Sony VPL-HW30ES / VPL-HW30AES

My review of the HW30... Or is it? Below are my impressions of Sony's VPL-HW30ES / VPL-HW30AES projector. I call this text "impressions" because it isn't formal enough to be considered a review. For example, I've written subjective observations and do not back them up with hard data. I hope this page helps you better understand the HW30 projector.

Introduction

2/16/2012

The VPL-HW30ES / VPL-HW30AES is a 1080P projector supporting 3D introduced by Sony in August of 2011. The HW30ES and HW30AES unit are the exact same projector, however, the HW30AES includes 2 pairs of 3D glasses. The difference between the two is limited to the extras included in the box.

What's in the box?

2/29/2012

The HW30AES comes packed tightly with the various items in every nook and cranny, so make sure you doesn't miss something when unpacking. For example, the 2nd pair of 3D glasses is hidden away in a piece of cardboard that appears to simply be packaging support. I believe it doubles as packaging support. Inside the packaging you will find the following items.

  1. Two (2) pairs of 3D glasses (TDG-JP1) and cloth cases

  2. USB charge cable

  3. AC adaptor to charge 3D glasses

  4. Projector remote

  5. Projector manual

  6. Projector lens cap

  7. Projector (obviously!)

  8. Projector AC power cable

Build Quality

2/16/2012

The HW30 is built well. It's not a tank, but it offers nothing to complain about in the fit and finish category. The case doesn't creak, fits together well, and is visibly a quality build.

Setup

2/17/2012

Ignoring the complexities of ceiling mounting, the HW30 is typical to get up and running. Connect a video source, connect the power cord, press the on button, adjust the zoom, focus and lens shift. A button on the remote called "pattern" displays several rectangles, allowing you to adjust lens shift, zoom and focus.

Note: there is an external 3D emitter, which is discussed below.

Lens shift is performed by using 2 dials near the front of the projector. One dial controls horizontal shift and the other controls vertical. The dials have no text but their orientation communicates each dial's functionality. The outermost ring on the lens controls focus while the inner ring on the lens controls zoom.

I wouldn't recommend using the lens cap on a regular basis because you can change the focus if not careful. This appears to be a common issue for any manual focus projector.

Note: The HW30 does not have a real "rocker" AC power switch. If you want to truly stop the device from consuming any power, you must physically pull the AC plug.

Connectors and Buttons

2/17/2012

The HW30 offers what seems to be the de-facto array of inputs. This includes 2 HDMI inputs, 1 Component and 1 PC/VGA input. There is no Composite or S-Video, but those are getting pretty old. Heck, there is no RF with channel 3 / 4 select either. No loss. I personally would appreciate a 3rd HDMI input. I know of one other vendor that offers 3 HDMI inputs and it provides a nice amount of additional flexibility.

All cables, including the power cable, connect to the HW30 on the right hand side of its cabinet (when viewing from the front). There are no inputs on the rear or other sides.

The controls directly on the projector are minimal but appropriate. There are 4 direction buttons, a select button, a power button, an input select button and a button to bring up the projector's menu. These buttons are located on the same side of the projector as all the cable inputs. When ceiling mounted the inputs and associated cables are all above the buttons, so they remain accessible. That is, assuming you are tall enough to reach ;)

Remote

2/17/2012

The remote is a beast. It's very large, but feels solid and well built. I'm surprised at this remote's design. It has many buttons to directly control advanced features (gamma, black level) as well as buttons for important features that are infrequently used (sharpness, contrast, brightness). However, it lacks discrete input buttons to quickly jump from, for example, Component to HDMI2.

Note: luckily discrete IR input codes do exist. See the discrete input section further below.

I've found it too easy to accidentally press buttons and unintentionally changing settings. Settings are automatically saved as soon as changed, so there is no easy undo. I also found it difficult to quickly identify the top of the remote when grabbing for it in the dark. On the plus side, the remote has a "light" button that causes the keys to illuminate.

Bottom line: I'll not be leaving this remote out for general use but it's handy for setting everything up.

Startup

2/16/2012

The projector takes slightly less than 40 seconds to start responding to IR commands and to display an image once powered on. Configure your universal remote appropriately. This isn't the first projector I've seen that ignores IR during the warm up time. I don't understand why the warm up period blocks all other functionality, but I've seen this on some other projectors (a Panny and a Sanyo) so it's not uncommon.

Menus

2/16/2012

The HW30's internal menus are reasonably well laid out. The presentation style is basic and bland, but no one purchases a projector for its user interface. The menus themselves draw quickly, but you can briefly see the menu area erase and repopulate when moving between topics. One complaint I have is that I keep selecting the "Lamp Setting" option when I want to change the bulb brightness level, but "Lamp Setting" actually means "reset lamp counter". Recite after me, "Lamp Control, which controls the lamp brightness, is under the Cinema Black Pro" menu.

While the projector generally responds quickly to commands, some commands take notably longer to complete. For example, selecting "game" or "cinema 1" takes noticeably longer for the projector to respond to subsequent commands than enabling or disabling motion flow. This is a noticeable user experience, so I mention it here. It is not an issue, in my opinion, except (perhaps) if you are trying to setup remote macros.

Brightness

2/18/2012

The brightness available from the HW30 will cause your pupils to shrink. I was watching some TV show when the network placed a barker for an upcoming show on the bottom of the screen. This barker animation started with a bright white flare and it made me close my eyes it was so bright.

Below are the light level measurements I've taken from the HW30. Note that "Cinema 1" is a very good color performing mode and not the device's brightest mode. A 100% white field was used. The dynamic iris was enabled.

Hours Lens Bulb Mode Mode Lumens (Lux) Projector Lumens
18 Wide Low Cinema 1 15.3 (165) 699
18 Wide High Cinema 1 24.6 (265) 1123
18 Mid* Low Cinema 1 14.1 (152) 644
18 Mid* High Cinema 1 22.6 (243) 1029

*Notes on "Mid"
My screen is 124" 16:9 diagonal. The projector is located just about 16' from the screen (192"). Based on the throw information (see the throw section below), the min throw is 153" and the max throw is 227". This indicates my throw is 53% between min and max, thus it's pretty safe to call it "mid".

Color

2/16/2012

The default for the HW30 out of the box is to use high lamp mode and Cinema 1. This mode doesn't disappoint. In Cinema 1 mode the projector can easily light up your room while providing very pleasing color accuracy. I've previously calibrated my other projectors, but the HW30 looks so good straight out of the box that I have no interest in spending any time in this area. Yes, I know the human eye isn't great at measuring these things, but I'm happy with the default colors. If you need to calibrate in order to feel good, you will certainly have a different perspective.

Skin tones across all variations look very natural. In the normal gamut mode the colors are realistic, but if you like a little more pizzazz you can select Wide 1 or even Wide 2 to make the colors start to take on a neon-like appearance.

Side Note: since I've had 2 HW30s, I'm happy to report that each has excellent color straight out of the box. Hopefully this is a trend for all HW30s.

Lens

2/17/2012

The HW30's lens is not the best. I'd say overall that its adequate, ranging from "meh" to good. For much of the screen I can get a sharp image, but not everywhere.

Note: Since the HW30 has manual focus, I highly suggest enlisting a helper to tightly focus this projector.

I've owned two HW30s and each had a focus issue on the left hand side of the screen (when ceiling mounted). The problem switches to the right hand side when floor mounted. Test patterns clearly show this behavior. While it's often difficult to detect defects with moving images, logic dictates that the video quality is impacted in this area. It's certainly true, however, that it doesn't stick out like a sour thumb with video. It's more noticeable when a PC input is provided. Text in that area is less sharp.

I've discovered that the zoom range greatly changes the visibility of the HW30's lens imperfections. The issue with the focus on the left hand side only occurs if I have the zoom somewhere between wide and telephoto. If I use extreme wide (PJ closest to the screen), the sides of the projected image a sharp. But Sony giveth as well as taketh. While in wide, there are some small areas at the 2/3s horizontal screen position that aren't quite as sharp. There might be others --- I got tired of looking. I haven't tested anything at telephone (furthest distance).

Interestingly enough, the loss of sharpness occurs because of a blur toward the left side of vertical lines when using a mid range throw. However, when using the wide throw (closest to the screen), the blur occurs upward from horizontal lines. It's probably safe to say variations occur across individual units. While I've seen this on 2, perhaps your is or will be different.

I feel it's important to restate the following: it's only reasonable to assume these imperfections cause some change in the video quality. However, the projected image is impressive when you don't have a known pattern to compare against.

Black Level / Screen Door / Sharpness

2/18/2012

Using Blu-ray material, I found the picture quality to simply be stunning. It is smooth as silk. Absolutely no screen door. The black levels are great. I've placed my hand in front of the projected light and compared my hand's shadow to the letterbox bars above/below a 2.35:1 movie and the difference is only slight. This low tech experiment was performed during a bright scene. Black level satisfaction is a very personal item, so put on your black level approval glasses when reading the following. I honestly don't see how any other projector could offer a significantly better level. That's not to say another projector cannot offer a better level, but it would only be modest.

The fine details from Blu-rays are absolutely present. The difference between dark and bright areas makes the image pop. I sampled content from Casino Royale, Indiana Jones KotCS, Transformers 3, Revenge of the Sith, and have found nothing to complain about. The black level performance of the HW30 provides an image with great depth even in bright scenes. Shadow performance is also excellent.

Note: my setup has the lens at mid throw (52%)

Dynamic Iris

2/17/2012

A dynamic iris is employed to achieve the published contrast ratio. This means the projector looks at scenes and decides if the sceen would benefit from closing down the iris, which causes less brightness and better black levels.

If you didn't know the projector had a dynamic iris, you would never know because it operates silently and beautifully. I've heard of other dynamic iris implementations causing clicking noises and being visible (such as causing brightness pulsing), but this is a non-issue for the HW30. The initial mongoose scene in Casino Royale is breathtaking while the intro star fight scene from Revenge of the Sith highlights the great blacks and color rendition. It's impressive to see the blackness of space, bright explosions, fast action, and a variety of colors.

Projector Noise

2/17/2012

Not only is the dynamic iris silent, but the projector itself is very quiet. In high bulb mode it is barely audible in a silent room. Once you start any type of movie, the HW30 may as well be considered silent. This holds true for 3D viewing also.

Motion Performance

2/17/2012

The topic of "motion" comes up quite frequently when discussing projectors. There is clearly no motion problem with the HW30. Fast action in Blu-rays, as well as quick pans from the Super Bowl, all look fantastic.

3D

3/4/2012

The HW30 provided me with my first opportunity to view 3D at home. It was an impressive first viewing. Noting that I'm not a brightness hound as some are, I found the 3D brightness (with Cinema 1, not the even brighter mode) to be perfectly acceptable. The 3D experience is very impressive. My daughter pronounced it to be "freaking awesome".

The HW30 has a separate brightness control for 3D. When it is set to the brightest mode, there is a little crosstalk visible. For example, in the Grand Canyon 3D Blu-ray with "the tree" scene I can see some crosstalk. It doesn't bother me and I'll accept the additional brightness over no crosstalk. Generally, however, I've noticed very little crosstalk with the highest 3D brightness setting. I'm happy enough with this setting that I don't plan to spend any time checking out the other 3D brightness levels.

The 3D glasses (TDG-JP1) themselves work very well. They have built in rechargeable batteries, so make sure they are charged when you want to view 3D. I wear glasses and have no trouble placing the 3D glasses over my glasses. I do wish that Sony had designed the nose area with more comfort in mind. After 45 minutes or so of wearing these 3D glasses your nose will no doubt be aware that you are wearing the glasses.

The 3D glasses are synched up with the projector through IR signals. These signals are emitted from a transmitter that is external to the HW30 itself. I'm pleased that Sony chose to use a standard RJ45 (Ethernet) cable to connect the emitter to the projector. These are readily available and inexpensive (go to monoprice and get whatever size you need for less that $15 with shipping, I think). Oddly Sony indicates that a CAT7 cable should be used, but my setup is working just fine with a regular CAT5e cable.

I've placed the emitted next to my center channel speaker (which is also near my IR receiver and Wii sensor bar). This was an easy setup for me, but I can see that others might be put off by the external emitter. I've found the emitter to cover a wide range within my projector room. It easily covers the seating area and many other areas where I wouldn't normally be watching 3D content.

[Update 3/4/2012]

I watched the Hugo in 3D Blu-ray. It had amazing 3D on the HW30. This was my first full feature length 3D movie on the HW30. Below are my comments after watching and tweaking a bit...

  1. There was noticeable ghosting/crosstalk when the 3D brightness was set to max in, perhaps, 10 or 15% of the scenes. Hugo has lots of high contrast scenes (dark backgrounds, lighted foregrounds). However, changing the 3D brightness from max to one less click made a tremendous improvement.

  2. At 3D brightness Max-1 there was no ghosting/crosstalk in 99% of the film. Ok, I went back and watched perhaps 30% of the film so I'm interpolating from there. I did go hunting for scenes that I recalled having ghosting. Even where there was some ghosting/crosstalk, it was exceptionally (EXCEPTIONALLY) minimal. I had to really look for it... to the degree that it's a non-issue. Example: Bright ceiling lamp on dark background.

  3. The difference in 3D brightness from Max to Max-1 is noticeable, but slight. It's great to know I could eek out some more brightness for content that doesn't have high contrast transitions.

  4. Also regarding brightness, the HW30 allows you to use any gamma you want during 3D. I watched it with my regular 2D gamma (gamma 3). However, using gamma 1 would significantly brighten the image. Also, using ID3 you could create a custom gamma curve for even more brightness, if desired. There is a lot of power/flexibility here.

  5. As for the glasses, they were not too bad. I thought they would be really uncomfortable after 2 hours. I definitely adjusted them a few times while watching, but never thought they were uncomfortable. But I do believe a different design could be more "transparent" to the wearer.

Bottom line: I'm super impressed with the HW30's 3D. Because of the contrast in the Hugo film, I believe it's not just a cake walk for a projector to handle this film well.

Sample Pictures (from Blu-ray)

2/16/2012

You cannot really judge a projector by looking at pictures taken of the projected image. There are too many variables such as the display used to view the image and the camera's color rendition. However, since its fun to look at the pictures, I've included them here. Simply treat them as eye candy and nothing more.

Note: these pictures haven't been processed in any way other than to crop them to the content's aspect ration and to resize for web viewing.


(Above: Picture from Star Wars Revenge of the Sith)


(Above: Picture from Star Wars Revenge of the Sith)


(Above: Star Trek)


(Above: Star Trek)


(Above: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)


(Above: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)


(Above: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)


(Above: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)


(Above: Star Trek)

Gaming and Latency

2/17/2012

One important criteria to me when selecting projector was low latency. I was disappointed this year that many projector vendors, other than Sony, do poorly in this area. Zombie10k measured the HW30's latency between 20ms and 30ms in game mode while several other projectors were 80ms or even greater (and didn't bother to even support a game mode).

It's difficult to predict how lengthy latency of 80ms or higher will effect gameplay without trying it. I'm pleased I picked the HW30 because after several hours of Xbox gaming, I can definitely feel even the HW30's superb ~30ms latency. It's subtle but detectable. Luckily I found I can easily adjust to it. I'm now convinced that gaming with 80ms (or worse) would be a complete non-starter. This is also a very personal item, so your perception may vary.

Oh, and the gaming mode hasn't done anything to lessen the video quality. I'm not sure what adjustments are done while in gaming, but just like Blu-rays, gaming on the HW30 looks superb.

(Don't forget to check out the gaming pictures just below)

Pictures (from gaming)

3/4/2012

The HW30 is a superb projector for playing games when you are not watching Blu-rays. Here are some pictures from games. The same caveats from the Blu-ray pictures apply here.


(Above: Bulletstorm on Xbox 360)


(Above: Bulletstorm on Xbox 360)


(Above: Bulletstorm on Xbox 360)


(Above: Skyrim on Xbox 360)


(Above: Skyrim on Xbox 360)


(Above: Skyrim on Xbox 360)

Discrete Inputs with the Harmony Remote

2/17/2012

As mentioned in the remote section above, the supplied remote doesn't have discrete inputs. Perhaps as a result, the HW30 device entry provided for Harmony remotes doesn't have discrete input buttons either.

After some investigation, I found out that the HW30 does support discrete input IR codes. Here a slightly improved version of the details I posted on AVSForum.

I've got some good news for Harmony owners. The VPL-VW60 device in the Harmony database has discrete input codes that work for the HW30. The names are not correct, but that is easy to resolve. Use the Sony VPL-60 projector and you get the following as discrete video inputs

VPL-VW60 Input On HW30 Performs as...
InputA Input A
InputVideo2 Component
InputS-Video2 HDMI1
InputHdmi HDMI2

Because Harmony doesn't allow codes from one device to be moved to another device, I ended up adding the VPL-VW60 device to my Harmony and then teachings a spare learning remote these codes. Once the spare remote learned the codes, I turned around and used it to teach the Harmony the same codes but for the HW30 device. A roundabout approach, but it works.

Once done, you need to tell the Harmony remote that the HW30 supports discrete inputs and associate the appropriate learned codes.

Discrete 3D Modes with Harmony Remote

3/12/2012

As mentioned in the HW30 IR Remote section, the offered button choices give me pause. I don't understand why they included some keys and not others. Specifically, there is no single key to turn off all 3D functions like SbS/OverUnder or simulated. I dug around the internet and found some Sony projectors do have discrete codes for this functionality. I'm happy to report they work for the HW30 also!

Below are the pronto IR codes for "2D/3D Auto" (my standard mode) as well as "3D Side by Side" and "3D Top Bottom".

1) 2D/3D Auto
0000 0067 0000 0015 0060 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 021D

2) 3D Side by Side
0000 0067 0000 0015 0060 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 020B

3) SD Over/Under (aka Top/Bottom)
0000 0067 0000 0015 0060 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 0018 0030 0018 0018 0018 0018 020B

The sad news is my Harmony remote offers no native way to input multiple pronto codes (and I hear they started charging $$$ to have their support add them).

The good news is I found a post here which offers a windows tool and a procedure to add arbitrary pronto codes to a harmony remote!

(Note: the first time I used this tool it somehow deleted all my previously learned custom codes. That was annoying. But after I relearned by custom codes, I was able to use the tool with no problem)

In short, my Harmony 880 now has discrete 3D buttons. It's useful for when I accidentally leave 3D side-by-side enabled and don't want to press several buttons to fix it.

Throw

2/18/2012

I created the following graph to help show where you can place the HW30.

You can calculate your specific values using the following formula:

Minimum Throw = (1.21875 * Diag) + 1.8125

Maximum Throw = (1.84375 * Diag) - 1.65625

Note: Diag is the 16:9 measurement of the screen's diagonal in inches. The resulting Minimum Throw and Maximum Throw are also measured in inches.

The above formula is based on the confusing information included in the projector's manual.

Gamma

2/27/2012

Sony's Image Director 3 software appears to work with the HW30 projector. The HW30 has 8 gamma tables and while I was able to read 6 gamma tables, IM3 didn't let me read the last 2. It didn't even acknowledge they exist.

Below are the first 6 gamma tables.


(Gamma Table 1)


(Gamma Table 2)


(Gamma Table 3)


(Gamma Table 4)


(Gamma Table 5)


(Gamma Table 6)

Gamma tables #5 and #6 both (intentionally) crush blacks. I was initially surprised to see this. However, the Sony HW30 manual states this behavior in a more positive light. For table #5 the manual states "Produces a picture with contrast emphasized slightly." For table #6 the manual states "Produces a picture with contrast emphasized more than with
Gamma 5."

The End

2/16/2012

That's it for now. Hope you found it useful / interesting / tasty / attractive / etc.

Any Comments?

Have any comments, questions, or just want to say "Hi"? Drop me a note using "pins at this website". I'm being vague because of spam but you should be able to figure it out.