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Hands on: Sony VPL-XW7000ES and VPL-XW5000ES 4K Laser Projectors review

We get an up close and personal look at Sony's latest groundbreaking 4K laser projectors Tested at £5999 / $6000

What is a hands on review?
Sony VPL-XW5000 and Sony VPL-XW7000
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

While we'll need to fully test the XW5000 and XW7000 before delivering final verdicts, both so far appear to be very impressive performers in their respective price categories

It’s been rare of late that we’ve been able to get out of the office and experience a good old fashioned product launch, complete with in-person demos. Happily – very happily, as it turns out – Sony recently managed to buck this trend by giving us an in-person look at its new ground-breaking VPL–XW7000ES and VPL–XW5000ES home cinema projectors. And it’s fair to say we’re now chomping at the bit to spend much more time with them when they go on sale this summer.

We won’t dwell on the specifications behind the XW7000ES and XW5000ES here, since we’ve covered all that nitty gritty in this dedicated news story. Suffice it to say that they are both new laser projectors designed to offer much more brightness, longevity and performance than the VW790ES and VW290ES (VW315ES and VW915ES in the US) models they respectively replace. 

The XW5000ES is particularly exciting since it introduces laser technology to the entry-level model of Sony’s native 4K SXRD projector range for the very first time without there being an increase in price. In fact, the XW5000ES is so potentially game-changing for the projector market that we’ll discuss our first impressions of that one first.

First impressions: Sony VPL-XW5000ES

Sony VPL-XW5000

(Image credit: Future)

As big fans of the lamp-based VW290ES, we actually had a few qualms about the XW5000ES when Sony first told us that it had turned to laser lighting and increased its maximum light level output to 2000 lumens. The thing is, experience suggests that fitting relatively affordable projectors with bright laser systems can have a pretty unfortunate effect on black level response.

Sony’s XW5000ES demonstrations suggest our fears are unfounded, though. In fact, its contrast performance actually seems substantially improved over that of the VW290ES, rather than taking any sort of backwards step. 

So while bright parts of the demo material – predominantly clips from a Sony 4K HDR showreel of dramatic scenery and colourful villagers, plus clips from Spider-Man: Far From Home – clearly enjoy significantly more brightness, especially in peak areas, than they ever have on an entry level 4K SXRD projector before, the XW5000ES also serves up actually better black levels alongside them. It seemingly does this, moreover, without compromising or crushing any shadow details in the darkest corners of the picture.

This reinforces the feeling we’ve obtained from our tests of previous SXRD projectors that Sony’s Dynamic HDR Enhancer technology (which uses image processing to boost the brightness of light parts of a picture while manipulating the laser output to simultaneously deepen black levels) was really designed with laser rather than lamp projection in mind. In fact, the overall HDR ‘impact’ of the XW5000ES appears in Sony’s demos to be in a new class to anything else we’ve seen in this price bracket.

Sony VPL-XW5000

(Image credit: Future)

This combination of extra brightness and contrast together with, presumably, the new Triluminos Pro engine also results in a significant lift to the XW5000ES’s colours. They appear brighter, richer and more expressive than those of the previous VW290. Especially with the Dynamic HDR Enhancer in play, which sensibly increases the image’s colour volume as well as expanding the light range. 

To be clear on this point, the seemingly enhanced colour volume the XW5000ES produces helps HDR pictures look more natural, rather than overcooked or forced.

The most unexpected improvement we notice to the XW5000ES’s pictures is how much crisper and more three dimensional they look. This is most likely down to the efforts of the new X1 Ultimate processor, which introduces object-based image analysis to Sony’s mainstream projectors for the first time. Sony projectors have never struggled to show off the benefits of their once unique native 4K resolution, but the clarity, texture and detail in the XW5000ES’s rendition of Sony’s demo footage, especially the ‘travelogue’ stuff, looks beyond anything we’ve seen before without stepping up to the much higher echelons of Sony’s projector offering.

All these impressive strengths appear to be delivered with seemingly no downsides. The Dynamic HDR Enhancer seems not to introduce any obvious brightness instability and doesn’t overcook things, provided you avoid its most potent setting, while the sharpness/depth enhancement feels natural rather than forced or bitty.

First impressions: Sony VPL-XW7000ES

Sony VPL-XW7000

(Image credit: Future)

With our appetites well and truly whetted by the XW5000, we are prepared to be wowed by the XW7000 demo – and it doesn’t disappoint. 

The VPL-XW7000ES’s extra 1200 lumens of brightness has the most immediately obvious impact, massively increasing the brightness of both peak light highlights and, especially, the overall full-screen brightness with HDR sources. The difference with the XW5000 is so great that with Sony’s ‘travelogue’ content the experience feels like you’ve gone for a walk out at lunchtime rather than dusk. 

Naturally this makes HDR pictures look more engaging, natural looking and arguably more impactful than they've looked on any projector before that doesn’t cost multiple tens of thousands of pounds.  

Every bit of the 3200 lumens of light from the laser lighting seems to find its way onto the screen, where it also feeds into the XW7000ES’s colours. The richly hued traditional costumes of the villagers in Sony’s travelogue footage look incredibly fresh and immediate, while the fairground lighting and glowing reds and oranges on show during the night-time Prague fight with the fire elemental in Spider-Man: Far From Home look blisteringly intense. A remarkably vibrant demonstration of how brightness can unlock a wider colour gamut – and, perhaps, of the XW7000’s extra Live Colour Enhancer feature.

Sony VPL-XW7000

(Image credit: Future)

Once our eyes have become accustomed to the dazzling impact of the XW7000’s brightness, other apparent improvements begin to appear. The picture looks even sharper and more detailed than that of the XW5000 – presumably as a result of the significantly higher quality lens. Our gut feeling is that this looks to be comfortably the ‘densest’ image Sony has delivered from this level of its 4K projector range.

The XW7000 looks strong on contrast, too. Its expansive increase in brightness over the XW5000 doesn’t seem, during the clips we got to sample, to have had a seriously negative impact on black levels – especially with the even more impactful Dynamic HDR Enhancer feature in play. This is one area, though, where we’d say we’ll need more time with more content to get a fuller picture of how the XW7000 combines its huge brightness (which is actually 1000 lumens higher than that of the much more expensive VW890/VW1025 that continues for now in Sony’s latest projector range) with its black levels. 

Early verdict

Sony VPL-XW5000 and Sony VPL-XW7000

(Image credit: Future)

Unfortunately, Sony revealed just before we published this article that the XW5000 and XW7000 launch dates of May and June respectively that were discussed at the hands-on session have now slipped to the some point in the summer.

Rest assured, though, that whenever the projectors arrive, we’ll confirm as soon as possible whether the overwhelmingly positive impressions we've had of them in a demo situation translate to similar excitement in our test rooms.

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What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.