Sharp's XV-Z201 appears to have a tough job on its hands. As a DLP model costing £2,700, it's not high-end, yet it has to convince us that it's worth the fairly considerable hike up from the latest ultra-budget blockbusters. Many projectors have tried and failed to master the 'step up' mid-ground even before the two aforementioned budget big-guns hit the streets. So the XV-Z201 has got its work cut out.
It gets the looks part right. Boasting a hip triangular shape, pleasing two-tone finish and tilting foot mount, it gives the signals of having been born of a design brief that placed the strongest emphasis on home as opposed to business use.
DVI with HDCP
Connections are good too. There's no HDMI jack, but compensation for this can be found in the provided DVI jack - especially as this is HDCP compliant for video use. Backing DVI up are a set of component video inputs able to handle high-definition or progressive scan signals, plus the usual S-video/composite suspects and an RS232 interface.
The key justification for the XV-Z201's price is its use of Texas Instruments' Matterhorn chipset. This means the projector has a native 16:9 resolution of 1,024 x 576 - a significant (DVD-friendly) step above most entry-level DLP models - and a very respectable 2,000:1 claimed contrast ratio.
The XV-Z201 is also noteworthy for its extremely short-throw lens, which is capable of delivering a 100in image from a distance of just 2.6m.
Other XV-Z201 step-ups from the entry level can be seen in a flexible set of colour adjustments; some gamma presets; a peak white emphasis toggle; and five memory slots for your own favoured picture presets.
Just because the XV-Z201 offers more sophistication than its uber-cheap rivals doesn't mean it's harder to set up. In fact, the presence of the short-throw lens and manual vertical lens shifting arguably make it even easier than usual to adapt to your particular room requirements.
The only foibles I found with the XV-Z201's operating system are that its onscreen menus look a touch cluttered, and the otherwise solid remote control doesn't feature a backlight (a disappointment at this price).
In terms of specification, then, the XV-Z201 just about carries enough feature finery and inner-wizardry to make the step up to £2,700 seem worthwhile. But will this impression be backed up by its performance?
The greatest strength of the XV-Z201's pictures is their contrast range, which produces some convincing black levels and some beautifully controlled, perfectly toned peak whites. Furthermore, as usual, these contrast talents create exceptional vibrancy, solidity and colour richness, with a tangible depth guaranteed to pull you head-first into the onscreen action.
Colours benefit too from the XV-Z201's intrinsic balance. Very little greying is allowed to come between you and the picture's full saturations. Not that this vibrancy is forced, however - colours are as natural in tone as they are rich. The only coda I would place on this is that the authentic tone is only achieved if you use the provided 6,500K colour temperature setting.
Throw in some decent handling of motion and adept presentation of even starkly contrasting edges, and the XV-Z201 is getting close to pulling off that tricky mid-range magic. But unfortunately it's got a fairly hefty achilles heel in the shape of video noise.
Many DLP projectors, especially at the cheaper end of the market, suffer with two main noise problems: green dot crawl over dark areas, or 'buzzing' dot crawl over moving objects, especially people's skin.
Not only does the XV-Z201 not conquer these problems, it actually suffers more profoundly with them than one or two budget models. Occasionally, dark images can look so 'alive' with dot crawl that distance shots in movies lose their clarity.
The XV-Z201 is a very likeable projector. It's a beautifully designed bit of kit that boasts the sort of specs necessary to justify its higher price. It's just that the picture noise fetches it up fractionally short of delivering the full performance monty necessary for us to recommend stepping up to £2,700.