Sanyo PLV-Z5 LCD Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality
Out of the box color accuracy of the Sanyo PLV-Z5 home theater projector is OK, definitely not great, but very acceptable in several of its modes. Nonetheless, I would strongly recommend doing a basic color calibration, with a good, user friendly calibration disk, like AVIA, or Video Essentials (DVE). These disks have understandable tutorials designed for non-technical folks, so fear not, It's worth the $30-$50 and an hour or so of your time, to really tune up the Sanyo PLV-Z5.
Overall I found, of the three "movie modes"; Pure Cinema, Creative Cinema, and Brilliant Cinema (for dealing with more ambient light), that Creative did a more impressive job than Pure Cinema, which seemed to be rather dull. The Creative mode, instead, had a good deal of punch, reminding me of the Brilliant Color function in a number of competing DLP projectors. Creative Cinema's color accuracy was respectable, and most would be perfectly happy with its performance. Brilliant Color, when you need the extra lumens, was especially impressive.
Color saturation was excellent, demonstrating a strength of LCD technology. The Sanyo PLV-Z5 generated some "knock your socks off" dynamic scenes like the one above from Starship Troopers.
Let's start with handling of fleshtones. Unless otherwise noted, all of this first batch of images were done in Creative Cinema, with only a minor adjust of colors and contrast. Generally, however most of the modes have a tendency to give a slightly orangeish coloration to the flesh tones. Another tendency seems to be having the color saturation a little high, which makes it more noticeable.
Please note, the images are here to support the commentary, not the other way around. While the images can reveal much, they have many limitations, starting with the inability to capture shadow detail if the rest of the frame is properly exposed. That flaw lies with the limits of single chip digital still cameras. We'll start with Lord of the Rings frames, from a standard DVD.
You will find that you can click on many of these images, including the two above, for much larger versions. Then of course, immediately below are two images from The Fifth Element, again, from standard DVD.
The Sin City image immediately below, of Nancy, is also standard DVD. This movie is generally dark, and often black and white, or sepia, with touches of color (very creative in terms of production):
Moving now to Hi-Def, the next image is from Space Cowboys, on HD-DVD:
As I like to say, however, black levels (how dark a gray you can produce when an area is supposed to be black - only CRT technology can really do a true black), are the "holy grail" of home theater projector performance. Before fancy "AI" type enhancements, contrast was the best measure of how well a projector would perform in this area. Now, however, Contrast specs definitely can be misleading. That said, the Sanyo claims 10,000:1, which is an extremely impressive number, and the highest claimed (to my knowledge) of any under $3000 home theater projector.
Shadow detail is another key area. When you view scenes with large dark areas, there's usually a lot of information - things for you to see. Unfortunately, the amount of detail projectors can show you varies tremendously even within a narrow price range.
Now, as I have explained in other reviews, DLP technology inherently produces blacker blacks than LCD (and LCOS) projectors, and there are different DLP chips, some of which allow projectors to hit 5000:1 contrast, without tech gimmickry. LCD by comparison, at its best is more like 1500, and 1500 is very marginal. As a result LCD projectors use a number of techniques to improve black levels, most notably a dynamic iris in the lens, that opens and closes down on a frame by frame basis, allowing it to lower black levels on scenes without a lot of bright areas. Overall this works, but is sometimes detectable, and makes for a less "film-like" reproduction. The Sanyo PLV-Z5 is perhaps the most tricked out of the LCD home theater projectors, with others like Panasonic, Epson, etc., all using a hefty amount of "AI" (artificial intelligence - although that's stretching the definition of AI quite a bit). The bottom line here, is that LCD projectors in many cases, easily exceed the DLP home theater projectors when it comes to black levels, but only in medium to dark scenes without any real white or maximum levels of red green blue, etc. On those brighter scenes the iris's can't shut down, or the bright areas become too dim. The trade-off, nicely, is that a scene with a lot of bright makes it very difficult to even look into those shadow areas to see details, as your eyes have adjusted to the much brighter scene. To wrap this up, let's just say the LCD projectors are most effective at lowering black levels, when they will be most appreciated.
I mentioned that the Sanyo is particularly tricked out. The Sanyo uses two dynamic irises, one in the lens, and a second one in front of the lamp. In addition, the Sanyo has two modes A1 and A2, which dynamically control the lamp's brightness as well. The other two lamp modes are low power (eco-mode), and full power.
OK, here are a pair of images that demonstrate the effects of a dynamic iris (the degree of difference will vary depending on the projector and the paramaters the manufacturer has settled on).
In the first image - a very dark star scene from The Fifth Element, I set the exposure to capture the image you see. You can see how black the blacks are in the star field, and also in the letterbox area above/below the movie. Without changing the exposure, the second image is the same frame, but I opened the Sanyo PLV-Z5's menus which you can see (overexposed badly) in the upper left corner. Because of all the white, the iris was not allowed to stop down to reduce black levels. The end result - the blacks are much lighter gray. Hope that all makes sense to you.
OK, that takes care of our demonstration of black levels and irises. Suffice to say, the Sanyo can deliver extremely good black levels in the darker scenes when needed, easily darker than a good DLP home theater projector using the standard Darkchip2 (Darkchip3 projectors are in a higher price range!)
Here are a few more images of frames that "beg" for great black levels.
The starship above is also from The Fifth Element (you may click to enlarge).
Sin City (standard DVD), as mentioned, is about as dark a movie as you can find, it demands a projector do well in black levels and shadow detail. Here are a pair of images:
I thought I would also throw in another space scene, but this time from a HD-DVD, Space Cowboys.
You should be getting the idea. So I'll move on. As important as black levels are, for obviously if your blacks are medium dark gray, then any darker gray just blends in with the "blacks" - a loss of shadow detail. Even with really dark "blacks", though the amount of shadow detail varies significantly from model to model.
Turns out, the Sanyo PLV-Z5 is exceptional in terms of shadow detail, exceeding that of every other under $10,000 projector I have reviewed, except one, the almost twice the price Samsung SP-H710AE. Even my (and I really am pleased with it) BenQ PE8720, with its Darkchip3 DLP (blacker blacks, higher contrast than Darkchip2), comes up short, and my BenQ is pretty well tuned!
So I'd like to show you some scenes and look at shadow detail. Remember, I already mentioned that a typical good digital camera doesn't have the range to capture the full dynamics of a projector, so I have some work arounds:
The first pair of images are from Lord of the Rings (standard DVD). The first is normally exposed. The second, is the same frame overexposed, so you can pick out the details in the shed on the right, the bottom area, and on a very few projectors, even pick out some detail in the wood structure on the left. You can click on both of these images, for larger versions, and since they open in separate windows, you can take a close look. You'll also find this pair of images in most reviews done since early 2006, for comparison purposes.
Here's another image - of Nancy, dancing, from Sin City. There is a great deal of dark shadow detail in this frame, making it excellent for comparison, you'll find this same (or similar) frame in the last few reviews, and in future reviews, for comparison.
Moving to Hi-Def, from Phantom of the Opera (HD-DVD), this is another frame I am starting to use in every review, again you can enlarge both images, the first - normally exposed, the second, overexposed so you can see all the shadow detail.
In the overexposed version above, look at all the detail, including the characters painted into the walls (and inside the fireplace).
A few more dark images, with shadow detail, for your consideration:
The image above, from Phantom (HD-DVD) is also found in most other recent reviews for a look at shadow detail and contrast.
Review continues below this advertisement.
Sanyo PLV-Z5 Home Theater Projector - Color Handling
The biggest problem I have with the Z5 projector, is out of the box overall color accuracy, though not bad. Many other home theater projectors come much closer to ideal, starting with that Samsung, which was the closest to perfect I've seen in terms of collor accuracy. Sanyo's closest competition, the Panasonic PT-AX100U, also is better out of the box. That said, the adjustments I did to the Sanyo, in the Creative Cinema mode used for most images, weren't large adjustments at all, but enough to make visible improvement. So, as I said, buy a disk, and tune yours - it's easy!
Reds - this seems to be where the problem is coming from (out of the box color accuracy). Pure reds are coming out looking more orangeish (too much yellow), it is easily visible when projecting color bars. I was never able to really get a great red, even after spending much time trying to. In this regard, calibration efforts overall help, but I never was able to get bright red to come out bright red without the orangeish caste. Greens too, had a touch too much yellow, but that is common and wasn't really an issue in overall color balance. So, getting great reds, seems to be the key to getting really great color out of the Z5. At this time I have calls into Sanyo product management, to discuss, and to find out what I might be able to do to better correct, and also, if what I am seeing is "normal" or may relate to the review unit they sent me. I will endeavor to update this review as soon as I learn more.
I'll start with this image from Phantom, (HD-DVD) of Carlota, which you will also find in many reviews:
(I should note that the faces in the lower left are a good test of shadow detail).
By comparison, here is a similar frame from first, the Samsung SP-H710AE (pre-calibrated), and the second one, from the Panasonic PT-AX100U. Mind you, some of the tonal differences are correctable with a calibration disk. If you are hard core seeking the best, though, consider a local, certified ISF calibrator, who will come into your home and adjust everything to a much higher level of accuracy.
I've selected a few additional images in the attempt to give you a good feel for the Sanyo's color performance:
The image above, from Starship Troopers (standard DVD), is another that you will find in almost all recent reviews (click to enlarge, of course).
By now, you have probably convinced yourself (with good reason) that the Sanyo PLV-Z5 can put a rather dazzling and realistic image on your screen. And, I would certainly agree.
Sanyo PLV-Z5 Projector Sharpness
Wow! This is an area where the Sanyo truly excels. I really can't think of a projector anywhere near its price that can produce a sharper image on Hi-Def DVD's or HDTV.
Since many people considering the Sanyo Z5 are also considering the Panasonic PT-AX100U, I'll start you off with a direct comparison. Of these two images, the first is from the Sanyo PLV-Z5, the second, the Panasonic PT-AX100U. Both are shots from HDTV, of my cable guide. When you click on each, you will see a closeup of a very small area, at the bottom. Two things are noticeable: The Sanyo, is visibly sharper, and you can also start making out some of the pixels, since the area of the screen is so small. With the Panny, no chance of spotting pixels, thanks to their Smooth Screen technology, but, the price paid is definite softness.
Back to a typical movie image, however. The top one is a small section from the Phantom Image above, of Carlota, on the Sanyo PLV-Z5. The lower one, from the Panasonic:
We're not talking "night and day" differences, but the difference is there (note they are slightly different frames and cropping).
Sanyo PLV-Z5 Image modes
There are plenty! As mentioned earlier, there is the Pure Cinema, Creative Cinema, and Brilliant Cinema modes, for movies. In addition, the PLV-Z5 has Natural, which might be described as more suited for TV/HDTV; Living (room), which is brighter, and suitable for most HDTV/Sports/General viewing. Also, two extremely bright modes - Dynamic, and Vivid. Dynamic measures higher, but Vivid offers more saturated colors.
What we have next are a few images (no enlargements) showing the same frame in different modes. The image is a HDTV captured frame from Jay Leno, viewed with minimal ambient light in the room. The exposure for all images is the same in order to show relative brightness. So, as you would expect, Pure Cinema is the dimmest, and Dynamic and Vivid are the two brightest.
As you can see, color saturation and accuracy in most modes, needs a bit of tweaking. Although since this is a brightness comparison and not about color accuracy, the fact that most of these are either under or overexposed images, doesn't help one bit. To specifically touch on color saturation, with most projectors, their brightest modes are inherently oversaturated, so that there is still good saturation after lots of ambient light is mixed in.
Bottom line, don't use these, unadjusted, uncalibrated, untweaked images as a guide to color issues.
The images are presented in the same order as on the menu, and the mode is directly above each image.
Ok, that should give you a good idea of relative brightness, and also some clues as to what the emphasis (relative to saturation, whites, etc.) the various modes offer.
Here are a few images from HDTV: the first two with modest ambient light in the room, from lights and leaking in from the shaded windows.
And here are three images shot with very low ambient light (movie watching levels), from DiscoveryHD, shot in Vivid mode (default settings).
Well, I've about run out of images, so let's change the subject and look at the General Performance section.