Sharp's XV-Z10 is the company's latest affordable home cinema projector. A compact projector that can be permanently installed or brought out as and when it's needed, the XV-Z10 demonstrates its domestic aspirations insofar as it's based around a 16:9 LCD panel. It's thus well suited to widescreen TV broadcasts and DVDs (in contrast, corporate projectors tend to be optimised for 4:3).
In terms of connectivity, the XV-Z10 can't really be faulted, given the price. On offer are composite, S-video or computer (VGA) video terminals. Gamers and PC enthusiasts should note that although the projector's three LCD panels have a native resolution of 854 x 480, it will downscale an XGA (1,024 x 768) input. Interestingly, many high-end graphics cards have widescreen display modes nowadays.
The VGA input will, depending on the settings, double as a component video input - the phono adaptor cable you'll need is supplied. Unfortunately, the XV-Z10 won't accept Scart RGB - if this is important, a third-party RGB-to-component converter will be required.
No tuner is built in - we recommend using a VCR, hooked up to the composite input, for off-air analogue TV reception. Sound is catered for with a basic mono squeaker built into the unit, which accepts audio signals from a 3.5mm jack, but it isn't really worth bothering with.
The XV-Z10 is simple to set up, via the top-panel controls or the remote handset. Menus are nicely laid out and disappear during adjustment so that you can see the results of what you're doing.
Parameters include colour temperature, red/blue level and gamma, in addition to the contrast, brightness and colour saturation familiar to most TV owners. Five sets of picture parameters can be stored for future access - a nice touch.
Another useful feature is the 'eco' mode. This doubles the lamp life to a creditable 4,000hr, though the picture isn't quite as bright and will require a darkened room.
On the front of the projector are the usual focus and zoom controls, together with a lens-shift joystick. The feet can also be adjusted. Between them, and a keystone correction menu adjustment, it should be straightforward to get the device's short-throw lens (a 100in widescreen picture requires a distance of only 2m between projector and screen) to display an acceptably distortion-free picture on your screen.
A 'mirror' mode, meanwhile, readies the XV-Z10 for rear-projection. Other features include picture freeze and three display modes - Stretch (for anamorphic widescreen); Side-bar (for 4:3 material); and Cinema zoom (for letterbox 4:3 widescreen).
In all, then, a flexible little box of tricks. But how does it perform? The chicken-wire effect traditionally associated with LCD projectors is not particularly troublesome, unless you're screening a really big image.
The picture is certainly bright and a fair dynamic range is available - blacks are handled surprisingly well. Even after calibrating the projector, though, colours are not particularly accurate. Primary colours stand out well, but flesh tones can suffer from a yellowish tinge.
The XV-Z10 can also resolve fair, but not staggering, amounts of detail from DVDs. With less-than-perfect digital sources like digital TV, though, the projector has a tendency to exacerbate artefacts like mosquito noise. On noise of a different nature, the XV-Z10 scores somewhat better - it's remarkably quiet in operation.
Overall, what we have is a projector that offers great value and its 16:9 panel is a huge bonus in these days of digital TV and DVD. Picture performance isn't perfect but is good enough to ensure that you won't regret splashing out.