Light Years Ahead Page 4

In addition to the Z9000U's standard settings, you can independently set gamma (the Gamma 2 setting looked best) and color temperature for each input, and then store your adjustments in memory. There are seven color-temperature presets, and you can modify these with the projector's red and blue adjustments. Using them I was able to dial in a fairly accurate grayscale (see "in the lab").

Sharp XV-Z9000U
KEY FEATURES Custom gamma control Normal and Bright lamp modes Fully backlit remote control INPUTS/OUTPUTS two wideband component-video/RBG+H/V inputs; composite- and S-video, VGA, and RS-232 inputs; two 12-volt DC outputs DIMENSIONS 18 3/4 inches wide, 7 inches high, 16 inches deep WEIGHT 21 pounds PRICE $10,995 MANUFACTURER Sharp Electronics, Dept. S&V, Sharp Plaza, Mahwah, NJ 07430;; 877-388-7427

You can adjust the Z9000U's overall light output via its Theater Mode submenu, which features Normal and Bright settings. With Normal selected, light output is 70% of maximum, which has the benefit of decreasing fan noise. However, I found the Sharp's image too dim in that mode, so I set it to Bright for most of my viewing.

The projector's Progressive Mode submenu lets you optimize its scaler for either video- or film-based programs. I set it to Film, which engages 2:3 pulldown, and the DVDs I watched looked smooth and artifact-free. Unfortunately, the projector won't switch automatically between its progressive modes on the same input, so unless you have your satellite tuner and DVD player connected to different inputs on the projector, you'll have to revisit the Picture Setup menu when switching between the football game and movies.

Overall, the Z9000U's built-in scaler performed very well. Images from the DVD of Shrek looked clean, and the projector's accurate color rendition revealed subtle contrasts between Shrek's toxic waste-toned flesh, the green velvet dress worn by the princess, and the blue-green trees in the background. There was also a satisfying level of punch to the image, with deep blacks and crisp highlights. In a few scenes, I noticed some softening on panned images and minor edge enhancement, but generally things looked very good.

Out of curiosity - and to level the playing field somewhat between the Sharp and the considerably more expensive Sèleco and Runco projectors - I installed a Faroudja NRS video processor between the DVD player and the Z9000U. With the Faroudja scaling signals to match the Sharp projector's native 720p display, images were crisper than before, with even more vivid colors and virtually no edge enhancement. Adding the $3,995 Faroudja NRS increases the total ticket of this setup to about $16,000, so I'd recommend it only if you're a videophile who relishes small improvements.

Moving on to HDTV, I popped the high-definition demonstration tape into my digital VCR and was transported to the American South. Loads of detail was visible in a shot of horses grazing in a meadow, and their chestnut-brown coats looked vibrant and clean. I was impressed by how well the projector conveyed the moody ambience of the late-afternoon light. A stop sign in a rural street had a completely realistic red hue.

It's not cheap, but Sharp's XV-Z9000U is a comparative bargain as HDTV-ready DLP projectors go. Besides flexible and computer-friendly setup options, it offers a bright, satisfying image and accurate color. While using an outboard processor improved image quality from DVDs, the projector's built-in scaler also did a good job on its own. As I see it, the buzz surrounding Sharp's foray into DLP is justified.

Runco VX-1000c The Runco VX-1000c isn't just a DLP projector. It's a video-projection system comprising a DLP projector and the company's PFP (pixel-for-pixel) processor/controller, with a combined price tag of $16,995. You're probably wondering if the two components are available separately. The answer is no. Runco considers the controller, which scales all signals to the 720p resolution of the projector's DMD, an indispensable part of the system. It says that the controller determines the quality of images displayed from standard-definition video sources, like DVD and most satellite TV, and it also handles video switching, picture adjustments, and aspect ratio control.

The VX-1000c is available only through the company's network of dealers and has to be installed by a Runco-certified technician for an additional fee. It comes with a set of RGB+H/V video cables as well as a Cat-5 data cable to link the projector to the PFP controller. The data connection, which Runco labels ComLink, allows the controller to handle all of the projector's functions, from power on/off to color-temperature adjustments.

Pat Bradley, an ISF technician and consultant working out of Minnesota, handled the VX-1000c's setup for us. Bradley positioned the projector approximately 16 feet from the screen, which is the projector's maximum distance with an 80-inch-wide screen. Although you won't have to worry about these details, the zoom and focus controls are located on the lens, and a vertical lens-shift adjustment is on the projector's top surface. Keystone correction is available from the installation menu.