The Sony VPL-VW295ES ($5000) is a true 4K projector that offers affordable high performance HDR. It is the easy way to get a best viewing experience out the latest Ultra HD movies, as well as video games and streaming 4K HDR shows.
The VPL-295ES builds on the excellent performance of its groundbreaking predecessor, the Sony VPL-VW285ES—which was the first 4K projector with an MSRP under $5000. I received a 295ES for placement in my upstairs home theater less than two weeks ago, long enough to get a feel for its capabilities and perform a calibration after putting 100 hours on the bulb.
Features and Specifications
The VPL-VW295ES is the entry-level 2018 4K offering in Sony’s lineup and the most affordable current model offering that resolution; its upgraded features make it worth considering.
This projector supports 3D, so if you are into 3D movies here’s one way to enjoy them. And frankly 3D looks a looks a lot better on a big screen! Standard active LCD shutter glasses work with this projector.
Like all of Sony’s 4K projectors, the 295ES uses Sony’s SXRD (Silicon Crystal Reflective Display) technology, a variant of LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon). SXRD combines LCD panels (one for each primary color) with a reflective substrate that modulates light in order to render an image on screen. Each SXRD imager measures 0.74″ and can be adjusted for proper convergence.
The 295ES is an IMAX Enhanced certified projector that is able to make the most of the pristine 4K HDR imagery offered by this new format.
The native resolution of the 295ES is 4096×2160, which is true, real-deal 4K resolution, as seen in commercial theaters. This model is also compatible with UHD signals, which feature 3840×2160 resolution, as well as 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 576p (PAL), and 480p signals. Furthermore, it is an HDR-capable projector with support for the HDR10 and HLG (hybrid log gamma) HDR formats including 4K/60p HDR (which is crucial for home theater gaming) thanks to 18 Gbps HDMI.
Specs for the VPL-VW295ES claim approximately 1500 lumens of light output using a 225-watt high-pressure mercury lamp, which is the same as the 285ES. This offers a 6000-hour lifespan in Low mode, albeit at reduced overall brightness as the bulb ages. To maintain near-peak performance, you may wish to factor in using the bulb on “High” and features a more aggressive replacement schedule.
This projector has a motorized lens, albeit without lens memory for automated adjustment. Lens memory is typically used to accommodate different aspect ratios with 2.40:1 and motorized masking screens. However, I suggest pairing the 295ES with a 16:9 screen and not looking back since variable aspect ratio presentations are becoming more common.
With the included motorized lens, you can set focus, lens shift and zoom using the remote control. And with this model, I noticed that the motors were very responsive and there was no “play” in the adjustment, so (for example) focusing was easier because each click of the remote translated to a consistent adjustment of the lens. Not something that shows up in specs per se, it simply felt as if the lens was built to tighter tolerances—could just be luck of the draw but I hope not.
The lens offers 2.06x zoom and +85%/-80% vertical shift as well as +/-31% horizontal shift. According to Sony, you can use the 295ES with screens measuring between 60″ and 300″ (16:9 diagonal measurement). For this review, I paired it with a Screen Excellence 110” diagonal 16:9 Ambient-Visionaire XL (ambient light rejecting) screen with a 0.9 gain, as well as a 120” (horizontal) Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 2.40:1 screen that has a gain of 1.3. Throw distance is listed as 12.3′ – 30.1′, I had the projector placed 17 feet away from the screen. Both are non-perforated i.e. non-acoustically transparent screen materials. For center channel sound, I use a speaker placed directly below the screen.
In terms of inputs, the 295ES sports two 18 Gbps HDMI ports with HDCP 2.2 for UHD/4K HDR compatibility. It has an Ethernet port and one 12-volt trigger as well as a USB port. This is a whisper-quiet projector, with a 26 dB “acoustic noise” rating that translates to total inaudibility with Lamp Control set to Low.
Of course, if you set the lamp to High there’s more fan noise–especially during extended bright scenes. For larger screens, low gain screens (like woven acoustically transparent screens) and HDR, you’ll likely run the lamp in High mode because the image itself is brighter.
Power consumption is 390 watts, and the 295ES features a standby mode that activates after 10 minutes with no input signal, and you can turn that off if you prefer.
This Sony’s chassis measures 19.5″ (W) x 8.09375″ (H) x 18.25″ (D) (it’s a bit taller than the 285ES) and it weighs 31 pounds, so you’ll want to consider that when mounting or placing it on a platform. Fortunately, the lens allows for flexible placement options.
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-VW295ES. The Amazon Fire TV 4K served as signal generator running the CalMan MobileForge app, which replaces a dedicated pattern generator and works as well as the DVD AVLab TPG I used to use.
Movies used for evaluation include the IMAX Enhanced documentary A Beautiful Planet, plus the following Hollywood releases: Ant-Man and The Wasp, Rampage, Deadpool 2, Ready Player One, Upgrade and Avengers: Infinity War. As for games, I got into Red Dead Redemption 2 (isn’t everyone playing this?) on the Xbox One X and am not finding time or the willpower to play anything else because the game is so good!
As I do for every projector review, I set the 295ES on a tall steel shelf located behind my couch, and used the lens-shift and zoom functions to fit the image to the screen(s). I’ve said it before, but I appreciate how flexible the lenses Sony uses on its consumer projectors are; getting a perfect fit and sharp image takes a minute or two at most, and more like mere seconds once you know your way around the remote.
A meticulous color Calibration is highly recommended with a projector like the VPL-VW295ES. Granted, it’s Sony and the fact is you do get good color right out of the box. But with its built-in calibration controls, it is capable of reference-quality color post-calibration. With accurate meters like the Colorimetry Research kit I use, and CalMan software plus a few adjustments, you can achieve a degree of color accuracy that your eyes will instinctively recognize as true.
Beyond color, this projector offers numerous image-processing options such as noise, motion processing and banding reduction. The use of these features is optional and content dependent, but I do recommend engaging MotionFlow True Cinema, it presents movies with a cadence that’s properly cinematic and judder-free.
I’m not going to dive deep into the topic of image processing functions here; suffice to say that Sony’s video processing is broadly regarded as being high quality and I’m not hesitant to suggest experimenting with it and seeing if you like the result. You can always turn features off if you want a “pure” viewing experience. Features such as the Contrast Enhancer (under Cinema Black Pro) can have a subjectively pleasing effect even if calibration software says that technically it’s deviating from reference. I make no mistake, if you put a bit of work into this projector, you can coax it into a highly accurate calibration.
In my 285ES review I delved into luminance measurements, however in this review I’m going to skip that. It’s a 1500-lumen projector, and your screen size plus material plus viewing environment are all going to play a part in how much brightness and contrast you can get out of it.
Default out-of-the-box settings in the 295ES look good, but a quick metering showed the color temperature needed some adjustment to get a truly great result. After a minute of tweaking, the accuracy of the projector fell under what the human eye can detect, with an average deltaE of 0.9 and gamma tracked well with Contrast Enhancer on Medium, so overall that’s the combo I went with.
There’s enough adjustability in the color settings menu to get neutral tonality and compensate for various screen types and viewing environments.
I measured color gamut at various luminance levels to get an idea of how the 295ES performs when it comes to color volume. Like its predecessor and other 4K Sony projectors, the 295ES maintains full BT.709 color volume at all SDR luminance levels, so when you watch HD Blu-rays, you’ll get “perfect” color reproduction.
HDR color-gamut coverage is a bit trickier. The VPL-VW295ES is not a fully DCI/P3-compliant projector. (DCI/P3 is the cinematic color gamut often used in HDR mastering for HDR10 content.) The 295ES only gets part way there, but is better at reproducing some colors than others. The projector relies on internal processing that maps color to the gamut it can reproduce. Having said that, it nails rich reds, deep blues and lush greens.
Uniformity issues never crossed my mind when viewing actual content. The lens appears to perform the same as the lens in the 285ES, meaning that with a full-screen white field on the screen, there was roughly 20% less peak brightness in the far corners versus the center of the screen. I was pleased to see no convergence issues, chromatic aberration, etc. and the lens–while not crazy-sharp like the ARC-F lens on the 995ES, is more than resolving enough.
Ultimately, if you are familiar with how Sony’s behave, there are no surprises here. If not, the main thing is it’s not tough to get a very accurate, punchy, sharp image out of the VPL-VW295ES.
Hollywood blockbusters full of effects such as Marvel movies (Ant-Man and the Wasp, Deadpool 2) look profoundly colorful and detailed, with action that’s easy to follow. Because this is a true 4K projector, you can see the extra benefit of the higher bitrates used for 4K UHD Blu-ray; action scenes explode with detail and the projector lets you “be in the movie” which is certainly a big part of “director’s intent.”
One of the best things I saw on this projector is the IMAX Enhanced feature A Beautiful Planet. The footage of Earth from the International Space Station is a sight to behold. From textures such as desert dunes and arctic ice, to the Aurora Borealis floating above the horizon against the pure black backdrop of space, the 295ES rendered sublimely detailed and colorful imagery. The main takeaway is that the 295ES can do justice to content that represents the pinnacle of high production values—IMAX cameras in space.
Ready Player One took the 295ES to its limits with its dystopian yet color-drenched representation of a new future where everyone is living most of their lives in virtual worlds. The gaming sequences has “Spielberg quality” to them and serve as a visual reference for projected HDR.
Speaking of projected HDR, let’s talk about that for a moment. With content for the home being mastered to a thousand nits, or even 4000 nits, some folks might rightly ask what exactly is HDR about an HDR projector presentation that doesn’t even get above 200 nits. Short answer is that the combination of higher bit depth, wide color gamut and a peak luminance that is in fact brighter than the cinematic standard for SDR make it something more than an SDR presentation.
The key to optimal viewing experience in HDR with a Sony projector is to adjust the Contrast (HDR) control “to taste” which might bug some purists but you have to understand, HDR needs to be adapted to the individual display, and unlike TVs projectors have variables when it comes to screen size and gain that require further compensation.
The good news is the VPL-295ES lets you make those HDR adjustments and helps get a great image out of it as a result.
I do not have a ton of 3D content but I’m totally enamored with how Sin City 2 looked on this Sony. It’s tangible, holographic stuff and highly artistic to boot. I don’t know why 3D had to suffer such derision; if you see the justice a Sony VPL-VW295ES can to it, I think you’ll get back into it.
Live sports is a big deal for me and in 2018 the Philadelphia Eagles are providing as much drama as ever. I do not have cable TV but it’s been a pleasure to use the new Locast.org service to stream the games whenever they are shown on a broadcast channel; it may be HD and streaming as well but the Sony treats it well and puts a compelling, punchy image on screen where it’s very easy to follow the action.
Dallas vs. Philly is tonight, so even though I’ll have posted this review, the projector’s going to keep doing its job. Watching a prime time Sunday night football game on a 110″ screen is a total treat.
The awesome thing about this VPL-295ES projector, and what really separates it from the VPL-VW285ES, is that you can feed it 4K HDR video with a 60 Hz refresh rate and it works. This is HUGE for gamers as properly rendered HDR looks smooth and is full of eye-popping color. I gotta have it, and now Sony offers it.
I tried South Park: The Fractured but Whole on PC and Red Dead Redemption 2 (Ultimate Edition… is there any other?) on Xbox One X, as well as The Amazing Spider Man on my PS4 Pro and… well the main risk is that if I start enjoying the games too much, then I won’t get anything else done. Red Dead Redemption 2 in particular deserves all the kudos it’s getting.
And even the classic, non-HDR Grand Theft Auto 5 looked as good as ever on this rig, and I appreciated the “Input Lag Reduction” mode that brought latency down to gamer-friendly levels for combat and racing and such. On this projector, HDR games look Stunning.
Another cool thing this projector can do is properly play back Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which is a 60p 4K UHD Blu-ray. Perhaps there will be more movies like this in the future, but for now gaming is the primary application for this capability.
So, just for the record, at 24p, 30p, and now 60p, HDR on this projector provided eye-popping color and contrast with no visible banding.
Sony’s VPL-VW295ES is the sequel to first projector that made true 4K HDR affordable to home-theater enthusiasts. It improves upon its predecessor—the VPL-VW2855ES—in HDR performance and is considerably more gamer friendly, too. It sports a sharp lens and outputs a punchy, vivid, and (when calibrated) accurate image. This projector looks good right out of the box but calibration elevates it to reference.
I talk a lot about HDR here since in 2018 there’s quite a bit of it available on disc, to stream, and in games. But, like other Sonys, this projector really shines with SDR content as well. The post calibration color accuracy, the way it handles motion, and the visual appeal of true 4K (Yes, I can totally “see” faux-K pixels, it’s not the same)… it’s all part of the recipe that makes Sony projectors so compelling.
Whether you watch true 4K content or rely on Sony’s Reality Engine to upscale HD Blu-ray and help make less than perfect streams look their best, the VPL-VW295ES has you covered. The highly effective image processing algorithms keep unwanted banding and other artifacts like digital noise to a minimum on streaming content, all without impacting detail or imbuing the imagery with an artificial look. In other words, Sony knows how to “fix” video without making it look fake. This is key because there’s still a lot more HD content out there than UHD 4K.
With the Sony VPL-VW295ES, you get a projector that is absolutely a top choice for any installation where lens memory is not a requirement and 1500 lumens is enough for the chosen screen size and material. Sony is on a roll, with a lineup of projectors that just keeps getting better. With whisper-quiet quiet operation and support for just about any 4K HDR content you toss its way, the Sony VPL-VW295ES makes for an easy Top Choice 2018 selection.
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