Sanyo PLV-Z4 Home Theater Projector - Who Should Buy?
3/13/06 -Art Feierman
Before or after reading this review commentary, you can click on this link- or at the bottom - for the full multi-page review of the Sanyo PLV-Z4 projector:
The Full PLV-Z4 Review
The Sanyo Earns a Hot Product Award
In November of 2005 we first reviewed Sanyo's PLV-Z4 projector. Although Sanyo never discontinued the year older Z3 model, but rather kept it in the line, at a lower price, the Z4 represented a rather dramatic improvment in both image quality and general performance over the Z3. Just as the Sanyo Z3's biggest direct competitor was the discontinued Panasonic PT-AE700u, so the PLV-Z4's most direct competitor is the Panasonic PT-AE900u.
We awarded the PLV-Z4 a Hot Product Award for providing an exceptionally sharp image with good depth, at this very reasonable price point. Also contributing, are excellent ergonomics, including optical lens shift with exceptional adjustment range, and a 2:1 zoom lens for easy placement. Coming standard with a 3 year warranty also didn't hurt!
The Sanyo PLV-Z4 Faces New Competition
There are other, new contenders to be considered in this March 2006 update. They include: A recently upgraded BenQ PE7700 (previously the best selling DLP projector in the under $2000 price range), the new Optoma HD72 (another just under $2000 street price DLP projector), as well as more expensive projectors from Epson - their Cinema 550, InFocus (a soon to be released InFocus IN76 DLP projector), and a couple of others, including (also significantly more expensive), HC3000 from Mitsubishi, and Sony's HS51A (called HS60 in Europe). I may have missed a couple, but these should be the major competiton.
PLVZ4 Prices - vs. The Competition
My goal is not to provide the lowest projector prices for you at this time, as they constantly change, but rather to help put in perspective, how this Sanyo projector - or the Z4 as many call it - is priced compared to the competition.
In answer to Panasonic's significant (first $200), now $400 mail in rebate, Sanyo earlier this year launched a free lamp promotion (about to start it's 3rd consecutive month). As most lamps are $400, a piece, we consider that an effective $400 reduction to selling price. The Panasonic, notwithstanding, tends to sell for $100 to $200 more than the Z4 at most places, but they also provide a "$300 Blockbuster rental card". (My understanding is that it is good for 40 rentals. - who pays $7.50 a rental?) That has a lot of value for some and little or none, for other buyers. So the bottom line, is that depending on how you feel about Blockbuster rentals, these two projectors are priced about the same after factoring in the deals.
You could therefore say that the net price of both of these projectors is mostly around $1500 - $1700. By comparison the two hot DLP projectors, the BenQ PE7700 and the Optoma HD72, are likely to cost between $200 and $400 more (they have no rebates) than the Sanyo Z4.
Epson uses a different pricing strategy on their Cinema 550, and have not reduced the pricing since launched in December. At this time, the Epson is sufficiently more expensive to not really be a direct competitor, for the PLV-Z4, at least price wise, as most dealers seem to holding to a $2499 price. That's a hefty additional amount.
The Sony VPL-HS51A, is also a step up in price - with most dealers commanding more than $2500 and some around $3000. None-the-less, the Sony is included here as an excellent 3 panel LCD projector, of the same resolution as the Z4.
What's So Great About the Sanyo PLV-Z4?
The Z4 offers the single most flexible design of all the home theater projectors mentioned in this review, in terms of where you can place it in your room. Like the Panasonic, it offers a 2:1 zoom lens, with most home theater rooms or family rooms you can place the projector in any one of these locations:
- Near the middle of the room, on a table, placed about even with the bottom of your screen or slightly lower. Yes, you can shine on a wall, but you'll be amazed at the improvement with a proper projector screen.
- In terms of distance, you could place it further back, all the way to the back wall of the room, unless you have a very long room, and a very small screen.
- You can mount it on a shelf on the back wall (in most rooms) with the Z4 mounted on a shelf located vertically anywhere from about a foot and a half below the bottom of the screen to an equal amount above the top edge of your screen.
- Or, you can ceiling mount the Z4, probably from the middle of your room to the back.
Again, it is the most flexible of any projector in this class that we have looked at. The Panasonic PT-AE900u is similar overall, but with less range on the lens shift (you can position the projector only from slightly below the bottom of the screen, to slightly above the top). Tthe Epson has even more lens shift range, both higher and lower, but sports a zoom lens with only a 1.5:1 zoom, so may not be placeable as close or as far away from your screen as you might prefer.
The DLP projectors, by comparison, are much more limited, so, in chosing them, you pretty much have to place them where they are designed to be placed. If your room can't handle that restriction, you can't use that DLP projector. In this price range, the DLP projectors do not offer lens shift, at all, and their zoom lenses are mostly in the 1.2:1 or 1.3:1 range. But then that's fair, as DLP has traditionally laid claim to the advantage in image quality.
Inputs: The Sanyo PLVZ4 comes well equipped, with a single HDMI (digital) input, two component inputs, the usual S-video and composit video, a separate computer input, plus, an RS-232 for control. This is about as good as it gets. In fact that is virtually identical to the Panasonic projector. I would have preferred seeing 2 HDMI inputs, but none of the projectors in this class offer that.
So, overall, the PLV-Z4 is as well equipped in terms of inputs as any other projector near its price. No downside here compared to the competition.
The PLV-Z4's remote is compact and reasonably well laid out. Compared to the competition, though I found two potentially annoying flaws. First, although all the buttons are backlit, the backlighting isn't very bright. I found reading the buttons in a dark room to be challenging even with the backlight on.
The second complaint relates to the range of the remote. In my own theater, with most remotes, I can point the remote forward and get a good bounce off of my screen, and front wall, and have the projector respond. With my normal seating position, the Sanyo didn't seem to have the range to work off of the reflected signal. Instead, I had to point the remote over my shoulder to the projector sitting behind me. Of course, you may want to invest in a nice multi-device learning remote to control all of your equipment, which makes this issue moot.
Of the competing projectors, none seemed to quite as limited in range. As to the backlighting I can't honestly recall, but most did better. In summary, I had originally rated the remote as a weakness. Nothing since, from the new competition would indicate a reason to improve my opinion of it. Hardly a deal breaker, but its something Sanyo will hopefully address when they come out with their next generation.
Sanyo PLV-Z4 Brightness and Sharpness
Brightness - Home theater projectors like the Sanyo PLVZ4, are meant to be used in near or fully darkened rooms for watching movies, and can handle some ambient light for watching HDTV, TV, or video games. The Sanyo is one of the least bright projectors in the group. If you prefer a larger screen - say over 110" diagonal, the limited brightness may be a deal breaker for you. (Of course you could go with a high gain screen, but that raises other issues. By comparison, the Panasonic PT-AE900u is a little brighter, the BenQ PE7700 more so.
The Sanyo Z4 and the Sony HS51A are about the same brightness. The Epson Cinema 550, and Optoma HD72 are both far brighter (the Optoma is definitely the brightest). If you really need the brightest projector of the group, but are limited in dollars, that would be the HD72.
Sharpness and Screen Door Effect- There is something called the Screen Door Effect, that is present to some degree on all home theater projectors. Typically it is much greater on LCD projectors, than DLP projectors. It effectively limits how close you can sit to a screen of any particular size, without a certain type of distortion becoming annoying. The PLVZ4 is typical of LCD projectors, and as such pixels are more visible than on the DLP models. Generally acceptable seating is about 1.5 times screen width. (An example - for a 100" diagonal screen - 87" wide, would put 1.5X screen width at about 130" or 10 ft. 8" as the closest you would want to sit. By comparison the Sony is slightly better in this regard, say 1.3 or 1.4 times width. The Epson and the Sanyo are aobut the same. The exception of the LCD projectors is the Panasonic which uses what they call "Smooth Screen" LCD panels. With the Panny, the pixel visibility is more like DLP projectors (1.0 - 1.1 x screen width), but the Panasonic doesn't provide quite as sharp an image as the Z4.
Note, on the image just above, if you look carefully, you can see that the room has a modest amount of ambient light (4 recessed ceiling lights running about half way up on their dimmers). The room looks much closer to dark than it is. This is due to setting the exposure to correctly capture the football game. If I shot to capture the room lighting, the game would come out badly overexposed - in all this is a limitation of the camera's range. BTW, the screen in the image is my 128" diagonal Stewart Firehalk, - a slightly larger screen size than I feel the projector can comfortably handle)
The bottom line here, while you can't sit quite as close as the DLP projectors or the Panasonic, the Sanyo's big advantage is that its image is exceptionally sharp. Only the Sony - at a significantly higher price can match it. The HD72 and BenQ PE7700 are very close (maybe the Sanyo's equal), but the Panasonic and Epson definitely won't produce as sharp an image, especially on DVD.
AE900u Image Quality and Color vs Competition
The Sanyo PLV-Z4, like most home theater projectors, does not offer exceptionally accurate color, fresh out of the box. If you get a Z4, I recommend immediately buying a basic calibration disk, like the AVIA Guide to Home Theater. It will require an investment of about an hour of your life (just about anyone can follow the instructions), and it will allow you to enjoy much improved color accuracy and image quality! Of all the projectors mentioned in this article, the Panasonic comes with notably very good out of box color, and the BenQ would be second. The rest all need that bit of calibration, to shine.
There is another important aspect, referred to as black levels, "blacker blacks", and shadow detail. All these projectors, including the Z4, cannot do a true black. Their attempt comes out dark gray (true also of plasma displays and lcd displays). Some get closer to black than others, and that means you can see more details in areas that are very dark. DLP projectors still have the advantage (slightly) in achieving "blacker blacks", but some LCD projectors such as the PLV-Z4 now rely on "AI" to improve picture quality. The Sanyo makes particularly good use of both an automatic Iris that adjusts frame by frame to provide the best picture dynamics and black levels, and also a lamp that brightens and dims frame by frame for the same purpose.
Together these two features help explain the claimed 7000:1 contrast ratio. From a practical standpoint, I found the black levels achieved of the Z4, to be second only to the Sony HS51A of the LCD projectors. In certain circcumstances, the Z4 could rival the DLP projectors - scenes fairly dark without any fully bright areas, which lets the iris and lamp dimming do their thing. On rare occurences, I could actually spot the effects of the dimming/brightening lamp, and in the full review recommended that some people might want to turn off the Auto Lamp feature for that reason.
Bottom line, Considering its price point at the very bottom of this group of projectors, and given a "consumer" color calibration, the Z4 can offer impressive color accuracy, and better than average black levels.
Summary: Is the Sanyo PLVZ4 the right projector for you?
The strengths of the PLVZ4 are as follows:
- Best room placement flexibility
- Extremely sharp image - If you find 1.5x screen width an acceptable seating distance, this projector will provide the sharpest image of any in this class that I have reviewed. This will well be the key deciding point for many buyers..
- Very good color after a basic color calibration
- Excellent 3 year warranty
The shortcomings of the Z4:
- One of the least bright projectors (mind you these are all designed for blackend or very dark rooms the differences are not drastic - except for the Optoma HD72). Generally, no enough lumens for screens larger than 110" diagonal. If you not only like movies, but, say sports, and you don't want your room really dark for watching sports, you might opt for a brighter projector.
- Typical screen door effect found on LCD projectors won't let you sit as close.
- Remote's backlight is dim, and remote's range is limited.
- Image quality on regular TV feeds. (The Z4 performs extremely well on hi-def, but is a bit worse than most with low res TV.
As a parting note, to make your home theater experience the most enjoyable and stress free, I recommend you not quibble over the last few dollars when choosing a dealer. Find a dealer that knows their stuff, has good policies, and can also advise you on the right screen, and recommend good performance cables. Spending a bit extra on better Digital (DVI or HDMI cables) will improve the image quality of the Sanyo PLVZ4, or any good projector.
The Z4 remains about the least expensive 1280x720 HD resolution projector on the market (of those with current technology). The Z4's razor sharp image, and ability to setup up easily in virtually any room, plus a solid 3 year warranty (most have 2, the Panasonic has 1 year), make this the price/performance choice. Just don't forget to get that calibration disk and some really good cables so it can do its best. . -art
To read the full Sanyo PLV-Z4 review click here:
The Full PLV-Z4 Review