Sony VPL-XW5000ES 4K Laser Projector Review
Tony O'Brien tries out this excellent new affordable 4K Laser HDR projector…
VPL-XW5000ES 4K Laser Projector
AUD $9,999 RRP
It's shaping up to be 'the year of the laser', and Sony has hit hard with its entry-level VPL-XW5000 4k projector. Not only does it sport a new laser light source, but it is a complete re-engineering of Sony's 4K projectors, the likes of which we haven't seen in years.
For instance, the whole optical pathway has been redesigned from the ground up – the new 'Wide Dynamic Range' optics are designed to both increase brightness and improve black levels. Its laser light source incorporates a cluster of blue laser diodes directed through a yellow phosphor wheel to create white light. It gives the VPL-XW5000 a quoted brightness of 2,000 lumens – a 25% increase over its predecessor, the lamp-based VPL-VW290ES – and allows it to run cooler and quieter. It's also dynamic, as it can adjust its laser light source on a frame-by-frame basis.
The new SXRD panel is the smallest 4K chipset on the planet at just 0.61, and has a native resolution of 3,840x 2,160. As a native 4K chipset, it doesn't need to resort to pixel shifting or other means of digital wizardry to achieve its 4K resolution. It also has a new reflective silicon layer to reduce light scatter. The result, Sony tells me, is better black levels, improved shadow detail and less light bleed.
The Japanese manufacturer continues to produce its lenses in-house. And rather than using an existing lens assembly, the VPL-VW5000 features a custom-built lens assembly. A ten-piece design, it incorporates nine all-glass lenses with an outer resin optical aspherical lens. Sony says this gives a broader focus area, resulting in sharper images, particularly towards the edges of the screen. However, the 'secret sauce' is its X1 Ultimate for Projector Picture Processor – the very same found in Sony's pricey flagship GTZ-380.
This features Sony's latest iteration of its Reality Creation Engine, which uses intelligent sharpening, noise reduction and resolution on an object-by-object basis, with objects compared to Sony's database of images. While the changes it applies are not source-agnostic, the most significant benefits I'm told apply to streamed content with sharper and more detailed images, something I witnessed firsthand with the now superseded VPL-VW290ES. It also brings Sony's Digital Focus Optimiser. Previously reserved for the company's more expensive projectors, it operates in the digital domain, improving focus, particularly towards the edges of the screen.
Last but not least is Sony's propriety Dynamic Tone Mapping (DTM) solution. Unlike other DTM solutions, the X1 Ultimate chip seeks to emulate the 'look' of HDR. Sony looks to its own BVM-X300 Mastering Monitor as a reference, which also happens to be the very same monitor that many filmmakers use to master HDR content. The Sony DTM algorithm operates in the contrast realm. Adhering to the PQ curve as closely as possible, it analyses and applies contrast enhancement in conjunction with the laser light control on a frame by frame basis. Doing so, it seeks to emulate the deep dark blacks and bright highlights of HDR television. The VPL-XW5000 is quoted as being able to produce 95% of the P3 gamut coverage, the wider colour gamut in 4K HDR.
In addition to being IMAX Enhanced Certified, and supporting HDR, the VPL-XW5000 supports Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG). We were surprised to learn it doesn't support HDMI 2.1. Nonetheless, it has a quoted delay of 27 milliseconds for 4K 60P signals and 16 milliseconds for 2K 120P signals. More than a few gamers, I suspect, will take exception to its lack of HDMI 2.1 support, firmly entrenching the VPL-XW5000 as a home theatre projector first and foremost.
At 460x200x472mm, VPL-XW5000 is not only markedly smaller but has a more angular design than its predecessors. The front of its matt black chassis features cooling vents with a centrally mounted lens. The lens assembly is also much smaller, putting me very much in mind of the lenses found on Sony's older 1080p projectors. Mercifully, Sony has decided to keep all of the connections, except for power on the side of the projector. Along with its smaller size, it means this can squeeze into smaller spaces.
The VPL-XW500 has two HDMI inputs (HDCP 2.2) with a full 18GB workflow (4K, 60p 10-bit signal processing). Other connections include an Ethernet port, two 12-volt triggers, an IR input, an RS232C connection and a USB-A input.
On the bottom is a small flap, under which are located its lens shift controls. Unlike the VPL-VW290ES, which it replaces, this new one does away with a motorised lens. Like most, if not all, I suspect, I'm not a fan of manual lens controls. However, given the choice of an enhanced feature set or mechanical lens controls, I'll gladly take the former, particularly if it means sticking to a price point.
Regardless, the vertical shift of +/-71% and a horizontal shift of +/-25% made it relatively easy to centre the image on the screen. A three-chip SXRD projector, the VPL-XW5000 also has panel alignment controls. These provide both 'whole-picture' adjustment and' zone by zone' alignment, affording a greater degree of precision. While the ability to change colour on the fly would be handy – without resorting to exiting the current operation – there's a fine enough level of control to obtain an accurate panel alignment.
For this review, the VPL-XW5000 was connected with optical HDMI to the video output of a JBL SDR-35 AV receiver. Source devices consisted of a Panasonic UB9000 4K Blu-ray player and Apple TV. Images were projected onto a 100” (1.0 gain) Severtson Cinegray 16.9 screen. Speakers consisted of VAF Signature i91 front and centre and four VAF i90 speakers for surround and overhead Atmos channels. Two custom 10-inch VAF Gravitas subwoofers were used for a 5.2.2 Atmos layout. Read on if you would like to learn more about how this product is measured and calibrated. Otherwise, feel free to skip the following section…
MEASUREMENTS AND CALIBRATION
The Sony VPL-XW5000 was calibrated to industry standards for SDR and HDR with a Klein Instruments K10A colourimeter, profiled against a reference-grade 2nm JETI 1501 spectroradiometer. Test patterns for SDR and HDR were rendered by a Murideo 6G pattern generator, with 10% window patterns used for calibration and measuring light output. Test patterns were also provided from the Spears & Munsil HDR Benchmark and DVS HDR10 discs. The unit was calibrated using Calman Ultimate and Sony's Projector Calibration Pro Software.
Contrast ratios and black levels are included but were measured in my viewing environment rather than a controlled testing environment. Nonetheless, it provides us with the means to compare contrast ratios between projectors we review here at StereoNET, as they're all tested in the same viewing environment.
The VPL-XW5000 has ten selectable picture modes consisting of Film 1, Film 2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, Bright TV, User and Imax Enhanced. Calibration controls consist of both basic controls, as well as two-point grayscale controls, nine gamma presets and a six-point colour management system or CMS. The unit was calibrated in Film 1 Mode for both SDR and HDR playback. After SDR calibration, and with the laser at its lowest setting, I obtained a little over 18 fL, or 63.8 cd/m² and a measured black level of 0.0375 cd/m² for an on/off contrast ratio of 1,703:1. Engaging the Dynamic Laser control in its limited mode produced a black floor of 0.014 cd/ m² for a contrast ratio of 4,168:1. Switching to the high resulted in a measured black level of 0.012 cd/m² and a final contrast ratio of 4,448:1.
These numbers are surprisingly similar to the outgoing VPL-VW290ES. It is, however, significantly brighter, which brings additional benefits, particularly in terms of HDR. Such a balancing act is difficult to achieve as increasing brightness tends to come at the cost of elevated black levels. Given that it's managed to maintain the black levels of its predecessor, and remained on budget is quite an engineering feat.
After calibration, the VPL-XW5000 produced outstanding greyscale accuracy with an average dE of 0.54. Gamma response was likewise excellent, with the VPL-VW5000ES adhering closely to the 2.4 curve that it was calibrated to. Colour accuracy remains Sony's strong suit, the projector producing an average dE of 0.75 and a maximum dE of just 1.63.
In HDR mode, the VPL-XW5000 offers the same picture modes, with the option to choose a different laser setting, brightness and contrast level for HDR. It also forces the colour space to BT.2020 with three EOTF options consisting of Auto, HDR10/HLG and HDR Reference/ HLG and engages the Dynamic HDR Enhancer.
With the projector in HDR and its BT.2020 colour mode, it produced 88.57% (1976 uv) UHDA-P3 gamut and 83.66% (1931 xy) UHDA-P3 gamut coverage. Although Cinema P3 uses a slightly different redpoint, the results were still short of the promised 95% of the P3 gamut coverage. Arguably more important is the light output for HDR, an area in which it excelled, producing a whopping 46fL or 157 cd/m².
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
Sony's VPL-XW5000 produced startlingly detailed images with a sense of depth that gives images an incredible feeling of realism. Colours are nicely saturated in both SDR and HDR yet are thoroughly convincing. Its extra brightness and decent black levels make for exciting HDR viewing, with images often taking on a 3D-like appearance. Streamed content enjoys a significant uptick in resolution and detail, with a sense of sharpness and clarity that's not generally associated with streamed content. Legacy SDR content fares equally well with sharp, poppy images.
As I often do, I kicked off my viewing with the demonstration clips on the 4K Spears & Munsil HDR Benchmark disc. The first thing that struck me was the sense of detail the VPL-XW5000 produces. With the all too familiar content, I found myself revelling in newfound detail. The scene with the deer revealed a wealth of detail; from the animal's snout to the tiniest drop of dew in its fur, I can't recall seeing so much detail in a projector before.
The demonstration also features clips of animals and objects against black backgrounds. It's a torture test for televisions and projectors, quick to show up any light bleeding or blooming. From my primary viewing position, I was unable to detect any anomalies, and it wasn't until I got extremely close to the image that I could see the edges were slightly softer. It's an excellent level of performance that I've seen many other projectors stumble with.
Switching to Netflix's excellent Our Planet, and the Sony surprised once again with its level of detail and sharpness. From the swirling cloud patterns to the shape and detail in the landmasses, it was startling to see this level of detail from a projector, let alone one at this price point. While I usually reserve Netflix's Kate for testing televisions, I couldn't resist the temptation to try it with the VPL-XW5000.
Naturally, projectors can't compete with the best HDR televisions in terms of dynamic range; Sony's Dynamic HDR Enhancer brings it a step closer. Here I found moving it to the middle or high position gave that extra pop that I craved. And while it wasn't as bright and punchy as good HDR television, it does an admirable job, with HDR images looking suitably HDR-like. As good as it is, it doesn't come without compromises. For instance, with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Aquaman, there was a fair amount of clipping in both the sun and cloud as the lighthouse keeper stands at the edge of the jetty.
It's undoubtedly one of those cases of 'seasoning to taste', with the HDR set to low being the best way to take in the DC flick. Preferences set, the riotous colours of Atlantis were done justice by the VPL-XW5000. Where it truly dazzles, though, is in the marketplace scene – both objects and people popped off the screen with an almost three-dimensional depth. It's one of those cases of a little going a long way, though - if you get the combination of sharpness and Reality Creation right, then the scene looks incredible but too much, and it looks over-processed.
HDR isn't the only one to benefit from the X1 processor; the SDR Blu-ray transfer of Wolverine fairing equally well. I was left revelling in the detail with everything I sent its way. The VPL-XW5000 produced reference colour reproduction, with the various skin tones found in the transfer captured naturally. Meanwhile, excellent gamma tracking and decent black levels give the image a sufficient level of pop that, while not matching some of its rivals in terms of black levels, still has a good sense of depth.
Moving back to HDR with the excellent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Ghostbusters Afterlife, and the combination of high brightness and decent black levels dazzled me. As the onscreen menu appeared, the shot of the characters and Ecto 1 had an extraordinary sense of depth and detail, and I knew right away that I was in for something special. Whether it was the blasts from the proton guns or simply the neon lights at the local burger joint, the brightness of the spectral highlights made for an exhilarating HDR viewing experience that's a clear step up over its SDR counterparts.
Surely it is no coincidence that the VPL-XW5000 and Sony's other XW models appeared fifty years after the company released its first home theatre projector. Not only is the VPL-XW5000 a quantum leap forward from Sony's early projectors, but also leaps and bounds ahead of its VPL-VW290ES predecessor. Excellent optics and Digital Focus Optimiser play no small part in providing crisp, sharp images. However, I believe it's the 'secret sauce' that brings the whole enchilada together…
This is Sony's X1 Ultimate for Projector Picture Processor. It enables the VPL-XW5000 to produce a startling amount of detail and 3D-like images with good source material. It's perfect for those who stream content; the enhancements it provides to such material are only bested by high-end video processors costing more. Meanwhile, Sony's Dynamic HDR Enhancer provides a boost to contrast that results in nicely saturated colours and brighter than expected spectral highlights; coupled with its high light output, it produces spectacular HDR images. It's an outstanding projector then, and superb value for money.
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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