- Good black levels for this level of the market
- Excellent colour accuracy
- Good shadow detail and dynamic range
- Excellent video processing
- Good motion
- Excellent input lag for gaming
- Good quality lens and sharpness
- Not much wrong at this price and performance level
What is the Sony VPL-HW45ES?
The HW45ES is Sony’s latest budget SXRD 1080p projector aimed at the home cinema market and replaces the excellent VPL-HW40ES and also sits below the new VPL-HW65ES in the Sony HW line-up. It has an identical design to those models using the same chassis and layout, but updating the technology inside to improve black levels and overall picture quality over the outgoing HW40ES.
As the industry is moving to 4K Ultra HD resolutions with wider colour gamuts and High Dynamic Range, why would you still pay just under £2,000 for a 1080p only projector with Rec.709 colour? Well that will be very much a personal choice, but for projectors it is going to take a long time to change to the new standards and see prices falling. This is because the projector market is a very small percentage of the overall display sales in the UK and with a smaller market it takes longer to develop and implement new technology at reasonable costs.
Plus, TVs may be changing fast with 4K UHD HDR technology built-in, but there is still a real lack of content available to take advantage of the new standards and that is likely to be the case for a number of years yet. So with all that in mind and the fact that this projector should provide excellent accurate images for your Blu-rays and streaming services, 1080p projectors are certainly still a viable solution for most situations and budgets.
Let’s see how the VPL-HW45ES performs and if it lives up to the performance bargain claims…
Design, Connections and Controls
As mentioned in the introduction the HW45ES shares the same HW chassis that has been used for at least the last 5 generations or so and is available in black or white. That means it is a plastic built unit with a curved top lid, a centrally mounted lens and the connections to the bottom left side. It measures in at 407.4 x 179.2 x 463.9mm (W x H x D) and weighs 9Kg and if placed next to other HW range projectors past and present you would be hard pushed to tell them apart.
Looking at the projector from the front we have the lens positioned in the middle with plastic manual zoom and focus rings. This means there is no lens memory function on the HW45ES for users of Scope screens, so it will be a manual set up each time. We found that setting the focus was pretty difficult to get completely right. We were able to get most of the image area in sharp focus with just one edge that was slightly soft in comparison. We also noticed a slight misalignment of the 3 SXRD panels with a red edge visible to the bottom of sharp edges and text. This wasn’t distracting from our normal viewing distance and we mention it only in being complete with our assessment although we found that the panel alignment setting in the menus didn’t appear to make any difference.
Just above the lens are two scroll wheels for the vertical and horizontal lens shift. While these controls do what they are designed to do, being manual means that the weight of the lens causes it to move over time and between uses of the projector. It is also tricky to get accurate vertical positioning because of that fact and the slipping from time to time during adjustment moves. We know there is a need to hit a price point here with the HW45ES so understand the use of manual tools, but perhaps there is an opportunity to try and find a better design to make the vertical adjustment more secure?
To either side of the lens are the air intake and exhaust vents and on the left hand side of the chassis is a selection of menu controls for use when you don’t have the remote control handy. The rest of the chassis to the rear and right side are clear of any other items and preserve the sleek design of the bodywork. Because the vents are at the front it allows placement of the HW45ES against rear walls and in a confined space like a hush box without affecting airflow and cooling, perfect for maximising image size and throw distance in smaller rooms.
Under the menu controls on the left hand side are the input connections for the HW45ES. As this is a budget model there are just two HDMI 1.4 slots, an RS232C port and IR In along with a USB slot for software updates only. At the rear of these connections is the power socket. It might seem like the connections list is short but in reality you have almost everything you will need to get up and running with your best HD sources.
The supplied remote control is the usual large Sony affair with excellent button layout, easy to reach controls and a backlight for use in a dark room. The company really know how to make decent remote controls and even at this lower end of the market the quality is extremely good with a solid build quality and feel. The larger remote sits neatly in the hand with a good weight allowing easy reach of the main controls. Our only gripe would be that you need to press the light button to get the backlight to come on, rather than just hitting any key to activate it. And the light key is not glow in the dark like other manufacturers remotes, so makes it difficult to find.
Features and Specs
The VPL-HW45ES is an SXRD projector aimed at the home cinema market and offers Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution images. It does not accept 4K UHD signals and is not capable of displaying the new UHD Blu-ray disc material. It does however boast great video processing including Sony propriety technologies as well as frame interpolation for smoother images with sports material. Given that the majority of your viewing material for the next few years will continue to be 1080p HD discs and streaming we don’t see any major drawbacks at this price point when it comes to excellent big screen images. You could be spending three times the price for a native 4K projector to watch less than fifty-odd 4K discs. As such the HW45ES will be an appealing choice for many consumers.
In Eco mode Sony claim you will be able to get 6,000 hours out of the bulb and in normal mode you could achieve a brightness of 1800 lumens. We say couldbecause although the HW45ES is bright, once set up correctly and calibrated for your room (in the best picture modes) you are likely to find it is closer to 850/900 lumens. That is still bright enough for some excellent cinematic images in most viewing rooms where there are light coloured walls and a little ambient light and in 3D mode it will utilise the high lamp setting to add more brightness for those films. Running noise in Eco is almost silent from a few feet away from the projector at 20dB and in high lamp it is closer to 22dB, so a little more noticeable. We used the HW45ES close to our seating position and didn’t notice the fan for the majority of our viewing and testing.
One of the major differences between the HW45ES and its bigger brother the HW65ES is the lack of a dynamic iris, but in all honesty we didn’t miss it at all with the HW45. In a reasonably light controlled room the Sony is superb with excellent black levels that don’t require any manipulation. Only in an absolute bat cave with its very low black floor will you notice the lighter black levels of the projector, but in normal room surroundings it really is very impressive indeed. We also get Motion Flow with the True Cinema setting as part of three selections available to use, although we found normal motion to be very good indeed with no induced judder or unnecessary blur, but you have the choice available with the HW45. You also get Reality Creation with its database of millions of scenes to help bring out upscaled images and add sharpness with its resolution and noise filtering controls if you so desire. Cinema Black Pro is missing the dynamic iris but it does include the contrast enhancer control and to wrap up on features we also have a full CMS and White Balance calibration tools within the menus. So it may be at a budget price point, but the HW45ES is pretty well equipped for home cinema use.
As with all projector reviews we tested the available picture options to find the most accurate as possible settings to the industry standards. With the HW45ES this was the reference picture mode preset and the D65 colour temperature selection. We also set Gamma to 2.4 for our bat cave surroundings and set the contrast and brightness using standard test patterns from our Murideo Fresco Six-G.
Greyscale accuracy was astonishing on the HW45ES and as such we did initially doubt what we were seeing for a brand new boxed projector. This is a review sample, but it was in a properly fully sealed box with all packaging and wrappings on it and didn’t appear to have been used at all before we took delivery. Even so we ran the projector in to soak and reset the picture parameters and re-measured with 24 hours on the clock and yet again got very accurate results. We can only go on the results we have in front of us and are prepared to give this projector the benefit of the doubt in terms of accuracy. As you can see in the Greyscale results (top left) tracking is superb with just a slight dip in red around the centre of the scale and blue dipping slightly at the highest end. Gamma tracks bang on our desired 2.4 curve and DeltaE errors are all under 2 which takes them below the visual threshold. Pretty outstanding for an out-of-the-box preset.
Moving to the colour gamut results and again the HW45ES knocks it out of the park for accuracy out-of-the-box. Whilst it is not as perfect as the Greyscale, the gamut results are impressively close with just a slight over saturation of the primary colours and a few very slight hue errors. The 100% saturation points are over and this is to be expected for a bulb projector as they will drift back over time and aging of the bulb. The other small errors should also be adjustable with the built-in CMS without adding any unwanted artefacts, so once again another excellent result from Sony.
Using our now well established Klein K10a meter, industry standard CalMAN 5software and Murideo Fresco Six-G pattern generator we set about calibrating the image. Being honest there was very little to do with the Greyscale as it was so accurate out of the box as to have no visible errors.
As you can see (top left) we tidied up the tracking slightly and that was about it for the Greyscale and Gamma settings with the HW45ES producing greys without any colour cast at any level. For such a budget projector this was an excellent set of results overall.
The colour gamut (top right) was just as easy to correct slightly with all visible errors now invisible and colours looking extremely accurate right across the saturation and luminance levels. 100% points were over slightly, but this has no effect with onscreen performance at all and is of no concern with these results. Given the performance turned in by the HW45ES during testing it shouldn’t be any surprise to find the onscreen images are fantastic.
In the price category that the HW45ES competes, the weakest point of nearly all the models available, be it DLP, LCD or SXRD, is with the black levels in a bat cave environment. The same weak point is present with the HW45ES and you are not going to find JVC style deep inky blacks for under £2,000. However, having said that, the real strong point of the Sony HW45ES against its closest rivals is its strong black level performance in normal viewing conditions where they are rich and deep without any hint of grey or navy blacks that can plague the rest. In a dark room with closed curtains and light wall and ceiling colours the HW45 blends excellent blacks with the slightly raised black floor to give a very convincing performance with onscreen material. There is a little clipping of the lowest levels of shadow details but you instantly forgive this for a revealing image with excellent dark tones and clear shadow detail within tricky scenes. Like we said, in a bat cave the raised blacks are more noticeable and it slightly loses the layered appearance, but for most users in most rooms, they are going to get the best this machine can offer and it is impressive indeed at the price point and without a DI.
The next impressive element of the HW45ES is the perceivable contrast of the image and stunningly accurate colours. The image can stretch to around 900lumens calibrated and with those good quality shadow details the image takes on a very nice dynamic pop with extremely accurate skin tones and a natural film-like feel. There is no unwanted noise in the image and motion is very good without any induced judder or unnatural blur. There is image blur but it is in the source and part of the capture process, it is not aggravated by the SXRD projector which manages 340lines of resolution without using Motion Flow. You can of course experiment with the Motion Flow settings but we found only True Cinema worked with any real success with film-based material and even then, it may affect different users in different ways, so it is always best to try these out for yourself.
Colour accuracy is the number one attribute to really take away from the HW45ES and like its stable mates, Sony really know how to get colour just right with their home cinema projector range. With good quality blacks and a decent dynamic range underpinning your colour performance you can start to really appreciate the subtle nature of certain scenes of a film, where the muted use of colour can affect your subconscious to help express an emotion on screen or the plight of a character. Strong vibrant primary colours jump off the screen without any unwanted gradations and banding getting in the way, and skin tones look extremely natural. Plus the image from the SXRD projector also mirrors the JVC DILA image (which uses similar technologies) to give video images that film-like look we all crave for our home cinemas. We found screen colour uniformity to be very good with no colour changes to a white raster shown on a full screen and although with fade to blacks there were slight bright corners visible now and again, there was nothing that would annoy or impact with the overall performance.
When you start to recap just how much this projector costs you start to see just what a real bargain it is. It will never get to the levels of the JVC X7000 it was sat next to during the review process, but it is also several thousand pounds less in terms of cost. Looking at the images you can see the difference but is it actually a difference worth that much extra in cost? That then comes down to environment, usage and a few other more personal points, but it does show that whilst the gap might still be there, it is not as huge as it once was.
The HW45ES is also a 3D projector (but you will need to buy the glasses) and the performance with well-known test discs was excellent with very little crosstalk or ghosting. Colours also look fairly accurate out-of-the-box in the much brighter 3D picture mode and overall we found the experience to be very good indeed with little to complain about. So if 3D is still your thing the HW45ES does a commendable job of presenting it with very few drawbacks.
Finally if you’re a gamer you’ll be pleased to note that the HW45ES produced a very quick 23.7ms of lag when measured with our Leo Bodnar Tester and when in the reduced lag setting within the picture menus.
The best way to conclude this review is by stating the obvious. If you want accurate cinematic images with decent blacks, good shadow detail and stunningly accurate colours for under £2,000 there is no other choice to be made. No, it is not perfect and there are compromises to be made with the environment it needs to be used in and it is not 4K UHD ready. It’s also not future-proofed for HDR material or the new UHD Blu-ray format. But for 99% of your HD viewing via streaming or disc formats in a normal blacked out living room the Sony HW45ES is quite exceptional in terms of value for money versus performance and is the most compelling big screen projector for the masses we have seen in a long time. If you can wait a few more years for 4K UHD standards to settle and the technology to trickle into the projector market, the Sony HW45ES is the perfect stop gap. It’s a best buy!