Only a short time ago, LCD projectors looked distinctly second-rate when compared to rival DLP and CRT technologies. Then Sony threw a cat among the pigeons with its VPL-HW12HT LCD, then came Panasonic's LCD PT range and it was humble pie all round. LCD can still cut the mustard, we mumbled sheepishly between mouthfuls.
And so, when Sanyo's current LCD model, the PLV-70, presented itself for examination, it did so unburdened by the weight of prejudice (albeit straining somewhat under its £5,300 price tag). Another slice, anyone?
The PLV-70 claims to be a home cinema projector, yet its styling is such that unless your home resembles a démodé corporate boardroom it is going to look horribly uncomfortable. The styling, as with utilitarian office furniture, is chunky, shapeless, old-fashioned and unremittingly dull.
At least the PLV-70's connections are more at ease in a domestic setting. Composite, S-video and component video feeds are catered for, as are PC users, who get five BNC jacks for PC RGB connection and a 15-pin PC DSub jack. There's also a DVI input for anyone lucky enough to have a source which delivers such (probably a PC graphics card).
The PLV-70's specification list gets off to a good movie-friendly start with a true 16:9 W-ZGA LCD panel system, delivering a pleasingly high native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels. Also impressive (on paper, anyway) is the 900:1 contrast ratio - very respectable by LCD standards - and the brightness capability of 2,200 ANSI Lumens.
As I was setting up the PLV-70, I was gratified to have at my disposal plenty of digital keystone correction, simple drop-down legs and an effortless vertical lens-shift system for angling the image onto the centre of the screen. The process was further eased by silky, remote-activated zoom and focus.
Compared to rivals in this price range, the PLV-70 doesn't offer a spectacular amount of user flexibility. In fact, aside from a complicated colour-management system, there's really precious little to talk about beyond the usual contrast and brightness settings and the like.
The remote control does its level best to render navigation of the rather uninspiring onscreen menus a nightmare, courtesy of an awful rocker-style joystick controller. If I had a pound for every time I accidentally shunted the rocker to a different option while trying to hit 'select', I'd be a very rich man indeed.
The Sanyo PLV-70 had the misfortune to hit our test benches immediately after Barco's sensational CRT Cine 7 LT and Sharp's impressive Z10000. To be honest, it looks average against both of them. LCD's core weakness of low contrast levels is particularly noticeable, with the 900:1 figure looking optimistic in practice. In fact, without the brightness pumped unusually high, it was hard to make out any details in dark areas at all.
The contrast issues affect the PLV-70's colour performance; for all its exceptional (at times wince-inducing) brightness, hues tend to look neither vivid nor authentic; there is a general greenish tinge to everything, the sort of effect usually seen where a projector's inherent colour balances have been optimised for data instead of AV use.
The PLV-70 does score one or two lusty positive blows, though. Its strongest point is the purity of its images. There's scarcely a digital processing artefact to be seen, no matter how much motion or detail it's handling. This is in spite of the PLV-70 having unusually good scaling and de-interlacing processes which easily outperform a progressive scan feed from a suitably capable DVD player.
The PLV-70 also performs well on the fine detail front, cleverly using its impressive panel resolution to keep the image smooth and free of line structure rather than just trying to eke every last drop of information from a DVD. That said, it hasn't been able to completely obscure line structure and jagged edges, which are especially visible if you have to sit close to the screen.
The PLV-70 is rather better as a data machine than it is as a home cinema one. The brightness and fine detail abilities really find their niche with a high-resolution PC feed. But as a home cinema projector it falls short. A few months ago the PLV-70 might have been a contender, just as its PLV-60 predecessor was at the end of 2001.
But now, with DLP projectors stepping up a gear and even a few rival LCD units finally starting to get to grips with serious contrast levels, the PLV-70 really doesn't do enough. For the time being, at least, humble pie is off.