Overall, I found shadow details on the Sony (after adjusting brightness, contrast and grayscale), to be very good for a sub-$1500 projector, but not exceptional. It has been a long time since I had my hands on the Sanyo PLV-Z5, but after flipping through notes and images, I would have to give the Sanyo the slight advantage. Conversely, the Sony should have the advantage over the Epson Home Cinema 400, a slightly more expensive projector (but brighter). On mixed scenes (lots of dark and bright areas) I would give the advantage to the DLP projectors, like the HD73 and Mitsubishi HC3000, although not by a great margin.
This standard DVD image from Sin City, shows the Sony doing a good job in displaying dark area detail on the walls and cabinets, but lacking shadow detail in some of the darkest areas.
If you want to see an almost "night and day" difference, compare with the same image on some of the better 1080p projectors, like Sony's own VW50 Pearl, or the JVC RS1!
One of my favorite newer images for black levels and shadow detail comes from Space Cowboys (Blu-Ray), and shows Clint Eastwood, in a very dark room (only lit by a desk lamp.
While overall the Sony AW15 did well in terms of balance, and gamma, you can see that it really can't rival some of the best at black levels, and much of the limited detail on the back wall is lost, or weak.
Lastly, here is the "table" image from Aeon Flux, a good scene with plenty of shadow detail, especially in the table itself, you can see shadows and lighter areas in the dark table surface.
Sony VPL-AW15 Bravia - Image Sharpness
The Sony did not appear to me, as being quite as sharp as the Sanyo PLV-Z5, and I would overall put it down as similar to the Epson Home Cinema 400, though perhaps a touch sharper. I should note, at this point, that for the sharpness images, 1080p was output from my Blu-Ray PlayStation3, and the Sony handled the downscaling to 720p.
Clicking on the thumbnail below provides a highly cropped closeup of the DTS logo. The thumbnail below it, will show you the logo, shot using the Optoma HD73 DLP projector, which has the same resolution.
The Sony provides a look of slightly greater sharpness, but, as you can see, the pixel structure in this closeup, is far more evident on the Sony AW15, than with the Optoma HD73. I believe you are looking at the usual trade-off. LCD projectors give the impression of more sharpness, by virtue of their more visible (or almost visible) pixel structure). The Optoma provides a smoother, less jagged look to the text and graphics.