Review Price £3,000.00
Sony VPL-HW50ES First Look
One of our favourite things as an AV journalist is when a trip to look at one star new product turns up a second, unexpected hero.
This is exactly what happened when we dropped into the ultra-swanky Bulgari hotel in London to check out Sony’s ‘Resolution Revolution’, featuring the recently reviewed KD-84X9005 84in 4K TV and the older but still unique VPL-VW1000E projector.
For while most of the talk was of these hugely expensive 4K models, a few minutes at the end had been saved for something ostensibly much more humble: the new Sony VPL-HW50ES projector. And despite - or perhaps because of - this projector's vastly cheaper price tag and more 'real world' 1920x1080 pixel count, it made an immediate and lasting impression.
First, let’s cover what the HW50ES actually is. In terms of ranging, it sits in the middle, just above the impressive Sony VPL-HW30ES. It’s 3D-capable, with its 3D transmitter built in and an eye-catching maximum brightness claim of 1700 Lumens. That’s a rise of 30% over the output of the HW30 - an increase which experience suggests will serve the HW50 especially well in 3D mode.
The Sony HW50's quoted contrast ratio also looks impressive at 100,000:1, a figure achieved via improved iris control algorithms and Sony's contrast enhancer technology.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the thorny issue of crosstalk ghosting noise in 3D mode, the HW50 features Sony's latest crosstalk reduction system, which promises to build on the already decent crosstalk efforts of the HW30.
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the HW50, though, is its Reality Creation technology. Originally developed for the £17k VW1000 and not present on the HW30, Reality Creation attempts to restore picture information lost during the process of compressing original movie content to Blu-ray disc or DVD.
Not surprisingly we had our doubts about how well Reality Creation (RC) could work on the much cheaper HW50. But as if sensing these doubts, Sony wasted no time in showing the system in action with a Blu-ray of rather odd Johnny Depp/Angelina Jolie film, The Tourist. There's a sequence in this featuring a packed dance floor, and as the Japanese engineers toggled the HW50's Reality Creation feature on and off it was easy to see that it added both more sharpness and a greater sense of detail - despite the fact that, unlike its VW1000ES sibling, the HW50 'only' has a native 1920x1080 resolution.
Actually, the RC feature arguably went a bit too far with this scene, leaving a sense of pixellation over faces. But you can tame RC's workings if you like, and with some of the other content used to demonstrate the feature, such as a shot of Kate Winslet arriving at a picturesque cottage at night in The Holiday, RC delivered uniformly outstanding results, even when using its preset values.
For instance, in The Holiday shot you can see more stars in the night sky, more texture in the cottage's brickwork, and more branches on the tree to the TV's side. So impressive is this sharpening feature, together with what appears to be a clever enhancement of light and shade, that it gives the shot a much greater sense of depth, despite it only being 2D.
Looking beyond RC, the Sony HW50 also impressed greatly with its colours, which combined impressive vibrancy with some really outstanding naturalism and subtlety. The HW50's brightness and sharpness looked extremely strong too, playing their part in producing pictures with a degree of punch we're not sure we've seen before at the HW50's proposed price level.
Sony even cheekily did a quick side-by-side comparison of the Tourist sequence with the brand new Epson TW9100 projector, which looked muted and over-red versus the much cleaner-looking Sony.
Of course, such head to heads are generally far from scientific in terms of how the projectors are set up relative to each other, but there's no denying that on the evidence of what we were shown, the HW50 is looking ahead of the game.
The HW50 demo wrapped up with some 3D footage. And here again the apparent improvements over the HW30 looked profound, especially when it comes to brightness and colour saturation.
In short, we can't wait to spend some proper quality time in the Sony HW50's company when it launches in the next two or three weeks. For with a likely price tag of just £3,000 or so, from what we've seen so far, it has every chance of becoming one of the projector bargains of the year.
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