Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
Sony's new VPL-VW95ES is a fully-featured powerhouse of a home theater projector. At $5,999, the VW95ES is a step above the numerous projectors in the $2,000 to $4,000 price bracket, and that step up in price brings a commensurate step in performance. The projector's 1000 lumen output is perfect for dark room home theater, while its 150,000:1 contrast gives the picture a natural, three-dimensional quality. Excellent color controls ensure life-like reproduction of any content you choose to watch. A 1.6:1 powered zoom lens with powered H/V lens shift makes setup a snap. The projector is also full HD 3D compatible and includes two pairs of glasses. An included three-year warranty keeps everything running smoothly. The VW95 is a solid value for projector enthusiasts who are serious about home theater.
Lots of home theater projectors these days are essentially dual-purpose machines, allowing for projection in both darkened home theaters and brighter living room environments. The Sony VPL-VW95ES is not one of those projectors. From the ground up, this thing is built as a home theater machine. Everything about it is tailored for use in the dark, so to get the best possible performance out of the VW95 you'll need to spend some time on light control.
When you fire up the VW95, it's not very bright as projectors go. While most HT projectors have a brighter living room or dynamic mode, the VW95's Dynamic mode is just a slightly brighter, slightly bluer version of its normal Cinema modes. If you are looking for a multi-purpose projector, the VW95 is not recommended.
Once you get the VW95 set up in a dark room, everything changes. The projector's deep black level, which rivals that of the impressive Epson 5010, only really shines in a room with no ambient light. Color, which is already fairly close to 6500K out of the box and can be made closer still via calibration, is well-saturated and accurate. Objects on screen look life-like, not artificial or exaggerated. The picture has plenty of detail, but sharpness is not overdriven and there's no evidence of edge enhancement. And while the VW95 does have a frame interpolation system, the effect is quite subtle (and if you still don't like it, you can always turn it off).
In our preferred operation mode (Cinema 2, low lamp, middle of the zoom range) the VW95 lights up a 100" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 18 fL. That's plenty bright, even if there's a little bit of ambient light in the room (though this will compromise black levels before it ever threatens brightness). When watching 3D, the decrease in brightness will likely require smaller screen sizes.
Full HD 3D. The VW95 is fully compatible with the HDMI 1.4 standard for 3D, meaning it will display 3D content from Blu-ray and broadcast sources without a hitch. The VW95 includes two pairs of 3D glasses, which is still a rarity in 3D projectors even at this stage in the game. Sony's glasses fit the head well and don't feel constricted or cramped. The built-in battery can be charged via USB, and Sony includes a small device that allows you to plug them into the wall directly. Since a lot of devices (like your computer) cut power to USB when you turn them off, this is a great little accessory. It allows the glasses to stay in the theater, making the whole system self-sufficient.
The VW95 uses infrared sync for its 3D glasses. The IR emitter is built in to the projector, with the option to add an outboard emitter via RJ-45. The onboard emitter is plenty powerful enough to control the included glasses, even at long throw distances. While there is still some crosstalk to be seen, the VW95 is a step up from the previous HW30.
On another note, while this does not apply to many folks out there, the VW95 will accept 3D at 1080p/60 using either the side-by-side or over-under formats. Gamers, start your engines.
2D Image quality. The VW95 is notable for its smooth, film-like 2D picture. Once it is properly calibrated, the VW95 has a 2D picture that rivals the best we've seen this year in terms of its natural character. Nothing about the VW95 looks artificial. Highlights are bright and crisp, while shadows are deep and even. Black, in particular, is notable for just how deep it is, rivaling the Epson 5010 at its deepest. Color is not far from ideal, even at defaults, and a little bit of fine-tuning brings it in line with established D65 and Rec. 709 standards without much trouble. Gamma measures out close to the idea 2.2 without any adjustment at all. Detail is crisp. All in all, there's little to complain about when it comes to the 2D image, which makes the VW95 a great projector for the home theater enthusiast.
Fully motorized 1.6:1 lens. If Sony's home theater projector lens has been changed at all in the past few years, we haven't been able to tell. The VW95 uses their same 1.6:1 zoom lens, though unlike the HW30 all adjustments are powered. The projector can put up a 100" diagonal 16:9 image at any throw distance between 10' and 15' 3". Lens shift has a total range of 2.3 image heights vertically, allowing the image to be placed completely above or completely below the centerline of the lens (a 65% shift either up or down). Horizontal range allows for a shift of 25% of the picture's width in either direction. As always, lens shift range is an elongated oval, not a rectangle, so you cannot reach maximum horizontal and vertical shift simultaneously.
Picture position. The VW95 includes a system called Picture Position which allows the projector to remember five different positions for zoom, focus, and lens shift. Why would you use this? Say you own a 2.4:1 cinemascope screen and want to watch super-widescreen movies without the hassle of an anamorphic lens. Lens memory allows you to have one preset for 2.4:1 and another for 16:9, which maximizes screen area for both kinds of movies without needing any manual adjustment. Just punch the button and go.
Full calibration controls. What distinguishes a videophile's projector is often the presence of comprehensive calibration controls. While a good default calibration makes a projector easy to use for newbies, the videophile set is more than happy to tweak their projector until it is exactly how they want it.
The VW95 appeals to both groups. The default calibration is excellent, but the projector also has a full suite of calibration controls, allowing the adjustment of white balance, gamma correction, color gamut, and every other conceivable setting. It's almost a shame that the default calibration is so good, because these controls probably won't get a lot of use.
Low fan noise. In operation, the VW95 is nearly silent, especially in low lamp mode. The fan produces a low rush of air, only really detectable because we sit very close to the projector during testing. In high lamp mode it is more easily detectable, but still not loud enough to hear during actual use unless you have your sound system turned way down.
Iris. The VW95 has an automatic iris, like most other home theater projectors. The VW95's iris is both subtle and quiet, and its operation is almost impossible to detect during normal use. However, there's also an option to switch the iris to manual, which is useful if you have a very dark room or a small screen. The iris can cut light output by up to 55% with plenty of stops in between. This is an option that most home theater projectors don't have anymore, but Sony has been including it for years. We're glad they do.
Panel Alignment. In any projector that uses multiple imaging elements (anything other than single-chip DLP), panel mis-alignment can cause degradation of the image. The VW95 includes Sony's panel alignment system, which has been present on Sony home theater projectors for years now. This system allows the user to make small adjustments to panel alignment at home, obviating the need to send the projector in for adjustment. As the projector ages, small shifts in alignment are possible, so having a system like this can be valuable.
Motion Enhancer. Motion Enhancer is a frame interpolation system that smooths out fast motion and reduces judder. The VW95's system is nearly free of artifacts, and the smoothness it adds does not make the picture look artificial or "too real." What's more, the motion enhancer is available in 3D, which is still somewhat rare. While some folks don't like the appearance of frame interpolation in 2D, it has undeniable benefit in 3D, where it smooths out motion and produces a picture that is much easier to watch.
Low input lag. Input lag is the delay between the time a signal is sent to your projector and the time that signal is displayed on the screen. While input lag is normally undetectable, it is crucially important when playing video games that require precise timing. The VW95ES measured 54 milliseconds of input lag in its Dynamic, Standard, and Cinema modes using a 1080p/60 signal. Our tests reveal that the auto iris has no effect on lag, while the projector's Motion Enhancer system adds a negligible (~3.2 milliseconds) amount of delay. The VW95 also has a Game mode, which measured only 16.5 milliseconds, or one frame. This makes the VW95 a good choice for gamers who need a display with quick response times.
Light output. With a rating of 1,000 lumens maximum, it's clear from the get-go that the VW95 is not a light cannon. That's true, but it was never intended to be, and in fact for its intended purpose too many lumens would be a detriment, not a help.
At defaults, the brightest image mode is Dynamic at 824 lumens. That's more than enough to light up a 140" diagonal screen in the dark, but Dynamic mode isn't built for the dark. Treat Dynamic mode as your ambient light setting. It's good for games and television when you want some room lighting, since the extra light output will provide an incremental buffer against the contrast-destroying effects of ambient light.
The good news is that the VW95 loses very little light output in its calibrated cinema mode. The cinema modes are more or less interchangeable, as each can be calibrated however you like, but we started from Cinema 1. With the lamp at full brightness and the zoom lens at maximum wide angle, Cinema 1 measured 752 lumens. If your room is very dark, 752 lumens will light up a massive 140" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 17 fL, which is just above the brightness sweet spot as far as SMPTE is concerned. We don't recommend doing this, however, because (a) using the lens' widest angle setting will cause some light scatter off of the edges of the screen, and (b) unless you have the projector mounted in the middle of the room, the screen is going to be much too close to the audience.
Instead, you might consider switching the VW95 to low lamp mode and using that. Low lamp mode reduces light output by 37%, which is far above the average 25% that we see in other projectors. Cinema 1 in low lamp measures 476 lumens on our test unit, which will light up a 120" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 14 fL.
The last thing to consider is the position of the zoom lens. The 1.6:1 zoom lens on the VW95 causes a 26% drop in light output at full telephoto, bringing Cinema 1's maximum 752 lumens to 557 lumens. Combined with low lamp mode, minimum light output from the VW95 is 352 lumens, just about right for a 100" diagonal screen.
Black level. A deep, dark, impressively inky black makes the VW95 desirable for very dark rooms. This year, the Epson Home Cinema 5010 has dominated the field with its deep black level in dark scenes. The VW95, while not surpassing the performance of the Epson in the darkest scenes, is neck-and-neck. While it is hard to declare a winner when looking at a difference this small, suffice it to say that the Sony VW95 has some of the best black level performance available this year.
Shadow detail. When it comes to subtle shadow gradation, the VW95 produces a picture that looks smooth and natural. Gamma is almost perfect out of the box, and there is no crushing of deep shadow detail to be found, even without calibration. This is impressive performance from any projector.
Color. The comprehensive, easy-to-use color controls of the VW95 are only necessary if you're the kind of person who likes to fine-tune their projector. Out of the box, color is already quite good. As far as grayscale tracking is concerned, our VW95's Cinema 1 mode measured about 6800K out of the box with no adjustment, with warm shadows and cool highlights. Calibration brought the average white balance back to the desired 6500K and reduced variation between low and high ends of the spectrum, with the low end measuring about 6500K and the high end reading around 6600K. The color gamut, in our estimation, did not require adjustment -- it is already pretty spot-on.
Sharpness/clarity. It is difficult to judge sharpness and clarity on any kind of objective basis, as they are closely tied to other factors. The low amount of digital noise in the VW95's picture makes detail appear clearer, while high contrast and impressive black level make the picture appear sharper and more three-dimensional. We did not see anything to complain about, in any case. The VW95 is more than able to handle detail in Blu-ray and broadcast HD content.
Price vs. Performance. The VW95 is a videophile's projector, and for good reason: these days, a $6,000 1080p projector is expensive. There was a time when this was not true, and in those days anything under ten grand was considered a groundbreaking achievement. Those days are long gone. The long and short of it is that the VW95 provides an incremental visible benefit over projectors like the Panasonic AE7000 and Epson Home Cinema 5010, but it does so at twice the price of these other products. For some people, that's a worthwhile investment. For others, the cost-benefit calculations just don't work out. It is up to you to decide which kind of consumer you are.
3D Brightness. Every 3D projector looks a lot brighter in 2D than it does in 3D, but the VW95's light output drops off rather precipitously. The maximum light output we were able to coax from the VW95 was 824 lumens, using the projector's Dynamic mode and some tweaking. The projector maintains this lumen output in 3D mode, and indeed with the 3D glasses off the screen is quite bright. However, the 3D glasses allow 26% of the total light on screen to pass to your eyes, resulting in an apparent brightness around 215 lumens. On a 100" diagonal 1.3 gain screen, that is only 10 foot-Lamberts, which is on the dim side. 10 fL is certainly livable, and it is more than some other projectors can produce. For best results when watching 3D, pay especially close attention to ambient light control and do not exceed screen sizes of 100" diagonal.
3D Crosstalk. While the VW95 is a step up from the HW30, it's still not up to par with today's best 3D projectors in terms of crosstalk. Put simply, the best 3D projectors available today don't have any crosstalk, and you can still see crosstalk on the VW95 in high-contrast scenes using the default glasses.
The VW95 also has an adjustment for glasses brightness which defaults to maximum. At minimum, crosstalk and flicker was visibly reduced, but our standard 100" 1.3 gain screen became very dim - 3.3 fL, to be precise.
There is some good news: the cause of the 3D crosstalk may lie with the glasses, not the projector. A number of consumers have reported better results with less crosstalk by using radio-frequency sync 3D glasses, which are available from several vendors. Optoma uses such a system on their HD33, for example, but Optoma's system is not the only one available. If you plan to watch a lot of 3D with the VW95 and are bothered by crosstalk, it might be worth a look.
With the VPL-VW95ES, Sony has another winner on their hands. This premium projector emphasizes picture quality first and foremost, and every other aspect of the projector is constructed to complement the picture on the screen. While features like powered adjustments, Picture Position, and Motion Enhancer are helpful, they are not the reason why someone would buy this projector.
We are giving the Sony VW95 our Highly Rated award on the basis of its 2D performance, as it is a magnificent machine for 2D home theater. However, its 3D performance is weaker than some less expensive competitors. This does not reduce the projector's value for those who need its strengths, those being a natural 2D picture and excellent gaming performance.
The Law of Diminishing Returns is an economics concept, and I'm no economist, but a version of it applies here. Is the VW95ES incrementally better looking than the Epson 5010 and Panasonic AE7000? Yes. Color temperature is more consistent, shadow detail is smoother, and the picture has that film-like quality that identifies a truly exemplary image. So is the VW95 "worth it"? Videophiles think so. If your only concern is image quality, the VW95 has it in spades.
If you're out there looking for the best bang-for-the-buck, though, you're going to end up scratching your head. There's room in the projector market for both kinds of products, and people looking for one will rarely understand the allure of the other.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sony VPL-VW95ES projector page.