The Sony VPL-HW65ES is the latest in a series of high performance 1080p home theater projectors, replacing the VPL-HW55ES which was released two years ago. Like its predecessor it is priced at $3,999, but it offers some improvements including a more robust Reality Creation processor that has been brought down from Sony's more expensive 4K products, and several changes in interface such as the addition of IP control, USB update capability, and RF sync for 3D instead of IR. Gaming fans will be happy to hear that, though the HW55ES was fast with an input lag of 27 ms, the HW65ES is faster still, coming in at a very rapid 21 ms. It is slightly brighter than the HW55ES and the analog inputs have been removed. Overall, the HW65ES is an incrementally refined version of the HW55. But that is no surprise. The HW55ES was an excellent projector in its own right, and from the performance standard set by the HW55ES, there is little headroom for revolutionary improvements in 1080p technology.
The Sony VPL-HW65ES is among the best of the 1080p resolution home theater projectors on the market today. It delivers an outstanding 2D picture by combining performance attributes of its SXRD light engine with a variety of video processing features that enhance sharpness, detail, clarity, and contrast. There is no single feature of the HW65ES that gives it a unique competitive advantage, but rather several features working together that collectively produce a beautifully clear, high resolution picture.
To begin with, the light engine itself is capable of generating sufficiently deep, rich black levels that few are likely to find fault with. Though there are a few projectors that can produce marginally deeper blacks, the black levels on this unit are sufficiently solid to give the picture impressive depth and dynamic range.
The HW65ES has excellent clarity and remarkably deep three-dimensionality. These attributes are in part due to the more powerful Reality Creation 2 processor (brought down from Sonys 4K models) that enhances detail definition. In addition, the Contrast Enhancer improves shadow separation, and the Motionflow frame interpolation system gives the picture incremental clarity and stability. All of these features are options available to the user. They can all be turned off, or conversely they can all be overdriven to the point where they exaggerate and detract from the natural beauty of the picture. But used in moderation, they work together to produce a picture of refined quality that is hard to beat.
The Reality Creation 2 processor can be set on a scale from 1 to 100. For our taste, we found a setting of 25 lends the picture a compelling enhanced sharpness and detail definition without looking artificial. The Contrast Enhancer can be set to Low, Medium or High. We found the Low setting opened up shadow details while retaining a satisfying balance across the gray scale.
With regard to Motionflow, a few comments are in order. This is Sony's name for frame interpolation (FI), the process by which intermediary frames are created and inserted into the video stream to smooth motion artifacts, primarily judder that results from camera panning. The advantage of frame interpolation is that it gives you a more stable picture. The disadvantage is that aggressive applications of it can introduce motion artifacts that were not there to begin with, and it can make a movie picture look disturbingly hyper-real (the digital video effect or "soap opera" effect).
On the HW65ES you get four options for Motionflow: Off, True Cinema, Smooth Low and Smooth High. In our testing of scenes that (a) have excessive judder or (b) are prone to manifesting FI artifacts, we found that True Cinema has minimal effect in reducing judder but also has virtually no negative effects either. It is designed to reproduce the original frame rate of a 24-frame movie by removing the 3:2 pulldown and giving a more faithful 24 fps playback. However, the reduced frame rate can be suboptimal. In most cases the result is very close to the system being off.
The other two Motionflow settings are a different story. Smooth Low has a dramatic impact on judder reduction, producing a much cleaner and more stable image. Smooth Low also adds occasional motion artifacts, but they are subtle, rare, and nowhere near as apparent as we've seen on earlier implementations of FI. Smooth Low also adds almost no digital video effect.
Smooth High, the most aggressive setting, adds just a subtle touch of digital video, but it is nowhere near as obvious or as problematic as we've seen on other products. Most users would simply interpret it as a sharp, clear film picture rather than anything that was shot with a videocam. Smooth High adds a tad more image stability than Smooth Low, but the added benefit is marginal and not worth it for film subject matter. However, for live performance dance or concert video (material for which the more real it looks the better), it works fine.
Overall, Sony's implementation of Motionflow is highly successful. We suspect many users, even those who have objected to frame interpolation technology in the past, will be opting for the Smooth Low setting for most of their film viewing, as it substantially improves image stability with almost no undesirable side effects. However, there is one noteworthy limitation -- Motionflow is not an option in Game mode when you've got the input lag set to its fastest. No big surprise there, but worth mentioning.
3D Picture Quality
As stellar as the 2D image is on this projector, the same cannot be said for its performance in 3D. Though the picture is good from a color and contrast perspective, our test sample shows some instability that includes subtle flicker in the brighter scenes, motion artifacts, and some occasional crosstalk. Overall, the 3D picture is good enough to satisfy the user who intends to view 3D only on occasion, but cleaner and clearer 3D is available in competing products. Avid 3D fans who have a steady viewing diet of 3D material will want to seek out a projector with a more stable 3D image.
The Color Presets
The HW65ES has eight factory calibrated presets that you can modify as you see fit. Cinema 1, Cinema 2,and Reference are all targeted to D65 with rather modest variations in lumen output. They are perfectly viewable out of the box without calibration. However, most home theater videophiles who spend up to $4000 on a projector will want to have it professionally calibrated. Bright Cinema about 15% brighter than Cinema 1 and targeted to D75, so it is a bit cooler. It is still quite watchable and some users will prefer it.
Of the eight presets, Game mode is the brightest. Its vibrant picture is calibrated to a somewhat cooler temp, estimating 7500 degrees. TV and Bright TV have the same 7500 degree target color temp calibration, but the names are odd since they are virtually identical in lumen output. However, these presets differ in the default settings for the Contrast Enhancer, gamma, color space, Reality Creation resolution, and noise filtering.
The final preset is Photo mode, which is the only one of the eight that is warmer than standard, targeted to 5500 degrees. The designation "Photo" is peculiar -- we would never choose to display color photographs at 5500 degrees. And we would display black and white photos at this temperature only if we wished to impart a sepia toned effect to them. However there is one huge advantage to Photo mode -- it is ideal for the presentation of classic B/W films. Back in the day, commercial theaters used warmer light sources than we have today. So if you want to experience those old Bogie and Bacall films as they were actually seen by audiences back in the 40's, load up your b/w classic film source, pop the HW65ES into Photo mode, and you are all set. I watched the 1948 Orson Welles film The Lady from Shanghai over the weekend, and the HW65ES' Photo mode made it look spectacular.