Our Favorite Projector

Sony VPL-HW40ES

PROS 

Detailed and colourful pictures
Good value
Attractive design
Very easy to setup

CONS

Not the best for black level

KEY FEATURES

Full HD SXRD projector
Active 3D playback (no glasses included)
Reality Creation picture processing
1700 Lumens claimed brightness
Dynamic iris system
Manufacturer: Sony

WHAT IS THE SONY VPL-HW40ES?

At £1,900, the HW40ES is the most affordable model in Sony’s new home cinema projector range. It’s a full HD model with 3D playback built around Sony’s increasingly impressive SXRD projection technology. And it’s really rather good.

SONY VPL-HW40ES: DESIGN AND FEATURES

The HW40ES is both more attractive and more substantial than might be expected for its money. Its footprint is much bigger than anything you’d generally get from the similarly priced BenQs, Viviteks and Optomas of this world. Yet it wears its size really well courtesy of its gloss white or gloss black finish wrapped around a seductively curvaceous elliptical design dominated by the large lens that juts out from the centre of the front edge.

The size of this lens bodes well for picture quality, especially when backed up by a very respectable 1700 Lumens of claimed brightness. The fact that the projector uses three of Sony’s latest full HD Sony’s SXRD projection chips is also promising given the increase in quality Sony has managed to get from these chips on other projectors this year (including its groundbreaking VW500ES 4K model).

Connections are ranged down the HW40ES’s left side (as you look at it) rather than on its rear like you would see with most projectors. We guess this could be a little aggravating if you have to feed your cables in from the opposite side. And you could argue, too, that having a tangle of cables hanging out the side rather than the rear compromises the HW40ES’s good looks. But for most installations the side-mounted connections really shouldn’t be a problem at all.

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Rather more important/disappointing is the absence of any 12v trigger outputs. These can be used for, say, firing up a motorised screen when the projector turns on, limiting this projectors potential in more complex installations. Aside from this, though, the HW40ES provides pretty much every connection you’d expect for its money, including two 3D-capable HDMIs, component video ports, a D-Sub PC input, plus a couple of system-integration options: an IR trigger socket and an RS-232 control port.

You can also, if you wish, use a LAN port to add an external 3D transmitter which offers an RF transmission alternative to the IR option built into the projector. Mind you, during our tests the built-in option worked just fine. Any remaining 3D fans out there should bear in mind, though, that you don’t get any free 3D glasses with the projector. We’re never fans of brands not providing at least one pair of 3D glasses with 3D-capable products, since so far as we’re concerned this means they’re not actually selling a complete product. We may be able to find it in our hearts to forgive the HW40ES for this faux pas, though, if it outperforms its sub-£2k price by far enough.

 

Picture Quality

The HW40ES continues Sony’s strong run of projector form this year despite its relative affordability. Particularly impressive is the way its pictures are sharp enough to effortlessly bring forth the maximum impact from high quality Blu-rays. Softness and noise are not an issue so long as you tame the resolution part of the Reality Creation system and set the lamp to its low output mode, and the amount of detail on show stands as testament to both the quality of the latest generation of SXRD chips Sony has developed and the HW40ES’s lens system.

What’s more, the HW40ES’s deft touch with fine detail even extends to dark scenes, as the projector resolves much more of the subtle greyscale and shadow detailing information dark scenes need to look believable than we’d expect to see on a sub-£2k projector.

Also hugely impressive for its price point is the HW40ES’s colour response. Tones across the board achieve that tricky balance between dynamic intensity and believability, with no tones looking over-dominant, and no tendency towards general over-saturation – so long, at any rate, as you don’t try and use one of the projector’s most aggressive picture presets or the higher power echelons of the Reality Creation processing options.

The HW40ES’s colour strengths also form part of its excellent detail response, for the projector is able to resolve subtle colour changes and blends that often tend to be lost by affordable projectors.

Another excellent string to the HW40ES’s bow is its motion handling. We already noted in the feature section that its motion processing systems are cleverer than most, but actually the HW40ES is very good at leaving motion looking free of unnecessary judder even without any processing in play.

Studying colours in dark scenes yields rewards too. The HW40ES manages to hold on to a surprising amount of brightness when showing dark scenes for a projector that relies on a dynamic contrast system (which closes and opens an iris to vary the amount of light the being allowed through the lens) to deliver its widest contrast range. And this fact means it’s also able to deliver more natural, punchy colours in dark scenes than you usually get at the affordable end of the projector market.

There is really only one flaw in the HW40ES’s picture makeup: its black level response is only fair to good rather than excellent like almost everything else. This means there’s always a bit of greyness hanging over very dark scenes no matter what picture settings you employ. This greyness isn’t, to be clear, severe by any means, and so as noted earlier doesn’t obscure shadow details. Nor does it lead to any significant colour tone deterioration during dark scenes. But it does make dark scenes just a little less convincing than bright ones, and is the single most compelling reason to save up for the step-up £2,800 Sony VPL-HW55ES.

Should i buy a Sony VPL-HW40ES?

You should definitely very seriously think about buying an HW40ES. It’s a truly outstanding projector for its money, delivering picture quality that punches well above its sub-£2k pricing weight.

Its only real rival at this price point is the Epson TW7200 – and it has to be said that this, too, is an excellent projector. For us the TW7200 is marginally better when it comes to black level depths, but the HW40ES is brighter and handles colour with more finesse.

Verdict

Being the cheapest model in Sony’s new SXRD range hasn’t stopped the HW40ES from being another superb projector.

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