Sony's most affordable native 4K projector delivers class leading picture quality
The Sony VPL-VW325ES is a 1500 ANSI lumen 4K SXRD home theater projector and the successor of the highly-rated VW295ES ($5000 SRP) which we reviewed a few years ago. The VW295ES was one of our favorite projectors, offering an outstanding picture that very few models in its price range could match.
I was such a fan of the VW295ES it was my number one recommendation for anyone who had a projector budget of around $5000. I liked it so much that even if a customer’s budget was a little lower than $5000, I still tried to talk them into spending a little more because the performance was worth every penny. After a successful run, Sony has finally introduced the VW325ES as a replacement model.
Like all Sony 4K HDR home theater projectors, the VW325ES uses three SXRD panels to deliver true 4K resolution (4096 x 2160). Not only is the VW325ES the least expensive 4K model in Sony's home theater lineup, but it is also the least expensive 4K home theater projector on the market – period. The new VW325ES retails for $5499.99, only $500 more than the VW295ES.
What do you get for the extra $500? On paper, the main difference between the two models is video processing. If you take a quick glance at the spec sheets of the older VW295ES and compare it to the new VW325ES, it might be easy to overlook that seemingly small upgrade. With the exception of the VW5000ES and the ultra-short throw VZ1000ES, all of Sony’s traditional home theater projectors now feature Sony’s latest video processor – the X1 Processor for Projector.
Check out our interview with Rob Brennan who is Sony’s Product Technology & Training Manager from the Spring Projection Showcase where we discuss both the VW325ES and its big brother, the VW1025ES.
All Sony 4K home theater projectors deliver outstanding picture quality. As you move up the lineup, you get additional features that further improve the image, maximize reliability, and simplify installation/operation.
It’s like buying a base Porsche 911 versus a fully loaded Turbo model. The base car will give you most of Porsche’s famous driving experience, the top-of-the-line model is just faster and adds additional luxury and refinement.
The VW325ES, which is called the VW290ES in Europe, is Sony's base 4K SXRD home theater projector model. Stepping up to the next model in the lineup, the VW715ES adds Lens Memory and a Dynamic Iris. Depending on your screen and your room, those additional features may not be necessary to fit your needs.
The VW325ES ($5,500 SRP) is approximately half the price of the VW715ES and it still delivers Sony’s famed outstanding picture quality, making it an excellent option for video enthusiasts with smaller budgets.
Sony was the first company to introduce a native 4K home theater projector and they still have the most comprehensive model assortment. If you include their ultra-short-throw model, the VZ1000ES, Sony has seven 4K HDR home theater projectors in their lineup, starting with the VW325ES ($5,500) and moving up to the flagship $80,000 (minus lens) GTZ380.
There are five laser-based 4K HDR models in the lineup, including the VW915ES ($20,000 SRP) and the newly announced VW1025ES. There are two 4K HDR home theater lamp-based projectors, the VW715ES ($10,000 SRP) and this newly announced VW325ES ($5500 SRP).
Below is a summary of the Sony 4K SXRD Laser projector lineup.
Dynamic HDR Enhancer
$80,000 (w/o lens)
Ultra Short Throw
Standard 4K Lens
Standard 4K Lens
Standard 4K Lens
The VW325ES has a rated brightness of 1,500 lumens and the unit's lamp has a rated life of 6,000 hours in low power mode. While 1,500 ANSI lumens may not seem like a lot compared to many of its DLP-based competitors, the VW325ES can deliver most of its rated brightness, even in its most accurate picture mode. By comparison, most DLP projectors can barely deliver half their specified brightness in their Movie and Cinema modes.
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Considering the older VW295ES and the new VW325ES use many of the same quality components, have the same specs, and have very similar measurements when tested, you may be surprised that actual viewing experience is very different. While both projectors' brightness, contrast and color gamut are nearly identical, the VW325ES delivered a noticeably better picture than the unit it replaces. So the question is: "How much of a difference does better video processing make and is it worth the additional $500?"
As we mentioned earlier, the most significant VW325ES upgrade is new video processing powered by a version of Sony's X1 processor that has been optimized specifically for projector applications. This processor is what gives the projector the ability to do frame-by-frame HDR tone mapping. The VW325ES supports both the HDR10 standard as well as HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma).
I've had the opportunity to do side-by-side comparisons between multiple Sony X1 processor-equipped projectors versus their counterparts and every time, the difference was dramatic. In 2019, Projector Reviews gave the VW295ES an award due to stellar picture quality, but we were blown away by the improvement that the new processor provided.
In fact, I found myself checking both units' video settings multiple times because the difference between the two models was so noticeable.
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What separates a good chef from a great chef is their recipe. You can give two chefs the same ingredients and end up with two different results – one chef might serve you a delicious meatloaf while the other chef disappoints you with soggy meatballs. For the Sony VW325ES, the quality components are the ingredients and the X1 Processor is the excellent recipe that extracts their maximum performance for an optimal viewing experience.
Due to a projector's limited brightness capabilities, I believe that dynamic tone mapping helps maximize the image quality of HDR10 content on the VW325ES. A new feature called Dynamic HDR Enhancer powered by the X1 processor combines frame-by-frame HDR analysis and tone mapping to deliver a big improvement in HDR reproduction. This improvement in picture quality is easy to see when the VW325ES is compared to the VW295ES that it is replacing.