Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector

Introduction to the Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector

At a CEDIA that was big on 4K and sound bars, the introduction of the VPL-HW50ES went under the radar a bit. Slotting into their lineup above the HW30 and below the HW95, the HW50 comes with a few features from each of those, but also has its own unique features to set it apart. Far brighter than either of those projectors, it has the ability to fill a larger screen than they can hope to do, along with likely providing a better 3D experience thanks to the enhanced light output.

While it may have been a bit of a quiet introduction at CEDIA compared to Sony’s 4K HDTV, the 50ES is more likely to make some noise and find its way into your home than that 84″ monster is. Sony might have stumbled onto a mix here that sets the price-to-performance bar higher than they have before, and can give the best home projectors a run for their money.


  • Design: 3-chip SXRD Projector
  • Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080
  • Inputs: 2x HDMI 1.4a, 1x Component Video
  • Light Output: 1700 Lumens
  • Contrast Ratio: 100,000:1 with Iris
  • Refresh Rate: 240 Hz
  • Control: 12V trigger, Remote In, RS-232
  • Zoom: 1.6x manual
  • Lens Shift: 25% Horizontal, 71% Vertical, Manual
  • Warranty: 3 Years
  • Dimensions: 7″ H x 16″ W x 18.25″ D
  • Weight: 21.1 Pounds
  • Included Accessories: 3D Glasses, Extra Bulb, Sony Image Director Software, Lens Cap, Power Cord
  • MSRP: $3,999 USD
  • Sony
  • SECRETS Tags: Sony, Projector, Video

Design and Setup of the Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector

The Sony VPL-HW50ES falls in between the VPL-HW30ES and the VPL-VW95ES models in the Sony projector lineup. Compared to the 30ES the 50ES adds a CMS with the Sony’s Real Color Processing, 400 more lumens, more placement flexibility and anamorphic lens support, as well as their Reality Creation engine. It doesn’t have the motorized lens memory of the 95ES, but it does have the 144-point convergence to help correct for any alignment issues in the panels or chromatic fringing from those using an anamorphic lens. Using this will correct some alignment issues but at the expense of 1:1 pixel mapping, much like keystone correction. What it does have on both of these projectors is lumens: 1700 of them according to the specifications and my measurements.

With a similar design to the other Sony projectors, the 50ES has a rounded top with manual lens shift controls on it, and zoom and focus controls around the lens. The power button, along with controls and inputs are all located on the right side of the projector. One thing that Sony could improve on the outside of their projectors would be larger adjustable feet to get it perfectly level, as the feet on the 50ES are tiny and impossible to adjust without lifting the whole projector up. Aside from that little issue, the 50ES has a very nice design.

Compared to other LCOS systems, the SXRD panels in the Sony operate at 240 Hz, which does allow for better motion than those the run at 120 Hz. The Sony also allows for dark frame insertion, which provides a more theatrical look and also increases motion resolution at the same time. Finally the 50ES has a fully automated iris system that allows you to adjust how dynamic it is, or use it manually to control the amount of light coming from the 50ES.

Once positioned and hooked up, I started measured the different preset modes that the 50ES includes. There are many, but the Reference mode lived up to the name and provided me with the best results overall. Even in this well calibrated mode, I was still getting over 700 lumens with the lamp in low power mode and the iris half closed, showing the Sony has plenty of lamp power for almost anyone.

Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector In Use

After calibration I watched the VPL-HW50ES on a 122″ 2.40 Screen Innovations SolarHD screen, which has a 96″ image when viewing 16:9 content. I started out with The Expendables 2 as it had just arrived to view. The movie may not be the best, but the Sony does a great job of revealing everything on the transfer. Text labels lack aliasing and the Sony showed off the pixel structure of the letters, showing that it has a very sharp image. CGI inserted into the film was more visible as it didn’t fully match the surroundings, but might be hidden away on smaller or lower quality displays. Zoomed into the screen the light-spill at the top and bottom of the screen wasn’t visible as it can be on projectors with a higher black level.

Overall the transfer of The Expendables 2 was very soft, and hiding most fine detail, so I enabled Reality Creation on the 50ES to see if it helped. The noise reduction wasn’t necessary but the detail enhancement accented contrast changes and gave me an image that often looked to have more detail. There seemed to be the finest amount of film grain visible but I believe that’s more an artifact of Reality Creation than it making the grain more visible. At the default level there would be occasional times that the enhancement went too far, with visible ringing on Stalone’s face, but it could be dialed back to reduce that. For a soft transfer like this, I thought that Reality Creation did a good job of seeming to enhance detail, though dialing it back helps to keep it from going too far. Finding the right balance with the Reality Creation controls is the key and it will be different for each movie possibly.

With the newly remastered Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray, the transfer was near perfect and better served without Reality Creation enabled. Enabling it on a better transfer made the effect look more like edge enhancement with haloing than something adding detail so I left it off. Lawrence of Arabia was a film I never wanted to watch at home, as having seen it in 70mm in theaters the home experience just couldn’t compare. With the new transfer (also done by Sony at their ColorWorks facility) and an ultra-wide screen, the home experience could finally compete with the cinema.

Lawrence was simple breathtaking to watch through the Sony. Colors were accurate and true, and small details were very visible. Dark scenes had very good shadow detail that was free of a tint. Enabling Film Resolution on the Sony adds black frames between frames to improve motion resolution and add a more film-like image, but also adds a bit of visible flicker than many will find distracting. I found that the Sony handles motion better than other LCOS projectors, with less apparent blurring even without motion interpolation, but not as well as a DLP still. The higher refresh rate of the SXRD panels compared to LCOS is likely the cause of this improvement, though you may only notice if switching between the two.

Drive is my favorite dark scene test now, with the opening heist sequence featuring not only dark segments, but also dark scenes with highlights that make it harder to cheat by using a dynamic iris or other device. This looked as good as I can remember seeing it on a projector, even compared to displays with higher on/off contrast ratios. Enabling the iris led to darker scenes with better shadow details and was very transparent in operation. The numbers will show that some other projectors can do better contrast ratios, but in practice here I couldn’t recall anything looking better.

On Hugo 3D the Sony is plenty bright to provide an image that most people will be happy to watch. The depth here was very good, with scenes of the train station offering a huge amount of depth but still having very good pop due to the brightness of the Sony. In really fast action scenes I would still see breakup in the image as, outside of DLP and plasma, every other technology has issues keeping up with the speed and frame-rate of 3D for me. On Finding Nemo 3D these issues were far less common, with only a couple of them occurring during the film that really bothered me. This was some of the best 3D I’ve watched at home, and one of the few projectors I can imagine watching on a regular basis.

Football and other sports is an area where the Sony excels. With a 96″ screen in a fully lit room, I was able to switch the 50ES into BrightTV mode, drop the contrast from Max to 85 to remove some color clipping, and still get over 40 fL in my room. The resulting image was big and bright as a plasma or LCD would be, only much larger than those can do. Using motion interpolation on low worked great with football, though commercials still looked a bit fake this way. I didn’t see artifacts or halos surrounding players as some interpolation systems produce, and wanted to go invite friends over to watch the game with me. I thought that Sony did the best job with sports last year of the projectors I reviewed, and with the high light output of the 50ES it is even better this year.

In usability terms, the Sony 50ES is very well done. Lens shift adjustments are well done for manual ones, but automated ones that would allow for lens memory would be nice to have. The 50ES itself is virtually silent in operation, even in high lamp mode. The remote is very well laid out, with all the necessary buttons being backlit and direct access to Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness controls. The OSD is also very well done with the adjustments being smaller on screen, and black and white, so they don’t make it hard to adjust the display correctly.

For performance, the Sony VPL-HW50ES gave me very little to complain about. If I really want to be picky, the black frame insertion of the Film Processing mode introduces a little too much flicker for me, but I just disabled it and still had the proper film cadence on screen. Otherwise the Sony presents a bright, colorful, accurate image that will satisfy even an overly picky cinephile.

Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector On The Bench

There are a number of preset modes on the Sony VPL-HW50ES projector to test, but two of them will be of the most interest to readers. The Reference mode tested the best and is used for all of the charts here. The BrightTV mode was the brightest mode, with almost 1700 lumens at its default settings. I did find that turning the Contrast down from Max to 85 will remove clipping in red, which leads to horrible bluish whites, but had a negligible effect on light output by eye while producing a much better image.

Using the Reference mode, the Sony VPL-HW50ES was relatively accurate on my Solar HD screen. With the iris set to manual mode and half open, it still produced 19.5 fL on a 96″, 1.3 gain screen. It delivered a 5500:1 contrast ratio here with the iris on manual and the lamp on low. The grayscale was a bit blue with an average CCT of 7168 and an average dE2000 of 3.8. The gamma was 2.24 on average, but wasn’t flat as can be seen in the graph.

The color gamut was good, if a bit under-saturated at the extremes. The luminance error was low at 0.57 dE94_L on average, and an overall average dE2000 for colors of 2.57. When we look at the color checker averages, we see an average dE2000 of 2.89 that is pretty good for a display with no adjustments done.

Finally looking at the saturations for the Sony, we do see that colors are a bit under-saturated across the board, but not really badly. The average dE2000 for all the saturations is 2.81, very close to the average dE2000 we found in the color checker chart as well. Overall in Reference mode, the Sony did a good job on a neutral screen without any adjustments. With gray or other screens, you might find more of a color shift with the default settings.

For calibration I utilized the user mode, targeting 16 fL for peak light output. On a 96″ 1.3 gain Solar HD screen, I got 15.98 fL of light with the lamp on low and the iris manually set to 50. This allows for a lot of room to open the iris and switch the lamp to high as it ages without the screen dimming. The black level was 0.0029 fL, giving a contrast ratio of 5550:1. With the dynamic iris engaged, the black level was too low to measure.

Using the two-point grayscale, the color balance was nearly perfect, though overall it did run a little bit warm with a CCT of 6419 on average. The gamma was almost a perfect 2.2 other than a spike at 5%. If I had measured at every 10% instead of 5% as most people do it would look perfect, but overall the gamma was very good.

The overall dE average was 0.75 across the whole grayscale, with the worst values at 10% and 100% only being around 1.75. Looking at the grayscale it will be totally neutral with gamma that is near ideal.

On the CIEuv diagram, the points are very close, though the red is a bit under-saturated at the maximum. I was able to correct this using the Real Color Processing, but that caused very bad results on the red values below 100%. Green suffers from this same issue. Instead I found I got much better values by targeting 75% instead of 100% saturation, and limiting my adjustments in the RCP module to +/-5 instead of the maximum of 30. When done this way this gamut looks slightly off, but the saturations and color checker charts later will look much better.

Even with these issues, the maximum color dE at 100% saturation was only 3 for Red, and close to that for green. The average dE for fully saturated colors is only OK at 1.747. However, we can look at the color saturations and see a different story.

Now we see that the largest errors happen at 100%, and everything below 100% is much more accurate. As values below 100% are much more common than 100%, this leads to some charts that look worse, but real world content that looks much better. It’s very possible to have perfect regular charts and an image that looks horrible, so these extra charts provide a fuller picture of what a display can do. The average dE for all these saturations was only 1.3939, so the error overall is not visible.

The color checker chart contains common colors from nature, and has shades that you would not target in a CMS system, so you can’t fake this data as easily and still have a bad picture. Our average error for the Color Checker chart is 1.4194 dE2000, which is very good. The largest issue is in a couple shades of blue, which is the color we want the most error in, so this is very good to see.

Pre-calibration, the Sony VPL-HW50ES is good when set to Reference mode, but after a calibration it can really excel. The biggest problem is that the RCP control lacks enough bit-depth to allow for large changes, and you can get better results with the combination of using 75% saturation targets and keeping the RCP changes at 5 or below. Sony did a very good job with the 50ES providing a very nice, very accurate image.

Conclusions about the Sony VPL-HW50ES Projector

The VPL-HW50ES floated a bit under the radar at CEDIA, with 4K being the hot word and not having a real hot feature to latch onto. Having used it for an extended time with a lot of content, I can say it has left me incredibly impressed. Of the projectors that I have reviewed in 2012, I’m going to go ahead and put the 50ES at the top of the list as the one that I want to keep in my theater.

It delivers a fantastic image that has very good native contrast, a dynamic iris that works invisibly, and calibration results that are superb. The amount of light that it puts out really sets it apart, allowing you to use a much larger screen than before, and enjoy 3D films that would not be enjoyable to watch on a dim display. Its smaller things that are harder to quantify that really set it apart in my book. The motion on it is better than other LCD and LCOS projectors that I have seen, making it better for sports than other projectors and greatly reducing the blur in films. The projector is very quiet in use as well, even in high lamp mode so you can run it in a room without needing to isolate it.

The Reality Creation mode helps to make poor transfers or soft films look better, though it can also distract from a really well done transfer unless you turn it off for those. The inclusion of a spare bulb is just icing on the cake, allowing you to use the Sony for years without needing to buy anything else. Unless you need a feature the Sony doesn’t offer, it now becomes my go-to projector recommendation by offering a fantastic image and an amazing value. Incredibly highly recommended.