Sony VPL-HW40ES Three-Chip SXRD Projector Review Highlights
With the best elements of the $4,000 Sony VPL-HW55ES and selling for only $2,500, the Sony VPL-HW40ES is a budget projector that performs like an All Star. Over 1,500 lumens of light, a clean grayscale and good color accuracy lets the Sony power any size screen you are likely to pair with it.
Panel alignment could be better, and a manual iris to reduce light output would help, but those don’t detract much in the end. The Sony VPL-HW40ES gets most of it right and outperforms all other projectors in the price range that I have used.
Sony VPL-HW40ES Three-Chip SXRD Projector Highlight Summary
- 1600 Lumens
- Accurate Grayscale and Colors
- Flexible Setup with Zoom and Lens Shift
- Silent in use
- No manual or dynamic iris
- Color Management System doesn’t work
Introduction to the Sony VPL-HW40ES Three-Chip SXRD Projector Review
I love the Sony VPL-HW50ES and VPL-HW55ES projectors. With bright images, accurate colors, and silent performance they are fantastic for the price. $4,000 is still more than many people can afford to spend on a projector. What if you take the 55ES, remove a lot of the features and menu options that you may not use, and cut the price down to $2,500? Then you would have the Sony VPL-HW40ES.
SONY VPL-HW40ES PROJECTOR REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: 3-Chip SXRD, 1920 x 1080p Projector
- Inputs: 2x HDMI 1.4a, 1x Component Video
- Brightness: 1,700 Lumens
- Contrast Ratio: 120,000:1 Dynamic
- Refresh Rate: 240 Hz
- Control: Remote In, RS-232
- Zoom: 1.6x Manual
- Lens Shift: 25% Horizontal, 71% Vertical; Manual
- Warranty: 3 Years
- Dimensions: 7.1″ H x 16″ W x 18.25″ D
- Weight: 21.1 Pounds
- Included Accessories: Lens Cap, Power Cord
- MSRP: $2,499 USD
- SECRETS Tags: Sony, Projectors, Projector Reviews, Sony VPL-HW40ES, 1080p, Projector Reviews 2014
The VPL-HW40ES loses the dynamic iris and a few menu options from the 55ES. It doesn’t include 3D glasses, but keeps the performance of the 55ES while saving you a lot of money. For $2,500 I believe it is the best projector you can pick up for your home theater right now.
Design and Setup of the Sony VPL-HW40ES Three-Chip SXRD Projector
The VPL-HW40ES is a bright projector that works in any room. With 50 hours on the bulb it produces 1,580 lumens in Bright Cinema mode. Even with ambient light you will have no issue seeing what is on screen. There are a minimal number of inputs on the 40ES: Two HDMI, a Component, and a VGA DSub, but that is enough for most.
There are four color temperature presets: D55, D65, D75, and D93. A Custom 5 setting with cuts and gains allows you to calibrate a custom white point as well. The D55 setting measured at 6100K on my screen while the D65 was almost 7500K. With any projection system the room and screen are going to affect what you see on screen after it leaves the projector. The VPL-HW55ES has four more Custom settings for Color Temperature. The 40ES has just a subset of these, but few people need more than one custom setting.
Sony includes their full color management system, called Real Color Processing. I still find it causes more issues than it fixes and recommend leaving it disabled for best performance. Many gamma curves are available, including the popular 2.2 and 2.4 choices. The 2.4 provides a gamma curve closest to the BT. 1886 standard and it what I chose to use.
The two areas where the VPL-HW40ES falls short of the 55ES for me is the lack of an iris system and worse panel alignment. Without an iris, dynamic or static, you have no way to reduce the light output. With the contrast at the lowest setting to not clipping white on my screen I get 22 foot-Lamberts of light in low lamp mode. It is odd to complain about a projector being too bright but the VPL-HW40ES might be for some. This also lets you buy a larger screen to solve the problem.
Panel alignment is not as good as it was with my VPL-HW55ES units. That unit had perfect alignment from the start. Using the panel alignment features adds digital processing but makes the image look better.
With a flexible zoom and lens shift, positioning the VPL-HW40ES is easy. Most people will be able to install it anywhere in their room without issue. After installation and calibration, it is time to watch some movies.
The Sony VPL-HW40ES Three-Chip SXRD Projector In Use
I can go back and copy my “In Use” section from the Sony VPL-HW55ES projector review and recycle it here. If you place the units side-by-side, disable the iris on the 55ES, and let me switch between them I doubt I see an immediate difference. The 55ES is sharper, but in most regards the 40ES keeps up.
Watching Pacific Rim, the heavy nighttime battles between Jaeger and Kaiju looks fantastic. Bright lights and images jump off the screen against the nighttime sky. The 40ES manages to keep backgrounds dark even with bright lights in the same image. More impressive is the texture that is present on the general’s military jacket. The subtle texture of the gray and blue fabrics is clear and detailed from the 40ES. Who needs UltraHD?
During Pacific Rim I adjusted the Reality Creation settings in the VPL-HW40ES. I find that with it turned on just a bit, right around the settings Sony ships it at, it provides a nice touch of sharpness. When you disable Reality Creation the 40ES looks soft. Kept low haloing and other artifacts are absent but the image difference is clear to see. The images below show the difference with Reality Creation enabled and disabled using a scene from the 2014 DTS Demo Disc.
Going back to high-contrast material, Skyfall looks excellent on the 40ES. The lanterns floating on the water are a brilliant red-orange while the details of Bond’s suit are still visible. The black lapel against the black suit is still easy to see instead of blending into a black blob. From the bright lights of Shanghai to the blue waters against the beach, the image from the 40ES is straight up fantastic.
Watching the repeated demo scenes from the 2014 DTS Demo Disc I don’t see a thing out of place. One feature that causes more debate on Sony projectors is Film Projection mode. Using a black frame insertion, the image looks more like film which always has black frames between images. At home this appears to most people as flicker and many people dislike that. I find if I leave it on and watch I find myself not noticing the flicker, but this is a choice best left to the individual.
In my theater the Sony VPL-HW40ES is a fantastic projector. The only recent projector I prefer for a regular sized screen is the JVC X700 that costs more than three times as much. Compared to other $2,500 projectors I’ve reviewed the VPL-HW40ES is the best I’ve seen.
The Sony VPL-HW40ES Three-Chip SXRD Projector On The Bench
All measurements are made using CalMAN software from SpectraCal. An AJA T-Tap and Virtual Forge software generate test patterns and both an i1Pro and C6 take measurements. I use the BT. 1886 gamma target and Rec. 709 colorspace as targets for the calibration.
The default mode on the VPL-HW40ES is Cinema Film which is good out of the box. The D65 white point leans to blue as the RGB Balance chart shows. The 2.4 preset gamma is good but not perfect. Using the Rec. 709 preset the colors have errors you can see in the CIE and dE2000 error charts and on-screen. Without any calibration instruments this is what someone will wind up with. The 22.6 ftL light level is the lowest I can achieve on my screen without clipping whites.
Post-calibration everything improves. The RGB balance improves using a custom white point. Slight adjustments to color and hue result in the color errors disappearing. None of these errors rise above the visible level of 3.0 dE2000 and so the image is perfect when you watch it.
Since 100% red still has an issue I use the Real Color Processing to adjust that and only adjust Red. All other colors remain at defaults in the RCP control. 100% red improves, but every saturation below 100% now has large visible errors. The 100% grayscale balance isn’t as good as it was, and skin tones have too-little red in them now. With how accurate the VPL-HW40ES is without Real Color Processing, I recommend leaving it off.
As mentioned earlier in the review, the VPL-HW40ES projector produces almost 1600 lumens with 50 hours on the bulb. Measuring contrast using a luminance meter I measure a contrast ratio in high lamp mode of 5,035:1. For gamers out there the Sony VPL-HW40ES does include a game preset. Once selected, and if you disable Reality Creation, the total lag on it is only 26ms. All this does is disable Film Processing in the menu. Using Auto 1, the default mode, has 61ms of lag, and Auto 2 has 30ms of lag.
The VPL-HW40ES looks good out of the box, but looks even better with a calibration. The light output is good, input lag is the lowest of any projector I’ve measured, and the contrast ratio is good for the price. The VPL-HW40ES is an excellent performer on the test bench.
Conclusions about the Sony VPL-HW40ES Three-Chip SXRD Projector
Given the similarities between the 40ES and 55ES projector, it wouldn’t surprise me if they are the same. The 40ES has a subset of the 55ES features and aside from the missing iris there seem to be no hardware differences. I would even guess that the 40ES is a 55ES where the panel alignment isn’t as good and a few missing software features.
So what does that make the VPL-HW40ES? It makes a projector that was a good value at $4,000 a steal at $2,500. It is bright, accurate, and has an image that you will love. It runs almost silent even in high lamp mode. The thing I miss from the 55ES is being able to step down the iris to let me limit the light output for my screen. If the only major complaint about a projector is that it’s too bright, that’s a well made projector.
If you’ve wanted the Sony VPL-HW55ES projector but it was just too expensive, than the VPL-HW40ES will suit you. Anyone looking for a projector in the $2,500 range should see the Sony before they make their choice. Otherwise there is a good chance you’re buying the wrong unit.