What Hi-Fi (UK)
SYSTEM 3: PREMIUM
Sony VPL-VW270ES (£4990) Sony UBP-X1100ES (£749) Denon AVC-X3700H (£999) Monitor Audio Silver 200 AV12 (£2865) Apple TV 4K (£179)
Our final system goes all-in for the biggest picture you can get in a home environment – using a projector. There are a number of decent ‘4K’-capable projectors around for less money than the Sony we highlight here, but you really can’t beat a true native 4K unit for the ultimate in real world, massive-screen home cinema entertainment. For that, of course, you have to pay – and no one could claim that five grand is a snip – but nevertheless if you want a wonderful UHD image for at least attainable money, the VPL-VW270 puts up an excellent case for itself.
Those familiar with the lights-out black levels offered by OLED TVS and the sheer brightness capabilities of QLED and LCD TVS may not raise eyebrows at the Sony’s capabilities in these areas. But by projector standards, contrast across the spectrum is exemplary. To give you an idea, the Sony’s contrast level is similar to that of a decent LCD TV.
Regardless of what’s on screen, insight on the whole is excellent. Solid colours are among the Sony’s strengths, with not only the differentiation of tones but also the layering and richness of the various colours on show.
We compare the Sony with a five-star, 4K (using pixel-shifting technology) Epson projector that’s less than half the price. Play Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Ultra HD Blu-ray through the two projectors, and the Sony’s picture gleams in comparison, much sharper and more capable of visual splendour than its cheaper rival.
To feed the Sony projector the best signal possible, so we can see it at its very best, we need to use physical software in the form of 4K Blu-ray discs. 4K streaming is excellent in its own right (hence the inclusion of Apple’s superb Apple TV 4K in this system), but to get the ultimate from 4K, the disc is without doubt the way to go.
When you make the leap from a budget 4K Blu-ray player to a more premium model, a couple of things tend to happen: build quality normally goes up a notch, as does the level of engineering inside the player. With bigger budgets set aside for these machines, manufacturers can source higher-quality components. The hope is that the improvements and upgrades will help achieve the desired jump in picture and sound quality.
When it comes to features, there are plenty on the Sony’s menu. The UBP-X1100ES is a proper universal disc player, so its compatibility extends all the way to SACD and Dvd-audio discs, plus 3D and 4K Blu-rays and DVDS.
A pretty picture
And this Sony produces a simply brilliant image with 4K Blu-rays. We play Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2, and in the scene where the intrepid band of intergalactic misfits visit The Sovereign to return their precious batteries, the Sony captures the matt-gold texture of Ayesha’s skin perfectly.
The level and lustre of gold intensifies as the camera scans over her gilded throne and the deep blues of the palace are equally rich and bold without looking overcooked. The picture boasts loads of detail, and there’s a really impressive depth and realism to the image.
And the Sony Blu-ray player complements its excellent picture quality with equally impressive audio. It delivers sensational dynamic thrust where required, but also manages subtle sonic shifts with real finesse. And it has the rhythmic ability to hold your interest with music, too.
Weight and impact
There is enough weight to the sound for bass notes to have the desired impact, but they’re also tight and nicely defined. For rhythmic ability and dynamic clout, there aren’t many Blu-ray players that can match the Sony.
And you can certainly say the same for Denon’s Product of the Year AV amplifier, the AVC-X3700H.
After quarter-of-an-hour or so of letting the Audyssey Multeq XT32 calibration tech do its work, and a bit of manual fine-tuning, this new Denon bursts into life, grabbing our attention and holding it tight for the duration of our testing.
The energy of the performance is immediately striking. There’s greater muscle than before, but it is also even more lithe and better defined. It’s a combination of solid dynamic expression, which enthuses each vocal line as much as differentiating one gunshot from another, a sharper punch and greater clarity that allows you to get deeper inside the soundtrack and become more immersed.
The scale and authority is mightily impressive for a home cinema amp costing just a little less than a grand, but Denon has still managed to get the basics
right, too. There is plenty to feed our subwoofer, but you wouldn’t say this is a particularly bassy mix; rather, it is well balanced, open at both ends, and smooth throughout its frequency range.
It remains engaging at low volumes, too, which will please the neighbours once you’ve had enough of turning it right up and wondering at how its composure remains intact.
An amp of the quality of the new Denon needs, of course, a superb speaker package to do it justice. Which is why we have brought in Monitor Audio’s Silver 200 AV12. This four-time Award-winning package shows little sign of letting up, and once again provides the very best performance we can find at this price.
We love the Silver 200s as a stereo pair of floorstanders, but it’s not always the case that a stereo pair does just as good service in a package with other speakers. Here, the Silver 200s are joined by the Silver C150 centre speaker, two Silver FX surround speakers, and the Silver W-12 subwoofer.
All in good time (1)
The package does need quite some time to hit its stride, and the speakers need a fair number of hours playing in before they approach their true potential. But then, the pay-off is huge – give this package a little extra time to prepare, and it’s as if the speakers have breathed a sigh of relief, composed themselves and lost their first night nerves.
Suddenly, the crashes, bangs and wallops of The Lego Batman Movie are thrown at us, as if physically travelling around the room with tight cohesion as each speaker complements the others’ character. We give the sub a little extra room to rumble than our initial set-up permitted, and it sets the foundation for a performance of concrete solidity.
All in good time (2)
But even as we add to those low frequencies, it does nothing to detract from the pace we admired when testing the Silver 200s on their own. As a whole, the package times with military precision, driving the film’s plentiful action scenes with relentless momentum and delivering quips with the comparative sharpness of their wit.
But a surround package lives or dies by its centre speaker, which carries the burden of the work. The extra hours of running in make all the difference: there are inflections in deadpan deliveries, urgency in moments of panic and musicality in the soundtrack.
The amp and speaker package pairing makes for a stunning sonic combination that truly does the 4K image capabilities of this system proud.
And so to the final piece of this 4K puzzle, the Apple TV 4K video streamer. Hands down, the Apple’s biggest selling point is its library of 4K HDR movies, which is why it’s here, of course. Sky Q has a similar quantity of 4K films, with TV shows and sport added into the mix, but you need a Sky dish and subscription. Apple TV’S pay-as-you-go model will be more appealing to many, particularly as the extra pixels don’t cost any extra.
If you have invested in a system such as this, you deserve the very best-quality image you can get – and if you haven’t got the 4K Blu-ray disc of a particular film, Apple TV is the next best thing. It rounds off a system to revel in for years to come.
SUDDENLY, THE CRASHES, BANGS AND WALLOPS OF THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE ARE THROWN AT US, AS IF PHYSICALLY TRAVELLING AROUND THE ROOM WITH TIGHT COHESION AS EACH SPEAKER COMPLEMENTS THE OTHERS’ CHARACTER