Sony VPL-VW915ES & VPL-VW715ES 4K HDR Home Theater Projectors Overview

Revel in stunning 4K HDR clarity

This overview is on two brand new Sony front projectors, the VW915ES and VW715ES. These models replace the very popular VPL-VW695ES, and VPL-VW885ES.

What's New

Almost all of the same great features we loved on the VPL-VW695ES and 885 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 VPL-VW915ES and VPL-VW715ES, then we will get into the technology that makes them a great choice for a serious home theater. 

First, the big news on the VW915ES and VW715ES 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 Explained

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 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 VW915ES and VW715ES.

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

This year, for the first time ever, Sony is using their famous X1 processor in these two new front projectors. The X1 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 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 too, 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. Both the new 915ES and 715ES have this system.

As of this writing, neither of these projectors have shipped yet, so we have not experienced these in our testing systems. However, what we have seen are high-resolution photos the Sony engineers in Japan took of the same image frames displayed on the same screen comparing the new models to the older ones. If these images are any indication of how much of an improvement we are going to see in the picture, we can say it will be just 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 high, whereas people with smaller screens will probably prefer the low or medium setting. 

Ideally, we would like for Sony to have a way to input the actual lumens or nits of an individual screen and have the processor adjust based on that data, but for now, this is going to be a huge leap up 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.

More 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.

Full Widescreen

One reason we love both of these models is their ability to give you the true widescreen movie experience. Both 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 article, widescreen explained.

This gives you the full movie theater experience in your home and trust us, there is just nothing like it!

Lens Shift

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, the lens shift is a huge bonus.

True 4K

It goes without saying, but both the 715ES and 915ES use true 4K SXRD panels to give you all the image quality of a 4K picture. 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!

MotionflowTM

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.

Great For Gaming

Nothing bothers serious gamers more than signal lag. Both the 715ES and 915ES 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 VW715ES to the VW915ES.

VPL-VW715ES 4K HDR Home Theater Projector

This model uses a conventional lamp-based system for the light engine and is capable of about 1800 lumens. 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.

As more projectors go into living rooms, Sony decided to make white a finish option for the VW715ES this year along with their traditional black finish. You’ll find the VW715ES to also be very flexible in terms of placement as it has a pretty wide range it can operate in to produce the sized image you desire.

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 line up 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 VW915ES uses a laser phosphor light engine. The VW915ES produces more light output than the VW715ES with a spec of 2,000 lumens.

With the laser engine, Sony uses what they call a Dual Contrast Control to work with the Dynamic HDR Enhancer for better contrast.

The VW915ES also has a 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. 

Overall Recommendation

Even though we have not seen these units yet, we do know how the VPL-VW695ES compares to the VPL-VW895ES which are the models they replace.

For most people, the VW715ES will be just a fantastic projector. On typical sized screens around 150” in diagonal and below, it will be amazing. 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.

However, if you have the funds for the VW915, the picture it should produce, like the 895ES but with all the enhancements, 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!

If $10,000 is above your budget, you might be interested in learning about the Sony VPL-VW295ES projector discussed in this article. It is a great value for a 16:9 screen with awesome 4K reproduction. The bigger laser model VPL-VW995ES with the same lens as their $60,000 projector and 2,200 lumens is also discussed in the same article. 

Once we get these projectors in our showrooms for testing, we will go through them to determine what we think are the best settings for each model. If you purchase one of these from Audio Advice, when will calibrate it when we install it, or, if you purchase it from audioadvice.com, we will email you our 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.

Sony 4K Projector Comparison
VW995ES VW915ES VW715ES VW295ES
Light Output 2200lm 2000lm 1800lm 1500lm
White Color Option ✖️ ✖️ ✔️ ✔️
Light Source Z-Phosphor Laser Z-Phosphor Laser Lamp Lamp
Lens ARC-F Standard 4K Standard 4K Standard 4K
Resolution 4K 4K 4K 4K
X1 Picture Engine ✖️ ✔️ ✔️ ✖️
Super Resolution ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Dynamic HDR Enhancer ✖️ ✔️ ✔️ ✖️
Digital Focus Optimizer ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✖️
Dual Contrast Control ✔️ ✔️ N/A N/A
Advanced Iris N/A N/A ✔️ ✖️
4K Motion Flow ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Lens Memory for Widescreen ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✖️
Input Lag Reduction ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

Recommended Products:

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  1. Luxus Model A Electriscreen Stewart Filmscreen Luxus Model A Wall Mount Electriscreen
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