SONY VPL-HW30ES 3D 1080p SXRD Home Theatre Projector - David Susilo
Newmarket: September 12th, 2011
SONY VPL-HW30ES 3D 1080p SXRD Home Theatre Projector
Sony is coming out strong in the last 12 months. BDP-S770 Blu-ray Disc player have been upgraded to a far superior BDP-S780 with lowered price. XBR HX909 have been replaced with HX929 series LED backlit LCD TV that performs better than even my Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111 and consumes only less than 25% of electricity with only about 20% of the thickness and weight. They have also released NEX-VG20 prosumer camcorder with interchangeable lens with APS-C sensor, capable to record natively in 24p and 60p modes at a ridiculously low price, and now they released the VPL-HW30ES 1080p SXRD 3D projector that once again raises the bar on what we can expect from a Sony (or any other) 3D projector. The HW30ES builds on the successful Sony VPL-VWPRO1, maintaining similar features and image quality while incorporating the 3D capability that Sony first introduced in the VPL-VW90ES. Furthermore, the HW30ES claims to make many improvements, such as having higher brightness and seriously reduced crosstalk in 3D.
Sony Overview - HW30ES vs. Previous Models
According to the specification-sheet, the HW30ES is rated at 70,000:1. The usual 1.6x zoom lens that is standard on all Sony home theatre projectors to date, which is a good thing because this particular lens does not lose much light across its zoom range. The horizontal and vertical lens shift ranges are 250% image heights of total vertical range and 50% image widths of horizontal range. This allows you to place the image either completely above or completely below the lens' centerline and gives you enough leeway in horizontal placement as well. The connection panels are nearly identical to all Sony projector, as are the menu systems. The projector has a very respectable light output in Cinema 1 mode (one closest to ISF/THX colorimetry standard) at approximately 850 ANSI lumens.
The Sony VPL-HW30ES vs VPL-VW90ES
This 3D capability was first introduced by Sony in the VPL-VW90ES, a $10,000 projector released (by the time this article goes to print) almost a year ago. The VW90ES is a much more refined projector in 2D than the HW30ES. In no way does the HW30ES supplant the VW90ES in this area. It is interesting, however, that the HW30ES is priced at only a third of the price, but with better 3D performance (more on that later) thus making 3D affordable.
The Viewing Experience
The Sony HW30ES is particularly well suited to two different uses. It makes a great projector for a room with some ambient light, but it also does well with a large screen installation in a dark room - we're talking 150" 16:9 diagonal and larger. The reason is simply that it is very bright in its Cinema 1 mode. In ambient light, this brightness keeps the image from washing out at screen sizes up to 120" 16:9 diagonal. In a pitch-black room, the HW30ES can easily support images of 150" 16:9 diagonal or greater without any drawback. Indeed, when I used Cinema 1 with the lamp set to Low at 96" 21:9 diagonal, my daughter and I feel that the picture was actually too bright. Good thing, however, there is an option to manually change the iris setting using which I can control the brightness as closely as possible as per SMPTE / THX / ISF standard.
As far as image quality in 2D goes, the HW30ES is amazing to say the least. The projector only needs a bare minimum of adjustment. After half an hour with a good meter and some THX Calibration Blu-ray, I had the HW30ES calibrated very close to THX/ISF standards. The HW30ES has barely visible pixelation even at a viewing distance of 0.5x the screen width, much closer than my usual 1x screen-width. Default sharpness settings is perfect; on a scale from 0 to 100, the default is 10 and I left it as is. Bringing up the sharpness to 15 will cause details to pop more strongly with a slight side effect of ringing and edge enhancement. Black level in dark scenes is very deep thanks to the nature of SXRD and its aggressive (yet subtle) auto-iris, though more typical scenes feature less extreme blacks. Shadow detail is maintained well, especially using the Gamma 8 preset, which according to me instruments indicate is the closest to the 2.2 gamma standard. This accurately recreates the look of the film and video you are used to watching.
The HW30ES shows marked improvement over its predecessors in 3D. The image looks far brighter. In mild ambient light, I ran Avatar at 85" 16:9 diagonal and the picture was easily bright enough to be visually enjoyable, better than my local IMAX 3D theatre, actually. The image is bright and vibrant. Colour saturation does not look nowhere as dull as it did at Colossus IMAX 3D theatre, and crosstalk although visible is acceptable for a projector at this price range. Sony has released new 3D glasses that allow a little more room for people who already wear glasses and feel more comfortable on the head. As I have a wide enough face to have trouble buying frames (for my prescription glasses), this last point is of great personal importance. Too bad, however, to completely reduce crosstalk and flicker, I had to set 3D depth setting to the lowest setting and 3D glasses brightness to the darkest. I can compensate the darkness because this is a very bright projector, but setting the 3D depth to the lowest setting almost make the 3D capability moot, especially when the 2D presentation have so much depth and look almost 3D to begin with.
Installing the HW30ES is easy in most instances. The 2.5-height lens shift makes ceiling or rear shelf mounts simple, while the 1.6:1 zoom lens can project a 120" diagonal image from 12' 2" to 18' 5" of throw distance. Placement on a low table can be tricky, since the HW30ES's lens shift cannot place the bottom edge of the projected image far above the lens' centerline. If your table is too low, or you want to place the projector under the table, the lens shift range might limit your options. On the negative side, the sample projector I had was very imprecise in terms of setting the V and H lens shift and even the slightest jostle can change the lens shift.
The preferred mode for film and video, Cinema 1, measures 853 lumens in Normal lamp-setting and 545 lumens in Low lamp-setting on my review unit. The HW30ES has two other cinema modes with brighter light output but the colour accuracy is sacrificed. Hence, I will only discuss everything in Cinema 1 mode. Low lamp mode on the HW30ES decreases light output by 35%, which is higher than the average 20% found on most projectors. However, this balance is quite good for 2D vs 3D presentation. Low lamp mode with iris set to the minimum to reduce brightness even further for 2D and Normal lamp mode with iris set to auto for 3D, then set the active glasses to one notch darker from the brightest setting for the glasses, you will be perfectly set to watch both 2D and 3D presentation without the need of two screens (or two-bulb projector). To put things in perspective, a truly dark theatre only requires about 300 lumens to light up a 100"-ish 16:9 screen, and going to 140"-ish 16:9 still only needs about 450. At 540 lumens, the HW30ES looks best on a 160” 21:9 ratio 1.0 gain screen in a dark room.
On a completely black screen, it can be difficult to tell that the HW30ES is running at all. Shadow detail is quite impressive, although the gamma setting have to be set to 8 in order to match the industry-standard gamma of 2.2.
If you are not a fan of auto iris, the HW30ES has a manual iris option. This can be useful in darkened theatres where the Cinema 1 preset is simply too bright, even after switching to Low lamp mode. The scale runs from 0 to 100, with 0 being fully closed and 100 being fully open. In total, the iris can decrease light output by about 55%, bringing Cinema 1 to 380 lumens. In my test room (100% controlled lighting with the ability to make it 100% dark) with a screen size of 96" 21:9 diagonal, I ended up using Cinema 1 in Low lamp mode with the iris at 25, resulting in about 400 lumens. The projector's contrast ensures that the image doesn't look washed out or dull at this setting.
The HW30ES needs some adjustment from the factory presets before it is ready for prime-time, but even if you don’t want to spend the money to do so, Cinema 1 mode is nearly ideal, and those adjustments typically take a long time to perfect. Colour temperature, on the other hand, required some work. You can make approximate adjustments just using your eyes but precise calibration, as usual, requires an ISF or THX certified calibrator. Spend that $500 and you will definitely witness a world of difference. One caveat, however, even after full calibration, the projector still can not hit the D65 professional-level colour accuracy although it comes quite close.
Since color in 3D can look significantly different than color in 2D, the HW30ES includes the ability to independently calibrate each mode. That way, the calibrator can calibrate Cinema mode for 3D without changing your 2D settings.
Sony's first 3D projector, the VPL-VW90ES, suffered the common first-generation 3D projector problems that were shared by all consumer 3D projector manufacturers regardless of price point. The 3D was not very bright, the projector had serious problem with crosstalk, even at the lowest 3D Glasses Brightness setting (which is designed to reduce crosstalk), and the projector lost most of its color saturation in 3D mode to the point the image looked dreadfully dull. Finally, while the projector had a very convincing 2D to 3D conversion setting, it would only remain active for 60 minutes at a time. I found this time limitation to be ridiculous considering most movies tend to run between 88 to 126 minutes.
The VPL-HW30ES has fixed almost every one of these problems. The picture is much brighter, crosstalk has been reduced to the point of near non-existence except in extreme high contrast scenes (although at the expense of reducing the 3D depth control to the minimum), and colour saturation is very much improved. Finally, 2D to 3D conversion has returned, this time without the time limit. Impressive, to say the least.
The HW30ES is a near-silent projector. In High lamp mode, the projector is barely audible at a distance of a few feet that fades to imperceptible once the movie begins. In Low lamp mode, however, it can be hard to tell if the projector is running at all. At one point, I almost forgot to turn off the projector due to near-silent fan noise if I didn’t accidentally faced the lens and noticed that the light was still on.
The HW30ES has a very bright cinema mode - 846 lumens with the lamp at full power. And while Low lamp mode reduces light output by almost 40%, that still leaves you with 540 lumens. Now, the higher in contrast a projector is, the less brightness it needs in order to look its best. So with the HW30ES, 540 lumens can be too much light in a dark room when coupled with a relatively tiny screen. That means if you’re using 100” 16:9 screen or less, depending on your taste, this projector may be too bright for you. This, however, should not be viewed as a problem since the majority of the populous prefer brighter image than what THX and SMPTE recommend.
While 3D is greatly improved, the HW30ES adds some quirks of its own. For starters, there is no onboard IR. The IR emitter must be purchased separately. What's more, the emitter requires an ethernet (CAT-5) cable with a length not to exceed 15 metres (the instructions are quite specific about this) to connect it to the projector. Considering how cheap a CAT-5 cable is, it should be included in the box. Furthermore, Sony should have recommended CAT-7 cable (essentially like CAT-5, but with far better shielding) because during my test using my one and only CAT-7 cable, 30-metre length can be done without a hitch.
As far as its use in actual 3D viewing, the best result is obtained by placing the emitter in front of the viewer on top of the screen pointing it back towards our eyes. This way, both first and second row seating can receive the IR signal without interference. Aiming it towards the screen does work up to a certain point, but there were more instances of the glasses losing sync for the viewer sitting on the second row (although my second row of seating is about 18-inch higher than the first row). As a side note, however, using XpanD 103 third-party 3D glasses, my daughter and I experienced far less sync-loss than the Sony’s own glasses. I may just happen to receive less-than-perfect glasses from Sony, but it’s a point worth mentioning nevertheless.
IMPORTANT NOTE: the HW30ES gives no indication that it is a 3D projector until the emitter is plugged in and the emitter should be plugged in BEFORE plugging the power cord in AND turning on the projector. Merely turning the projector off and on again did not consistently allow it to detect the emitter. Also, the HW30ES automatically deletes all references to 3D settings and controls when the emitter is not attached. This keeps the menu system uncluttered for those who do not care about 3D.
The VPL-HW30ES is a major milestone for Sony and for the 3D projector industry in general. Not only have they improved upon any 3D projectors at $12,000 or less, they have done so without significantly lowering the price bracket by more than 75%. The end result is the least expensive 3D 1080p projectors currently on the market that is bright enough with controllable light output for both 2D and 3D viewing without the need of separate screens. My only complain is the lack of zoom memory for Constant Image Height application without an anamorphic lens and the somewhat inaccurate colours even after calibration. Other than that, it is a very high performance projector for a very low price that I would recommend for anybody with extremely large screen or a non-dedicated room where light control is minimal.
Video gears used for the test:
Sony VPL-HW30ES 3D projector (with all its accessories)
Pioneer Elite BDP-52FD Universal 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Grandview Screens 96” matte-white 1.0 gain 21:9 screen (85” at 16:9)
Monster M2000HD HDMI cables
Blu-ray Discs used for the test:
THX Calibration Disc
Resident Evil 4: 3D
Tron: Legacy 3D
Pioneer Kuro 2008 Demo Blu-ray Disc for contrast and black level tests
Piranha (2010) Blu-ray Disc for 2D to 3D conversion tests
Photos and Article by David Susilo
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