4K, next to OLED, is arguably the next big thing in home theater and Sony's new VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector is among the first to try to take the reigns of what is sure to be an interesting transition from our current HD-entrenched world. Before I get too far into talking about Sony's new flagship projector, I feel it is important to give you a bit of background as to what 4K really is all about. As a person who has been involved with 4K from image capture to exhibition, I can assure you there is more to the format than just resolution - even if 4K's increased resolution is what dominates much of the conversation.
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4K's origins stem from your local cinema, where it was created to combat the resolution issues that plagued early digital cinema projectors. Early D-Cinema projectors couldn't keep up with 35mm, despite being so-called "more advanced technology," so 4K was created. 4K refers mostly to the format or, in this case, the digital projector's native resolution, which is 4,096 pixels across by 2,160 pixels tall. Depending on the content's aspect ratio, the resolution numbers can be fudged a bit, but the general accepted standard is 4,096 x 2,160. But there's more. In 2002, representatives from the major studios, as well as the American Society of Cinematographers, got together to form a group now known as DCi. DCi's goal was to create and agree to a series of standards for digital cinema exhibition, standards that are somewhat fluid, but still manage to set a baseline that everyone can follow. In other words, DCi sought to create a level playing field. Looking past the copy-protection aspect of the DCi standard, it's pretty clear what else plays into presenting a proper 2K/4K image. For starters, the compression method used is JPEG2000, as opposed to h.264/MPEG-4 AVC VC-1, which is commonly found in many of today's Blu-ray discs. JPEG2000 is less evasive than h.264, resulting in much larger file sizes. Next up, we have a different color space in CIE 1931 XYZ, which is vastly larger than HD's Rec. 709 - seriously, the Rec. 709 triangle fits inside the native CIE space with more than just room to spare. Also, DCi standard mandates 12-bit color, whereas our current Blu-ray standard calls for only eight-bit color, though deep-color-enabled devices do their best to increase bit depth to 10-bit. What does that mean? Without going crazy with technical details, Blu-ray's eight-bit color equals just under 17 million (16,777,216) possible colors displayed, whereas DCi's 12-bit standard equals over 68 billion. Add it all up and it means that, when properly implemented, 4K should give you a visual presentation that begs belief, one that is both richer in color and contrast than what you can see at home, as well as one that is sharper in detail. That, my friends, is what 4K is truly all about: the combination of increased resolution with a larger color space that not only allows for more color to be seen, but color that is also more acutely defined. Sounds awesome, right? It is, and no doubt you've all experienced it, which is why having a true 4K projector such as the Sony VPL-VW1000ES available for home use all the more exciting.
The VW1000ES is Sony's latest flagship SXRD front projector, offering up a native resolution of 4,096 x 2,160, or true cinema 4K, along with quad full HD (QFHD), which may ultimately prevail as the resolution of choice. Regardless of 4K's final resolution, the VW1000ES has you covered. The VW1000ES is large, okay, huge, measuring twenty-and-a-half inches wide by eight inches tall and twenty-five-and-a-quarter inches deep. It tips the scales at 44 pounds, which puts it a bit of the hefty side among today's modern front projectors. From a distance, the VW1000ES is a beauty. However, closer inspection reveals a sort of mash-up of visual styles. For example, the rear vents look as if they've been taken off the new McLaren MP4-12C, whereas the top of the unit appears to have been lifted off Tony Hawk's skateboard. The front of the VW1000ES is finished in high-gloss piano black, which looks nice until you point the projector at a screen and turn it on - more on that in a bit. The VW1000ES' 2.1 zoom lens is center-mounted and protected by a pair of motorized lens doors that meet in the middle. Motorized lens doors are nothing new. However, I've never seen doors made up of two pieces as opposed to the customary one, which begs the question: why have two moving parts when one will do? As for the VW1000ES' lens itself, it too is motorized, giving you control over its shift, zoom and focus options, though there is no digital keystone correction present, which is a good thing.
In terms of inputs, the VW1000ES has the usual array of options, beginning with two HDMI inputs, followed by a component mini D-sub 15-pin analog RGB, two 12-volt triggers, RS-232, LAN, IR and 3D SYNC (RJ45) inputs. All of the VW1000ES's inputs are side-mounted below a mild overhang, with the AC power cord receptacle resting in the rear, also below an overhang.
Under the hood, the VW1000ES features three three-quarter-inch SXRD panels dishing out true 4K resolution. Because the VW1000ES is a native 4K projector, it upscales (internally) all incoming signals to 4K. The VW1000ES' list of accepted video signals is pretty much everything from 480/60i to 4K. However, since there is currently no consumer-available 4K material, or format for that matter, the VW1000ES is somewhat reduced to being a 1080p upscaling projector for the time being. The VW1000ES is different from JVC's 4K upscaling projector, in that the VW1000ES will accept a 4K signal when it becomes available to consumers, whereas the JVC will not. The VW1000ES uses a UHP lamp rated at 330 watts, which is good for a reported ANSI Lumen rating of 2,000. Other notable specifications include a reported contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. Along with being a 4K projector, the VW1000ES also handles 3D, and comes with a built-in 3D emitter and two pairs of active shutter glasses as standard - thank you, Jesus.
The VW1000ES' remote is a fully backlit affair, with hot keys for pretty much every feature and image control the VW1000ES offers. There are nine image presets that dominate the top half of the remote. Below the customary direction pad rest nine more hot keys for aspect, motion enhancer, 3D, color space, color temperature, reality creation, gamma correction, black level and advanced iris. There are three buttons at the bottom for sharpness, brightness and contrast.
I've purposely waited until now to discuss the VW1000ES' price tag, because honestly I wanted you to read this far into the review before potentially stopping. The Sony VW1000ES costs $24,999, which is more than my car. Now, I should mention that the next-nearest 4K projector in terms of cost will run you $175,000, which makes the Sony's roughly $25,000 asking price seem like a bit of a bargain. Make no mistake, the VW1000ES is aimed at a very specific customer, one who has high demands and exacting tastes. I'm talking about those with true, cost no object screening rooms and/or home theaters that many of us either wish we had or could at least buy a ticket to enter. Those perhaps looking for an upgrade to their aging entry-level or mid-fi HD projectors are more than likely going to have to sit this round out, which may work in your favor, as I later found out.
The VW1000ES was shipped to me shortly after CES, along with Sony's 4K "server," which was preloaded with a few clips and short films captured or otherwise encoded in 4K. I only had the server for a few short days and the projector for a week beyond that, so I had to pack as much testing into as tight a timeframe as possible. To do this, I enlisted the help of my friend and certified THX calibrator Ray Coronado of SoCalHT. I would also like to point out that Ray is an active member of our forum over at Home Theater Equipment, where he goes by the screen name RayJr., should you want to interact with him directly. Ray and I were unable to work out a time for us to get together with both the VW1000ES and the server, so I flew solo while evaluating the projector's 4K performance. This wasn't an issue, as I have extensive experience with the format - hell, I even have my own 4K footage.
My home setup for the VW1000ES consisted of the projector being set atop a Lowes hardware shelving unit at the back of my room, which put the lens roughly 14 feet from my reference 100-inch, 1.2 gain Dragonfly screen. I connected it to my reference Blu-ray player, the Cambridge Audio Azur 751BD, using a 20-foot HDMI cable from Planet Waves. I connected Sony's server to the VW1000ES via a three-meter HDMI cable, also from Planet Waves. I didn't connect the server to my surround sound system, for I didn't care how the sample material sounded, nor did I want to be distracted by it when trying to evaluate the VW1000ES' 4K performance. Obviously, for casual viewing, I turned the sound on, but that was only after I had concluded all of my 4K tests.
The second environment where I chose to set up the VW1000ES was in Ray's dedicated home theater space, which featured a 110-inch, 1.1 gain screen from Da-Lite. The VW1000ES was placed roughly the same distance away from the screen as in my theater but, more importantly, it was in near-perfect alignment with his reference JVC 1080p projector, which is calibrated to full THX specifications. Both projectors were fed the same 1080p signal at the same time, courtesy of the 751BD's dual HDMI outputs, and were even connected using the same brand and length of HDMI cable from Monoprice (and yes, the cables are good enough for this test). We did all of our tests silently, so as to not be distracted or swayed by the content's audio performance.
Since Ray is a professional calibrator, I had to rely on the VW1000ES' picture presets for my 4K tests and wait for my session with him in order to properly fully calibrate the Sony projector. Now, before you go off and begin dismissing my findings, claiming I didn't see the true picture the VW1000ES is capable of due to my lack of calibration, let me say this: you won't either. We attempted to calibrate the VW1000ES using a professional suite of Spectracal software, signal generators and two different meters, only to find that Sony does not provide you with any advanced picture controls outside of the norm. That's right: the VW1000ES at $25,000 retail has no CMS (color management system) control of any kind, which means that, as accurate as many of the colors were out of the box, there is no way to make them exact without using an outboard device, such as a DVDO. In other words, without spending additional money, the VW1000ES cannot be made to conform to either ISF or THX standards - forget D-Cinema. The VW1000ES' lack of CMS is an oversight on Sony's part and one that needs to be remedied immediately.
Now, out of the box and in its "Reference" picture mode, the VW1000ES did measure quite well. In fact, we found its picture quality in terms of gamma, white level, contrast, sharpness and the like to be near-perfect, or at least, closer to perfect than any other out-of-the-box projector we had seen in recent memory. Putting the VW1000ES in low lamp mode with the iris set to manual, the brightness was near textbook, hovering at or just around 16 foot-lamberts. However, out of the box and in reference mode, we measured a staggering 29 foot-lamberts, with low lamp mode dropping the VW1000ES' light output to 20 foot-lamberts, which is still too bright but more manageable. With regard to the VW1000ES's color space, it can display the broader DCi spec color space I talked about earlier, as well as Rec.709, which is our current home standard, if you will. The reference picture preset is set to use Rec.709. Ray's measurements showed that it was off - not by a lot, but by enough that adjustment would be necessary for the most accurate color presentation possible. In comparison, both Ray's reference JVC projector and my Anthem LTX-500 (also a JVC) can be made dead accurate in every regard and manage to cost less than probably the sales tax on a new VW1000ES.
Performance - Part 1: 4K
Since there is no viable 4K footage for comparison, the VW1000ES' 4K performance looked positively brilliant. The picture was bright, precisely defined and full of the kind of detail and texture that you simply don't get from 1080p material. Colors were rich, punchy and natural, with solid but not reference-level blacks, if I'm honest. However, the VW1000ES' color performance had little to do with its 4K prowess and more to do with its sheer light output, which during my 4K tests would've been hovering above 20 foot-lamberts. Those of you with screens in excess of 140 inches diagonal should definitely take note.
Read a lot more about the VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector's performance on Page 2.