Sony VPL-VW590ES 4K Projector Review
Tony O’Brien is dazzled by the high-resolution beauty of Sony’s latest projector…
VPL-VW590ES 4K Projector
It may only be eighteen months since Sony released its VPL-VW570ES, but a lot has changed in 4K projection since then. If you’ve been following with any interest, you’ve probably heard terms like Dynamic Tone Mapping thrown around quite a bit. So when StereoNET was given a chance to spend some time with Sony’s new £6,999 VPL-VW590ES we, of course, jumped at the chance…
During a recent conversation with Sony, the company revealed that its latest release features the new X1 Projector Processor. In case you’re wondering why the name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same processor that is used in Sony’s current OLED and LED/LCD televisions – although in this case, it has been completely redesigned for the new 4K projectors.
With the X1 comes not only a significant increase in horsepower but also Sony’s proprietary Dynamic Tone Mapping (DTM) algorithm. A source of confusion for many – myself included – Sony’s solution is radically different from other DTM solutions. Sony explained to me that the X1 seeks to emulate the high dynamic range images found in reference monitors, or to be more specific, Sony’s own BVM-X300 Mastering Monitor. The VPL-VW590ES aims to emulate the brightness and deep dark blacks more commonly associated with HDR images on televisions. It also adheres as closely as possible to the ST. 2084 PQ curve, with some obvious concessions for projection.
The VPL-VW590ES has a native resolution of 4096 x 2160, which means it is a true 4K projector. It’s also Sony’s best lamp-based projector with a quoted lamp life of 6,000 hours in low lamp mode. In high lamp mode, it’s cited as being able to produce a stated 1,800 lumens.
Once reserved for the company’s more expensive laser-based models, this new projector also features Sony’s Digital Focus Optimiser, said to provide better-focused images across the entire screen. Other features include five picture memories, motion flow, 3D compatibility (glasses not included) and Reality Creation. With a massive database of images gleaned from Sony Columbia Tristar titles, Reality Creation applies sharpening and rescaling of both frames and objects. It’s also able to assess the integrity of images – high integrity 4K Blu-ray disc and low integrity streaming sources alike – and reconstruct low integrity images. That’s quite a lot of trick technology, then.
The VPL-VW590ES shares the same chassis as its predecessor because there was nothing wrong with that. Finished in a combination of matt and gloss black, it measures in at 496x205x464mm and weighs 14kg. A gold rim surrounds its centrally mounted lens, which is flanked by air intake and outtake grills. The curved top of the projector – or bottom if it is ceiling mounted – sports both the Sony logo and 4K SXRD logo in gold lettering. It is worth noting that my review unit was a prototype, so there may be cosmetic changes to final production units.
Sony produces its lenses in-house, and the lens assembly found on the VPL-VW590 features thirteen elements. I was surprised to discover that all but the outermost lens – which is plastic – are glass. The outermost lens is aspherical, which I am told gives a broader focus area. While an aspherical lens could be made from glass, the cost would make it prohibitive, and the choice of glass or plastic has no bearing on picture quality, the company says.
In terms of connectivity, the Sony is well specified. It sports two HDMI HDCP 2.2 inputs, both offering a full 18GB workflow (4K, 60p 10-bit signal processing), one Ethernet port, two 12 volt triggers, one IR input, an RS232 and a single USB input.
Just like its predecessors, the supplied remote control unit is rather long, with buttons that are both large and clearly marked. One particularly welcome feature is the calibrated preset buttons which let users change the picture mode quickly without resorting to scrolling through the options on-screen. Motion-activated backlighting would have been a nice touch, but users can activate the backlight with the press of a button.
Swapping my VPL-VW270ES for the VPL-VW590ES was relatively simple and straightforward. The latter can fill a 100-inch screen at 2.54 metres, and its wider – rather than longer – chassis means it may fit in spaces where other projectors struggle. In addition to the sheer convenience of a powered lens, it’s also possible to achieve a greater level of precision over manual lens control. The VPL-VW590ES provides both horizontal (+/-31%) and vertical lens shift (+85% -80%).
Panel alignment is a must to achieve the sharpest image. The VPL-W590ES provides both whole-picture and zone-by-zone digital alignment. There are no keystone controls, nor should there be, given its tendency to soften images and the flexibility of lens shift.
Unsurprisingly given its price-point, it produced no discernible light spill. Fan noise is rated at a modest 26dB, but be prepared for it to kick up a couple of notches with the lamp in high mode. Regardless, this is one of the quieter projectors I’ve had through my home theatre over the years.
For this review, the VPL-VW590 was connected to an Anthem MRX-720 AV receiver, which in turn had a Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Blu-ray player and Apple TV hooked up to it. If you would like to learn more about how the VPL-VW590ES performed when measured and calibrated then read on, otherwise feel free to jump directly to the PICTURE QUALITY section.
MEASUREMENTS & CALIBRATION
Picture settings can have a profound impact on the picture quality of a projector. Therefore before making any observations regarding picture quality, all units are calibrated. A JETI Spectraval 1501 reference spectroradiometer and Klein Instruments K10A colourimeter were used for measurements. The meters were tripod-mounted and measurements taken directly from the screen. Test patterns were provided by a Murideo 6G pattern generator, R Masciola’s DVS UHD/HDR10 disc and the Spears & Munsil HDR Benchmark disc.
Contrast ratio and black levels measurements are provided; however, it is essential to understand that they were taken in my viewing environment and not a controlled testing environment. For this reason, sequential or on/off contrast measurements were used, as opposed to the generally preferred ANSI contrast method. Despite the flaws of this method, it does serve as a means for comparison.
The VPL-VW590ES offers nine selectable picture modes consisting of Film 1, Film 2, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, Bright TV and User. It uses the same modes in HDR, the lamp switching to high, colour space to BT. 2020 and EOTF to HDR. A new and very welcome inclusion is separate calibration controls for SDR and HDR.
Calibration controls consist of two-point greyscale adjustment; fixed gamma presets and six-point colour management system (CMS). Sony’s Projector Calibration Professional software expands on these controls, but as I discovered, it requires a newer version, which was still in development at the time of the review.
Out of the box and set to Reference mode, the VPL-VW590ES produced 70 nits in low-lamp and 110 nits in high-lamp mode. The only caveat being the contrast setting was set to 100, which resulted in clipping. Post calibration, the VPL-VW590ES produced 46 nits, more than ample for SDR, with more headroom available and black luminance of 0.0058 nits. Engaging the Advanced Iris mode resulted in a measured black luminance measurement of 0.001 nits.
Greyscale tracking after calibration was excellent with an average dE of 1.2, maxing out at 1.78. Gamma tracking was decent, with an average of 2.41, leaning noticeably darker between 20-55% and with a dip around 95%. Post calibration colour tracking very good, with an average Delta Error of 1.17 and max error of 3.02 at 100% blue.
Switching to HDR, the VPL-VW590ES produced a peak light output of 104 nits in Cinema Film 1. Disappointingly, Ultra HD gamut coverage was 88.69% of 1976 UHDA-P3 or 83.78% of 1931 UHDA-P3. With HDR Contrast Enhancer turned off, the VPL-VW590ES adhered reasonably closely to the ST. 2084 curve. Engaging HDR Contrast Enhancer brightened the overall curve to varying effect, high the most notable. The Spears & Munsil contrast pattern revealed the DTM behaved more like a static tone curve with clipping most evident with HDR Contrast Enhancer set to high.
An accurate colour performer, the VPL-VW590ES produced natural colours and convincing skin tones. Excellent black levels and sharpness lent images a superb sense of depth and dimensionality. It really shines with 4K HDR material. Deep, dark blacks and bright highlights give images a sense of dynamic range that’s not generally associated with projectors. Likewise, streaming sources is startling thanks to the new X1 processor.
Sony’s 4K projectors have always provided excellent colour accuracy, particularly with calibration. The VPL-VW590ES continues this trend, the myriad of skin tones on 2012’s SDR Blu-ray transfer of The Wolverine appearing both natural and convincing. Excellent black levels give images a great sense of depth, with my own VPL-VW270ES looking muddy in comparison. I suspect this is due to the Advanced Iris, rather than an improvement to black levels.
The Sony wowed me with punchy images, watching the 4K Ultra HD HDR Blu-ray of How To Train Your Dragon – The Hidden World. The flames around Hiccup’s sword were bright and striking, further punctuated by the projector’s black levels and Dynamic HDR Enhancer. Much the same could be said of 2017’s 4K Ultra HD HDR Blu-ray of Ghost in the Shell. It’s not all giggles though, as the expanded dynamic range comes at the expense of some detail loss in highlights. Likewise darker scenes sometimes appear to teeter on the edge, occasionally demonstrating some clipping. It’s fleeting though, and I suspect many viewers will relish the extra dynamic range, rather than lament the small loss in detail.
I switched Dynamic HDR Enhancer between Low and Medium, depending on the content and my mood, as they provided the best balance between detail and pop. The High setting resulted in too much clipping of specular detail – such as that found in explosions and muzzle flashes for example – for my tastes. Interestingly the slight banding that I had noticed on my VPL-VW270ES around the windmill on the Spears & Munsil HDR Benchmark was absent. While I was able to improve it with the Smooth Gradation control, I could never eliminate it previously.
With streamed content such as Netflix’s Project Power and Our Planet, the VPL-VW590ES proved to be a startling performer. Images took on a surprising sense of dimensionality and naturalness that I wouldn’t normally associate with streamed content. Without resorting to the use of expensive external video processors, I think you’re going to struggle to better the quality of streaming at this price point.
I could have easily spent more time with Sony’s superb new VPL-VW590ES. HDR images are punchy with excellent dynamic range. Sony’s HDR Tone Mapping is neither conventional, nor is it perfect, but such is the trade-off when trying to watch what is essentially a TV format on a projector. Either way that you look at it, there’s no denying the beautiful images the VPL-VW590ES produces. Throw-in the outstanding job it can do with streamed content, and Sony is on to a winner!
Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator by day, and an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products by night. Tony has calibrated and worked with some of the best home cinema designers throughout Australia.
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