This is not a review as such, but my impressions on my time with the Sony XW7000. The unit was not supplied by Sony, it was not a “golden sample” and this article is not solicited in any way. This is critical in my opinion as reviewers are sent golden samples by the manufacturers and don’t feel like they can be fully honest about their opinion or their review scores. In that sense, the industry reviews out there are unfortunately not unbiased – not if they want to keep receiving those units.
There is a cost to being honest of course. This blog is never going to be built on manufacturer-provided samples because such full disclosure can and do upset manufacturers.
Never say never of course. However, conflicts of interest will always be disclosed.
We put 3 UHD discs through the unit: Lucy, Pacific Rim: Uprising and Alien. The reason these were chosen is as follows:
- Lucy is a sharp movie with a 4K DI and lots of mixed scenes.
- Pacific Rim: Uprising has quite a few dark, mixed and bright scenes, giving the tone mapping a workout. The dark areas of the picture can look a bit hollow on projectors with lower contrast performance.
- Alien is the definition of projector torture. Projectors with low on/off contrast have a lot of trouble conveying this movie convincingly.
The discs were played by a Reavon UHD Blu Ray player – would not be my first choice for viewing in general but the picture quality of the unit paired with the Sony was excellent.
The room was fully darkened with black treatment on all the walls. The screen was a white acoustically transparent (woven) screen – 1.0 effective gain – 140″ viewed from 3.5m away.
The unit had a quick calibration done on it so it was not out of the box. I am hearing some complaints that the Sony is not bang on perfect out of the box with regards to calibration and it looks to be the case – at least with the current firmware. At this price, I would recommend you get a professional calibrator – or learn calibration yourself. Here is an article which explains what you need to get started with it.
The Sony XW7000 is a very bright projector. It had no problems lighting up a screen of that size with 80% laser light. It was also pretty much perceptually silent from the seating position – from about 2-2.5 meters away on a high shelf. It didn’t look much bigger than its XW5000 smaller brother sitting right next to it – at least from the front.
The colours popped but still had a very natural look to them. This is definitely the Sony’s strong point. Although, we could argue that at this price point, all projectors have excellent colour rendition.
Resolution and Sharpness
The Sony XW7000 is a very sharp unit. The optics are definitely a strong point here, even compared to a JVC or an Epson. In fact, it had no business looking as sharp as it did on a woven AT screen at that size. It looked like a large flat-panel display. However, the unit does have some help in the form of something called Digital Focus Optimiser and Reality Creation.
Digital Focus Optimiser
The Digital Focus Optimiser tries to digitally correct for sharpness drop-off and colour-separation artefacts near the edge of the lens to ensure the image stays sharp across the whole screen. It is basically just like zone-based fine panel adjustment on other projectors, except this is done in a spherical fashion as opposed to square zones.
I am not usually a fan of such digital adjustments, but Sony clearly designed this with the lens assembly in mind and works well here. The image was tac sharp edge to edge, which was especially obvious when viewing Lucy.
What you do need to be aware of with fine panel convergence adjustment is that it cuts into one or two of the chroma channels as it bleeds those into adjacent pixels. This can reduce chroma resolution. However, there weren’t obvious artefacts associated with it here so it is done well enough.
I really like the option of having Reality Creation. It definitely helps with content mastered at 2K especially (in our case Parific Rim: Uprising) to look great by using super-resolution and other image-processing algorithms to bring out more fine detail in the image.
However, I think less is more in this case, as it can create some – what looked like mosquito – noise in the image, especially if you were pixel-peeping. But when used judiciously, it can make the image pop and have a 3-dimensionality that I feel other manufacturers at times can lack.
I want to tackle contrast performance before we get into HDR Tone Mapping as one impacts the other in this case.
Intra-scene contrast has always been Sony’s strong point and the XW7000 seems to deliver in spades. Brighter scenes have excellent 3-dimensionality and impact here, with the Sony looking like a giant TV, also aided by the massive brightness on offer.
The native on/off contrast of the Sony XW7000ES (approx. 8000:1) sits between an Epson LS12000 (approx. 4000:1) and a JVC (approx. 25,000 – 30,000:1 although can be much higher dependent on manual iris and throw).
I would say that 8000:1 is serviceable and won’t be an issue on anything but the darkest content. In fact, it was not an issue on Lucy or Pacific Rim: Uprising. Epson’s 4000:1 starts to become a bit of an issue with Pacific Rim: Uprising where certain darker scenes can look a bit more grey. That wasn’t the case with the Sony.
Where the Sony started tripping up was with certain scenes in Alien where larger parts of the picture were supposed to look black but tended to look a bit grey and hollow on the Sony.
Unfortunately, this is made much worse by Sony’s near-black gamma crush in HDR. This can rob the image of dark detail. I will touch more on this under HDR tone-mapping.
Now is this a huge issue? I think with most movies it isn’t. However, if you are a black level fanatic and you watch a LOT of dark sci fi, it might be bothersome. Make no mistake, the Sony looks better than an Epson in this regard and visibly so considering its double native on/off. But it is seriously hindered by its sledge-hammer approach and lack of nuance in near-black areas becoming obvious with very low brightness scenes.
The Sony XW7000 uses laser dimming. We had the unit on full dynamic laser which means it turned off the laser when there was nothing on the screen.
Laser dimming works pretty well with general content. In fact, it was pretty much unobtrusive 99% of the time. How much it improved perceived contrast performance is a great question as it would have needed a lot more testing than we had the time. Notice I didn’t say ACTUAL contrast but perceived performance. The issue is that laser dimming can’t actually improve on/off contrast unlike a dynamic or manual iris. It can only lower the black floor, which can aid in PERCEIVED contrast – but only if used correctly.
My main gripe with the dimming was that it didn’t turn off instantly when encountering a black frame – unlike the Epson LS12000 in dynamic mode. So even though the Sony had a lower black floor, this effect seemed a bit more jarring to me. It is because it waited a frame or two before switching off the laser so you were watching a grey frame before it went all black. I am not sure this is ideal. If you are going to turn off the laser on a black frame, do it from the first black frame you encounter.
Let’s start with the good! I really like Sony’s HDR tone-map. Sony has a background in the film industry and it certainly shows. They don’t try and mess with the mid-tones but do their best to prioritise them above all other content.
Now this has its drawbacks – such as some crushing of highlights at times – but I much prefer this approach as it doesn’t compress mid-tones which can affect shading and result in compression on skin-tones. This can be very bothersome to some people, and it is very much so for me. But I am not the only one I know who finds this distracting. Thankfully, Sony doesn’t suffer from this.
Both JVC and Lumagen – at least at their default settings – can at times veer into mid-tone compression danger zone and introduce “wax-face syndrome”. However, both can be adjusted to get around this – while introducing other trade-offs.
The Sony also doesn’t suffer from brightness-fluctuations between scene cuts that Dynamic Tone Mapping (DTM) can suffer from – such as the Lumagen.
Now let’s cover the bad and the ugly. Sony stated that they are trying to emulate the contrast of their mastering monitors. I am very much on board with this approach and this works very well in mixed and brighter scenes. However, it seems to be at the cost of near-black shadow detail that – along with the Sony’s lower on/off contrast performance compared to a JVC – hurts darker scenes more than the actual on/off numbers would indicate. This can make very dark scenes look a bit hollow and lacking in detail.
Considering Sony also stated that they are doing DTM in these new units, I would very much like to see Sony doing some sort of frame by frame analysis and recover more shadow detail in very dark scenes to improve image dimensionality as it will also massively help with contrast perception and get the most out of the 8000:1 native on/off contrast.
If the above is not possible, Sony needs to give an option for gamma curves that lift the shadow detail some to get around this black crush. There might be a way to calibrate this out using Sony’s Image Director calibration software but it might require some experimentation over the course of months as opposed to a quick calibration session. However, Sony needs to step up in this department as owners and calibrators shouldn’t have to resort to such tricks to get this fixed.
I will cover the pros and cons of the different DTM solutions in another article in more detail.
SXRD Panel Degradation
In the interest of full disclosure, I think it is important to talk about possible panel degradation with Sony’s projectors. Sony’s LCOS / SXRD machines have suffered from contrast loss due to some type of degradation within the light path – most likely the wire grid polarisers. There are many threads on the various forums dedicated to measuring and discussing this.
Sony have redesigned the panels in the new projector line to be smaller and more efficient and they stated that they believe the problem is now fixed. However, we don’t know if that’s the case until it is proven with time. After all, almost all previous Sony projector lines seem to have been affected.
To mitigate this, Sony does offer a 5-year warranty in some regions. However, we don’t yet know if your Sony becomes an Epson by the end of that warranty period. All the more reason why you should get the appropriate tools and learn calibration so you can monitor for such issues.
We have come to the end of this article so let’s wrap up.
The Sony is a diamond in the rough because of the following:
- It bests both JVC and Epson in terms of perceived sharpness due to its excellent optics and great image processing.
- It shines brilliantly with brighter and mixed content – more so than its competition in my opinion – due to its excellent brightness and high ANSI contrast.
- It struggles with darker HDR content at the moment even more so than its native on/off contrast numbers would suggest. I hope that Sony can improve on the on-board processing and / or gamma for near-black content to resolve this issue.
- Laser dimming works well enough for most content but there’s room for improvement in terms of its speed when it comes to dark scenes and when encountering a black frame
- Out of the box accuracy could be improved with firmware as laser should cause less variance from unit to unit
- We don’t yet know if SXRD degradation issues are a thing of the past, so it might be worth keeping an eye on this (and the forums) over the life of the product. We certainly hope so.
Compared to the Competition
I think the Sony is an excellent projector for most people and performs better than the Epson LS12000 – and so it should at this price. I would even prefer it over the JVC NP5 due to it being easier on the eyes overall for mixed content and looking much sharper with the NP5 looking a bit flat at times in comparison.
Where the rubber hits the road is whether it is better than a JVC NZ8 or a JVC NZ9 as its price is close to those units in the European and US markets respectively. Generally speaking, as it stands with current firmware, the answer is a no if darker content is on the menu. However, Sony may improve this with an upcoming firmware and therefore I would recommend a full audition before deciding.
In practical terms, the Sony puts our less heat, is less loud and weights less than JVC’s units so might look less imposing in a smaller media room.
In the European and Australian markers, the XW7000 is priced pretty much the same as a JVC NZ8. When comparing the two, the Sony definitely has the brightness advantage with the NZ8’s 2000-2250 lumens and the XW7000’s 2700-2900 lumens after calibration. So for larger screen sizes or a mixed use room with some light in the room, the XW7000 might be more appropriate. For darker content or for a fully blacked out room, the NZ8 is likely more appropriate.
When comparing the XW7000 to the JVC NZ9, there is a lot less to recommend the XW7000 both in terms of image quality and brightness. The NZ9 calibrates to around 2500-2600 lumens and has the option of a P3 filter offering 100% of P3 at the cost of about 25-30% of light output. Without the filter, it reaches around 90% of P3 just like the Sony. So the NZ9 has somewhat more flexibility and is likely to offer better detail retrieval due to its 8K eShiftX processing. Add to this the ability for proper DTM and price-matching the Sony XW7000 to the NZ9 in the US wasn’t exactly Sony’s smartest move. However, time – and sales numbers – will tell.