NOTE: This review has been updated to include discussion about how the Sony HW45ES compares to two primary competitors--the Epson Home Cinema 3900 which is at the same $1999 price as the HW45ES, and the Epson 5040UB, which is currently about $700 higher in price. In the Contents box to the upper left, the sections pertaining to these two competing projectors as well as the Conclusion are new as of today. The other portions of the review have not been changed. [EP 4/12/17]
The $1,999 Sony VPL-HW45ES is a full HD 3D, 1920x1080 home theater projector with a 1.6x manual zoom lens, vertical and horizontal lens shift, and a wide selection of enhanced video processing features. It is a solid performer for film/video viewing in a dark or low ambient light setting, and its unusually short 22 ms input lag makes it an outstanding video gaming projector as well.
Like most Sony home theater projectors, the HW45ES delivers an impressively high-quality image with rich color, deep blacks, and the full range of subtle gradation that adds three-dimensionality to 2D images. The unit weighs a substantial 20 lbs, and gives the impression right out of the box of a thoroughly professional home theater projector, with an elegant, piano-black design and a center-mounted lens.
The HW45ES offers eight color presets and one User mode that are all customizable, with more than enough menu options to let you tweak each mode to taste. All of the preset modes score well on video quality straight out of the box. The three-chip SXRD technology guarantees that there won't be any rainbow artifacts, and it eliminates the possibility of differences between color and white brightness, which can affect both color quality and the brightness of color images.
The high contrast ratio yields deep, dark blacks in theater dark lighting and unusually dark blacks even with the lights on. It also gives color that much more pop, adding to a sense of three-dimensionality. Color balance is excellent in all preset modes, with suitably neutral grays at all levels from black to white. There are minor differences in color from one mode to the next, but all the presets offer color that's well within a realistic range, which means you can pick the one that matches the brightness you need without any meaningful loss of color quality. From a subjective viewpoint, though obviously not in terms of precise calibration, colors hit the mark for hue, saturation, and brightness in all modes.
Sony VPL-HW45ES Home Theater Projector
You'll likely want to adjust some settings to taste. I saw some noise in clips that tend to cause that problem, for example, but got rid of it without noticeably compromising image sharpness by adjusting noise reduction. The filter works so well that setting it high enough even eliminated noise that was purposely designed into one clip.
You may also want to turn off Motionflow (frame interpolation) for filmed material if you don't like the digital video effect that it can produce, or set it to High for live and recorded material, where it can do more to enhance the image rather than distract from it, or experiment with some of the additional settings for viewing 24 frame-per-second content. Similarly, you may or may not like the Super Resolution technology that's part of Sony's Reality Creation video processing. It brings out detail, but can also add artifacts if set too aggressively.
Picture controls include the usual basics--like brightness, contrast, hue, gamma, and color temperature--as well as more sophisticated choices like Motionflow, Reality Creation, contrast enhancement options, and a choice of four color spaces, including Rec. 709. You can also calibrate each color space individually and can set lamp brightness to High (bright) or Low (eco) for each mode, so you can automatically change lamp brightness when you change from one preset to another. The nine preset modes (counting User mode) make it easy to find a setting that offers a good balance between the ambient light level and the material being displayed, and the wealth of settings let even those with the most critical eye best match their tastes.
3D Video. The HW45ES supports 3D with Vesa RF glasses, and includes a built-in RF emitter. As with most projectors, for those aspects of image quality that apply to both 2D and 3D, it delivers essentially the same quality for both. It also handles 3D-specific issues well. I didn't see any crosstalk and saw only hints of 3D-related motion artifacts. The loss in brightness with 3D is a tad more than typical, but not enough to be a problem. And unlike most models, the HW45ES lets you choose any of its color presets for 3D.
Data Presentations. Although not designed for data and graphic presentations, the HW45ES can do a great job with them. Its 1800-lumen rating is lower than most data projectors offer today, but having the same color brightness as white brightness means full color images can easily be as bright as you'd expect from a 3000-lumen DLP data projector with low color brightness.
The match between color and white brightness translates to stunning color quality even in the brightest mode. And, of course, if your presentations include photos or video, the HW45ES is well equipped for them. It also does a great job with detail, which helps even more for data than video. In my tests, both white text on black and black text on white were crisp and readable at sizes as small as 4.5 points.