Several years into the Ultra High Definition/4K era, and we’re still entirely dependent upon one brand for UHD/4K projectors. Fortunately Sony has ensured we haven’t been disappointed, with several models released over the past few years.
And now, with the VPL-VW5000ES, it has pushed through to the very top end of home
theatre projection. This $90,000 model is a beast: 43 kilograms and 880mm in the longest dimension.
But what a picture it produces. It can deliver up to 5000 lumens of brightness and, of course, a picture of full 4K — that is, 4096 by 2160 pixels — of resolution. That makes its picture a little wider than UHD, but in a home theatre context the centre 3840 by 2160 pixel section will generally be aligned with the screen.
This projector uses a laser light source and three 19mm SXRD panels. SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) is Sony’s version of Liquid Crystal on Silicon. This is a reflective panel technology, unlike LCD in which the light passes through the panel.
Laser light sources don’t work in quite the way the name might suggest. There are no lasers shooting out of the lens of this projector. Instead a high power laser is fired onto a panel coated in phosphor, and this glows in response, turning the laser light into a bright, wide spectrum light.
This model uses two laser light sources,, withb a key advantage over traditional lamps being the life of the lasers. Rather than somewhere between 2000 and 5000 hours for a lamp, the laser sources are rated at 20,000 hours, or up to 40,000 hours in low output mode. Even 20,000 hours would come to four hours viewing per day for more than 13 years.
And that quoted life is for a 50% reduction in brightness. That inevitably means slight changes in the colour temperature, which can be addressed in two ways. First, there’s an automatic calibration system which uses a camera built into the projector to analyse a projected test image so the processor can adjust for any colour shifts. In addition, a lower power mode can be chosen which starts off with lower power output, and then gradually increases the output over the life of the projector to maintain the same brightness.
The projection engine is sealed, ensuring it remains free of dust. It is liquid cooled, with fans driving air through the equivalent of a radiator to remove heat. Sitting right next to the projector during the demo, it operated with a smooth whisper. An optional short-throw lens
is available to replace the bundled lens; the latter has a zoom range of more than 2:1. You also get wide-ranging lens shift both vertically and horizontally. All the lens adjustments — zoom, focus, lens shift — are powered.
Sony rates the contrast ratio at infinity to one ‘dynamic’. Which means that when the entire image is black, there’s no light output. A more realistic figure may be gleaned from specifications for the commercial version, which is listed as 20,000:1 native. That’s seemed about right from the demonstration: very strong, inky blacks. Which is just as well because the projector is HDR compatible, supporting 10-bit signals for smooth colour and brightness graduations. The REC.2020 colour space — which is much wider than the REC.709 space used for standard HD content — is also supported. REC.2020 is the standard for UHD Blu-ray.
Sony demonstrated some UHD clips from USB, and a movie on an imported (say it quietly!) Samsung UHD Blu-ray player, and the results were stunning. Especially the HDR USB clip.
The projector is part of a family which includes models designed for commercial and military applications. The latter in particular is for use in training simulators — and the military have very demanding requirements for these, among them extremely high responsiveness. Sony says that as a result, VPL-VW5000ES has ‘games’ mode where the delay is only 11 milliseconds, or about a quarter of what we’ve come to expect from the usual ‘games’ mode. Well-heeled gamers will be in for a treat! But they might prefer the actual military one — the VPL-GTZ280. In standard trim it’s good for ‘only’ 2000 lumens, but it will accept signals at 4K and UHD up to 120 frames per second.
Sony's video above. More information. www.sony.com.au