An excellent all-round projector with no major issues.
+ Great contrast, color, and brightness
+ Comes with 3D glasses
– Slightly inconsistent focus across screen
+ 3-chip SXRD (LCOS)
+ Inputs: (2) HDMI in; component; PC-RGB; IR; RS-232
+ Dimensions + Weight: 16 x 7 x 18.25 in; 21.1 lb
As with most projectors in this price range, the HW50ES features manual lens shift, zoom, and focus. No surprises there, though the feel of each is more solid than on the somewhat cheaper-feeling Epson.
The remote seems to have a button for every conceivable feature. Seems excessive to me, as after setup all I’ve ever used a projector’s remote for is to turn it on and off. At least the Sony remote has a cool blue backlight, far better than the sickly amber/orange of the Epson and JVC.
The menus are largely unchanged over previous Sony models, but they’re easy to navigate and, like the others here, are black and white (a boon for calibrators). There are color management system adjustments; ironically, though, these end up being almost superfluous given how accurate the projector’s color is out of the box.
The Sony was also exceptionally quiet, a laudable accomplishment, especially given the Epson’s impersonation of a leaf blower.
While the cabinet, menus, and remote are all pretty much the same as last year’s VPL-VW30ES, there are changes on the inside. As with the other projectors here, brightness has increased. This is always a good thing with a projector. Greater light output means you can have a larger screen while still having a punchy image. It also means 3D isn’t dim, as you’ll always lose light through the active shutter glasses.
The most I could get out of last year’s Sony on my 1.0-gain, 102-inch screen was 29.18 footlamberts, a respectable amount for sure. This year, the HW50ES put out 36.74 ftL. I’ll take a 20% increase in light, sure. However, the increase came with an increase in black level by about the same amount. You’d be hard pressed to notice it, however. The black levels on all three of the projectors here, particularly the JVC, are plenty low. You can certainly argue about numbers if you want, but I never found the black level wanting.
The contrast ratio, too, is about the same. I measured around 7,647:1, better than most flat-panels, and sufficient to create an image with high contrast.
One of the other big changes this year is updated Reality Creation processing. Like Epson’s Super-resolution, it makes everything a bit crisper, and I’m sure many will like it. It does a little better job adding apparent detail without increasing noise/grain too much compared with the Epson, though the higher settings do far more harm than good.
The HW50ES’s motion resolution is around 600 lines per picture height, similar to its distant LCD flat-panel cousins. The Film Projection mode increases this to between 800 and 900. There’s no light loss measurable with the Film Projection mode, but there is a barely noticeable flicker with bright objects. The MotionFlow settings do a little better job in terms of motion resolution (with High even more detailed than Low), but these add motion interpolation, making content shot on film look unnaturally smooth.
Speaking of processing, the Sony does a neat trick I’ve never seen before on any display. In the Auto 1 film mode, the HW50ES detects the 3:2 sequence in 1080i content (like movies on cable channels or TV shows). It then dumps the 3:2 cadence, taking the original 24fps content and doing a 10:10 pulldown to match the 240-Hz refresh rate of the projector’s SXRD panels. In other words, it de-judders 24fps-native TV content. Cool, right? Lots of displays do something similar with 1080p/24fps content on Blu-ray, but this is the first I’ve seen that does it with 1080i HDTV.
Since I had all three projectors, I did what any projection-loving nerd would do: I triple-stacked them. Using a Monoprice 1x4 HDMI splitter, I drove all three, then blocked off the two I didn’t want to see. As I flipped back and forth with Brave on Blu-ray, the characters of these three projectors were revealed. And, well ... overall those characters are little changed from last year. All were definitely improved, though.
The Sony looked consistently good throughout the movie, with rich colors and a punchy image. The Epson was brighter, of course, but in its brightest mode its colors and color temp were sub-par. In its accurate mode, the Epson is a little dimmer than the Sony and has a slightly worse contrast ratio. The JVC easily had the best contrast and black level, while remaining almost as bright.
For 3D I used Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (based on a true story). Two pairs of TDG-PJ1 glasses are included in the box (additional pairs cost $129). They’re a bit bulky but fairly light. Some crosstalk was noticeable. The Epson was about the same, perhaps a little better, and the JVC was much worse in this respect. The light loss is a little more than what you get with the JVC and its glasses, but since the Sony has more to start with, it’s not a big issue. As far as 3D depth goes, the Epson was a touch better and the JVC a touch worse.
Color in general was more accurate on the Sony than with the Epson or JVC. They’re all close, but the Sony’s picture seemed a little more realistic. Skin tones, like when young Abe is reading with his mom, especially looked natural.
The Sony didn’t quite have as consistent a focus across the screen as the others. This was improved somewhat by adjusting the red, green, and blue SXRD panels (in the user menu), but not entirely. Focus and panel alignment vary per unit, so yours might be fine. I just remember noting the same issue last year, and this year I spent far more time trying to get it right on the Sony than with the Epson or JVC. And still I couldn’t get it completely to my liking. Not a huge deal, but it’s worth noting.
Other than that, I couldn’t find anything wrong with the Sony. It’s consistently good across the board. However, its color accuracy aside, it doesn’t stand out in any category (though that 24fps/1080i processing trick is neat).
The VPL-HW50ES doesn’t offer better performance than the Epson or JVC, so its higher price seems a bit much. But in this trio of truly tremendous projectors, the Sony is more well rounded than the others. It can’t match the Epson’s light output or the JVC’s contrast ratio, though it is bright, with good contrast and a little more accurate color than the others. The HW50ES is great, just not as single-issue excellent as the JVC and Epson projectors.
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