Sanyo PLV-Z4 Projector Image Quality
For virtually all of my testing, I had the Sanyo Z4 projector in it's "best" mode - Creative Cinema. Note, though, that the default iris setting for Creative Cinema is -44. To view on my 128" Firehawk, I did open up the iris to -28 and put the lamp into full power mode. In this mode contrast is enhanced as best the Sanyo projector can, and colors are generally very good. I did switch to the "Pure Cinema" mode, for a number of scenes, but if there is dark content, the Creative Cinema seems to enhance shadow detail and also provide a slightly more dynamic image.
In most images this Sanyo projector tends to display a slight color shift to a redish purple. This is slight, however this color shift is greater, than say the Panasonic's slight shift to yellow. That said, calibrating the projector will allow you improve the image in this regard. The image above of Arwen from Lord of the Rings, is clear and has smooth tonal qualities, however, the color seems subdued compared to some of the best competing projectors.
The Creative Cinema mode, does a good job of enhancing shadow detail, and making dark scenes look better than their Pure Cinema mode. That said, overall ability to do blacks and shadow details seems roughly comparable to DLP projectors that use the HD2+ chip (like the BenQ PE7700, and the recently discontinued Optoma H77), although when it comes to blacks themselves the DLP's still exhibit a slight edge.
I viewed (and took a number of pictures from the movie Sin City, which is done mostly in black and white with color enhancements. It certainly challenges most front home theater projectors, as almost all of the imagery is extremely dark. While a projector may seem to handle scenes very well, a switch to a different better projector will reveal details lost on some projectors. The Sanyo Z4 fits into the catagory of projectors that does a good job, but cannot rival projectors with better true contrast, such as any of the (more expensive) DLP projectors using the Darkchip3 (Optoma H78DC3 (reviewed), H79, Marantz VP12S4 (reviewed), BenQ PE-8720 (recently reviewed), etc.
A couple of the images from Sin City were also shot on the Optoma H78DC3, and the BenQ PE8720, and are posted in those reviews, should you want to compare.
Back to color and flesh tones, the Z4's overall handling of flesh tones is pleasing, although with tweaking, it improves. The image of Gandalf on the right is in Creative Cinema mode, with default color settings.
The image of Will Smith from I, Robot, is sharp and vivid, with good color fidelity, although again that slight shift to bluish purple.
In a number of other reviews I talk about what I dub the "Sunny day" or sunshine factor. Many projectors are challenged when trying to reproduce a really bright, clear sunny day. Imagine the sunshine glowing off a person's face, or off of objects like buildings, grass, etc. Often projectors seem to project images that seem to have been taking on hazy days, without that razorsharp definition that you get on that "sunny day".
The Z4 fits into those projectors that come up a little short. I'm talking about minor differences here, but for example this is one area where I found the Panasonic PT-AE900u home theater projector to have the edge, although the Sanyo did better than the BenQ PE7700.
Here are two images, the first from the Star Wars (DVD) with waterfalls, grass, blue sky, etc. that illustrates my point. The image on the left is the Sanyo PLV-Z4, the right is the Pansonic PTAE900u projector. In the second image (Hi-Def 1080i) from D-VHS tape, again the Sanyo is on the left, the Panasonic on the right. Note, the Panasonic was shot in it's Cinema2 mode, and with the lamp on low power mode, for I found the Panasonic, otherwise, to be notably brighter on most scenes when in full power mode, compared to the Creative Cinema mode of the Sanyo Z4.
Quicktip: Look for the comparison review between the Sanyo Z4 home theater projector and the Panasonic PT-AE900u projector which should be posted within days of this review. As a result I'll be saving most comparison images that I have shot, for that dual projector review.
The image to the left, from the Italian Job, is another example of film shot on a bright sunny day. The Z4 is a bit muted.
One of the areas that has been the strong point of DLP projectors over LCD projectors, has been over the issue of pixel structure. With LCD projectors, the pixels are normally far more visible, requiring you to sit significantly further back from a screen to avoid seeing them or the associated "screen door effect". Strides have been made over the last few years to minimize the pixel structure visibility on some LCD projectors. Today, the best LCD panels (in this regard) are very close to DLP, while most home theater LCD projectors still have an issue with pixel visibility. Of note here, the Sanyo is fairly typical, its pixel structure is visible enough so that you probably want to sit at least 1.5 times screen width from the screen. (Get a 100" wide screen - sit at least 12.5 feet back.) By comparison, with a DLP, to have similar pixel visibility to the same degree, you could sit 9 feet from that same sized screen. So, if you are like me, and prefer to sit relatively close, this is a huge issue.
I bring this up, because this can be a big deciding factor for many home theater projector shoppers. In this regard, the the Sanyo Z4 is not up to the DLP projectors (with the same 720p resolution). Equally important, it is not up to it's number one competitor in the LCD field, the Panasonic PT-AE900u which has been engineered (the LCD panels?) to minimize the pixel effect. So here are two zoom in shots from the lettering on Star Wars, to show you the difference in the pixel structure visibility.
The first image is the Sanyo Z4, the second is the Panasonic AE900u. The difference is striking. Note, please, you are most likely to see pixelization on lettering (like credits) and bright areas (like sky), but if you are too close for the projector's capabilities, you may notice the pixelization/screen door effect on all but the darkest areas.
There is a second effect of visible (and near visible) pixelization. And that is, that projectors with more visible pixelization may appear sharper. (The softness of DLP projectors, due to less noticeable pixels, may be one reason why people like to refer to DLP projectors as being more "film-like".)
So that brings us to the subject of image sharpness. The Sanyo Z4 seems exceptionally sharp for a $2000+ LCD projector. Initial impression while watching DVD, is that it does produce a slightly sharper image than the Panasonic PT-AE900u, or, for that matter the BenQ PE7700. Is this real sharpness, or the result of the more visible pixelization, I can't tell you. Some will find that sharpness as a real plus, others might say, other projectors are more "film-like". You'll have to decide for yourself.
But wait, there's more. When shooting side-by-side against the Panasonic PTAE900u, the Z4 does appear very slightly sharper - on DVDs. When, however, I switched to Hi-Def sources (Hawaiian Tropic tape, and Over America), the difference vanished, in fact in images shot side by side between the same two projectors, I found the differences to be not that of sharpness but other aspects of the images.
Note,of course that both projectors have Sharpness controls, and upping sharpness also tends to add minor artifacts. For these two images, both projectors were at their default sharpness, although there may be various dynamic sharpening of the images as part of the projectors' "AI".
So here's two (fairly large) zoomed in images, the first (above) from the Z4 projector, the second from the AE900u.
You be the judge.
(While you are straining your eyes, look closely at the difference in the texture of the hair on both contestants.).
Note: Unfortunately, when shooting the images, the Panasonic is the brighter of the two. I probably shouldn't have, but I have darkened the Panasonic image so the two would be closer to each other, and easier to compare.)
You can also notice differences between the two images that appear to be "edge sharpening". Look where bright areas meet dark, such as on the right side of the left arm of the woman on the right, or the
Watching "TV" - A dissapointment
While the Sanyo Z4 projector does a truly impressive job on DVD and Hi-Def, it does come up short on standard - low resolution - TV signals. Watching standard TV off of my cable was far less satisfying. The Z4 does not do a good job of de-interlacing standard TV. Picture performance was not up to competing projectors. If you figure you still have a few years of viewing your favorite sitcom's, on TV movies, news, and non Hi-Def sports, you should consider that other projectors will perform significantly better. If, though, you really are watching DVD and Hi-Def, and reserve conventional TV signals to smaller older sets, then don't worry about it.
Overall, the Z4 projector performed very well, however without doing a full calibration, it did not, for example, show as many stars in some of the Star Wars scenes, as the Panasonic or BenQ projectors did. In other scenes it did compress (lose some detail in near white areas) whites, while at the same time losing some shadow detail (when compared to the Panasonic - it did better in the near white areas than the BenQ). In the extreme dark range there is a shift to blacks looking slightly bluish.
I pointed out earlier that the Z4 seems to provide an especially sharp image, for projectors in its price range, I also noted that while it excelled on DVD (480p), on Hi-Def it appeared similar to the competition. Here's something to think about. The Sanyo Z4 projector's strenth on DVD may relate to the many technologies handling upscaling (to the projector's native 720p), sharpening, and contrast enhancing, algorithms. Next generation DVD's appearing shortly, have content stored at higher resolution 720p (which is also the native resolution for the Z4 and its competitors). It may be that the Z4's sharpness will not be any different than the competition with the new DVDs (Blu-Ray, or HD-DVD, whichever wins the battle to be the next DVD standard.
The Sanyo Z4 Projector Handles Ambient Light Very Well
I really like the various Preset modes. There are what I will call the three "dark" modes; Creative Cinema, Pure Cinema and Natural, (these three modes have the iris stopped pretty far down, -44, -44, and -30 respectively. The remaining bright preset modes open up the iris, enhance color and adjust other parameters. This evening I have been watching Sunday Night Football with various amounts of ambient light on in my room. The "bright" presets are Living, Dynamic, Powerful and Vivid. Each has differing levels, and pay different prices in terms of color accuracy and correct balance of brightness contrast and saturation.
The good news is that they work well. I'm not necessarily sure which are best for what (didn't have that much time), but in particular, Dynamic and Powerful do very well in brighter room situations. Remember this is a typical home theater projector, not a lot of lumens for bright rooms. Get sunlight pouring into your room, and you almost might have trouble telling that a home theater projector is turned on. But running the lights on in my room, bright enough to read comfortably, I found that the Z4 had plenty of brightness, especially in Powerful mode.
By comparison, for example, the BenQ PE-7700 bright modes do not compete well in handling ambient light.
I will take a close look - side by side at how the Sanyo Z4 and the Panasonic PT-AE900u do with their brighter modes, in my upcoming comparison article. Also, for those who do plan to watch content with a fair about of ambient light, the new Epson Cinema 550 may be even more interesting, as it claims 1400 lumens, vs the 1000 lumens of the Sanyo Z4, and the Panasonic's PT-AE900u.