Sony VPL-VW695ES

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Sony 695ES technical evaluation

Thanks to a patient new owner and Cleveland AV owner Chris Majoros, I was able to spend a couple weeks with the Sony VPL-VW695ES in my theater room, projecting on to a 119” 16x9 Da-Lite High Power 2.8 gain screen. 

Out of the box and calibration notes: 

The 695ES comes out of the box in the Cinema Film 1 picture mode, which has some modest enhancements engaged. The resulting image with ordinary 1080P streaming content showed some promise, with a very bright, punchy, and sharp quality. However, depth was shortened, and there seemed to be somewhat odd behavior around and just above black. Some colors were impressive, though skin tones lacked natural ruddiness.

Sure enough, test patterns revealed some strange behavior around black. With default brightness and white balance bias settings and all enhancements turned off, blacker than black levels were actually brighter than slightly above black levels, which were totally crushed. This “inside out” black behavior, while not common, has been seen in a few other SXRD projectors. Interestingly, though it was there early on (before 80 hours), it disappeared after additional break in. Regardless, it can be eliminated through calibration, and in the end the 695ES came out of black gracefully. 

Fan noise was very quiet in low lamp power, and while switching to high did make it more noticeable, even then it was unobtrusive. Uniformity, tested by observing full white and gray fields, was fair. The right side of the screen had a slight greenish tinge at white, 50% gray, and 15% dark gray. At and around 15%, odd contouring was slightly visible as well. Fortunately, these anomalies were never noticed with images or content. Black uniformity was perfect, with no bright corners or other issues.

The 695ES had outstanding, razor sharp focus over most of the screen, though it softened close to the sides. Upscaling of 1080P content was excellent, and Sony’s Reality Creation did a nice job of slightly sharpening the image without hardening. Input lag, measured with a 1080P signal, was normally 139ms but improved to 37 with the low latency setting engaged.

The dynamic iris control was generally useful, making fades to black richer and improving punch in some scenes. However, it darkened already very dark scenes and did not help the perceived contrast in those extreme cases. This seems to be a departure from previous SXRDs, which electronically boosted the brightness of levels just above black to compensate for the mechanically closed iris, thereby increasing contrast while maintaining overall brightness.

The full field on/off contrast ratio, measured with the meter facing the lens to maximize dynamic range, was 22,462:1 as calibrated in SDR mode with the dynamic iris disengaged and the fixed iris at the calibrated setting of 38. With the fixed iris at max brightness, the contrast decreased to 16,641:1, but with it set to minimum brightness it increased to 23,887:1. Engaging the dynamic iris would dramatically multiply these numbers. Measured with a 10% size, 25% APL window to simulate actual content, the contrast was very close to 3,200:1 with iris set to max brightness regardless of the dynamic setting. With iris set to the calibrated 38 brightness level, it measured 2,901:1 with the dynamic set to off, 3,055: with it at limited, and 3,751:1 at full. Finally, with the iris at minimum brightness, it was 2,594:1 with dynamic off, 2,845:1 at limited, and 3,676:1 at full. The modified ANSI contrast, a torture test measured at only one point of a 4x4 checkerboard, was not influenced by the dynamic setting and came in at 287:1 at maximum iris brightness and 237:1 at minimum. These are excellent results, and provided they hold up over time (older SXRD models have been known to loose contrast over time) means that Sony and JVC now share best contrast honors.

While the 695ES will automatically pick up an HDR signal and apply a specific gamma and some other corrections for it, bypassing that and instead calibrating a separate manually engaged HDR mode will allow the use of custom gamma curves and a more precise calibration in general. With that in mind, Reference was tailored for HDR, and Cinema Film 1 was calibrated for normal Blu Ray and HD content. It is easy to switch back and forth between the modes, but it would significantly help usability if Sony allowed more calibration flexibility in this regard.

The before calibration measurements revealed a somewhat cooler white balance than the indicated 6500K; gamma showed compression of mid to bright levels, which explains the lack of depth noted out of the box. The slightly pale skin tones are also hinted at in the pre calibration measurements, though full purity color shades are actually a bit over saturated. After using Sony’s Projector Calibration Pro software to straighten gamma and grayscale tracking, the after calibration measurements are very good, with no particularly weak points. It should be noted that the grayscale and gamma tracking would not have been as good without the use of Sony’s calibration software and instead only relying on the 695ES’s own calibration adjustments.

Custom gamma curves were generated and imported for HDR use. Measured performance of HDR mode after calibration was generally very good, though color saturation was somewhat limited and the skin tone simulation patches leaned toward yellow. Brightness levels were a little high with low levels, a factor of the 695ES’s less than perfect native gamma tracking and the custom curve’s inability to correct for such. A meter multiplier of 1.29 was used for the HDR measurements, so reported nit levels should be divided by this.

After calibration: 

Watching the same 1080P streaming shows as before showed very detailed textures. However, there were times when pans and motion were distracting both here and with HDR, regardless of the input signal frame rate and with True Cinema engaged or not. Contrast was rich in normal to bright scenes, with lots of pop. There was excellent color depth and shadow detail, and skin tone rendition was rich and satisfying. 

UHD HDR Blu Rays had impressive pop and detail, and the image was pleasing overall. Occasionally a very slight bias toward yellow could be discerned in skin tones, and the general color presentation leaned toward the polite and pale side of natural. My wife, a less technical enthusiast who generally likes Sony displays, felt the HDR image was more washed out than expected. While I do not disagree, that was in comparison to unfair (LG OLEDs) and very stiff (high level JVC projectors) competition. Regardless, while there is room for improvement in the 695ES’s HDR image, there is no doubt it is still among the best in it’s class.
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