Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
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.
Excellent frame interpolation system. Known in Sony's vernacular as Motionflow, it lends great image stability without the undesired side effects.
Reality Creation. The detail enhancement system pushes clarity and image sharpness to a level beyond what you get from the natural 1080p signal.
Contrast Enhancer. Used modestly or moderately, this will boost shadow separation and gives a deeper, more three-dimensional image.
Great gaming speed. Input lag measures a very rapid 21 ms.
Manual Iris. Enables fine tuning of light output, reducing maximum lumens from 1% to 40% on a continuous scale.
Panel alignment system. If your unit happens to be delivered out of alignment due to rough handling in transit or misalignment at the factory, the HW65ES has the ability to tweak it back into alignment.
1.6x zoom lens and H+V lens shift. Lens versatility enables easy installation on ceiling or on platform behind the seating area. Vertical lens shift range is a total of 2.33 picture heights, and horizontal shift is a maximum of 25% of the picture width either way from center.
3D Features. Capable of displaying full HD 3D, using RF glasses for a more reliable connection than the IR communication on the earlier HW55ES.
Full Color Temp and Color Management controls. Pretty much all home theater projectors have extensive color controls these days. However, with IP control capability, the Projector Calibration Pro application can be used to make calibration adjustments from a PC instead of onscreen menus, and provides test charts to help with the adjustments. (This software is available for free to installers from Sony's Dealer Source website.)
Connections. The connection panel is on the lower right side of the unit as viewed from behind. It is sparse but adequate for most users. Two HDMI ports, one LAN RJ45 (10Base-T/100BASE-TX), one 3D IR synch port for external transmitter, one RS232-C, one 12-volt trigger. Note that the analog 3-RCA component and 15-pin VGA inputs that existed on the HW40ES and HW55ES have been omitted on this model.
Anamorphic lens compatibility. Should you wish to use an external A-lens with this projector, the vertical stretch required is available in the aspect ratio selections.
Three year warranty. The projector is covered for 3 years, and the lamp for one-year, making it an attractive warranty package.
Brightness. The Sony HW65ES is rated at 1800 lumens, and the brightest preset mode on our test sample measured 1772, so pretty much right on target. It has a whopping eight factory preset operating modes and one user programmable mode. With the lamp on the High setting and the zoom lens set to its widest angle position, our test unit produced ANSI lumens readings as follows:
Sony VPL-HW65ES ANSI Lumens
The various preset modes engage different processing features at different levels, primarily the Contrast Enhancer, which can be set to Off, Low, Middle, or High. So for example, in the Reference mode the Contrast Enhancer is off, in Cinema 1 it is Middle, in Cinema 2 it Low, and in Bright Cinema it is High. Since all of these settings are adjustable by the user, this large array of presets is really not necessary. But they do illustrate for the new user the various ways the system can be set up. For those who don't want to get into messing with the picture controls, they can just select the picture mode that most appeals to them and be done with it. So what we have here is a sophisticated home theater projector that can be easily enjoyed by the novice.
Zoom lens effect. The position you choose to set the 1.6x zoom lens has remarkably little effect on lumen output. From its brightest position at wide angle, it loses a mere 17.5% of its brightness when set to its maximum telephoto position. We've seen lenses with this zoom range lose 1/3 of the projector's light.
Eco mode. The eco mode cuts lamp brightness by 40%, which is more than is typical for eco modes. This drops the max light in the Cinema 1 and 2 modes down to 789 and 724 lumens respectively. This will be sufficient for most dark viewing home theater set ups, but if it isn't, the Bright Cinema mode at over 900 lumens may do the trick. Or just leave it in full lamp mode for ample brightness.
Brightness Uniformity. Uniformity on our test sample measures a reasonably good but not terrific 83%, with the brightest part of the image in the center and the least bright in the lower right.
Input lag. In game mode, the HW65ES measures a lightning quick 21 ms input lag, which makes it the fastest projector for gaming that we've seen in a long time. In Cinema mode, it measures 107 ms, quite a bit slower as we would expect. This is not a problem since anyone who is serious enough about home theater to acquire a projector of this quality will undoubtedly use an audio delay to get sound in synch with video.
Fan noise. The audible noise is extremely low, a very soft, low-pitched whir that is practically silent unless you are standing right next to it. Dropping the unit into eco mode further reduces fan noise to the point it is barely detectable.
High Altitude Mode is required at elevations above 1500 m, or about 5000 feet. In this mode the fan noise is increased, but it is still very quiet and unobtrusive.
Lamp life and price. Sony estimates lamp life to be 6000 hours in eco mode. They do not publish a lamp life rating when run in High mode. Replacement lamps cost $299.
The Sony VPL-HW65ES will thrown a 120" diagonal 16:9 image from a distance of between about 12 and 19 feet, give or take a couple inches. With this size screen, if you choose to place it at 12 feet, image brightness is maximized. If you put it at about 15 feet (the midpoint of the zoom lens), brightness is reduced by about 9%. If you set it all the way back to 19 feet at the telephoto end of the zoom range, image brightness is reduced by 17.5%. So keep these variances in mind when choosing your throw distance. Use the Projection Calculator to determine your actual throw distance options based your desired screen size.
The HW65ES has vertical lens shift of a range of 2.33 total picture heights. The shift range is centered at the centerline of the lens, so half of the shift range is above the line and half below the line. You can therefore place the entire image either above or below the centerline with a clearance of about 16% of the picture height (roughly 9.5 inches for a 120" diagonal screen). This will accommodate just about any ceiling mount or rear shelf mount you desire. There is also a horizontal shift which lets you move the image either to the left or right 25% of the image width when the vertical shift is in center position, and you can even move it 6% of the image width either way from center even when the vertical shift is set at a maximum offset.
As with most projectors, the HW65ES should not be installed at an angle exceeding 15 degrees or it will compromise the cooling system. If you do install a projector at any angle other than perpendicular to the screen it would normally require keystone adjustment to square it up, and we always recommend avoiding keystone adjustments on 1080p models. But here is some good news ... keystone adjustment has been eliminated from the HW65ES, so it is not an option anyway. Just line up the projector perpendicular to the screen and use the lens shift features to target the image onto the screen.
The manual stipulates a minimum clearance of about 1 foot on both sides and above the case, and 1 foot from a rear wall. The projector is 18.3" in length, so if you are planning a rear shelf mount, the front lens will need to be about 2.5 feet from the wall -- in other words, not a normal bookshelf mount.
Ideal throw distance. Where is the ideal placement when you've got a 1.6x zoom and you can choose to ceiling mount it anywhere between 12 and 19 feet to hit a 120" screen? The trade-offs are these:
1. If you place it at 12 feet, you get the maximum light output from the projector, which is good if you need it. The downside is that in this position it throws the widest angle cone of projected light, and light striking the screen toward the sides of the image will tend to bounce off away from the center viewing position. So it is less than ideal for even screen illumination.
2. If you place it at 19 feet, the light is cut by 17.5%. But in full lamp power mode you are likely to have more than enough light in most cases, so this small light loss may be of no consequence. The advantage of the long throw is that you narrow the cone of projected light, providing a more even illumination of the screen since light hitting the sides of the screen does not bounce off at as much of an oblique angle.
3. If you place it at 15 to 16 feet, you get equal trade-offs of the above. Also, in theory the midpoint of the zoom lens is its optical sweet spot, but it is doubtful that a 1080p resolution image is going to tax the optical resolution of the lens enough for you to notice.
The bottom line is that for this projector, we would tend to opt for the longer end of the zoom range if the installation space can accommodate it. Clearly, screen size and gain are key variables that will influence the ultimate decision.
Plan for lamp degradation. In planning your installation, keep in mind that a good rule of thumb is to anticipate that high pressure lamps will lose 25% of their brightness in the first 500 hours of operation, then degrade more slowly after that. There are two ways to compensate for this on the HW65ES. One is the manual iris, which defaults to wide open, but can be constricted to reduce light output from 1% to as much as 40%. One can install the projector initially with the iris set to reduce light by, say 25%, the plan to open the iris over time as the lamp output degrades.
An alternative would be to choose your optimum screen size and screen gain assuming you will use the projector's eco-mode for the first 500-750 hours, then switch to full lamp mode for the remainder of the lamp's life. However, since the HW65ES' eco-mode cuts light by 40%, this may or may not be a viable option with this particular projector.
No matter which plan you follow, since you are paying up to $4000 for this projector, the $299 cost of a replacement lamp is not a significant investment relative to the cost of the whole installation, so serious videophiles will want to consider a more frequent lamp replacement than the specs would suggest in order to keep the projector performing to its top potential.
3D instability. Though the 2D picture is tough to beat, the 3D image shows some subtle flicker, motion artifacts and cross talk. If your interest in 3D is only occasional, this will give you the 3D experience. But those for whom 3D is a major part of the viewing agenda may want to check other options.
No analog connections. Some projectors continue to offer VGA and component video inputs, and in point of fact they exist on the Sony HW40ES and HW55ES, but they have been deleted from this model. This will create some interface problems if you happen to be using analog source devices.
Brightness uniformity. At 83%, uniformity is reasonably good, but on our test sample there is some fading to the right side that we would prefer not to see in a projector of this caliber. It is visible on a solid white or gray test pattern but rarely noticeable in video/film viewing. Typically, viewers would never notice it as a flaw.
Eco-mode cuts light more than normal. A 40% reduction in light output for an eco-mode is more than the typical 25% or so. This will affect when and under what circumstances the eco-mode can be used. The estimated 6000-hour lamp life (the only number published by Sony), is predicated on exclusive operation in eco-mode.
Air filter maintenance. The projector has an air filter that needs to be removed, cleaned and reinstalled every 1500 hours (more frequently if you are operating in a dusty environment). This is a rare enough event that you'll probably forget, but the good news is that the unit will remind you with a message when this is needed.
Single 12-volt trigger. Competing units sometimes offer two triggers to activate multiple systems -- electric screens, lighting, drapes, etc. -- when the projector is powered on. The HW65ES has only one trigger.
The Sony VPL-HW65ES is an elegant home theater projector that succeeds by combining an array of effective processing features and attributes including the updated Reality Creation 2, Contrast Enhancer, Motionflow, very low digital noise, and the solid blacks and contrast from the SXRD engine. Though the processing features can be overdriven and exaggerated, when used in modest proportions there is a certain gestalt at work -- the ultimate 2D picture appears to be greater than the sum of its parts. It is extremely clean, stable, sharp, and natural--everything you want in a home theater picture. Video gamers will find the very quick 21 ms input lag to be extremely attractive. When it comes to 3D, it is serviceable for occasional 3D use, but the 3D picture does not measure up to the pristine elegance of the 2D image.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sony VPL-HW65ES projector page.