Over the past few years, the 4K flat-panel market has flourished, and prices have fallen pretty quickly. The 4K front projection market hasn't exactly kept pace. Native 4K front projectors are still less common and more expensive than pixel-shifting options from the likes of JVC and Epson. Sony offers the largest collection of native 4K projectors, with multiple models ranging from $8,000 up to $60,000.
The VPL-VW675ES, first announced at last year's CEDIA Expo, is a native 4K, HDR-capable projector priced at $14,999.99. Interestingly, that's the same price as my 1080p Marantz VP-11S2 projector was about a decade ago. While I am still quite fond of my Marantz projector, the Sony offers significant real-world improvements in terms of both technical capabilities and performance. The increase in resolution to 4,096 by 2160 only tells part of the story. The VPL-VW675ES is rated at 1,800 lumens of brightness and a 350,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. It supports both the HDR10 and HLG High Dynamic Range formats (but not Dolby Vision), and Sony's TRILUMINOUS color technology produces an expanded color gamut. It features HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2, but they do not support the full 18-Gbps bandwidth needed to pass 4K/60p at higher bit depths. Motorized lens shift, zoom, and focus controls are onboard, and the projector is 3D-capable, with a built-in RF transmitter for the (optional) active 3D glasses.
A bright, high-contrast light engine with fast 4K SXRD panels is not enough to make for a good projector. Without a good video processor, there's no way you are going to get a good image, no matter how great the light engine is. Sony has been making large advances with its proprietary image processing and packs the VPL-VW675ES with the latest and greatest. The latest iterations of Sony's proprietary Motion Flow and Reality Creation processing are included. Motion Flow processing works with the panels' fast response rates to provide smooth images without blurring. The processing is user adjustable, so you do not need to worry about the overly smooth "soap opera" effect, unless that's what you like. Meanwhile, Sony's Reality Creation does a good job upscaling standard-definition and high-definition media to 4K, creating sharp and clean signals from lower-resolution sources.
The projector's industrial design follows Sony's recent projector designs, with a gracefully curved black cabinet and a lens centrally placed on the front face. A panel on bottom, rear portion of the right side contains the inputs: RJ-45 for network connectivity, USB, dual HDMI ports, HD 9/RS-232C remote connector, IR input, and two 12-volt triggers. The left side of the projector contains a discrete control panel in case the remote is not handy. An IEC power cable connection is at the back left corner. The chassis measures 19.5 inches wide by 18.25 deep by 8 high, with a weight of approximately 31 pounds. The manageable size, generous setup tools, and front-mounted exhaust allow a great deal of flexibility in placement options.
Sony sent the VPL-VW675ES to me in a large Pelican case, along with one of its XMP-F10 media players. I placed the projector on an equipment stand approximately 16 feet from a 100-inch-diagonal Stewart StudioTek 100 screen. The projector's built-in test patterns and motorized lens helped me get the lens position and focus dialed in quickly. The lens has a 2.06x zoom range and can shift the image 33 percent to the right or left and 85 percent up or down (with 16:9 images, the percentages are slightly different for 2.35:1); this significant amount of movement coupled with the normal complement of image inversion options (for ceiling- or rear-projection setups) makes the projector very flexible with regard to positioning. While there is significant lens shift available, it has been my experience over the years that the less the image is shifted the better.
In addition to the XMP-F10 media player, I was fortunate to have OPPO Digital lend me the UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray player. (I used the OPPO BDP-95 until the UDP-203 arrived.) I connected my source devices using HDMI to a Marantz AV-7703 pre/pro (review coming soon), which I then fed to the projector via HDMI.
I had the projector for a while before the OPPO UHD player arrived, so I broke it in with some 4K Netflix streamed through the FMP-X10 player, as well as some regular high-definition Blu-ray discs and DirecTV content. I immediately noticed that the Sony was much brighter and more vibrant than the older 1080p projectors I had been using. I put quite a few hours on the VW675ES before having a full calibration done by David Abrams at AVICAL (see the Measurements section on page two for the numbers). While I suspect that most people spending $15,000 on a projector will have it professionally installed and calibrated, it looks quite good straight out of the box in the Reference picture mode. I used patterns from the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray test disc to do some basic adjustments, then I started watching.
Before getting into image quality, there are a few quality-of-life issues I noted with the projector. It's very quiet, the front venting allows for flexibility in positioning, and the minimal light bleed was diverted off at an angle to keep it from hitting the screen.
Watching the Rose Bowl on the VPL-VW765ES was quite enjoyable. Not only was it a great game with the USC Trojans coming out on top, the picture looked great. With more than twice as many lumens as my reference Marantz VP-11S2, watching the game on the VPL-VW675ES was more like watching the game on a giant flat panel than a projector. The field and uniform colors were bright and vibrant. The picture wasn't washed out even with the lights on. The non-4K source material also gave the Sony's video processing a workout. Judicious use of the Motion Flow and Reality Creation resulted in a picture with no visible blurring and minimal artifacts.
I upgraded my Netflix subscription to include 4K material and watched a bit of Breaking Bad and Blacklist. The picture quality was inconsistent, despite my Internet download speed being in excess of 100 Mbps. (Netflix says that 25 Mbps is sufficient for 4K video streaming.) For the most part, the video quality was quite good, especially with the Blacklist episodes, which had noticeably more detail than the non-4K versions. The downside was that there were more instances of banding, blocking, and other artifacts than with the non-4k streams. Netflix's Daredevil is a 4K HDR stream, and I saw increased color range and clarity. Since streaming video services scale the signal to match your bandwidth, your results may differ from mine.
I obtained a few 4K UHD movies along with their Blu-ray counterparts, which I watched on the Oppo UDP-203 when it arrived. I set the OPPO to output the native signal so that the upconversion of the 1080p Blu-ray discs was done within the projector. Arrival is a movie where alien spaceships land around the world. The movie, with few exceptions, did not blow me away with detail or vibrant colors. The space scenes showed off impressive black levels, which were barely visible next to the black bars in the 2.35:1 image. The Sony was able to take advantage of the HDR disc, rendering noticeably improved shadow details compared with the Blu-ray disc. The Sony did a good job upconverting the Blu-ray to 4K resolution, but the UHD disc still had a sharper image, which provided a more three-dimensional picture with greater depth.
Sticking with space-themed movies, I then watched Star Trek Beyond. The Sony projector easily depicted the greater detail and enhanced color range of the HDR UHD. Without giving away the plot, there is a scene in which a spaceship goes over a cliff and crashes through the forest. While watching the UHD version of the movie, there was loads of three-dimensional detail, despite all of the rapidly moving image components. This detail also provided great depth of image, particularly in the space city scenes with all of the flying ships at different distances (this somewhat reminded me of the Leeloo escape scene in The Fifth Element). As it did with the Arrival disc, the Sony was able to take advantage of the additional information in the HDR signal and provide significantly more shadow detail in the UHD version compared with Blu-ray.
Finishing up, I stayed with another space movie, The Martian. This is a move that I already had on Blu-ray and had watched on my Marantz VP-11S2 projector. Even with the 1080p Blu-ray, I preferred the image the Sony projected. The upscaled Blu-ray was not as sharp or clean as the 4K disc, and it did not have the increased color range of the HDR disc, but there was a slight gain in apparent detail through the Sony 4K projector. This was noticeable with the detail in the Martian landscapes, as well as close-ups of faces. The Sony's increased brightness and dynamic range were also evident. The bright reflections of the sunlight off of the solar panel and visors were extremely vibrant through the Sony. On the other end of the spectrum, the shadow detail of the darker interior scenes on the 4K HDR disc was extremely good, giving the image more depth.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...