Sony VPL-XW5000ES 4k projector review
Written by Gordon Laing
The Sony VPL-XW5000ES is a native 4k home theatre projector with a laser light source and 2000 lumen output. Announced in April 2022, it costs $6000, pounds or Euros, and replaces the bulb-based 290 or 325 ES as their entry-level model with native 4k resolution.
Most of you know me for my camera reviews, but I’m also really into hifi and home theatre, and since the late Nineties have been using Sony projectors, first the VW10HT, followed by the HW15 which I’ve now run for over a decade. I also recently reviewed Sony’s previous entry-level 4k projector, the 290 or 325 ES which employed a bulb light source. The XW5000ES replaces that particular model to become their new entry-level projector with native 4k resolution, although thanks to the laser comes in at a slightly higher price of $6000 or pounds. Meanwhile, the higher-end XW7000ES launched alongside it, delivers a brighter 3200 lumen output and sports a higher quality lens, albeit at a comfortably heftier price of 15000 pounds.
The arrival of both new models means Sony’s entire native 4k home theatre projector lineup is now laser-based. There’s also a 6000 model sandwiched between them for the North American market. Sony loaned me a final production XW5000 sample to try out in my own home theatre, and in this review I’ll give you my impressions so far.
The major differences between the new and previous models are the panels, light source, picture processing and exterior design. I’ll start with the design as it’s obviously the first thing you’ll notice.
Gone are the curves of the previous series and in their place are more modern angular shapes. Sony describes them as the most compact native 4k projectors, but they’re still pretty hefty.
At 460x200x472mm and weighing 13kg, the 5000 is in a similar ballpark to previous Sony 4k bulb projectors like the 290 / 325. The 7000 is the same width, but a little taller at 210mm to accommodate a new lens, longer at 517mm, and 1kg heavier. Both models are available in white or black.
The mounting holes are in the same positions as before, not to mention on my old HW15, allowing an easy swap with my Peerless Precision ceiling mount, although I did notice the 5000 was somewhat heavier at the rear, making it feel a little imbalanced during installation – but during operation it was fine. I should also add the position of the vents and ports allowed me to position it close to my rear wall.
The projectors may look different to previous models, but the remote remains familiar: a long thin unit with dimly backlit buttons and direct access to the calibrated presets as well as sharpness, brightness and contrast rockers.
In terms of connectivity, both the 5000 and 7000 have a pair of HDMI ports supporting HDMI 2.0b, handling signals of 4k up to 60p in 10 bit.
Sony’s not taken the opportunity to upgrade to HDMI 2.1, sadly ruling out 4k at 120p, but it has at least reduced the input lag from 27 to 21ms for 4k 60p, or down to 13ms for 2k at 120p. That’s still slower than a dedicated gaming monitor, but similar to BRAVIA TVs and much faster than previous projectors.
There’s also a USB input, 9-pin DSUB remote, jacks for trigger and IR inputs, and a LAN port, although this is for configuration as like most projectors, there’s no built-in streaming apps.
My preferred streaming appliance for projectors is the Apple TV 4k, configured to match the original frame rate, and in the absence of analogue video inputs, I use a Kramer video processor to connect legacy sources – yep, I still fire-up my old LaserDisc player from time to time!
Like the models they replace in the series, the 5000 and 7000 employ three SXRD panels with native 4k resolution, as opposed to cheaper models which simulate 4k with lower res panels and pixel-shifting.
Sony’s developed new 0.61in SXRD panels with 3840×2160 pixels to deliver a 16:9 shaped UHD image, versus the slightly wider 4096×2160 DCi panels of the previous 290 / 325 ES. The change from DCi is due to most home content being delivered in the 16:9 shape and allows the projectors to display it without any scaling.
I personally like the look of the image from Sony’s SXRD panels, but some owners have reported degradation issues on earlier models over time, so if you’re making a big investment, you should do some research, particularly on the AVS forums. I have no official comment from Sony regarding previous issues, but the panels are a new design and Sony does describe them as being more durable – time will tell.
Arguably the biggest change is the switch from a bulb-based light source to laser even on the most affordable 5000 model. Sony’s quoting 2000 Lumens from the 5000, up from 1500 on the 290 / 325, and 3200 Lumens for the 7000.
Both are quoted as being able to run for 20,000 hours before the laser falls to around 50% of its original brightness, which in practical terms means it may last the usable lifetime of the projector itself.
It’s also quicker to change intensity which in turn allows the kind of expanded dynamic range that previously required the active iris control of pricier models, quieter to cool, and more environmentally-friendly too with lower power consumption, no lamp or filter changes, and none of the mercury used in their earlier projector bulbs.
Moving onto image processing, the 5000 and 7000 are powered by Sony’s latest X1 Ultimate for Projector which inherits technology from recent Bravia TVs. Arguably the biggest upgrades are Triluminous Pro for a broader colour gamut, and Object-Based HDR enhancement which goes beyond the frame-based enhancement of their predecessors to deliver the impression of a higher dynamic range.
Moving onto optics, the 5000 inherits the old lens from the HW series, including my aging HW15, with Sony claiming enhancements to handle 4k resolution. But this in turn means it now sadly lacks the motorised zoom, shift and focus of the 290 / 325, not to mention its broader shift range. The visible shift wheels from the HW series may now be hidden under a panel on the 5000, but it’s the same mechanics and optics inside.
As such you’re now looking at a throw ratio on the 5000 of 1:1.38-2.21 with +/-71% vertical and +/-25% horizontal shift. So a downgrade from the 290 / 325 in this regard.
Meanwhile the 7000 boasts a new Advanced Crisp Focus, or ACF lens, with sharper corners, a broader throw of 1:1.35-2.84, and +/-85% vertical shift or +/-36% for more flexible installations.
Plus all the optical adjustments on the 7000 are motorised too, leaving the 5000 feeling a bit basic in comparison with its manual adjustment dials. But to be fair, you do generally only adjust them once during installation before rarely touching them again.
Ok now for some tests where I’ll film some actual projected images in my home theatre – obviously the quality will be impacted by my camera, YouTube compression and whatever you’re viewing it on, but it’ll still illustrate the points I’m making.
My room without alcove sections measures roughly 3.5m wide by 4m long, with a motorised screen mounted in front of a large window with blackout curtains.
Once the fittings are taken into account, my throw distance from the front of the projector to the screen is about 3.3m which, for both the 5000 and my old HW15 projectors, delivers a 16:9 image measuring a maximum of 105 inches on the diagonal. You can see the full zoom range here.
Annoyingly neither projector will quite fill my 123 inch screen from this distance, but the room conversion and mountings don’t give me any wriggle-room to position the projector any further.
My first test was Spiderman into the Spiderverse, playing first from Blu Ray on my Oppo 205 in 1080p, with the projector set to its default Cinema Film 1 preset. It’s an extremely vibrant movie, with the image from the 5000 looking bright, colourful and with deep blacks and bright highlights. It’s been a few months since I last had the 290 / 325 in my room, but already the 5000 was looking a little brighter out of the box and with deeper blacks too.
A strong start, so next onto Planet Earth II, a 4k Blu Ray disc playing in HDR from my Oppo 205. In some sequences there was a noticeable step-up in detail over 1080 content, and I also noticed what looked like a greater tonal range than I remembered from the 290 / 325.
Now no projector is going to get anywhere near the tonal dynamic range of a modern TV, and any projected HDR content is more about cunning tone-mapping to make the most of the limited range. But it did look better than I remember from before. This was using both the Cinema Film 1 and Bright Cinema presets, and as before, the projector automatically switches to HDR versions of its presets.
Next for for streaming content using my Apple 4k TV 2021 edition set to 4k HDR, and I’m starting with the intro sequence from The Crown on Netflix which is a torture test for black levels. This was played using the Bright Cinema preset in HDR.
On my previous HW15, this intro is plagued by visible blockiness and a very limited dynamic range, but on the 5000, it was transformed into a very watchable sequence with subtle gradations and nice highlights. The earlier 290 also did a great job here, but the black levels looked darker on the 5000.
One of the benefits of a laser light source is being able to adjust its output much faster than a traditional bulb, in turn allowing it to deliver the kind of extended tonal range previously requiring a dynamic iris of a more expensive model.
Certainly the 5000 in my tests was delivering deeper black levels, but I did notice at the end of some gradual fades to black that the projector would briefly pause before jumping from dark to really dark in a single step as if it were switching off the laser altogether. I’m not sure if this is a setting you can adjust, but it wasn’t too jarring.
Next up some Marvel content from Disney+, playing here in 4k HDR, again using the Bright Cinema preset for the maximum impact. Here I not only noticed the broad colour range, but also what looked to me like a slightly brighter and punchier overall image than the 290 / 325.
On that model I found streamed HDR content could often look unpleasantly dark, while switching my Apple TV to SDR typically delivered a much better-looking version to me personally. Now with the 5000, I was finding the HDR versions much more watchable than before.
While we’re in the Multiverse of Madness, it’s worth mentioning one of the other features of Sony’s new projectors: the IMAX Enhanced mode. This is listed at the end of the calibrated presets and when toggling between it and the User preset, you’ll notice the IMAX one looks punchier. But that’s with the default settings which are different. Match their settings, especially the dynamic HDR mode, and you’ll see they look exactly the same.
I’ve confirmed this with Sony: the IMAX Enhanced mode on this projector is simply a spare User preset, handy for configuring multiple scenarios like daytime or night viewing, but not actually doing anything unique to the image. I do however believe the unit meets the IMAX certification for displays.
Moving on, a very important aspect for my own installation is running noise, as the projector is fitted about 1m above my viewing position. The cooler-running laser may allow it to run more quietly than the 290 / 325, but the fans are still quite audible at the maximum brightness. They’re a bit like having a PC nearby, noticeable during very quiet passages, but drowned-out in louder ones.
On previous models, I’d typically select Lamp Low not only to reduce the fan noise, but also extend the bulb life. On the 5000, those lifespan issues are greatly alleviated, but I did want to see how quietly I could run it and still have an enjoyable picture.
There’s no lamp high or low setting on the 5000, instead a simple slider from maximum to minimum which appears to trigger a reduction in fan speed and noise from around the 70% mark, after which there’s further reductions every 10% or so.
While reducing the slider though, the actual brightness barely changed to my eyes, which meant I could enjoy a significant decrease in fan noise with what looked like minimal impact on image quality.
In terms of image processing, I personally found Motionflow continued to make things look a little too smooth and TV-like for my taste, but the various dynamic HDR enhancers could add some punch if desired.
The Reality Creation coupled with careful sharpening could also enhance detail, although as with previous models, my favourite configuration of all was simply selecting the Reference preset which turns most of it off. This was my preferred mode on the 290 / 325 and continued to be a great starting point on the 5000.
Anecdotally, I recall the 290 / 325 looking a tad sharper than the 5000 when I fed it the same material with the same preset, but I have no formal tests to back that up. Maybe the re-use of the old HW-series lens isn’t resolving quite as fine detail, or maybe the processing is tuned a little differently. It’s hard to say, but overall the 5000 image remained packed with detail when fed 4k content, and I felt the brightness, colour and dynamic range were all improved over its predecessor.
Oh and an unexpected bonus of the laser light source is faster startup and shutdown, with the 5000 switching itself off after only 16 seconds.
Sony VPL-XW5000ES verdict
Ultimately the XW5000ES is an excellent home theatre projector for anyone who desires a large image with native 4k resolution and the lower running costs of a laser light source. In my tests it delivered a detailed, bright and colourful image with an impressive dynamic range. The laser not only delivered brighter highlights than its predecessor, but its speed also allowed impressive black levels that would previously have demanded the expense of an active iris system.
The really important part is the practicality of this performance. On previous models you’d need to run the lamp high for meaningful HDR with a significant hit on lifespan and an obtrusively loud fan to keep it cool. As such in my time with the 290 / 325 ES, I actually ran it on Low and missed out on its potential dynamic range.
In contrast you can run the 5000 at a higher brightness without worrying about the laser lifespan or incurring too much running noise. Sure, it’s still audible, but it is quieter when delivering a similar brightness. So you’re more likely to be enjoying the 5000 operating near to its best, as opposed to reigning-in the older models.
It’s not all good news though, with Sony making some cost-cutting measures on the 5000 in order to upgrade the light source while still roughly matching the price of its predecessor. Most notably adopting the lens from the HW series means the 5000 loses the motorised controls of the 290 / 325, not to mention its broader range of adjustments. I’m also not sure it’s quite as sharp as the lens on the previous model.
The drop in panel resolution from DCi to UHD may make sense for most installations, but also means the projected image size from the 5000 isn’t quite as wide as the earlier 290 / 325 in its scaled mode. Annoying if, like me, you’re literally up against the wall. Then there’s the IMAX Enhanced mode which sounds exciting, but doesn’t appear to do anything differently to any of the other presets when using the same settings. So it’s basically just an extra User preset you can use for an additional configuration.
Arguably the biggest disappointment and surprise in terms of spec though is the decision to keep the HDMI ports as 2.0b rather than upgrading their speed to 2.1, especially galling on the pricier 7000 model. This sadly rules out 4k 120, which means you won’t be enjoying the ultimate gaming experience from the latest platforms. But while Sony has improved the input lag on both projectors, they’re still arguably too slow for serious gaming anyway. Sure you can have a lot of fun gaming on a really big screen, but no projector is going to match the response of a dedicated gaming monitor.
So while the 5000 does have some misses and a few downgrades compared to its predecessor, the benefits of its laser light source should be enough to sell it to anyone weighing them both up. Indeed the combination of native 4k and a laser light will easily shortlist it for anyone spending this sort of money on a new projector. That said, do keep an eye open for potential bargains on remaining 290 / 325 stock as it remains a superb performer.Check prices on the Sony VPL-XW5000 ES at B&H. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!