Sony VPL-VW885ES 4K Laser Projector Review - Picture Quality 2

September 1, 2017

Sony VPL-VW885ES 4K Laser Projector Review - Picture Quality 2: Black Level Performance, Dark Shadow Detail, 4K Content, Overall Picture Quality

Black Level Performance

Excellent! I was thrilled with the Sony’s skill set and, especially, for what they have done. Sony is using their laser light engine as a dynamic iris. Hooray! I’ve been campaigning since the first laser and led engines appeared that they take advantage of the fast speed of a solid state engine to let it brighten and dim at high speeds the same way a dynamic iris works.

The images in the player above.  First are four images from Passengers (4K, HDR, BT.2020) - as I love my CGI sci-fi scenes.  Next is a concert scene at dusk from HDTV (Paladia).  That's followed by a grayscale, overexposed starship from The Fifth Element, although this time it's from the 4K Blu-ray UHD disc. (I just got that disc!).  

After that is a sequence of grayscale converted, and intentionally overexposed images of the same frame, first taken with the VW885ES - the Bond "night train" scene from Casino Royale, followed by the same scene from a few competitors and most other Sony 4K and 1080p projectors.  The "competitors" include the Epson laser projector, their 5040UB (best in its class at black levels), and a JVC.  As you can see, from the differences, only two of the others can best the VW885ES.  The very best - is the JVC which is last. Even overexposing so much that most of the scene is blown out whites, the letterbox is still near black.)  The only other to beat this Sony is Sony's own flagship, the VW5000ES at $60K.  In a perfect world I could get all the exposures the same so that all the letterboxes were the same brightness, but that just isn't practical. 

Bottom line: As I've been telling folks for years, no one can match the JVCs on black levels.  (Hey, their only true 4K projector is $10,000 more than this Sony).  But this Sony is the next best thing (after the VW5000ES.  That's pretty awesome black level performance.

Sony’s implementation is impressive. Of course, it shuts down the laser engine when it encounters a black frame as most laser projectors do– including far lower cost projectors such as the Epson LS10500 laser projector (image above)  (1080p pixel shifter). But, using the laser engine as a dynamic iris is still pretty rare.

Well, folks – it works. This VW885ES still won’t match the top of the line 1080p pixel shifting JVC, and I assume also not match JVC’s $35K laser projector either, but it’s black level performance is first class. It’s not just black level performance I can live with, but performance in general that I am very happy with. Excellent!

I assume JVC’s more expensive projector will have the advantage in a straight black level comparison, but the Sony should be close enough for almost everyone who cares, that other factors will dominate a decision.

Bottom Line: The Sony VPL-VW885ES has the best black level performance I’ve seen yet, other than JVC, (or an old style CRT projector). Well done!

Dark Shadow Detail

Sony is one of several manufacturers that really don’t have any problem revealing the darkest of the dark shadow detail, and this projector is no exception.

The black level performance itself is so good that blacks are so close to really being black that the darkest grays are also going to be extremely dark on your scene. But, look closely, and the darkest info is all there. I’ve always pointed out that projectors (or TVs) with lousy black level performance are the easiest to spot dark shadow detail, because what’s supposed to be almost black ends up medium dark gray.

Not in this case. Look to the detail of the shrubs behind the tracks on the lower right, and for the detail in the large dark area of the woods higher up on the middle right. Impressive.

4K Content

First of all, the Sony accepts everything that’s out there. Yep, it’s 4K compatible with Blu-ray UHD content, including supporting BT2020 color and HDR, via the HDR10 standard, which is "the one" everyone supports. But it also supports HDR via Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) which is the new HDR standard for streaming, as was covered on the Special Features page. At this time, only a handful of projectors support HLG, but no doubt when the next generation rolls out from most manufacturers, they will add that support.

The image player is just filled with movie images from GhostBusters 2016, Passengers, and others. Of course, the image on my home theater screen blows away what you are seeing on your display.

Overall Picture Quality

It’s been a year since Sony’s flagship was here – the $60K VW5000ES, which has the advantage of double the brightness, and one step up in terms of the lens. The VW5000ES uses Sony’s best, while the 885ES’s optics are shared with the lower cost VW675ES.

The images in the player immediately above are an assortment from 1080p movies on Blu-ray, and 1080i from HDTV. All of the 1080i images were taken with either Bright Cinema 1, Reference, or Cinema Film 1.

So, technically, there’s a touch more optical sharpness out there, but I’ve certainly got no complaints. That said, the Sony always looked effortlessly sharp, without any hint of serious image processing. I never felt the need to raise their Reality Creation from its default of 20 (out of 100) in most modes. If you push that up to 40 or even higher, you will get an image has more perceived sharpness and detail, but, of course, that’s image processing.

If you push that up to 40 or even higher, you will get an image has more perceived sharpness and detail, but, of course, that’s image processing – a lot of that perception is, technically – organized “noise,” such as edge sharpening. No matter– this is about as sharp as we’re going to see in a 4K projector, with likely only the Sony flagship, or some huge 3 chip DLP projectors using cinema-sized true 4K chips. They are out there, at prices that make even the $60K Sony look like a bargain.

Sports and HDTV – Sorry, I didn’t have any broadcast or streamed 4K sports to view, but I am curious and looking forward to watching some, in the future, if I get another shot at this projector. Everything 1080p, 1080i, or 720p looks sharp, but, of course, not noticeably different than 1080p projectors. It’s when you feed the Sony 4K content with HDR, and expanded color, that it really sets it apart.

Movies – Oh 1080p Blu-ray movies look great, but you didn’t need to spend $25K for that. It’s dropping in a 4K UHD disc that brings out the very best in this Sony. I didn’t have this projector here, for example, when reviewing the Epson LS10500 $8K 1080p pixel shifting laser projector, but I did have the ultra short throw VZ1000ES at that time. Let’s just say that the Epson looked pretty great – until I would switch to that Sony. Even forgetting the sharpness difference, the Sony just outmuscled the Epson laser with a significant jump in dynamic look to the picture.

Basically: The Epson looked great, until the switch to the Sony which upped the picture viewing experience a magnitude, with more pop, more wow. Well, the VW885ES should outperform the ultra short throw Sony in a couple of areas, so even better! And again, I particularly love that this Sony goes “all the way” when it comes to black levels, the Sony has inherently excellent black level performance (but can’t match the JVC). This time, Sony has a dynamic iris to further improve – except that their “dynamic iris” is the laser engine in action. Finally! Using a laser engine to duplicate a dynamic iris is something I’ve been harassing Epson and Sony about in the past. I’m happy now.

Simply the best movie watching experience I’ve had in this house, except for the VW5000ES, which really only wins by having a lot more lumens.

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