Reviewed: Sony 4K VPL-VW500ES projector

Inside CI 5 Rating

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posted on Sunday, 22nd June 2014 by Steve May

Marata Vision  4K  projectors 


Sony has redefined expectations at the upper end of the projection market with the VPL-VW500ES. It's a more affordable, native 4K iteration of the brand's groundbreaking VPL-VW1000ES and VPL-VW1100ES models, and as such it shares much of their image processing innovation, as well as that UHD SXRD chipset.

Intriguingly, Sony currently has the 4K home theatre projection market to itself. Texas Instruments has yet to deliver a 2160p upgrade of its DLP image engine and the LCD camp, led by Epson, have been similarly tardy in jumping onboard the Ultra HD bandwagon. Only JVC has anything remotely comparable, in the shape of its 3-shift3 D-ILA projectors, however while these cast an 8m pixel image they are not native 4K.


VPL-VW500ES 4K projector: Build quality and features
Predictably larger that its Full HD sibling, the VPL-HW55ES, but still only tipping the scales at 14kg, the VW500ES is a comparable install proposition to JVC's ongoing D-ILA models. The finish is matt albeit with distinctive sparkles, with the brand's symbolic gold rimmed central lens flanked by a front air exhaust cooling system. Connectivity and control is useful and includes two HDMI inputs which are 4K/60Hz compatible (albeit with an 8-bit 4:2:0 chroma), two 12v triggers (pictured above), IR in, USB and Ethernet. It's worth noting the projector is extremely quiet in operation, a testament to its build quality.

The model is also Active Shutter 3D compatible, and features a Super Resolution 4K Reality Creation picture engine, plus the brand's usual Motionflow picture processing cocktails.

Image alignment and focusing are simplified by a 2.06 zoom powered lens with a wide shift range. An RF sync transmitter is built in. There's a broad variety of prebalanced image options, here collected under a Calibration Preset tab, including Cinema Film/Cinema Film2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, Bright TV and User. The Cinema Film option is most likely going to be a default for most installers. There's a fair range of calibration options, including manual colour correction to adjust the hue, saturation and brightness. The projector also boasts an auto-calibration mode via a built-in sensor that self-optimises to maintain absolute colour, as the lamp ages and degrades. Other niceties include a lens memory for use with variable screen formats.

The VPL-VW500ES is rated at 1,700 ANSI-lumens and has a claimed contrast ratio of 200,000:1. While this isn't ideal for media room use where some natural ambient light is possible, it's perfectly suitable for light controlled theatres. From 4m it can cast a 120-inch 4K UHD image

For the time being at least, the majority of VPL-VW500ES users will be watching Full HD sources. The good news is that its upscaling talents are prodigious.

Cal Preset Screen

VPL-VW500ES 4K projector: Performance
Image fidelity is outstanding. The projector boasts rich vibrant hues and a black level performance that's on the right side of Goth. Images have massive eye candy appeal. Tom Cruise's AV treat Oblivion is a great Blu-ray demo, and here looks nothing less than magnificent. The upsclaed image is positively three dimensional, with superb texture and zero sense of pixel structure.

When Uma Thurman is buried alive in Kill Bill Part 2, many displays splutter in sympathy, but the Sony passes with flying colours. Shadow detail is immense, pulling subtle movements and shapes from Thurman's near black burial. Motion handling has long been a strong point of Sony displays. The VLP-VW500ES is no different, with detail retention held without overt image artefacting in the excellent Combination Clear mode. Also recommended is the Impulse setting, which maintains high levels of artifact-free detail without any of the unwanted flickering seen with this mode in the past. It should be noted that there's a drop in perceived resolution if you opt for the True Cinema mode, however the presentation is very filmic. This also holds true if you switch Motionflow off altogether.

The projector's Active Shutter 3D performance is similarly excellent. The VPL-VW500ES works with RF standard glasses, although there are none bundled in the box; be prepared to budget for them. We noted no overt double imaging and a clean, deep sense of depth, this is as good an example of Active Shutter 3D as you'll ever see. Disney's Tangled Blu-ray is a major torture test yet presented the VW500ES with few problems. Even the animated menu was pleasingly devoid of phantom lanterns.

The VW500ES may offer 4K for less, but there's really no compromise in terms of specification. It can deliver a 4096 x 2160 resolution image (if required) with full DCI compliance, and employs the same native 4K SXRD panels as the brand's more expensive models. These have a quoted response rate of just 2.5-milliseconds.

One area where Sony has managed to reduce costs from the VW100ES and its stablemate the VW1100ES, is the inclusion of plastic rather than glass optics. However any fears that this might result in a drop in image clarity are unfounded. Pictures just as dynamic and sharp. Indeed, with 4K content the projector delivers breathtaking clarity.

VPLVW500ES_front Main


Sony VPL-VW500ES 4K projector: Verdict
As the sole flag-bearers for Ultra HD home theatre projection, Sony has to be considered the go-to brand for future-proofed theatre installs. The fact then that the VPL-VW500ES delivers an image as jaw-dropping as it does then is made all the more remarkable by the fact that this model sells for less than £10,000. It's quite possible to pay multiples more for a projector capable of only a quarter the performance.

The 4K TV market is rapidly moving into a higher gear, and there's no doubt that UHD panel displays are spectacular, however 4K really comes into its own in the home theater environment. It's a must have for new theatre builds of size and a good reason to propose an upgrade. We were knocked out by the performance of this 'budget' 4K barnstormer. The VPL-VW500ES is nothing short of brilliant.

The Sony VPL-VW500ES is available now.
Retail price: £8,500
The Sony VPL-VW500ES is distributed by Marata Vision. For more on Marata Vision's product portfolio and services, visit our partner page here.

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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