mode) and four iris settings (Auto 1, Auto 2, Manual, and Off). The Auto settings allow the projector to automatically open and close the iris, based on the brightness of the image (you can further tweak each option by choosing between fast, slow, or recommended sensitivity). The Manual setting lets you dictate a fixed level, with 100 steps to choose from. The Off setting keeps the iris fully open.
The Motion Enhancer function is designed to reduce motion blur and film judder. You can choose between Off, Low, and High options; the Low and High modes use varying degrees of frame interpolation, so you will see a smoothing de-judder effect with film sources. When the function is left in the Off position, the projector repeats each frame four times with 24p sources to create 96Hz. Finally, the VPL-HW30AES offers four aspect ratios: Normal, Full, Zoom, and Wide Zoom. It lacks an anamorphic mode that would allow you, with the addition of an add-on lens, to view 2.35:1 films with no black bars. Overscan adjustment is available, but it's limited to only three choices (Off, Full, and Through).
In the 3D realm, you need to attach the 3D sync transmitter to the projector via a LAN cable. The IR transmitter demands line-of-sight with the glasses, so you need a long enough cable to position the emitter in front of the seating area. (The owner's manual says it needs to be CAT-7, which I did not have. I used a 13-foot CAT-5e cable, and it worked fine. Sony recommends a cable that's no longer than 15 meters, or 50 feet.) When the VPL-HW30AES detects a 3D signal, it automatically switches to a separate set of nine 3D picture modes, and most of the same picture adjustments are at your disposal, with the exception of the Cinema Black Pro options. The lamp is locked in the High mode, and the auto iris is turned off for 3D content. You can use Motion Enhancer with 24p 3D content, if you desire. A separate 3D Settings menu allows you to enable 2D-to-3D conversion, adjust the image's 3D depth, and tailor the brightness of the 3D glasses.
The two previous 3D projectors I reviewed were the JVC DLA-X3 (MSRP $4,500) and the Epson Home Cinema 3010e (MSRP $2,199). I found the JVC (which also uses a form of LCoS technology) to be an outstanding performer with 2D content, thanks especially to its great black level and natural color. However, its light output was somewhat low, which made it only average in the 3D realm. Conversely, the Epson LCD projector was extremely bright, which helped it excel in 3D but limited black-level performance with 2D content. Thanks to a very flexible iris system, the Sony strikes an ideal middle ground that makes it an equal success in the 2D and 3D realms.
Read more about the performance of the VPL-HW30AES 3D projector on Page 2.