Sharp XV-Z3000

31st May 2006 | 23:00

Sharp's latest HD Ready DLP projector

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

A cut above the budget boys, but there are already cheaper HD Ready models that actually do better

Like:

<p>Design</p><p>Connectivity</p><p>Lack of video noise</p>

Dislike:

<p>Tricky contrast/brightness balance</p><p>Occasional colour tone issue</p>

For a company probably best known for its LCD TVs, it's surprising that Sharp favours DLP over LCD for its projectors. But that's certainly not to say that Sharp doesn't know what makes a DLP projector tick; many of its previous DLP home cinema models have been among the best in their class. So my hopes are unashamedly high for the brand's new 'step-up', HD Ready model, the £2,500 XV-Z3000.

The Z3000 bares a resemblance to its Sharp predecessors. The slightly chunky shape is familiar, here given some relief from rectangular tedium by rounded corners and a dramatically angled fascia. The colour scheme is new, though; by combining high-gloss white with a more subdued silver, the Z3000 cuts a much more dramatic fi gure on your coffee table than anything Sharp has produced before.

Connectivity hits all the right notes. Leading the way is an HDMI input, which is supported by two component video inputs, a PC port, a 12V trigger jack, an RS232C control port, and the usual S-video and composite video alternatives.

Since it's a £2,500 projector, I need to do a thorough scout of the Z3000's specifications to try and fi nd out how it lives up to its 'step-up' billing. And one thing that immediately leaps out is a claimed contrast ratio of 6500:1 - one of the highest yet seen in the DLP world.

Needless to say you can't get even close to this fi gure without sacrifi cing plenty of the projector's claimed 1200 ANSI Lumens maximum brightness. But Sharp maintains the 6500:1 figure is possible using the High Contrast setting (which reduces the iris aperture), so, for now, I'm willing to take its word for it.

I mentioned earlier that the Z3000 is HD Ready, and this is confi rmed by a native resolution for the Texas Instruments 1280 x 768 chipset, and HDMI and component connectivity. Please note, however, that in keeping with the vast majority of projectors and TVs currently in the marketplace, the Z3000 won't take a 1080p signal.

The entire optical mechanism of the Z3000, meanwhile, is contained within a sealed section of the chassis, keeping dust, dirt and smoke out. This means there's no need for a filtering system, potentially reducing maintenance burdens and increasing the PJ's life.

Finishing up the projector's key innards is a fi ve-speed, six-segment colour wheel. Setting up Setting the Sharp up uncovers a host of helpful touches. For starters, the lens is a reasonably short-throw affair, being able to deliver a 60in image from a throw distance of just six feet. You can also move the image up or down using a passably fl exible digital image shift system, and there's a handy keystone adjustment that works by letting you pull the picture up, down, left or right in each corner. This proves much more fl exible than the onedimensional keystone correction most projectors employ.

Moving into the Z3000's onscreen menus, interesting tweaks at your disposal include a colour temperature adjustable in Kelvins; Texas Instruments' BrilliantColour system designed to make the picture look more dynamic without upsetting colour tones; progressive scan options; digital noise reduction; and three iris settings: High Brightness, Medium and the aforementioned High Contrast.

You can also adjust the light output of the projector's lamp between bright and 'economy' modes, depending on whether you're more interested in a bright picture or reduced fan noise/longer lamp life/ better contrast.

While this is all well and good, however, I have to say that so far I'm not sure I'm quite seeing the 'killer app' that might make me happy with the Z3000's step-up price tag of £2,500.

Hmm. Maybe the picture quality will fill in the missing link?

Picture performance is good - but perhaps not best in class. Kicking off with the strengths, the image is impressively noiseless. By which I mean that as well as keeping grain to a minimum, it does a truly excellent job of suppressing the rainbow effect (where bands of pure colour appear in your peripheral vision). There's no overt dot crawl over dark picture areas, or fi zzing noise over horizontal motion.

Edges are perfectly rendered too, with no signs of jaggedness or haloes. There is also an impressive sense of stability and solidity to the image, giving movies that almost indefi nable cinematic feel that separates step-up models from the entrylevel brigade.

At fi rst glimpse, black level is very impressive and deep too, at least when using the High Contrast Iris setting. But the longer I watched the Z3000, the more those black levels actually start to appear a touch hollow. And ultimately, no matter how much I tinkered around with the multifarious iris, brightness and gamma options on hand, I never managed to achieve a balance between brightness and contrast that I was entirely happy with.

I also felt that the Z3000's colour tone isn't quite as natural as that of some of its HD Ready rivals. While sharp, motion can occasionally look jerky (though adjusting the progressive settings improve matters), and even in 'eco' brightness/normal fan mode I found the noise from the projector's cooling fans a little distracting.

I'm just not sure Sharp's Z3000 wears its price tag well. For while in some ways it's certainly a cut above the budget boys, I feel that there are already cheaper HD Ready models that actually do better.

The upshot of all this is that while the Z3000 is a respectable enough addition to the DLP ranks, its performance limitations and relatively high price hinder any serious recommendation.

SharpProjectorHome cinemaHigh definitionHDTV
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