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Sony VPL-XW5000ES review: Laser-powered beauty at a competitive price

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
5,999
inc VAT

The Sony XW5000 projector manages to reach a previously unattainable price point for a native 4K laser beamer

Pros 
Detailed native 4K images
Long-life laser light source
Compact and stylish chassis
Cons 
Manual lens controls
No HDMI 2.1 inputs
No 3D support
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The Sony VPL-XW5000ES is a native 4K projector that uses a long-life laser light source to deliver bright and detailed images at a very competitive price point. The newly designed SXRD chip is smaller than previous iterations, as is the projector itself, which helps to keep the price down, although Sony also doesn’t include 3D, HDMI 2.1 or motorised lens controls to cut costs further.

Assuming these aren’t dealbreakers, you‘ll discover an affordable and capable beamer with class-leading processing, highly accurate images, and solid HDR performance. Given the next cheapest native 4K laser projector is twice the price, the XW5000 is the very definition of a best buy.

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Sony VPL-XW5000ES review: What you need to know

The Sony XW5000 is a home cinema projector that uses a new 0.61-inch SXRD chip to deliver native 4K (3,840 x 2,160) images. SXRD is Sony’s version of LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon), which is a reflective display technology with deeper blacks than rival LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) and DLP (Digital Light Processing) projectors. The panel has a refresh rate of 120Hz, although due to HDMI limitations this only applies to resolutions up to 2K (1,920 x 1,080).

The XW5000 uses a laser phosphor light source, with a claimed peak brightness of 2,000 lumens and a claimed lifespan of up to 20,000 hours. So, you could easily watch a film a day for a decade without worrying about the laser losing brightness like a lamp. The inclusion of wide dynamic range optics, and Sony’s Triluminos Pro algorithm also promises deeper blacks, more saturated colours and improved contrast ratios.

The XW5000 uses Sony’s X1 Ultimate processor, which promises advanced data processing and real time optimisation of individual on-screen images. There’s also the object-based HDR Remaster and Dynamic HDR Enhancer features, with support for HDR10, HLG, and even IMAX Enhanced content. Finally, there’s Motionflow frame interpolation for fast-paced sports action, and a low-latency game mode for reduced input lag.

Unfortunately, to reach a more affordable price point Sony has dropped a few features available on some competitor projectors. First of all, there are no motorised lens controls and thus no lens memories for wider screens. There’s also no support for 3D, which remains popular with projector owners. In addition, the XW5000 lacks HDMI 2.1 support, which means no HDR10+ and no 4K/120, which will disappoint next-gen gamers.

Sony VPL-XW5000ES review: Price and competition

The Sony XW5000 is priced at £5,999, and while that’s certainly not the kind of change you lose down the back of the sofa, it’s very competitive when you consider the next nearest native 4K laser projector is the JVC DLA-NZ7, which retails for £11,499. Alternatively, there’s the JVC DLA-NP5 (£7,499), which uses a lamp instead but includes motorised lens controls and memories, 3D, and HDMI 2.1 inputs with HDR10+ and 4K/120 support.

The obvious direct competitor is the Epson EH-LS12000 (£4,399), an LCD projector that also uses a laser light source. While not native 4K, it accepts 4K signals by using pixel shifting to create the image, plus it has motorised lens controls and lens memories. It can also project 3D, and has two HDMI 2.1 inputs that support 4K/120, HDR10, HLG, and HDR10+. The black levels could be better, but this projector is an impressive performer overall, and hard to fault at this price.

Alternatively, you could look at the slightly cheaper Optoma UHZ65LV (£3,999) DLP laser projector. Like the Epson, this projector isn’t technically native 4K, but can project a 4K image and it supports HDR10, HLG, and 3D. It is limited in terms of lens shift, suffers from weaker blacks, doesn’t support HDMI 2.1, and uses a colour wheel that can result in rainbow artefacts for some people, but otherwise this great performer offers excellent bang for your buck.

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Sony VPL-XW5000ES review: Design, connections and control

The Sony XW5000 is surprisingly stylish for a projector, with an angled design and a centrally-mounted lens housed within a grille that covers the front. Behind this grille are intake vents for cooling the laser, with exhaust vents at the rear. The XW5000 measures 460 x 472 x 200mm (WDH), weighs in at 13kg, and comes in choice of matte black or matte white.

The connections are located in a recessed area along the left-hand side as you face the projector. Here you’ll find two HDMI 2.0 inputs with HDCP 2.3, an Ethernet port and RS-232C connector for serial control, a 12V trigger, an IR input jack, and a USB port for power. The lack of HDMI 2.1 inputs is disappointing considering the cheaper Epson LS12000 supports them.

The included remote is Sony’s standard controller, and it’s a fairly large wand with a backlight for use in the dark. The buttons are sensibly laid out, and it’s comfortable to hold and use with one hand. It includes all the buttons you’ll need to set up and operate the XW5000, although there are also some basic controls on the side of the projector in case you misplace the zapper.

Sony VPL-XW5000ES projector review: Set-up and operation

The Sony XW5000 is easy to set up, either on a stand or the ceiling using a bracket. The zoom and focus rings are around the lens, while vertical and horizontal shift controls are behind a removable panel on the top. These controls are a bit heavy-handed, lacking granularity, and focusing is a two-person job with one at the screen while the other adjusts the controls.

The lack of motorised lens controls, and thus lens memories, means this projector isn’t ideal for 2.35:1 screens, where the lens set up has to be changed for content with narrower aspect ratios. If you’re planning on using a ‘Scope’ screen, the Epson LS12000 or JVC NP5 are better choices.

The XW5000 takes 50 seconds to power up, and 15 seconds to power down. It’s reasonably quiet, although fan noise will largely depend on how far you sit from the projector and the laser power setting. Sony claims 24dB in its marketing, but we measured around 30dB in our room.

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Sony VPL-XW5000ES projector review: Image quality

The XW5000 generally delivers impressive big screen pictures, but there are a few limitations as a result of Sony’s efforts to keep the costs down. These primarily relate to the sharpness of the image, because the new 0.61in chip is smaller (and cheaper) than the professional DCI 4,096 x 2,160 chips used in previous Sony 4K projectors.

The lens assembly is also a hybrid of glass and plastic components, and while less costly, it isn’t as sharp as an all-glass lens. The use of three SXRD chips eliminates the need for a colour wheel, which is the cause of the rainbow artefacts that often afflict DLP projectors. The three chips are also aligned precisely, thus ensuring the overall geometry and uniformity is very good.

The best picture mode is appropriately called Reference, and this delivers excellent levels of accuracy out of the box. The greyscale and colours had average delta E scores of 2.6 and 1.72 respectively. These measurements are below the visible threshold, but calibration can reduce them to 0.7 and 0.3, which is superb. The gamma tracked at 2.3, which is also very good.

The Sony XW5000 isn’t the brightest projector, although 2,000 lumens should be enough for most people, unless they have a massive screen. The added benefit of the laser light source, aside from the long life, is its consistency, so it won’t dim significantly over its lifespan. Conversely, a lamp-based projector can lose 50% of its brightness after 2,000 hours.

The black levels and contrast performance are reasonable for an SXRD projector, and certainly better than DLP or LCD models. While not as good as a JVC, if you’re planning on using the XW5000 in a room with light walls it won’t make much difference because the reflections will wash out the contrast. The Sony also has sufficient brightness to handle such environments.

If you feel you need more punch you could use the Bright Cinema picture mode, but it’s not as accurate as Reference, resulting in a bluer greyscale and more saturated colours. You can adjust the laser brightness, and there’s the Dynamic Control which adjusts contrast. This can improve some darker scenes at the expense of brightness, but this does tend to crush shadow details.

The big selling point of a Sony projector is its image processing, and the X1 Ultimate processor doesn’t disappoint. If you feed the XW5000 a good quality 1080p source, you’ll be rewarded with a picture that makes full use of the projector’s more than eight million pixels, producing images that are fine-tuned so they appear clean, detailed and free of unwanted artefacts.

In addition, Sony’s Reality Creation detail enhancement applies sharpening to the image, but is so sophisticated that it does so without normally introducing distracting artefacts. This feature is an effective way of improving the perceived resolution, better defining details that sometimes appear slightly soft due to the smaller chip and less precise lens array.

The other strong point of Sony projectors is typically their motion handling, and here the XW5000 also didn’t disappoint. The motion appeared fluid and free of judder or other artefacts, even without engaging Motionflow, although for fast sports this frame interpolation feature can be beneficial. For film purists there’s also the True Theatre mode that remains faithful to the cinematic 24fps frame rate.

READ NEXT: The best Sony TVs to buy

Sony VPL-XW5000ES review: HDR performance

The XW5000 supports HDR10 and HLG, but not HDR10+ due to the lack of HDMI 2.1 inputs. This puts it at a disadvantage to both the Epson and JVC projectors, which support the dynamic metadata format. Despite Sony’s claims of wide dynamic range optics capable of reaching 95% of DCI-P3, in testing we only measured 83%. On the plus side, the greyscale and colour accuracy in the Reference mode are good, and tone mapping tracks the industry target.

Speaking of tone mapping, Sony’s Dynamic HDR Enhancer is its version of JVC’s dynamic tone mapping. The XW5000 performs frame-by-frame analysis of the incoming HDR signal, and adjusts the tone mapping dynamically through pixel processing and the laser power. The results can be good, but often require a bit of fiddling to get the best HDR picture.

The XW5000 definitely performs best with brighter HDR content, where the combination of the laser light source and effective tone mapping deliver pictures that are punchy and detailed. The Revenant looks fantastic, with its snowy white vistas and sunlight glinting off the ice. The image accuracy also ensures flesh tones remain natural, and whites are free of any blue or red tint.

Despite the XW5000’s limited gamut, the colours in The Greatest Showman really pop when combined with the bright highlights and precise tone mapping. However, when it comes to darker scenes, the Sony can struggle. The sequence in 1917 where Schofield first wakes up at night is very dark, and the projector struggled to pick out the details in the gloom.

Finally, the XW5000 is certified for IMAX Enhanced viewing, but this mode doesn’t appear to actually do anything. When we put on the IMAX Enhanced 4K disc of Jumanji: The Next Level, the IMAX Enhanced mode wasn’t triggered automatically, and we had to select it manually. It also looked no different from the Reference mode, suggesting this is pure marketing (which makes sense when you consider all 4K content uses the same standards).

To test the Sony XW5000 we used Portrait Displays Calman colour calibration software.

Sony VPL-XW5000ES review: Gaming

The Sony XW5000 is an excellent projector for gaming, as long as you’re not bothered about games that offer 4K/120 on the latest consoles. The XW5000 can support higher frame rates with a 2K source, but the HDMI 2.0 inputs lack the bandwidth for 4K/120.

This caveat aside, the XW5000 is a top choice for gamers with its bright, detailed images, and excellent motion handling. The performance with both SDR and HDR is good, and the overall gaming experience is smooth and responsive thanks to a dedicated game mode.

When you engage this preset you get a pleasingly low input lag, although it will vary depending on the source. With 2K/60 the lag was 28ms, but this dropped to 20ms with 4K/60, and went as low as 12ms with 2K/120. These numbers should please even the most demanding gamer.

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Sony VPL-XW5000ES review: Verdict

The Sony VPL-XW5000ES represents a new era of affordable native 4K laser projectors that offer a winning combination of cutting-edge performance and cost-cutting features.

It’s not perfect, with the smaller SXRD chip and hybrid lens resulting in images that aren’t quite as sharp as previous Sony beamers. The absence of 3D support and HDMI 2.1 inputs will disappoint some, especially the latter because it means no support for HDR10+ and 4K/120. The lack of motorised lens controls and memories also preclude partnering the XW5000 with a 2.35:1 screen.

However, those minor gripes aside, this is an impressive projector that delivers bright and punchy big screen images with both SDR and HDR content. The accuracy is excellent, and near-perfect after calibration, while the image processing and motion handling are class-leading. The colour gamut could go wider, and the black levels could go deeper, but the effective tone mapping gets the best out of HDR content, even if the shadows can sometimes appear crushed. Ultimately, this is a fantastic projector for the money, and the ideal choice for anyone on a budget.

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