Sony VPL-HW50ES review: Extra features, extraordinary image quality

Connectivity: It may seem counterintuitive, but if you want a laundry list of connections, you need to spend a lot less money. While a $1,100 projector like the BenQ W1070 boasts every connector type known to mankind, the Sony is more selective. You essentially get three sorts: two HDMI ports, one component, and one VGA; the latter isn't available on the JVC. The assumption, of course, is that you'll be using an external switch or an AV receiver to connect multiple sources.

Picture quality
The picture quality of the Sony can be summed up with one word: superb. Color and shadow detail were excellent and black levels were among the best I've seen in a home theater projector. Both the Sony and JVC are capable of jaw-dropping pictures, and if having to choose between two very good projectors is your only concern, it's a great problem to have.

Thanks to its more-accurate picture presets, however, the Sony is the better choice if you're not going to invest in a professional calibration. Just pop it into Reference mode, adjust the manual iris to taste (lower means a dimmer image but better black levels) or set it to "auto" if you like that look, and you're done. Of course, a disc like Disney's WOW would also be beneficial. The Sony's better light output and quieter fan do make it superior to the JVC for situations where your room isn't completely dark.

Comparison models (details)
JVC DLA-X35B LCOS
BenQ W1070 Single-chip DLP
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020 LCD

Black and white level: If you think that projectors belong in the boardroom and not the living room, then the Sony HW50ES will quickly disavow you of such a notion. Its black levels stand up well against almost any flat-panel TV that you could care to name. Using the manual iris setting in its minimum position, we were still easily able to get enough light for comfortable viewing (16 footLambert) while also providing an inky shade of black. There was also no noise hit when moving to the higher brightness lamp mode, whereas the JVC in High did noticeably engage the noisy fan.

Whether displaying the dark, gloomy "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II" or the pastoral scenes of "Tree of Life," the images the Sony produced popped off the big screen with excellent levels of contrast. As David mentioned in his JVC review, the two measured essentially the same for depth of black across all types of scenes.

We also spent some time deciding between the static and auto iris modes. We ended up choosing static because the image looked more natural -- the highlights in auto appeared a bit too bright compared to the dark areas (yes, there is such a thing as too much pop). Auto worked great, however, as seen during our comparison using the opening fight from "Watchmen," a great mix of very dark and bright material, with lots of sudden shifts in light level. There was no detectable "iris effect," where dark-to-light transitions, and vice-versa, cause black and white levels to noticeably fade up or down. Auto iris might be a look some viewers appreciate, and it's a nice option to have.

While mostly indistinguishable from each other, the Sony seemed to have a little better shadow detail than the JVC in the very darkest areas, pushing aside a bit more of the gloom hiding in "Deathly Hallows." It was still almost impossible to tell the two apart, though.

The Sony delivered somewhat higher light output. With a full-screen white pattern in the brightest default picture modes (Stage for the JVC and Bright TV for the Sony), the JVC measured 39.1 fL while the Sony measured 45.3 fL. In lumens, a measurement that eliminates the variable of different screens, that works out to 1,284 and 1,488 lumens, respectively (thanks to Chris Heinonen for the lumens calculator).

Color accuracy: The Sony is among the most accurate displays we've measured, period. If you look at the Geek Box, you'll see its error numbers are all well south of 3, the standard threshold of perception. The lone exception, Blue, is still good enough that its error is almost impossible to see in program material.

Chapter 5 of The Tree of Life features a shot of the mother (Jessica Chastain) as she lies on the grass, and in its mix of blues, greens, and skintones, you have to look very closely to see the differences between the Sony and JVC -- but they were there. The grass on the Sony was very slightly blue/green, while it was a little more yellow and foresty on the JVC. In addition, the mother's face was a tiny bit rosier on the JVC during this shot. For what it's worth, the Sony measured as being more more accurate, although to my eye the slightly-off JVC might have been a bit more pleasing.

We are talking ever-so-slight differences though, and only in comparison to another amazing projector. Overall, the color of the Sony could be termed "great" and whether watching the visual feast of "The Tree of Life" or the gritty "Watchmen," it was hard not to be impressed with the projector's lifelike color and saturation.

Video processing: Given Sony's heritage in cinema, it's no surprise to find excellent video processing here. For example, the fly-by of the USS Intrepid from "I Am Legend" (24:58) was just smooth enough, demonstrating that the projector had a vicelike grip on the 24p signal. Similarly, it was able to replay the 1080i film deinterlacing test without any issues. For this price, you should expect nothing less.

The Sony's 240Hz refresh rate allowed it to achieve a higher motion resolution score than the JVC, but in our direct comparisons between the two, using real-world material FPD Benchmark Blu-ray disc (a metronome and a shot of cars passing quickly past a static camera) it was impossible to discern any real difference. As with the JVC, you'll need to engage a smoothing mode -- Sony calls it MotionFlow -- and suffer the Soap Opera Effect if you want to take advantage of the higher motion resolution. That's OK for higher frame-rate video like sports, but it spoils the 24p effect of film.

Speaking of Film, Sony also has a "Film Projection" mode that supposedly mimics the look of, well, a film projector. We found it created too much flicker, however, so we left it turned off.

Bright lighting: The Sony is capable of a higher light output, and this translated to a better performance than the JVC in a lit room -- especially when using the Bright Cinema or Bright TV mode. But if bright lighting performance is your main concern, just get something cheaper. Numerous less-expensive business projectors, like the Optoma TH1060P for example, are capable of brighter light output and thus filling a screen in a lit room.

3D: As with all of the other aspects of the two competing products' performance, 3D replay was very similar on both the Sony and JVC. At first we thought we detected a little more flicker on the Sony, but after some to-ing and fro-ing between the two, there wasn't much in it. On contrasting scenes there could be a little flicker out of the corner of your eye on the Sony, but the effect was there on the JVC, too. Both projectors exhibited an excellent resistance to cross-talk but not always immune -- there was still a small amount of crosstalk on Hugo's hand as he reached for the clockwork mouse ("Hugo," 4:44).

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0019 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.21 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.5787 Good
Near-black error (5%) 0.351 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.487 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.4087 Good
Avg. color error 1.4770 Good
Red error 0.473 Good
Green error 1.0192 Good
Blue error 4.226 Average
Cyan error 0.6317 Good
Magenta error 1.6804 Good
Yellow error 0.8318 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 750 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor

Sony VPL-HW50es calibration report by

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