Sharp XV-Z12000 DLP projector Page 2

An even tougher test for shadow detail is a fleeting shot in Signs. (spoiler alert: I'm about to give away one of the key surprises in the film; if you haven't seen it but intend to—and you should—you might want to skip to the next paragraph.) In chapter 4, as Mel Gibson's character looks away from his daughter and glances out the window across the roof, he sees the shadowy outline of a man (?) standing next to the chimney. The shot is so brief you can barely see the figure, and on some projectors it blends into the background so much that you don't have time to see it. But it's very important that you do; otherwise, the next few scenes make no sense. With the Sharp properly calibrated, I could not only see it, I could actually see a few details in the figure itself, though the shot flies past so quickly they barely registered.

Deep blacks are a prerequisite even in brighter scenes, where they help produce solid, 3-dimensional images. The Sharp had that 3-dimensionality and then some. It also had exceptionally good color. Flesh tones were superb, but if bright greens could sometimes "pop" just a bit too much—as happens on many new video displays—reds were ruby-rich and less orange than on much of the competition.

The Sharp was also sharp, but not unnaturally so. In fact, I found it far easier than with some fixed-pixel projectors to get a crisp, grain-free image with the various Sharpness controls available on the projector and my DVD players. Like the Z10000, the Z12000 produced a very quiet, noise-free picture on the FireHawk screen, but with no sacrifice in detail or resolution.

The Z12000's scaling was also comparable to what I recall from the Z10000: not perfect, but almost never distracting. I never felt the need to switch the DVD player to progressive mode, or an irresistible urge to plug in an external video processor. The only thing missing, as with the Z10000, was any sort of auto setting; you have to manually choose between the Film and Video modes.

The Sharp wasn't the quietest projector I've auditioned; with its Economy mode turned Off and the room quiet, I could definitely hear the cooling fan. It was less evident with Economy On, though still audible. But with the volume set at even modest levels, I never found it distracting.

Resolving HD
I watched a wide variety of high-definition programming from hard-disk recordings made over the air on the Zenith HDR230 HDTV PVR-receiver and JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS deck with a FireWire connection to a Samsung SIR-T151 tuner. The Samsung not only has a better MPEG decoder than the JVC, it also provided my only DVI output for an HDTV source.

The results ranged from very good to superb, depending on the quality of the original programming. I was even able to see flaws in the sources that shouldn't have been there, including something that looked suspiciously like edge enhancement in long shots on last fall's Monday Night Football broadcasts on ABC in 720p. This year's Super Bowl on CBS was a knockout on the Sharp, despite the fact that CBS still used too many standard-definition insert shots (common to all networks during the regular season). But there were no adjustments on the Sharp that could improve the game's abysmal and embarrassing halftime show.

Unlike the XV-Z10000, the XV-Z12000 provides video controls (except for Sharpness) on its DVI input. DVI delivers a better picture with HD, but the improvement is only slight. With DVD from the output of a Denon DVD-5900 universal player (review in the works), a comparison of the DVI and component connections revealed only subtle differences. I couldn't perform a direct A/B comparison, however; every time I switched to the projector's component input, then back to DVI, the Denon's DVI output would shut off and have to be manually reset. And the DVI output of the Marantz DV-8400 DVD player locked the Sharp into 4:3 mode and would not let me expand an anamorphic or letterboxed image to fill the screen.

The DVI output on the V, Inc. Bravo D1 DVD player, however, looked better than the interlaced component output of the Marantz in significant ways. The Bravo was sharper, with slightly cleaner edges, but the component output of the Marantz looked a bit more 3-dimensional and vivid (with the black and white levels matched as closely as possible—an exact match was not possible because of the discrete steps on the Sharp's Brightness and Contrast controls). These variable results did not appear to be the fault of the Sharp, but they did nothing to change my belief that DVI for consumer video, while offering much promise with its direct digital link to a video display, is still very much a work in progress.

Whether the program material was DVD or hi-def, the Sharp XV-Z12000 performed superbly. It produced a 3-dimensional image with rich color, detail that was sharp and clean, low video noise, and blacks and shadow detail that will be seriously challenged by only the best CRTs—even with difficult material. The XV-Z12000 isn't cheap, but, as they say in the film business, the money is clearly up there on the screen. I'm eager to see what other manufacturers have come up with for their latest HD2+ projectors, but Sharp has set the bar high. Definitely recommended.