Sanyo PLV-Z3 LCD Video Projector Page 2

To cure this problem should it occur, Sanyo provides a number of access holes for cleaning out any such debris with a (provided) squeeze-bulb blower. The only difficulty with this is that the holes are on the bottom of the case, which will make it hard to access them in a ceiling-mounted configuration without taking the projector down. But you shouldn't have to perform this operation often, and the Sanyo deserves points for being the first projector I've tested to even offer this feature.

The other unusual feature is called Panel Adjustment. Four test patterns—and the appropriate controls—are provided to minimize or eliminate the vertical bands that mar the image on some LCD displays. Our sample had no such problem and needed no panel tweaking.

Since my recent review of the Sony VPL-HS51 Cineza, I have a new appreciation for the performance of today's LCD projectors. The Sanyo may lack the auto iris that gives the Sony its striking black levels and amazing peak contrast, but it measures up to that more-expensive projector in many other ways.

Those deep blacks and shadow details will keep this review from being a total rave, but I found them tolerable. Collateral is a very dark movie (and shot largely on HD video, to boot), but director Michael Mann was going for a specific look. LA at night, with its sodium-vapor street lighting, commercial signs, and reflections from an often-hazy sky is never as dark as, say, Peoria after midnight. Thanks to that quality, plus some creatively lit highlights that provide at least some contrast in most scenes, the Sanyo rarely dropped me out of the story and into my critic mode. I could always make out what was going on, neither losing important elements of the scene nor wishing that I was watching a more upscale projector. Only a few shots, particularly the nightclub shootout, hinted at the muddiness and crushed blacks that have haunted LCD projectors in the past.

Hellboy is another very dark film. The opening sequence on the island is difficult in some ways, but not entirely so. Because it also has brightly lit highlights amid its otherwise gloomy darkness, many digital projectors can actually do a reasonably good job with it. If a display can manage a peak on/off contrast ratio of 2000 or higher, it can look quite good on this material, and many recent DLP projectors (plus that Sony Cineza) have managed to pull off a reasonable impression of a CRT with these scenes. The Sanyo is not in this group. Its peak contrast is well below 2000, and it shows here. The scene is watchable, but just a little too crushed and muddled in the deep shadows to be fully satisfying.

But nothing in the Sanyo's performance, even in these dark movies, was distracting enough to keep me from putting it on any prime list of high-value projectors. And once you move beyond the most difficult films, things improve dramatically. At the opposite end of the average-brightness spectrum from the two films mentioned above is the recent remake of Flight of the Phoenix. It has a few dark scenes, mostly at night, inside the plane, or both. But much of the photography is midday in the desert. This showed off the Sanyo at its best. The resolution was excellent, with a crisp, sharp, never over-enhanced look. Colors were vibrant, and there were no obvious artifacts. In fact, it was the PLV-Z3 on which I recently reviewed this film for UAV, finding it one of the best video (and audio) transfer's I've experienced in the past year. The Sanyo did nothing to detract from the great work of both the cinematographer and the artists who transferred this movie to DVD.

All home theater fans seem to be intimately familiar with The Fifth Element. The Superbit DVD is just a little edge enhanced here and there, but overall it remains a classic video transfer. With the Sanyo doing the honors, everything this generally bright film had to offer made it onto the screen. The darkest elements are the star fields against the inky background of space, and while I've seen better from projectors with more impressive contrast, I didn't feel that I was missing anything important from the Sanyo.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed watching all these DVDs and many others on the Sanyo PLV-Z3. Considering the fact that I've spend the last few years with projectors costing four to 12 times the Sanyo's price, that says a lot for the value it offers.

A Little High Definition. . .
I've seen slightly crisper high-definition images from far more expensive projectors, but having said that, I can't imagine anyone not being impressed by the Sanyo's performance on 1080i and 720p program material, or feeling shortchanged in any way. When sourced from off-the-air shows recorded on a Zenith HDR230 hard-drive-based DVR, the Sanyo's images were sharp, bright, detailed, and believably three-dimensional. With the best high-definition source material I have on hand (a 1080i PBS documentary on Japan and selections from the 720p ABC broadcast of the 2004 Academy Awards ceremony), the projector's combination of detail and brightness came very close to the HDTV ideal of "looking through a window."

. . .And a Word on Brightness
After several sessions viewing the Sanyo on the 0.95-gain Screen Research ClearPix2 acoustically transparent screen, I was surprised to measure a relatively low light output (just under 7.5 foot-lamberts) from the Sanyo when it was set up for the most accurate, pleasing picture (see "Testing and Calibration"). As I've noted earlier, a far higher output is available from the projector, if desired, but at a significant increase in black level. With my preferred setup, the images almost never seemed dim, even at this measurably low output—an output level that I've found noticeably lacking in the past. A puzzle, but a welcome one.

Don't let the Sanyo's bargain-basement price fool you. While I had several other projectors on hand during the course of this review, I never felt deprived when I cranked up the PLV-Z3. It was rewarding to live with it, and the lack of DLP rainbows and low-level noise was welcome. This is no clock radio, and certainly no toy; it's a serious projector. When properly set up, it will surprise a lot of people who didn't think they could afford a separate projector and screen. The only downside is that you can easily pay almost as much, or more, for that screen!

Highs and Lows

• High-rent projection at a low-rent price
• Superb deinterlacing and scaling with 480i source material
• Extensive user adjustments offer the opportunity to produce an excellent image

• Black level and shadow detail no better than acceptable
• Extensive user adjustments offer the clueless tinkerer the opportunity to produce a mediocre—or worse—image.