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A Review of the Sony VPL-VW520ES 4K Projector

by on October 5, 2015
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Overview

As one of the only and definitely the biggest manufacturers of 4K UHD home entertainment projectors for the consumer market, Sony has something of what you could call a monopoly on the distribution of these fascinating and uniquely powerful movie and TV content display machines. Partly because of that and partly because they are genuinely decked out pieces of home entertainment technology, Sony’s consumer level projectors are definitely not what we would call cheap.

Nonetheless, they are becoming slightly more affordable while also becoming more advanced and versatile than ever before, and one of the latest of these, the VPL-VW520ES, has plenty to offer to those who want the power of 4K resolution delivered in a way that no ultra HD TV can quite match in terms of flexibility and display size.

Sony’s VPL-VW520ES was recently presented to tech and 4K tech watchers at IFA 2015 in Berlin and with this projector, the company that’s famous for its excellent 4K UHD TVs has also introduced a number of similar specs that include 4K UHD resolution, HDMI 2.0 connectivity, HDCP 2.2 compatibility and most interesting of all, compatibility with HDR (high dynamic range).

The Good

There are a number of key things to love about the VPL-VW520ES. For starters, there is the simplicity of this also very powerful projector. It delivers some of the best of today’s 4K ultra HD content to almost any flat vertical space in your home or office without a great deal of fuss or complex setup requirements. Since this is a compact projector, it’s small size means you can install it just about anywhere with a bit of extra space, even in places where a TV wouldn’t fit comfortably at all for one reason or another and Sony has helped this ease of positioning along even further by placing the exhaust vents in the VW520ES at the front of the machine, thus letting it get placed right up against a wall without worry about drastic overheating.

Furthermore, in terms of connectivity standards, the VW520ES comes with all the stuff you’ll need for the best access to 4K UHD content from an assortment of sources while also being compatible with connection to other media devices and sporting the ability to play upscaled HD or even SD visuals to the high standards of upscaling we’ve already mentioned for Sony’s famous 4K TVs. Additionally, calibrating and adjusting content on the screen for color and zoom or other characteristics is remarkably easy through the VW520ES’s control features.

Finally, as we already mentioned quickly, the VW520ES is also highly innovative in that it comes with a built-in compatibility for HDR (high dynamic range) content of the type that is now finally starting to come out from several commercial 4K entertainment content providers. This next-generation 4K UHD video. format offers a much broader, more refined and ultimately realistic range of tones between dark and bright on the screen, creating a quality of video that looks much more like it would in real life. For a projector, in which contrast is a crucial feature, Sony’s inclusion of HDR is a definite winner and to put it bluntly, this newest Sony projector leaves older 4K models like Sony’s VW500ES dead in the dust in terms of contrast quality.

The bad

First off the bat, there is the fact that this is a projector and for some kinds of viewers, the native limitations and characteristics of video projection technology just won’t work well for some home entertainment settings. So if you’re weighing your choices between a TV and something like the VW520ES, pay careful attention to what you really need for your situation. A 4K TV with a larger screen is more than enough display space for most users and TVs come with a number of additional features that even advanced compact projectors like the VW520ES don’t include.

Secondly, and this is why careful decision-making on buying the VW520ES is so important, this projector is not at all cheap. Sony’s true 4K projectors (in contrast to JVC’s pseudo 4K models) are not cheap even when they’re affordable by their own standards and the VW520ES comes with a current price tag that’s well above what even a very high quality 4K UHD TV with a truly massive screen size would cost. For the price of this model you could even get your hands on a very decent sized 4K OLED TV that will leave the display quality of even the VW520ES wanting, albeit over a smaller viewing area.

Finally, while the HDR compatibility and built-in HDR upscaling technology of the VW520ES (something we’ll cover in more detail under visual specs) are excellent at their job, they don’t quite fully deliver the kind of high dynamic range precision we’ve seen in some LCD TV models, particularly Samsung’s or Sony’s own 4K TV. On the one hand this is understandable given that we’re dealing with a projector instead of a full-blown TV screen but for the price the VW520ES is retailing more, we’d have expected a bit more impact from its HDR.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the VW520ES from Sony is one powerful, exquisite piece of home entertainment craftsmanship. Despite a few minor flaws, this model would be a superb choice for anyone dead-set on getting a 4K projector but looking for at least a bit of a deal on the latest in consumer technology of this type.

Specs

Weight: 31 pounds
Projection Size: 60” to 300” inches on a diagonal
Dimensions: 19 1/2 x 7 11/16 x 18 1/4 inches
Video Compatibility: 480/60p, 576/50p, 720/60p, 720/50p, 1080/60i, 1080/50i, 1080/60p, 1080/50p, 1080/24p, 3840 x 2160/24p, 3840 x 2160/25p, 3840 x 2160/30p, 3840 x 2160/50p*3, 3840 x 2160/60p*3, 4096 x 2160/24p, 4096 x 2160/25p, 4096 x 2160/30p, 4096 x 2160/50p*3, 4096 x 2160/60p*3
Lamp Life: 6000 hours
Resolution: 4096 x 2160 x 3 4K SXRD panel, projection system
Connectivity Ports: HDMI x 2 (HDMI 2.0), DC12V, IR IN Mini Jack, RS232C, and LAN
Power Zoom/Focus: Powered (Approx. x2.1)
Light output: 1800 lumens
Dynamic contrast: 300,000: 1 with HDR compatibility

Highlights

Let’s start with the HDR aspect of the VW520ES. It comes in two parts and both are a major innovation in a consumer projector. First of all, the VW520ES actually also performs a series of internal content adjustments that allow it to “upscale” even non-HDR (SDR) content so that it emerges on your projection screen with a sharper level of contrast and a more richly precise pattern of light to dark shading.

This particular technology looks great for certain types of native 4K movies and even manages to look good in upscaled HD content. Furthermore, it’s a wonderful addition to the native HDR capacity of this model, which also does an excellent job of creating a greater dynamic range of luminosity, more closely mimicking the luminance perception the human eye has with what it sees in real life and essentially future-proofing your content experience for the HDR 4K content that is now slowly starting to replace conventional 4K video.

We also love the fact that Sony included the projector-oriented version of their phosphor-based Triluminos Display color augmentation technology in the VW520ES. In our opinion, the results created by this are superb and while the 4K V version of this feature in all newer 4K TVs from Sony looks better, the VW520ES still delivers results that impress considerably –especially when viewed in a dark room across a whopping 300 inches of display space.

Finally, in terms of its projection lamp, the VW520ES delivers some very decent specs. At a lower luminance setting the projector’s lamp is capable of lasting a very nice 6000 hours before needing replacement and it can also attain a maximum brightness of 1800 lumens. While this number pales in comparison to what you’d get with a professional enterprise presentation projector from a manufacturer like Christie, it’s still more than enough for any home, small office or entertainment den. Even for outdoor projection in the dark, you’ll get plenty of brightness with which to enjoy something like the “Amazing Spider-Man 2” movie in its 4K UHD HDR version.

Finally, this particular projector really delivers sparkling detail. For native 4K UHD content, it simply does not disappoint and the resulting video you’ll see under ideal distance and lighting conditions is superb, better even than what we’ve seen on many, many 4K UHD TVs with particularly large screens. This clarity even extends to motion on the screen, with a very high level of dynamism created thanks to the brightness of the projection lamp.

Visual Specs

As we’ve already mentioned, the footage generated by the VPL-VW520ES is nothing less than stunning. Due to a powerful combo of very high brightness, extraordinary resolution control and particularly superb contrast levels, this model really delivers on giving up an impressively clear viewing experience. Furthermore, even by the standards of native 4K UHD content, the Sony VW520ES offers up a remarkably noise-free projection experience thanks to its internal digital processing systems. On top of this the level of color vibrancy is excellent thanks to the Triluminos Display technology that’s been transplanted from Sony’s 4K TVs and modified to fit a projector design. What really helps this color quality along is the fact that Sony has added the ability to render the highly refined BT.2020 digital color space into the VW520ES.

Most importantly however, the real performance king of this particular projector is its capacity to deliver stunning HDR quality to even non-HDR content thanks to a massive 300,000:1 dynamic contrast brought about as a result of the 1800 lumens of brightness and a few other internal dynamic range adjustment technologies. With this, native 4K content without HDR encoded into its looks superb and actual HDR 4K UHD content looks even more stunning, with the highly precise ranges between bright and dark only occasionally overbalancing on bright spots. The overall effect created by the HDR capacity of the VW520ES is one that also introduces a level of depth we really love in the projection video.

Furthermore, the menu controls on the VW520ES allow you to manually control whether you activate the SDR content conversion from its native color and contrast to the higher gamma of HDR and the expanded color space of BT.2020 standards. The switch to these two different types of upscaling in the VW520ES creates a notable improvement to normal SDR 4K video.

Connectivity

Finally, we come down to the connectivity options of the VPL- VW520ES. There isn’t a great deal to say here except that this projector offers several HDMI 2.0 ports with YCbCr 4:2:0/8bit input for native 4K content at 50 to 60 frames per second. However, there is 10-bit color support at the 24 fps frame rate of most movies you’re likely to watch. Furthermore, the HDMI of the supports transfer of 4 video with HDR encoded, from external sources.

Of course, there is also LAN connectivity for access to web-based options and the VW520ES’s HDMI ports come with HDCP 2.2 content copy protection. In addition to these, there are ports for audio and RS232C.

Pricing

The Sony VPL- VW520ES goes on sale as of this month (October, 2015) and while we don’t yet have a U.S retail price available for you, we do know that it’s going to sell on the European market for €9,999 Euros and will likely retails in the USA for a bit less than $10,000.

Not so Great

Honestly, we can say that very few things in the VPL- VW520ES are what we’d call inferior or defective characteristics in any way. The only real but minor points for criticism are a still sharply steep price (compared to almost any normal 4K TV), a tendency to sometimes overbalance on brightness with its HDR upscaling and the fact that the native HDR rendering of this projector isn’t quite as good as what we’ve seen in some of the better 4K TVs with HDR built into them.

Positives

• Exquisite display quality
• Superb native HDR delivery
• HDR-upscaling of SDR content looks great
• Very bright
• Triluminos Display color enhancement
• Solid connectivity options

Negatives

• Slight overbalancing in bright spots with HDR upscaling
• Native HDR not as good as some 4K TVs
• Very expensive despite price decrease

Editor Rating
 
Features
A

 
Quality
A

 
User Friendliness
A

 
Connectivity
A+

 
Price
B

Total Score
A-

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Bottom Line
 

If you have the money to buy it and are inclined towards a 4K home theater projector in your house, the Sony VPL- VW520ES is one excellent choice. It delivers a highly innovative package of features that creates a stunning visual experience. Its few flaws barely warrant serious discussion.

 
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