When it comes to display technology wars there's a heck of a lot more going on aside from just plasma and LCD. Enter the world of projectors and there's no shortage of acronyms squabbling for your attention. TI's DLP technology is finally making a stab at the mainstream Full HD market and impressive LCOS alternatives like Sony's SXRD and JVC's D-ILA are closing in fast.
But still in pole position when it comes to volume sales and value is LCD, a technology that has been lambasted by its rivals in the past ('deficiencies' such as indifferent black levels and the chicken wire/screen door effect caused by a visual pixel grid being common catcalls), but continues to get refined and polished.
Sanyo has been a quiet champion of LCD projection for a number of years, scoring some critical hits with its Z-series of projectors. Its latest iteration is the PLV-Z2000, a Full HD 1920 x 1080 model that makes the bold promise of a 15,000:1 contrast ratio. All for the very reasonable sum of £2,200.
These facts alone should garner the Z2000 a few eyeballs, yet its kerb appeal certainly doesn't stop there. It's also said to have - and I quote - 'the industry's most advanced lens shifting function', and 'the industry's most silent fan system'. Ignoring for a minute the curious English (you can't have differing degrees of silence, after all), it's fair to say that such bold hyperbole should pique the interest of any cinephile. Shame, then, that the projector does its level best to counter that interest with its fairly hideous design.
There's no way to sugar-coat this: the Z2000 is a boring, large rectangle with a nondescript matt white finish that doesn't look great at all. Just as well it's mostly going to be used in a completely dark room.
Easier on the eye is the Z2000's connectivity, which includes two HDMI ports, a D-Sub PC connector and, unusually for this level of the market, two component video inputs. A serious omission though is the failure to include 12V system control, commonly used to automate the lowering of a projector screen when the projector is activated. Turn the PJ
off and the screen automatically retracts to its ceiling base.
There's no excuse for not providing what is just a 3.5mm minijack, and its exclusion makes this product a non-starter for anyone with 12V system control looking to make an upgrade.
The HDMI sockets are v1.3 compliant, making them compatible with the DeepColor system that extends the colour gamut of HD pictures. Currently this is pretty-much restricted to home-made HD created on an AVCHD format camcorder.
As you'd hope of a projector boasting the most flexible image shifting facilities in the business, the Z2000 is blindingly easy to setup. Vertical and horizontal image shifting 'wheels' are easily accessed down the projector's side, and they allow the picture to be moved vertically up or down as much as three screen sizes, or left-to-right as much as two screen sizes.
In use, this projector is indeed splendidly quiet. The Sanyo runs at about 19 decibels when used in the projector's lowest-brightness Theater Black Mode. This really is a strikingly low figure; Sanyo has produced a projector that for once will be seen but not heard. Making the low running noise possible is a Sirocco cooling fan using a newly-developed large aperture design. But there is a caveat.
Ironically given its quiet-running noise, every now and then, during a particularly kinetic scene, you can very clearly hear the iris adjusting itself. I found this momentarily distracted me from my viewing. It's not quite as bad as someone nattering away on a mobile phone, but still not ideal.
The Z2000's 15,000:1 claimed contrast figure is not, inevitably, a 'native' one - it's achieved with the assistance of a dynamic iris system. In other words, the projector constantly analyses the picture it's showing and automatically reduces, via an iris, the amount of light let through from the lamp when showing dark scenes.
This helps shadows enjoy much deeper black levels than would be possible using a constant, high level of illumination. The only downsides are a) that you can only get the best black
levels by sacrificing quite a lot of brightness, and b) that the self-adjusting iris has in the past caused projectors to exhibit distracting brightness 'steps' as the iris slovenly goes about its business.
Also apparently playing a part in the Z2000's black level performance is its use of the latest C2Fine D7 inorganic LCD panel, sourced from Epson.
When it comes to colours, there's a new (to Sanyo) 14bit 3D Colour Management system which aims to produce a colour range 1,100 times better than Sanyo's cheaper, HD Ready PLV-Z5 projector. Whether this says more about the Z5's crapness than the Z2000's prowess, though, remains to be seen...
When it comes to picture performance, first impressions are startlingly good. Mission: Impossible III (Blu-ray) exhibits a deliciously profound black level. Indeed, its shadow fidelity is a genuine rival to that of most DLP projectors in the same price bracket - and what's more, it's achieved without the sort of obvious brightness 'jumps' which have bedevilled some other brands of PJ.
The Z2000's HD pictures are outstandingly sharp and noiseless, provided you ensure that its Overscan setting has been knocked back to zero. With Mission: Impossible III, thanks to director J. J. Abrams fondness for extreme close-ups, this sharpness talent is strikingly and alarmingly apparent in the acute rendering of all the pores on the actors' faces. Especially Laurence Fishburne and his remarkable collection of pockmarks.
Colours are vibrant and rich. Check out the Vatican sequence, and in particular Zhen's 'extravagant' red dress. Motion is immaculately handled, without smearing or stepping. And there's no problem with the pixel grid structure.
The two-million pixels are small enough not to create a problem, even when watching on a 140in screen. With plenty of brightness during sun-drenched scenes to round things out, even when using the relatively low-brightness Theatre Black Mode, the Z2000 really does cut the cinephile mustard. Yet this does not, alas, mean that Sanyo's machine earns a totally unreserved recommendation.
I have an issue with the authenticity of its colour fidelity. That Mission: Impossible III red dress mentioned earlier tends to look rather too red, with an unnatural flavour that makes it stand out like a sore thumb from the more subtly- rendered picture around it. Rich greens suffer a similarly effect, with even one or two more subtle tones - such as the colour of the actors' lips when Ethan meets Musgrave in the convenience store - sometimes looking rather outlandish.
I found I could improve this situation, oddly, by adjusting the HDMI 'setup' option to Enhanced rather than its Normal default. But it never got it looking entirely right.
The projector is at its best with high-definition sources.
Fed standard-definition, deficiencies in its video scaling are quite noticeable, with some pretty obvious jaggies and/or pixellation around contoured edges. Suddenly you become aware of the individual pixels that make up the picture in a much more overt way than you ever do while watching HD.
Overall, this can be considered an above average performer. Factor in the price and the Z2000 begins to look like a bit of a steal. Its black level performance alone should be enough to convince doubters that LCD can take it to any other projection format out there.
Where it does stumble is design. It's crying out for a stylish finish comparable with models from Epson and InFocus. If Sanyo is serious about invading living rooms it needs to find some funk