On my previous article of the "Living with 4K" series I described the upgrade program Sony offers for their VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector ($24,999). This article covers the actual upgrade procedure, performance observations after the upgrade, and final comments about who may benefit in doing the upgrade and why.
The Actual Upgrade
The upgrade was performed as expected. The plan was that a technician subcontracted by Sony would visit my site and perform the job, which was estimated to take a couple of hours if everything went well, and it did.
Before scheduling the visit of the technician payment had to be issued for the main board to be shipped and to be available on site in advance. The shipment also included the FMP-X1 4K player, the Xperia Z Sony 16 GB tablet (used to control the player and 4K downloads from Sony's Entertainment services), and an extra projector lamp (LMP-H330), details on the previous article. The installation of the main board and the firmware work was to be done by the technician; the customer (or dealer) has to do the rest.
I removed the projector from the ceiling mount and prepared the work area for the technician, he arrived and performed the board replacement and firmware upgrade, and I reinstalled the projector back on its ceiling mount. I then setup the 4K player, wireless router, network connection, tablet, and 4K downloading service, and proceeded with calibrations and tests (I preferred not to replace the lamp with the one included in the upgrade package).
I reviewed all the settings to verify they were unchanged and performed as before the upgrade, I then calibrated with patterns and with content and only minor adjustments were needed, mainly due to lamp aging since my last calibration (not attributable to the upgrade), except Reality Creation (covered below).
I recommend doing the upgrade if economically possible but I am not sure I would have done it with an elective service (as mentioned on the previous article) if the projector would have to shipped, wait for its longer turnaround service time, and be uncertain that it comes back in the same good conditions, regardless of proper shipping insurance.
It would be ideal if Sony offers the elective service with an option of paying additionally for an in-house upgrade labor to avoid shipping the projector and save on shipping charges and an expensive insurance for $28,000.
Performance Observations after the Upgrade
The VW1000ES 4K projector has been available for over two years, and was and still is very well regarded for its high quality and performance. After the upgrade its light output and functionality were perceived as mostly the same except for the following:
There is a new feature for "Mastered-in-4K" content (Blu-rays or Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), whereby the projector uses a Database to improve image quality when detecting such content on the input. My calibration disc was detected as such but I did not yet test the feature or evaluated image quality with a "Mastered-in 4K" movie.
There is a new Reality Creation feature that performs a frequent on/off switching of the effect over the same image to visually check the enhancement, which I did with content and also with calibration patterns, which was rather revealing on pixel-clock patterns and the different iris settings.
The feature is practical but I prefer the way Darbee implemented theirs on their Darblet video processor, whereby the same image is split in two left/right halves to simultaneously show the on/off versions of the added effect, or using a bar that pans sideways over image to show the improvement as it constantly moves.
The Reality Creation feature before the upgrade added good image detail improvements in gradual steps, even settings past 40 on the 1-100 range were acceptable, however, after the upgrade the effect is less gradual, and beyond position 5 (out of a 1-100 range) it adds a ringing effect to the edges of content (such as excess sharpness) and also adds an apparent pixel over-activity (such as ants moving around very actively).
Both effects were more noticeable with pixel-clock calibration patterns than with real content, and show differently depending if the advanced iris is set to Auto Limited or Auto Full position, the latter too bright for a dark environment at short throw from the screen (in my case about 15-feet between projector lens and screen, a 130-inches diagonal 2.35:1 Cinemascope 1.3 gain Stewart Firehawk G3). Of course the results vary depending also on the screen size, gain, room light, etc. All viewing was done at various distances all the way to few inches from the screen.
Although the video improvement effect of the Darblet is different than Sony's Reality Creation (I was using both in the signal path before the upgrade) the Darblet offers a cleaner image improvement (which I recommend below 35 on a 1-120 of the HD range).
However, after the upgrade it seems better to have Reality Creation very low (5 or under), or have it off and only use the Darblet for 1080p sources. An alternative would be to perform the 4K scaling by an external scaler like the Lumagen and let the projector apply Reality Creation over that, which I had no need to do before the upgrade.
I expected that after the upgrade a considerable improvement of the Reality Creation feature of the VW1000 would be experienced, but unfortunately it appears to be the opposite and I hope Sony could improve it with firmware updates.
Model and Serial Number
Although the projector menu correctly shows a VW1100 model after the upgrade, the serial number is not displayed on the menu, it rather displays 999999. I see no reason for missing a valid serial number if the upgrade was authorized and performed by Sony.
A buyer of this used projector maybe hesitant to consider one that still shows the old model VW1000 and serial number on the exterior plate while the menu does not show any upgraded serial number as a VW1100 projector, conversely, a seller would be put in the position of not been able to explain the odd arrangement even when showing a receipt for the upgrade service, giving the appearance of a forged product.
Considering that the projector actually became a VW1100 after the paid service upgrade, Sony should have replaced the exterior plate with a new model/serial #, and a matching menu, and keep a separate record of the new serial numbers assigned to these units for warranty and distinct classification purposes (from the new projectors that were actually delivered as VW1100s).
Summary of the Performance
Overall picture quality, light output, and color accuracy appear to be the same of the VW1000 before the upgrade, however, for the sake of handling HDCP 2.2 and be ready for future 4K 60fps (while not even having a true HDMI 2.0 18-Gbps-chip) the upgrade delivered a different Reality Creation feature I personally dislike, and this is one of its main features considering that most content I viewed as 4K for two years (and continue to view in the near future) was mainly upscaled HD with the Reality Creation feature.
Is the Projector Upgrade good for you? When?
It depends of your situation and how it fits the different issues of 4K, particularly: how important is for you to see true 4K content now.
The primary purpose of the projector upgrade is not due to technology advancement of its projection capability but rather to a) accept 4K content with the new protection preferred by Sony (HDCP 2.2), and b) handle faster frame rates of future 4K video content (60fps).
As I mentioned on the other article the sole opportunity of been offered an upgrade should be welcomed. The price of the upgrade is reasonable relative to the projector price, it updates the projector to a new model, and provides the means to access Sony's 4K protected content.
However, regardless if the upgrade cost is acceptable or not for you, perhaps you may not have immediate interest in downloading/streaming the limited 4K content available and may be satisfied enough with upscaling HD to 4K for now, which delivers a terrific picture, and perhaps you may prefer to postpone the upgrade thinking that:
a) Sony would do it later as an elective service (as they say they would in the previous article),
b) The current quality of 4K downloaded content TODAY is not as stunning as it could be and not much different than a good Blu-ray upscaled to 4K with the proper Reality Creation setting (subject covered on the next articles),
c) The near future availability of "hopefully better quality" 4K content with pre-recorded media such as 4K Blu-ray,
d) The availability of a true 18-Gbps HDMI 2.0 HDMI chip, for the projector to be upgraded only once (and not again later), and
e) The near future availability of other set-top-boxes/players that may offer 4K content other than Sony's (which may not be constrained to HDCP 2.2 content protection).
I appreciate Sony's spirit to serve their customers and for offering an upgrade program most companies do not care to offer. Sony should be commended for such effort regardless if the upgrade is appropriate for you.
Next articles on this "Living With 4K" series: a review of a) the FMP-X1 4K player suited to the VW1100 projector's upgrade (as well as a description of the FMP-X10) and Sony's feedback about their upgradeability, and b) the 4K content available from Sony's 4K Video Unlimited service.
Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, July 11, 2014 9:25 PM
About Rodolfo La Maestra
Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines. In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.
Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities. Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers. After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.