Sony HW40ES wins Editor's Choice
With the CEDIA show now behind us, we've got a better idea of the competitive lay of the land for the fall season...
Now that the older Panasonic AE8000 has dropped to $1,999 there are two major home theater models duking it out at the $2500 price point -- the Sony VPL-HW40ES just released earlier this summer and the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB, which was released last fall, but which now features a mid-life kicker with a firmware upgrade that noticeably improves detail definition. After viewing the upgraded 5030UB, we conclude a couple of things. First, the firmware upgrade is well worth the time to seek out for any current owner of the 6030, 5030 or 4030 models. It very noticeably improves detail resolution, and it is highly unusual to see a projector firmware upgrade have such an obvious impact on image quality. Prior to the upgrade the 5030 could not match the Sony HW40's sharpness and detail resolution. Now that gap has been closed and the two projectors are almost indistinguishable when it comes to image sharpness.
At the same time, the HW40ES displays an analog-like purity and clarity that the 5030UB does not quite match. It has an advantage in overall contrast and image depth due to the reflective SXRD technology used in the light engine. The Epson 5030UB will achieve a deeper black level in dark scenes due to its auto iris (which the HW40ES does not have), but the black levels of the HW40ES are sufficient to give the image ample snap and sparkle. Fan noise is not loud on the 5030UB by any means, but when running in full power mode the unit's whisper is noticeable during a movie's quiet interludes, whereas fan noise on the HW40ES is almost non-existent. When the 5030 is in eco-mode, it is pretty much silent as well.
The 5030UB has somewhat more range in zoom and lens shift than does the HW40ES, and this may be a vital decision factor -- there will be some situations in which the 5030UB can fit the requirements for screen size, location, and throw distance while the HW40ES cannot.
Nevertheless, the Sony VPL-HW40ES is a truly elegant projector for its $2,499 price, and its three year warranty trumps the 5030UB's two-year coverage to sweeten the pot a bit more. We are happy to give the Sony HW40ES our 2014 Editor's Choice Award for projectors in this price class.