Sony’s newest flagship 4K HDR projector, the VPL-VW995ES is a flagship level product in every respect. The 995ES comes to market at a time when display technology is better than ever and at what most would consider an astronomical asking price. In this era of 4K UHD Blu-ray, laser based projectors, OLED and an ever increasing selection of content, one could argue there has never been a better time to be a video enthusiast. I was an early adopter of 4K when I purchased the Sony VPL-VW675ES, a native 4K projector with a conventional lamp light source about 3 years ago. I’ve enjoyed my 675ES and its excellent image quality immensely, and despite the high cost it has been one of the most noticeable and worthwhile investments I have made in my home theater. When I was offered the opportunity to review Sony’s VPL-VW995ES, I was thrilled. Not only does the 995ES improve incrementally on the models of previous years in obvious ways like using a 2200 lumen laser light source, improved HDMI bandwidth and HDR support, it also utilizes Sony’s top of the line ARC-F lens that was previously only available on the VW5000ES.
This review opportunity has been great for my perspective as a reviewer and videophile, and terrible for my level of satisfaction with my own system. I now realize that we’ve all become so used to the level of sharpness that consumer projectors offer that we don’t realize how imperfect standard optics are. From the moment I had the 995ES set up on my shelf, I was immediately struck by how crystal clear and sharp the image was. Where I would rate my 675ES as a solid 9/10 on sharpness compared to any other projector I had reviewed up to that point, I now have to invent an entirely new scale after seeing the picture that the 995ES can throw. What was a 9, is now a 6 – that is how tremendous the performance of Sony’s ARC-F lens system is. Assuming a perfect 10 on sharpness is LG’s latest CX and GX series OLED TV’s, the 995ES is close enough to be within spitting distance. We can now evaluate projectors against conventional displays for sharpness – a remarkable feat by Sony’s engineers.
Now that I’ve managed to get thoroughly ahead of myself and start gushing, let’s stop, take a deep breathe and start at the beginning.
Specs & Features
The VPL-VW995ES sits at the top of Sony’s line of 5 4K projector models, bringing every advancement, feature and improvement possible to an already excellent line of displays. Unfortunately, the VW995ES is so advanced and contains so many costly components like the aforementioned ARC-F lens system that it has an MSRP of $34,999.99. Ouch! I know that many readers will immediately assume then that this projector is simply not worth the price and roll their eyes at the introduction of another product for the well-moneyed home theater enthusiast. This is absolutely true, to a degree. After all, most of us could never hope to afford a projector that costs as much as a new car. That said, once you actually see the 995ES in action it becomes harder and harder to stick to that rationale.
Let’s take a look at Sony’s specs table:
|Sony VW-995ES Specs|
|Light Output||2200 Lumens|
|Zoom Lens Ratio||2.10:1|
|Lamp Life||20,000 hours|
|Weight||49.0 lbs / 22.2 kg|
The benefits of laser light sources become immediately apparent when one looks at a lamp life of 20,000 hours. That alone is worth approximately $2500 in offset lamp costs over the life of the laser. This is also another factor to consider when looking at a projector as a long-term investment.
Sony continues to use a triple panel LCoS LCD with a native resolution of 4096×2160, and offers zone based panel alignment from the OSD. Sony also includes many other features, let’s highlight some below:
- Native 4K panel that doesn’t rely on pixel shifting/jiggling
- 3D Capable
- Phosphor laser light source with 2200 lumens of light output
- ARC-F lens – greatly improved MTF and optics over lower tier models that results in a clearer, sharper picture.
- IMAX Certified
- Utilizes Digital Focus optimizer technology. Per Sony:
- Optimum focus is achieved, not only optically, but also digitally, by the Digital Focus Optimizer. It compensates in advance from the possible optical degradation of the lens, then outputs the optimum corrected images, so that even the focus in the corners is better than ever.
- Conventional Iris + Dynamic Laser Light Output. Per Sony:
- In addition to the dynamically-controlled laser light output, an Advanced Iris is also incorporated. Both the iris control and laser can be adjusted independently and dynamically, to optimize light output for both dark and bright well-lit scenes. The result is deeper blacks than ever, as well as bright, vibrant colors where needed. The infinite dynamic contrast makesevery scene spring to life with detail and realism.
- Claimed full DCI P3 color gamut reproduction
- Support for both HDR10 and HLG metadata for HDR content
- Includes an Auto Calibration feature that claims to correct color for years of use
- Five position Lens Memory
- Upgraded 4K/2K Reality Creation
- Fully supports input lag reduction in Game mode up to 4K 60 fps content
It bears mentioning that Sony continues to enhance its already excellent Reality Creation technology, offering better and better visual enhancements with each successive generation. In the 995ES, Sony has the same features I evaluated with the 600ES a few years ago, but there are a few more options in this newer generation.
Setup & Calibration
Setting up the 995ES in place of my 675ES was a breeze, with a simple swap of the units on the shelf. Since Sony offers full motorized lens shift and focus adjustment, I simply powered the unit on and got to work. This is where I immediately began to notice the advantages of the ARC-F lens system, with the focus pattern snapping into razor sharp focus within a matter of moments, and unlike other projectors this uniformity was from edge to edge of the screen. Sony’s adjustment pattern shows a full 4096x216o pixel frame, so it’s necessary to adjust using the guidebars just inside the pattern for the more standard 3840 pixel UHD resolution.
From an adjustment perspective, the 995ES is no slouch, offering a throw range of 1.35:1 all the way up to 2.90:1 and lens shift of up to +/- 80% vertically and 30% horizontally. As my shelf is mounted about 1/3 of the way from the top of my screen, minimal lens shift was required.
The 995ES offers two HDMI 2.0a inputs, both of which support HDCP2.2 and a 4K HDR signal up to 60fps.
Color Accuracy & (Not) Calibrating
Sony’s higher end projectors come with such accurate out of the box color that a full calibration can feel redundant if not wasteful for general viewing. In my case, I used my SpectraCal C6 HDR colorimeter to take a few measurements in CalMan, and found that the average delta error in the Reference picture mode on SDR content was below 3.1 on my 110″ 1.0 gain GrandView fixed-frame screen, more than accurate enough for my tastes. I was pleased at saving this time, and appreciate the effort Sony puts into making sure the projector is accurate out of the box.
When adjusting for contrast on SDR (Rec. 709) content, I opted for a laser light setting of 80, which has the advantage of substantially reducing fan noise and only losing about 150 lumens of light output, peaking at about 1510 lumens at my zoom level in the Cinema Film 1 picture mode.
Light output does vary based on picture mode and dynamic iris settings, with the iris being fully opened giving the greatest light output at the expense of contrast. I measured a total light output of 2038 lumens in Bright Cinema with the iris off in my room, and as low as 1603 for Reference with the iris engaged. This dropped down further to 1465 with the laser light level set to 80.
In the 6 short weeks I spent with the 995ES, I watched a wide selection of content. This included UHD and HD Blu-ray discs in addition to streaming content from Netflix, AppleTV+ and Amazon Prime played back from an AppleTV 4K. I watched a mixture of both SDR and HDR content, and found myself enjoying HDR more than ever before with the 995ES in place. With the image clarity of the 995ES, I found the quality difference between streaming and disc based 4K content to be much more pronounced. In particular, UHD Blu-ray discs looked spectacular. I caught myself spending more than a few evenings watching movies I had only intended to sample from start to finish. Some stand-out titles on the 995ES include Passengers, Planet Earth II, and Coco. Passengers is perhaps my favorite demo disc, as the space setting really shows off the contrast capabilities of the 995ES while still having plenty of brighter scenes with detail galore. Planet Earth II and Coco both bring vibrant color and motion to the table, demonstrating the motion handling prowess of the 995ES and its incredible ability to do justice to bright and colorful content. More than anything else, watching high quality UHD Blu-ray discs showed just how close this projector can be to a flat panel display in a light controlled room.
Thanks to COVID-19 putting a damper on social outings, my wife and I spent much of July binge-watching the TV series Outlander, which features fantastic cinematography and gorgeous visuals. For fun, I swapped between Amazon Prime’s purchased VOD version, Netflix and the Blu-ray. This provided a great baseline for comparing the image quality of the same content from a variety of sources. With a display as capable as the 995ES, I found myself watching from a disc source as often as possible, though Netflix and AppleTV+ both provided a more than acceptable picture when watching original content like For All Mankind or The Old Guard.
HDR Content – Nothing Is Perfect
As great as the 995ES is, I do want to be clear that it is still a projector and not an OLED. No projector I’ve reviewed to date, including the 995ES fully impresses with HDR content compared to the best flat panel displays. This is largely a function of contrast given the inherent physics of projected light vs emissive light. After all, an emissive display can reach perfect black levels (see OLED), while a projected display will always have some light reflected from the screen itself no matter how much of the room one covers in a light absorbing material like Duvetyne or Triple Black Velvet. The 995ES manages to do a better job with HDR than any projector I’ve reviewed or seen to date, especially once you enable one of the Bright picture modes (Bright Cinema was my first choice) and ensure you’ve got the settings appropriately adjusted. In my case, I found that HDR looked best with the dynamic contrast enhancement functionality enabled, contrast set to approximately 75 and laser light level set to max (100). Depending on the content, some adjustment to picture settings was required based on the unique content being viewed, but on average I found swapping between Reference, Bright Cinema and Cinema Film 1 was all that was needed for the HDR content I watched, whether on my Apple TV 4K’s Netflix or AppleTV+ apps, or directly from a 4K source on my Oppo UDP-205.
The downside to dialing up light output to the max on the 995ES is that black levels do suffer, in some cases substantially. What previously looked like an “inky” black becomes a very dark grey, and while still better than many other projectors on their best day, is no contest with an OLED or full array local dimming LED TV albeit at a much larger screen size. I’d be eager to test a projector like the 995ES with a contrast enhancing gray screen with a gain of 0.7 to 0.8 to see how this affects black levels, but to get optimal performance this would also require a fully velvet lined room versus the dark red paint in my room today.
Summing Up – Conclusions
As I write the review we are five months into the COVID-19 lockdown and life looks quite different than it did a short six months ago. I find myself working from home, no longer commuting or spending time in the office. I also find myself thinking about the cost of a car, and what said car’s elimination might provide instead. I wonder if Sony had this in mind when pricing the 995ES, or if it just happens to be happy coincidence that at a time when many may no longer need a car, Sony has a product that one can spend significantly more time with, and get more enjoyment out of than said car.
For the price of an entry level luxury sedan, Sony’s VPL-VW995ES is a technical and visual tour de force, handily outperforming every projector I’ve had the privilege of evaluating to date. The 995ES clearly outperforms other projectors in terms of sharpness and image clarity, and offers some of the best optics available while utilizing a light source capable of reliable function for 20,000 hours. While I suspect the top of the line JVC models offer slightly better overall contrast and black levels, there can be no doubt that the sharpness of the 995ES’ picture sets a very high bar for the competition to meet.
One has to ask just how expensive a lens system, laser and some electronics have to be for a projector to cost the same as a 2 ton automobile – and clearly there is no good answer. Sony must have tied significant R&D expense up in developing the 995ES, and while I’m sure the BOM cost to build one is only a fraction of the retail price, it still requires some mental gymnastics to compare the price of this projector and say, a Tesla Model 3. Said mental gymnastics aside, I suppose the fact that I have been considering this topic in the first place should tell you a little about just how good this projector is. Given the sheer number of hours most of us spend in our theaters, and the prospect of years of enjoyment a projector like this offers, perhaps it’s not such a crazy idea to invest the same amount we would in a car after all. Highly Recommended (if you have the funds).