We briefly covered the VPL-VW350ES before it hit the market, pointing out that Sony was going to launch a 4K projector that will fall under $10k, making it one of the most affordable (outside of a few solutions from JVC) 4K projector available to consumers. Not only did it launch at the price point we had expected, but it can be found at a number of retailers like Amazon for thousand less. The question is, “is it worth it?”
We had the opportunity to sit down briefly with the new Sony projector to see what it can accomplish. Sadly, we didn’t have one of the office to take back and fully calibrate and break things down with, but we spent enough time with it to get a solid opinion.
In our demo of the projector, we were limited to mostly sample content vs full-feature material. There aren’t a lot of 4K sources available yet, but that is slowly starting to change finally. With YouTube, Netflix, DirecTV and more, by the end of this year you will find yourself surrounded by content to play with. For now however, the sample content was more than sufficient.
The VPL-VW350ES, right off the bat, delivers a solid picture that surpases any 1080p projector. It is more than noticeable and quick to enjoy. The detail is fine and although not as jaw dropping as an OLED screen, still enough to light a smile upon your face when you first see it. You can pick out many more items in the picture that you couldn’t see with such detail before.
The brightness left a little to be desired as it only offers 1500 lumens. For a lot of consumers, this may be enough; but to enthusiasts, we were hoping for at least 2100 (or brighter), allowing brighter colors and less limitations for day-time use. So it is best to install this projector in a light controlled room (no or covered windows). It still allows the right amount of light to enjoy a movie with the lights out. The price just gives you the feeling that you should have gotten a little more. For example, we fully tested the Epson 5030UBe (review coming soon) that comes in at (up to) 2400 lumens, which is perfect for many situations (and yes, you do see the difference).
Looking at the alternative 4K options though, 1500 lumens seems to be what you have to choose from (or less), so you’re not making a sacrifice (yet) in brightness by choosing the Sony.
We weren’t able to calibrate the projector as they didn’t want us playing with that (it was a controlled private demo), but we would advise a little adjustment with a calibration disc to obtain the best picture settings. We were hoping to offer this information since sometimes calibrating projectors also results in a decrease in lumens, which would have been nice to note if so (maybe we will get a chance with a round two with the Sony).
3D performance was standard for higher-end projectors. We didn’t find the image to be unexciting or in lack of (compared to other options like JVC or Epson). However, like most projectors, the image isn’t as impressive as today’s LED or OLED screens. This is due to light. Another reason we mentioned that we would have liked to see a higher lumen output for the price. The extent of the 3D effect relies on the amount of light that can bounce back to reach your eyes. Since projectors don’t offer the same level of light output, the 3D effect is hindered, either limiting the separation of layers slightly or the detection of finer detail.
We couldn’t fault the projector much for 3D, since it looked great. However, what did stand out was the fact that apparently the projector does *not* come with glasses. Although it fully supports 3D (and it was offered in our demo as a highlight), you will have to purchase glasses separately if you want to take advantage of it. This was odd because glasses are cheap and shouldn’t affect the price. Thankfully, it uses the standard RF technology, which means you can buy any standard RF glasses (regardless of brand). We found it best to buy the Samsung SSG-5150GB model for these situations as they are less than $20 a pair (others can cost around $50-99 a pair for the same result).
You have access to all of the settings you would need to obtain a solid picture, with plenty lens adjustment as well in case you don’t have a perfect straight-on shot. That last part is nice, as some projectors give you very limited lens correction. Like the Epson we will be covering soon in another article, the Sony has a lot of play in its lens adjustment, offering +85%/-80% vertical and 31% height (although, the Epson does dominate this..but again, that’s another review–and not 4K).
Sony does give you a panel alignment control screen which is a great thing as some 3-chip projectors don’t offer this, resulting in you having to send the project in for repair when such alignment is needed. What happens is, over time the 3 chips may fall out of alignment, causing the picture to blur slightly or the feeling of seeing double (layers). The 3 chips have to be perfectly aligned, giving a solid picture–this is referred to as convergence. When and if this were to happen, you have menu access to adjusting this yourself so that it doesn’t cause you any stress (and a bill).
You will find yourself buried with various settings to deep tune your picture to what you feel is best. Again, we recommend using a calibration disc for best results. Since we weren’t able to play with the calibration, we were able to provide you with–what we would feel to be–the best settings. If you manage to get your hands on one of these and have come up with your own preferred settings, feel free to share below in the comments.
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Noise ratio is pretty solid with this projector. It has strong ventilation for keeping the projector cool. The vents are more than noticeable on both sides of the lens, and we didn’t find any troubles with noise. The projector runs pretty quiet most of the time, and during the times the fans kicked up in speed, it didn’t take away from your concentration. In fact, we didn’t really notice outside of a few scenes of silence.
You will find two HDMI inputs to choose from, both supporting full 4K at 60p. Apparently only the second input supports HDCP 2.2 (copy protection), which some devices (like Blu-ray) may require to function properly (they should have just made both inputs compliant).
If you are looking for anything outside of HDMI, you will be stuck looking for a conversion somewheres in the line (ie, DVI to HDMI) since Sony doesn’t offer any other inputs for video. You have USB, LAN and your inputs for external remote/triggers and IR. Do not buy this projector thinking you are going to plug in an old RCA-based VCR or DVD player to it. I guess since this is a 4K unit, Sony assumed you have no need for analog connections anymore (somewhat makes sense).
Our interaction and demo of the model did not include gaming, so we were unable to test it against lag and 3D performance, but we would assume that the projector falls within the same range as the JVC models. We wouldn’t recommend using a projector for a gaming setup anyway. You are typically met with increased lag when compared to LED/OLED TVs, and sometimes the degradation of fine detail while using processing/features to reduce such lag. If we do get a round two with this projector, we will be sure to dive a little deeper into this topic.
In the looks department, the design of the Sony projector isn’t much nicer than the high-end projectors you typically see like the JVC’s. By no means does it look “less than” the others, but it doesn’t exactly stand out (more than). Mounted to the ceiling, it does have a prestigious look to it, and like the others, you won’t find any reason to dislike it. It should look good in most any environment, like a nice BMW parked in front of your house.
It is nearly 20″x20″ in size and nearly 8 inches tall (just above 7.5″), making it quite the beast. Its a heavy monster as well, coming in at over 30lbs. So if you plan to mount this on the roof, it would be wise not to try to do it without the help of another.
The remote is simple, offering quick adjustments to most of the projectors settings (ie, contrast, brightness, sharpness, color, gamma, aspect and so forth). You can change your inputs and adjust setting presets (profiles). There is no function outside of that, so don’t plan on it taking over for another remote in the room as it isn’t universal. If you are a fan, like us, of illuminating controller mess, you would be best buying a Logitech Harmony remote to replace it with.
Finally, I will lean back towards the question of, “is it worth it?”. The quality is superb, beyond a doubt. Image quality is right where you want it to be. With a few tweaks, you should be able to calibrate it to your expectations pretty easily. The price tag however is a little high. We found the JVC DLA-X700R to be a better investment as the quality isn’t much less than that of the Sony (although the Sony is indeed better), but the price is significant. You can find the JVC around $6k vs the $9k price of the Sony. So if we had to choose, we would lean towards the JVC until Sony can bring the price of their VPL-VW600ES 4K model down, which stomps all over the JVC.
If you are looking for “great picture”, and worried about price, then the Sony is not for you. The Sony is more for someone who feels $10k is just a treat. Also, maybe 4K isn’t your best option as well as you will be spending $6-20k for a decent project no matter what–until prices come down. This is where the Epson comes into play. It is a much (MUCH) better price and worth getting until 4K models fall in price and catch up to speed. The Epson offers 1080p vs 4K, but it also offers 2400 lumens and an amazing 1080p picture with great contrast. You can pick it up for around $2600 now.
The VPL-VW350ES is a great projector, but expensive at $9k. The larger brother to it (VPL-VW600ES) is even better, but even less worth the price as it runs around $11-15k at most stores. The JVC makes a better 4K solution at $6k and the Epson draws in the majority around $2.5k. The only thing the Sony is lacking we believe is brightness. Give it an extra 1000 lumens and it will dominate. Of course, the price will have to come down a little too. We were still impressed with image detail, although soon you will probably be able to pay the same price or less for an 80-inch LED 4K–and without the extra lumens, it’s hard to get a solid image greater than 100-inches that is going to rock your world. With some extra light and a lower price, it would fare very well in score, but for now, we decided to go with a 7 out of 10.
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