Sharp XV-Z2000

31st Mar 2005 | 23:00

Mid-range projectors take a leap forward

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Provides a natural looking picture straight out of the box, and is decently specced for future HDTV

Like:

<p>High contrast and brightness</p><p>HDTV compatible</p><p>DVI input</p><p>Slim build</p>

Dislike:

<p>A little noisy</p><p>Lacks its own upscaling or progressive scan conversion</p>

The quality of budget projectors has come on leaps and bounds in recent months. Which is great news for you and me, but frankly a bit of pain for manufacturers trying to offer something more salubrious to anyone with both the necessary AV aspirations and the extra readies. To put it simply, the better the budget models get, the harder it is for the mid-range fraternity to justify their existence. Unless, of course, those mid-range models improve as well. Cue Sharp's XV-Z2000...

As usual with a Sharp projector, the XV-Z2000 is extremely easy on the eye. The firm has abandoned its retro-sci-fi stylings in favour of a boldly curvaceous design and a finish so polished that you can see your face in it, it's comparable with even the best projector designs out there.

Connectivity is all you might expect of an upper-class projector, too - which means that it includes a digital video jack (DVI in this case) equipped with the all-important HDCP 'hardware handshake'. As many of you may already be aware, this digital/HDCP connection will be required by anyone wanting to watch Sky's high-definition broadcasts when they begin next year. And it's also necessary for watching DVDs on any of the latest generation of DVD players equipped with DVI or HDMI outputs.

The DVI jack can be hard-switched between PC and AV use, while for analogue users there are a couple of component video jacks, and the usual lower quality S-video and composite video alternatives.

The XV-Z2000's digital connectivity isn't its only claim to 'HD-readiness' fame, since it also offers a native resolution of 1,280 x 720. This makes it optimised for widescreen viewing, and ideal for showing 720p high-definition material (the format likely to be used for the most part by Sky).

Curiously, according to the Sharp manual, the DVI input can't display a true 1080i HD signal. It downscales it to 540p. This could lead to all sorts of nasty anomalies if the Sky HD platform is used to transmit both 720p and 1080i...

Helping hand

The image engine is provided by Texas Instruments' HD2 chipset, known to improve contrast beyond the HD2 fraternity, as well as reducing any visible image structure in the projected picture. Also potentially helpful is a six-speed, six-segment colour wheel designed to reduce DLP's characteristic 'rainbow effect', whereby red, green and blue strands of colour appear in the periphery of your vision.

There's also copious picture control parameters to play with, via the easy-to-use graphical interface, of which an iris control switch that lets you adjust the amount of light being released through the lens has the most impact, depending on whether you want a high brightness or high contrast image.

Other niceties include a flexible gamma adjustor; a selection of colour temperatures (sensibly rated in Kelvins); and an Eco mode that reduces the lamp's output to lower fan noise and increase black level response - at the expense, naturally, of a little brightness.

The supplied remote is similar to the one shipped with the company's high-end offering - minus backlighting. This one merely glows a bit in the dark.

After an impressively swift bout of setting up (during which the provision of vertical and horizontal keystone correction and an extremely flexible optical zoom proved invaluable), I settled down to watch the XV-Z2000 in action - and quickly found myself enraptured.

Promises delivered

The Sharp XV-Z2000 certainly throws a gorgeous looking picture. Most immediately apparent is its astounding black level response. We've seen many projectors claim extravagant contrast ratios, but few deliver. This model is an exception. With the XV-Z2000, when part of a picture is supposed to be deep black, it darn well looks black on your screen; however the XV-Z2000's contrast performance is strong enough to resolve subtle greyscale and colour details within this darkness, creating a tremendous sense of depth and image texture.

Also surprising is the fact that you can achieve such deep black without sacrificing excessive amounts of brightness. Even with the iris control set to 'High Contrast' and the Eco mode 'On', there's still enough brightness around to deliver light scenes with impressive dynamism and punch.

When it comes to colour fidelity, the XV-Z2000 is a class leader. The tone is impeccably natural no matter how tough the source material - even low-lit skin tones appear believable. And this tone has been achieved without compromising colour saturation or vibrancy, both of which are intensely satisfying.

Detail retrieval is similarly satisfying (comparable with the best projectors on the right side of £5K), there's minimal intrusion from the rainbow effect, and practically no sign of DLP noise over motion or green dot crawl in dark areas. You really are talking about a near-high end performance at a knock-down price.

There is a caveat though, for owners of Region 1 DVDs. This model should only be used with a DVD player offering a progressive output. Unusually, it lacks any 3:2 pulldown detection, meaning that interlaced images judder when panned.

For those shortlisting a budget projector, the XV-Z2000 is bad news, because it puts forward a good case for spending more than you might like. Its image performance is outstanding for the price, and you have to spend considerably more to better it.

In terms of design and connectivity, it's a bit more complicated. It looks great, but the apparent lack of 1080i compatibility via DVI could prove problematic when Sky's HD broadcasts roll out. In every other respect though, the XV-Z2000 is a strong mid-range contender.

SharpProjectorHome cinemaHigh definitionHDTV
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