Sony VPL-VW790ES Projector Page 2

The main reason for this hyperbole is the stunning one-two punch of the VW790ES's light and dark handling. Black levels are impressively deep, peak highlights spectacular. Where spotlights burst through the darkness of P.T. Barnum's tent as the film's opening sequence builds, the intensity of their light is phenomenal – truly HDR – while the blackness around them looks richer than on any other laser projector I've seen.

The secret to the VW790ES's success in this respect is that Dynamic HDR Enhancer tool. Its Middle and High settings both manage to pump up the luminance of the brightest image elements without significantly raising black levels elsewhere. So the reflections on Jenny Lind's sparkling dress during her big number, or the glittering, heavily saturated costumes of Barnum's troupe in that opening scene, fizz with intensity.

It's not just in the extremes that these HDR talents pay off. Uniformly bright (eg, daylight) scenes achieve a much punchier look than they do without the feature active, which means they look much more lifelike.

This PJ's colour performance is also remarkable. Once Barnum erupts into the spotlights in The Greatest Showman's opener, the image is like nothing I've seen outside of a TV, with vivid, vibrant colours swirling around the screen and still room to find an extra gear for the circus owner's deliberately exaggerated red jacket. Colours are saturated yet don't lose detail, and the VW790ES's colour range 'keeps up' with its brightness so nothing appears washed out.

Sony's native 4K silicon is equally important to this performance allure. There's a sense of immediacy, density, texture and clarity to this projector's pictures that outguns the many 'pseudo' 4K models that use pixel-shifting or mirror-flashing technologies to deliver a 4K effect.

A True Cinema setting with the Motionflow suite helps the clarity hold up when an image contains movement, without over-smoothing pictures so that they no longer look filmic (Smooth High and Smooth Low are other options).

Note that most of my findings here were enjoyed using the Film 1 and Film 2 presets, where Sony manipulates HDR to marry it up with the projector's capabilities. If you want an ostensibly accurate image, the VW790ES's Reference mode turns off Dynamic HDR Enhancer and delivers a more literal take on HDR's light range, complete with a little more detail in the most peak bright areas. The image looks much less intense and actually less dynamic, however, than it would appear on monitors/TVs. HDR on a projector always entails compromise somewhere, and for me it makes sense to use modes available that get the most from it – particularly when you've paid £12,000 for the privilege.

With that price in mind, I'll stress that the VW790ES's performance isn't flawless. While black levels are very good for a laser-based model, they're not as deliciously inky as those of JVC's latest lamp-based DLA projectors (yet JVC's models can't deliver HDR with nearly so much elan). Also, if you have the projector's Dynamic Control option on Full, which delivers the best black levels, that's when you'll see the laser turning off completely during fade-to-blacks, resulting in a distracting 'lights off/lights on' effect.

I spotted tiny traces of colour banding in some known-to-be-difficult scenes, such as the dusk before the parting of the sea in Exodus (4K Blu-ray), and this was even with the X1 For Projector processor's smooth gradation feature active. Finally, I'd suggest using the Film 2 mode for SDR rather than the Film 1 mode, as the former delivers more natural-feeling SDR skin tones.

'Hello, Is That The Loans Department?'
This last point is less a complaint and more a bit of advice. So here's some more: if you can find £12,000 without doing anything illegal or stupid, then the VPL-VW790ES is a brilliant way for any home cinema lover to spend it. Reference-grade, despite my minor gripes.

HCC Verdict

Sony VPL-VW790ES

Price: £12,000

We say: Sony's laser-focused VW790ES manages to make HDR look not just good but great, breaking new ground for home cinema projection.

Overall: 5/5


3D: Yes. Active shutter 4K: Yes. 4,096 x 2,160 resolution HDR: Yes. HDR10; HLG CONNECTIONS: 2 x HDMI inputs (v2.0); USB service port; Ethernet service port; RS-232C; IR control; 12V trigger BRIGHTNESS (CLAIMED): 2,000 Lumens CONTRAST (claimed): 'Infinity:1' (dynamic) ZOOM: 2.06x DIMENSIONS: 560(w) x 223(h) x 496(d)mm WEIGHT: 20kg

FEATURES: SXRD laser projection system; X1 for Projector processor; Dynamic HDR Enhancer; vertical (+85/-80%) and horizontal (+/-31%) image shift; powered focus, zoom and image shift; 1:38-2:83:1 throw ratio; claimed 24dB fan noise; 4K Motionflow processing; Dual Contrast Control; Super Resolution Reality Creation; 4K/60Hz max video support