Sanyo PLV-Z700 front projector

The Short Form
$1,799 ($1,995 list) / SANYOPROJECTORS.COM
Snapshot
The first sub-$2,000 1080p projector to hit the market shows a bit of cost cutting, but offers some surprising features and a good picture for the money
Plus
• Great price for a 1080p projector • Lens shift and anamorphic squeeze included • Good picture quality from high-def sources
Minus
• Black levels don't impress • Not great with standard-def sources • No separate gain and bias controls for grayscale calibration
Key Features
• 1080p resolution • 2x zoom lens • Accepts 1080p/24 input signals • Manual zoom, focus, and lens shift •Anamorphic mode for constant-height lenses • Automatic lens door • Inputs: 2 HDMI, VGA, 2 component video, S-video, composite video; DIN connector for service • 5 3?4 x 13 5?8 x 15 3?4 in, 16 1?2 lb
Every November, I'm tempted to change the outgoing message on my answering machine to something like: "Hi, this is Brent. If you want to know what TV to buy, just remember that name brands are safest, plasma is better for dark rooms, and you don't need 1080p unless the TV is 50 inches or larger. If in the unlikely event you're not calling for TV advice, please leave a message." For once, I'd be able to spend my December relaxing with an eggnog and A Charlie Brown Christmas rather than explaining the difference between CCFL and LED backlighting.

To my disappointment, almost everyone who calls me for advice is interested in flat-panel TVs, not projectors. For projector buyers, my advice would be different: You need 1080p. Most people don't understand that greater resolution only pays off if the video display is large enough. Below a certain screen size (it's debated, but probably somewhere in the 50-inch range), you can't see the difference between 1080p and 720p. Almost everyone who owns a projector, though, is using a screen measuring 6 feet or larger - and on such large screens, 1080p delivers a noticeably more detailed picture and a less-visible pixel structure. That's why I was so excited when Sanyo announced the PLV-Z700, the first 1080p projector to list for less than $2,000. Granted, at $1,995, it's only a few dollars below that threshold, but real-world prices put the PLV-Z700 just a few hundred dollars above 720p models - the street price is $1,799.

Of course, Sanyo had to give up some goodies to get the price so low, but it's remarkable how much the engineers left in. Most appealing to me were the lens-shift controls. These let you shift the image right, left, up, or down without loss of resolution, so you can mount the projector off-center from the screen without sacrificing picture quality.

The lens-shift and zoom controls are manual, which is fine because those adjustments don't have to be perfect. But the focus is also manual. Projectors that have remote-controlled focus let you get up close to the screen so you can see the fine details when you're focusing. Because of the PLV-Z700's manual focus, I had to keep going back and forth between the screen and the projector when I was making adjustments - and while I did get the focus sharp enough to see pixel outlines, I'm not certain I ever got it perfect.

The PLV-Z700 has all the inputs you would need, including two HDMI jacks. The lamp cover is on the back, so you don't have to take the projector down from a ceiling mount to change the bulb. An anamorphic squeeze mode lets you use the PLV-Z700 with a horizontal-stretch lens to produce 2.35:1 ultrawidescreen images. (Unfortunately, most such lenses cost more than this projector does.) Sanyo even included a motorized lens door that closes automatically when the projector's not in use.

The backlit remote has a dedicated button for each input, which makes programming a universal remote easier. But it lacks separate on and off buttons, which makes programming a universal remote harder.

SETUP

Except for my having to walk back and forth between projector and screen to set the focus, basic setup for the PLV-Z700 was a snap. I just plopped it on a table, used the lens-shift and zoom controls to get the picture centered and sized, then fussed with the focus. Dedicated buttons on the remote for brightness, contrast, color, and other functions made basic calibration a nearly effortless 5-minute process.

But when it came time to calibrate the color- imetry, I was disappointed to find that the PLV-Z700 has only global controls for red, green, and blue level - not the separate gain and bias controls that most projectors have. Many of the projector's other adjustments hide in an advanced menu that has to be activated separately from the basic menu. The advanced menu includes a few great features. One is luminance, hue, and gamma controls for each color, which let me adjust the color points to within a percent or two of perfection. Not that they really needed adjustment - they were close enough to the standard at the factory settings. Other useful stuff: three iris settings and an iris-range control.

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