Digital-TV price erosion has hit the home-theater market this year like a ton of bricks, and the front-projection category is no exception. Sanyo's PLV-Z3 three-panel LCD projector costs around $1,500 in stores, and it offers a good jack pack and some interesting features, including horizontal and vertical lens shift. As you might expect, this bare-bones, budget-priced projector suffers from some performance issues, and videophiles won't mistake it for a more expensive 720p DLP unit. That said, the Sanyo PLV-Z3 performs decently for the money and represents a solid value if you can't spend more. The Sanyo PLV-Z3 is a very small, square box with an all-black finish. It measures 14 by 4.6 by 10.8 inches and weighs a feathery 10 pounds. A flip-down door on the front exposes the lens assembly. The design of the air intake and outtake provides extremely quiet operation. Menu, Input, Select, and arrow buttons on top of the projector's chassis offer access to important functions.
The smallish remote and the internal menu system are both well designed, making them easy and intuitive to use. The remote is also fully backlit, which is helpful when setting up the projector in a darkened home-theater environment. With a native resolution of 1,280x720, the Sanyo PLV-Z3 has enough pixels to fully resolve 720p HDTV sources. All other sources, including 1080i HDTV, DVD, and standard TV, are scaled to fit the pixels.
The Sanyo PLV-Z3 provides five color-temperature settings. We selected Low 1 since it came closest to the broadcast standard of 6,500K. With 14 different gamma settings, the PLV-Z3 gives you way too much choice in this important area of performance; the -1 setting produced the closest-to-accurate gamma. Similarly, seven different Picture modes offer too many choices for most people (we used the Pure Cinema setting).
The Film Mode feature triggers 2:3 pull-down in the video processing when set to the On position. The Overscan feature, which comes preset to 10, actually gives you 0 percent overscan when changed to the 0 setting. This is a very useful feature if you want to get as much of the picture as possible. You may prefer to set satellite and especially cable TV sources to 2 or 3; setting them to 0 will likely produce compression artifacts.
The coolest setup feature is lens shift, which we were quite surprised to discover on a projector this inexpensive. It lets you offset the image horizontally and vertically without affecting the picture quality, which gives you a lot more options when placing the projector relative to the screen.
The Sanyo PLV-Z3's connectivity options are fairly comprehensive for a projector in this price range. A single HDMI input heads up the list, followed by two component inputs, then one S-Video and one composite video input. Finally, there is a VGA input for use with a PC. Custom installers will note the lack of an RS-232 port, typically needed for programming. The Sanyo PLV-Z3's black-level performance is pretty good, coming from an LCD projector, but it's definitely not in the same league as that of the 1,280x720-resolution one-chip DLP projectors currently on the market. In many scenes from the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back DVD, blacks looked a little muddy and grayish rather than inky and dark. Of course, the DLP models are also more expensive; is a good example.
Resolution at the HDMI input was quite disappointing. According to our Sencore VP403 signal generator, the Sanyo lopped off nearly 20 percent of the horizontal resolution from a 720p multiburst pattern. Oddly enough, resolution was far superior at the component-video inputs. The screen-door effect, which appears as a faint grid overlaying the image, was also clearly visible on our 72-inch-wide screen from 13 feet away.
This screen-door effect also adds an overall softness to the picture. That, combined with the Sanyo PLV-Z3's poor black-level performance, gives the picture a somewhat dull, lifeless quality compared with the pictures of DLP projectors at the same resolution.
All of our complaints aside, for less than $2,000, the Sanyo PLV-Z3 delivered a good experience for the money. Color saturation was decent, and bright scenes--especially from our DirecTV HD satellite feed--were generally pleasing.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5,825/7,350K||Average|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,150/6,450K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 636K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 125K||Average|
|Color decoder error: red||+5%||Good|
|Color decoder error: green||-15%||Poor|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|