Going through Sony's current 4K SXRD projector lineup, looking solely at the specifications listed for each model, it can be difficult to discern what you're actually getting for the extra money when stepping up to their pricier models. It's confusing, because all of Sony's premium models feature native 4K resolution, high contrast, HDR compatibility, and many of them share a similar level of light output. So, why would you spend $35,000 on Sony's VPL-VW995ES when you can get many of the same features for $5,000?
For starters, the VPL-VW995ES features the company's tried and true fully motorized ARC-F lens. This is the same lens found in a number of older, now discontinued, 4K SXRD projectors, as well as the company's current flagship model, the $60,0000 VPL-VW5000ES. Compared to the lenses used in Sony's cheaper 4K models, this one features 18 all-glass elements, higher quality optical coatings for reduced chromatic aberration, a much larger exit element for better focus uniformity, and offers a wider throw range with more shift capability (1.35:1 to 2.90:1 throw, with ±80 percent vertical and ±31 percent shift respectively). It's just a great lens all around, something you'd expect to see from a Sony projector at this price point.
Sony has also ditched the lamp-based light engine found on its more affordable models and replaced it with one featuring the company's Z-Phosphor laser light source. Z-Phosphor is Sony-talk for blue laser diodes hitting phosphor to create light. In theory, this type of light source has more linear light loss over time and better image stability from a calibration standpoint when compared to a more traditional UHP lamp-based projector. Sony is claiming up to 2,200 lumens of light from this iteration of Z-Phosphor, and owners can expect at least 20,000 hours of use before excessive light loss occurs.
For better contrast performance, Sony leverages control of both the laser light source and lens iris inside the 995ES for what they call Dual Contrast Control. With two independent dynamic contrast systems available, Sony can more efficiently control light entering and leaving the light engine to boost contrast. What's more, Sony can turn the laser diodes off completely when an all-black image is detected, making the dynamic contrast ratio of the projector functionally infinite, at least in theory.
As we've come to expect from Sony, the 995ES includes two full-bandwidth 18Gbps HDMI 2.0b ports, support for HDR10 and HLG HDR formats, and continued support for all major 3D formats. Additionally, you'll find software control for lens memories, MotionFlow creative frame interpolation, vertical stretch modes for anamorphic lenses, a low input lag gaming mode, a full color management system, and Sony's Reality Creation upscaling and image enhancement software engine.
One software addition new for Sony projectors this year is something called Digital Focus Optimizer. DFO works by enhancing image sharpness exponentially from the center on outwards towards the edges of the image. The software is meant to help offset focus non-uniformity, something more common with lenses found in lower cost projectors, so I don't know how useful owners will find it on the 995ES.
During the setup process, this thought process was reinforced, as I found that the projector needed no help whatsoever from DFO or Reality Creation smart sharpening software. The lens on its own has a reference level of pixel delineation and focus uniformity across the entire image. However, you can still play around with these software features to see if you prefer the look with them enabled.
During its time here, the 995ES was set up in a well-treated dedicated theater and was projected on a 130-inch 2.35:1 EluneVision Reference Studio 4K fixed frame screen. For calibration and measurements, I used an X-Rite i1Pro2 photospectrometer and Minolta CL-200 illuminance meter.
As one would expect from any display costing as much as the 995ES, the image it throws on screen is nothing short of breathtaking. When paired with a high-quality projection screen and used in a properly treated theater, the 995ES offers a level of performance that should satisfy all but the pickiest of videophiles. Not only did I find its image to possess an excellent level of dynamic range, the image always had excellent clarity and apparent sharpness.
The 995ES also has a natural and organic aesthetic to its image that is hard to quantify. Similar to my reference JVC DLA-NX9 (reviewed here), the 995ES, while technically a digital display, appears purely analog, as if it were projecting a film negative on screen instead. I think this image quality trait can be attributed to the high pixel count and high pixel fill of the native 4K LCoS display technologies used in these projectors. While I absolutely love my OLED television, this analog aesthetic is something I've never seen any flat panel display recreate.
After taking a look at the objective performance of the 995ES, I was pleased with what I found. For SDR content, the projector's aptly named Reference image mode offered the best out of the box color and greyscale performance, with delta errors averaging only 3.2 and 3.5 respectively, so I used this mode as a starting point for calibration. With just a few light touch ups, the 995ES offers reference performance with average delta errors tracking below 2.0, easily adhering to the industry standard D65 white point and reaching full coverage of the REC709 color space. Gamma tracked fairly close to 2.2, but only after selecting the projector's 2.4 gamma preset.
For HDR10, the 995ES offers a REC2020 compatibility mode. Though, because the projector lacks a P3 color filter and a light source capable of deep color saturation, I found the projector could only reach 88 percent coverage of the P3 gamut within the REC2020 triangle after calibration. SMPTE 2084 EOTF tracking was spot on, however, until the projector ran out of image brightness.
After calibration, I measured the projector's peak white luminance at 1,525 lumens when placing the projector's lens at maximum zoom and setting the laser light source to 100 percent output. This is a fairly competitive number relative to other high-contrast home theater projectors currently on the market. If you're willing to sacrifice image accuracy, the 995ES can output more light, closer to Sony's specified 2,200 lumens, but you'll need to use one of the less accurate Bright image modes to get there. If this is too much light for your tastes, Sony allows you to dim the laser in one-percent increments.
For contrast, I found that setting the projector's lens to minimum zoom and with the laser set to maximum output offered the most native contrast. Setup like this, I measured the projector's peak on/off contrast ratio at 15,216:1. This is excellent performance, only bested by a handful of other projectors currently on the market. Enabling the projector's Limited dynamic contrast mode doubled on/off contrast, however, I found that contrast was only improved when an all-black image was detected. After placing a single white pixel on screen, the black level raised back to where the projector measured in for its native contrast measurement. This means that with regular video content on screen, Limited mode won't help boost contrast.
Switching to Full dynamic contrast mode allows owners to take advantage of Sony's Dual Contrast Control system. Unlike Limited mode, Full will boost contrast with real world video. Doing the same single white pixel test, I found on/off contrast doubled to just over 30,000:1. So, in this mode, owners can expect up to twice the amount of contrast with real video content. However, when an all-black image is detected for more than a few frames, the laser diodes shut off, technically giving the projector infinite contrast as specified by Sony. In practice, however, I did witness some jarring transitions in and out of black. For instance, if a movie has opening credits with fade ins and outs, it's clear there is a dynamic contrast system in use. As the projector transitions in and out of black, it's plainly obvious that the next level of black up is nowhere near as dark. This type of content rarely happens during a movie or television show, though, so the added benefit that Full mode offers with real world video content is well worth the occasional hiccup.
Because the dynamic contrast multiplier is so low with real world video, dark content doesn't suffer from compressed highlights or visible clipping caused by excessive gamma shifts. The roughly 30,000:1 on/off contrast the projector has to work with looks excellent with all but the darkest video content. Even star fields, like you'd find at the beginning of a Star Wars movie, looked excellent. The star points at the beginning of Episode VI, for instance, had excellent dynamic range against what appeared to be a true-black background of space.
When the projector detects HDR content, it automatically changes image settings within the image mode you're currently using to try and correctly display the video. It's a little odd that the projector doesn't have a dedicated HDR mode, but at least it will change color space, contrast, and gamma settings automatically to compensate. It's also worth noting that the projector doesn't offer a dynamic tone mapping mode like the current 4K JVC projectors do, but the static tone mapping image options do offer enough control to give a satisfying HDR experience. Unlike JVC's dynamic tonemapping, to get the best HDR imagery from the 995ES you'll need to adjust settings on a movie-by-movie basis. Though, I suspect owners will find a single set of settings that looks pretty good for almost all HDR content.
I would advise you to take advantage of the Contrast Enhance option in the menu system with HDR content, as it greatly boosts the HDR effect for more satisfying apparent dynamic range and color saturation. I did notice some clipping within the image on occasion when using the Medium and High settings, though, so tread lightly.
The only major complaint I have with the 995ES is something that has plagued 4K SXRD projectors since their inception: If you're viewing the image close to the screen, you can make out banding and posterization. Let me be clear: This issue has gotten much better over the years, but it's still not fully resolved and is something I feel is worth pointing out, especially when you consider the cost of the 995ES. Test patterns reveal that this artifact wipes away a fine layer of detail that's supposed to be present throughout the image. No settings in the menu remove the issue. I will admit it's difficult to see from a normal viewing distance, so I suspect most owners won't notice the problem at all, aside from perhaps some banding in areas of an image that share similar color information, such as a blue sky in the background of a shot.
Comparisons and Competition
Based on price alone, you might assume the 995ES' closest competitor would be JVC's DLA-RS4500. The RS4500, though, is considerably brighter, with close to 2500 calibrated lumens when placed in a mode with similar color saturation. This means the RS4500 can be placed in theaters with much larger screens. For this reason alone, I think a more appropriate comparison to be made is against JVC's DLA-NX9. Both of these projectors are native 4K, reach similar levels of calibrated light output, have reference level optics, and feature many of the same video processing and software features.
The NX9 has a noticeable advantage when it comes to on/off contrast (both native and usable dynamic contrast), as well as color saturation, thanks to the inclusion of a P3 color filter. JVC's dynamic tonemapping software also places stock performance with HDR content well ahead of what the 995ES offers. Unless you add in an outboard video processing solution, such as a Lumagen Pro or madVR Envy to dynamically tonemap HDR, the JVC is just better suited on its own to handle HDR content at the moment. It's a set-it-and-forget it solution. The 995ES will require manual adjustment to achieve best results.
Not everything is better with the JVC, though. I did find Sony's ARC-F lens to be ever so slightly sharper than the NX9's. With brighter content, the Sony also has a bit more pop within the image. I attribute this to the 995ES offering better ANSI contrast performance. These two advantages give brighter content especially more of that "looking through a window" quality.
Pixel response time is also better with SXRD when compared to JVC's D-ILA technology (2.5 milliseconds versus 4 milliseconds). In practice, I found native motion handling had a small advantage on the Sony when it came to additional blur added that's not present in the source material. Though, I did find the NX9 to handle 24p film cadence better, as it had less noticeable 24p judder.
Y ou also may be wondering where Sony's $25,000 step-down model, the VPL-VW885ES, fits into the equation. For the extra cash, the 995ES is going to offer a small bump in contrast performance and light output. The biggest upgrade, however, is the inclusion of Sony's wonderful ARC-F lens. Whether or not you think these upgrades are worth it, I leave up to you. But I can't knock Sony for charging so much for these upgrades, because JVC has done basically the same thing with the NX9 over their step down NX7 model.
Sony's VPL-VW995ES is a mighty impressive projector. With its reference-level optics, high native resolution, impressive contrast, and competitive light output, the image it produces is one of the best money can buy at the moment. Out of the box, it has commendable image accuracy and offers enough calibration control to produce a reference level image in nearly every way.
With that said, we need to talk about the value proposition of the 995ES. I do think it's currently undermined by JVC's less expensive NX9 and even the NX7 to some extent. Not only is objective image performance similar (and bested in a few key areas), JVC's dynamic tonemapping software creates a situation where stock HDR performance between the two brands has widened considerably. If you're considering the 995ES, I highly suggest you look into adding a Lumagen Pro or madVR Envy so you have a dynamic tonemapping solution. It really makes that much of a difference with HDR on a projector. Yes, this does artificially increase the cost of the projector, but it will also remove the large HDR performance gap between the two brands.
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• Sony VPL-VW285ES 4K SXRD Projector Reviewed HomeTheaterReview.com.