Today we have mostly been standing two inches away from our projection screen.
This is not normal behaviour for us, even by our own nerdy standards. But it’s the sort of activity that Sony’s VPL-VW1000ES projector inspires, on account of its killer app: a native resolution of 4096x2160 pixels. Or ‘4k2k’ to give it its more attention-grabbing nickname.
This resolution gives you four times as many image pixels as you get with a standard full HD 1980x1080 projector. And if you’re even slightly geeky, it’s impossible to resist the urge to get your face right up to such hi-res pictures a) to see if it’s still possible to see pixel structure in 4k images and b) to fully appreciate all the extra detailing 4k projection makes visible.
We’ll talk more about our experiences of the VW1000ES in action later, but for now, there’s a lot of background and context to cover. So let’s start right at the beginning with how the VW1000ES looks.
It’s certainly a striking bit of kit. It’s markedly larger than Sony’s non-4K SXRD projectors, though with a depth of 640mm it’s not unmanageably large. We managed to position it on our normal projector stand without anything looking precarious, at any rate.
Its large, centrally mounted, high-quality lens dominates the VW1000ES’s elliptical front view, and is given added emphasis by some short gold ‘stripes’ that decorate the slope between the projector’s front edge and the recessed lens. The main body is also distinctive thanks to the sandpapery finish to its grey-black exterior.
Connections are all positioned along the bottom of the projector’s left hand side, under a lip that makes them a little tricky to access. We suspect custom installers might have preferred rear-mounted sockets, but this is only a minor point.
The connections on offer include two v1.4 HDMIs, a LAN port for service use, and a second LAN to which you connect the projector’s external 3D transmitter. However, this external transmitter is merely an option, for handily the VW1000ES also has an integrated 3D transmitter that worked very stably during our tests.
Inside the VW1000ES are three (one each for the red, green and blue colour elements) new 4096x2160 SXRD chipsets - SXRD being, of course, Sony’s version of the same Liquid Crystal on Silicon technology that forms the basis of JVC’s D-ILA projection system.
Cramming so many pixels onto a chipset small enough for use in a home as opposed to commercial cinema projector has been the largest of many challenges Sony has had to overcome in making the VW1000ES a living, breathing and - at under £17,000 - surprisingly affordable reality.
The 4096x2160 native pixel count tallies with the cinematic 4k2k standard, as you would expect given that the VW1000ES is an offshoot of the 4k2k projectors Sony sells to so commercial cinemas. However, it’s worth noting that the 4096x2160 resolution doesn’t equate precisely to the usual home cinema aspect ratios. It’s 1.89, while typical widescreen Blu-ray/DVD transfers come in at 1.78:1 or 1.85:1. As a result, these widescreen films don’t benefit from the full pixel structure of the VW1000ES’s panels and appear with small bars around them.
Confusion could reign
The projector does provide simple ‘zoom’ options for removing these bars, but we can certainly imagine this issue causing confusion among end users. Especially as the provided Zoom test pattern doesn’t really prove helpful in getting the right image size to suit different source ratios.
On the upside, the zoom tool is motorised (so you can control it from the remote), as are the projector’s focus and optical image shifting tools. We were very impressed, too, by both the range and subtlety offered by all three of these adjustments.
The VW1000ES’s onscreen menus initially seem well-stocked with features. A long list of mostly well-considered picture presets heads things up, with other key options including Sony’s Reality Creation system (which includes the projector’s all-important 4k upscaling system); various settings for Sony’s Cinema Black Pro dynamic iris system; high and low lamp modes; off, high and low settings for Sony’s Motion Enhancer software; and finally, within an ‘Expert Setting’ menu, black level adjustment, gamma preset selection, colour correction, white boosting, and Colour Space settings.
What you do NOT get, though, is a full colour management system. This is a surprising omission on a near-£17,000 projector, and could frustrate professional installers. Just as well, then, that Sony’s presets are so well calibrated.