Sony VPL-VW790ES 4K HDR laser projector review

hccrefstatusbadgeThis high-end laser projector does things with HDR that John Archer can barely believe

No consumer-focused home cinema projector manufacturer has more experience with both native 4K resolution and laser lighting than Sony. I've known this for a while, but I still wasn't prepared for the performance prowess of its £12,000 VPL-VW790ES. This is a premium beamer that's capable of leaving your jaw on the floor.

The VW790ES story starts with two new features not available on its VW760ES predecessor: a Dynamic HDR Enhancer, and the X1 for Projector processor based on (but not the same as) the X1 Ultimate processor found in Sony's high-grade TVs.

The Dynamic HDR Enhancer is essentially a dynamic tone mapping system that analyses every frame of an HDR source so that the projector can continually judge the best combination of laser light output and iris opening provided by Sony's so-called Dual Contrast Control system.

In other words, the VW790ES can brighten bright areas with signal processing while simultaneously dimming its light source to create more convincing dark areas – all potentially within a single frame. This sounds like something local dimming on a TV would do, even though local dimming on a projector isn't actually possible.

The X1 for Projector processor drives the Dynamic HDR Enhancer – but it doesn't stop there. Additional tricks include a 'Super Resolution' sharpness and detail booster, which claims to use pattern-matching algorithms derived from a vast image database to enhance picture crispness without exaggerating source noise, and is fantastically effective at upscaling sub-4K content.


The VW790ES sports the 4,096 x 2,160 native resolution we've come to expect from Sony's 'true' 4K projectors, while claimed peak brightness is 2,000 Lumens (just as on the previous VW760ES model).

Dynamic contrast is rated as 'Infinity:1' – something I suppose it can claim because one of the projector's modes actually turns the laser completely off during fade-to-blacks.

A much more realistic 'big number' is the suggested 20,000 hours of life for Sony's laser. There's no need to change lamps regularly as you do with lamp projectors. The VW790ES is large by domestic standards (over 50cm wide) but looks quite charming thanks to its vaguely elliptical shape, grilled front edge and large, centrally mounted lens. It also makes great use of its size to keep cooling fan noise exceptionally low.

Connections are two HDMI inputs, two 12V triggers, a service LAN, RS-232C control port, and a mini-jack IR in. Sadly, although hardly surprisingly, the HDMIs don't support such features as 4K at 120Hz, variable refresh rates or automatic low-latency mode switching. At least the projector gets input lag down to a respectably low 35.9ms if you activate its Input Lag Reduction option. This delivers the same result in any picture preset, too; you're not limited to the Game mode.

The VW790ES continues Sony's support for 3D (though no glasses were available for this review), and can play the HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range formats. There's no support for Dolby Vision HDR, but this is true of practically every other projector around.

Initial setup is phenomenally easy. All lens adjustments are motorised, the 2.06x zoom is generous, and there's plenty of vertical and horizontal image shift flexibility.

This The Greatest Show!
The image quality here is, in a word, incredible. It's more revolution than evolution, especially with HDR sources.

Right from the opening shots of The Greatest Showman on 4K Blu-ray, Sony's movie mogul serves up levels of dynamism, contrast and colour range that seem to fly in the face of projection possibility.