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Sony VPL-HW40ES review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £1846
inc VAT

The VPL-HW40ES is expensive, but its picture quality and frame and detail creation software is superb for the price


Projector type: SXRD, Native resolution: 1,920×1,080, Video inputs: HDMI x2, VGA, Component, Lamp life: 3,000h, Lamp brightness: 1,700 lumen, Size: 407x179x464mm

The Sony VPL-HW40ES is a Full HD home cinema projector, and is one of Sony’s high-end 2014 models. The VPL-HW40ES is uses Sony’s SXRD system, which stands for Silicon X-tal Reflective Display. It’s Sony’s version of liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS), which is a hybrid of DLP and LCD technologies that combines reflective surfaces with a liquid crystal layer on top of a silicon backplane instead of a mirror. The benefit of LCoS is that you don’t see any of the rainbow effects that are sometimes created by single-chip DLP projectors.

Sony’s SXRD technology is also meant to produce a much higher contrast ratio and deeper black levels than both DLP and LCD projectors, making images appear more accurate with a greater amount of detail than would be seen on projectors with lower contrast ratios.

The HW40ES’s picture quality was certainly very impressive. Its 1,700 ANSI lumen lamp may not produce the brightest image we’ve ever seen, but colours looked superb in our Star Trek test footage regardless of whether the lights were on or off. You’ll want to turn the lights off to get the best picture, though, as contrast levels suffered when we left the lights on. Darker night scenes lost almost all of their fine detail in our brightly lit test room, but this isn’t surprising given the HW40ES’s somewhat low brightness levels.

With its long throw ratio of 1.36:1 to 2.16:1, we’d also recommend installing the VPL-HW40ES at the back of a room to generate a good sized image. You’ll still get a huge diagonal of 71in from seven feet away, though, and you don’t need to worry about fan noise either, as the VPL-HW40ES produces just 21dB(A). This is an impressive feat for such a large projector, and we barely noticed that it was switched on even when we were sitting right next to it.

Ports are located on the side of the projector, and there are two HDMI inputs, VGA and component inputs, connections for external infrared and 3D transmitters, and an RS-232C port for connecting the projector to an automated home cinema system. There are also a couple of menu buttons, but the VPL-HW40ES’s backlit remote control is much easier to use when navigating the VPL-HW40ES’s copious menu options. Just be aware that the VPL-HW40ES doesn’t have internal speakers or audio outputs, so you’ll need to connect it to an AV amplifier to hear audio.

The VPL-HW40ES doesn’t have any electronic lens control either, so you’ll have to adjust the zoom, focus and lens shift manually using its dials. The 1.6x optical zoom isn’t as generous as the 2.1x zoom of the similarly priced Epson EH-TW7200, but with a +/- 71 per cent vertical and +/- 25 per cent horizontal lens shift, we had no trouble getting the VPL-HW40ES to fill our projector screen.

With nine customisable picture modes available, including three dedicated cinema modes, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a setting that suits your room. We used the Cinema Film 1 picture mode for testing because we felt this produced the most natural colours, but Game is also a good choice due to its higher brightness level.

Calibrating the projector is incredibly easy. As well as basic contrast, brightness, colour, hue, sharpness and colour temperature settings, there are noise reduction options, a contrast enhancer, gamma correction, and four different colour spaces to choose from. The Cinema Black Pro setting can also change the intensity of the VPL-HW40ES’s lamp to help produce even deeper blacks, while Motionflow is Sony’s frame interpolation feature. Motionflow inserts artificial frames to help make films appear smoother and can produce up to twice as many frames per second as the original content, potentially turning ordinary 24fps films into fast 48fps spectacles.

In practice, Motionflow is split into two options: Film Projection and Motion Enhancer. We had to turn Film Projection off, as this produced a nauseating flicker effect, presumably to recreate the feeling of an old film reel projector. Motion Enhancer, on the other hand, was much more pleasant. Its two smoothing options were quite strong, but we found Low worked best when it came to action sequences and more sedate conversation scenes. There was still a little bit of judder present, but setting Motion Enhancer to High looked far more unnatural as everyone looked like they were gliding around on butter.

The HW40ES also has Sony’s Reality Creation technology. Previously confined to Sony’s 4K projectors, this helps reproduce textures and colours that may have been lost when films are made into discs, supposedly giving you crisper and sharper Full HD images. Like Motionflow, Reality Creation is split into two categories: Noise Filtering and Resolution. The former made little difference to the overall clarity of our test footage, but Resolution was surprisingly effective. Faces and objects were much sharper and more detailed than when we turned Resolution off, and textures never looked too harsh or artificial.

The only mildly disappointing part of the VPL-HW40ES was its 3D mode. It doesn’t come with any 3D glasses in the box, so you’ll need to buy Sony’s TDG-PJ1 active shutter glasses to use it (one pair costs £70 from, but we noticed an off-putting flicker effect during our Avatar test footage that we could never get rid of. We suspect this may have been due to some light interference in our test room, as the effect was more pronounced with the lights on, but we could still see it in brighter scenes, such as the first sortie into Pandora, even when we turned the lights off.

This is a shame, as Sony’s projectors have traditionally had excellent 3D modes. However, we were pleased to see that we could change the brightness of the 3D glasses and adjust the depth of field in the 3D settings menu, which is much more control than Epson’s EH-TW7200 gives you.

At just under £1,850, the only other projector that can compete with Sony’s VPL-HW40ES in this price range is the Epson EH-TW7200, but we think the VPL-HW40ES edges just in front of it thanks to its super-quiet fans and excellent Reality Creation and Motion Enhancer features, the latter of which isn’t available on the Epson. The only downside is the Sony VPL-HW40ES’s lacklustre 3D, but at this price, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better 2D Full HD projector.

Projector typeSXRD
3D supportYes
Contrast ratioN/A
Native resolution1,920×1,080
Native aspect ratio16:9
Throw ratio1.36:1 – 2.16:1
Max diagonal at 7ft distance71in
Projection distance1.16m – 7.62m
Optical zoomManual 1-1.6x
Mirror imageYes
Invert imageYes
Lens shiftManual vertical 71%, horizontal 25%
Video inputsHDMI x2, VGA, Component
Audio inputsN/A
Video outputsN/A
Audio outputsN/A
Noise (in normal use)21dB(A)
Internal speaker (power)No
Card readerNo
Image formats readN/A
Document formats readN/A
Lamp life3,000h
Lamp life in economy mode3,000h
Lamp brightness1,700 lumen
Buying information
Price including VAT£1,847
WarrantyThree years collect and return (lamp one year)
Part codeVPL-HW40ES
Lamp cost (inc VAT)£228
Lamp cost per hour of use£0.07
Lamp cost per hour of use (economy)£0.07

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