Sony has been making high-quality home theater projectors for years. Sony's SXRD technology, which is their implementation of LCoS, produces projectors with high contrast ratios and impressive HD performance. Until now, though, those projectors have all carried price tags of at least $3000, putting them out of reach for many potential buyers.
Sony has just released the VPL-HW40ES, a 1080p SXRD home theater projector. At $2,499, it is the most affordable Sony home theater projector on record. It contains many of the best-loved features of more expensive Sony home theater machines, such as Reality Creation, MotionFlow, and a 1.6:1 zoom lens with H/V lens shift. It makes HD film and video look beautiful. And despite the lack of an automatic iris, contrast and dynamic range on the HW40ES are neck and neck with its competition.
Update 6/16/14: Added missing information on HW40ES lens shift range.
The Viewing Experience
The first time you turn it on, the HW40ES starts up in Cinema Film 1 mode. Cinema Film 1 looks great, especially for such a bright image mode, and is suitable for film and video when ambient light is present. But at just over 1400 lumens, Cinema Film 1 could light up a 160" diagonal 1.0 gain screen at over 16 foot Lamberts, so it's not meant for home theater at normal screen sizes.
It's not difficult to calibrate Cinema Film 1, but those who want to, in the words of the great huckster Ron Popeil, "set it and forget it" can use Reference mode. Reference mode gives you a picture that hews close to the Rec. 709 color gamut and a smooth, even 6500K grayscale at its factory settings, without any work on your part. On our test sample, Reference mode is still over 1100 lumens, so you give up some light output compared to Cinema Film 1 but get a more accurate picture.
The HW40's picture stands out due to the sheer amount of detail it includes. This is at least partially due to Sony's Reality Creation system, a feature we last saw on their VW600ES 4K projector. And while detail enhancement systems are nothing new, Sony's system is one of the best available. It helps take an already-sharp projector like the HW40ES and turn it into something more.