Sony VPL-HW55ES Three-Chip SXRD (LCoS) Projector


The Sony VPL-HW55ES Projector In Use

The Sony VPL-HW55ES claims improved contrast over the prior generation through use of a better automatic iris system. I almost always find these easy to spot when used, so I really wanted to see if they improved it. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 will test any iris system with dark scenes where explosions can cause the light level to suddenly shift.

With the iris on the Auto Limited setting, I cannot see it activate in use. Even when Voldemort's army launches a barrage on Hogwarts the explosions against a night sky do not cause any visible iris movement to me. Last year I was able to see this in action so Sony has gone back and improved this feature.

Also improved is the Film Mode, or black frame insertion, that the VPL-HW55ES offers. By inserting black frames between real frames of 24p content, the Sony mimics the behavior of a film projector where the shutter activates between, and often during, film frames. Last year this created a choppy effect that is certainly film-like but not in a good way. I left it disabled after initially testing it out.

This year during films I hardly notice that same behavior. It reduces light output, but the Sony has plenty to spare. Motion is far improved to the point that you think frame interpolation is active. As I verify that Motionflow is off I notice that the blurring you can see in LCoS and LCD projectors is missing. In really bright areas of the image you see a slight flicker but I might not notice it if I were not looking for it.

When I switch from a movie to full field test patterns I can clearly see the flicker. So if you spend all day looking at test patterns, I'd leave it off. If you want to watch movies on your projector instead, it's a nice feature and the drawbacks are very slight.

The Macau entrance scene in Skyfall shows off the nice contrast ratios that the VPL-HW55ES is capable of. When Bond enters the casino and is backlit you can still make out his dark suit in the shadows. Fireworks explode against the night sky without triggering a visible change in the iris but offering a wonderful contrast to the dark skies.

The dark, shadow filled images on Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are easy to make out on the Sony. From bright white snow to dark shadows, all the details come across. The film moves from bright exteriors to shadowy interiors rapidly but the iris and film mode are invisible in use. Dark suits have texture and detail, and faces look superb. The bit of tint that has been applied to the film comes across and looks just like the director intended.

The VPL-HW55ES handles 3D well and better than last year. Watching Hugo there are no crosstalk artifacts or other issues that I can see. Images coming out from the screen instead of back into the screen always bother me, but the 3D is well done. The glasses sync quickly and easily, and they extend back along the side to shield your eyes from stray light. They are a bit tight for my head but I like the design more than other models.

Watching Monsters University the textures and colors practically jump off the screen. There is nothing dull or lifeless about the image, as the bright, vivid images look amazing. The improvements that Pixar have made in their image quality really show off and the Sony can deliver all of it. The opening skyline scenes of Drive are my favorite for checking out the native contrast of a projector. The nighttime sky here is very dark against the bright windows of the skyscrapers. It can't quite hit the levels of black that a JVC projector can, but without them side-by-side you would be hard pressed to know the difference.

The VPL-HW55ES is bright enough to watch content even with the lights on. As I attempt to catch up on Breaking Bad I can easily watch an episode with the lights on in the room. As wonderful as watching moving in a dark cave is, sometimes being able to watch them with some lights on is preferred. Especially if you want to have friends over to watch the Super Bowl where being in a dark room is not as enjoyable.

The viewing experience with the Sony VPL-HW55ES is very rewarding. Images are accurate and there is light output to spare. The updated dynamic iris and film mode improve the contrast ratio as well. The main missing feature I would like to see is a motorized lens system. Beyond helping people with screen ratios other than 16x9, it would make focusing much easier.