Sony VPL-VW285ES 4K SXRD Projector Reviewed

Published On: February 12, 2018
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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Sony VPL-VW285ES 4K SXRD Projector Reviewed

Adrienne Maxwell auditions Sony's VPL-VW285ES 4K SXRD projector--the first native 4K model in Sony's projector lineup to be priced under $5,000.

Sony VPL-VW285ES 4K SXRD Projector Reviewed

  • Adrienne Maxwell is the former Managing Editor of HomeTheaterReview.com, Home Theater Magazine, and HDTVEtc.com. Adrienne has also written for Wirecutter, Home Entertainment Magazine, AVRev.com, ModernHomeTheater.com, and other top specialty audio/video publications. She is an ISF Level II-certified video calibrator who specializes in reviews of flat-panel HDTVs, front video projectors, video screens, video servers, and video source devices, both disc- and streaming-based.

We'd like to thank ProjectorScreen.com for their assistance with our projector evaluations and testing. Their yearly shoot-out, extensive selection and helpful attitude makes our life easier when we need to dig in a little more.

For the videophile who demands a true 4K front-projection system, the search begins and will probably end with Sony. Yes, JVC offers the $35,000 DLA-RS4500 4K laser projector to compete in the ultra-high-end category against Sony's VPL-VW885ES ($25,000) and flagship VPL-VW5000ES ($60,000). But for those who do not have five figures to spend on a native 4K projector, Sony is the only game in town.

The company made big waves at the CEDIA Expo back in the September when it finally broke the $5,000 price barrier for native 4K with the introduction of the VPL-VW285ES ($4,999.99). This SXRD projector has a true 4,096 by 2,160 resolution, with no pixel shifting or mirror switching involved. The VW285ES has a rated light output of 1,500 lumens (Sony does not specify a contrast ratio) and supports High Dynamic Range playback in both the HDR10 and HLG formats, as well as Rec 2020 color mapping. Sony's Reality Creation and Motionflow technologies are also onboard, as are motorized zoom, focus, and lens-shift controls. The projector has a built-in 3D RF transmitter, and Sony's 3D glasses are sold separately.

At the CEDIA Expo, Sony also introduced the step-up VPL-VW385ES ($7,999.99), which has the same rated light output but adds an automatic iris to improve black-level performance, with a rated dynamic contrast ratio of 200,000:1. The VW385ES also adds an auto calibration function and the ability to customize and store up to five Picture Position Memories. Otherwise, the VW385ES has the same specs as the VW285ES.

Setup and Features
Much like its higher-end brethren, the VPL-VW285ES feels quite substantial in its build quality. It looks virtually identical to the 2015 VPL-VW350ES that I reviewed, which isn't surprising given that the VW285ES holds the same entry-level position in the company's line. The projector measures 19.5 inches wide by 7.69 high by 18.25 inches deep and weighs 31 pounds; the cabinet has the same shimmering, textured black finish as the higher-end models. The center-mounted lens is flanked by two fan vents, and the projector uses a 225-watt high-pressure mercury lamp, rated at up to 6,000 hours in its lowest lamp mode.

The input panel includes two HDMI 2.0a inputs, both with HDCP 2.2. It's worth noting that they're not full 18Gbps HDMI inputs to pass 4K/60p at a full 4:4:4 color bandwidth; Sony says that the inputs support up to 13.5 Gbps. This might affect how you need to set up your UHD source devices, but we'll get to that later. Like many 4K-friendly projectors, the VW285ES has no legacy analog inputs, and it also lacks a PC input. For control options, the panel includes RS-232C, an IR in, two 12-volt triggers, and a LAN port for IP control. The projector has integrated control drivers for most of the big names in the automation industry, including Control4, Crestron, and Savant. A single USB port is onboard for firmware updates and the powering of accessories like a wireless HDMI receiver.

The VW285ES has a recommended screen size from 60 to 300 inches. Positioning the image on my 100-inch-diagonal Visual Apex VAPX9100SE drop-down screen took just seconds, thanks to the generous lens-shifting capability (+85/-80 percent vertical, +/-31 percent horizontal) and 2.06x zoom. The fact that these controls, along with focus, are motorized makes it all the easier. Sony's SXRD technology is based on LCoS, which requires the use of three panels. Panel alignment can sometimes be an issue; as with LCD technology, if the panels are not properly aligned, you can see traces of red, blue, or green around objects and text. Sony does include a panel alignment tool in the setup menu, but I did not need to use it with my review sample. I was thoroughly impressed with how well aligned the panels were from the get-go.

The setup menu includes all the desired picture adjustments to calibrate the image, beginning with nine picture modes. Advanced adjustments include: four color temperature presets (D93, D75, D65, and D55) plus five custom modes in which you can adjust RGB gain and bias; 10 gamma presets; noise reduction; multiple color space options (BT.709, BT.2020, and several custom modes); and a full color-management system with hue, saturation, and brightness controls for all six color points. Within the Cinema Black Pro sub-menu, you can choose between high and low lamp modes and adjust the Contrast Enhancer function (off, low, middle, high). Contrast Enhancer automatically optimizes the contrast on a scene-by-scene basis. Its effects are very subtle with HD/SDR content, so I left it off. However, with HDR content, it makes a more noticeable difference, and I did choose to engage it at the Low setting to help the image pop it little more.

Sony's Reality Creation allows you to adjust the crispness and detail of the image, while Motionflow is designed to reduce blur and judder. The Motionflow menu includes six options: off, True Cinema (which outputs 24p film signals at their native frame rate), Smooth High, Smooth Low, Impulse, and Combination. The Smooth modes use frame interpolation to reduce judder, creating that super-smooth look with film sources. Impulse adds grey frames between video frames, and Combination adds both dark frames and interpolated frames. In my tests, I saw little to no obvious improvement in motion detail using the Impulse mode, but the Combination mode did a fantastic job with blur reduction--probably the best I've seen from a projector. The setup menu also includes Input Lag Reduction to improve response time with a gaming console.

The VPL-VW285ES has five aspect-ratio options: Normal, V Stretch (for viewing 2.35:1 movies with an optional anamorphic lens), Squeeze (for viewing 1.78:1 and 1.33:1 content in its correct shape with the anamorphic lens), and 1.85:1 Zoom / 2.35:1 Zoom modes (to minimize the visibility of black bars at the top and bottom). You can also adjust the projector's blanking. If you mate this projector with an anamorphic lens, you can designate a 1.24x or 1.32x lens.

The VPL-VW285ES is an active 3D projector with a built-in RF emitter. 3D glasses are not included, nor did Sony send any with my review sample. Luckily, I still had a pair of the recommended Sony TDG-BT500A glasses ($50) from a previous review, so I was able to perform a 3D evaluation. 3D setup tools include the ability to adjust the 3D depth and the glasses' brightness.

Sony-VPLVW285ES-side.jpg

Performance
My formal evaluation process always begins with me measuring the various picture modes to see which one is closest to our current reference HD standards right out of the box, with no tweaking. In this case, the Reference picture mode was the most accurate, beating out the Cinema Film 1 and Cinema film 2 modes by only the slightest margin. Any of these three modes would make a great starting point for your HD viewing enjoyment, but I stuck with the Reference mode--which, out of the box, had a very neutral color balance (just a tad warm, or red), a 2.2 gamma average, and a maximum gray-scale Delta Error of just 2.95 (any error number under 3.0 is considered imperceptible to the human eye). Its color points were also wonderfully close to the Rec 709 standard; only the red point had a Delta Error over 3.0 (it was 3.2, to be exact). With numbers this good, calibration is not an absolute necessity, but the process did yield even better results. With very little effort, I was able to further tighten up the color balance and get the gamma average closer to the 2.4 target we use for projectors (2.37), with the max Delta Error falling to 1.21. Through the color management system, I was able to further improve the accuracy of all six color points, with blue being the least accurate with a DE of 1.36. All in all, these are fantastic numbers, which equates to a wonderfully accurate image with neutral skintones and natural colors.

All of the VW285ES's picture modes are set to the High lamp mode out of the box, and they all measure within a few foot-lamberts of each other. Interestingly, the Reference, Cinema Film 1, and Cinema Film 2 modes were the brightest, measuring around 45.7 ft-L with a 100-IRE full white field on my 100-inch, 1.1-gain screen. One might logically conclude that modes like Bright TV and Bright Cinema would be brighter, but they weren't. 45 ft-L is pretty bright for dark-room movie watching; so, when calibrating the Reference picture mode, I switched to the Low lamp mode and reduced the contrast setting a bit, resulting in a more suitable 28 ft-L. Because this projector lacks a manual iris that allows you to further reduce the light output, that's as low as I could go.

Since the CF1 and CF2 modes are nearly identical to the reference mode in their accuracy and light output, either one of them would make a fantastic choice for TV/movie watching in a room with more ambient light. I did a good deal of daytime TV watching and was able to enjoy a nicely saturated image, especially for bright sporting events. Mate this projector with a good ambient light rejecting (ALR) screen, and your bright-room results will be even better.

Now let's talk about the VW285ES's black level, that all-important parameter that dictates just how good the image will look in a dark room. Overall, I was very impressed with what I saw in this department. The VW285ES served up a respectably dark black level, combined with good brightness, to produce an image with great contrast and depth. This Sony didn't rival JVC's DLA-X970R in its black-level performance, but it was still very good. I found myself wondering how much improvement the step-up VW385ES might offer, given its addition of a dynamic iris function. I did some direct comparisons with the older Sony VPL-VW350ES that I use as my reference projector, as well as the Optoma UHD65 that I recently reviewed--using scenes from Gravity, Flags of Our Fathers, and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Not surprisingly, the VW285ES's black-level performance wasn't dramatically different from that of the 350ES (neither model offers an auto or manual iris), but I did see a slight improvement in black-level depth in the newer model. It's also worth noting that, when outputting these Blu-ray movies at a 1080p resolution, I felt the newer VW285ES produced a slightly sharper, more detailed image than the older VW350ES.

Comparing the VW285ES with the Optoma UHD65 was interesting. The Optoma is half the price of the Sony, and in my review I lauded its good black-level performance when its Dynamic Black function is enabled. In the nighttime battle sequence in chapter two of Flags of Our Fathers, the Sony had a visibly better black level and a better overall sense of depth, but the black-level difference wasn't as huge as you might expect. The bigger difference was in the accuracy of these dark scenes. The Optoma's Dynamic Black function does alter the gamma and color temperature a bit, making the picture look greener to my eyes--whereas the Sony rendered a more natural-looking black and more neutral skintones and white accents. The Sony also did a better job keeping the bright elements bright, which is why the overall contrast looked better.

In terms of its video processing, the VW285ES renders a sharp, wonderfully detailed image that's very clean, with little digital noise. The word "natural" is spread all over my notes. I use a couple of scenes to check for banding and bit-depth issues: In chapter 14 of the Batman vs. Superman UHD disc, there's a simple shot of the empty Daily Planet office, with white ceiling tiles that can exhibit notable color shifting in displays with lesser processing--but not through the Sony. Also, in chapter 12 of the Sicario UHD disc, as the commando enters a dark cave with a dim blue sky behind him, the transition from light to dark was perfectly pristine, with no uneven steps or banding. Finally, as I mentioned above in the Setup section, if you're especially sensitive to motion blur, the Combination Motionflow option does a great job of reducing blur without producing the Soap Opera Effect of the Smooth modes.

Now let's move on to UHD/HDR content. The VW285ES is set up to automatically detect an HDR signal and switch into HDR mode. There's no onscreen icon to tell you that this is happening, though. The projector will launch into the HDR version of whatever picture mode you're already in; and really, the quickest way to confirm that you're in HDR mode is to go into the Picture settings and see if the Contrast control has a little "(HDR)" note next to it. Also the projector will kick into the High lamp mode for HDR, if it wasn't in that mode to begin with. Under Expert Settings, you'll see an HDR menu with options for Auto, HDR10, HLG, and off. The projector is set to Auto by default--plus, the Gamma menu goes away entirely in HDR mode, which I think is a wise choice. Some display manufacturers don't lock the Gamma/EOTF in HDR mode, which is just confusing.

I watched a variety of UHD discs, including Planet Earth II, Batman vs. Superman, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Sicario, and The Revenant. Of course the VW285ES's core strengths--its good black level, accuracy, natural color, and excellent detail--served UHD content just as well as it serves HD content. While I thought the Reference picture mode looked good with HDR, I preferred the Cinema Film 2 mode: its accuracy is still good, but having the Contrast Enhancer set to Low gives the picture just a little more pop that suits HDR (I thought a Contrast Enhancer setting of Middle or High was too much and added some noise to the picture). Due to technical difficulties, I wasn't able to measure the peak brightness of the VW285ES in HDR mode (see the Measurements section for more detail); but, in my experience with projectors thus far, HDR brightness isn't dramatically different from SDR brightness, so I'd estimate around 46 ft-L or 157 nits--probably not quite as high in peak brightness capability as the JVC DLA-X970R and definitely not as high as the Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB, but still good. A projector isn't going to rival a TV in the area of peak brightness, but that doesn't mean UHD content can't look great. It can, and it does through the VW285ES. I watched the Mountains and Jungles episodes on disc one of Planet Earth II, and the lush color, excellent contrast, and exceptional detail made them a pleasure to behold. In the nighttime Jungles sequence where we see the luminous fungi and the glowing railroad worm, the neon elements popped nicely against the black background, and the finest black details were evident.

Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...

Measurements
Here are the measurement charts for the Sony VPL-VW285ES projector, created using Portrait Displays' Spectracal CalMAN software. These measurements show how close the display gets to our current HDTV standards. For both gray scale and color, a Delta Error under 10 is considered tolerable, under five is considered good, and under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye. Click on each photo to view the graph in a larger window. (For more info on our measurement process, click here.)

Sony-VW285ES-gs.jpgSony-VW285ES-cg.jpg

The top charts show the projector's color balance, gamma, and total gray-scale Delta Error, below and after calibration in the Reference mode. Ideally, the red, green, and blue lines will be as close together as possible to reflect a neutral color/white balance. We currently use a gamma target of 2.2 for HDTVs and a darker 2.4 for projectors. The bottom charts show where the six color points fall on the Rec 709 triangle, as well as the luminance (brightness) error and total Delta Error for each color point.

I encountered technical issues when trying to measure the VPL-VW285ES's HDR performance. I don't yet own a true 4K test pattern generator; instead, I use an HDFury Integral box to lay HDR over 1080p patterns from my DVDO iScan Duo generator. This setup has worked fine with every other HDR-capable display I've measured, but the Sony projector won't kick into HDR mode unless it detects a 4K signal. I tried some workarounds by adding other devices into the signal path (like my Oppo UDP-203), but ultimately I just didn't feel that my results were reliable enough to publish and compare against other HDR-capable projectors. If you want to see some HDR measurement numbers, allow me to direct you to the calibration performed by our friends over at ProjectorReviews.com. Their measurements revealed a peak brightness around 1,600 lumens and color points that are fairly accurate but do fall short of the DCI P3 color gamut.

The Downside
The one performance area where the VPL-VW285ES falls short is in the deinterlacing department. Like many 4K-friendly projectors, this one does not accept a 480i signal. With 1080i signals, the VW285ES failed all of the cadence tests on the Spears & Munsil 2nd Edition Benchmark Blu-ray disc: 2:2, 3:2, 5:5, etc. Happily, it's easy to work around this issue: just let your source device or an external scaler handle the deinterlacing/upconversion process.

The VW285ES's lack of full 18Gbps HDMI inputs means it's not as futureproof as some of its competitors, especially for gamers. With the vast majority of current UHD content, offered at a 4K/24p resolution with 10-bit/4:2:0 color, the VW285ES's 13.5Gbps inputs will work just fine. But it could be an issue in the future, as more content is produced at 4K/60p and/or 4:4:4 color. Here's a real-world example of how the limitation played out. I use the Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk UHD Blu-ray disc as one of my regular test discs--it's the only current UHD Blu-ray disc (that I know of) presented at 4K/60p, not 4K/24p. Through the Sony UBP-X800 player, which was set to output signals at YCbCr 4:4:4; the film would not play in HDR because the signal bandwidth was too high. When I switched to my Oppo UDP-203 player, which was set to pass 4K/60p at 4:2:0 (which is exactly what's on the disc, by the way), the Sony projector handled the signal just fine. All of this is say that, if you buy this projector, you need to make sure your UHD Blu-ray player is set up correctly.

The VW285ES does not support the Dolby Vision HDR format, but neither does any other consumer projector at this point. Also, the Sony does not come as close to the DCI P3 color gamut as some other 4K-friendly models we've tested (for the record, nowhere in its specs does Sony claim P3 coverage).

Comparison & Competition
I'd put JVC at the top of Sony's competitor list. JVC's D-ILA projectors are also based on LCoS technology and consistently produce the industry's best black level and contrast in the sub-$10,000 home theater market. Price-wise, the VW285ES's $4,999.99 asking price falls right in between the DLA-X790R ($5,999.99) and the DLA-X590R ($3,999.99). JVC's models do not have a native 4K resolution; they use pixel-shifting technology. The difference will be most evident if you have a larger screen. On my 100-inch screen, I struggle to see a difference between native 4K and the pixel-shifters with real-world content. JVC's models also use full 18Gbps HDMI inputs.

Epson's Pro Cinema 6040UB ($3,999) is another pixel-shifting model that offers excellent performance. The Home Cinema 5040UB is essentially the same projector, sold through direct retail for $2,699. These projectors support both HDR and DCI P3 color (although not necessarily at the same time) and have a much higher brightness rating of 2,500 lumens; only one of the two HDMI inputs is HDMI 2.0a. Epson's step-up LS10500 uses 3LCD Reflective technology that's similar to LCoS and adds a laser light source (rated at 1,500 lumens) but costs $8,000.

Throughout this review, I compared the Sony with Optoma's UHD65 "4K" DLP projector, which is half the price. While the Optoma held its own against the Sony in its black level, the Sony clearly bested the Optoma in overall contrast, color accuracy (especially in dark scenes), and image processing.

Conclusion
Sony has a definite winner on its hands with the VPL-VW285ES. The big selling point may be that it delivers native 4K at the lowest price we've seen to date, but the more important point is that it delivers excellent-looking native 4K at the lowest price we've seen to date. Five thousand dollars is still a good chunk of change for most people to invest in a projector, and the VPL-VW285ES delivers a high level of performance that won't disappoint the vast majority of home theater fans. Hard-core enthusiasts may want to check out the step-up VW385ES to see the potential black-level improvement offered by the auto iris, and the HDMI limitation means that this model may not be the best choice for the forward-thinking gamer. At the end of the day, I wouldn't go so far as to call the VPL-VW285ES a game changer in mid-level HT projectors, but it certainly makes it harder for the JVCs and Epsons of the world to justify the continued use of pixel-shifting versus native 4K at this price.

Additional Resources
Visit the Sony website for more product information.
Check out our Front Projector Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
Sony Announces New OLED and LED/LCD TVs at HomeTheaterReview.com.

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