- May 16, 2012
- Houston, TX
- Real Name
- Dave Upton
The mid-range projector market is a crowded field at the moment, with compelling products available from a variety of manufacturers. What sets these products apart is often the little things, details such as fan noise and adjustability will often win out in an age where picture quality is consistently excellent. Sony’s VPL-HW55ES has an MSRP of $3999.99, and sits squarely in the grey area between mid-range and high end. Offering manual zoom and lens shift, 3D (2 pairs of glasses are included in the retail price), and uses a three panel LCoS LCD branded as SXRD by Sony.
The VPL-HW55ES is a great performer in a price range that suffers from a surprising dearth of competition. While it’s not the brightest projector out there for those with ambient light (vs. DLP’s from BenQ for example), it’s still among the best in the sub $4000 price range and has excellent 3D performance as a result. The HW55ES is a fairly flexible projector when it comes to placement, though I will note that my particular shelf mount approximately 18 feet from a 92” screen was slightly too far away to fit my screen, throwing an image about 5” too large. This was easily remedied by a tile and some Irwin vice clamps – but ultimately turned into a much needed excuse to buy a larger screen.
The VPL-HW55ES features Sony’s standard image enhancement features including Reality Creation, which is Sony’s version of detail enhancement, and Cinema Black Pro, which is fancy marketing speak for a dynamic iris. Sony also offers a form of creative frame interpolation called Sony Motion Enhancer, which is once again a fairly standard technology yet well implemented in this case. The projector is capable of 240 frames per second, which can be quite nice for sports but overall this feature isn’t once that should weight greatly into your decision.
Fit & Finish
The VPL-HW55ES is a fairly large projector, featuring a 1.6:1 manual zoom lens and a typical Sony curved back that looks very nice on a shelf or hanging from a ceiling mount. The VPL-HW55ES weighs in at a hefty 21 pounds (9.4kg) which may be more than some buyers expect in the price range and indicates the quality inside.
Looking at the VPL-HW55ES from the front, all the controls and inputs are on the left side near the back. These include a pair of HDMI 1.4 inputs, a VGA computer input, and a component video input. There’s also an optional RF emitter connector and RS232 & IR control inputs.
Setup & Calibration
If you expect this section to be long, I am sorry to disappoint. The VPL-HW55ES comes out of the box with the most accurate factory calibration I’ve seen when set to Reference mode and Rec. 709 color space. I didn’t bother to do anything other than a brief brightness/contrast calibration with Spears&Munsil HD Benchmark.
The above statement about calibration should give you a pretty good idea of what the VPL-HW55ES looks like out of the box. The word is gorgeous.
While black levels and contrast lag behind its bigger brother the VPL-VW600ES, the VPL-HW55ES is still a remarkably solid performer that boasts one of the sharpest LCD images I’ve seen to date. I came out publicly as a big DLP fan years ago, and have no trouble admitting that I’m partial to the sharpness and presentation DLP usually offers. The VPL-HW55ES is a remarkably sharp LCoS based LCD projector, and offers very good black levels which yields an image with lots of pop. Despite the fantastic sharpness and light output of my trusty BenQ W6000, there is no comparison to the performance of the VPL-HW55ES.
Shadow Detail & Black Levels
Talk to any picture fanatic like our residents Kevin Collins and Gregg Loewen, and they’ll talk your ear off about ANSI contrast, and for good reason. Once you calibrate for color accuracy, the ability of a projector or display to resolve shadow detail and output the darkest blacks possible represents the truest measure of its performance. Going up against slightly cheaper products like the Epson 6030UB which is known for its black levels, the VPL-HW55ES has stiff competition yet manages to clearly dominate the contest for black-level champion.
Subjectively, Sony’s engineers appear to have achieved 80% of the black level performance of the VPL-VW600ES for about 30% of the price, a compelling value. Circling back to my unapologetic DLP preference, I want to make sure you all realize that I had to revise many of my prejudices when viewing the VPL-HW55ES, simply because I’d firmly believed that no LCD under $5000 could possibly come close to DLP in overall quality. With black levels taken into account (no DLP out there under $5K can compete) and the fantastic out of the box picture quality of the VPL-HW55ES, I have to reluctantly admit that the best buy in this price range is no longer a DLP.
It just so happens that I am currently in the market for a projector, as my trusty BenQ has started to behave strangely. When I initially received the Sony VPL-HW55ES in for review, my money would have been on sending it packing with yet another tally mark on my “yup, DLP is better” scorecard. Even a DLP lover like me is forced to admit that the DLP projector industry is in a sad state.
DLP innovation in the $3000-$10000 range is essentially nonexistent. I think that BenQ is doing great things in the entry level market, however nobody is making a DarkChip 4 DLP in the $3000-5000 range to compete with projectors like the HW55ES. Should that change, I’ll be standing at the front of the line to see just how much DLP can do, but for the first time I’m about to change camps. The VPL-HW55ES isn’t going back to Sony after all, I’ve enjoyed my time with it so much that I’ve decided to make it my new projector. I’m sorry DLP, it’s not you… it’s me.
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