Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
Note: Click here for a Chinese language version of this review.
Sony's predecessor to the VPL-VW295ES reviewed here was a groundbreaking product. The VPL-VW285ES, introduced in fall of 2017 at $4,999, was heralded as the first true native 4K projector costing less than $5,000—"4K under $5K" was the bold marketing cry.
The VPL-VW295ES replaced the VW285 at the same $4,999 price late last year and continues to hold the industry title of least-expensive native 4K projector—this, despite arch-rival and fellow LCoS proponent JVC finally releasing native 4K consumer models of its own this year. It's joined in the company's current line-up by the VPL-VW695ES ($9,999); VPL-VW885ES ($24,999); VPL-VW995ES ($34,999); and the pro-grade VPL-VW5000ES ($60,000). The 885ES and 995ES have laser light engines; the others have lamps.
While $5,000 isn't exactly pocket change for most folks, by definition the VW295 "entry-level" Sony must sacrifice some features and performance over its pricier brethren. So it does, though it can hardly be called stripped down. To begin, it's built on a solid 31-pound chassis and features the same 14-element motorized lens used in the 695ES and 885ES step-up models (all glass, Sony says, except for the aspherical front element—a design choice said to make the projectors lighter and less expensive with virtually no impact on image quality). The VW295 offers up both HDR10 and HLG HDR compatibility with a wide color space spec'd at 127% Rec.709, which equates to 100% DCI-P3. Sony's excellent 4K/2K Reality Creation scaling and detail processing is on board, driven by the company's late-generation 4K processor. There's Motionflow frame interpolation for both 1080p and 4K signals, two 18 Gbps full-bandwidth HDMI ports that play back 4K/60p HDR signals, and an input lag reduction mode for gaming as well.
So, what's missing? Most obvious are the lack of lens memory settings and, more critically for image quality in this lamp-based model, a dynamic iris. The projector is also spec'd at a somewhat modest 1,500 lumens light output, a bit low by today's standards for this price class.
Taking these one by one, lens memories are helpful for those with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio 'Scope-style screen who want to retain a constant image height (CIH) display with 16:9 content without the use of an expensive anamorphic lens attachment and sled. Its omission will deter some users, but probably not many, and the VW295 does have anamorphic picture modes to match a 1.24x or 1.32x lens if needed.
The omission of a dynamic or even manual iris to help shut down light from the lamp would noticeably compromise the ultimate black floor and contrast on dark scenes compared with same-generation Sony models offering this feature (or a control for modulating the laser in those models). It's reasonable that Sony would hold this for its premium projectors, though disappointing not to have it in a $4,999 projector. This absence is somewhat mitigated by inclusion of Sony's latest SXRD LCoS imagers—the same device used in the VW285, which benefits from improvements to the reflective layer at the back of the chip that help to deepen blacks. Sony has also made adjustments to its HDR tone-mapping this year versus the VW285 to preserve more detail in dark areas. I'll have more to say later about the 295ES's blacks and contrast.
The 1,500 lumen brightness rating stands out at a time when many projectors are up in the 2,000 and above lumen range, which becomes more critical for ambient light viewing or with very large screens where you might bump up against the VW285's limits. Sony's other models range from 1,800 lumens up to 2,200 in the VW995ES before jumping to 5,000 lumens in the VW5000ES. I should note that our sample also fell a bit short of its spec in our ANSI lumen measurements. Still, with average-sized screens (say, up to 120 inches) it should offer up good brightness for a dark room theater or moderate ambient light viewing. More to come on that as well.
- Full 4096 x 2160-resolution, 0.74-inch native 4K imaging chips
- 3-Chip SXRD LCoS design free from rainbow artifacts
- Equal 1500 lumen white and color brightness rating
- Motorized 14-element, 2.06x zoom lens with powered zoom, lens shift, and focus
- Wide-range +85%, -80% vertical and +/-31% horizontal lens shift
- Two full-bandwidth, 18 Gbps HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2 ports
- Wide color gamut rated to 127% Rec.709; 100% DCI-P3 color space
- Compatible with HDR10 and HLG HDR content
- Nine preset picture/color modes
- RGB/CMY color management for primaries and secondaries; RGB gain/offset grayscale trims
- Sony Reality Creation processing for detail enhancement and Full HD to 4K scaling<
- Motionflow frame interpolation for 4K or 1080p content
- Low-latency game mode (approximately 27 ms with 4K/60)
- Full HD 3D playback (glasses not included)
- Certified for IMAX Enhanced content
- Full size backlit remote with access to key picture adjustments
- 225-watt UHP lamp rated for 6,000 hours life in Low power mode; replacement lamp LMP-H220 costs $365
- 3-year limited warranty
- 1,500 lumen brightness may be insufficient for some high-ambient-light applications
- Powered lens has no lens memory settings for CIH setups
- No dynamic iris to improve black level and contrast on dark scenes
SDR and HDR Picture Quality
Color Presets The VPL-VW295ES has a whopping nine picture presets: Cinema Film 1, Cinema Film 2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, Bright TV, and an adjustable User mode that starts out with settings equivalent to Reference. To Sony's credit, there wasn't a dog among them, although some proved closer to an enthusiast's needs than others.
Cinema Film 1, Cinema Film 2, and Reference are the three modes with defaults targeting the desired D65 white point for home theater purists in a dark theater. All other modes except for Photo default to a slightly cooler/bluer D75 color temp; Photo defaults to a warmer/pinker D55. Not even the brightest modes, Bright TV and Game, were excessively green or in any other way unusable as is often found in other projectors.
Measurements with CalMan software, a Murideo Six-G generator and an Xrite i1Pro2 photo spectrometer revealed that beyond the color temperature for white, the modes varied somewhat in their default settings in how far they reached out into the projector's attainable color space. Reference mode proved a near-perfect match for a Rec. 709 target, with low Delta E errors in both the RGBCMY color points and grayscale, and 2.24 average gamma that was a touch off the newer BT1886 standard but dead on for most legacy content. At its defaults, this mode delivered a very punchy maximum peak white reading of 50.8 foot-Lamberts in a 15% white window on my 92-inch diagonal, 1.3 gain Stewart Studiotek matte white screen. It was an obvious choice for SDR (standard dynamic range) playback; I could happily use it right out of the box, although I did fine-tune its contrast, brightness, and grayscale slightly.
The VW295 will automatically recognize HDR content in any picture preset and trigger an HDR viewing mode that activates the projector's wider Rec.2020 color space if such is present on the content, but that HDR mode has memory for only one dedicated picture setting—for what Sony calls "Contrast (HDR)." I'll explain shortly about the effect this slider has on the image with HDR content, but suffice to say it doesn't operate the way a typical contrast control does. Any other changes you make within the HDR mode will carry over to your SDR content, so you cannot independently tune color, grayscale, or brightness (black level) settings for HDR and return automatically to your preferred SDR default settings.
Therefore, if you want fully independent settings for HDR, you must calibrate a different preset and manually select it when you play HDR. I settled on using Cinema Film 2 as my dedicated mode for HDR. Compared with Reference, its out-of-box grayscale was slightly less accurate, but still good, and its color points showed acceptably low Delta E errors for the DCI-P3 color space targets. Peak white in this mode was similar to the Reference preset, measuring 49.6 ft-L max under the same conditions as described above. (Most of the other presets delivered default peak white brightness at either 46 ft-L (Photo mode) or 53 ft-L ( TV, Game, Bright TV, Bright Cinema). Cinema 1 was similar to Cinema Film 2 at around 51 ft-L.)
I eventually did an HDR calibration in Cinema Film 2, but a key observation I made later was that my calibrated mode was not detectably different to my eye on a range of HDR content than the HDR mode that was activated directly and automatically from the Reference preset with its nearly default settings. Here's the takeaway, blasphemous though it may be: unless you're an obsessive hardcore type who loses sleep over such things, just stick the VW295 in Reference mode if you're watching in a dark-room theater, do some tuning to fit your space and screen in Rec. 709 SDR, and don't burden yourself with having to change to a separate picture mode for HDR. The only control you'll likely want to adjust with any regularity with HDR content is Contrast (HDR), which is easily accessible via the Contrast button on the remote.
As a side note, I also ended up tuning the SXRD panel alignment on my sample when a test pattern revealed noticeable red fringing visible on white crosshairs ("+" symbols) on a black background. The fringing was nothing obvious in real content at viewing distance, but it was optimized easily enough with the panel alignment controls in the Installation menu.
1080p/SDR Viewing After modest adjustments to brightness and contrast that left me with a about 34ft-L for peak white on screen, I settled in for some standard dynamic range, 1080p Blu-ray viewing. The Sony looked gorgeous and highly color-accurate with pretty much everything I threw at it. It was extremely close in this regard to my reference projector, a JVC DLA-X790—so close that their similarity color-wise was remarkable: an accurate picture is an accurate picture, after all. The Sony was ever-so-slightly more warm (leaning toward red) on on whites and flesh-tones, but this was a real stretch to detect even in A/B comparisons on still movie frames, and the difference amounted to a very fine splitting of hairs. Both projectors were close enough to perfect neutrality to be described as color equals.
The VW295 scored well on many of my go-to test clips. The opening scene of The Martian starts out with astronauts working in a sun-drenched, red-tinted martian landscape, wearing white space suits accessorized with visual elements ranging from the familiar American flag and NASA logos to various red and orange trim pieces. Red push in a display can drown the subtle differences between red and orange and generally oversaturate this outdoor scene and make it more cartoonish. The Sony displayed this sequence with exactly the look I've come to expect, as it did the scene that follows inside the astronauts' habitat. The pristine white environment displayed with superb neutrality, neither too red nor too blue, as did the white sweatshirt worn by one of the astronauts. At the same time, the different facial tones of each astronaut were clearly delineated as they all examined the computer monitor in front of them, from the very pale, fair skin of Commander Lewis (played by the red-headed Jessica Chastain) to the more ruddy face of the soon-to-be-stranded Mark Watney (Matt Damon).
Another scene I often use to check both flesh-tones and detail, the first close-up of actor Tom Cruise's face near the opening of Oblivion, was also rendered with exceptional accuracy. When properly displayed, Cruise's sun-drenched face in this tight shot reveals a very slight rosiness to his cheeks, with the emphasis on "slight"—shown correctly, it's a very natural skin tone accompanied by a subtle highlight that should never look like applied rouge or sunburn, but does on many displays. The skin pores on the actor's nose and the fine detail of his stubble and his eyebrows in this shot also revealed the Sony's excellent rendering of detail. Sony's Reality Creation 1080p to 4K scaling technology and detail processing offers a fair degree of adjustment and rightly gets good grades for its performance in general. No exception here, as the VW295 with its signal processing, 4K imaging chips and lens made any good 1080p transfer look noise-free and pretty much impossible to discern from native 4K content.
On the majority of content, the contrast and black level performance from the VW295ES left me little to complain about. But as with some other fine-caliber projectors that either lack an iris (or deep native blacks—not the problem here), the limitations only became apparent on demanding darks scenes with an overall low average picture level (APL). Opening scenes with the space shuttle in Earth's orbit from the movie Gravity looked sensational, with a bright white ship against a suitably dark black outer space, though a later scene in which the frame was populated by a starfield and just a tiny, floating white astronaut in the distance revealed some obvious washing out of black. Ditto for an early scene from San Andreas shot in a Cal Tech lecture room. The camera pans across the dark auditorium of students while they're watching a slide show, their faces lit only by light coming off the projection screen and the halo from the beam coming off the projector's lens. Although the beam retained its punch on the Sony, the shadows from which the students faces emerged were grayed out and noisier than I've seen from projectors with superior blacks, and the faces were not delivered with the same contrast and shadow detail.
Note that the Sony has a Contrast Enhancer control that, on some dark scenes and with the right setting, can help deepen the black level, though at the expense of some brightness to the highlights. I explored this with a test disc in my collection that has a clip of a Japanese swordsman striking poses against a pure black background. Engaging the Contrast Enhancer on Low took the appearance of the black down noticeably, but the swordsman's well lit face lost some punch. Mid helped restore some of that brightness while keeping the black at about the same perceived level. The High setting boosted both the facial highlight and overall black level of the background and washed out the scene. As I've found with most projectors, dynamic contrast processing that does not utilize a mechanical iris or some other method to directly modulate the light source can only play with the level of bright elements and mid-tones to give the appearance of deeper black, but can't create what's not there to begin with.
4K/HDR Viewing. As mentioned earlier, the VPL-VW295ES automatically detects HDR10 content on any color preset and switches into an HDR viewing mode that detects and activates the appropriate color space (usually Rec.2020 color space for wide color gamut) and the SMPTE ST 2084 EOTF (gamma curve). To clarify, virtually all 4K/UHD consumer projectors recognize content mastered for a Rec.2020 envelope, which is the standard for UHD content, but will only reproduce colors out to some subset of the full Rec.2020 space. The best current displays target 100% of the smaller DCI-P3 color space coordinates that are fully contained within the Rec.2020 envelope. This actually matches the content, which is all mastered to DCI-P3 for exhibition. Although I didn't specifically measure the Sony's percentage of P3 during my evaluation, it was close to its specified 100%, hitting the blue color point easily but coming up a bit short on reaching the red and green P3 boundaries on the CIE color chart.
Most projectors have multiple settings for HDR to accommodate different content and viewing tastes because projectors can't deliver the full brightness required for the peak highlights found in current HDR movies. When you encounter bright highlights that exceed the projector's capabilities, these settings usually allow you to take down the overall brightness to retain detail in those in those areas, though at the expense of visceral punch in the highlights and shadow detail in the blacks.
Sony's "Contrast (HDR)" control, which comes up in its HDR mode as a replacement for the regular peak-white contrast control, is said to adjust peak white and mid-tones without significantly affecting darker areas of the image. As a slider control, it provides a finer degree of control than the multiple fixed HDR settings found on some other projectors, although it didn't provide as much overall range as I've seen on some models. But I did find that its default setting of 50 proved an excellent starting point for most HDR movies, and I used settings as high as 85-90 to achieve more punch on certain content. I never needed to max out the control.
The animal party scene in the animated movie The Secret Life of Pets (UHD Blu-ray, Chapter 11, 00:47:34) is a riotous mix of bright color that includes a few dozen furry creatures mixed with familiar objects which, despite being animated, are intentionally drawn close to their natural colors. The green felt of a pool table on which some of the pets were reveling was eerily accurate to real life on the VW295ES, as was a pearly white porcelain toilet in which some hard-partying dogs were performing the canine equivalent of of a guzzling contest. The sequence just prior in which Gidget—a puffy, pure-white pomeranian—is plotting her entry to the party through a window in a bright, sun-lit alleyway also showed off both the Sony's HDR color accuracy and sharpness. The white of her fur was as perfectly neutral as the whites in my SDR viewing, and its fine detail was simply breathtaking. Cranking the Contrast (HDR) control up to 85 boosted the highlights in this scene to provide superb punch while still preserving the detail and avoiding any blooming on the sun reflections coming off a nearby gray concrete wall. Other colors, like the green and yellow feathers of a parakeet and the deep blue woven nylon of a dachshund's dog collar, were similarly punchy and a delightful to revel in.
Turning back to The Martian, but this time in its UHD Blu-ray version with HDR, I could see that the VW295ES retained its excellent color accuracy while offering up brighter and more engaging highlights. In one scene in the crew's mother ship, two of the astronauts are talking when a beam of sunlight enters the windows on the spinning ship and moves across one of their faces. The beam creates a bright, punchy highlight before shifting out of the picture, making the scene feel more realistic. It's the kind of thing HDR is made for.
Just as with SDR content, the VW295ES's contrast and black level limitations with HDR most showed themselves on overall dark scenes. In an early scene from this movie, the astronauts are evacuating their habitat during a martian sandstorm that blocks all sunlight (Chapter 1, 00:05:50). The outlines of four astronauts are visible in this long shot, and their well-lit faces and headlamps present satisfyingly bright, HDR beacons for the viewer. But some shadow details, such as the outlines of their legs against the randomly moving storm debris flying around them, are lost on the Sony while some other projectors with better contrast are able to pull them out without raising the brightness control and washing out the image. Still, these are subtle performance details, and on this scene and in most HDR viewing I found the Sony's contrast performance with its optimized settings satisfying and not distracting in any way. Occasionally, a very dark scene with more subtle highlights would come along and reveal a degree of wash-out and a more obvious lack of deep black, but these were the same scenes that would challenge all but the very highest performing projectors.
Motion Processing. The VPL-VW295ES Motionflow control offers three settings besides Off to apply motion processing. Smooth High was effective in eliminating judder and noticeably improving resolution of moving objects, but added a high degree of video "soap opera effect" and unnatural realism to 24 fps movies. Smooth Low presented only modest SOE that was not particularly egregious but was considerably less effective in reducing blur. The True Cinema mode provided the least amount of judder reduction but no detectable video effect. I usually left Motionflow turned off, but found it could be useful at its Smooth High position for sports broadcasts.
Banding and Bit Depth. The VPL-VW295ES never called attention to itself with obvious banding artifacts, even on 8-bit, 1080p content that is challenging for some projectors. It also successfully played our animated ProjectorCentral 10-bit HDR Grayscale test clip (available for download here), showing appropriately smooth, band-free wheels that suggest a retention of 10-bit color processing from input to screen.
3D Viewing. The VPL-VW295 has options to automatically recognize 3D (on by default), and a 5-position 3D depth control that ranged from -2 through +2. There is also a 2D-to-3D simulation mode. You have the ability to engage Motionflow with 3D if desired in either its Smooth Low or Smooth High settings.
Using Bright TV mode, I had an acceptably bright 3D viewing experience in a dark room with a pair of Xpand Vision 3D Glasses Lite RF active shutter glasses—not the brightest I've seen, but bright enough to allow me to become absorbed in the content without being disappointed or distracted by a lack of punch. Still, if you're a serious 3D fanboy, you should probably be looking for a projector with a higher lumen output. I observed no obvious crosstalk on a mix of 3D Blu-ray's and saw just a bit of the usual 3D motion-related artifacts.
Brightness. As happens with 3-chip LCD projectors, the VPL-VW295ES, with its three LCoS SXRD imagers, is rated to deliver equal white and color brightness. It fell somewhat short of hitting its specified 1,500 lumens in our ANSI measurements in its brightest color mode (Bright TV ) with the lens at its widest zoom for maximum throughput and the lamp power at High position. This was ProjectorCentral's experience in our review of the VPL-VW285ES as well.
That said, in its High lamp mode, the VW295ES provided a bright and punchy picture in any of its settings in a dark theater with a 92-inch or 100-inch diagonal image on my 1.3-gain matte white screen, and was sufficiently bright with the same sizes and screen material for moderate ambient light viewing in its Bright TV and Bright Cinema modes—even with a down-firing recessed ceiling light challenging the image from about 3 feet in front of the screen. Selecting the Low lamp mode reduces light output by 28% in all modes.
The measured ANSI lumens for each of the color modes was as follows:
Sony VPL-VW295ES ANSI Lumens
|Cinema Film 1||1199||864|
|Cinema Film 2||1202||866|
Zoom Lens Light Loss. Going from the widest to the full telephoto position on the 2.06x zoom lens results in a 27% loss of light in any color mode. However, given the relatively long zoom, many setups will not require the full telephoto capacity, which would accommodate a 100-inch diagonal image from 20.5 feet away.
Brightness Uniformity. At either end of its zoom range, the VW295 measured 78.1% uniformity, an average to above-average reading. Brightness variations were so subtle as to be difficult to detect even with a white full frame test pattern, but measurements revealed that light output fell off slightly on the right third of the screen and particularly in the bottom right-corner sector of an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid drawn across the screen area.
Lens Focus. The Sony's powered lens adjustments provided very fine control of focus, and sharpness was good from edge-to-edge. Unlike some other projectors at this price level, there is no motorized lens cover, though Sony says the front element of the lens has a special coating to repel dust.
Input Lag. The VPL-VW295 is equipped with an Input Lag Reduction setting (On or Off) to optimize game playing. It is automatically engaged when the Game Mode is selected and locks out the Motionflow, NR (noise reduction) and MPEG NR controls.
With a 1080p signal, input lag was 36 ms in Game mode or in Bright Cinema mode with Input Lag Reduction turned on. In Bright Cinema mode with Input Lag Reduction turned off and with Motionflow on its High setting, input lag reached a maximum of 136 ms.
I could not measure 4K input lag when Input Lag Reduction was turned on in any mode; the projector was unable to lock onto the signal generated by our Bodnar 4K lag meter, though Sony says it is indeed active with 4K signals and actually provides the fastest performance of any signal type due to the lack of processing required to mate with the native 4K imaging chips.
In Game mode with Input Lag Reduction and Motionflow turned off manually, 4K input lag was 88 ms. The lowest measurable 4K input lag, again with Input Lag Reduction turned off, was 77 ms in the Bright TV mode. Sony says these are both expected results. The company says that turning on Input Lag Reduction with 4K/60 signals should result in input lag of approximately 27 ms, though I was unable to verify this with our instrumentation.
Fan Noise.The VPL-VW295ES is rated for 26 dB of noise in its most quiet Low power mode, though in unspecified test conditions. From a close distance of 6 feet and a position down and in front of the projector (simulating a nearby ceiling mount), fan noise in the High power mode was approximately 40 db on a sound level meter and was a pleasantly-pitched whir that was easily perceived when you listened for it but sufficiently masked by most audio soundtracks. Placing the lamp in its Low power mode reduced noise by about 3 dB and took the fan to a quiet hush.
Sony recommends using the High Altitude setting at elevations of 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) and above. Activating High Altitutde mode in Low power mode added a couple of dB on a sound level meter and made it about equivalent to the High power mode alone. Adding it to the High power mode made it about 5 dB louder than the High power setting alone and made the fan noise obtrusive enough to consider alternate placement options or some form of acoustic isolation.
Lamp Life. Sony rates the lamp for 6,000 hours in the Low setting. The company does not publish or provide a lamp-life specification for the High setting.
The VPL-VW295ES offers a long 2.06x motorized zoom lens and exceptionally broad lens shift, rated +85/-80% vertical and +/- 31% horizontal, respectively, to simplify set up. It should work well with either a ceiling mount or a high shelf at the back of the room. Screen size focus range is specified at 60- to 300-inches diagonal. For a 120-inch diagonal, 16:9 screen, the projector allows throw distances between 12' 0" and 24' 8". For a 100-inch screen, it allows a throw range between 10' 1" and 23' 8". You can consult our Sony VPL-VW295ES Projection Calculator for the throw range for your screen size.
In today's home theater projector market there remains a significant price increment to be paid for true native 4K imaging devices, irrespective of the type of imaging technology being used. One of the challenges buyers face today is determining the value of native 4K versus the less expensive pixel-shifting 4K models from prominent brands that use Texas Instrument's DLP chips, as well as with 4K-compatible 1080p LCD and LCoS projectors that use pixel-shifting to display an approximation of a 4K image.
I'm not going to take on that debate right now, but what I can say with confidence is that with Sony's VPL-VW295ES, you get a very high level of performance thanks to the excellent native blacks and sharpness of Sony's LCoS-based SXRD 4K imagers and lens, as well as the company's well-engineered signal processing and superb build quality. Putting aside the limitations I've identified, it is most certainly a "premium" projector; one that gave me many hours of joyful viewing with plenty of "wow" moments and only occasionally showed its weaknesses on challenging material. In that sense, and certainly in the limited world of native 4K projectors, it represents excellent value—especially placed against Sony's own step-up VPL-VW695ES at $9,999.
Whether it's the right projector for you will come down to your screen size and lighting conditions (i.e, how much brightness you need), and your budget—specifically, how much more you might be willing to pay to achieve both native 4K imaging and this level of build quality, along with the deeper blacks and better contrast that the industry's best projectors can offer. I dare say that a large majority of viewers who watch in dark room theaters, which this model is clearly targeted for, would live quite happily ever after with the VPL-VW295ES. It's an outstanding projector and an easy recommendation.
Sony VPL-VW295ES Connections
- (2) HDMI 2.0b (both with HDCP 2.2)
- (1) USB Type A (for firmware updates)
- (1) IR In (3.5mm minijack)
- (1) LAN (RJ-45, 10BaseT, 100BaseTX)
- (1) RS-232c (D-sub 9-pin)
- (1) 12v trigger (3.5mm minijack, 100 mA),
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sony VPL-VW295ES projector page.