Back in the early 2000s, when commercial cinemas began switching from film to digital, Sony saw an opportunity to take a piece of the pie and began developing their 4K SXRD projection technology. Since then, the corporation has amassed greater than 40 percent market share in the commercial cinema space worldwide. In 2011, this technology began to trickle into the home and has been on an overall downward trend in terms of price ever since.
Prior to 2019, it felt as if the 4K SXRD projectors offered under $10,000 were compromised in some way. This year feels different. The VPL-VW695ES, priced at $9,999, sits in the middle of Sony's 4K projection lineup and, in my opinion, is the company's first native 4K projector under $10,000 that is practically devoid of compromise, making it something of a high value proposition.
Prior to this year, Sony offered a 200, 300, and 600 series native 4K projector in their annual lineup, with each step up offering improvements in contrast and lumen output. The 600 series receives a $5,000 price reduction this year, bringing the VW695's price down to $9,999. With the entry level VW295 selling for $4,999, that didn't leave much room for the 300 series (which sold for $7,999 last year), so it appears Sony didn't see a place for a refreshed 300 series projector. As such, if you're shopping for a Sony 4K projector selling for less than five digits, your choice is between VPL-VW295ES and the VPL-VW695ES. At double the cost of the VW295, the standout improvements the VW695 brings are an extra 300 lumens of image brightness and a dynamic iris boosting contrast performance to a claimed 350,000:1. These are welcome upgrades in a world currently dominated by HDR, which demands both high brightness and high contrast. The VW695 also boasts a Picture Position feature for lens memory settings, including shift, zoom, focus, blanking, and aspect ratio for up to five different screen sizes, shapes, and/or positions.
Other improvements this year, shared with the 295ES, include a reduction in input lag, along with software upgrades that result in improved performance for Reality Creation (Sony's upscaling and image sharpening engine) and Motion Flow (Sony's motion smoothing software). We also see the addition of fully compliant 18Gbps HDMI 2.0b ports. The previous generation lamp-based models had limited 13.5Gbps HDMI 2.0b ports, meaning they couldn't fully meet HDMI 2.0b bandwidth specifications. As such, at 4K60p, the previous models had issues supporting some content found on Ultra HD Blu-ray and HDR video games.
The VW695 measures 9.5 inches by 8.1 inches by 18.25 inches and weighs 31 pounds. Compared to some of Sony's previous, much larger, native 4K projectors, I found the VW695 much easier to handle when unboxing and mounting in the utility room behind my home theater. The VW695 comes with a large, backlit, fully featured remote control, giving you direct access to the majority of picture options you'd normally encounter during setup and everyday use.
As I've come to expect from Sony, the inclusion of a centrally mounted, fully motorized lens makes setup much easier than a lot of other projectors, which still offer only manual lens control. The lens has 2.06x zoom, a 1.36:1 - 2.79:1 throw ratio, with ±85 percent vertical and ±31 percent horizontal lens shift, offering a lot installation flexibility. Sony claims 1,800 lumens of light output, a 350,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, support for all common types of 3D, HDR10 and HLG HDR modes, along with support for REC2020 color gamut. The 280-watt UHP lamp is rated for 6,000 hours.
I/O on the VW695 includes the two aforementioned 18Gbps HDMI 2.0b ports, a USB port for firmware updates, two 12-volt trigger ports, an RS-232 port for legacy system control, a LAN port for IP system control, and an IR port for a wired remote control.
Pixel delineation, along with focus uniformity and convergence, were excellent on my review sample, an improvement over previous Sony 4K projectors I've auditioned. To get the maximum benefit from 4K over 1080p, the ability to clearly show all 8.8 million pixels is important, and the VW695 is clearly able to do that. The lens on the VW695 also offers a memory feature, called Picture Position, which allows users to easily switch back and forth between aspect ratios on an anamorphic screen. In my testing, this feature worked well and was generally reliable.
One of the things I find particularly annoying about most of the budget-friendlier projectors is the lack of a well-structured menu system, or menu options that make it difficult to achieve a reference level image. With these projectors, you'll see options in the menu, oftentimes non-defeatable, that alter the image in a negative way. Such options are often named something hyperbolic like "Ultra Color Boost" or "Dynamic Detail Enhancer." With the VW695, however, there aren't any non-defeatable image-degrading menu options, and the options that are there offer a level of control that do not degrade the image in an overt way.
For 2D SDR content, the VW695 offers a large selection of picture controls, including basic options like Brightness, Contrast, Color, and Hue, along with more advanced color, greyscale, and gamma controls. Preset color temperature options range from 5500K to 9300k. Preset gamma options range from 1.8 to 2.6, with additional HDR gamma presets. Gamut options include REC709 and REC2020. The calibration suite for color and greyscale is robust enough to offer a reference level image should you choose to venture past the preset image options.
Reality Creation is Sony's upscaling engine and image refinement software, and it's a feature I would recommend leaving on at all times. This software has been in development for almost a decade now, and sees improvements each year. However, owners should use caution and not adjust any of the settings too high, as image artifacts can ensue. In this case, less is more.
Cinema Black Pro allows you to control image brightness and enhance contrast performance. In this submenu you'll find lamp settings (High and Low), manual iris control, and dynamic iris control. Closing the iris will allow for enhanced contrast performance at the expense of light output. Once you set the iris to your liking, I'd recommend enabling the dynamic iris using the "Limited" mode. This setting will adjust the iris dynamically past your manual iris setpoint and adds a boost of contrast when video content gets dark.
For those with an anamorphic lens, the VW695 offers several scaling modes that support different anamorphic lens installation types. Users can employ a fixed lens with appropriate scaling modes for both anamorphic and 16:9 content or, through the use of one of the 12-volt triggers, can enable a motorized lens transport to move an anamorphic lens in and out of place of the prime lens. There's also digital masking in the menu system if you need to fine-tune the image to match your screen's aspect ratio.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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