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Projectors

Sony shoots out three new 4K projectors, one with a laser

It costs friggin' $35,000. Luckily the other two are cheaper.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Sony basically wrote the book on true 4K projectors, and with three new units that pack in all 8.8 million pixels of that standard, the book just got longer, if not any cheaper. 

Here they are:

ModelLampLight output (lumens)Price

VPL-VW295ES

Standard (UHP)

1,500

$5,000

VPL-VW695ES

Standard (UHP)

1,800

$10,000

VPL-VW995ES

Laser

2,200

$35,000

All have native 4K resolution, courtesy of three of Sony's SXRD chips, which is its version of LCOS. Projectors with 4K resolution promise a sharper image than traditional 1080p projectors, but there's more than one way to get to 4K in a projector. Sony's actually project all 4,096x2,160 pixels on the screen -- hence the "true" moniker -- while cheaper models that use 4K DLP chips, like the Optoma UHD60 and BenQ HT2550, deliver fewer than that but are still marketed as 4K

Even with true 4K projectors, the extra sharpness can be difficult to discern, but in past CNET reviews, for example the VPL-VW350ES, Sony's projectors have been excellent in other ways too. 

The biggest differentiator between the three Sonys, as you can see from the above table, is light output. Let's take a closer look.

Lasers!

We'll start from the top because, well, lasers are awesome.

The VPL-VW995ES uses a laser/phosphor light source for a claimed 2,200 lumens of brightness. To get that light and all of the 4,096x2,160 pixels on the screen, it has an ARC-F lens, which stands for "All Range Crisp Focus." Probable backronym aside, this is an 18-element all-glass lens that Sony says "ensures high precision in every corner of the image." 

This projector also has Digital Focus Optimizer, which allegedly also helps ensure accurate focus. The intensity of the laser, in concert with a dynamic iris, will reduce the light output on dark scenes to improve the dynamic contrast ratio. Lasers don't come cheap, though. The 995ES has an MSRP of $35,000.

sony-vpl-vw995es

The Sony VPL-VW995ES.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The other new projectors use a traditional UHP lamp as their light source. The VPL-VW695ES (shown at top) is much cheaper than the 995ES, though still certainly not cheap: $10,000. It's rated at 1,800 lumens and, new for this year, has Sony's MotionFlow image processing that works with 4K video. Also new are lens position presets, called Picture Position Memory, which lets you save zoom and lens positions so, for example, you can have the image fill a 2.35:1 screen for 2.35:1 movies, and then at the press of a button, zoom in to just fill the 16:9 portion of the screen for HDTV video. Sony claims a dynamic contrast ratio of 350,000:1. This model replaces both the 385ES and 675ES from previous years.

sony-vpl-vw295es

The Sony VPL-VW295ES.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The entry-level model for these 4K PJs is the VPL-VW295ES, which has a claimed 1,500 lumens, plus 4K MotionFlow, and 18 gigabit-per-second HDMI inputs, which allows it to accept 10-bit 4K content at 60 frames per second. The biggest addition over its predecessor, the 285ES, is an input lag reduction mode for better response and performance with games. Its MSRP matches that of the 285ES at $5,000, which is a disappointment for anyone hoping Sony would lower the  entry bar to "true" 4K.

Double-stack 8K

I got the chance to check out the VW995ES at the CEDIA Expo earlier this month in San Diego, where all three were announced. Sony had it in a darkened theater room projecting on a 165-inch, 1.3-gain Screen Innovations screen. As you would hope for a $35,000 projector, the image was excellent. Bright, which is impressive on such a large screen, with vibrant colors and excellent detail. Clips from the Rock movie Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle had lush greens and deep blues, along with great lifelike skin tones.

sony-995-jumanji-screen-cap

A screen cap using my Pixel 2 phone, so don't judge this as indicative of the performance. In person the image was very detailed, with vibrant greens, vivid oranges and yellows, and highly accurate-looking skin tones. 

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

As good as it was, it didn't quite wow as much as the cheaper, but higher contrast, JVC DLA-RS3000 that I also saw at CEDIA. Hard to say definitively, given they weren't shown back-to-back. Coming out of the demo, though, I felt it looked excellent, but without the impressive punch of the JVC.

After some clips on a single 995ES, Sony switched over to a double-stack: two 995ES linked together. Sony referred to this as 8K, though in reality it was 2x4K. In one slide explaining the setup, it called it Dual-4K. Regardless, that's a bunch of pixels and a lot of brightness. Running the same slow-moving but beautifully shot content that JVC used in its demo (I assume test footage from the Japanese broadcaster NHK), the detail and overall image was excellent.

sony-dual-stack

Sony's Dual-4K "8K" double stack.

Sony

They also showed some still images, both in 4K resolution and then in 8K resolution. The 8K images were noticeably sharper, with more noticeable textures and fine details. One example was a forest scene, with better detail in the moss on a rock in the foreground. Another, as shown below, with better detail in the material and designs of an unfolded kimono.

sony-4k-and-8k

Another shot with my phone, just to give you an idea what was going on in the demo, not to judge image quality. Here, the same image in 4K and 8K form was alternated every few seconds. The 8K version had visibly more detail, noticeable in the patterns and textures of the kimono.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

4K @ home

Sony expects to ship the 295ES and 695ES in the US and Canada in October. The 995ES will be available in November. All three projectors are certified for the new Imax Enhanced program. 

JVC's new 4K projectors: They'll give your TV an inferiority complex.

Sony's new 4K projectors look perfect for movie night: More from Sony at IFA.