I've reviewed a slew of home theater projectors in the last 18 months, and many of them were very good. The VPL-VW325ES, quite simply, blows them all away. And it'd better, because it also costs five times as much as most of those projectors.
While there are many reasons the VPL-VW325ES performs as well as it does, the main one comes down to two simple words: contrast ratio. Using a trio of 4K SXRD liquid crystal on silicon chips, the VPL-VW325ES puts out a contrast ratio that's 60 percent better than the next-best projector I've measured recently, and more than 10x better than most of the other projectors I've reviewed. That contrast allows the Sony to create an image that looks significantly more realistic, with more apparent depth, than anything that costs less.
And a lot of projectors cost less. You could buy a good used car for less than this projector. I know, I have. And despite the high price, this Sony is not particularly bright. A few years ago its 1,500 lumens would have been fine, but these days 2,500 is common and over 3,000 isn't unheard of. Because of its excellent contrast ratio, however, the VPL-VW325ES still blows away brighter PJs like the Epson 5050UB, but you need total light control in your room. Otherwise its remarkable black level is wasted.
You can think of the VPL-VW325ES is the OLED TV of projectors. It looks stunning in every way, but it's also very expensive and absolutely needs heavy curtains at least, blackout curtains ideally. For the select few who can afford it, and have a room that suits it, it's fantastic.
The 325ES is a "true" 4K projector, in the digital cinema sense. It sports a resolution of 4,096x2,160, an extra 552,960 pixels over those wimpy Ultra HD projectors and their 3,840x2,160 resolution. However, unless you send the projector 4,096x2,160, it's only using the 3,840x2,160 portion of the chip, with black bars on either side. However, the black level is so good you can't really notice these bars unless you're really looking for them.
And why is that black level so good? The 325ES uses a different technology than most projectors. Epson, for instance, uses LCD chips, similar to most TVs. Nearly all other projector manufacturers use DLP chips made by Texas Instruments to create an image. Sony uses SXRD, their own version of a tech called liquid crystal on silicon. This is a far more expensive technology and is only found in high-end projectors like Sony's own and JVC with their D-ILA variant. However, LCoS is capable of significantly higher contrast ratios than the other two, which is by far the most important aspect of overall picture quality, as we'll discuss in a moment.
The big bucks for the 325ES also get you a motorized lens with extensive shift and zoom options. You can move the image vertically +85% and -80%, and horizontally +/-31%. This means you can fit the 325ES in a wide variety of setups, including ceiling mount, shelf behind your sofa, and more. The 2x zoom range means you can fill a 2.35:1 screen for movie nights, then zoom down and just fill the center 16x9 portion for TV watching.
At first glance the lumen spec is not impressive. For $5,500 I'd have hoped for more light, and you can buy a far brighter projector for far less money. As we'll discuss in the comparison section, this doesn't matter as much as you'd think, but it does limit how large a screen you can have, and it means you absolutely must have total light control in your room.
Sony being Sony, they don't reveal how long the lamp in the 325ES will last. This is… peculiar and rather baffling. My Sony projector, an older but more expensive model, had lost significant brightness after 3,000 hours, enough that I felt the need to replace its lamp. So feel free to use that as a rough estimate. At 4 hours a night, that's about 2 years of use.
Befitting a projector designed for home theaters, the 325ES has a limited suite of connections but lots of control options. No legacy connections either, just HDMI. Honestly, this is fine. I'm always surprised to see analog connections on a projector these days.
What you do get is a variety of connections to control the projector with a home automation system, including RS-232, LAN, and even an IR input.
There is a USB connection, but it's only capable of 0.5 amps, which won't power most streaming sticks. Again, that's fine as if you're spending 5 grand on a projector I would hope you have something leftover in the budget for a receiver.
There isn't a lot of competition in this price range, but it's worthwhile to compare the 325ES to some recent, cheaper, and quite good projectors like the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB and the LG HU810P. Even a passing glance can see the 325ES blows them away, but is it nearly twice as good as the price implies? We shall see. I connected all three via a Monoprice 1x4 distribution amplifier, and viewed all side by side by side on a 12-foot-wide, 1.0-gain screen.
The Sony is, as you'd hope, on a complete other level. Even at roughly half the brightness of the other two my eye kept coming back to it. The contrast ratio is just that intoxicating. Compared to the Epson, in that projector's highest contrast mode, the Sony's black levels are just a bit deeper, and its highlights just a bit brighter, so there's noticeably more depth and realism to the image. The highlights just pop, yet the blacks are so deep as to seem to lack light. In the Epson's higher brightness mode, it's of course far brighter than the Sony could ever hope to be, but in that mode the black level is much higher, so black letterbox bars, for example, are far more noticeable. The Epson's image is great, but the Sony's is greater.
Contrast ratio is to projectors and TVs what speed is to a race car. Sure, it might have lovely curves and brighter lights, but when it comes down to it, the fastest car wins. This is why OLED TVs nearly always win multi-TV shootouts and endless editors' choice awards. LCOS is the OLED of the projector world.
What surprised me is the detail. This is partly due to Sony's elaborate image processing, which you can disable, and also the exceptional contrast and having 3,840x2,160 discrete pixels. The Sony looks more detailed than the Epson and even more than the extra-sharp LG. There is some motion blur, which the LG lacks, but even so it still looks very, very detailed. Where you notice it the most, like hairs and wrinkles on a face, the Sony does 4K detail more justice than the other two.
That powerful processing, similar to what's found in its high-end TVs, also allows for far, far better HDR processing than most other projectors. All projectors that can support HDR have to modify that signal to work, since no projector has the brightness or dynamic range to fully handle HDR. There's enough processing power in the 325ES to remap the HDR signal and create an image largely free of artifacts or severe clipping, both of which I've seen on lesser projectors.
There is one aspect where the Sony is merely "really, really good" and LG comes out on top and that's with color. The Sony is capable of exceptionally accurate and lifelike colors… with HD. It doesn't have nearly the depth of color of the LG and its laser-powered rainbow of HDR flavors. Deeper crimsons, violets and greens are on tap with the LG. The Sony looks good, but less impressive for sure. Even the Epson, in its wider-gamut mode, can produce deeper colors than the Sony. However, I should be clear this is just with the wider colors available with HDR. The Sony is more accurate than either the LG or the Epson when it comes to non-HDR/WCG colors. Which is to say, with all content the Sony will look great, but with HDR/WCG content the colors will be better on Epson and LG. Not a huge deal, but a 325ES-like projector with a laser light engine would be incredible. Sony does make those, but they cost $20,000.
So is it possible to get a better-looking projector? Sure, but you'd need to spend even more money.
Superlatives fail. The 325ES is far more cinema-like than any projector I've reviewed recently. Would I buy it? That's the real question, right? $5,500 is a lot of money. That's a decent used car, a chunk of a down payment on a house, or roughly three months of traveling anywhere in the world. The image quality you can get from the Epson 5050 is excellent, and that projector is not only $2,500 cheaper but also significantly brighter.
So as much as I love how incredible the 325ES looks, I don't think I would spend my own money on it. But then, I'm just a lowly (Amazon bestselling) writer who spends his money on travel and cars he never drives. I'm sure there are plenty of you reading this who wouldn't blink at spending $5,500 for the image quality possible with the 325ES. If you can afford it, this is the Porsche of the projector world -- and man, is it sweet.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.014||Good|
|Peak white luminance (100%)||126.2||Average|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||1.696||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||0.861||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||1.936||Good|
|Avg. color error||1.666||Good|
|Avg. saturations error||1.45||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||1.4||Good|
|Input lag (Game mode)||36.4||Average|
There's not much to say about the VPL-VW325ES, it's just good in whatever mode you want to use. I found the Reference picture mode to be the most reference-like, and in this mode both the primary and secondary colors were spot on their Rec 709 targets. Easily the most accurate projector we've measured in recent years.
There wasn't much variation in total light output across the different modes, so I stuck with Reference and measured 126.2 nits, or roughly 1,136 lumens. For comparison, in the Epson 5050UB's most accurate mode, it was capable of 192.3 nits, or roughly 1,732 lumens. The Low lamp mode dropped the light output by roughly 30%. The Bright TV mode was about 10 nits brighter with slightly worse color accuracy.
Contrast ratio, of course, is this projector's strength. In the same mode that puts out 126.2 nits, the black level is 0.014 for a contrast ratio of 9,014:1. Across its various modes, it averages 8,327:1. For comparison, the next closest projector in terms of contrast ratio is the Epson, which averaged 5,203:1. The average for all the projectors we've reviewed in the last year, not including the Sony and Epson, is 660:1. Though, admittedly, they are all significantly cheaper than the 325ES.