Review: Sony VPL-VW885ES 4K Laser Projector

Sony VPL-VW885ES HDR Laser Projector - Top Choice 2018

The VPL-VW885ES is Sony’s gift to home theater enthusiasts seeking a projection solution that delivers exceptional picture quality on medium-size screens. It combines Sony’s lauded three-chip SXRD projection technology with a laser diode light source that Sony calls Z-phosphor, which offers many advantages over conventional bulbs, including a 20,000 hour lifespan and the ability to provide ultra-high dynamic contrast.

Sony’s VPL-VW885ES ($25,000) is the first of its kind, a true 4K laser light-source projector for $25,000. And based on what I’ve seen, its performance makes it a top choice for picky home theater enthusiasts.

Originally, I received pre-production review unit of the VPL-VW885ES, which gave me a taste of its capabilities. However, this review is of a production unit, which was sent to me in early December. Now, I’ve had a few weeks to evaluated the 885ES with various types of content including movies, sports and video game. Now, on with the review.

Features and Specifications

Since it sits near the top of Sony’s 4K home theater projector lineup, it’s no surprise the VPL-VW885ES is packed with useful and convenient features. Paired with an appropriately sized screen, such as the 120-inch (horizontal) Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 used in this review, it provides cinematic image quality and supports 4K HDR content, including HDR10 and HLG (hybrid log-gamma) HDR formats.

This projector uses a laser light source Sony calls Z-phosphor. This efficient and long-lasting light source works in conjunction with three true-4K SXRD (AKA a variant of LCoS) 0.74″ panels and a motorized 2.06:1 zoom lens (with programmable lens memory). As is typical with Sony projectors, the lens shift and zoom ratio is very generous, which allows for flexible placement and screen size options.

The laser light source is a primary feature of this projector. It offers multiple benefits including low heat output, the 20,000-hour lifespan, wide color gamut, and near-infinite dynamic contrast since the laser itself can adjust its output in real time (thus replacing the dynamic iris).

This is a somewhat large projector, but not to the point where it is difficult to handle. Dimensions are 22.06″ (W) x 8.78 (H) x 19.53″ (D) and weight is 44 pounds. This is a very quiet projector, Sony rates it at 24 dB and I never heard it—at all—when it was running.

You get two HDMI inputs, which have HDCP 2.2 and 18.5 Gbps bandwidth for 60p 4K HDR support. Also, resolution of the VPL-VW885ES, like all of Sony’s 4K projectors, really is “true 4K” rather than just UHD. In other words, 4096 x 2160 pixels as opposed to 3840 x 2160. It’s also worth noting that this projector supports 3D and features a built-in RF connection for use with active 3D glasses.

Sony’s VPL-VW885ES ships with the same large, easy to use remote control as its other projectors. I like it, it’s easy to find and the buttons are well-spaced. Once you learn it, you can use it by touch alone. It has large, backlit keys and provides single button-press access to nine picture modes. It also provides direct access to adjustments for aspect ratio, motion processing, 3D, color space, color temperature, upsampling, gamma correction, and contrast enhancement.


Sony’s standard-issue remote for its premium projectors.

Plus, the “advanced iris” feature lets you control how the the laser light source is modulated to improve dynamic contrast. There’s also a D-pad for navigating menus. Finally, there are three controls for adjusting sharpness, brightness and contrast respectively.

The motorized lens offers multiple memory slots. This allows you use the VPL-VW885ES with a 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 screen for widescreen movies and still enjoy 16:9 content, regardless of whether you use a constant or variable image height screen or even multiple screens.

This projector supports anamorphic lenses and has settings for both 1.24X and 1.32X conversion. Furthermore, when equipped with an anamorphic lens, the VPL-VW885ES offers a “Squeeze” mode that lets you watch 16:9 content with the lens in place.

There are many options contained within this Sony’s menu. If you are interested in finding out the full extent of the functionality the VPL-VW885ES offers, I recommend giving the owner’s manual a look.

Setup

My sources for the VPL-VW885ES included an Apple TV 4K, a PlayStation 4 Pro, an Oppo UDP-203 UHD Blu-ray player, and Xbox One X, and a PC equipped with a Nvidia GTX 1080 video card.

I’m using a 120 (horizontal) 2.40:1 Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 non-perforated, fixed-frame screen. Sound for this review was provided by a StormAudio I.ISP integrated processor and Klipsch Reference Premiere 7.2.4 speaker system, including physical height speakers.

I used SpectraCal’s CalMan software and a pair of Colorimetry Research meters (the CR-100 colorimeter and CR-250 spectrophotometer) to measure and calibrate the VPL-VW885ES. A DVDO AVLab TPG 4K signal generator worked in tandem with a HDFury Integral to provide SDR and HDR test signals.

Calibration

The VPL-VW885ES exhibited highly accurate color right out of the box. But, it’s not “textbook” perfect, and with gear as precise as this Sony, it’s worth getting a professional calibration because the resulting picture quality is spectacular. As a bonus, Sony’s auto-calibration feature allows the projector to compensate for color shifts as the laser light source ages, thus preserving the accuracy of the pro calibration.

The first thing I did was perform a panel alignment. This provides multiple benefits such as reducing or eliminating chromatic aberrations and visibly improving the rendition of fine details. This unit only needed minor tweaks.

I tackled the VPL-VW885ES color calibration using CalMan calibration software and a Colorimetry Research CR-100 colorimeter and a CR-250 spectrophotometer kit, to see how accurate a picture could get out of it. Here, the gains were minor but beneficial. I also tuned the CMS (color management system) and in the end wound up with a reference-quality SDR (BT.709) calibration and a visible improvement in color accuracy with HDR, thanks to the fine-tuning of the color temperature.

By the time I finished a 2-point adjustment plus CMS tweak, I had finagled a phenomenally accurate deltaE of 0.41 out of the VPL-VW885ES. That’s well under the threshold of what the human eye can perceive, which is an error of 1.0 or greater.


I got great results from the VPL-VW885ES when it comes to grayscale and gamma in SDR.

Plus, the projector provided this level of accuracy at all luminance levels, with highlights measuring even more accurately overall. Gamma tracked perfectly at 2.4, which I had set manually. And gamut coverage for the BT.709 color space was both complete an ultra-accurate with deltaE errors all held under the 1.0 threshold of visibility.


SDR calibration provided excellent results.

In my room, off my screen, I measured a native contrast (as opposed to dynamic contrast) of 17,000:1, which is a bit higher that the VPL-VW285ES measured. Overall, the SXRD panels in Sony’s projectors offer very similar performance when it comes to contrast, and while it’s generally acknowledged that JVC has the deepest blacks, Sony offers true 4K and the near-infinite dynamic contrast that a modulated laser allows for the lowest price. And overall the handling of the deepest darks on this Sony is great.

You get about 2000 calibrated lumens to work with from the 885. With the projector zoomed out such that it would fill a 140-inch (diagonal) 16:9 screen, I measured around 135 nits, which is brighter than a Dolby Cinema (108 nits). Even a 1.0 gain screen will reach 100 nits at that size, which looks like a giant flat-panel TV when showing SDR content. And if you need more brightness and use a 2.40:1 screen, a Panamorph Paladin anamorphic lens ($7000) adds 30% brightness when watching widescreen content (versus zooming).

Achieving colorimetric perfection in BT.709 is great because it guarantees a great experience with the vast majority of content that’s available, be it movies, TV, or video games. However, HDR is ascendant and has its advantages in terms of bit depth plus contrast and color rendition. And, much like other premium HDR-compatible displays I’ve worked with, the VPL-VW885ES benefits from HDR calibration. But, like those other displays, it can’t achieve the sort of perfection it reaches in SDR mode. The upshot is that competition in the HDR realm has led to “perfect” SDR.

DCI/P3 gamut coverage in HDR (which uses the BT.2020 color space) is visibly and measurably high, clocking in at 90% DCI/P3 coverage, with near 100% coverage in blue and red. Green is the weak point (and Cyan, among the tertiary colors) is still rich enough to handle foliage, meanwhile the deep reds and blues (plus rich yellows and magentas) make a noticeable difference in scene after scene.

Other observations are as follows: Geometric distortion is low, and consequently grid patterns line up perfectly with the boundaries of my screen. The pixel grid is visible if you look really closely, so the lens is good enough to deliver true 4K. This makes it important to perform a panel alignment if it’s needed, in order to get the most out of the system.

For a projector of this cost, because there are so many variables when it comes to screen types and usage scenarios, I’m going to recommend consulting an experienced dealer/calibrator/installer as to the suitability of the VL-VW885ES for any given application. It certainly fit into my theater with ease, I’d even dare say a 120″ (horizontal) 1.3-gain 2.40:1 screen is right in the sweet spot for having an exceptional HDR experience.

While the 885 is well equipped to provide a reference viewing experience, it also accommodates preference by including a wide variety of image setting presets and fine-tuning capabilities. One of the most useful is the Contrast (HDR) control, which replaces the standard Contrast control when feeding the 885 HDR content. It lets you appropriately brighten or darken shadow areas, so you can get a tonality that’s “just right” for your viewing environment. I wound up going with a setting of 65 when using the anamorphic lens, and 75 without it.

Viewing Impressions

When you drop $25,000 on a projector, it’s reasonable to expect a great picture out of it. To my eyes, the VPL-VW885ES managed to deliver image quality that does true justice to the director’s intent. It easily outclasses its considerably more affordable underling, the VPL-VW285ES (a top pick 4K projector if your budget is $5000 and not $25,000) when it comes to “wow” factor, thanks to richer and more accurate colors combined with the dynamic contrast served up by the Z-phosphor laser light source.

Dunkirk provided a great opportunity to revel in the cinematic quality the VPL-VW885ES serves up. In scene after scene, it delivered fidelity that I preferred to the film-based IMAX presentation I saw in theaters.  Particularly noteworthy were the aerial combat scenes, which were filmed with IMAX cameras mounted on real WWII aircraft. It looked as pristine as anything I’ve seen projected on a screen—pretty much cinematic perfection. in scene after scene.

The 2017 movie adaptation of Stephen King’s It offered another excellent demonstration of that the VPL-VW885ES can do. It’s packed full of murky shadows and dark scenes, but also some very bright daylit outdoor scenes that showed the projector’s range. And, of course, there’s the shape-shifting titular monster, which sometimes manifests as Pennywise the Dancing Clown; the projectors red-reproduction prowess came in handy for sure.

The Pièce De Résistance of demonstrating this projector’s HDR prowess came with its handling of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, the world’s first and only movie to be released on Ultra HD Blu-ray in 60p HDR. While I (regrettably) missed screening that film in theaters, I found the fidelity it achieved truly revolutionary. It is, bar none, the most “realistic” looking movie I’ve seen—perhaps the first that truly feels like you are looking at reality through a giant window. There are not a lot of projectors out there that can do Ang Lee’s film justice. But, the VPL-VW885ES is one of them.

I was also impressed with how well the VPL-VW885ES handled Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a movie that’s overflowing with high production value action scenes. It highlighted the fact that Sony’s 4K SXRD technology handles motion well, even when things get very busy on screen.

The ability to handle 60p HDR has relevance beyond one movie. If you stream 4K HDR, depending on the content and device you might only be able to choose 4K 60p. And the latest game consoles plus PC video cards output 4K HDR 60p graphics, and this projector is ready—it even has a low-latency mode that’s ideal for gaming.

I checked out 4K games (SDR and HDR) on the VPL-VW885ES using a PS4 Pro, a Xbox One X, and a PC with a GTX 1080 video card. If you are a home theater gamer, as far as I’m concerned it does not get any better than this. And as a bonus, many HDR games let you tweak the video settings to your liking.

And with marquee titles, the details found in 4K HDR graphics—for example Call of Duty WWII or Madden 2018—are strikingly realistic. And because 16:9 uses a smaller screen area, you get the benefit of brighter highlights and a more vivid HDR effect that—to my eyes at least—often resembled a giant OLED screen.

Other titles that looked impressive on the VPL-VW885ES included Horizon Zero Dawn and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End on the PlayStation 4 Pro, and Forza Motorsport 7 on the Xbox One X. All provided eye-popping gaming experiences with incredible texture, color, and detail.

Of course not everything you watch is going to be 4K HDR content. Sony’s image processing is considered top-notch and proved itself with streaming content including sports and TV shows, plus good ole’ 1080p Blu-ray. 4K Motionflow was a boon for watching sports, it rendered the action during the recent (nail-biting) Eagles games with a clarity that let me see details in individual plays that I never notice when watching a TV.

Speaking to the laser’s ability to instantly modulate light output and effectively replace a dynamic iris, of course this projector can perform the most excellent trick of fading to complete black. It can also ramp down the light output for dim scenes that don’t require ultra-bright specular highlights, which results in deeper blacks. I found its action to be perceptually seamless, so I elected to keep Dynamic Control (found under Laser Light Setting) at the Full setting.

Thanks to the lens memory feature, I quickly and easily switched from 16:9 mode to 2.40:1 mode, which I did daily since I like to watch movies and game.

Streaming HD content benefitted from Sony’s Reality Creation upscaling as well as its effective “smooth gradation” feature; typically HD streams on big screens look rough, but Sony’s processing kept artifacts at bay.

Subjectively, all the features of the VPL-VW885ES projector come together and deliver picture quality that is at once faithful and flattering.

Anamorphic Lens

As part of this review, I used a Panamorph Paladin UHD anamorphic lens to “stretch” widescreen cinematic content to fit my 2.40:1 screen. Actually, it’s more accurate to say the les compresses the vertical, as opposed to stretching the horizontal. Anyhow, although the lens is costly (MSRP $6995) it offers a 30% increase in brightness versus zooming in to fill the screen, and does so with minimal side effects (just a tiny bit of barrel distortion).


The Panamorph Paladin UHD anamorphic lens increased the brightness of 2.40:1 presentations by 30%.

The increased brightness had an immediate, noticeable impact on HDR content. Shadows and midtones looked “proper” using 65 as the projector’s contrast (HDR) setting, whereas when zooming I found I had to use a brighter, but slightly less contrasty setting of 75. And the extra brightness also gave highlights an extra bit of “zing” that made the whole viewing experience a bit more HDR like.

Since to my eyes the VPL-VW885ES is already bright enough, I had no objection to watching 16:9 content with the lens in place. Sure, it’s not 1:1 pixels, but unless you watch test patterns all day long Sony’s scaling engine does a good enough job that the convenience of switching aspect ratios in software overrides any quibbles about having to re-sample the image. If this was a 1080p it would be one thing, but with 4K there’s plenty to like about what an anamorphic lens adds: Convenience and extra lumens.

Conclusion

Pragmatically speaking, this projector’s performance is going to be explored by AVS Forum members in the always-popular owner’s threads. But I can at least offer my input, and from what I’ve seen plus measured there’s much to love about what Sony’s done with the VPL-VW885ES. Yes, this review is filled with praise; IMO this Sony deserves it.

From its ability to handle 60p HDR, to its rich feature set and flexible lens, this 4K projector got a lot going for it. But it’s the laser light source that brings it all together in a package that delivers picture quality that’s destined to satisfy the pickiest cinephiles. Although pricey, because it is “the complete package” for cinephiles, it is an obvious AVS Forum Top Choice.


We are committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using the retail links in our product reviews. Learn more about how this works here.