Sharp XV-Z12000 MARK II DLP Projector

How do you follow up a winner?

Way back in our July 2004 issue, we reviewed this projector's predecessor, which wasn't known as the MARK I. We liked the XV-Z12000's performance so much, we gave it our 2005 RAVE Award for Best Overall Projector. Just a few months shy of two years later, we got a chance to play with the MARK II version.

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Texas Instruments has done a decent (albeit slow) job of improving the performance of the DLP engine itself. Projector companies have followed suit, incrementally increasing the performance of the rest of their projectors, in addition to tweaking the DLP engine to their liking. The result is a surprisingly varied selection of displays that happen to be based around the same core. The question, then, is how much has Sharp improved the MARK II over the original?

Mmmm, Pretty
The XV-Z12000 MARK II's outer case is the same as that of the earlier unit (itself a holdover from an even earlier model). I have no complaints here, as it's one of the most attractive projectors on the market. Its smooth shell houses a hidden panel on the back with controls for input, menus, and such (always a plus), along with a dial to adjust vertical lens shift. The focus and zoom rings have smooth motion, although the latter is a little twitchy. The jack pack is also the same, with a DVI input and two component inputs that can double as RGBHV. I'm a little disappointed that there is no HDMI or standard computer-style RGB input, but you can work around both of these shortcomings with an adapter or adapter cable. (An HDMI-to-DVI adapter comes in the box.)

The remote is backlit, has direct input access buttons, and has an iris control. It may not have the style of, say, a Sony remote; instead, it's actually convenient to use. What I can't figure out is why the projector companies can figure out what makes for a good remote, but the TV companies (or TV divisions) can't. (Wow, thanks for all the buttons to control my laserdisc player, but how about one that lets me select it without nine button presses. Sorry, just say no to tangents, kids.)

The menus are easy to follow and provide options for a fair number of adjustments—not quite as intricate as some, but enough. One thing that hasn't changed is its ability to work double duty as a space heater. I'm not sure why this projector compared with others is so hot, but, if you're sitting to the left of this thing, it breathes fire. Cats and vegans will love it. I suppose most if not all owners will ceiling-mount the XV-Z12000 MARK II, which will reduce the problem. Either way, proper projector and room ventilation is a must.

Go Go Gadget Iris
Much like its predecessor, the XV-Z12000 MARK II has a three-step iris, along with two different lamp settings. The High brightness mode offers just that. In this mode, I measured just over 22 foot-lamberts, which is a tidy sum of light indeed. Keep in mind, most movie theaters have at best 16 ft-L, and that's without any film in the gate. In the High brightness mode, the black level was a fairly decent 0.016 ft-L. Medium mode offered a respectable 11.6 ft-L and a drop to 0.005 ft-L. In the High contrast mode, the black level dropped even further to 0.003 ft-L. One of my complaints about the previous model was that, in the same mode, there was only 6.85 ft-L of light, which is dim. The XV-Z12000 MARK II increases this to 10.6 ft-L, which is far more watchable. Turn the Economy mode on, and the black level drops even further. Now you can get 0.002 ft-L in the High contrast mode with about 7.3 ft-L on the light-output side. This black level matches that of the XV-Z12000 but adds a tad more light output. The Economy mode lowers the numbers in the other iris setting by an average of about 40 percent. For normal viewing, I'd recommend the Medium mode with the Economy mode off. This gets you a good black level, but the image still pops.

306sharp.2.jpgThe color points, too, have moved since the last XV-Z12000. Strangely, they haven't moved closer to accurate. Blue is about the same, but red is more oversaturated. Green has shifted a little more toward yellow. With actual video, this isn't very noticeable. It's not as accurate as, say, the Samsung SP-H700AE (which is about as accurate as you can get), but it doesn't look terribly off.

The Innards
The projector picked up the 3:2 sequence quickly. With the Gladiator test clip (the end of chapter 12), there were small jaggies on some of the diagonal lines, but they were minimal. Video processing is only a little better than average. With the flag clip from the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD, there were some small jagged edges on the flag. This was in the 3-D mode; in the 2-D mode, there are even larger jagged edges.

The scaler, as far as detail is concerned, is pretty good. The best-scaling DVD players may yield some extra apparent detail, but not much.

The XV-Z12000 MARK II loves a good HD signal. The projector is quiet, but, more importantly, the image is extremely detailed. It may seem obvious that the projector would look detailed with HD, but, even among displays with the same resolution, apparent detail can vary wildly. The black level is a welcome change compared with most of the displays I've reviewed recently. Blacks are indeed black, although they're still higher than with a CRT. With one of the best contrast ratios we've measured in a projector, the image is punchy and totally watchable. It also has one of the smoothest gray ramps I've seen in a digital display (title 18, chapter 6 on Video Essentials). This is noticeable with chapter 5 of The Fifth Element, too. Gradations from light to dark, like the area behind Bruce Willis when he sits up in bed, are extremely smooth and noise free.

With an RGBHV breakout cable, you can hook up an HTPC. While the XV-Z12000 MARK II doesn't have aspect-ratio control for HD signals, it does offer a "dot by dot" feature that shows off every pixel your source puts out. On an HTPC, this means no missing icons or desktop edges hidden by overscan. Text isn't as clear as I've seen on some displays, but it is still very readable.

Check Your Sofa Cushions
There is no doubt the XV-Z12000 MARK II puts up a fantastic image, but the question of value has to be brought up. With the falling price of three-chip projectors (like the $15,000 InFocus 777 I reviewed on hometheatermag. com) and the as yet unknown quality of Sony's new $10,000 1080p LCOS projector, $10,000 seems a little steep for a single-chip 720p DLP. Sharp has foreseen this to some extent, which is why the XV-Z12000 MARK II is $1,000 cheaper than its predecessor. Even so, there is no denying the image quality, and that is something that has nothing to do with price.

With stylish good looks outside and on the screen, the XV-Z12000 MARK II is a worthy successor to the RAVE Award winner. An increase in performance and a drop in price are two things that always go well together.

Highlights
• Great black level
• Iris allows for many setup and viewing options

COMPANY INFO
Sharp Electronics
(800) BE-SHARP
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