Sony BRAVIA VPL-VW90ES
3D Home Theater Projector
Sony has been making high-quality 1080p projectors for years, but the VPL-VW90ES is their first foray into 3D. This SXRD projector (Sony's marketing brand for their implementation of LCOS) features a bright, smooth, film-like image in 2D with contrast to spare. In 3D, the picture is attractive, but image size must be kept small due to brightness limitations. An MSRP of $9,999 puts the VPL-VW90ES in a higher price bracket than many home theater projectors, and while its 2D performance has some advantages over lower-priced models, 3D still has some growing pains.
The VW90ES is a high performance home theater projector, built for use in a darkened theater environment where its deep black level can be appreciated. It is a large projector finished in glossy black and shaped a bit like a flying saucer--wide, flat, and rounded at the edges. At 26.5 pounds, it can be installed by one person working alone, though ceiling mounting is always easier with a friend in tow.
The projector's lens adjustments are all powered. The 1.6:1 zoom lens allows you to put up a 120" diagonal image from 12' 2" to 18' 5". It also has powered horizontal and vertical lens shift, allowing 2.25 image heights of total vertical range and a bit over 50% of the image width in horizontal movement. The range on these adjustments is wide enough to allow mounting in a variety of situations, from ceiling mounts to rear shelves to a tucked-away installation under a low table. In any installation, but especially rear shelves and table mounts, one must take care to ensure adequate ventilation. Air intake comes from the projector's rear as well as the front panel directly underneath the lens, while exhaust is expelled from the front left and front right panels. Enclosing the projector too tightly can obstruct airflow or force hot exhaust back through the projector's intake vents which can lead to overheating and premature lamp failure.
Let's talk about the image itself for a moment. When viewing 2D content, the VW90ES has a wonderfully bright, high-contrast picture. Highlights are bright and sparkling while black levels are so deep as to be nearly imperceptible. At one point during the review, we mistakenly left the VW90ES running overnight because we could not tell that it was still on, so deep was its black and so quiet was the fan noise. Color, even at defaults, is calibrated well enough for casual use; however, the typical consumer buying a $10,000 projector is probably not interested in "casual use." Calibration was a breeze, and the end result was a projector with nearly-perfect reproduction of every shade of the rainbow. The picture is sharp and clear enough to really show off the details of 1080p HD content.
3D is a different story. All projectors using active shutter glasses lose at least 50% of their overall light output when viewing 3D, but some lose more than others--50% is a minimum figure. The VW90ES goes from having a very bright picture in 2D cinema mode to having a very dim one as soon as 3D is put on screen. Color saturation takes a hit as well, making colors appear dull as opposed to bright and vibrant. To combat this, we did three things: switched to Standard mode, increased color saturation by 10-15 points, and reduced the size of the image. By the time we reached about 60" diagonal, the image seemed bright enough for extended viewing.
This introduces another problem; namely, the projector cannot display both a 120" diagonal and a 60" diagonal image from the same mounting location, since it only has a 1.6:1 lens. If you use the lens' widest angle setting to display your 120" picture, the smallest you can make the image without moving either projector or screen is 80". If you plan to watch a lot of 3D, then, a better plan of action is to install a 100" diagonal screen for 2D viewing and use the lens' wide angle setting, so that the telephoto end of the lens will allow for a smaller 60" diagonal picture. This discards some of the advantage of having a bright 2D Cinema mode, but this might represent the best compromise available.
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