Today’s home theater receivers come with so many features, they can make your head spin. Just take a look at the specs on any brand’s website and you’ll probably see more than 50 features listed in the long list of advantages the brand is pitching you. Sure you want all of the latest and greatest, but in the end, room EQ optimization i...
Almost all of the same great features we loved on the previous models remain, but Sony has made some massive improvements to the video processing on the new units to give you even better HDR picture quality than ever before.
We will first go over the upgrades with the new models, then we will get into the technology that makes them a great choice for a serious home theater. This overview will help you determine the best projector choice for your 4K Sony home theater.
First, the big news on the new models all centers around improving the HDR experience. Many people may not have even heard about HDR and now know why this is a huge deal for projectors. If you fully understand HDR and how it impacts front projectors, you can skip ahead to the section on Sony’s take on HDR. However, if you do not, we thought it would be helpful to explain the ins and outs of HDR as it applies to front projectors.
HDR is short of High Dynamic Range. This technology actually came from digital photography where it was an effort to improve the contrast between the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. In 2016, the Ultra HD Alliance announced the specifications for HDR in consumer video products. But, as with a lot of new technologies, several variations emerged including HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision, and Advanced HDR by Technicolor. HDR10 appears to have emerged as the most popular format.
The goal of HDR is to ultimately deliver a better picture that is more lifelike. We feel it is actually as big a jump as we saw going from High Definition to 4K. The list of movies and TV shows using HDR is growing more rapidly than even Dolby Atmos with almost all new movies incorporating HDR, plus both Netflix and Prime Video have tons of HDR-enabled content.
HDR gives us a better picture by enabling us to see much smaller degrees of changes in brightness. With SDR, a snow-covered field may look like one seamless white area, but with HDR, you can see the fine highlights in shadows and levels of white. Colors also show more super delicate gradations and become richer and more lifelike. Basically, everything looks more natural.
You would think this would all be great news for all of us home theater enthusiasts who love our huge movie screens, but it turned out to be just the opposite for front projectors.
HDR in the Commercial World
With HDR there is metadata embedded in the video stream telling the display how to handle the image. These instructions are assuming the video display is capable of a certain amount of light output. Light output is measured in foot-lamberts or nits with one nit being the light level of a single candle.
The HDR content commercial movie theaters receive is based on a very specific nit spec of 106. This is a light level almost all consumer home theater front projectors can reproduce unless the screen is just super large. The commercial HDR content never asks the projector to deliver more light output than the projector can produce. But, consumers can not get this content.
HDR Consumer Content
HDR for consumer products is based on a range of nits from 1000 to 4000 and in some rare cases 10,000. Most HDR-enabled consumer televisions can deliver this level of light output or close to it. Front projectors can not even get close with most able to produce light output in the range of 100-200 nits. This means when the metadata from the HDR content tells the picture to get really dark, it is assuming really bright is up to 4000 nits and really dark will still be bright, but the result on a front projector is a super dark picture that is not even close to what the video producer intended us to see.
Projector Enthusiasts Lost Out Initially
It is like the industry ignored their biggest fans, which are those of us with large movie screens, and dumbed things down for the larger audience of flat panel television owners. When HDR first hit the market all of the projector companies scrambled to redo their software to help fix this issue and as a result, HDR tone mapping came about.
HDR Tone Mapping
HDR tone mapping tries to deliver all of those delicate highlights while maintaining enough brightness for a great experience. Some projector companies lean toward showing more highlights, which results in a darker image, while others shift more towards a brighter image and reduce the level of highlights you see. Those that lean towards the brighter image are actually moving the picture away from HDR and closer to SDR (standard dynamic range) to give you a brighter picture.
Sony’s New Take On HDR
Ok, now that you see the potential of HDR and the complexities involved, it's time to talk about how Sony attacked this with the new 2021 projector series.
Sony, as you may know, is the only video company that makes products that cover every aspect of a movie from the camera it is shot on, to the display it ultimately is enjoyed on and everything else in between. The engineers at Sony and everyone at Audio Advice, has always believed the components that process the video signal are about as important as anything in the chain.
A Better Video Processor
The projectors all use Sony’s super powerful X1 for the projectors processor. The X1 For Projectors processor allows them to do much more with the HDR signal and make use of a brand new technology they call Dynamic HDR Enhancer. The X1 for the projector's processor also looks at each object in the frame to improve clarity and reduce noise.
Dynamic HDR Enhancer
As each frame of the video content travels through the X1 processor it is analyzing every single part of that frame to determine which parts contain dark and light levels. As we mentioned above, if the projector just processed the signal the way the HDR metadata told it to, it's not a great experience. What the Sony Dynamic HDR Enhancer does in simple terms is to enhance the bright areas and in the dark areas pull down the black levels beyond what the HDR data is calling for. To do this on a frame-by-frame level takes an extremely fast processor, like the great X1 model Sony modified for use in these new front projectors. The really great news is all of the new models benefit from this new technology.
Below is an example of some photos of actual images from the Sony engineers in Japan. As you can see, the improvement is huge!
More Good News
What really excites us is the Dynamic HDR Enhancer is not fixed at one level. There are 3 levels of magnitude which means you should be able to apply this to your screen size and screen gain. Those of us with very large screens and fewer nits will likely want to set it on the high setting, whereas people with smaller screens will probably prefer the low or medium setting.
What is also pretty cool is the fact you now have separate settings for SDR (think standard Bluray disc and non-HDR streaming) and HDR. This includes many of your standard settings, plus several expert settings. See the detail below for the VPL-VW1025ES If you have looked at SDR content vs HDR, we think you will agree this new feature is a huge benefit to enable you to get the best out of both formats.
Ideally, we would like for Sony to have a way to input the actual foot-lamberts or nits of an individual setup and have the processor adjust based on that data, but for now, this is going to be a massive improvement for HDR content.
And, the new X1 processor for projectors will offer vast improvements on non-HDR program material as it is much better at upsampling the signal to 4K than the previous version.
Technology These Projectors Share
If you dive deep into the menus on Sony projectors, you will find all kinds of performance enhancements. We will go over a few of our favorites here.
It goes without saying, but all four models use true 4K SXRD panels to give you all the image quality of a 4K picture. These panels are capable of 8.8 million pixels for an incredibly lifelike image. You’ll see inky blacks with more tones, textures, and vibrant colors than on other brands.
When these panels are developed by a company that makes almost all of the 4K cameras used in film production, you know they are not just sufficient, they are fantastic!
This is a Sony tech that has been around for a while, but it is amazing how well it works. On many projectors, when the scene moves really fast across the screen, you see some jerkiness or stuttering of the image. Motionflow totally eliminates this and it is really fun to watch a train fly across the screen and turn Motionflow on and off to see how well it works.
Lens shift allows you to move the image up and down or left to right on your screen with zero picture degradation. This is incredibly important if you do not hang your projector perfectly centered on your screen. You can actually be off by several inches and still perfectly fill your screen using lens shift. For the DIY person, lens shift is a huge bonus.
Throw Distance Flexibility
Every projector has a specification for a range of distances it can be from your screen to properly fill the screen. We love the fact the great lens on the Sony projectors gives you a lot of placement flexibility. While there are some sweet spots we help our customers find, the range is very wide compared to the competition.
Great For Gaming
Nothing bothers serious gamers more than signal lag. All of these new models have input lag reduction to put them close to even the best computer gaming monitors in terms of reduced video lag.
Now let’s take a look at each one to point out the differences as you move from the VW325ES all the way up to the VW1025.
Sony VPL-VW325ES 4K HDR Home Theater Projector
This projector is the first Sony model with full 4K capability. It is a lamp-based system with 1500lm.
To see a 4K movie on a large 16:9 screen is just a totally different experience than watching it on an 85” flat panel. With the VW325ES, you get all of the great new Sony HDR picture enhancements for a very reasonable price.
We feel in a light-controlled room, with a high-quality screen having a gain of around 1.3, you should be able to do up to a 150” diagonal 16:9 screen and have a good image. Of course, you will have more pop to the image on a smaller screen with 100-120” being ideal for HDR content.
While the VW325 does not support widescreen out of the box, it does have the technology built-in for an add-on external lens to provide you with a great 2.40 image should you decide to upgrade in the future, which gives you some nice option value.
Your streaming content that is not in 4K will be upscaled to a glorious 4K level with the VPL-VW325 using the exact same video processor found in the 40K top-of-the-line model in the new series. It is easy to see why we think the VW325 is just a super value for a small to mid-sized 16:9 based theater. You will also have an option of a black or white finish on the VW325 4K projector.
Full Widescreen Models
One reason we love the top three models is their ability to give you the true widescreen movie experience. All have lens memories which means you can purchase a movie theater-like 2.40 widescreen and zoom the image to fill the screen, then zoom it back down for regular 16:9 TV content with just the push of a button. If you do not know about this great concept, you can learn about it in our widescreen explained article.
Sony VPL-VW715ES 4K HDR Home Theater Projector
This model uses a conventional lamp-based system for the light engine and is capable of about 1800lm.. Sony adds two more features that give the VW715 some pretty big advantages over the VW325. Sitting in between the lamp and the lens is an advanced Iris system that works in conjunction with the X1 processor and its Dynamic HDR Enhancer. The Iris can change the amount of light output to optimize both HDR and SDR content for better contrast, especially in darker scenes.
Sony also adds their Digital Focus Optimizer to the VPL-VW715ES. All round lenses have a tiny bit more distortion as you near the edge of the lens. Sony uses digital technology to keep the picture on the outer edges of your screen just as crisp as those in the dead center.
As more projectors go into living rooms, Sony decided to add a white finish option for the VW715ES this year along with their traditional black finish.
We see the VW715ES as one heck of a great value. With all of its great picture technology and the ability to do full widescreen, it will probably be the best-selling model in the Sony projector lineup this year.
Sony VPL-VW915ES 4K HDR Laser Home Theater Projector
If you remember the original Austin Powers, you may remember the “fire the lasers” scene. At Audio Advice, we are huge fans of laser-based front projectors. There is just something about the color produced by a 4K laser projector that looks more like real life.
You also gain the advantage of a light engine that can give you a great picture for close to 20,000 hours vs the typical lamp based projector that needs a new lamp every 1,500-1,800 hours. As you might have guessed, the VLP-VW915ES uses a laser phosphor light engine. The VW915ESproduces more light output than the VW715ESwith a spec of 2,000lm.
With the laser engine, Sony uses what they call a Dual Contrast Control to work with the Dynamic HDR Enhancer for better contrast. This has the same Advanced Iris in the VW715ES coupled with their Laser Control system. The two of these working together give you an even wider dynamic range. When you move to the VW915 you also get more adjustments for motion flow than in the lower models.
Another great feature about a laser and Sony’s new menu system is you can assign a different laser output value for SDR and HDR content. On many screens, you may not need to use full laser power on SDR but could use it for HDR. These adjustments are found under Cinema Black Pro where you can have different settings for Dynamic Control, Laser Light Output, and the Sony Contrast Enhancer system, super neat!
The VW915ES also has the digital focus optimizer for an even sharper focused picture.
Sony saw the VW915ES being used in dedicated home theater rooms, so black is the only color choice.
We can’t say enough how much we love the picture coming from a laser light engine. While close to $20,000 is by no means a bargain, with all of the new techs Sony has packed into the VPL-VW915ES it really is a great value. Nothing on the market we know of has a laser engine, Sony’s great processing system for both HDR and SDR, with lens memory for widescreen and their impressive SXRD 4K panels and 2000lm output to boot!
Sony VPL-VW1025ES 4K HDR Laser Home Theater Front Projector
Take all of the great features you’ll find in the VW915 and complement them with the lens from their $88,000 top-of-the-line projector that is optimized for the internal laser light engine and you have the VPL-VW1025ES.
From a feature standpoint, it is identical to the VW915, but boy, what a difference that lens makes!
If you understand camera lenses, you know their importance and how the great ones can be quite costly, but the picture speaks for itself. The VW1025 uses an all-glass, large-aperture ARC-F lens with 18 elements that include 6 extra low-dispersion elements. The end result is the perfect convergence of red, green, and blue on every part of the screen for an image that is incredibly clear and vivid.
The VLP-VW1025ES boasts 2200lm output which opens up even larger widescreen sizes for the serious home theater. Like the VW915, the VW1025 comes in black only.
If you are ready to make the move to a large 16:9 4K image the VPL-VW325ES offers some of the best tech on the market for the money. For small to mid-sized home theaters and media rooms, it is an outstanding choice. You will be a little limited in ultimate screen size as we do not recommend going above 150” diagonal while 100” to 120” would be ideal.
For those of you stepping up to a full widescreen experience, the VPL-VW715ES gets you all the great new Sony technology for HDR, coupled with their other processing and lens memory for widescreen. We feel this projector is probably the best value in the line for what it offers and it's level of performance. The extra 300lm will enable you to have a larger screen and you just can not beat an immersive widescreen. The quality of the image should make your jaw drop. We do suggest if you go with a bigger screen to get a screen gain of around 1.3 and we can’t think of a better one than the new Stewart G4 StudioTek 130.
If you have the funds for the VPL-VW915ES, the picture it should produce will be just stunning. We love the look of a laser light engine and think it does bring you far closer to real-life than a lamp. With its improved light output, you’ll be able to use a bigger screen as well. We do have the same screen recommendations for the VW915ES. If you go with the VW915ES, you will be grinning ear to ear every time you turn it on!
For those of you with a larger budget who want the sharpest and most detailed picture available under $60,000, the VPL-VW1025ES will be your best choice. With its large glass lens and even higher light output, you will be able to enjoy beautiful images on just about any screen size under around 190” for a 2.40 screen. We do feel if you are stepping up to something like the VW1025, an external Panamorph lens will get you an even better picture and it is worth the investment as the Sony VW1025 is designed to work perfectly with it.
If you purchase one of these from Audio Advice, we will calibrate it when we install it, or, if you purchase it from audioadvice.com, we will email you our setup guide and suggested settings, which will be a great starting point for your setup.
If you are in the early stages of planning your theater, use our free 3D Home Theater Designer to build out your theater. It will show you where to put your seats, speakers, screen, and more. If you are considering upgrading your current projector or have questions, call or chat with us at AudioAdvice.com or swing by one of our Raleigh or Charlotte, NC Showrooms.
|White Color Option||✖️||✖️||✔️||✔️|
|Light Source||Z-Phosphor Laser||Z-Phosphor Laser||Lamp||Lamp|
|Lens||ARC-F||Standard 4K||Standard 4K||Standard 4K|
|X1 Picture Engine||✔️||✔️||✔️||✔️|
|Dynamic HDR Enhancer||✔️||✔️||✔️||✔️|
|Digital Focus Optimizer||✔️||✔️||✔️||✖️|
|Dual Contrast Control||✔️||✔️||✖️||✖️|
|Advanced Iris Control||✔️||✔️||✔️||✖️|
|4K Motion Flow||✔️||✔️||✔️||✔️|
|Lens Memory for 16:9 to Widescreen||✔️||✔️||✔️||✖️|
|Input Lag Reduction||✔️||✔️||✔️||✔️|
FREE Interactive 3D Home Theater Design Tool
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