Sony VPL-VZ1000ES Ultra Short Throw 4K UHD HDR HLG projector review

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posted on Friday, 26th May 2017 by Steve May

4K  Marata Vision  Media Rooms  UHD  HLG 

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The Sony VPL-VZ1000ES is a second generation Ultra Short Throw 4096 x 2160 resolution 4K projector. Utilising a high-efficiency Z-Phosphor laser light engine, it can be positioned just 155mm from a wall to cast a 100-inch image onto a white space or fixed/motorised screen.

The appeal of UST projectors for integrators is considerable. They can be deployed in rooms where either cosmetic considerations (from décor to listed building status) or room size prevents a conventional long throw model being installed. The UST form factor also eliminates problems caused by hanging lights or fans.

To take a closer look, we first ventured to the Robert Taussig showroom in London, where one of the first models in the UK was attracting considerable attention.

Sony VPL-VZ1000ES Crop

Sony VPL-VZ1000ES 03

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Sony VPL-VZ1000ES 4K UST projector: Build and features
Unsurprisingly, the VPL-VZ1000ES is a sizeable unit. It measures 925 x 494 x 219mm and weighs 35kg. Even so, it’s upwards of 40 per cent smaller than the brand’s £40,000 VPL-GTZ1 4K UST model.

It has four HDMI inputs, all of which support HDCP 2.2 content sources. There’s also an IR input, 12v trigger, RS-232 and Ethernet LAN terminal. The projector supports 3D, which could win it brownie points compared to a flatpanel alternative.

Image size is dictated by the distance of the projector from screen surface. A lens shift function, plus adjustable feet and ventilation system offers installation versatility (we didn't set this sample up, that had already been done before we arrived). It can be disguised within custom furniture, or left au naturel - as a piece of industrial design it's undeniably impressive. One obvious benefit of a laser light engine is that power-up is quick, the other is low maintenance. The projector is rated at 2500 lumens.

There’s actually a variety of installation options available, including floor standing, ceiling mounted or rear projection. For our audition, the projector was floor mounted in front of a 120-inch high brightness, light rejecting Snow White fixed screen. When not in use, a sliding cover projects the lens. 

Sony VPL-VZ1000ES 4K UST projector: Performance (light room)
For our Taussig audition, we didn’t have much control over the available light in the room. But this in itself confronts several real world issues. The VPL-VZ1000ES is almost certainly not going to be specified as part of a traditional home cinema install. It’s a lifestyle solution, more likely to end up in a media or living room where a constant level of ambient light is inevitable.

Picture presets include Cinema Film 1, Cinema Film 2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, Bright TV and User. There’s actually scant difference between the two Cinema Film settings (the latter perhaps offers slightly better blacks). The Bright TV preset provides a huge jump in average picture level brightness over other settings, including Bright Cinema, and will probably be the default for everyday usage. The most important setting in a media room environment actually transpires to be Bright Cinema.

Sony’s Reality Creation setting offers adjustable resolution and noise filtering. The effect of Reality Creation can be quite profound, even with native 4K sources such as Planet Earth 2 (UHD Blu-ray). Close-up footage of an iguana provides a striking example of its effectiveness, bringing sharp relief to reptile scales. It's better on than off.

Motionflow is more contentious. It's available in Smooth High, Smooth Low and True Cinema modes. In addition to Brightness, Colour, Sharpness, there’s also adjustable Contrast (HDR), provided via a sliding scale.

The projector is HDR10 and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) compatible, auto detecting HDR and BT.2020 content. I’m told there are no plans to offer Dolby Vision support.

The VPL-VZ1000ES is part of Sony’s Triluminos family, which indicates a wide colour gamut. It  accepts a 12-bit output from a UHD Blu-ray player. Sony says that  BT2020 colour space "is emulated, but wider than BT709".

Test patterns confirm a full spectrum of fine UHD detail is held in sharp relief from centre screen to edge. Planet Earth 2 (UHD Blu-ray), provides evidence of this. There’s delightful depth and texture in the image. 

Bright Picture Menu Angle

Contrast HDR

But there are caveats. In use, it quickly becomes apparent that the VPL-VZ1000ES has limited range, exasperated in ambient light. Black level performance is restricted, even on the Bright Cinema setting. Maximise contrast for the best peak white performance, and you sacrifice swathes of shadow detail.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (UHD Blu-ray) proves a real challenge. The film climaxes with a night time raid on The Hive, in which our principal characters make a perilous journey through poorly lit underground tunnels, illuminated only by flashing torchlights. There’s a number of spectacular action set pieces here, but you’ll probably be none the wiser watching on the VPL-VZ1000ES because it’s near impossible to make out what’s going on. The requirement to deliver HDR really drags down average picture brightness. 

It could be argued that 4K HDR is actually doing this particular model a disservice with some content. Swap from UHD discs to SDR Blu-rays and the viewing experience is transformed. A higher overall APL rewards with consistently vibrant images, and detail holds up well. The projector does an excellent job upscaling 1080p.

Consider Max Max Fury Road. In the ambient light of the showroom (aka normal living room viewing conditions), the UHD disc looks subdued. When Max tries to make his escape early on, clasping onto bars as sunlight streams down, the illumination is grey. The same sequence in SDR, on the same setting (remember, the projector auto selects HDR) has genuine vibrancy, sunlight looks like sunlight.

There are differences in colour, of course. When Max stumbles from the tunnel, only to nearly fall down the cliff, the sky is bluer and mountain top greener in HDR, reflecting its grading. But this doesn’t change the fact that the image is duller. I would argue the same sequence in SDR is more engaging, on this projector.

Don’t feel that you’re missing out on HDR details, because you’re not – the VZ1000ES can’t convincingly deliver them. 

Free from the weight of HDR, the VPL-VZ1000ES shines. Blu-ray looks terrific, and HD broadcasts really pop. Suddenly the projector’s unique form factor makes sense. There is a 4K benefit to prioritising standard Blu-rays and HDTV. As the projector upscales to 2160p,  you still get the pixel density a large screen demands. Of course, with the VPL-VZ1000ES owners are free to choose whatever content they want.

Operating noise is rated at 24dB; it certainly wasn’t detectable during the audition.

Sony VPL-VZ1000ES 4K UST projector: Performance (dark room)
To see the Sony working in a fully dark environment, we subsequently paid a visit to Marata Vision’s home theatre room, where we had complete control over all lighting conditions. Predictably, the VZ1000 performed a little different here.

With no competing ambient light, contrast visibly improves, although limitations with black level are still evident. The projector clips near black into a grey smoosh. In this cinema environment, the Bright Cinema mode is no longer your friend. Here Cinema Film 1 and 2 are the choices to go for. 

With Contrast HDR set on 85 (generally it's best set between 60 – 85 on the sliding scale), there’s some real pop to the screen. The exterior web-swinging scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (UHD Blu-ray) are hugely impressive. Moving away from a light rejecting screen also improves subtle levels of contrast. However Resident Evil: The Final Chapter remains a torture test.

But once again, it’s not HDR that particularly impresses. The Point Break remake (Blu-ray SDR), features a number of stunning, brightly lit extreme sports scenes which the projector excells at. The cliff diving sequence, chapter 5 (in Cinema Film 1 with contrast at Max), is spectacular, a real sales clincher.  

Sony VPL-VZ1000ES 4K UST projector: Verdict
The VPL-VZ1000ES probably isn’t the projector you think it is. This is quite a different proposition from the rest of the Sony SXRD 4K range. It’s not a UHD projector for cinephiles. Certainly 4K content looks spectacular, thanks to plenty of native detail, but it doesn’t handle dark scenes well, even with the help of a high-brightness screen. It's nearest competition is the 1080p Sim2 xTV.

One would imagine that games would look terrific – the image lag is low enough not to impede gameplay – although we didn’t have an opportunity to test this. It's also going to look fabulous with SDR 2160p sports - F1 in UHD on Sky Q would be an obvious treat. In this context, as a media room solution or as a big screen solution for challenging home theatre spaces, the VPL-VZ1000ES is outstanding, allowing huge UHD images to be cast in potentially difficult rooms. 

The Sony VPL-VZ1000ES is available to order now.
Retail price: £17,500.
The VPL-VZ1000ES is available through Marata Vision. For more on Marata Vision’s 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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