Sony 4K Projector Comparison
(285ES, 385ES, 675ES, 885ES)
Audio Advice has been at the forefront of 4K ever since it was first introduced in 2012. It’s hard to believe it has already been 6 years since 4K hit the marketplace. Our good friends at Sony produced the world’s first consumer 4K TV — an 84” model. Sony took the TV on a road trip to show it off in the showrooms of 12 of the top dealers in the country. Audio Advice was lucky enough to be chosen, and we had a packed house the night of the preview.
Soon after, Sony followed up with a new 4K front projector that offered an astounding picture. It was the only 4K model available and was originally priced at $27,000.
Fast forward 6 years and 4K is much more common. We have 4K Blu-ray players, 4K channels on DirecTV and DISH, and 4K content on several streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Vudu, and more. It’s quickly become the new standard and it’s easy to see why — the picture is incredible!
While the reasonable price of 4K flat-panel TVs has made them available to the masses for some time, the world of 4K projectors has still been more on the high-end custom home theater price spectrum — until now.
This year, Sony changed the game with the introduction of three new 4K front projectors! All three raise the bar for performance at their price-points, making some great technology more attainable than it’s ever been before. If you are considering building a custom home theater or media room in your home, or if you already have one and are ready to upgrade your HD projector to 4K, you should really consider these Sony models.
Because there are real differences as you step up from model to model, we thought it would be helpful to walk through four of the most popular Sony projector models, discussing which technologies they share as well as the benefits as you move up the line.
What They Have in Common
While this won’t show up on any spec sheet, we feel that this first point is extremely important to point out, especially considering how much you will be investing in a 4K projector.
Over the course of our 40 years in business and 30+ years of selling front projectors, we have never seen a brand that is as reliable as Sony. Audio Advice has, at some point, carried or encountered just about every brand of projectors on the market. The failure rate on Sony projectors is so much lower than anything we have seen. These guys just hardly ever break, which is not something other brands of projectors can stand by. Also, as a company, Sony is really good about keeping their customers happy. They stand behind their products better than any large consumer electronics company we deal with. It is one reason all of these ES projectors have a three-year parts and labor warranty.
With that said, let’s talk about some of the specs and technology that all four of these models share. First, they are all true 4K, with a full resolution of 4096 x 2160. Compared to a standard 1080p HDTV, the picture on all of these are really impressive.
While there is a ton of 4K content out there, and more being added every day, much of what you watch may still be standard HD. Most manufacturers use some kind of “upscaling” technology to try to make HD video look more like 4K, but many create issues like artifacts that detract more from the picture than it helps. Sony has a proprietary technology known as Reality Creation, that is used in all four of the projector models we are talking about today. Sony leverages a huge database of images in order to more accurately upscale your HD content to 4K. It analyzes every pixel in all directions and maps it against the constantly evolving database. The outcome is enhanced colors, better contrast, more realistic textures, and none of those nasty artifacts we mentioned before. When our customers upgrade from a standard HD projector to a Sony 4K projector, we always get comments that their Netflix streaming never looked so good!
If you’ve ever watched fast-moving video on an HDTV, including sports or action movies, you may have noticed a sense of choppiness in the image. This is a common problem that manufacturers have worked to solve for years. Some do a better job than others, but Sony’s MotionFlow is the best we’ve seen. Another proprietary Sony technology, MotionFlow analyzes each frame and interprets what should come between them. These extra frames smooth out the picture and eliminate the choppiness. You can fine-tune exactly how much you want MotionFlow to apply, but we must say, the difference is just staggering. MotionFlow is a feature in all four of these Sony 4K projectors.
HDR, or High Dynamic Range, also comes in all four models. This is a new standard for content, pioneered by Sony, that gives you much greater contrast. You’ll find it now on 4K Blu-ray discs as well as on some video games. All four projectors also support the latest HDMI spec — HDCP 2.2.
When it comes to setup, Sony projectors offer a lot of flexibility. Most projectors have a limited range of distance that the projector is required to be from the screen, based on the size of the screen. With many other models, this can be extremely limiting, as the dimensions of your room will impact the screen size and distance. Sony projectors allow for a very wide range and are even allow you to mount the projector slightly off-center if needed without any picture degradation.
If you’ve done any additional research on front projectors, you know that the life of the bulb is an important factor to consider. This will greatly impact the long-term cost of ownership. Some projectors have a lamp that only lasts 1,500 hours or so — and these lamps can be extremely expensive. On the first three Sony models that we’ll be discussing, the lamps are rated at 6,000 hours. Best of all, the prices are reasonable when it’s time to replace them. The top of the line 885ES is an entirely different beast. This model actually has a laser engine and is rated at a 20,000 hour life expectancy!
While this may not be as much of a draw as it was a few years ago, if you’re a fan of 3D films, you’ll be happy to know that all four of these Sony models support active 3D. All you need are the glasses.
While there are some additional features and functions that all of these models share, this covers the ones we think are most important. Now, let’s discuss the benefits of each model as you move up the line.
The 285ES allows you to get true 4K for under $5k! The Audio Advice team has been having a ton of fun with these. Every single customer who gets one tells us how blown away they are by how great this projector looks, considering its cost. We understand that $5,000 is still a lot of money for the average customer, but considering this wasn’t possible for anywhere near this price as little as a mere 12 months ago, this is really exciting! The picture is clear, sharp, and has amazing blacks. If you feed it a 4K source, it really shines!
The 285ES is made for an HDTV aspect ratio and should be used with a 16:9 screen. If you have a room that allows you to control the light and pair it with a high-quality screen, like a Stewart Studiotek 130, we have been able to get the screen up to 160” diagonal without losing quality. It has a brightness spec of 1500 lumens, which is great for this category. If you don’t want to go as big, opting instead for a 100-120” 16:9 screen, you’ll be able to enjoy it even in a room with a lot of light!
For this model, Sony decided to put the cooling fans on the front. This allows you to place the projector right against the back wall if necessary. This provides some great flexibility, and the fans are relatively quiet — measured at around 26db.
Now, let’s take a minute to talk about HDR and what it means for your setup. The VPL-VW285ES can support 4K/60 frames per second image at a 10-bit color depth. What this means is that it can handle HD10, which has become the most popular spec for HDR.
On any sources capable of 4K, you are going to start seeing a lot of options for the output. You’ll see frame rates of 24, 30, 50, and 60. There may also be 8, 10, and 12-bit color depth. And if your device is especially deep in its menu, you might even find different color sampling rates of 4:2:0; 4:2:2; and 4:4:4. This gives you 12 possible combinations, which can be daunting.
The 285ES will actually do up to 4K/60 fps at 12 bits and 4:2:0. This is above the HDR10 standard and will be great for your HDR sources. The bottom line on all this is that you’ll need to make sure that you match the output settings of your source to your display.
We’ve seen some cases where sources come defaulted to the highest possible outputs, which only the most expensive video pieces on the planet can handle. If this happens, you will not get a picture. Simply changing the setting to the HDR10 standard gets you a glorious picture. If you decide to purchase a projector, we are happy to walk you through this to get the best setting for your system.
The 285ES is by far the best projector we have ever had at Audio Advice in this price category. You’ll get an amazing image and enjoy 4K content at a price that wasn’t possible a year ago. It’s only real limitation is if you are a big movie buff and want to go the widescreen route. Which of course leads us to the next model!
The Audio Advice team is all about experiencing art as it was meant to be experienced by the creator. For most films, this means widescreen! This technology was made available for the home around 10 years ago and has been a huge hit with our customers. There is just something special about watching a movie almost as wide as the room itself. It creates a sense of immersion that is really hard to explain until you try it for yourself.
Until the release of the 385ES, the only way to get both 4K and widescreen capability was to step up to the $15,000 model. The 385ES is now available with 4K and widescreen technology for almost half the price of what it would have cost just a year ago!
The 385 adds the ability to have picture position memory. This means that you can set it up for a 16:9 HDTV image and then set up another position memory for full widescreen 2:35:1. Of course, you’ll need the widescreen filmscreen, but the effect is just astounding.
In addition to the ability to do widescreen, the VPL-VW385ES adds Sony’s famous Advanced Iris system. This gives you a 200,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio that gives you more detail, clarity, and deeper blacks than the 285ES.
Finally, with the same lamp as the 285, the 385 is also very quiet, measuring only 26db.
If you want to get into both widescreen and 4K, there is no better choice for the money than the VPL-VW385ES.
The Advanced Iris system in the 675ES improves your dynamic contrast by 75%, upping it to 350,000:1!! When we compare the 385 to the 675 we notice even deeper blacks, more inner detail, and a great sense of realism.
You’ll also be able to move up to a bigger screen with the VPL-VW675ES. It has 20% more light output capability with 1800 lumens. Our team has installed these with 180” diagonal screens and they look great!
Even though it has greater light output than the 385, it is still super quiet — only about 28db.
If you are a real video purest and want both widescreen and the best picture possible under $20,000 then you should check out the 675. Or if you have a desire for a very large screen, it is also a great choice. But if you want a massive screen, check out the 885ES!
Last year, Sony introduced their new flagship 4K projector, the 5000ES. It is still the best looking projector we have ever seen. It has an amazing 5000 lumens and sells for $60,000. Every single one we have installed has been on a huge screen, and our clients love them.
For 2018, Sony adds another model to the laser lineup, the 885ES. Laser light engines have a couple of advantages over the normal lamp based engines typically found in a front projector. First, you never have to worry about replacing a lamp as it should last 20,000 hours. Another advantage of lasers is that the light output won’t dim over time the way bulbs do. At 10 years old, your picture will look as good as the first day you had it in your home!
We also prefer the way colors are presented through laser-based projectors. They just seem to provide a more realistic look that transports you into the film. Due to its great contrast, the black levels on the VPL-VW885ES are off the charts! Let’s say, for example, that the main character in the film is wearing a black suede jacket. On an average projector, it will look like a black jacket. On the 885ES, you will be able to pick out the subtle details in the texture of the suede. It’s these little nuances that make all the difference.
Laser engine projectors are also much brighter than bulb-based projectors. The 885ES can produce up to 2000 lumens! When you have friends over for the big game, you’ll be able to hang out together and won’t be tripping over each other or knocking over beers because the lights have to be dimmed to watch the game. Even in a fully lit room, you’ll be able to see a great picture on a screen up to 200” wide!
While the laser projector does utilize high-speed fans for cooling, the 885ES is still pretty quite — measuring in at only 34db. To provide a frame of reference, most well-isolated basement home theaters that we test have a noise floor of around 42db, even with the projector off. This means that the sound of your projector shouldn’t even be noticeable.
Finally, the 885ES can handle any of the 12 HDR rate combinations that we discussed in the 285ES section.
We applaud Sony for bringing their incredible laser technology to more people by introducing a step down from the $60,000 model. The VPL-VW885ES is sure to find its way into many of the serious custom home theater rooms we design this year at Audio Advice.
Which Sony 4K Projector is Right for You?
Hopefully, this quick overview gives you a good feel for the differences in each of the Sony 4K projectors. As with everything we carry, there is no simple right answer about which projector is best. It all comes down to your preferences, your room, and your budget.