Sony VPL-GTZ380 4K SXRD Laser Projector Review

Sony VPL-GTZ380 4K SXRD Laser Projector Review


Sony VPL-GTZ380

4K SXRD Laser
Projector

Projector Central Editor's Choice Award

Editor’s Choice Award

Our Editor’s Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.

Price

$80,000

Pros

  • Spectacular highlights for SDR and HDR
  • World class contrast for its brightness class
  • 100% DCI-P3 gamut without filters
  • Three-chip LCoS native 4K architecture

Cons

  • No onboard edge-blending for commercial installs
  • Pedestrian remote (for now)
  • “If you have to ask…” pricing

Our Take

Sony’s new flagship 10,000-lumen home theater and commercial large-venue projector comes with a breathtaking price-tag, but justifies it with breathtaking SDR and HDR images.

sony vplgtz380 frontangle

Since mid 2020, Sony has done a near-complete refresh of its 4K, LCoS-based SXRD home theater projector line, led by a new 10,000-lumen flagship announced originally for the commercial markets by Sony’s B2B division. The VPL-GTZ380 is unlike any SXRD projector that precedes it, and the state-of-the-art advancements developed for it were trickled down in varying degrees to create Sony’s revitalized 2021 4K SXRD family including the lamp-based VPL-VW325ES ($5,499) and VPL-VW715ES ($9,999), and the laser-driven VPL-VW915ES ($19,999) and VPL-VW1025ES ($39,999). Only Sony’s prior flaship, the 5,000-lumen VPL-VW5000ES ($60,000), remains unmodified for now.

As I did recently in my review of the VPL-VW325ES, I’ll go through the key technologies in the VPL-GTZ380. But I first have to acknowledge its breakthrough ticket price: $80,000 prior to adding one of three optional lenses. Of course, for the corporate, educational, museum, simulation, and entertainment concerns that want huge, highly color-accurate, high-contrast images, a price like that will be all in a day’s work. Ditto for the well-heeled home theater enthusiast or residential integration customer who has no problem spending as much on a projector as they do on a luxury SUV.

Features

Some key hardware and software advances help make the GTZ380 possible. The first is a new, 0.74-inch SXRD native 4096×2160 4K imaging chip, used only in this model to date, with an updated liquid crystal material formulated to provide stability at the high 10,000-lumen rated brightness. Like all SXRD projectors, the GTZ380 sports a 3-chip RGB architecture, so you get equal white and color brightness and immunity to rainbow artifacts caused by the sequential color wheel found in most single-chip projectors. The new panels are mated with a liquid cooling system, a proprietary phosphor-wheel in the laser engine with a spiral fin designed for efficient heat release, and a streamlined internal airflow. All of this contributes to a relatively low noise rating of 39 dB and a reduced footprint, but this is still a substantial projector measuring 22.1 x 10.3 x 29.9 inches and weighing 112 pounds excluding lens. That is competitive with some other 3-chip workhorse models in or around this brightness class, but much larger and heavier—in some cases more than twice the weight—of the latest generation of “compact” 10,000 lumen projectors targeted at traditional large-venue commercial applications.

SXRD Chip Crossection
A cross-section of the Sony SXRD chip. (Photo Credit: Sony)

The light engine uses a clever three-laser system, with two blue lasers of different wavelengths plus a red laser. One of the blue lasers is dedicated to directly reproducing deep blue while the second is put through a phosphor wheel for the remaining blue wavelengths, plus green and red. The dedicated red laser bolsters up the deep reds. The net effect is that the VPL-GTZ380 can achieve 100% DCI-P3 color gamut for HDR10 or HLG HDR content at its full 10,000-lumen brightness, without the need of any brightness-robbing color filter. The other typical benefits of a laser engine are here as well: 20,000 hours to half-life at rated brightness and no lamp replacements, higher brightness and color stability than you get with a lamp, and rapid power-up and shut down. With a live signal on the input, I timed 27 seconds from turn-on to screen image. The image goes dark instantly at power-down, and needs only about 6 seconds of fan time to full off.

sony vplgtz380 laser path
The Sony VPL-GTZ380 uses three lasers—a red for deep reds, a blue for deep blues, and a second blue that passes through a phosphor wheel for the remining blues and reds, as well as green. (Photo Credit: Sony)

The projector’s advanced video processing drives a number of other key picture quality improvements. A new high powered chip dubbed “X1 for projector,” based on the X1 processor used in Sony’s high end TVs, has been introduced for all the new Sony models. Only the top-line GTZ380 offers the X1 Ultimate for projector version.

X1 Ultimate for projector chip
The X1 Ultimate for projector chip is only available in Sony’s VPL-GTZ380 projector.

As explained in our review of the VW325ES, the X1 for projector processor is used across the line to enable several new or improved features, most notably Dynamic HDR Enhancer and Super Resolution Reality Creation, though these features are further enhanced or addended by the Ultimate processor in the ways described below.

Dynamic HDR Enhancer. This dynamic frame-by-frame enhancement to Sony’s HDR tone-mapping scheme analyzes the signal on the fly and applies any or all of three modifications to achieve brighter highlights, more accurate highlight saturation, and deeper blacks; i.e., wider dynamic range. Sony says the new processing provides a much higher degree of analysis than previously possible, essentially parsing the scene into finer gradations between dark and light it can then react to. On dark scenes with punctuating highlights—a full moon above a dark landscape, for example—the Dynamic HDR Enhancer will use laser modulation, the projector’s dynamic iris, or a combination of both to dim the light source and deepen the black level of the darkest portion of the night sky. The laser can quickly and effectively take down the overall brightness, while the iris helps reduce light scatter for an even deeper black than the laser can achieve alone. At the same time, pixel-level signal processing is applied to boost the highlights, such as the moon or stars.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in bright scenes that threaten to blow out the highlights and cause a loss of detail around the brightest areas—perhaps a sunset—the system will apply the same elements to adjust the overall light source as needed and also dim the specific pixels in the brightest areas of the image to prevent oversaturation.

Sony Dynamic HDR comparison2
Sony’s Dynamic HDR Enhancer technology looks at each frame of video, and then applies a combination of mechanical iris adjustments and/or laser modulation (where available) to deepen blacks, while simultaneously driving brighter highlights through signal processing. (Photo Credit: Sony)

It is on this last point that Sony’s HDR philosophy sometimes comes at odds with that of other projector brands. Sony has been clear in communicating to reviewers that it approaches HDR from a creator’s perspective, attempting to get as close as possible to the image one might see on Sony’s BVM-HX310 1,000-nit professional HDR mastering monitor, which is used widely by the Hollywood post-production community. This leads to an aggressive approach that intentionally rolls off too-bright, oversaturated highlights while adjusting the rest of the image for optimum contrast. Other manufacturers typically allow for more range that may provide brighter, more visceral highlights at the expense of oversaturation and a loss of detail. You can read more about this in our review of the VPL-VW325ES.

Though Sony’s approach does attempt to best mimic the ST2084 EOTF spec for HDR10 that’s used for flatpanels, there is no fixed standard for how to apply tone-mapping to adapt the 1,000-to-4,000 nit peaks found in today’s HDR content to home theater projectors that typically max out somewhere under 150 nits. So every manufacturer’s fairy dust is their own to sprinkle as they see fit. What you like, or think is “right,” is up to you as the viewer. In the case of the 10,000-lumen VPL-GTZ380, we’re starting with a much brighter light source than the typical HDR projector, which adds another fascinating element to the mix. But this additional headroom is also managed particularly well thanks to Object-Based HDR Remaster, another feature exclusive to the more powerful X1 Ultimate for projector processor. Whereas the Dynamic HDR Enhancer in Sony’s other models analyzes each frame of video as a whole, Object-Based HDR Remaster is able to analyze and adjust the color and contrast of individual objects within each frame for more precise control of light. The GTZ380 also adds a feature called Digital Contrast Optimizer that compensates for low-luminance details to preserve black levels and enhance overall contrast.

Object-Based Super Resolution Reality Creation. Reality Creation is the name Sony has applied for years to the scaling and noise reduction engine in its televisions and projectors; this is just the biggest-baddest-meanest version to come along, pumped up by the X1 Ultimate for projector processor. Technically speaking, the system looks at the input signal in real time and applies a pattern-recognition algorithm that compares objects in the image with those in a database built up now over 10 years. It can thus better distinguish real content from noise it can then eliminate, and also provide intelligence about how to best sharpen the identified objects, whether it’s a woman’s or man’s face, a checkered shirt, a tree, or something else. The additional processing provided by the X1 for Projector and X1 Ultimate for Projector chips are said to deliver better detection and resolution for very finely detailed objects like hair, fabric textures and the like. However, the X1 Ultimate chip in the GTZ380 allows the projector to identify and address many more objects per frame than the regular X1 for projector processor, and provides dual-database processing with separate databases for noise suppression and image scaling. Hence, the “Object-Based” prefix not shared by this feature in Sony’s other projectors.

SonyDigitalRealityCreation2
Sony’s Digital Reality Creation technology uses pattern recognition to identify objects from a database developed over many years and updated periodically. (Photo Credit: Sony)

Beyond the improvements wrought by the new processor, Sony has carried into the GTZ380 earlier features that contribute to its high performance. The two currently available lenses are top-of-the-line ARC-F models (All Range Crisp Focus), which feature 18 all-glass elements in 15 groups, including an expensive large diameter aspherical front lens, as well as a “floating” lens group architecture at the front that is further said to improve focus. Model VPLL-Z8014 ($8,000), is a 1.95x zoom with a 1.40-to-2.73:1 throw ratio and a range of image sizes from 60 to 600 inches (50 feet) diagonal; it’ll throw a 200-inch 16:9 image from a distance of about 21.5 to 42.5 feet. The VPLL-Z8008 ($14,000), which was supplied at my request for this review to accomodate our small video/test studio, is a short 1.27x zoom with a 0.8-to -1.02:1 throw ratio that handles images from 60 to 1200 inches (100 feet) diagonal and does the same 200-inch image from approximately 12.5 to 16 feet. You can see throw distances for different image sizes or aspect ratios from either lens with the ProjectorCentral Sony VPL-GTZ380 Throw Calculator. A third mid-zoom lens, the NAV-Z1014 ($16,000) will be added soon and will offer a 1.0-to-1.4:1 throw ratio. All the lenses are fully motorized for focus, zoom, and generous lens shift that varies based on the lens: ± 80% vertical/± 31% horizontal for the Z8014; ± 50% vertical/± 18% horizontal for the Z8008; and ± 50% vertical for the upcoming Z1014. Lens memories are included should you need them for swapping lenses in commercial applications or to engage them for constant image height (CIH) on a 2.35:1 widescreen with either widescreen movies or 16:9 broadcast content. (The projector also accommodates 1.24x and 1.32x anamorphic lenses for the same purpose).

The lenses are further assisted by Sony’s Digital Focus Optimizer feature. All lenses, even these very fine ARC-F lenses, incur modest degradation of sharpness at the far corners of the image compared with the center. Digital Focus Optimizer applies video processing to correct electronically for this anticipated degradation and achieve better results at the edges of the screen.

Some other noteworthy characteristics and features increase the VPL-GTZ380’s flexibility in the different applications Sony is targeting. To begin, the 16,000:1 rated native contrast ratio makes it suitable for both dark-room or bright-room applications—one reason why this model heads up both the commercial/B2B and home theater projector line-ups. For either consumer videogame playing or for use as a simulation projector, it offers the same Input Lag Reduction menu option found in other Sony projectors, which in this case took input lag down to a measured 21.5 ms at 4K/60 Hz. For eSports events or simulation work, a license is available for support of 4K/120Hz signals, which the projector can reproduce at full RGB 4:4:4, 10-bit color resolution. The GTZ380 can be equipped for night vision goggle training simulations, which are said to take good advantage of the additional infrared laser. And with the 120Hz upgrade, the projector can also support dual 4K/60 Hz 3D signals for virtual reality applications in industrial design or research.

Although there are no onboard facilities for image blending or projector stacking as is found in many high-lumen commercial projectors, the familiar four-corner mount layout on the top and bottom of the chassis are designed to accommodate stacks using third-party software solutions. Sony says the deep native black of the SXRD chips helps eliminate banding issues when blending projectors for large domes, planetariums, or giant exhibition screens.

The supported connections on the projector’s side panel include a pair of HDMI 2.0b ports (HDCP 2.3), a pair of DisplayPort terminals, RS-232C and 3.5 mm IR in and out for control, a 3D Sync output for an outboard emitter (unlike with Sony’s traditional home theater projectors this is required for any 3D viewing), a pair of 3.5 mm 12v trigger terminals, and a USB-A that’s strictly for firmware updates. A pair of BNC Sync In/Out connectors on the jackpack are inactive for this projector. An RJ45 port allows connection to a wired LAN for viewing the connection status via a Web browser or use with third-party control software including ADCP, AMX, Crestron RoomView, Control4, or digital signage controllers, though Sony does not offer its own remote control/fleet-control software as is touted today for some competing large-venue commercial projectors.

The socket for the AC power accommodates a 220 volt cord. The projector can be operated on 110 volts with an adapter cord but at noticeably diminished brightness. For my review, I used a 110-to-220 volt converter supplied by Sony and had no trouble running it off a 20 amp circuit for long periods of time. As a final touch, Sony thoughtfully provided subtle LED lighting for the terminal panel that can be toggled on/off by a switch.

VPL GTZ380 Remote 250If there’s any single thing about the VPL-GTZ380 that failed to impress me out of the box it’s the generic remote control. It’s a rather pedestrian, 7-inch non-backlit white plastic affair that at first glance telegraphed a disconnect for an $80,000+, state-of-the-art projector—especially since Sony’s home theater models have for years included the best supplied remote I’ve seen on any projectors, with direct access to a huge number of meaningful image adjustments. Unbeknownst to me during my evaluation, and fortunately for purchasers, the company does plan to also supply a version of its traditional home theater remote with the projector starting this December. In the meantime, customers can acquire that remote via direct inquiry with Sony.

Nonetheless, I reminded myself that this is a commercial projector and came to appreciate the thoughtful simplicity of what Sony did choose to include in the Pro remote. Along with power on/off, you get direct access buttons for most inputs, a Menu button and 4-way keypad, dedicated motorized lens controls for focus, zoom and shift, a button to access lens position memories, and direct access to a handful of key image tweaks. These include Brightness, Contrast, the laser Light Output, MotionFlow frame interpolation, the Reality Creation settings, and a Contrast Enhancer button which accesses versions of that feature for SDR and HDR. The remote also has a slider to give it any of four IR modes, so you can set it to operate only one of up to four projectors in a multi-projector installation. And there’s a 3.5 mm IR output on the bottom for a long-distance wired connection to the IR input on the projector. What was missing—and for a reviewer it was very sorely missed—were the direct-access buttons found on Sony’s home theater remotes for all the different color presets. There wasn’t even a button that would allow me to cycle through the many modes without first having to access the menu. But again, this is addressed in the available home theater remote.

Performance

Color Modes. It’s important to point out that despite the VPL-GTZ380 being sold as a commercial projector, it shares virtually all of its DNA with Sony’s home theater models and almost none with the company’s more traditional LCD business projectors geared at the higher education, museum, and presentation markets. There are no overhyped, hyperbright picture modes with the characteristic blue-green tint that you might look at and deem suitable only for spreadsheets, or a DICOM Sim mode for viewing X-rays in a medical school classroom (though Sony’s presets tend to be more tame and accurate in this regard than many brands). This is, in most respects, a classic Sony SXRD home theater projector engineered for the bright output demanded for high ambient light environments in many commercial applications or a powerful, realistic viewing experience on a large screen in a dark room as might be used for simulations or cinematic presentations. When you consider that ProjectorCentral’s database currently shows several 10,000-lumen laser models—including a few pixel-shifting 4K units—that sell for under $25,000, it becomes obvious that this Sony piece is destined only for the most demanding, image-critical applications.

I should also provide context for my comments below by clarifying that my testing was done on a tiny (for this projector) 110-inch diagonal, 16:9 matte white screen with a 1.3 gain—a requirement forced by the modest size of our facility and inability to support a 200-inch or larger screen as might be encountered in a commercial environment or a large custom home theater or screening room. At some level, this is akin to buying a Ferrari to run errands around town and never opening up the throttle. That said, I experimented with the GTZ380’s substantial firepower in both dark and bright conditions and found that its headroom, coupled with its aforementioned home-theater DNA, provided for a unique experience despite—or even because of—the modest image size.

The GTZ380 has 10 calibrated image presets dubbed Cinema Film 1, Cinema Film 2, Cinema Digital, Reference, TV, Photo, Game, Bright Cinema, and Bright TV. Three additional customizable User modes start out identical to the Reference mode. As with Sony’s home theater projectors, each of these modes goes into its own HDR10 or HLG version when an HDR signal is encountered. The picture modes offered are identical in name to those I found on the VPL-VW325ES, with the exception of the additional Cinema Digital, which the manual describes as “Image quality suited for reproducing digital cinema-like image quality, approximating the DCI specifications.”

Sony vpl gtz380 lifestyle

As I found recently with the VW325ES, the Reference mode, which is actually the brightest color mode out of the box on the GTZ380, delivered a stunning and accurate image with 1080p SDR content and measured very well against a classic D65, BT.709, 2.2 gamma target. Measurements with Calman Ultimate software from Portrait Displays, a Xrite i1Pro2 spectroradiometer, and a Murideo Six-G signal generator showed that the grayscale exhibited a perfect D65 (6,500K) color temperature across the board with DeltaE’s below 3 at all brightness levels except for 100% white. That had a slight excess of green and a deficiency in blue and red, but still measured only around 5 DeltaE, which was easily corrected with the 2-point Gain and Bias color temperature trims. (DeltaE describes how far from accurate a grayscale tone or color is; a DeltaE of 3 or below—some say 4 or below—is considered indistinguishable from perfect.)

The color points for the primaries and secondaries that define the color space were all well under 3 DeltaE—including blue, which is unusual in my experience for a laser projector. The most common models we review, with a single blue laser and phosphor wheel, tend to show an oversaturated and off-hue blue that leans slightly toward magenta and is not easily corrected. I did a tiny bit of tuning to red and yellow with the Color Correction Controls to bring their DE closer to the others, but they were all so far below 3 it was really a meaningless exercise. As part of my full calibration and subjective tuning I also vastly turned down the projector’s laser Light Output setting as described below.

I mentioned that Reference is the projector’s brightest mode overall. I measured 9,020 ANSI lumens with a full DCI-4K 4096×2160 signal and the Light Output cranked to Max, which is about 10% off the spec and well within the accepted 20% tolerance.

The Reference HDR version of this mode might therefore have been the best candidate for HDR viewing, but as with the other new Sony projectors it locks out use of the four-setting Dynamic HDR Enhancer function (Off, Low, Medium, High) that otherwise allows a nice range of tone-map adjustments for HDR content. As an aside, I did measure the projector’s color volume in that mode with a 4K HDR signal, and got 102.4% of the DCI-P3 color space, 69.3% BT.2020, and 152.8% BT.709.

Sony VPL GTZ380 ColorVolume ReferenceHDRMode
The color volume coverage percentages for the BT.709, DCI-P3, and BT.2020 color spaces can be seen on the left side of the screen as measured with Calman calibration software from Portrait Displays.

After some experimenting I chose the Cinema Digital mode for viewing HDR, changing the color temperature from the default “DCI” setting (which exhibited a modest green cast) to the more neutral/warm D65 setting. From there, I did only subjective adjustments based on content, primarily of the Dynamic HDR Enhancer and sometimes the Light Output setting. As with the VW325ES I reviewed earlier, there is also an “HDR Reference” setting in a separate HDR settings menu that delivers the tone-map most preferred by Sony’s engineers and the one guaranteed not to oversaturate highlights. I used the Auto option, which in this mode defaulted to the standard HDR10 setting and still allowed use of the Dynamic HDR Enhancer menu.

Most of the time, I left the laser Light Output setting at its default 80 position for HDR, resulting in a peak white measurement on the relatively small, 1.3 gain matte white screen of (drumroll, please) 528 nits. Not to foreshadow too much here, but this kind of light output makes for a completely different experience of projected HDR than anything I have ever seen in a home theater or commercial cinema, even the high-performance Dolby Cinemas. It made me outright giddy to watch it.

Although I came to believe the VPL-GTZ380’s unique gifts were largely wasted when the lights were turned up, it has enough brightness to punch through most high ambient light viewing environments at reasonable image size. I primarily used the Bright Cinema mode with its default Gamma 7 gamma correction setting for viewing in a lit-up room, though I found an ALR screen is definitely recommended despite the hefty 10,000-lumen spec.

Sony VPL GTZ380 lifestyle2 800

Bright Room SDR Viewing. Our video/test studio presents a significant ambient light challenge for projectors when the room lights are on that’s not far from reality for a commercial conference room projector. The space is, in fact, a converted conference room. It is windowless but has two banks of harsh white LED ceiling lights, including one bank of three lights that washes down on the screen wall from about 4 feet out. It’s absolutely brutal on projected images, particularly when viewing with a matte-white screen.

That said, the VPL-GTZ380 in its Bright Cinema mode delivered exceptional brightness; even more so when the laser Light Output was cranked from 80 to its Max position. I watched a few SDR Blu-rays on the white screen and found that the projector handled bright and mixed bright-and-dark scenes fairly well, but with some significant washout of contrast made all the more obvious by the higher black levels resulting from the punched-up settings. Overall dark scenes were naturally harder to follow. But I honestly don’t think anyone would use this projector in such a demanding environment with such powerful lighting attacking the screen. I got much better results with more moderate lighting—equivalent to a torchiere floor lamp pointing up at the ceiling—that still lit up the room well with reflected light bright enough to read by.

Sony recently demonstrated the VPL-GTZ380 at a showcase in New York City on a 140-inch Screen Innovations matte white screen in a large, high-ceiling room with sporadic but substantial lighting, and it displayed a surprisingly bright and high contrast image. In our studio with its harsher light, the image benefited greatly by swapping in our 110-inch Elite CineGrey 3D 1.2-gain ALR screen, which substantially deepened the blacks and improved the contrast while retaining the brightness. Watching the Blu-ray of Men in Black III, I was really impressed with the dark rendering of the MIB agents’ suits against the eye-popping white background of the MIB headquarters. There’s no doubt you could use this projector in conjunction with an appropriate ALR screen as the day-to-day TV in a spacious family room as well in most of the traditional commercial applications for a 10,000-lumen projector.

sony mib
The Sony’s excellent contrast combined with an ALR screen allowed the dark Men in Black suits to really stand out against the white interior of headquarters. (Photo Credit: Sony Pictures)

Dark-Room SDR Viewing. Prior to any calibration the projector in its Reference mode was stupendously bright on our 110-inch/1.3 gain screen. With its out-of-box laser Light Output setting of 80 (on a scale that goes to 100), it measured 182 foot-Lamberts off the screen, or 625 nits. It’s hard to describe just how powerful and visceral that is, not to mention potentially fatiguing over time. But it delivered in this SDR mode highlights that were every bit as “real” and impactful, actually much more so, than any rendering of HDR I’ve seen to date on a traditional home theater projector.

With all this horsepower available, it made no sense to severely tamp down the brightness and go for the 30 to 40 ft-L peak white I might normally target with an HDR projector on a 110-inch screen in a dark or dim room. So I arbitrarily moved the laser Light Output control to 50 and tuned from there, resulting in a calibrated 87.4 ft-L or 299 nits peak white—still twice or more what a typical home theater projector can do. But even this proved far too bright for viewing, not because I was disturbed by the punchy highlights but because it drove the black level up and resulted in unsatisfying contrast. Eventually, I found that setting Light Output somewhere between 28 and 32 worked for most SDR titles, and delivered still-extraordinary highlights that lit up my eyeballs along with very good contrast for such overall brightness. The final calibrated peak white was 52.8 ft-L or 181 nits.

It is this extended dynamic range, coupled with the ability to maintain accurate colors at high brightness, that immediately set the VPL-GTZ380 apart from the more common 10,000-lumen commercial laser projectors I’ve tested. I have tried to press those products into service for movies in my small home theater, but even in their most color-accurate modes they end up looking too-bright and washed out because of elevated blacks. This is a reality for most high brightness projectors; I frankly assumed it was an insurmountable law of physics. You boost the brightness…you boost the blacks. That’s just how it goes. But this Sony denies that rule of thumb. I’m not saying that the GTZ380 gives you the deep, inky black you get on an LCoS projector rated below 2,000 lumens, especially not when you’re shoe-horning its power into a 110-inch screen. But for its light output, the GTZ380’s contrast—even with SDR content—is extraordinary. Breathtaking, really. And the combination of bright highlights, solid contrast, and the incredibly sharp images from the Reality Creation scaler and ARC-F lens resulted in my seeing some very well-known movies I use for testing in an entirely new light.

As an example, I have watched the excellent 1080p Blu-ray transfer of Oblivion countless times and yet I saw things this time I’d never noticed before or experienced old things with new vitality. The sequence when tech Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) battles it out with what he thinks are aliens (really humans) in the dim remains of the destroyed New York Public Library displayed surprisingly good shadow detail in the darker areas of the immense, elaborate set and sensational, HDR-like power from bright objects like Jack’s rifle beam flashlight and the blaster gunplay. When a drone arrives as Jack’s backup, the massive explosions that end the battle shocked me with their sudden brightness and impressed me with the natural look of the scattered fireballs as the camera takes in a long shot.

Similarly, a nighttime shot of Jack’s sky-station quarters, seen suspended above the clouds and below the shattered remains of the lit moon, revealed depth and dimensionality I hadn’t seen before. The light reflecting from the station’s translucent swimming pool that highlighted the faces of Jack and his partner Vika at poolside had a natural, visceral pop that was also fresh for me. Colors I know well in this film all looked sensational. Flesh tones in the better lit scenes were unhyped and well delineated, and shots of granite mountainscapes, green forests, and blue skies rang true and were punctuated with the same lusciously wide dynamic range between their lightest and darkest areas. The whites, off-whites, and light grays exhibited by Jack’s bubble-ship, flight suit, and the exterior of the sky station showed exceptional neutrality with only the very slightest hint of warmth that I hope for from a dialed-in D65 color temperature.

Another shot in this movie, photographed in the lower deck of the sky station as Jack arms himself with weapons off his gun-rack in prep for the day’s work, features shadowy areas on opposite sides of the frame. I was impressed with the depth of the shadows and the lack of haze in those areas along with the projector’s ability to pull out details like the chrome crescent wrenches hanging on a tool rack. But this was the first time my eye was strongly drawn to the single wide beam of sun coming into the space from behind the camera to light up the middle of the frame. It hit the floor in front of jack and leaped off the screen in a way I hadn’t seen before…in the way I might acknowledge it in real life. Similarly, in a later scene in which Jack is captured by the Scavengers and interrogated in a bright spotlight, his face and light gray flight suit look almost three-dimensional against the satisfyingly deep black background. The projector’s brightness reserves and video processing took this already high-impact shot to another level, all while maintaining perfect skin tone and avoiding any clipping in the brightest areas.

I could go on like this, but suffice to say that everything I looked at offered a similarly enlightened viewing experience as I moved through other favorites including Titanic, whose sunny outdoor deck scenes, glittery interiors, and dark night shots depicting the sinking all engaged me with impactful highlights and range of light. I also checked some of my exceptionally dark torture-test scenes with low average picture level, not being sure what to expect from such a bright projector. But with the Light Output set down around 28 and some minor tweaking of the Brightness control, the opening of Chapter 12 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, in which the Deatheaters assemble on a moonlight cliff overlooking Hogwarts, looked great. I could see detail in the valley and hills behind the cliff, and the light hitting the faces of the Deatheaters popped nicely without the need raise brightness to the point where you lose the sense of gloomy nighttime.

sony deatheaters
The light against the faces of the Deatheaters in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 popped nicely against the dark sky. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

HDR Viewing. You can pretty much take what I said about SDR and apply it to my experience with HDR on the GTZ380, but with even brighter highlights and darker blacks. I mostly left the Light Output setting at its default 80 position and set the Dynamic HDR Enhancer to whatever seemed to work best for the content, which was usually High or Medium. What surprised me—in a good way—is that although there was a noticeable shift in overall brightness when I cycled through the Dynamic HDR Enhancer settings from High to Medium to Low and then Off, the amount of extra detail added back to the super-bright highlights as I lowered the setting didn’t vary much. With the HDR tone-map trims on most projectors, you turn down the control to dim the scene and tame the oversaturation and clipping in the highlights, thus restoring more detail to those areas. In this case, the Sony’s processing tended to preserve excellent detail in bright highlights, such as a sunset, even at the High setting for the Dynamic HDR Enhancer. My best interpretation is that the projector is so bright that it requires less signal compression to begin with on these highlights. So, although lowering the control brought down overall brightness and improved overall contrast by putting a little more black into the darker areas of the image, the excellent processing and light management from the Dynamic HDR Enhancer was able to retain the bright highlights without any severe clipping, even at the High setting. Put another way, the projector never needed to push into extreme oversaturation to deliver that extra “wow” factor on highlights the way most HDR home theater projectors do.

The net effect of all this was that I could punch up the highlights to previously impossible levels while maintaining excellent overall contrast—again, not the deepest blacks I’ve seen in any projector, but the deepest by far I’ve seen in any conventional 10,000 lumen model. Furthermore, it wasn’t lost on me that the punchy highlights partially shut down the iris in my own eyes and provided for the appearance of an even deeper black and better contrast on most scenes with mixed bright and dark elements.

No matter what I watched, this was easily the most amazing and satisfying expression of HDR I’ve seen on any home theater projector, and quite honestly, better than any scrawny flatpanel I can recall. I started with the opening for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 off UHD Blu-ray, and it was a spectacular visual treat that I couldn’t get enough of. The movie opens with an eye-popping (perhaps CGI) landscape of farmland in Missouri in the late afternoon sun with fabulously saturated colors in the sky, brown farm fields, and grassy green patches, along with fine details like thin power lines on lattice towers I could pick out in the distance. A shot showing the young Ego (Kurt Russell) with his girlfriend pulling into the parking lot of a 1980’s Dairy Queen displayed a familiar and deeply rendered Dairy Queen red on the building and signage, and a shot of the couple in a small clearing of woods behind the building demonstrated convincing foliage and skin tones dappled with bright highlights wherever the sun came through the trees. The action then moves into the Guardian’s nighttime battle sequence on the distant planet of Sovereign, an amazing amalgam of flashing lightning bolts and colored lights, shiny gold fixtures on the platform where the battle takes place, and sprinkles of red, green, yellow, purple and magenta glitter sprayed from the mouth of a serpentine-like monster. When the Guardians meet with the queen of the Sovereigns, her shiny gold skin, gown, and throne provided a shock of HDR eye candy. I’ve never seen any of this rendered with such impact and realism.

The opening dance scene in La La Land provides a nice HDR challenge that the projector also aced. It’s shot on a sunny LA highway ramp with constantly-moving dancers shifting in and out of shadows, and it’s a great test of color as the film’s repeating themes of saturated reds, greens, blues, and yellows are introduced here in the dancers’ varied wardrobe. The GTZ380 nailed all of it. A specular highlight that erupts from a windshield as a camera pan stops on one vehicle was bright but not clipped as seen on some other HDR projectors. Details on the chests and clothing of a trio of dancers moving toward the camera in shadow remained visible with good contrast and no crushing. The colorful costumes popped in the sunlight, and the crisp, neutral-white dress shirt of a dancer who momentarily shows his back to the sun was intensely bright but retained all manner of wrinkles in the fabric—instead of blowing out into a non-distinct white blob as I’ve seen on some other projectors. In a later scene, a billboard for Californian Oranges painted on the side of a building popped with the stylized orange and blue used for the fruit and sky, and the sun’s reflections on the shiny paint glistened and brought it to life as I’ve never seen.

sony martian storm
The Sony displayed the crew walking through a Martian storm in The Martian with good rendering of the flying debris and superb contrast. (Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox)

The scene near the beginning of the HDR version of The Martian in which the crew is making its way through the darkness of a Martian sandstorm also displayed better than I’ve ever seen it. Some projectors can’t handle the motion of gritty debris superimposed on the shot or lack the depth and shadow detail to fully reveal the outlines of the astronauts’ bodies. There were no issues here with any haze in the dark areas or any motion artifacts—the detail in the flying grit was extraordinary—and the astronaut faces lit up by the crew’s helmet lamps punched through the darkness with mesmerizing oomph.

To check the projector’s dark-scene HDR performance, I ran an early sequence in Blade Runner 2049 in which blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) sneaks into a dark cabin to retire a replicant. Some projectors bury the shadow detail on this scene or suffer from elevated black level that casts a haze, but I could see nicely into the outline and detail of a black upright piano on a wall between two frosted windows, and the light hitting the floor and a nearby sofa emerged from the darkness with a natural dimensionality.

blade runner 2049 cabin opening
In the challenging dark cabin scene at the beginning of Blade Runner 2049, the VPL-GTZ380 displayed nice dimensionality and showed the details in the shadows. (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

On the opposite end of the spectrum I also ran two impossibly bright scenes from The Meg, a 4,000 nit HDR title that clips most HDR projectors with its hottest shots. Some don’t even have the adjustment range to display the tamer parts of this movie without washing out. I hate to repeat myself, but I’ve never seen this title look better. The scenes showing bright sun reflecting off the ocean whitecaps were rendered with essentially no blow-out of detail, and an underwater shot of a translucent shark cage being lowered into the water with the sun directly behind it looked perfect, with all manner of detail visible in the cage lights and rigging, and none of the heavy banding I often see emanating outward as the light transitions to the dark underside of the vessel.

Eventually, I popped on the 4K HDR remaster of The Wizard of Oz just for fun. Despite restoration this 1939 classic still suffers from excessive film grain that even the Reality Creation software couldn’t perfectly tame. But that sequence when Dorothy opens the door from her drab monotone world into the explosive Technicolor of Munchkinland…wow. And the initial close-up of the Wicked Witch’s red ruby slippers sticking out from under the house was displayed with stunning detail and punch. For the first time, I noticed the shoes’ mottled, paisly-like texture and the bright, yellow reflection highlights that leaped off them from the set lighting.

sony vplgtz380 front

3D Viewing. As noted earlier, unlike some of Sony’s other home theater projectors, the VPL-GTZ380 will not respond to 3D shutter glasses without the addition of an outboard 3D emitter. The projector will work with any standard VESA 3D emitter using the 3-pin Mini-DIN connector, though the tight quarters for the 3D sync output on its connection panel means you’ll need a corded emitter. I was able to use my JVC PKEM2 RF emitter dongle with the addition of a third-party extension cord I picked up on the web, and some off-the-shelf Xpand 3D glasses.

As you might expect, the projector’s brightness reserves and general color accuracy made for an excellent 3D experience. Similar to how the GTZ380 behaves when it sees HDR, if it sees a Full 3D signal it will call up a 3D version of whatever mode you happen to be in. I dedicated one of the User picture modes (which starts out equivalent to Reference) for 3D and altered it primarily by boosting the laser Light Output from the default 80 to 100, and then playing a bit with the Brightness and gamma settings depending on the content.

As I found recently with the VPL-VW325ES, the GTZ380 delivers essentially accurate color and relatively neutral whites with no obvious green cast or other tinting, just brighter overall. Not so bright that you’d mistake it for viewing without glasses, but brighter than I’m used to seeing, and with one key difference: the highlights continued to punch through and make an impact as was seen with regular SDR and HDR content.

The Walk, the biopic that realistically recreates Phillipe Petit’s tightrope walk between New York’s Twin Towers, is shot somewhat dark; even the walk scene is depicted under a hazy Manhattan sky. But the film looked as good in 3D as I’ve seen it, with decent fleshtones and no obvious parallax or motion artifacts in the 3D rendering. At various moments when live flames appeared on screen, such as during a romantic candle-lit dinner or when a worker on the Trade Center roof is blasting Petit’s rigging with a blowtorch, the flames exhibited eye-catching brightness.

An even better experience was had with Pixels, a much brighter movie overall that mixes live actors battling giant versions of your favorite arcade videogame characters from the ’80s who have come to wreak havoc on earth. Again, I saw beautiful flesh tone delineation between the face of lead actor Adam Sandler and the more fair-skinned Michelle Monahan who plays his love interest. The white stone security checkpoint at the White House in Washington DC and the crisp white shirt of a security guard in the sunny courtyard popped nicely and displayed excellent neutrality. Later, a nighttime battle of Centipede in a public park was a spectacular light show of colors seen in the attacking centipedes and the explosive light blasts from the specialized canons developed by the military to combat the new threat.

Before closing out, I should mention that during all my auditions, including watching several scenes with deep reds in them, I was never distracted by any laser speckle. I was able to detect only the most modest amount of speckle in static red and magenta color test patterns when viewed close up, but it was hard to spot from a distance. I feel confident saying speckle was never an issue with this projector with the two Elite ISF-certified screens I used.

On the other hand, the GTZ380 does emit a potentially distracting high-pitched whine from its laser engine that is separate from its otherwise remarkably low fan noise. I’ve heard a similar whine to varying degrees from other laser projectors, so this isn’t anything unusual. As described in the Measurements appendix below, the fan speed varies based on the laser Light Output setting. At lower settings when the fan noise is at its lowest (as it was for my SDR auditions), the whine is more audible. Fortunately, neither the fan noise nor the whine is likely to be an issue for the open spaces and viewing distances this projector will likely be subjected to in commercial applications, or even the large home theater spaces where it might be used. Furthermore, any soundtrack or ambient noise playing against it will also help mask it.

Conclusion

I have been lucky in my work to have seen some stunningly accurate, high-contrast projected images of uncommon dimensionality and depth that boasted eye-poping detail and superb black levels. But I have not typically been able to apply those descriptives to a projector this bright, and certainly not the other two 10,000-lumen models that I’ve personally reviewed. These delivered fairly accurate color in their best color modes, decent contrast, and very bright, watchable images. They were excellent performers with great build quality and were well suited for the typical applications we see for a 10,000-lumen projector.

But as I said earlier, this Sony is no ordinary 10,000-lumen projector. Perhaps the only thing that would compete with it image-wise would be Christie’s Eclipse—a specialty 6-chip HDR projector that was developed for New York’s Hayden Planetarium and just made available for home theaters. I saw it demo’d a while back at Christie’s headquarters with planetarium footage and its black was by far the deepest I’ve seen from any projection display. But I have yet to see it with movie content, or judge how it handles the demanding process of tone-mapping bright highlights. Furthermore, the Eclipse is a giant three-piece system that calls for a sound-proof projection booth for home cinema environments and costs substantially more than the GTZ380 (several multiples). What Sony has accomplished here in a single, relatively compact chassis, and at its admittedly lofty but more reasonable price, is nothing short of astounding.

I did not expect to fall in love with the VPL-GTZ380 or find it so accommodating and high performing on my relatively small screen. But here we are. Thanks to its sheer firepower and the incredible finess with which it is handled, this is, for now, the best home theater projector I’ve laid eyes on, not to mention the best commercial large-venue projector I’ve seen at this brightness when it comes to pure image quality and rendering of SDR and HDR content in a dark or dim setting. Yes, it’s expensive, and only those who need or demand its special attributes will pay the more than 3X premium over a more typical projector in this lumen class. While I expect that the GTZ380 will turn up in a variety of public spaces and be seen by many in situations where picture quality really counts, only a lucky few will get to enjoy one in their private theater space. Those who do will finally come to know what projected HDR can really look like.

Measurements

Brightness. In its Reference SDR or HDR picture preset, with the VPLL-Z8008 lens at its widest zoom setting and the laser Light Output control set to Max, the VPL-GTZ380 measured 9,020 ANSI lumens brightness, about 10% off spec and well within the accepted 20% ANSI/ISO tolerance.

Reducing the Light Output control to the default setting of 80 produced 80% of the maximum brightness in any given picture mode. Light Output set to 50 resulted in 53% of the maximum brightness, and Light Output at 25 resulted in 31% of the max brightness. The Minimum Light Output setting resulted in just about 1% of any mode’s maximum.

Here are the measured ANSI lumens for each SDR picture mode. The HDR modes measured similarly.

Sony VPL-GTZ380 ANSI Lumens

Mode Max. Light Output

Reference 9,020

Cinema Film 1 8,785

Cinema Film 2 8,758

Cinema Digital 8,659

TV 7,712

Photo 8,515

Game 9,020

Bright Cinema 8,822

Bright TV 7,640

User 1 8,966

User 2 9,020

User 3 9,020

Zoom Lens Light Loss. Setting the short VPLL-Z8008 lens to its maximum telephoto setting resulted in negligible light loss compared with its wide telephoto setting.

Brightness Uniformity. Brightness uniformity with the VPLL-Z8008 lens set to its wide angle position was measured as 82.4%. There was no detectable hotspotting or brightness variation with either test patterns or live content.

Input Lag. In the projector’s Game picture mode, with the Input Lag Reduction setting turned on and MotionFlow frame interpolation turned off, I measured 21.5 ms of input lag for 3840×2160/60p signals and 73.1 ms for 1920×1080/60p. With Input Lag Reduction turned off and MotionFlow also off, those numbers were 81.6 ms and 89.3 ms respectively.

Fan Noise. The VPL-VW325ES is rated for 39 dB of noise using the industry standard, multi-position averaged measurement in a soundproof booth. Fan noise varies based on the setting for the laser Light Output control, with faster fans and higher noise at higher settings. In its brightest Reference mode, casual measurements taken in a room with a 28.6 dBA noise floor from approximately 5 feet in front of the projector (nearest the intake vents and away from the exhaust vents on the back) resulted in a maximum measurement of 44.4 dBA with the Light Output at Max and 43.2 dBA at the Light Output 80 default. Below the Light Output 50 setting this was reduced to 37.9 dBA. Engaging either of the two High Altitude settings resulted in a maximum measurement of 47.8 to 50.9 dBA.

Note that in addition to its respectably low fan noise for such a high lumen projector, the VPL-GTZ380 emits a higher pitched electronic whine that’s common among some laser projectors. In an otherwise silent room, it’s best masked by the fan when the Light Output setting is at or above 75. But in any event it shouldn’t be an issue given the large rooms and viewing distances this projector is likely to see.

Connections

Sony VPL GTZ380 Connections

  • HDMI 2.0b (x2 with HDCP 2.3)
  • DisplayPort (x2, with HDCP 2.3)
  • IR In (3.5 mm)
  • IR Out (3.5 mm)
  • 12v Trigger (3.5 mm, x2)
  • RS-232C (9-pin D-Sub)
  • 3D Sync Out (3-pin Mini-DIN)
  • LAN (RJ45)
  • USB Type A (service only)

Calibrated Settings

Calibrated image settings from any third-party do not account for the significant potential for sample-to-sample variation, nor the different screen sizes and materials, lighting, lamp usage, or other environmental factors that can affect image quality. Projectors should always be calibrated in the user’s own space and tuned for the expected viewing conditions. However, the settings provided here may be a helpful starting point for some. Always record your current settings before making adjustments so you can return to them as desired. Refer to the Performance section for some context for each calibration.

SDR Settings

Calibrated Preset: Reference

Reality Creation: On

Resolution: 20

Digital Focus Optimizer: On

Cinema Black Pro

Laser Light Setting

Dynamic Control: Off

Output: 30 (or to taste)

Motion Flow: Off

Contrast 79

Brightness 49

Color 50

Hue 50

Color Temp: D65

Gain: R1, G -8, B 4

Bias: R1, G0, B-4

Sharpness 50 (default)

Expert Setting

Smooth Gradation: 0ff

Gamma correction: 2.6

Color Correction: On

Red: Hue -2, Saturation -3, Brightness -4

Green: Hue 0, Saturation 0, Brightness 0

Blue: Hue 0, Saturation 0, Brightness 0

Magenta: Hue 0, Saturation 0, Brightness 0

Cyan: Hue 0, Saturation 0, Brightness 0

Yellow: Hue 10, Saturation -2, Brightness 4

Color Space: BT709

Input lag reduction: 0n

FUNCTION

3D Settings

2D -3D Display Select: Auto

Dynamic Range: HDMI 1: Auto; HDMI 2: Auto

HDMI Signal Format: Enhanced

HDR Settings

Calib Preset: (HDR) Cinema Digital

Reality Creation: On

Resolution 20

Noise Filtering: 10

Digital Focus Optimizer: On

Cinema Black Pro

Laser Light Setting

Dynamic Control: Full

Output: 80

Dynamic HDR Enhancer: High (or to taste)

D. Contrast Optimizer: On

MotionFlow: True Cinema

Contrast HDR: 50 (or to taste)

Brightness 50

Color 50

Hue 50

Color Temp: D65

Sharpness: 50

Expert Setting

NR: off

Smooth Gradation: Low

Color Correction: Off

HDR: Auto

Color Space: BT2020

Input Lag Reduction: Off

FUNCTION

Dynamic Range: Auto

HDMI: Enhanced

For more detailed specifications and connections, check
out our Sony VPL-GTZ380 projector page.

To buy this projector, use Where to Buy
online, or get a price quote by email direct from Projector Central authorized dealers using our E-Z Quote tool.

This Article was first published by Projector Central.

Published by Projector Central

August 28, 2021

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