The mid-range projector market is mostly dominated by three brands: Sony, JVC, and Epson. With JVC starting at $4,000 and Epson moving the 5040UB to $2,700, it leaves the Sony VPL-HW45ES as the only $2,000 projector from those companies. It offers wonderful black levels with a great contrast ratio, accurate colors, flexibility for installation, and plenty of light output for a superb on-screen image. For the price, you won’t find a better projector out there today.
Scaled down high-end
The Sony VPL-HW45ES is basically a Sony VPL-HW65ES without lots of the extra features for half the price. Lots of the features that you lose out on are not essential. Do you need more than one white balance preset, or are you just going to use a single one? Is that PC input essential, or are you only using HDMI? Do you have a drop-down screen that needs a 12V trigger, or do you have one in your receiver that works just as well?
Now you don’t get everything from the 65ES. The major loss is the dynamic iris that the 65ES has. At the $2,000 price range, you can’t find a projector with a dynamic iris, so this isn’t a surprise. Overall what you lose from the 65ES are features that you can’t find in this price range, and that many people won’t miss much. What you keep are the SXRD panels that provide great contrast ratios, a flexible menu system with lots of adjustments, and all the essential inputs and features you need.
You have a pair of HDMI 1.4 inputs so all of your non-UltraHD sources are handled. The lens includes a 1.6x zoom range and plenty of horizontal and vertical shift for most install situations. The UHP bulb has plenty of lumens for running a 120” screen or possibly a bit larger. At 120” you could get away with low lamp mode, but going larger will take high lamp mode and cause the 45ES fans to run louder.
Fewer features, fantastic image
In my world, companies would focus more on performance than on features. So often those extra features are not things you really need. My Anthem MRX 1120 is this way, and the Sony VPL-HW45ES is too. Tested with a Stewart Studiotek 100 92” screen, the Sony puts out an image that is bright and clear, with great blacks and accurate colors, along with a low input lag to make gamers happy. At the $2,000 price point, the Sony currently stands alone for value.
With movies, the Sony VPL-HW45ES looks fantastic. The Reference mode on the projector offers a neutral, accurate image that lets Blu-ray content look superb. Watching The Magnificent Seven remake the bold palette stands out on the Sony. Colors are vibrant and rich but not pushed to be unrealistic. The black level of Denzel Washington’s pure black suit are really deep, but still show the textures of the lapel against the jacket. At low lamp mode on my 92” screen I had more than 27-foot lamberts of brightness, far more than you need.
Darker films including the final Harry Potter or Skyfall are fantastic on the Sony. Scenes of intense shadow detail show far more information than you can see in cheaper DLP projectors. The improved contrast ratio lets the lanterns during the Macau sequence in Skyfall pop off the screen. Letterbox bars disappear into the darkness, whereas with cheaper projectors you can more easily notice them.
Motion on the Sony VPL-HW45ES is handled well. It isn’t as razor sharp as a DLP, but I didn’t see of of the slight stuttering that I’ve seen with some LCOS models in the past. Watching TV at 60Hz the images are clean and clear, and it handles deinterlacing of 1080i well. Watching football that I have saved to my DVR, I have no complaints about how it looks on the Sony. Legion from FX the image looks as good as you can expect from cable with that retro color palette looking wonderfully 70’s on-screen.
If you are a gamer, which I’m not, you’ll benefit from the low input mode option on the Sony. With this enabled you have under 1.5 frames of lag, much better than most projectors on the market. A DLP might still be more ideal for the pickiest gamers since the motion is better, but for most people the Sony will be plenty good for you.
Bench Test Data
We tested the Sony VPL-HW45ES using CalMAN 2016, a Murideo Six-G pattern generator, i1Pro2 spectrometer and C6 colorimeters. We target the HDTV color gamut with the BT.1886 gamma function. We would target a light output level of 16-foot lamberts on our screen, but the Sony has no iris so we can’t adjust that.
Overall in Reference mode the Sony VPL-HW45ES is very accurate. The film modes are less accurate, with a definite color shift to it and a reduced color gamut. Some people might like the of this, but it certainly is not accurate at all. For those that want a neutral, reference quality image you should use the Reference mode on the Sony and the D65 color temperature.
With the Sony VPL-HW45ES, the preset Reference mode is the correct starting point. The Cinema modes add a color shift towards red that also reduces the color gamut. Some people might like the look that it is after, but Reference is the correct place to start for an image that is accurate and neutral.
Pre-calibration in Reference we see the gamma has a dip down while the grayscale has some red and blue shifts. The colors are off in the color checker, with a bit of under-saturation and a slight tint shift towards red as well. The overall numbers are OK, but they can be improved upon.
Post-calibration these issues are resolved. The gamma still doesn’t track BT.1886 perfectly but it does better than before. We see a large improvement in the accuracy of colors for both saturations and the color checker. The only real downside to the final numbers is that you get around 92% of the Rec.709 gamut and not the full 100%, but overall it comes in very close.
For gamers, make sure to enable the Game Mode on the VPL-HW45ES. Input lag is a low 22ms while with game mode disabled that rises all the way up to 106ms. For any gamer that input lag is going to be almost as low as you can get, but you might still be best served by a DLP with better motion resolution and slightly higher lag times like the BenQ HT2050 or HT6050.
Improvements and Criticism
My main issue with the Sony VPL-HW45ES is one that most people won’t have as I need a 12V trigger for my projection screen. With a 12V trigger, the screen drops down automatically when the projector is turned on. Without it I have to rely on my receiver, which means watching TV is harder to do. Most people don’t have this issue but some might.
There also is no Ethernet built into the Sony you have to rely on old-school methods for control like IR remotes, but again, not a problem for most people. I’d certainly prefer the option for IP control and potential firmware updates with Ethernet, but 99% of people will never realize it isn’t there.
I’d also like Sony to redesign the dials used to control lens shift. The much larger ones used by Epson are easier to dial in and get right, especially when the projector is ceiling mounted. I always feel like I’m going to go too far and damage the lens system with the Sony, though I never have.
A tremendous value in projectors
For people that want a home theater projector with better blacks than a DLP projector, the Sony VPL-HW45ES is the most affordable option that offers a large improvement. Contrast ratios of 5,000:1 give you far better blacks and image pop than a DLP can offer at a price that keeps getting lower. For most people the extra features offered by the VPL-HW65ES aren’t necessary unless, like me, you’re running a drop down projector screen or a home automation system that needs them.
The biggest competitor is the Epson 5040UB. Recently cut to $2,700 from $3,000, the Epson offers all those missing features from the VPL-HW45ES along with lens setup you can control from the remote, a larger, sharper lens, wide color gamut support, and a dynamic iris for even better contrast ratios. With 1080p content the images are very similar in performance, but the Epson is easier to install and more future proof. If you mostly watch Blu-ray content or TV, it’s hard to say that you’ll see the full 35% price increase on screen.
The Sony VPL-HW45ES hits that sweet spot for home theater use. It is an easy recommendation, and the best looking projector we’ve ever watched at this price.