Sharp XV-Z20000 1080p DLP projector: Short Take

The Sharp XV-Z20000 is the third 1080p single-chip DLP projector to pass through our doors. At $11,999 it bucks a growing trend to less expensive, high resolution projectors. But it's far lower in price than competitors such as the $20,000 Marantz VP-11S1 or SIM2's $15K HT3000. And it offers a lot for the money.

Anyone familiar with Sharp's 720p DLP projectors will immediately recognize the new design. Apart from its shiny black suit, its shape is identical. So are many of its features, including the manual zoom, focus, and vertical lens shift. It does offer two HDMI inputs plus a DVI input—the most digital video connections we've seen yet on an integrated video projector.

Open the video adjustment menus and you'll find a variety of video controls similar to that on previous Sharp projectors. Tech editor Shane Buettner, who reviewed the recent Sharp XV-Z12000 Mark II, criticized these menus as being too busy, and for the average owner I can't disagree. But they do offer a lot of flexibility to the obsessive power user: two lamp settings, three iris options, color temperature, gamma, color space, additional color adjustments including Sharp's Color Management System and TI's BrilliantColor, and much more, including, of course, the usual video adjustments. There's also a control called Automatic Contrast, which sounds like an auto iris but, as far as I could determine, is not. I did find it very useful, however. More on that in the full review.

In earlier reviews of Sharp flagship projectors I've noticed that the three iris settings aren't equally spaced. The Medium setting is closer to the High Contrast (minimum) than to the High Brightness (fully open) position. This is also true of the XV-Z20000. I'd like to see more steps. The fully open, High Brightness iris setting offers plenty of output to compensate for the loss of light as the lamp ages, but more steps are needed to allow for a setting that will optimize brightness and black level at each stage of the lamp's lifespan.

I preferred the Medium setting of the iris, which gave me an output of about 12fL on my 78-inch wide, Stewart Studiotek 1.3-gain screen at 120 hours of operation, with the lamp in its Eco+Quiet mode. With the iris open to the High Brightness setting and the lamp still in economy mode, the output increased to just above 20fL. But with the fully open iris the black level deteriorated significantly.

The projector isn't the quietest I've reviewed, but its noise level is acceptable, and is largely masked by a film's soundtrack in all but the quietest scenes. The lamp's Eco+Quiet mode is noticeably quieter than its Bright mode.

I am still awaiting more detailed information from Sharp on calibrating the grayscale. The Gamma menu includes three categories of control: Gamma, White Detail, and Black Detail, each of which has red, green, and blue adjustments. With previous Sharp projectors I used the White and Black Detail settings to calibrate the gray scale, and they worked well. In my sample of the XV-Z20000, however, the White Detail control worked, but the Black Detail did not have any effect at all on the measurements taken with the Photo Research spectroradiometer I use for color temperature readings. It didn't help that the page in the owner's manual describing the operation of the Gamma menu controls was inadvertently printed in French—and no, it's not in English in the French section of the manual!

Without the ability to adjust the bottom end of the brightness region it did not appear possible to produce a flat grayscale. Using the only other option available—setting the Sharp's preset color temperature control to 6500K—resulted in a color temperature that was reasonably linear across the board but still over 7000K (this control adjusts the color temperature in fairly crude 1000K increments—500K steps would be preferable).

But don't ever cross a videophile with an itchy finger on the trigger of his Photo Research! Just as I was hitting my deadline for this Sneak Peek I discovered that the small adjustments in the red, green, and blue Gamma controls in the Gamma menu, combined with the White Detail controls, could bring the color temperature into reasonable alignment. I do feel better when I can tweak it as close as possible to the D6500 standard, but I still believe there is something wrong with the Black Detail controls on my sample.

So far I haven't found much else in the Sharp's performance to complain about. Its resolution is excellent, its scaling and deinterlacing more than a match for the competition, and its black level very impressive. I measured a peak contrast ratio of 2900:1 (lamp in Eco+Quiet, iris at Medium). I'm still torn about which configuration produces the best picture. The contrast ratio measured slightly higher with the lamp on Bright, and this setting increased the peak white output by nearly 4fL while only marginally increasing the black level by 0.001fL. (This may seem like a small increment, but it is clearly visible on a full screen, video black image.) Eco+Quiet mode saves lamp life, is quieter, and produces a slightly richer, though noticeably dimmer, picture. Bright gives the image distinctly more pop and minimizes the tendency in films with a lot of difficult, dark scenes, like Kingdom of Heaven to look a little crushed. I still plan to experiment further with the gamma controls and will report my findings in the full review. This includes the overall Gamma control, which is in the Picture menu, separate from the individual red, green, and blue gamma settings in the Gamma menu, mentioned earlier.

How the Sharp will stand up against the newcomers in the 1080p game remains to be seen, as additional contenders trickle out into the marketplace. The Marantz VP-11S1 is no longer available to us for a direct comparison, but my feeling is that it was slightly sharper than the XV-Z20000 and, perhaps, had a somewhat better chosen, out-of-box gamma curve. But it does cost nearly twice as much as the Sharp, and offers no advantage in brightness, black level, or setup flexibility (though it does offer lenses other than the standard one, for a premium).

But these considerations aside, the Sharp is an outstanding projector. It brings out the details in the best HD DVD and Blu-ray Discs, never exhibits the grayed-out look often visible on projectors with less impressive black levels, and, overall, adds the undeniable advantages of 1080p resolution while retaining all the strengths of previous Sharp DLP projectors.