Review: Sony VPL-VZ1000ES Ultra-Short-Throw 4K HDR Projector

Sony VPL-VZ1000ES

The big game on a big screen is a very big deal. That’s the most accurate way to describe what I’ve gotten out of a month’s worth of hands-on experience with Sony’s VPL-VZ1000ES ($25,000) ultra-short-throw 4K HDR laser-illuminated projector. The reason it’s a big deal is simple—I live in Philadelphia and the Eagles are going to the Super Bowl. What better way is there to experience the most exciting sporting event to involve Philadelphia in a decade than to witness it live on a 100-inch ambient light-rejecting screen? As far as I can tell, there is none.

While I’ve been into projection and home theater for almost two decades, this system included the first screen explicitly designed for ambient light rejection (ALR) that I’ve used, a Screen Innovations ST (short-throw) screen in a Zero Edge frame. It’s also the first time I’ve used a projector to replace a TV for all viewing, instead of as a movie-centric supplement to a conventional TV.

Specifications

Sony’s VPL-VZ1000ES uses a three-panel, 4K (4096 x 2160) SXRD architecture to deliver true 4K on screen. The Z-Phosphor light engine offers 2500 lumens of light output and a 20,000-hour lifespan.

This projector shares many features with Sony’s other premium 4K projectors, including 18 Gbps HDMI with HDCP 2.2, Reality Creation upscaling, MotionFlow motion processing, support for HDR10 with Triluminos wide color gamut, support for 3D, and quiet operation (24 dB maximum).

This projector works optimally with screens between 80″ and 120″ (16×9). The 36 13/32″ x 8 19/32″ x 19 7/16 80″ chassis needs to be only 2 inches away from an 80″ screen, 6″ from a 100″ screen, and 10 inches from a 120″ screen. The VPL-VZ1000ES weighs 77 pounds.

The screen is a Screen Innovations ST short throw screen that offers 90% ALR and has a gain of 0.6. Crucially, it’s optimized for use with this sort of projector, where the light is hitting the screen from below. Screen Innovations claims a 700% increase in contrast versus using a matte white screen in the same application.

Viewing Impressions

This projector is unlike any I have used before. It combines true 4K resolution with HDR and 60p high frame rate, and thanks to its Z-Phosphor laser light source, it turns on nearly instantly. It runs silent and shuts off right away. Since it’s an ultra-short-throw design, there’s no way you can walk in front of it and cast a shadow. This is the magic combination that allows the VPL-VZ1000ES to behave more like a TV than a projection-based system.

It’s likely that anybody purchasing the system will have it professionally installed, so I won’t get too much into that procedure, except to say there are tight parameters to abide by in terms of placement for the screen and projector. While the VPL-VZ1000ES lens offers a small amount of adjustability, initial positioning is important. But once you have that worked out, it’s fast and easy to achieve a perfect alignment with the borders of the screen.

With a projector like the VPL-VZ1000ES, the performance of the screen is very important. Indeed, it is the primary determinant of whether the system can take the place of a TV. To that end, the Screen Innovations ST delivers a home theater-worthy image under dim lighting and yet looks like a giant-screen TV when lights are on, and it’s even usable (with limitations) with indirect sunlight in the room.

With ambient light, black levels on the projection screen are not so deep compared to a contemporary premium TV, so cinephiles will want to turn off the lights before they press play on a movie. However, with comparatively bright and colorful TV content—and that’s virtually all sports, including football games—achieving sufficient contrast was a non-issue. Everyone who sees this system for the first time has the same reaction: “Wow, what a huge TV.” Not “Wow, what a cool projector that is.” I had to point out the VPL-VZ1000ES sitting below the screen before people understood what they were looking at.

It would not be fair to say this projection system beats TVs for all applications. However, it beats the experience of watching a TV in enough applications that, were cost no object, I would absolutely make it my primary living room display—it’s remarkable what a difference those extra inches make.

Speaking of image size, I found it interesting that watching football on a giant screen looked so good, despite the comparatively low resolution of broadcast TV. For one thing, motion was rendered very clearly. And at a more basic level, it was easier to see the action on a larger screen—period.

My favorite thing about the VPL-VZ1000ES is how it transforms from a giant TV into a movie screen by simply shutting off the lights. I watched numerous 4K HDR titles on it, including Sucker Punch, American Made, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, It, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. In fact, I did not use my dedicated home theater once during the time I had the Sony in my living room as an option. Never before have I had a single display that so fully satisfies my needs when it comes to viewing habits.

Wrapping up, I found video games to be playable under modest ambient light, but any game that includes a lot of dark scenes and shadows will benefit from having the lights out. This projector features an input lag-reduction mode that kept latency below the threshold where I could notice it. Meanwhile, the impact of the large screen is difficult to overstate. My perennial favorite game, Grand Theft Auto 5 Online, felt a lot more immersive when played sitting about 7 feet away from this gorgeous screen. And HDR titles like Horizon Zero Dawn and Assassins Creed Origins looked crisp and colorful thanks to the wide color gamut of the VPL-VZ1000ES.

Measurements & Test Patterns

Because the VPL-VZ1000ES is not a traditional projector, this is not a traditional projector review. Having said that, I’m sure many of you are curious about how well this projector performs when it comes to color rendition and such. Well, unsurprisingly, it behaves a lot like the VPL-VW885ES, which has rather similar specifications, including the Z-Phosphor laser light source and compatibility with 60p 4K HDR content.

Let’s start with screen brightness. With it’s 0.6 gain, the Screen Innovations ST soaks up a lot of light. Nevertheless, with the “Laser Light Setting” maxed out, I measured 94 nits at the center of the screen, around 75 nits at the top left and right corners, and around 47 nits in the bottom left and right corners. I also noted some variance in color temperature, with up to a 600K difference between the center and corners.

Notably, by measuring the projector’s output using a patch of 1.0-gain, matte-white screen material,  I determined that the color shift is mostly the fault of the Short Throw screen. On the matte-white material, which offers lambertian diffusion, the variance in color temperature was under 200K. Of course, peak white was also much brighter—143 nits at the center of the screen and about 100 nits at the corners. While those are appealing improvements, the cost in terms of black levels is steep. Ultimately, a white screen is (practically) useless in a living room unless you only watch movies at night.

The above numbers were derived from SDR content in Reference picture mode. However, some of the other picture modes provide significant gains in brightness, albeit at the expense of “textbook” calibrated accuracy. Sending the projector an HDR signal results in brighter peak whites. Furthermore, with SDR content you can get more brightness out of this projector using the Bright Cinema mode or (if you don’t mind the cooler color temp) the Bright TV mode.

Since the VPL-VZ1000ES needs an ALR screen to pull off the “100-inch TV in my living room” trick, I focused on brightness, sharpness, and uniformity. Under bright ambient light—ceiling lights turned on and indirect daylight coming from multiple windows—the peak measurable contrast ratio was very low at around 50:1. And yet, sports was easy to watch like this.

Drawing shades and dimming the lights for “evening ambiance” produced a huge gain in contrast and perceived image quality. The contrast ratio improved to 250:1 under modest ambient lighting and jumped up to 600:1 with dim lighting, thanks entirely to the deeper blacks. With the lights out, I saw measured intra-frame native contrast ratios jump up to 2500:1 (and above), although ANSI contrast was much lower—around 200:1—because of room reflections.

Attempting to measure the VPL-VZ1000ES performance in a room with ambient light was instructive. When it’s being used in a well-lit room, this system leans heavily on image size to make up for the PQ deficiencies compared with a TV. And frankly, it succeeds. When I watch a football game on this projector, I completely forget it’s not a giant flat-panel TV. The first thing I noticed is that there’s zero reflection, unlike with TVs. So, even with the lights on, all you see is the screen and not a reflection of yourself and your friends sitting on a sofa in your Eagles gear.

I was very pleased to see the lens perform at a very high level. It renders individual pixels and is sharp from edge to edge with practically zero chromatic aberration. I think it may even outperform the zoom lenses found on Sony’s 4K home-theater projectors. Most impressive is the absence of distortion; it can display a grid with ruler-flat lines which is quite a feat when you consider the extreme angle at which it projects an image.

A quick calibration of the Reference preset spruced up the picture, dropping the grascale deltaE average from 6.0 to 3.6 and tightening up the CMS so the color points had a deltaE error of under 2.0. Post calibration lumens remain unchanged at 94 nits. Also, while using the 2.2 gamma preset, I measured a gamma of 2.16, with slight variance attributable to the screen. A primary improvement provided by the calibration was to get the color temperature dialed in closer to 6500K.

Conclusion

Thankfully, the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. I was lucky enough to experience the sweetest of Super Bowl victories on this phenomenal 100” display. It’s no understatement to say that having a VPL-VZ1000ES to watch the big game makes me I feel like I won the football-fan lottery—it’s practically a dream come true.

Obviously a $25,000 projector is not an impulse buy. This is a luxury item aimed at a well-heeled consumer who has the space for a giant screen. But the reality of flat-panel TVs is that once you get above an 85” screen size, the cost of a projector becomes quite competitive. The thing to remember is that there’s always some give and take when comparing projection-based systems to flat-panel displays. But the simple fact is that size matters.

Whether it’s seeing all the detail in a 4K movie or not losing sight of the football during a crazy play, a 100″ screen grants the viewer greater immersion and more involvement in the action. For sports fans, gamers, and movie lovers alike, the VPL-VZ1000ES provides a premium viewing experience that smaller TVs often cannot match. Consequently, it earns a “Recommended 2018” award from AVS Forum.


When it comes to football, nothing beats watching the big game on a big screen. You could get a large flat-panel TV, but that will seem puny compared with the humongous image only a projector can produce. Check out the Sony Projectors Buyers Guide by clicking here.

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