June 1, 2009
Sanyo PLV-Z700 LCD Projector
Two dramatic changes strike me about the progress made by the makers of digital projectors over the last decade. First and foremost is their almost total success in conquering the "screen-door" problem, even in LCD projectors. It wasnt too long ago that the black bars competed with the picture; these days, you have to get close to the screen to see any pixel pattern at all.
The other big prize for consumers has been the precipitous drops in prices. Looking back at a few reviews from 2001 and 2002 shows the Boxlight 12sf for $5000 and the Plus Piano for $3000, both of which had less than a fourth as many pixels as Sanyos new high-definition model, the PLV-Z700, and significantly less brightness and contrast. Yet the Sanyos list price is $1995.99 USD, and its street price can be as low as $1600.
Of course, the comparison is unfair. As good as those projectors were, they were nothing like the Sanyo PLV-Z700, a transformational product offering more projector for less money than any other model now available. Details:
All of the above for about $1600.
Hooking up the PLV-Z700 to my system was as simple as inserting the HDMI cable and plugging in the power. Getting the picture aligned was a bit more difficult because the Sanyos manual vertical and horizontal shifts moved clumsily -- what a shame, when everything else felt so high-end. The remote control was better -- bulky but easy to handle, and featuring some very helpful controls, such as dedicated buttons for Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, and Color.
Next to my JVC projector, the Sanyo looked sleek: smaller, lighter, with a look more functional than artsy. Getting the geometry right couldnt have been easier. I just squared it up to the screen and let the lens shift do everything else. Try to avoid using the zoom at its longer ratio or youll lose a significant amount of brightness (the Sanyo is not alone in this). The shorter the ratio, the brighter the image.
I began with the intro screen of the DVD of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, a perfect 16:9 screen that helps in setting up the corners. The Sanyos geometry was perfect, and I was completely finished with the installation in 20 minutes -- and that included a preliminary check of the color and black levels. Sanyos and my levels were very close. My guess is that anyone with a basic understanding of how to use one of the many video setup discs will have no trouble getting a seriously good picture out of the PLV-Z700. And for those who want to hire an ISF calibrator, the PLV-Z700s very deep menus will give him or her access to every possible parameter.
In fact, the five presets offered usable settings. None was perfectly flat, but a quick run through all of them frequently gave me a picture I was happy with. And if all you want to do is enjoy a bit of Sunday sports, youll probably be very happy with Sanyos presets, which offer significant improvements when theres ambient light in the room. Those with dedicated screening rooms and zero ambient light should obviously try to fine-tune their projectors as close as possible to perfect -- and the PLV-Z700 will get pretty darn close. But no one else should fear using the presets. The brightest of these, Living and Dynamic, pushed the contrast level too high, but in a bright room there isnt any contrast anyway.
Chapter 10 of The Spy Who Shagged Me is a good test of a projectors susceptibility to "jaggies": it has very strong colors, and extensive pans across a row of balusters. The PLV-Z700 did a fine job of catching the delicate curves of Heather Graham as she slid down a fire pole. No less fetching were the incredible textures of skin and clothes captured by the cinematographers of the TV series Ugly Betty. Even feature films seldom boast camerawork that good.
Speaking of great camerawork on TV, TNTs coverage of the NBA Playoffs worked well with the PLV-Z700. Using the Dynamic range preset while watching one Sunday-afternoon game made it look kind of like a fairytale, but there was no doubting the intensity of the image. But when I darkened the room, suddenly it was way too much.
The PLV-Z700s one minor failing was with black-and-white films. Its dynamic range just seemed a touch limited. For instance, the shadow scenes in Citizen Kane lacked just a bit of needed dynamic range. Assuming the iris was the culprit, I turned it off but saw no improvement. I turned it back on.
The Sanyo really liked a dark room, rewarding it with a brisk, lively picture. Adjusting the settings to my preferred picture seemed to rob the image of a little life, so after trying several Blu-ray setup discs, I went back to using Sanyos presets -- which, I guess, is a sign that they tried hard to find the right settings. In any case, you can save up to five different custom picture settings -- you can set up PLV-Z700 the way you like it and still use the presets. Ten possibilities seems plenty for even the most obsessive perfectionist.
The Sanyo PLV-Z700 has a great picture, loads of flexibility, deep menus, a bright picture, cannily chosen presets, and zero screen-door effect at any reasonable viewing distance. At $1600 or even $1995.99, the PLV-Z700 is a miracle -- a high-quality, high-definition LCD projector capable of offering a huge, bright, clean picture. Congratulations, Sanyo.
. . . Wes Marshall
Sanyo PLV-Z700 LCD Projector
Sanyo North America