Home Theater Review

 

Sanyo PLV-Z3000 1080p 120Hz LCD Projector Reviewed

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HTR Product Rating

Performance
4 Stars
Value
4 Stars
Overall
4 Stars

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When one thinks of quality home theater projectors, few brands come to mind. Sony, JVC and Panasonic are some that do. Sanyo, on the other hand, may not be on one's short list. However, they've been making high-quality, affordable home theater projectors for years. Their latest offering, the PLV-Z3000 reviewed here, is no exception. Retailing for $2,999 - though depending on where you shop, that figure may be much lower - the PLV-Z3000 is among the most affordable full-featured 1080p projectors in the marketplace today.

Additional Resources
Read more front projector reviews from Sanyo, Panasonic, Sony, Epson, JVC and others
Read video screen reviews from Stewart, SI, Da-lite, Elite Screens, dnp and more. 

The PLV-Z3000 is a full-resolution HD projector (1920x1080p) with a reported max contrast ratio of 65,000:1 with a 1,200 Lumen brightness rating. The PLV-Z3000 also features the latest 120Hz frame rate and smooth-motion technology normally found in upscale LCD displays. Along with its 120Hz technology, the PLV-Z3000 is the first projector to employ a 5:5 pull-down mode that utilizes Dynamic Predictive Frame Interpolation Technology. This doubles the normal frame rate of 60 to 120 fps by interpreting the differences between two frames and essentially inserting five new frames between the two.

Beyond its frame rate and pull-down trickery, the PLV-Z3000 also employs Sanyo's TopazReal HD 3D color management system. Don't let the name fool you - the PLV-Z3000 is not a 3D projector. The TopazReal HD color system addresses changes in color phase and levels to obtain what Sanyo calls "perfect color reproduction." In a nutshell, the system optimizes the colors and number of colors to take full advantage of Deep Color settings via an HDMI 1.3 connection; the PLV-Z3000 has two of these.

Looking past the internal video and video processing prowess of the PLV-Z3000, it also has a number of very practical installation features, such as full lens-shifting capability, horizontal and vertical, via a pair of side-mounted sliders and a 2x zoom short throw lens that allows you to achieve a 100-inch diagonal image from as little as 10 feet away. On the flip side, you can achieve that same 100-inch diagonal image from 20 feet away, though I suspect your brightness and image quality would suffer just a bit. The PLV-Z3000 is equipped with an uber-quiet fan that never allows the projector's noise levels to rise above 19dB in economy mode, which is plenty quiet, far quieter than my reference Sony VW50 projector.

As far as projectors go, the PLV-Z3000 is relatively compact and rather attractive-looking in its two-tone, dark gray on light gray color scheme. It features Sanyo's own automated lens cap, which is essentially a sliding door that opens and closes over the lens when the projector is turned on or off. This is a very cool, albeit noisy, feature that his is supremely practical and keeps your lens virtually dust-free when not in use. I wish more projectors utilized this feature or something like it. As far as connections go, the PLV-Z3000 has two HDMI 1.3 inputs, along with dual component video inputs, a single composite video and S-Video input and computer monitor input, allowing the PLV-Z3000 to be used as a business display device if need be. A detachable power cord comes standard, as well as a hard power switch on the input panel, though once powered on via the switch, taking the projector in and out of standby is done via remote.

Speaking of remotes, I don't believe they get much better than the one for the PLV-Z3000. Its size, shape and weight fit comfortably in hand and its layout and full use of push-button backlighting is not only practical, but also exceedingly easy to use in any lighting condition, including pitch black. The buttons are clearly and cleanly labeled and make operating the PLV-Z3000 a breeze. Why can't all remotes be like the PLV-Z3000's remote?

The Hookup
The Sanyo PLV-Z3000 arrived on the heels of its lesser brother, the PLV-700. I loved it very much, though Sanyo assured me that if I thought the 700 was great, then I would absolutely adore the Z3000. Time would tell, though integrating the PLV-Z3000 into my system was nearly an identical process as the one for the 700, for the two rested at the exact same spot on my ceiling with nearly identical lenses and menu/picture settings.

I calibrated the PLV-Z3000 using the Blu-ray edition of Digital Video Essentials and found the PLV-Z3000's out-of-box performance to be quite good, though still in need of some minor tailoring to get the most out of the blacks and tame a bit of a greenish color shift that I noticed. The onscreen menus are good, though some of the features, like the 120Hz settings, were a bit buried in sub-menus and not always the easiest to find on the fly. Because of its manual lens shifting options and straightforward remote, the PLV-Z3000 was simple enough to set up and calibrate in about an hour.
For the purpose of this review, I connected the PLV-Z3000 to my reference system, which includes a Sony PS3, a Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray player, a Toshiba HD-A20 HD DVD player, an Apple TV and a Dish Network HD DVR, all running through my Integra DTC 9.8 processor feeding the PLV-Z3000 via a single HDMI cable.

Performance
I kicked things off with the HD DVD edition of the Michael Bay action flick Transformers (Paramount Home Entertainment). Off the bat, the PLV-Z3000's increased light output, compared to my Sony VW50, was evident, resulting in a far brighter, punchier and dynamic image. While the image as a whole was more pleasing overall, the black levels were not quite as rich or clearly defined, smoothing over the minute details in an effort to produce a more balanced image. Did I mind? Not really, though if you're a low-level detail freak, you may be a touch let down by the PLV-Z3000. While not as defined, the PLV-Z3000's black levels did run plenty deep for my taste and provided stark contrast to the film's lighter elements, which were rendered beautifully. Highlight detail and the quality of the white detail were superb and superior to the PLV-Z3000's black level performance. Color saturation and levels were also very good, as evidenced by Optimus Prime's candy apple red and blue paint job, which was vivid and punchy, but never felt artificial or unnatural. Skin tones were also very naturally rendered and accurate, though I noticed some slight smoothing of the smallest and subtlest details in skin texture and overall detail. Motion was smooth and digital artifacts were minimal to nonexistent with true 24p material. I found I got the best image quality by leaving off the PLV-Z3000's version of 120Hz motion flow technology. With the PLV-Z3000's 120Hz features engaged, the image appeared overly cut out, with far too much separation happening between foreground and background elements, making the CG elements appear poorly composited. However, with the 120Hz features disabled, edge fidelity and depth were very good. The image overall had a nice, natural dimension to it that allowed me to see far into the image in a way that is hard to match at the PLV-Z3000's price point.

I switched gears to some HD broadcast material by way of Survivor Man on Discovery HD Theater (Discovery). Survivor Man is shot using off-the-shelf consumer HD cameras. In a few shots, these appeared to be Panasonic and/or Sony models. Needless, to say the HD quality is not on par with, say, Transformers, but it is very good for broadcast HDTV. The low-light scenes, of which there are many, were not as rich or finely detailed as the HD DVD source material, possessing noticeable video noise, macro blocking and other digital compression artifacts. While a bit overwhelmed with the limitations of the cameras, the PLV-Z3000 still achieved shockingly deep black levels and was able to extract a fair amount of detail in all but the darkest regions of the image. Again, colors were rich and vibrant. The PLV-Z3000's higher lumen rating allowed for the daylight scenes to "pop" off the screen. Wide rain forest vistas were natural in their appearance and possessed huge amounts of detail and spatial separation, giving the image a depth and clarity that only HD broadcasts can provide. Colors felt more natural with Survivor Man than with Transformers, no doubt aided by the show's documentary style, as opposed to a slick Hollywood look. Motion was good, with no deinterlacing hiccups coming to the forefront. Keep in mind that this was a 1080i feed and I disabled my Integra's internal video processing. The many rapid camera pans were not quite as smooth as with 24p material, but that is to be expected. Overall, the image quality was above average and at times very good indeed, with the PLV-Z3000's color saturation and brightness being the most impressive.

I ended my evaluation of the PLV-Z3000 with The Dark Knight (Warner Home Video) on Blu-ray. The Dark Knight proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to viewing material on the PLV-Z3000. The opening IMAX shot of downtown Chicago, ahem, Gotham City, with its vastness and sharp contrasting lines and reflective surfaces, can be difficult for some displays to get right. The PLV-Z3000 delivered the shot and the scene in spades, with no apparent "jaggies" or jittery motion present, minus the subtle camera shake produced by the helicopter housing the camera. The reflections in the glass of the focal building were rendered clear as day, allowing me to see nearly as much of the city behind the camera as what was presented in front. Low light and/or black detail was also superb, evident in the scene where Batman, played by Christian Bale, is atop a Hong Kong skyscraper. Batman's costume stood in stark contrast to the outside elements and, via the PLV-Z3000, I could make out the differences in his costume's design and materials with zero effort. While not an overly colorful film, the level of detail and texture in the film's more saturated moments, especially the Joker's deep purple jacket, were awe-inspiring. Skin tones appeared more natural in this test than with previous tests, and I could detect little to no smoothing of macro detail the way I did with Transformers, which makes me think that The Dark Knight was a far truer transfer to HD than Transformers was. Motion was buttery smooth and natural, more so than watching the film at the theater. When the 120Hz feature set is turned on, the image can appear overtly fake. Truthfully, very few companies have the 120Hz recipe correct and Sanyo, with its PLV-Z3000, isn't among them.

Overall, I very much liked the PLV-Z3000 and my time spent with it, especially on Blu-ray material. I must admit that, when playing back substandard video, such as SD and even podcasts via my Apple TV, it was far from vomit-inducing. In fact, on two CNET auto reviews via their podcasts, the PLV-Z3000 was quite impressive indeed. While the PLV-Z3000 didn't turn the less-than-stellar podcasts to HD, it allowed me to watch them on a 92-inch screen without asking myself what the hell I was thinking. On two occasions, guests in my home during my evaluation period of the PLV-Z3000 commented on the improved image quality over my usual Sony projector. While in most respects I agree with them, I have a few reservations about the Sanyo PLV-Z3000.

Read The High Points, Low Points and Conclusion on Page 2

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