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…
At this price point, I fully expected at least one mode offering relatively good out-of-the-box performance and the VW695 didn’t disappoint: it measured reasonably well in Reference mode for SDR content. After some light touchups, I was able to achieve a near reference image in greyscale, color, and gamma. Accuracy remained mostly under three dE after calibration, the threshold for perceptible errors.
After calibration, I measured maximum light output at 1,560 lumens. Like most projectors, light output will change depending on a number of setup factors--including lamp mode, the amount of zoom used on the lens, and how much the manual iris is closed down. Unless you have a large screen, I highly recommend using the manual iris to set a peak white level appropriate for SDR content. In my case, with my 120-inch, 2.35:1 unity gain screen, I settled with a manual iris setting of 30, in high lamp mode, to give me 14ftL of peak white image brightness. From there I set the auto-iris to Limited mode to further enhance contrast performance. Sony is known for having well-implemented dynamic contrast systems, and the VW695 is follows this trend. It’s one of the better dynamic contrast systems I’ve encountered on recent home theater projectors.
To get a sense of how well the VW695 compares to some of the other 4K-capable projectors out there, I pulled up some test patterns. In general, the VW695 performs well, although I did see it struggle a bit with some single-pixel test patterns. The popular Quick Brown Fox single-pixel test pattern not only shows if a display is capable of mapping pixels 1:1, but it also tests to see if chroma (color) information is accurately depicted. This is where the VW695 struggled, showing indications that some chroma information bled over into other pixels. I doubled checked to make sure this artifact wasn’t caused by mis-convergence of the SXRD panels. I also noticed some haloing artifacts around the white Quick Brown Fox text.
Thankfully, the only other noticeable artifact I found was when I pulled up the Spears & Munsil 10-bit gradient test pattern, which showed signs of banding. These are artifacts I didn’t see on the other native 4K projector I recently reviewed, the JVC DLA-RS2000. With that said, these are torture tests, and these artifacts aren’t something that will normally show up with everyday video content.
SDR content looked quite good on the VW695. While I had the VW695 here, I re-watched a few older seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones on 1080p Blu-ray to refresh my memory before the final season airs this spring. I let the VW695 scale the video to UHD resolution. Results were excellent, with no apparent artifacts introduced in the process. I set the Resolution control in the Reality Creation submenu to 10, which I found added a bit of extra image sharpness without visible artifacts.
There are plenty of dark scenes in this series and, with the help of the dynamic iris, the VW695 offered strong subjective contrast performance and shadow detail in these scenes. It didn’t quite match some of the LCoS competition from Epson and JVC in this regard, but I never got the sense the image lacked contrast. With some of the brighter scenes in this series, the VW695 offered some of the best image pop and three-dimensionality that I’ve ever seen from any projector.
I’ve always found the organic and natural character of the imagery delivered by SXRD projectors to be particularly impressive. On the VW695, this same quality is evident in spades. Some might call this trait film-like. I don’t particularly care for this term because, to most people, film-like is synonymous with “soft” and the VW695’s image is anything but. The VW695 seems to have the best of both worlds: a truly organic analog-appearing image that possess the accurate solidity that only digital video can provide. The combination of these traits is impressive and is something one would expect to find in a projector at this price point.
Native motion handling on VW695 is also quite good. Out of all the LCD-variant technologies, I find SXRD consistently has the best native motion handling. I’m a self-proclaimed motion purist who likes to watch content at the filmed frame rate. The 4K SXRD panels found in the VW695 offer excellent response time, introducing little to no added motion blur. The VW695’s video processing also recreates 24p film cadence correctly, with proper 5:5 pulldown, leaving purists like me happy.
I realize there are some who feel motion smoothing software should be on at all times, especially for fast moving higher frame rate content found in video games and sports. Sony has always been a leader in this area, offering not only software that subjectively enhances motion, but that does so with several modes to choose from. Impulse mode keeps the integrity of the original frame rate, adding black frames in between source frames. This mode may introduce some minor flicker, but in my testing, I didn’t notice any.
You then have the choice between the more traditional Smooth Low and Smooth High. These modes do introduce some soap opera effect, but offer large gains in motion resolution.
Then there’s Combination mode, which--as the name suggests--combines elements from Impulse and Smooth modes, offering a subjective increase in motion resolution but without as much soap opera effect. This was my preferred mode to use in my testing, offering a goldilocks sweet spot of additional motion resolution in a subjectively pleasing way that even a motion purist like me didn’t find too offensive. For those who like motion smoothing software, I think the VW695 will make most of you happy.
When an HDR signal is sent to the VW695, it automatically detects it and switches to its HDR preset mode and changes the lamp into its high setting. It also enables the projector’s REC2020 color mode, if the material is so-encoded. The VW695 lacks a P3 color filter; however, I still measured 90 percent P3 color gamut support in this mode, which is impressive. The VW695 offers a reasonably accurate SMPTE 2084 EOTF (Ultra HD Blu-ray’s gamma) and includes supplemental controls to help adjust the image to better suit the HDR10 content you’re viewing.
The Contrast setting in the main menu changes to Contrast(HDR), which allows you to change the peak white clip point of HDR10 content. Ultra-HD Blu-ray discs can be mastered at different peak nit points, so having this option is important to properly match the characteristics of each HDR video you’re watching. Without additional tone mapping software included, the VW695 displays an honest representation of the original HDR10 video up until it runs out of brightness to faithfully reproduce some of the peak highlights found in the image. This isn’t a knock against the VW695, as no home theater projector can currently meet the brightness required to faithfully reproduce HDR10 at normal projection screen sizes.
The strong SDR performance that the VW695 has carries over to HDR. With just under 1,600 lumens of image brightness and strong dynamic contrast performance, HDR content on the VW695 looks excellent. Using my Panasonic DP-UB820, I loaded the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of A Star is Born (2019). Thanks to its faithful SMPTE 2084 EOTF and accurate color and greyscale performance, this movie looked appropriately bright, with natural looking color and excellent shadow detail. Compared to some of the other HDR capable projectors I’ve had here lately, only JVC’s latest e-shift and native 4K projectors perform better with HDR content. This is due in part to better contrast performance, but also because there are more options available to tone map HDR content on the JVCs. Overall, though, I was very pleased with HDR performance the VW695 offered.
I had some difficulty getting the greyscale to track nicely across all IREs (percentage steps in greyscale). In the end, I had to sacrifice some accuracy in the lower IREs to get the rest of the range looking good. This abnormality is probably associated with the lamp having only 25 hours on it when I performed my calibration.
Color accuracy needed only minor alterations to get all measurements under three dE. There don’t seem to be calibration controls for gamma in the menu system, although installers/calibrators can finely adjust gamma curves via the Projector Calibration Pro software. Luckily gamma didn’t need much help.
Using a Minolta CL-200, I measured the on/off contrast performance of the VW695. With the manual iris fully open, lens set to maximum zoom, and lamp mode set to high, I measured 6,785:1 native on/off contrast. With the lens switched to minimum zoom, in high lamp mode and with the iris closed fully, I measured 8,239:1 native on/off contrast. I measured a maximum dynamic on/off contrast ratio of 78,350:1.
At its asking price, I would have liked the inclusion of a P3 color filter. JVC and Epson offer this feature for far less money. Having this extra color saturation is especially important as we move forward into a world where Ultra HD content grows on a weekly basis. Most of the content released in UHD/HDR has color that goes beyond REC709.
I would also like to see Sony include additional tone mapping software to attenuate the image to better match the actual brightness and dynamic range capabilities of their projectors as some other manufacturers are now doing.
While the VW695 shows visible improvements over previous models in this area, I’m still seeing some issues with banding and posterization in the image. These artifacts were hard to see with an 8-bit video signal, but became easy to see at the screen when feeding the projector a Deep Color video signal. While not easily visible from a normal seated distance back, taking a close look at the screen, l can notice areas of the image where groups of pixels share the same luminance and chroma information when they shouldn’t be. I didn’t see this issue with the JVC DLA-RS2000 I recently reviewed.
Prior to this year, Sony was the only manufacturer selling lamp-based native 4K home theater projectors. Their monopoly allowed them some leeway in pricing. This year we saw JVC enter the native 4K lamp-based projector market with two projectors offering similar performance and features at a lower price point compared to the VW695. I’d like to see Sony adjust their pricing to better suit the performance and features that their lamp-based 4K models offer compared to what JVC is currently offering.
Comparison and Competition
At the moment, there aren’t many native 4K projectors on the market. JVC is the only other company currently selling native 4K projectors, and the only model JVC sells near the VW695’s price point is the JVC DLA-RS2000/DLA-NX7. On paper, both projectors offer similar performance and features; however, the VW695 retails for $2,000 more than the RS2000.
As I noted in my RS2000 review, on the surface, both projectors offer a very similar looking image. The biggest visual differences between the two is in contrast and color performance, with the former being the more obvious difference between the two. When video content gets dark, the JVC has a clear lead over the VW695 in contrast performance. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as this is something JVC exceled at. The RS2000 also includes an optical light filter that allows it to achieve close to 100 percent P3 color gamut. With Ultra HD Blu-ray content, this gives the RS2000 a lead, as it can convey more saturated colors.
It’s not all better on the JVC front, though. The VW695 does have a lead over the JVC in video processing. It possesses better motion smoothing software, lower input lag, higher quality upscaling, and better smart sharpening through Reality Creation. These are features that many may find more important than a lead in contrast performance and, for some, may justify the difference in price.
My personal take is that the RS2000 is better suited for movies and TV shows due its advantage in contrast and color. The VW695 is better suited for sports and video games due to better motion and input lag performance. The lead each has in these areas are relatively small, but noticeable. Both are excellent choices, and choosing which to buy ultimately comes down to the type of content you watch more.
The VPL-VW695ES is an excellent, well rounded 4K HDR projector. It offers strong performance in all areas, including sports, gaming, movies, and TV shows. The complaints I do have with it are minor. In my opinion, it’s Sony’s first fully featured 4K projector to break the $10,000 price barrier. With the $5,000 price reduction over last year’s equivalent model, the VW695 offers a lot more value and should be high on the list for anyone shopping for a projector near its price point.
• Visit the Sony website for more product information.
• Check out our Front Projector Reviews category page to read reviews of similar products.
•JVC DLA-RS2000 Projector Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.