Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES: the best native 4K projectors?

0
616

The Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors complete the 90ES range, which also includes the Sony VPL-VW590ES and Sony VPL-VW790ES. These Sony 4K projectors feature the Sony X1 image processor for projectors, based on the processor used by the best Sony 4K TVs. They are 4K 60 fps and HDR (HDMI 2.0) compatible and feature HDR dynamic range optimization, as well as Reality Creation technology to provide viewers with a superior viewing experience. Main differences between the two models: the Sony VPL-VW290ES is equipped with a regular lamp and an aspherical lens, the Sony VPL-VW890ES a laser lamp and a professional quality ARC-F lens.

Designed to project a large, bright, high-contrast image in large living rooms and private home theaters, the Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors are priced at €5,490 and €24,999 respectively. The price of perfection?

The Sony VPL-VW290ES (white) and Sony VPL-VW890ES (black) projectors are heavy (14kg and 22kg respectively) and imposing. Their large air vents on the front allow them to be placed in a recess at the back of the room.

Sony VPL-VW290ES: packaging & accessories

The two projectors that were lent to us by Sony for this test are models used at trade shows and during demonstrations in Son-Video.com stores. They were each delivered to us in an imposing flight case that allows them to be easily transported and efficiently protected.

The standard packaging is a large box containing the projector, the infrared remote control with backlit buttons, two AA batteries and a power cable. A removable cover protects the lens of each projector.

Sony VPL-VW290ES: presentation

The Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors are equipped with SXRD arrays with native 4K resolution (4096 x 2160 pixels) and support wide dynamic range images (HDR10 and HLG). Their X1 processor is inherited from the video processing technology of Sony Bravia 4K TVs and specifically adapted for projectors. It is responsible for optimizing HDR rendering and upscaling 1080p HD and DVD sources.

The aspherical lens of the Sony VPL-VW290ES (left) and the ARC-F lens of the Sony VPL-VW890ES (right) have large-diameter elements that let in as much light as possible. They are made of high quality glass and guarantee a very sharp image.

SXRD arrays

Developed by Sony, the SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) technology offers a very fast response time (smoothness), an extended colorimetric space, an excellent contrast and does not produce any visible grid effect.

Along with JVC’s competing D-ILA system, it is the only technology that can currently produce native 4K (4096 x 2160 pixels) arrays. Projectors with DLP 4K technology are not “natively 4K”, they rely on 1080p HD arrays whose pixels are shifted several thousand times per second to reproduce a 4K image.

Inside these two Sony projectors, the light from the lamp is divided into three distinct streams directed separately to the three SXRD arrays, each managing a primary color (red, green, blue). A prism then combines the three light streams into one, directed towards the lens to project the image.

The use of separate color panels ensures greater purity and richness of color. This technology also eliminates any potential rainbow effect that can be seen with DLP projectors with a color wheel.

UHP/laser lamp

Opening the VW90ES range of projectors, the Sony VPL-VW290ES is equipped with a standard lamp, while the Sony VPL-VW890ES which occupies the top of the range features a laser lamp. The latter offers incredibly stable luminosity and colorimetry throughout its lifespan (20,000 hours). The laser also allows for a very smooth dynamic contrast as its intensity can be adjusted according to the image to be displayed. To achieve more intense and deeper blacks, the Sony VPL-VW890ES combines the adjustable laser intensity with a dynamic iris. The resulting wide dynamic range allows for even richer and more nuanced HDR images.

The VPL-VW890ES’s laser lamp combined with the SXRD native 4K technology produces images with unparalleled clarity and realism.

Motorized lens

The Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors are very easy to install thanks to their motorized zoom and the possibility to shift the lens both horizontally and vertically (motorized lens shift). This gives the user a great deal of freedom in the placement of the projector in the room. In addition, the air vents positioned on the front and the connectors integrated on the side allow these projectors to be installed in an alcove at the back of the room.

Note that the Sony VPL-VW890ES 4K projector also offers the very practical advantage of being able to store five different zoom settings, to quickly switch from 16:9 to 2.35:1 mode, for example.

X1 processor for projectors

Borrowing a technology from the Sony TV range and incorporating it into the VW90ES projectors is a first for Sony Professional. The X1 video processor used in the Sony XH9096 and Sony XH8096 4K TVs has been tailored to optimize the image quality of the Sony VPL-VW290ES and VPL-VW890ES.

The X1 processor features Dynamic HDR Enhancer and 4K Reality Creation technologies for 4K upscaling of 1080p HD Blu-ray and DVD sources. Dynamic HDR Enhancer analyzes each scene to optimize contrast and provide more nuance and finesse in variations of light intensity and color gradation.

The second converts lower definition video to 4K ultra high definition by analyzing each frame: pattern and texture matching algorithms developed over the years by Sony improve image sharpness and definition without increasing noise.

Digital Focus Optimizer

Even when using very high end lenses, optical blur can remain visible in the corners of the image as the lenses use circular elements to reproduce a rectangular image. The Digital Focus Optimizer technology implemented by Sony (on the Sony VPL-VW890ES projector) compensates for this sharpness problem by digitally altering the image.

Specifications

  • SXRD 4K technology (0.74” array x3 – RVB)
  • Definition: 4096 x 2160 pixels (x 3)
  • Motorized focus, zoom and Lens Shift
  • VPL-VW290ES lamp: 280W mercury (6000 h)
  • VPL-VW890ES lamp: laser (20,000 h)
  • Brightness: 1,500 lm (VPL-VW290ES) / 2,200 lm (VPL-VW890ES)
  • Image size (diagonal): 2.03m to 5.08m (80” to 200”)
  • HDR10/HLG compatible
  • 2 x HDMI 2.0 (4K 60 FPS, HDCP 2.2)

Test conditions

For this test, we paired the Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors with an Nvidia Shield TV A/V network player to access various streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Prime Video. We also used a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player to play Blu-ray discs, including the 4K HDR UHD Blu-ray of the movie Ford v Ferrari. The sources were connected to our A/V receiver using NorStone Jura HDMI cables and the receiver’s HDMI output was connected to the projector’s HDMI input with a NorStone Jura HDMI-Optic cable.

Once the Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors were connected to the Nvidia Shield via HDMI, we were able to enjoy many 4K HDR programs on Netflix.

We projected onto a motorized projection screen that was at a distance of just over three meters to obtain an image with a diagonal of 2.54m (100”).

Installation

Once the Sony projector was in place behind the seats, it only took a few moments to position the image in the center of the projection screen. The optical zoom, lens shift and focus of the Sony VPL-VW290ES and VPL-VW890ES are motorized and accessible directly from the remote control. A grid pattern allows you to adjust the image and the focus.

The lens shift allows you to easily correct the position of the image horizontally and vertically without any distortion, while the zoom allows you to enlarge or reduce the size of the image in a very precise and gradual way.

The zoom, lens shift and focus of the Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES are also accessible via the Lens button on the side of the projector. Between the Lens button and the menu button is a small directional pad for navigating through the setup menus.

Image settings

The settings menus of the Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors are very comprehensive and allow you to consult a professional calibration technician if you have no knowledge in this area. They will be able to make adjustments that are perfectly adapted to the specific conditions of the room in which the projector is installed.

However, experienced users can make the “basic” adjustments (contrast, light, color, …) with the help of an adapted calibration disc such as the Spears & Munsil 4K Blu-ray.

The Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark calibration Blu-ray is a great tool for checking and adjusting the calibration of an Ultra HD projector or 4K TV.

The Cinema and Reference modes are already very well calibrated and can be used as they are. For this test, we simply set the Motionflow to True Cinema. This mode limits judder on moving images without generating a “soap opera” effect. We checked that all noise reduction systems were disabled and left the HDR management on Auto as the projector automatically detects HDR content.

Our impressions

4K HDR streaming

The documentary series Life in Color with David Attenborough on Netflix is ideal for judging both the sharpness of the image and the colorimetric richness of a TV or projector. The British naturalist shows us numerous animal species with images filmed in exceptional conditions. Frequent close-ups allow us to admire many characteristic details of the observed fauna from all angles.

With this program, the Sony VPL-VW290ES projector gave us very detailed images with precise contours, without having to be artificially sharpened. The native 4K SXRD array demonstrated its superiority over 4K projection technologies based on 1080p HD arrays with pixel shift. The quality of the lens also contributed to the extremely precise rendering. We were amazed by the beauty of the images and the multitude of details on the screen.

The Sony VPL-VW290ES was comfortable with HDR content, giving viewers realistic images and a very satisfying level of contrast. Blacks weren’t as deep as we would have hoped, but they were still superior to many other projectors on the market. In the highlights, the image was also satisfactory, even though the power of the lamp does not allow very high peaks of brightness (1500 lumens max). The previously tested JVC DLA-N5 and Sony VPL-VW590ES projectors are more efficient when it comes to HDR rendering, both in the highlights and dark zones.

As far as colorimetry is concerned, this Sony projector displayed a wide chromatic palette that served the images of the documentary wonderfully. The colorful wings of the butterflies, the vivid markings of the frogs and the shimmering feathers of the flamingos looked beautiful on the screen. It was a true festival of colors!

With the same program, the Sony VPL-VW890ES projector took us into a whole other dimension and was clearly superior in all areas compared to its smaller sibling. From the first images projected, we were struck by the exceptional quality of the contrast, with blacks of a very beautiful density that gave texture and substance to the image. Also brighter, the flagship of the Sony VW90ES range delivered vivid images with intensity in the highlights.

The laser lamp combined with the dynamic iris allows to precisely modulate the light diffused by the projector. We therefore enjoyed a very wide range of light gradations, with HDR images that were nuanced and beautifully contrasted.

Higher contrast, deeper blacks, more vivid and saturated colors, higher peak brightness: with the same program, the Sony VPL-VW890ES proved to be much better than the Sony VPL-VW290ES.

Color rendering also benefited from the Sony VPL-VW890ES projector’s ability to produce deep but not flat blacks and to make the brighter areas pop. Colors were more intense, more saturated, richer, and the documentary was all the more wonderful. The wings of the butterflies sparkled and the colors literally exploded. The shiny skin of the multicolored frogs was particularly well rendered, as were the shades of pink in the feathers of the flamingos and the bright orange of their legs. It really felt like the animals were in front of us. The first thought that comes to mind is that the Sony VPL-VW890ES is to video projection what OLED is to televisions!

Ford v Ferrari (4K HDR Blu-ray)

With the 4K HDR Blu-ray of Ford v Ferrari, the Sony VPL-VW890ES really hit the mark. From the opening scene, the unique conditions of the race at night on a dark country road were superbly rendered. Only lit by the yellow glow of the headlights of the cars in the race, the edges of the track marked by bales of hay stood out from the darkness at the last moment in a tense atmosphere. The tenseness on Matt Damon’s face attested to this with incredible realism, each detail of his facial muscles translating his efforts to keep his opponents at bay.

With this Sony 4K laser projector, we were able to fully enjoy the director’s work on lighting and color rendering that give the film its special atmosphere. Day or night, whether we followed Ken Miles during his race on a Californian circuit flooded with light or during the test sessions of the GT40 at night on the airport tarmac, the HDR management was superb. Blacks were deep and nuanced, lights were vivid and rich with multiple tones, colors were intense, balanced and realistic. The Dynamic HDR Enhancer processing was particularly effective in delivering images that were vivid, rich and well contrasted.

Detail and accuracy were also present. Perfectly rendered by the native SXRD 4K array, the images benefited from an exceptional sharpness thanks to the professional-quality lens of this outstanding projector. However, the smoothness and realism of cinematic images was preserved, and didn’t suffer from aggressive image processing. On the contrary, the image was very natural and particularly realistic. Every moment was a pleasure to watch!

Compared to…

Optoma UHZ65LV

This Optoma 4K laser projector uses DLP technology to project a UHD resolution image. Using a 1080p HD array and XPR (Pixel Shift) technology, it can deliver a 3840 x 2160 pixel image that is close to, but not as sharp as, the image projected by the Sony SXRD projectors. The native 4K definition and the quality of the lenses of the latter, in particular the ARC-F lens of the Sony VPL-VW890ES, provide superior sharpness and clarity.

The Optoma UHZ65LV projector is an interesting alternative to the VPL-VW290ES, especially for projection in a living room thanks to its higher brightness.

Although it is not as powerful as that of the Sony model, the Optoma’s zoom is a significant factor. This DLP projector is one of the few to offer the lens shift function (vertical only). Its range is more limited than Sony projectors, which offer more flexibility when it comes to installation, but its presence is still a plus.

The Optoma UHZ65LV projector is very bright (5000 lumens). It is therefore more comfortable than the Sony projector when the room is not completely dark and can project HDR content with higher brightness peaks. However, the blacks aren’t as deep as those of the Sony projectors which seem unbeatable on this point, the VW290ES being very good and the VW890ES imperial. These Sony projectors are clearly incomparable for home theater in a dedicated room or a dark living room, with a striking contrast and excellent management of HDR content. But this exceptional quality comes at a much higher price, especially for the Sony VPL-VW890ES.

Sony VPL-VW590ES

Positioned just above the Sony VPL-VW290ES in the Japanese manufacturer’s range of 4K projectors, the Sony VPL-VW590ES offers a higher brightness (1800 lm) and has a dynamic iris to achieve deeper blacks. It also uses the Digital Focus Optimizer technology (increased sharpness) and offers a zoom memory, two features that are also found on the Sony VPL-VW790ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES.

Priced at €1,500 more than the VPL-VW290ES, the Sony VPL-VW590ES is brighter, has better contrast (dynamic iris) and a slightly sharper image.

However, the advantages offered by the Sony VPL-VW590ES will cost you €1,500 more than the amount asked for the VPL-VW290ES, which is far from being inferior, considering the price difference.

JVC DLA-N5

This JVC 4K projector uses projection technology that is very similar to that of Sony. Its native RGB D-ILA 4K array allows it to display images of comparable precision and sharpness, especially as it has a high-quality, large-diameter lens that lets in a maximum of light. Motorized, this lens also offers great flexibility in terms of placement outside the axis of the screen thanks to its optical shift function, whose capabilities are similar to those of the two Sony projectors.

Sold for €5,999, the JVD DLA-N5 is positioned between the Sony VPL-VW290ES and the Sony VPL-VW590ES and offers solid advantages.

Like the Sony VPL-VW290ES, the JVC DLA-N5 uses a classic lamp but offers a higher luminosity (1800 lm) which allows it to offer more nuances in the highlights with HDR content. On the screen, it does better in terms of readability and intensity in the brightest parts of the image. However, the Sony projector stands out when it comes to the darker areas, with a more detailed and nuanced result overall.

The JVC is not as good as the excellent JVC VPL-VW890ES, whose laser lamp combined with the dynamic iris and dynamic HDR processing offers better results on images with a wide dynamic range, both in the dark and bright areas. However, the price is not comparable…

Who are they for?

The Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors are for all movie lovers who want to experience the magic of the big screen in a living room or dedicated home theater. If you want deep, detailed blacks, accurate and balanced colors with optimized HDR management, look no further. The Sony VPL-VW890ES is particularly well suited for very large screens, starting from 3 meters.

Conclusion

Designed by the Sony Pro division, the Sony VPL-VW290ES and Sony VPL-VW890ES projectors are virtually unmatched in their price range and offer a truly cinematic experience. Very well balanced, the images are particularly realistic and natural thanks to the precision of the SXRD arrays. Rich and accurate colors are also present, with very contrasted images, dense and at the same time very readable blacks, the pinnacle being reached with the Sony VPL-VW890ES which seems to be unbeatable.

Priced at €5,490, the Sony VPL-VW290ES may seem expensive for an entry-level UHD model, but it delivers a true native 4K image with beautiful colors, high contrast and black levels rarely seen with other projection technologies. Almost five times more expensive (€24,999), the Sony VPL-VW890ES reigns as the undisputed champion of the VW90ES range and stands head and shoulders above all other projectors on the market. The price of excellence!

We liked

  • The rich and natural colors
  • The excellent contrast
  • The overall balance of 4K HDR images
  • The motorized lens (zoom, lens shift, focus)

We would of liked

  • For them to have been affordable


Share your opinion!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.