Best Home Theater Projectors
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Intended Use:
Home Theater
Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector Sony VPL-HW50ES
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Street Price: $3,000
MSRP:$3,999
3D: Full HD 3D
Contrast:100,000:1
Lumens:1700
Weight: 21.2 lbs
Resolution:1920x1080
Aspect Ratio:16:9
Technology:SXRD
Lens:1.52x manual
Lens Shift:H + V
Lamp Life:n/a
Lamp Cost:n/a
Warranty:3 year
Connectors:  Component, RGB, HDMI (x2), Network, RS232
Video Formats:  480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p/60, 1080p/24, 1080p/50

Sony VPL-HW50ES
3D 1080p SXRD Home Theater Projector

Bill Livolsi, March 25, 2013

Shootout vs. Panasonic AE8000

Some people looking at the Sony HW50 might also be looking at the Panasonic AE8000, which is also a fine home theater projector and comes in at around $2499 to the HW50's $3999. The AE8000 has a more impressive set of specifications, but as we're keen to remind our readers, specs never tell the whole story. Let's see how these two projectors really stack up.

A vitally important area of comparison is 2D image quality. In this area, the Sony HW50 holds a slight advantage in several image characteristics. Both projectors produce a rock-solid image, but the HW50 is brighter (in equivalent modes), slightly higher in contrast, slightly more three-dimensional, and a touch sharper. Meanwhile the AE8000 tends to have less noise and a smoother, more film-like quality. However, if you boost the AE8000's digital clarity processor you end up with incremental sharpness with a bit more noise, and a picture that looks more like the HW50. Conversely, if you push the HW50's noise reduction filters, you get less noise and a slightly more film-like image that looks closer to the AE8000's default settings. These are tiny, almost minuscule differences that are only noticeable in side by side comparison; in many cases we agonized over these judgments for hours, deciding if they were worth commenting on at all. In the end, viewers may differ on which image they prefer, as some may value the contrast and sharpness of the HW50 over the smoothness of the AE8000.

This is becoming a more common situation these days. All of the home theater projectors in the $2000-$5000 price bracket share some similarities and all calibrate well. In many cases, the difference between one projector and the next might be a tiny bit of detail in one area of the image that looks a bit sharper on one projector. That's the level of similarity being dealt with. With this in mind, we hope you do not take our comments as evidence of a massive performance gap -- because that gap does not actually exist.

With regard to 3D image quality, the HW50 has the advantage. Both projectors appear very clean with regard to crosstalk and artifacts, though the HW50 shows fewer instances of crosstalk in the most difficult circumstances. But the HW50 is also quite a bit brighter, and 3D brightness is currently the most important factor in getting a good 3D picture. The simple fact is that the HW50 can produce a watchably bright 3D image at 120" diagonal, so you can watch your 2D and 3D on the same large screen. The AE8000 has quite a few 3D features that are missing on the HW50, such as a depth of field control and 3D motion correction, but its 3D screen size is limited by lower 3D light output.

Light output. As you might have guessed from the previous section, the HW50 has an advantage in the management of light output, but it is not the brightest projector. In terms of actual numbers, here is an apples-to-apples comparison of calibrated light output:

 Sony HW50Panasonic AE8000
Bright calibrated1386 (Bright Cinema)1612 (Cinema 2)
Cinema calibrated931 (Cinema Film 1)822 (Cinema 1/Rec709)

As you can see, the AE8000 is brighter than the HW50 in its bright calibrated setting, while the HW50 is slightly brighter than the AE8000 in its cinema calibrated setting. Both projectors have a low-lamp mode that reduces light output by about 35%. So brightness is a toss-up, right? Not so fast.

Let's say you have a 100" diagonal 1.3-gain screen in a dark room and you want to light it up with the recommended 16 foot-Lamberts. A screen like that only requires about 400 lumens to light properly. But even in low lamp cinema mode, the AE8000 is producing 535 lumens while the HW50 is producing about 600 lumens. In both instances, that's noticeably too much light. The standard advice is to use more of the zoom lens such that the projectors soak up some of that light output, but that isn't always an option. On the HW50, you can use the Auto Limited iris mode to reduce maximum brightness using just the on-board controls. What's more, you can always disable it if you want to turn the lights on and watch something at full blast. The AE8000 does not have an equivalent option. While many folks prefer a bit more brightness than the 16 fL recommendation, it's also nice to have the choice.

Our tests revealed that the HW50ES is nearly twice as bright as the AE8000 in 3D. As noted this gives the HW50 a decided edge in the 3D viewing experience.

Contrast. The AE8000 and the HW50 are roughly equal when it comes to black level, and both projectors look similar enough in this regard that picking them apart would be arbitrary and a little silly. The HW50 appears to have more depth and three-dimensionality in quite a few scenes, but the AE8000 appears to have more depth in others. Deep shadow detail is more evident in default settings on the HW50, leading to an impression of higher contrast. Really it's just that the HW50 has a more accurate gamma curve in factory default settings, and you can bring the AE8000 up to parity with a few adjustments.

Color. Both projectors have accurate color right out of the box. The HW50's Cinema Film 1 mode is already close to 6500K without adjustment, as is the AE8000's Rec709 mode. Both projectors also have a near-perfect color gamut out of the box using those image modes. The AE8000 has overdriven color saturation in default settings, while the HW50 appears anemic in this same area. Saturation controls can be reduced on the AE8000 and increased on the HW50 such that they match. The HW50's lower saturation default settings may be truer to the source, but many viewers will want to give it a boost.

Clarity and detail. With all sharpening controls disabled completely on both projectors, the Sony HW50 appears slightly sharper and higher in detail. Once you turn on Detail Clarity on the AE8000 and Reality Creation on the HW50, though, the two projectors are just about identical. Neither projector appears to have any sharpening artifacts until you turn the controls up to about 2/3 of maximum.

Digital noise. Digital noise is one area where there's a clear difference between the two projectors. The AE8000 has very little noise in its cinema modes, while the HW50 has quite a bit. The difference between the two is striking when viewed side-by-side. However, with careful use of noise reduction, you can reduce the appearance of digital noise on the HW50 to the point where it appears more or less identical to the AE8000. Overdriving those controls, though, can reduce sharpness. The AE8000 has an advantage in that that those adjustments are not necessary.

Audible noise.While the AE8000 is quiet, the HW50 is dead silent. You cannot hear the AE8000 during normal use, but you cannot hear the HW50 unless you practically have your ear up to the exhaust vents.

Placement flexibility. The AE8000's powered 2.0:1 zoom lens surpasses the manual 1.6:1 zoom of the HW50 in range and convenience, though both projectors have excellent (and very similar) manual H/V lens shift ranges.

Warranty. The HW50 comes with a three-year warranty to the AE8000's two-year / 2,000 hour warranty. A promotional offer extends the AE8000's warranty to three years / 3,000 hours, but it is slated to end on March 31, 2013. The offer may be further extended, but that is not yet known.

Input lag. The AE8000 is fairly quick when it comes to input lag, at 67ms (4 frames) in its Cinema modes and 34ms (2 frames) in Game mode. The HW50 is slightly quicker at 50ms (3 frames) in Cinema Film 1 and 34ms (2 frames) in Game mode. The single-frame difference will not be noticeable to most gamers and both projectors are quite fast.

Frame Interpolation. Both projectors have frame interpolation systems and both systems are quite good. But we saw fewer artifacts on the HW50 without any increased perception of the digital video effect.

Automated lens memory. On earlier home theater projectors, Panasonic pioneered the Lens Memory system that allows for the automatic resetting of the lens to display either 16:9 or 2.35:1 material at constant image height on a Cinemascope format screen without an anamorphic lens. This feature continues in the AE8000 and is made possible by the powered zoom and focus lens which the HW50 lacks.

Automated panel alignment. Though the AE8000 features Lens Memory it does not have the panel alignment capability found on the HW50. Over time, panels can drift out of alignment due to heat, bumps, and stress, thereby degrading image quality. Panels need to be re-aligned for maximum performance. On the HW50, this is a five-minute fix you can do at home. On the AE8000, this means shipping the projector out for service.

Purchase price. The AE8000 wins on price, as it comes in at $1500 less than the HW50. However, keep in mind that the HW50 comes with an extra year's worth of warranty in addition to a spare lamp ($379) and two pairs of 3D glasses (at $129/ea). Panasonic currently has a mail-in promo offer for two free pairs of glasses, a $100 rebate, and an additional year of warranty coverage, but that offer is slated to end on March 31, 2013 and it is unknown whether it will be extended. The AE8000's warranty also includes a limitation on operating hours (2,000 hours for two years or 3,000 hours for three years) that is not present in the HW50's warranty.

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Conclusion
Review Contents: The Viewing Experience Key Features Performance Limitations
  Shootout vs AE8000 Conclusion

Reader Comments(4 comments)

Posted Sep 30, 2013 5:11:36 PM

By john

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Seems like the lens-shift feature has gone backwards. The previous HW models had a smooth lens-shift without the "jumping".

The last projector i had had the same problem, too much pressure on the shift wheels causing the picture to shift too far. But that was a 2003 projector... hmm..

Posted Jul 30, 2013 9:16:22 PM

By Bert

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Just an update. I have replaced the 10ht with the vh50es. Image quality is great as expected, no complaints at all, and I found it remarkable that the new projector fits on the same projector mount as the 12 year old one. Well done Sony.

Posted May 29, 2013 8:48:22 PM

By Bert

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Similar as above but not less than 12 years happy with my vw10ht that has consumed almost 4 lamps now. Still happy with the vw10 but think now is the time to upgrade to the HT50.

Posted Mar 30, 2013 2:55:34 PM

By Ryan

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I have to hand it to sony, I have had my VW-40 for 5 years now and it still looks as good as it did on day one, all my bulbs always went past 3k hours. The only thing is I don't really have a desire to upgrade still :)

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