Sharp XV-Z9000U 16:9 dlp projector

You want to believe. I want to believe. We all want to believe that, some day, a tiny chip the size of a 35mm transparency in a video-display device the size and weight of a slide projector will be capable of producing a moving video image so exquisitely filmlike that it will banish bulky, expensive, tweaky CRT projectors to the trash heap of technological history.

But have you ever wondered who actually sat down one day and thought, "Say, why not make a chip on which are embedded a million or so fluttering micromirrors that open and close to make a picture?" Larry Hornbeck of Texas Instruments is that guy, and if you want to understand projection technology in general, be sure to read "From Cathode Ray to Digital Micromirror: A History of Electronic Projection Display," at Among other fascinating facts: Like the Internet, DLP (for Digital Light Processing) began as a government-funded project.

The heart of Sharp's $10,995.95 SharpVision XV-Z9000U projector is Texas Instruments' HD1 DMD—a 1280x720, 16:9 DLP chip. This chip has only recently become widely available, and Sharp is the first company to bring it to market in a separate video projector. Sharp also developed its own deinterlacing chip (called CIVIC), optimized for 16:9, which includes 3:2 pulldown (Film mode) and two other progressive modes. Sharp calls its scaling technology "CV-IC" (Computer and Video Integrated Composer). Of course, the projector will accept the 480p output of a progressive-scan DVD player directly, which means that most SGHT readers will probably never use the internal scaler to deinterlace DVDs. But 480i and 1080i must be deinterlaced and scaled (using "intelligent compression") to the XV-Z9000U's native resolution of 720p, and even 480p from a progressive-scan DVD player must be scaled up to 720p, which makes the quality of the Sharp's internal scaler key to the projector's performance.

The XV-Z9000U's color wheel is a five-times-speed, six-segment design said to eliminate color separation (the dreaded "rainbow" effect) while providing rich, saturated colors. (It's curious that the color-wheel technology is back, after having been rejected by the FCC in the early 1950s when CBS presented it as part of their color-television system. This system was ultimately rejected in favor of the back-compatible NTSC format.)

The rear panel includes five inputs: two component/RGB (including horizontal and vertical sync), S and composite video, and RGB computer. Missing is a DVI (digital video interface) input, but at this point DVI is still a future issue; from what I've been able to find out, other than its connector, the DVI technology has not yet been standardized. While DirecTV has announced that all new high-definition set-top boxes should be equipped with DVI, I was assured by a DirecTV representative that the company planned to continue "supporting" those of us with older analog output boxes, and at full resolution. A Sharp representative assured me that, as soon as the DVI situation is straightened out, future Sharp models will include it.

There's an RS-232C port for computer access, a wired remote jack, and DC12V and DC 12V200mA "trigger" outputs. Above the input panel resides a series of cursor-adjustment and selection buttons, including Input, Menu, and Resize, as well as On and Off. Front controls include a focus ring and zoom knob, and a lens-shift dial that allows for you to move the picture vertically without physically moving the projector. The uncluttered, backlit remote includes direct source access, and has plenty of finger space between the buttons, which are identified by both name and icon.

Setup was simple and quick. I placed the XV-Z9000U atop a steel record rack near the back of my 2-channel listening room at approximately the height of my screen (a 92-inch-diagonal 16:9 Da-Lite Da-Snap, 1:1 gain). The throw distance for a 92-inch picture is between 16'5" and 12'1", which worked ideally in my room. Then, using the SharpVision's built-in feet, lens-shift dial, and zoom knob, I was able to precisely fill the screen in a matter of minutes. Once I'd projected a test grid using the Video Essentials DVD, it was obvious that an easy-to-perform digital keystone adjustment was required for perfect geometry. That accomplished, I was done. No convergence, no mess.

A reviewer for another magazine told me he'd easily filled an 11-foot-diagonal screen with the XV-Z9000U without overdriving it or running out of gain. The SharpVision's minimum throw distance is 5'2", which yields a 40-inch-diagonal 16:9 picture. The maximum throw is 54'1", which gives you an enormous, 300-inch-diagonal image. I had no way of trying that, and I don't know how bright or sharp the resulting picture would be. Other options are rear projection (with or without a mirror) and ceiling mounting. [Since the brightness produced on a screen is directly proportional to the screen area, an 11-foot-diagonal, 115-inch-wide screen will produce a picture with just a bit over half the light output of an 84-inch wide screen. A 300-inch-diagonal, 261-inch-wide screen will give you about one-tenth the brightness of an 84-inch-wide model.—TJN]

Menus, Features, Viewing
The SharpVision XV-Z9000U provides four viewing modes each for 480i, 480p, and NTSC signals, as well as PAL and SECAM. This allows you to choose 4:3 with sidebars, or three varieties of 16:9 projection: Smart Stretch (stretching the image at its edges), Cinema Zoom (zooming in without affecting geometry), or Stretch (evenly expanding the picture horizontally to fill the screen). Stretch is also used for unsqueezing anamorphic images.

The four-position Gamma control includes Standard, as well as positions that brighten and darken darker portions of the picture. There's also a Custom position that allows you to precisely adjust the gamma curve via your PC using included software. (The software is not Mac-compatible, so I was unable to try it.) A Theater Mode control lets you choose between Normal and Bright light output.

I won't describe the graphic user interface and menu system in excruciating detail; overall, it's cleanly designed, easily grasped, and a pleasure to use. You can adjust Contrast, Brightness, Red and Blue levels, Sharpness, and Color Temperature (±3 from the factory "neutral" setting) using numerically graduated electronic sliders, and you can dial in different control settings for each input. That's good, but it does suggest a potential hassle for some users: If you connect to the projector using a single input and swap sources (such as DVD player and DTV tuner) with a video switcher, there's no way to save alternative settings for each device. Fortunately, the menu's numerical markers make changing settings and returning them to their original positions easy. I didn't connect a computer to the XV-Z9000U, but Pat Megenity discusses this interface in his "The PC Connection" sidebar.