Sanyo PLV-Z4 £1399

1st Jan 2006 | 00:00

One of the cheapest HD Ready projectors around

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

This is, on the whole, a versatile and accomplished projector for a very tempting price

Like:

<p>HD performance; flexibility; price</p>

Dislike:

<p>Standard-def niggles, including noise and artefacting</p>

The PLV-Z4 is an eye-catchingly affordable HD Ready LCD projector. It's the cheapest LCD model in what is destined to be a new budget class of HD Ready home cinema projectors (joined by Hitachi's Cine Master PJ-TX200 and the Panasonic PT-AE900).

The PLV-Z4 sports a new chassis design, and has some unusual and desirable features which favour its use in difficult situations. It seems ideal for smaller rooms, or locations where the projector cannot be easily lined up with the screen.

At first sight it also appears to be based on a powerful core technology, an LCD light engine which boasts a 1000 ANSI Lumens output and a 'staggering' (Sanyo's word) contrast ratio of 7000:1.

It doesn't produce maximum brightness and contrast at the same time; however it does offer an impressive 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, which means it can cope with up to 720p HD natively; although 1080i sources can be shown, they are (as usual) downscaled to fit the chip's resolution.

The Z4 is built into a rectangular box, with an integrated motorised cover that protects the lens when not in use - a slick and useful touch. Even better, the cooling system is one of the quietest available.

Perhaps the use of a relatively low wattage bulb has reduced cooling requirements, and certainly the Sanyo is less bright on screen than some rival LCDs, but it does compare favourably to the majority of DLPs, which don't normally attract criticism on this score.

Rich colours

Colour processing is 12-bit, which thanks to the magic of oversampling means a much richer and more subtle colour palette than 8-bit decoding (the native colour depth of DVD).

Several features support the use of this Sanyo in difficult room conditions. The quiet cooling system (rated at 22dB in economy mode) is important here: you can be leaning right over the Z4 with a film playing, and hardly notice anything.

Another factor is the lens, which has a 2:1 zoom range, much wider then the typical 1.2:1 or so, and moreover centred on the wideangle end of the range, which favours large image sizes from short projection distances. A 2.2 metre wide picture can be produced with the projector as close as three metres from the screen.

Even better, the Z4 is equipped with a mechanical lens shift, which allows you to centre and square the picture up when positioned well off axis. The Sanyo also boasts an HDMI input, in addition to the usual range of analogue video and computer inputs - component, S-video and D-Sub for example.

The projector's control system is interesting. Although the way that picture adjustments has been organised seems counterintuitive, if not obscure, there is no shortage of things to fiddle with. The lamp and the lens, for example, have their own adjustable irises, which can be used to set an appropriate combination of brightness and contrast.

It has built-in colour bar and monochrome pattern test screens, which between them can be used to achieve a reasonable setup without too much guesswork. Helpfully, the remote control is backlit.

Getting warmer

Straight from the box, the Sanyo looks a little on the warm side, often appearing rather yellow, and adding a jaundiced cast to skin tones, though in general the warmth of the picture is not unpleasant. Yet with a little careful informed tweaking, it is possible to achieve a much more neutral balance.

There are several aspects to the Sanyo's performance which belie the cheap asking price. It is possible to tune the projector with both daytime and night settings (where the room is not fully blacked-out when the sun is up), and assign the settings to memory for instant recall.

You can extend this to a total of eight presets. There are also some overriding presets - Vivid, Pure Cinema, Natural and five others.

Quite a proposition then, but in practice there are some problems, at least with standard-definition DVD. First, although the LCD resolution is high enough, LCD's characteristic 'chicken wire' pixel grid is apparent if sitting close.

Slow pans of smooth objects, such as the Vermeer painting at the start of Girl with a Pearl Earring, showed clear interaction between the source material and the LCD grid, which had the effect of making the picture look noisy.

I noticed some artefacts apparent with moving diagonals (which is not uncommon) and also with horizontal lines, which tended to flicker even when viewed using the progressive video setting, which should eliminate field interlace flicker.

With the right kind of source material and careful setup, it was possible to achieve fairly inky blacks, albeit with unimpressively resolved shadow detail, and some noise and some 'bloom' in dark areas.

Switching from standard-definition to HD material predictably brought a jump in clarity and performance. I soon forgot I was watching a budget projector!

Powerful firmware

There are many reasons to like this model. Its powerful firmware that allows meticulous setup, the lens shift facility, the ultra quiet cooling, and the broad wideangle zoom range all give the Sanyo unequalled flexibility in smaller rooms.

The visible LCD pixel grid structure is a minus point, but moving from standard-def to HD signals brings immediate benefits. Given the entry-level price of the unit, it's difficult not to be impressed. Alvin Gold

SanyoProjectorHome cinemaHigh definition
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