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Sanyo Z3 review: Sanyo Z3

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The Good Displays high-definition images in native widescreen resolution. HDMI digital connection. High contrast ratio for deep blacks. Lens shift allows flexible positioning of the projector.

The Bad Side air ventilation grille heats up quickly.

The Bottom Line Sanyo's Z3 is an excellent LCD projector for watching widescreen DVDs and High Definition television (HDTV), provided you have a digital set-top box.

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Review Sections

Design
The Z3 comes in a sophisticated dark grey shell, not as impressive looking as HP's ep9012 Instant Cinema projector, but far less obtrusive. At 36 by 12 by 27, it's not the smallest projector we've seen but still weighs in at a respectable 4.1kg -- reasonably light weight for a home theatre projector.

All of the Z3's controls are located on the top of the unit and there are horizontal grilles on the back and side to take care of ventilation. Two adjustable feet can be released from the base to raise the projector 12 degrees.

A very handy aspect of the Z3 is that the lens can be shifted via two control dials on the front to move the image up, down, left or right -- without distortion. Whereas some projectors need to be placed directly in front of the screen, the Z3 can be placed significantly to either side of the screen, below or above it, thanks to this feature. Convenience aside, we found the clearest image is achieved at the centre. Keystone correction can be applied afterwards through the menu if the image is still not perfectly rectangular.

Before you can turn the Z3 on, there is a flip-down front panel covering the lens that needs to be lowered. The zoom and focus are then controlled manually via two rings that around the lens.

The supplied remote control is designed well with the most frequently used buttons right up the top and large in size. You can switch on the remote's green backlights with the press of a button, which is especially useful if you need to make an adjustment when watching movies in the dark.

Features
The Z3 has a widescreen resolution of 1280x720, making it ready to accept High Definition television (HDTV) signals from a set-top box. The native 16:9 format allows you to watch widescreen DVDs and digital television as it was intended; without the letterbox black bars at the top and bottom.

If the source material is not in widescreen format, the screen size can be adjusted to suit the input. For instance, if you have a 4:3 signal, swapping to Zoom or Natural wide will stretch the picture so it appears larger across the full resolution of the projector -- although the image can appear a little stretched at the sides using the Natural wide setting.

My Picture is a screen capturing feature, accessible through the menu, that takes a screenshot which can then be set to display at start up, or any other time by pressing the My's-P button on the remote control.

Four lamp modes are supported to reduce image brightness and power consumption, consequently lowering the fan noise. However, we found the sound of the Z3 projecting at full strength was soft enough not to bother us.

Like the Panasonic PT-AE700E, the Z3 features the new all-digital HDMI connection standard, which will please digital video buffs. Other inputs include composite, S-video, two component inputs and VGA for connecting to a PC.

The on-screen menu is simple to navigate and understand. Within the settings menu, you can change the language, background colour, and set the Z3 for ceiling/wall mounting or rear projection.

Performance
With the air flow for the ventilation entering through the rear and exiting through the side of the projector, Sanyo suggests these areas are not blocked. We found the exhaust from the Z3 is rather hot, so moving other components away from these areas is probably a good idea. Thankfully, there is a warning light and a safety mechanism that will power down the projector should it get too hot. Next to the warning light are indicators for power and lamp replacement.

Seven picture presets can be found in the menu to suit the watching environment. These include Creative cinema, Pure cinema, Natural, Video, Dynamic, Powerful and Graphics. For example, the Creative Cinema setting is best for watching movies in pitch black rooms as it lowers the contrast, whereas Dynamic boosts the contrast and colour for brighter rooms. If you prefer to tweak the image yourself, adjustments can be made to contrast, brightness, colour, tint, colour temperature, white balance (red, green, blue) sharpness and gamma. However, in all tests we generally found one of the presets to be adequate.

Thanks to a high contrast ratio (2000:1), the Z3 displays deep blacks and detail in shadows. As it's not a data projector, the Z3 isn't designed to be used in sun-drenched areas or fluorescent-lit boardrooms. At night however, the Z3 is certainly bright enough (800 ANSI lumens) to bring any movie to life.

Sanyo supplies a thorough user manual, which guides you through setup, operation and provides details on all of the Z3's controls.

If you're interested in home theatre, don't forget to take a look at CNET.com.au's quick guide to buying a home theatre projector and sign up for our free weekly Home Entertainment newsletter.

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