A brief background on front projection technology
As is common in my blogs, I try to make sure they are not overly technical and a little entertaining (some might argue this last point). But I feel as if I must insert a little education in them to avoid doing a real disservice. Kind of like when you were a kid and your mom used to disguise vegetables as something they were not. You knew you were eating vegetables, but you had to give her credit for trying and then gag a few down. Perhaps this was just my childhood. So with that thought in mind, it’s time to gag down a few facts about the various projector technologies in order to appreciate the main course … the Sony VPL-VW10000ES 4K projector.
For all intents and purposes, there are 4 different technologies most commonly used in front projection: DLP, LCD, D-ILA, and SXRD. To be fair, D-ILA and SXRD are variations on LCD technology, so one could argue that there are really 2 basic technologies. If I were to go into detail about each, this would quickly become a very long and boring article. That’s what Wikipedia is for. Suffice it to say that each technology has its merits, and each can be utilized to create an amazing home theater experience. Sony has embraced SXRD, and because so has been able to bring amazing technology and performance at very enticing prices.
Pixel pixel on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all
Now we need to talk about resolution. While there are still a large number of STANDARD DEFINITION or EXTENDED DEFINITION projectors out there, no respectable home theater would ever utilize one of these. To compare the differences in resolution, or how sharp the picture is, we must talk about number of pixels. The picture we see on any display, flat panel or front projection, is made up of vertical and horizontal rows of pixels. By multiplying them together, you get the total number of pixels. Standard Definition (SD) is 720 horizontal by 480 vertical, or 345,600 total pixels. Why this may seem like a lot, it is not. High definition (HD) is 1920 horizontal by 1080 vertical, or 2,073,600. And we all can agree that HD looks way better then SD. In the front projection world, HD was the best we could hope for. And as long as you don’t make the screen too big, or sit too close, the experience can be remarkable.
Meanwhile, in the world of ACTUAL movie theaters, a transition is occurring. In the past, movies were shot and distributed on film. Film is very expensive. It’s expensive to make, and expensive to ship. No two prints of the same film look exactly the same. And every time the movie is played, the projector inflicts damage to the film. So you could argue that the transition to digital was inevitable. Hollywood has started using digital to shoot more and more movies, and movie theaters are replacing film projectors with digital projectors. Those early films and projectors used 2K equipment, which is 2048 horizontal x 1080 vertical, slightly better than standard HD that we enjoy today. But it was pretty obvious that this was simply not enough pixels to replace film. You see, movie theater screens are, for the most part, big. I remember seeing “Star Wars – Attack of the Clones” in 2K, and being very disappointed. The solution was easy … more pixels. Enter 4K.
The revolution WILL be televised, thanks to Sony
4K is made up of 4096 horizontal by 2160 vertical pixels, or 8,847,360 pixels. That, my friends, is a lot of pixels. If you’ve been to one of the better movie theaters recently, you’ve probably already experienced 4K for yourself. I myself will only see modern movies in 4K equipment movie houses. It’s that good.
There are approximately 40,000 movie screens in the U.S., and about 24,000 of them have been converted to digital. Of those, about 8000 are using 4K technology from Sony, including just about every IMAX theater. Sony has been on the forefront of helping theaters convert from film to digital. So it was a natural progression that they would want to do the same for home theaters.
Bigger is better
The big question is: do we really need almost 9 million pixels for a home theater? Need is a funny thing. We need air, and food, and water, and sleep. No – we don’t need a projector that can display 9 million pixels. Unless you want the best home theater possible. Unless you want a picture that matches the sound in “wow” factor. Unless you want to push the envelope and get a screen that’s a bit too big for the room. Unless you want your buddies to have a serious case of theater envy. And unless you want a projector that is ready for the future … today.
Which brings us to the Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K SXRD projector. We received our demo unit last week. Within minutes it was unboxed and sitting on a table in front of our biggest home theater screen, a temporary set-up to allow us to put it through the paces. While we had seen this projector before at the CEDIA and CES shows, and were blown away by it, nothing prepared us for our first night with 4K. Wait, that sounds a little dirty.
Usually first generation products are more hype than substance, more trade-off than actual performance. Not here. This projector lives up to the hype, and more. The image it produces is bright, vibrant, realistic and razor sharp. Pixels are nowhere to be found. And the 3D performance is the best we’ve seen, period. Heck, the projector itself is even kind of sexy looking, as big projectors go. More important, it’s very quiet. No need to hide this projector in a soffit or hush box.
But wait, you ask, what are you watching that has 4K resolution? Simple answer: nothing. Native 4K content is still in the future. The great news is that currently available Blu-ray discs have the capacity to hold 4K resolution and current HDMI standards can pass 4K. So the infrastructure is in place, it’s just going to take a while to implement. In the mean time, the Sony 4K projector up-converts standard HD to 4K resolution. And it does an amazing job of it. No matter what we threw at this projector, it simply excels. This is especially true of less than perfect Blu-ray discs, the ones that we call “projector killers”. It seems as though everything just looks better in 4K.
The shameless plug
So is the Sony VPL-VW1000ES the benchmark by which all other projectors are to be measured? We think so, and this includes projectors costing many times more. If you are setting up a home theater, you must come and audition this projector, even if it is out of your budget. It’s important to see the benchmark, the performance you are aiming for. Then Hermary’s can demonstrate other options available to help you create the ultimate home theater experience. Of course, once you see 4K, there may be no going back. You have been warned.