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Sony VPL-HW45ES SXRD Projector Review

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160 inch gaming anyone?

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While a 55-inch TV or a 32-inch curved monitor might look amazing when you're sitting in front of it, there’s something to be said for a gaming display the size of an entire wall. The Sony VPL-HW45ES SXRD projector (See it on Amazon) is just the ticket for wall-sized gaming, delivering an image up to 122 inches at a distance of 12 feet, or 160 inches if you move it back a bit further. This particular model isn't designed to be next-gen or future proof per se, as it offers the standard 1920 x 1080 resolution and SDR (as opposed to HDR), but Sony designed it to be one of the best projectors available for current standards. I mounted it to my ceiling and took it for a spin.

Sony VPL-HW45ES - Design and Features

003Sony VPL-HW45ES three quarter

The Sony VPL-HW45ES is a 1080p SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) projector, which is what Sony calls its implementation of LCoS, or liquid crystal on silicon, projection technology. The manufacturing process Sony uses is slightly different than others so they gave it a special name. The shiny black box has its lens centered at the front with a ventilation exhaust at the front left and front right sides as well as around the back. Manual lens shift adjustment knobs (to make sure your picture is properly aligned on your screen) are on top.

The image can be shifted vertically up to 71% and horizontally up to 25%. Ideally the lens should be level with the center of your screen. The more you need to shift the image, the more it will get a keystone effect – where the image is wider at the top than it is at the bottom if the lens is below center, or vice versa if the lens is above center. Manual zoom (up to 1.6x) and focus are adjusted by two rings around the lens.

All connections are on the bottom right side of the projector. There are two HDMI HDCP-compliant inputs, a USB port for updating the firmware, and a RS-232 and IR-in for adding an external remote control. Missing is a 12v trigger for those with a motorized projection screen (the 12v trigger is usually used to automate a motorized screen so that when the projector is turned on, the screen will descend), and there's also no Ethernet port for those who might want to add it to their "smart home" setup.  Video inputs are limited to the two HDMI ports, so if you have multiple HDMI sources or any analog video sources like a Wii or older Xbox 360 you’ll need to go through a receiver. Projectors also don’t have speakers for sound output (the HW45ES included), so a receiver or a soundbar is a necessity.

001Sony VPL-HW45ES connections

Above the connections are power and menu navigation buttons, although it’s significantly easier to just use the included remote. Its buttons are backlit and clearly marked with separate buttons for each calibrated preset along with abundant image adjustment options. Sadly, the only adjustment gamers really care about – input lag reduction – is only accessible by going through the menu via a button on the chassis. Though this is a mild annoyance, once I get my settings dialed in I rarely change them, so I doubt most people will need to fiddle with it too often. Many of the settings I leave off, such as Reality Creation and Motionflow.

Reality Creation is there primarily to help with upscaling an image. It adds edge enhancement that I find to be distracting and doesn't benefit the image to my eye. There is an adjustable slider to it, so someone could prefer the picture with it turned on a little bit, but it isn't for me. Motionflow tries to remove motion blur, but it can lead to a soap opera effect. All LCD-based technologies have some level of motion blur because of the pixel response time (mainly) and companies have developed different motion interpolation technology to combat it. There are plenty of people that don't have any issue with something like Motionflow being turned on, and might even enjoy the effect.

My philosophy when it comes to any of these advanced features is less is more. Adding processing on top of processing can lead to some ugly results, so I always err on the minimal intrusion side. There are sometimes some situational effects that can be useful (like black level enhancers on monitors), but as a general rule I don't recommend most of them. And there isn't a need to use them on this Sony in my opinion.

 

002Sony VPL-HW45ES remote

The VPL-HW45ES has a light output of 1,800 lumens, which is about average for midrange projectors. It's also more than enough, unless you plan on shining sunlight on your projection screen (don't do that). There are two lamp control settings, high and low. High works well if you have a good amount of ambient light in your room, but you might want to switch to low when it's dark to help with eye fatigue (the brighter the image in the dark the more strain on your eyes over time). High will also burn the lamp out quicker and draw more power.

I have picture windows in my living room and with the ‘high’ brightness setting I had no issues with seeing the image during daytime gaming. For night viewing (or when the curtains are drawn in the afternoon) the ‘low’ mode is more than sufficient. The projector’s cooling fan is a little louder in the high setting, but isn’t obtrusive.

The VPL-HW45ES is also a 3D-capable projector that requires compatible active 3D glasses (not included). The buzz of 3D has simmered down in the past few years. There are still a steady stream of 3D Blu-rays released if the movie had a theatrical 3D version, but it's nowhere near the fervor of five to ten years ago. And game companies have moved on to VR as a more immersive visual experience.

Sony VPL-HW45ES - Testing and Gaming

When getting into actual-use situations the image looked amazing.

After properly adjusting the Sony VPL-HW45ES to my 100-inch Stewart GrayHawk (a 0.9 gain screen), I checked grayscale and color accuracy using a Photo Research PR-650 colorimeter and test patterns from the Digital Video Essentials HD Basics Blu-ray disc. Of the eight calibrated presets, "Reference" was far and away the most accurate. Others, such as the two Cinema Film presets, had issues with red in particular looking more like orange. In Reference, grayscale color temperature was a little on the blue side with a temp of around 7000K. The primary color points were all slightly under saturated, although only the red enough to see visibly. Yellow and magenta trended slightly red while cyan was a little blue. But those are just test patterns. When getting into actual-use situations the image quality was amazing.

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No matter what you think about the story, the visuals of The Last Jedi are stunning and the Sony projector did them justice. The red soil reveal on the salt flats of Crait were exciting and dramatic, as was the battle in Snoke’s throne room. The Sony was also excellent with black level detail. In the Jedi tree on Ahch-To, I could see the beautiful detail put into the gnarls and knots on the walls of the set.

Vistas in Horizon Zero Dawn have excellent detail...

This excellence translated over to gaming, too. Vistas in Horizon Zero Dawn had excellent detail thanks to the HW45ES. And the different colors in Aloy’s assortment of armor choices really popped, and were a testament to the beautiful costume design. The black detail was a significant help while navigating through caves and hives in Destiny 2.

Low Input lag is an absolute necessity whether I was shooting arrows at machines or swinging a flaming sword at the Fallen (Warlock for life), and projectors are notoriously bad at this. With input lag reduction turned off my Leo Bodnar measured lag at a dreadfully slow 108.2ms.  But when I turned it on that number plummeted to 21.9ms, which rivals some televisions. The disparity is marked, and could be the difference between life and death in-game. With the reduction turned on I felt that I could actually be competitive. Tracer's pistols and her Blink ability reacted quickly to my button presses and I couldn't sense any significant delay.

Purchasing Guide

The Sony VPL-HW45ES has an MSRP of $2,000 but can be found on Amazon for $1,798 pretty consistently. Its lowest price has been $1,498, which it hit briefly last November during sales.

  • See the Sony VPL-HW45ES on Amazon
  • See the Sony VPL-HW45ES at Walmart
  • Sony VPL-HW45ES at Best Buy

The Verdict

The Sony VPL-HW45ES has a nicely detailed picture, beautiful colors, and excellent black levels, especially for a $2,000 projector. Its input lag setting gets the timing down to television territory too, making it great for gaming. It is a 1080p projector in the age of 4K HDR, but a bright 100-inch+ high-quality image is an impressive and immersive sight.

Great
The Sony VPL-HW45ES doesn't do 4K, but for the best in 1080 with the option for 3D, it's a great choice.
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