Review by: Tom Atkinson at R3Digital
I’m a really picky bastard where it comes to audiovisual displays. It’s a quality that annoys friends and family, but serves me well as a film producer. So when I got Sony’s invite to check out their new Home Cinema projector I was curious to see whether they could retain 4K HDR image quality over such a large surface area.
If you’re looking for the tl;dr I was pretty impressed, but as Bilbo Baggins might say, there’s room for a little more…
The advanced SXRD™ imaging technology combined with low maintenance and super reliable 2500 lumens laser light source makes for exquisitely detailed, high contrast native 4K images with HDR compatibility. Short Throw means you can place the projector right next to a wall and the it will cast the light up and across the surface giving a large 80” (diagonal) display; those with a bit more space can place the projector 26 cm (10.2 inches) away from the wall and the screen size increases to a staggering 120”(diagonal) image. I have extensive experience projecting 4K video and have never been very impressed with any technology available outside of the cinema but I tested the VPL at full scale 120″ and am pleased to report it performed beyond my expectations in almost every area.
When you spend this much on a Home Cinema projector you want the best results possible so no uneven wall or cheap roll down screen will do the job. Chatting to the Sony Rep we agreed that with extreme care and precision plastering it might be possible to create a wall flat enough to do the VPL’s projection justice but Sony and I both strongly advise that if you’re investing in such a piece of kit it’s worth using the special Sony 4K Advanced SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) panel. This not only provides a perfectly flat surface but is engineered to reduce reflected ambient light interference providing better contrast and stronger blacks in dark but not quite blacked out environments and lets be honest, it’s pretty difficult to completely black out a normal room for day-to-day viewing.
Concealed cabling and a tasteful, modern, matt black design help the large size of the VPL-VZ1000ES blend into the room better than you might fear when you first take in the specs. At 925 mm × 218.5 mm × 493.8 mm (36 13/32 x 8 19/32 x 19 7/16 inches) (with side covers) and a mighty 35kg (77lb) (without side and top covers) it is a large chunk of technology that could dominate a room. The best setup for most people would be to suspend it so that with its Short Throw capabilities it would blend into the corner of the wall and ceiling. Seating it on a suitably sturdy cabinet on the floor however I think it would make its presence felt unless your room is pretty large, but for those discerning Home Cinema fans that might be a price worth paying when you appreciate the VPL-VZ1000ES’s capabilities.
Make no mistake this is a projector for 4K HDR content but out there in the real world HD & SD are alive and well, with HD Blu-Rays and DVDs still taking up shelf space in every living room so of course the VPL-VZ1000ES is capable of handling lower quality signals. Connections are ia 1 x USB, 1 X LAN and 4 x HDMI which can handle 4K 60p YCbCr 4:4:4 8 bit/ YCbCr 4:2:2 12 bit. Sadly I was unable to test the upscaling capabilities via Sony’s ‘Reality Creation’ software so can only comment on its performance with 4k material which was pretty spectacular.
The illusion of depth for such a large image was very good, with smooth rendering of out of focus backgrounds making the very sharp focus foreground pop deliciously and avoiding any flattening in the picture. The smooth colour gradients in out of focus areas were very impressive. No doubt the Sony’s SXRD panel technology, and Z-Phosphor laser light engine are working here to show the benefits Sony’s Triluminos technology, boosting the subtlety and breadth of the available colour range for smoother, more subtle colour shifts that render well-shot images beautifully. HDR is supported here (at 4K 24p and 60p) and the Planet Earth II Blu-Ray test disk showed off the difference this emerging technology can make to the feel of the image, colours felt real, strong and vibrant, almost like looking through a window rather than at a screen. The close-ups of the jungle amphibians, varmints and climbing critters were stunning, as were the shady greens and browns of the forest, glistening froggy skins and furry simian faces leaping out of the screen, all in expressive sharp focus.
The only real weakness that bothered me was the washed out blacks but my test was not in a fully blacked out room and from what I saw I can imagine that in a proper Home Cinema environment the contrast and blacks would significantly improve. The natively strong contrast of the VPL-VZ1000ES compensated for this well and as you would expect there are a plethora of settings you can play with to get the image how you want it under your own unique lighting conditions, including a ‘Cinema Black Pro’ secondary contrast option which helps lower those black levels.
Of all the qualities I feared would disappoint with the VPL-VZ1000ES the rendering of fast motion was top of the list. In my experience of 4K projectors this is often a casualty when an image is scaled up to over 100″ but I’m pleased to report that the VPL-VZ1000ES provides fast and smooth motion beyond my wildest expectations. There are several technologies at play here and a range of settings to adjust such as ‘MotionFlow’ and ‘True Cinema’ as well as a bunch of Picture Presets so you can fiddle away until you find the look you are after. At 120″ the opening action sequences in ‘Angels & Demons’ (I know.. but the only movie test disk we had!) are a mix of choppy action and nightmare CGI sequences and the VPL-VZ1000ES handled them very well. The action felt vital and abrupt, never juddery and (as a CGI spotting pixel peeper) I was happy to see the quality of the image didn’t fall down when the frame was teaming with complex CGI elements, no doubt helped by the 120Hz refresh rate.
For the circa £18k ($25k) asking price (not including the Sony 4K Advanced SXRD panel) you get the best Home Cinema, Short Throw projector I have seen to date. When you look at its technical capabilities, image quality and the up to 120″ picture this price seems pretty reasonable, especially when considering its target demographic will likely dedicate a dark room to it, thereby bringing out its best qualities. I would certainly consider it for small-scale screenings of my own films. It seems Sony might well have a winner on their hands with this one.