Sony’s pursuit of projector perfection is an exercise in evolution, and refinement is its core ingredient. What it delivers is 3-chip SXRD true 4K picture quality. This imaging engine is shared by the company’s consumer focused 4K projection offerings and is renowned for delivering high contrast, impressive detail, clear motion and accurate colors. And now, with the VPL-VW1025ES, Sony ups the ante when it comes to picture processing in a super-premium projector equipped with its X1 for Projector chip, resulting in a new model that’s designed to deliver a 4K HDR picture with edge-to-edge uniformity and clarity that eludes lesser display solutions.

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Features & Specifications

For the full feature and specification list, I recommend having a look at Sony's website.

Features at Sony.com

Specifications at Sony.com

This is a 4K, 3-chip projector that is HDR compatible and uses a laser-phosphor light source that offers a 20,000 hour lifespan and delivers up to 2200 ANSI lumens of brightness. The projector uses Sony's X1 for Projector chip that leverages technology from the Bravia TV division for advanced picture processing. Notably, like other Sony 4K projectors, this model's native resolution is 4096 x 2160 aka 4K DCI, which is the cinematic standard. Of course it also supports the consumer 4K standard of 3840 x 2160 resolution, as well as numerous lower resolutions that it upscales to 4K.

Physically, it is a sizeable and weighty projector. It measures 22.06" x 8.78" x 19.53" and tips the scales at 49 pounds, something you'll want to consider if you're planning on using a ceiling mount.

The VPL-VW1025ES features a dynamic aperture that works in conjunction with active dimming of the light source, in order to maximize the dynamic contrast. Sony refers to this as "Dual Contrast Control". It also features the Sony ARC-F lens, which is one of this model's defining attributes. This lens allows for generous amounts of zoom and lens shift while maintaining pristine picture quality. Moreover, this is a motorized lens and the projector offers "Picture Position Memory" slots, so you can use it in a multi aspect-ratio theater setup.

The ARC-F lens has a throw ratio of 1.35 to 1 to 2.90:1. This projector also supports the VPLL-7008 powered short-throw zoom lens that covers throw ratios from 0.85:1 up to 1.06:1, so you've got a lot of placement flexibility with the 1025ES.

The key feature of this model is the X1 for Projector processor, and for home cinema buffs the most interesting capability it brings to the table is the Dynamic HDR Enhancer. Since projectors cannot reach the luminance levels of 1000-nit and 4000-nit mastered 4K HDR, they need to perform tone mapping and adjust the overall image to translate it to a compelling projected image. According to Sony, the X1 for Projector chip offers scene-by-scene analysis to optimize the HDR effect. HDR compatibility consists of HDR10 and HLG formats.

Another feature of the 1025ES is Digital Focus Optimizer, which further refines the sharpness of the ARC-F lens using digital compensation for any optical degradation. This is similar to how digital cameras have built-in compensation for their lenses—yes, even top-of-the-line lenses can use a digital boost to look their best.

This is a quiet projector that will not disturb you with fan noise if mounted overhead. The spec is 24 dB. Oh... and this projector works with IMAX Enhanced.


Who should buy a VPL-VW1025ES
  • Home theater perfectionists
  • Movie lovers who appreciate reference quality cinematic experiences
  • PC and console gamers on an unlimited budget
  • Sports fans seeking the “best seats in the house”
  • Netflix/HBO/Amazon binge watchers who want to go way beyond the screen sizes that TVs can offer
  • Viewers who enjoy an impeccable 4K HDR presentation
  • Filmmakers

Pros/Cons

Pros

  • Impeccable picture quality
  • Highly adjustable, powered lens with memory
  • Impressive edge to edge clarity
  • Projection that does justice to HDR 4K content
  • Excellent contrast
  • Extremely color accurate
  • Renders smooth motion
  • X1 for Projector picture processing
  • Makes most of streaming/cable/broadcast/1080p Blu-ray content
  • Extremely quiet
  • Optional short-throw lens
Cons
  • Undeniably expensive
  • Same performance specifications as VPL-VW995ES (aside from the X1 chip)

Review Methodology

This is a hands-on review using a 1025ES review unit supplied by Sony. This non-technical hands-on primarily consisted of optimizing the projector for a 110” screen and screening a variety of content, ranging from live sports to video games to 4K HDR movies, both streaming and using a Kaleidescape Strato player (which is the subject of a separate review). The setting for this review is a living room, not a home theater with controlled lighting. The screen is the ALR (ambient light-rejecting) Seymour Screen Excellence Ambient Visionaire Black, with 0.9 gain. This material offers a smooth surface that can resolve up to 16K detail, so no issue getting maximum detail out of a 4K projector.

Due to the “lifestyle” nature of my system, I have not attempted to measure the absolute performance of the VPL-VW1025ES. However, there’s no reason to believe it will deviate from what the VPL-VW995ES delivered in terms of lumens and color (2200 lumens Z-phosphor light source, ARC-F lens) and other performance parameters, because the key specs are identical between the two. Anyhow, for full measurements and calibration reports, you’ll need to rely on technical reviews from other sources (which I’m sure are forthcoming). The point is, much of what this projector offers on the hardware side is familiar territory to enthusiasts who know what makes Sony SXRD 4K ES projectors tick. When it comes to reading up on all the technical specifications and the full feature set, your best bet is to peruse Sony’s official documentation, which you can find here.

Upon completion of the review, I returned the VPL-VW-1025ES to Sony.


Setup & Associated AV System

I installed the projector in my living room projection setup, which I use daily for all my movies, gaming, streaming shows, and sports TV viewing. The room itself is white-walled, so I rely on the Seymour Screen Excellence Ambient Visionaires’ ambient light-rejecting qualities to help boost contrast.

In this review, a Denon AVR-X8500H AVR serves as a pre-pro while a Theory Audio Design 5.2.2 speaker system translates it into immersive surround-sound. The projector connects to the AVR with a Monoprice optical HDMI cable.

For sources, I have a gaming PC with a NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super video card that pushes out quality 4K graphics at reasonable frame rates. Notably, the ARC-F lens on the VPL-VW1025ES is so sharp that with a PC, the projected image looks like a giant monitor, even small text at the edges of the screen are tack-sharp, and free of distortion or chromatic aberration. I also have a PS4 Pro (I wish it was a PS5 but I’m still working on getting one). For movies, I used a Kaleidescape Strato player (reviewed here) which delivers either exactly the same fidelity as Ultra HD Blu-ray, or for some titles it actually has a higher bitrate—meaning less compression—than the disc version. Anyhow, the Strato is a reference quality source that I had in for review purposes, so I used it with the Sony.

For streaming, I rely on a Chromecast Ultra, and for live TV I subscribe to YouTube TV that I cast through the Chromecast. Internet is via Comcast/Xfinity and is gigabit speed. I don’t subscribe to cable.


Subjective Performance Evaluation

This Sony’s picture quality transcends published specifications to create a holistic effect that is akin to a “pure” cinematic experience. Even OCD home theater addicts will be hard-pressed to find anything whatsoever to criticize when under the hypnotic trance that is a major side effect of viewing this projector’s exceptional picture.

Notably, the 995ES is not the first to contain the X1 for Projector chip. That honor goes to the VPL-VW715ES and the VPL-VW915ES, a pair of projectors that I had in for hands-on experiences months ago. Those two projectors were differentiated by the light source, with the 915ES implementing the Z-Phosphor laser that’s also in the 1025ES. Indeed, the major difference between the $19,999.99 915ES and the $39,998.00 1025ES comes down to that ARC-F lens and an extra 200 lumens (i.e. 10% brighter). The simple fact is that you are paying an extra $20G for the ARC-F lens, and while that may seem steep, consider that high-quality photography lenses, especially wide-aperture zoom lenses that perform well at all focal lengths, are similarly expensive. And the fact is, on a big screen you can clearly see the difference the ARC-F lens makes in terms of overall picture quality, versus the VPL-VW915ES.

Having reviewed several Sony 4K SXRD models over the years, I have seen the steady progression that has culminated in the VPL-VW1025ES. As you might expect, the 1025ES excelled at home theater style “lights off” movie viewing, especially when fed 4K HDR from the Strato player. It so happened that concurrent to this review, I also had a Sony A90J OLED in for review, and an opportunity to compare the same movies on that TV and this projector. And while it is true that the OLED had its moments where the extra highlight brightness produced a “wow” effect, overall, I found the projected image to be the more compelling viewing experience, even factoring in the HDR. The projected image is simply sublime, with similar apparent contrast to the OLED and thanks to the larger screen, more visible detail including in deep shadow areas.

Every film I watched with the 1025ES looked truly cinematic. The 24p cadence is smooth, judder-free and retains detail when the action picks up. Even streaming, Zack Snyder’s Justice League looked amazing, the HDR accentuating the special effects by adding appropriate intensity to explosions and energy beans and what not, while also handling the dark, noir-like lighting easily; if there’s any digital artifacts from streaming, I presume the X1 for Projector processor took care of it because I saw none. Similarly, The Trial of the Chicago 7 looked pristine on the 1025ES despite streaming on Netflix. But the real “wow” experiences remain the 4K UHD movies played off the Kaleidescape. For example, Avengers: Endgame looked beyond impeccable, and I could not get enough of the textures and fine details I saw for the first time in one of my favorite films, Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

With this projector, you can easily see the limitations of lenses used in filmmaking (blurred edges, distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting, misfocused) and know that it’s in the source material and not an issue with your AV rig. And when you switch to animation or video games, you will appreciate the uniformity that enhances the sense you are looking through a giant window into whatever world resides on the other side.

Perhaps as a result of the VPL-1025ES possessing the X1 for Projector chip, with its Bravia TV pedigree, the 1025ES kept up with the A90J in terms of the picture processing. I was most impressed by how the projector handles live NBA games on YouTube TV, it cleaned up the image very nicely, such that it looked good on the 110” screen despite my 120” viewing distance. With lesser picture processors, the same feed either looks noisier and blurrier or else the processing makes it look a bit fake. But not so with this Sony, whatever it does behind the scenes only serves to improve the apparent picture quality of less than perfect sources.

Although I shy away from measurements these days, since I no longer have the right conditions for critical measurements—i.e. a blacked-out dedicated home theater space—I did run a calibration routine using my PC (as opposed to performing a hardware calibration on the actual projector) just to see what sort of numbers it came up with, in terms of overall brightness, gamma, color accuracy and color gamut coverage. The answer (this is in Cinema Film 1 mode, default settings) is 118 nits on the 0.9 gain ALR screen and 130 nits on a pure white 1.0-gain screen. What this means, in a nutshell, is the brightness is enough to look TV-like. Furthermore, it is more than double the 48 nit DCI standard for movie theaters, and a bit higher than the 108 nits used by Dolby Cinema theaters. In my system, and in conjunction with the rich color and high contrast, there was enough brightness to get some genuine HDR effect out of it.

As I noted earlier in the review, you’ll have to wait for technical reviews to get hard numbers off a pro meter etc. But when those reviews do publish, I’ll be glad to add links here. A word of advice: If you buy a $40,000 projector, unless you calibrate displays as a hobby, have a real pro come calibrate it. Don’t even give it a second thought, just make the appointment, you won’t regret it. It’s not about the projector being inaccurate. Even though the color is quite accurate right out of the box, with a projector is always wise to adjust it for peak performance in your space, on your screen, which are variables that can be accounted for. With a pro performing the tweaks, you’ll get reference-quality accuracy out of the VPL-VW1025ES and a projected image that’s tailored to your space. Worth it, for sure.


Conclusion

The VPL-VW1025ES delivers the finest picture quality I have experienced from any projector I’ve had in my home. Its performance transcends the medium and delivers immersion that is free of distraction, because as long as your source material is pristine, so it this projector’s presentation. But the benefit of the X1 for Projector processor goes well beyond handling 4K HDR. This projector is able to make “less than perfect” video , like 1080p streaming TV, look its very best, which is crucial when you are viewing it on a huge screen. The contrast, edge-to-edge uniformity, and brightness of this projector is such that, at least in my setup, the resulting picture looks like a gigantic OLED TV—even with some ambient light in the room.

As with other hobbies, in AV you’ll find that top-tier gear commands a premium. However, this Sony’s performance is such that it justifies the cost with its capability, picking up where its predecessor left off. If it fits your budget, consider that the VPL-1025ES is an investment that will assuredly deliver years of pleasure, whether installed in a living room or a dedicated home theater/media room. It is an absolute Top Choice for 2021 when it comes to premium, true 4K home theater projectors.


Additional Resources

VPL-VW1025ES Owner's Thread

VPL-VW1025ES at Sony.com


Where to Buy

The VPL-VW1025ES is available through multiple authorized retailers including:

VPL-VW1025ES at World Wide Stereo

VPL-VW1025ES on Amazon

Or, try the Sony Dealer Locator (for U.S.) found here.

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