Sony VPL-VW385ES - True 4K Home Theater Projector Review

May 7, 2018 / By Art Feierman

Meet Sony’s VPL-VW385ES. I’ve been watching it for most of a month now as I start writing up this review. Looks like the VW385ES projector now has 156 hours on what was a new lamp when I received it. To clarify, the projector I’m currently reviewing is almost always on while I’m working. My captain’s chair sits around 8-12 feet from my screen (depending on the resolution of the content – and, of course, the projector). If I’m writing, I’ll be looking up every so often, especially when favorite viewing scenes come up. I probably managed 40-50 hours of insightful viewing on the Sony VPL-VW385ES (Insightful: When I'm paying close attention) out of that 150+, and I view segments from the usual 6-10+ movies that I know by heart, and most often use for the photo shoots. I often replay a scene over and over, and sometimes switch back and forth with the projector I use as a reference.

Once again, Sony has sent me a 4K projector that comes, right out of the box, with some really great looking color, even without doing any adjustments. I mention that up front, because, as has been the case with a couple of other recent Sonys that I’ve reviewed, we haven’t bothered to calibrate this one. How I decide to have a projector calibrated: It all depends on how good it looks when I first start watching a projector here in my theater. More about this on the special features page under “Calibration Not Needed?”

The VPL-VW385ES replaces the older VW365ES, and it’s a really significant improvement! Not revolutionary, but just plain better as a projector, overall. Three features – and their benefits – all addressed later, in more detail: Dynamic Iris added, Lens Memory added, and optical performance improved with changes to the lens and light path.

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Sony Specs
Price
Technology SXRD (3)
Native Resolution 4096x2160
Brightness (Manufacturer Claim) 1500
Contrast 20,000:1
Zoom Lens Ratio
Lens Shift
Lamp Life
Weight
Warranty

Overview

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The Sony VW385ES is just loaded with features: 4K with HDR and P3/BT.2020 support, Lens Memory, Dynamic Iris, CFI for smooth motion, Dynamic Detail controls, and a whole lot more features less important than those.  In terms of HDR, it supports both HDR10 (used for Blu-ray 4K discs, etc.) and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) an even newer 4K standard designed specifically for streaming 4K content.

As you can see from the short specs here, this is a $7,999.99 home theater projector claiming 1,500 lumens, a nice number for today’s serious home theater projectors, although for viewing 4K with HDR – the more lumens the merrier. Let’s take a closer look.

The VPL-VW385ES is the second least expensive home theater projector to offer native 4K, that is, a minimum of, 3840x2160 discrete pixels without any pixel shifting (it is actually 4096x2160 native resolution - even higher but really – essentially, the same resolution, just a slightly different aspect ratio).

More to the point, this Sony projector uses pixels that are relatively either half, or one quarter the area of those produced by 4K UHD DLP projectors now flooding the market (depending on which model DLP). In this case, smaller (pixels) is definitely better.

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Now, if you haven’t been following our reviews, here’s one basic piece of perspective on viewing 4K content:

As of today, there are four different “resolution” projectors that can put 4K content on your screen. Two start with “large” 1080p sized pixels – those would be the “standard” 1080p pixel shifters, the best known being those from Epson and JVC (1920x1080 x2 –the x2 means each pixel fires twice, shifting a bit but overlapping the original and adjacent pixels).

Then comes the new, smaller DLP 4K UHD chip. It, too, is 1920x1080, but x4 – two more rounds of pixel shifting! Is this better? In theory, yes. In reality, it’s going to be more dependent on how well the projectors’ processing are implemented (more later).  Then comes the “higher end” DLP chip at 2716x1528 x2, which, in theory, is slightly better, and finally, true 4K – at least 3840x2160 without any pixel shifting.

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Upgrades from the VW365ES – Dynamic Iris, Lens Memory, and Improved Optics

Consider: The old “365” didn’t have lens memory (even though lens features were motorized), this VW385ES does – a very convenient improvement for those of us movie lovers that choose to go with a wide screen (such as 2.35:1), which means no letterboxing at the top and bottom on most movies.

But more importantly still, is the addition of a Dynamic Iris to improve the black level performance – we’ll definitely get into that, since it’s really major! And finally, also important: the optics have been improved since the last generation. Expect minor, not major, but every little bit improves the picture. By the way, Sony uses far more expensive “glass” on their high end home theater projectors, which price from over $20K to $60K.

Captured from Valerian, in 4K. Click for a much closer look

What we have here is a $7,999 projector that offers true 4K, and some pretty respectable black levels. Well, if you have those things going for you, there’s not going to be much downside. But Sony also has all the trimmings – besides a Dynamic Iris for the black levels. It has a lot of image processing including “smooth motion” (CFI) which they call Motion Flow, impressive control of the iris (most offer only on or off) – you can even use it as both a physical iris (to limit brightness), while having it also function dynamically.  Add to that 3D, and over 1,400 lumens of brightness with excellent color, and one of the best implementations for tackling HDR, and BT.2020/P3, those picture quality “improvements” usually offered with 4K content.

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Highlights

  • 1,500 lumens – Over 1,400 with excellent color (Cinema Film 1)
  • Dynamic Iris for Improved Black Level Performance
  • Lens Memory – With motorized lens features including focus, zoom, and lens shift for pairing with widescreens
  • Many Color Modes – All at least pretty darn good to great
  • Full Calibration Controls
  • Very Sharp Image – Especially 4K, looks “naturally sharp” rather than processed
  • Good Remote Control
  • Very Good Lamp Life
  • Nicely Quieter Than Most

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