There seems to be two camps when it comes to today's modern HD projector: high-end/high-cost and the increasingly affordable. Sanyo, a manufacturing giant, has come into the consumer home theater marketplace with a line of front video projectors that are not only good, but also shockingly reasonable in price. How reasonable, you ask? Well, the PLV-Z700, reviewed here, retails for an obtainable $1,995 and is shipping with a variety of rebates that lower the price even more. While the PLV-Z700 represents Sanyo's entry-level offering for a full 1080p LCD projector, its performance and value are anything but budget, besting costlier competition by wide margins.
The PLV-Z700 has an attractive design, clad in a sort of pearl white housing with a light gray face for contrast. As far as compact home theater projectors go, the PLV-Z700 sits somewhere in the middle in terms of size, measuring nearly 16 inches wide by five-and-a-half inches tall and 13-and-a-half inches deep. Because of the PLV-Z700's size and relatively low weight of 16 pounds, installing and/or mounting it in your home theater is less of a chore than is often the case. The PLV-Z700's lens is hidden behind a motorized door that serves as the lens cap, keeping the glass free from debris and dust, and mounted just off center, though not as far right or left (depending on your mounting configuration) as, say, lenses on older Epson or Panasonic projectors. The door automatically opens and closes when the projector is powered on and off, which is a very cool and useful feature.
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Along the side of the PLV-Z700 rest the manual alignment controls for vertical and horizontal positioning. Having owned Sony projectors for some time now, I appreciated the manual controls, for I've never liked the delay and frustration that comes with remote-guided framing. The PLV-Z700's vertical and horizontal offset is generous, to say the least, but be warned, for the PLV-Z700 has no digital keystone correction, so you might not want to get too crazy with your placement of the projector. Keeping the lens mounted as close as possible to the center of your screen will still yield the best picture results. There is a lock switch next to the vertical and horizontal alignment controls, which ensures that positioning remains constant. As far as zoom and focus go, the PLV-Z700 is, again, all manual. There is a small thumb slider along the rim of the lens that controls the 1x to 2.0x zoom and grooved focus ring that encompasses the outermost edge of the lens itself. The PLV-Z700 has a reported throw distance of roughly four feet to 60 feet, producing an image as compact as 40 inches all the way up to 300 inches. While the idea of parking the PLV-Z700 in your neighbor's backyard and projecting a theater-like image on the side of your house may sound enticing, the most suitable screen size for the PLV-Z700 is somewhere in the neighborhood of 92-120 inches.
Around back, you'll find the PLV-Z700 inputs. It has quite a few, most notably two HDMI 1.3b inputs. A RGB PC monitor input and component, S-video and composite video inputs are present. A master power switch, AC receptacle and RS-232C port round out the connection and rear panel features for the PLV-Z700.
Internally, the PLV-Z700 boasts full 1080p resolution in an organic LCD design. The PLV-Z700 features Sanyo's TopazReal HD Technology, which is a color management system that addresses phase and levels for the most accurate color reproduction in its class. The PLV-Z700 is rated at 1,200 lumens, though it does dip down a bit with proper calibration, depending on which lamp mode you choose. The PLV-Z700 has a reported contrast ratio of 10,000:1 in its dynamic or vivid picture setting modes. However, when calibrated and when viewed properly in a darkened room, the contrast is nowhere near the reported number, but is still very good and better than that of most projectors in this price range. The PLV-Z700 can accept signals ranging from 480i to 1080p and even has an anamorphic setting for those of you wanting to mate the PLV-Z700 to a third-party anamorphic lens adaptor for true 2:35 viewing. The PLV-Z700 uses a 165-watt lamp, which packs plenty of punch, as well as being relatively inexpensive to replace, with a street price hovering around $300. No lamp life numbers are given, but I'd have to guess the PLV-Z700's lamp would run for a solid 3,000 hours, give or take. Sanyo also boasts that the PLV-Z700 is equipped with one of the quietest fans among projectors in its class, with a noise level that never rises above 21dB in economy mode. Keep in mind that economy mode will diminish light output and contrast and, while this will cut down on your power bill, the effect is noticeable.
As for the PLV-Z700's remote, I was pleasantly surprised. Other publications have taken exception to the PLV-Z700's remote, but I find it to be more than adequate and rather well-put-together and thought-out for day-to-day use. I especially liked its fully backlit design, as well as its hard input buttons and picture controls that make adjustments and viewing a relative breeze. While not sexy by any means, the PLV-Z700's remote is functional and very easy to use.
Integrating the PLV-Z700 into my reference home theater was easy, though it's a job for two people if you're ceiling-mounting it, like I did. While the PLV-Z700 does not have a centrally located lens, the horizontal and vertical shift allowed me to place it in the same position as my Sony Pearl, which features a center-mounted lens. The PLV-Z700's menu is first-rate and picture adjustments and calibration controls are easily found, understood and bountiful. While many of you may be persuaded to set and forget the PLV-Z700, taking advantage of its picture presets, this would be a mistake, as the PLV-Z700's performance does improve with calibration.
I used the Blu-ray edition of the Digital Video Essentials disc to aid in my final set-up and the results were impressive, to say the least. Out of the box, my PLV-Z700 was a touch too warm, with a noticeable color shift that favored the yellow/green end of the spectrum. This didn't make the image appear jaundiced, just a bit void of cooler tones and black-level detail, all of which was easily remedied with moderate calibration. After calibration, the PLV-Z700 proved to have excellent color accuracy and grayscale tracking that was on par with costlier projectors and in a league of its own when compared to similarly-priced LCD projectors.
Since a majority of my time spent in my reference theater involves viewing HD material, I kicked things off with TBS' presentation of the baseball World Series (TBS). The PLV-Z700 proved to be quite a performer, rendering the capacity crowds with superb detail and color. The large masses were rendered faithfully, with individual fans being clearly visible down to the designs on their t-shirts, with little to no visible pixilation or screen door effects that you'll find on many budget LCD projectors. Fast-moving pans and super-wide shots produced little motion blur and/or artifacts. Color rendering was superb and validated Sanyo's claims that the PLV-Z700 is among the most accurate and punchy of the budget LCD crowd. Skin tones of the players proved to be equally impressive, possessing a lack of overt smoothness or redness in the highlights that are often found in HD broadcasts. The level of detail in the close-up shots was impressive, allowing me to see individual beads of sweat running down people's cheeks and illuminating their pores. More impressive still was the almost mirror-like surface that reflected the stadium lights in the players' helmets, cementing my belief in the PLV-Z700's micro-detail prowess. All in all, with a good satellite HD feed, the PLV-Z700 proved to be phenomenal in every regard.
Next, I cued up the HD presentation of The Happening (Twentieth Century Fox Century Fox), which was rented and downloaded in 720p from iTunes. The muted color palette of the film was as impressive as the HD broadcast of the World Series and showed the breadth of the PLV-Z700's performance. While not as punchy, the color accuracy was almost reference-grade, with every subtle shift in color tone and depth hitting its mark. The level of detail, both in shades of color and in terms of resolution, was staggering when you consider the PLV-Z700's retail price. During the sequence in the large open field, viewed on my 92-inch woven screen from a distance of nine feet, I could see individual leaves and blades of grass blowing in the wind. The foliage appeared less like a mass of color and shades of gray and more like real trees, which for a downloaded film through an inexpensive projector was an enormous feat. Black levels were superb and grayscale rendering and low light detail were very good, giving up only that last bit of resolution to costlier projectors. Skin tones were, again, natural and well-defined, with the appropriate amount of texture, tone and detail, without seemingly overly sharp or artificial. Highlights were kept neatly in check with little to no blooming or smearing and were pretty close to absolute white for a projector of the PLV-Z700's caliber. Motion artifacts were kept to a minimum, with only slight stair-stepping in fast-moving wide shots, but nothing that got in the way or distracted me from enjoying the film.
I ended my evaluation of the PLV-Z700 with Ratatouille (Disney Home Entertainment) on Blu-ray. CG-animated films are a staple in many HD demos for their clean lines and color saturation. I just couldn't resist, for the PLV-Z700 is simply magical when it comes to reproducing vivid color palettes. Ratatouille proved to be a tour de force for the PLV-Z700's TopazReal HD system, delighting me with one of the most fulfilling visual treats I've seen in my reference theater in a long time. The night shots of Paris were stunning and showcased the PLV-Z700's stunning contrast and grayscale tracking, as well as highlighting compositions beautifully. Every element of the shot played in harmony with the next, displaying terrific composure, detail and sharpness. The visual depth of the image bordered on three-dimensional, making my screen feel more like a diorama than a two-dimensional surface. Speaking of edge fidelity, there was no visible pixilation or digital nastiness apparent in the sharp lines that seemed to separate nearly every element of the image, from the characters to the bricks of the buildings. Everything, down to the individual hairs on the rats' bodies, was brilliantly rendered with exquisite detail. Again, the color accuracy of the PLV-Z700, after calibration, was superb and felt more like a DIL-A design than a simple LCD projector. True 1080p source material allowed for the smoothest, most natural motion for the PLV-Z700 thus far. If I had any complaint it was, again, regarding the low light and black-level detail that the PLV-Z700 misses, but I am nitpicking here.
Read more about the PLV-Z700 on Page 2.