Sony VPL-VW520ES 4K UHD HDR projector review

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posted on Sunday, 13th December 2015 by Steve May

projectors  home cinema  4K  Marata Vision 

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The Sony VLP-VW520ES is the world’s first HDR (High Dynamic range) ready 4K UHD projector for the consumer/Custom Install market. While in development, Sony codenamed this newcomer Wolf, and it’s easy to see why. The specification is ferocious. Brighter and more contrasty than any 4K model before it, it’s capable of a picture performance that makes its nearly £9K price tag seem almost unfeasibly low.

Sony VPL-VW520ES projector: Build quality and features
At first glance the song remains unchanged. The new VW520ES uses the same chassis as its predecessor; it has a footprint of 496 x 195 x 467mm (w/h/d) and weighs 14kg. It’s not a coffee table job. Interestingly, this time around Sony is also making it available in a white finish, which is what we had in for review. It looks beautiful and will doubtless go down well with clients wanting a general purpose media room, rather than a blacked out batcave.

Connectivity is similarly familiar: there are two HDMI inputs. But only one, Input 2, is HDCP 2.2 enabled. This is something of a disappointment, as we expect both to be ready for next generation content sources. It’s 4K/60Hz compatible with 8-bit 4:2:0 content and HDCP2.2 sources. The projector is also compatible with 8/10 and 12-bit 4:2:2 at 2160/24/25/30. For HDR at 50 or 60fps, which is likely to be what UK broadcasters use for 4K HDR sports, Sony says the VW520ES uses “signal processing to achieve full HDR compatibility with CEA standards.” How that actually pans out is something we look forward to seeing. There are two 12v triggers, IR in, USB and Ethernet.

Inputs (1)

Lens (1)

The model is Active Shutter 3D compatible, with an integrated RF sync transmitter suitable for use in smaller theatres. Setup is aided by motorized x2.1 zoom and focus, with image shifting +/- 31 percent horizontally and +85/-80 vertically. The throw ratio is listed at 1.38:1 – 2.83:1. A lens memory feature is available for use with different screen formats. While the projector can present a 4096 x 2160 resolution image, most users are unlikely to need the provision. 3840 x2160 is the consumer standard for UHD content.

Sony VPL-VW520ES projector: Performance
The VPL-VW520ES earns the soubriquet of brightest 4K projector yet, at 1,800 lumens, but it’s still not exactly a light cannon. However it has the edge over last year’s model, both in terms of the venue size it can service and the sheer luminosity of its images. Contrast is also elevated to a massive 300,000:1, with dynamic iris employed. The projector is just about bright enough to impress in a moderately well lit media room, while it positively glows in a theatre environment.

The life of the 280W UHD lamp is rated at 6000 hours, which translates to a movie a day for the best part of eight years. This makes it a low maintenance proposition for a wide number of users. The projector will also auto-calibrate, thanks to a built-in sensor, maintaining colour as the lamp ages. The technology has trickled down from the range-topping VW1100ES.

The model is actually good to go straight from the box. There’s an effective selection of image presets - Cinema Film/Cinema Film2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, Bright TV and User. Of course, you can also route deep into the model’s calibration options. There are manual colour corrections for hue, gamma, saturation and brightness. In addition to HDR compatibility, there’s also an extended colour gamut which can map hues akin to the DCI P3 colour space.

To evaluate the projector’s 4K High Dynamic Range talents, Sony provided a short demo sequence shot at night in and around Odaiba in Tokyo. Taken at face value, this man-made pleasure island is all bright lights with a colourful neon-lit Ferris Wheel, ideal for HDR. There’s also footage take aboard a pleasure boat, offering plenty of opportunities for bright peaks and rich colours from the traditionally garbed passengers. The VPL-VW520 is able to lift and improve the contrast, particularly around the lighting effects. Hues are sumptuous, with luxurious red and golds. It’s a very comfortable image to watch, but is this a genuine example of how it'll perform with HDR10 content from Ultra HD Blu-ray? Probably not.

To assess the projector with native 4K content, we kicked back with Adam Sandler's Ridiculous 6 on Netflix 4K. This UHD stream looks spectacular. The image, framed in 21:9, makes glorious use of the John Ford-style western backdrop. The cactus plains and rocky outcrops are awash with fine detail. Where you'll really catch your breath though is with the big close ups. The crazy-eyed characters within Sandler's comic world look wondrously sharp. The entire image pops from the screen.  

You can blip brightness by running the lamp in High mode, but this results a significant increase in fan noise and shortens the lamp life. In larger theatre rooms this might be acceptable, but for borderline home cinemas it could prove awkward. By contrast, the Low setting is well behaved, making only a gentle 26dB thrum. 

Daredevil, also on Netflix 4K, isn't a show that particularly evangelises UHD. It's a very stylised presentation, with a grainy texture. But on this Sony, it looks Marvelously cinematic.

The projector also does a fabulous job with regular 1080p Blu-rays. Sony’s 4K Reality Creation picture engine continues to cast wonderfully detailed, yet completely believable upscaled images, and there’s Motionflow picture processing on hand too.

Ridiculous 6

Daredevil

Sony VPL-VW520ES projector: Verdict
We’ve long admired Sony’s 4K SXRD projectors, but with the VPL-VW520ES the brand has raised the bar higher still. It remains to be seen just how important the addition of HDR is as a consumer selling point, but on this first outing, with test footage, the improvements are definitely worthwhile. Image quality is outstanding in most every modes and usability is high. Overall, this really is a stunning projector.

The Sony VPL-VW520ES 4K projector is available now.
Retail price £8,800
The VPL-VW500ES is distributed by Marata Vision. For more stories about Marata Vision’s product portfolio, visit our partner page here.

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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