Sanyo PLV-Z5 LCD Home Theater Projector Review – Image Quality

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):

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.

Image Quality slideshow

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!)

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