Recommended Home Theater Projectors
The Sanyo PLC-XP21N is at this writing (3/01) one of the strongest home theater performers on the market for under $10,000. Though its official MSRP at release was $11,995, street prices are currently around $7,000.
Brightness. The XP21N is rated at 2500 ANSI lumens. After video calibration we measured our review sample at 1850. So it is a bright projector that can fill a very large screen. The use of a screen not exceeding 1.0 gain is recommended (the Stewart Grayhawk is an ideal match as discussed further below.)
Contrast ratio. The XP21N has a contrast rating of 700:1 which is a breakthrough achievement in LCD technology. One of the major benefits of the competing DLP technology has always been a relatively high contrast ratio as compared to LCD products. DLP was in the past able to produce deeper black levels and better color saturation due to contrast ratios in the range of 500:1 or 600:1, compared to LCD products that were in the range of 200:1 to 400:1. However, the XP21N's 700:1 contrast ratio sets a new performance benchmark for LCD systems and effectively changes the competitive dynamics between LCD and DLP. Very few DLP projectors on the market can match this performance although a few are now rated at 800:1 (most notably the NEC LT150 discussed herein).
Micro Lens Array. The XP21N is an XGA-resolution LCD projector with native 1024 x 768 LCD panels. An important feature of the XP21N is that it has Micro Lens Array (MLA). This increases the fill factor on the LCD panels and reduces the visibility of the pixel grid to almost zero. For home theater, the importance of invisible or nearly invisible pixels on products in this price range is paramount. It is the presence of MLA on the XP21N that elevates it to "highly recommended" status above the less expensive PLC-XP18N, which is essentially the same machine without MLA.
Thus with one impressive stroke, the two primary competitive strengths of DLP technology-high contrast and no pixelation-have been impressively addressed in this unique new Sanyo offering. This product should cause those who believe that DLP is the only good solution for home theater to stop and rethink the matter.
Color.One of the traditional strengths of LCD systems is the ability to control red, green, and blue channels independently so that relatively accurate color balances can be achieved. The XP21N's color is as beautiful and natural as any that we've seen in digital projectors. And the high contrast ratio gives colors a richness and subtlety that surpasses anything in its price range.
HDTV and EDTV. This product is HDTV and EDTV (480p) compatible. The use of a component-progressive scan (480p) DVD player for DVDs is strongly recommended. The XP21N has both 4:3 and 16:9 display options, but the widescreen option works only for a 480p signal. A component 480i signal must be displayed in 4:3.
Connectivity. The connection panel offers a variety of inputs including two 15-pin VGA ports, a set of three RCA jacks for component video input, one S-video, and one composite video jack.
Fan noise. Fan noise is low to moderate. With an audible noise rating of 39 dB, the XP21N is not whisper quiet. However, it is low in pitch. Most users will have no problem with it since surround sound audio will mask it on all but the quietest of scenes. But for those that are particularly sensitive to the presence of any fan noise whatsoever, properly designed sound damping enclosures will mitigate the problem.
Throw distance. Throw distance to screen size is about average for projectors in this class. A 100" 4:3 diagonal image can be thrown from as little as 12 feet. For installation planning purposes, keep in mind that the exhaust is out the rear of the projector, and that the manual calls for a 3-foot clearance between the rear of the projector and the back wall. So do not think about putting the XP21N on a bookshelf or ceiling- mounting it very close to a back wall.
Lamp life. Lamp life is 2000 hours and you can expect to pay at least $400 for replacements. This is not atypical for the category.
Screens. During our test of the XP21N we used both a Da-lite 1.3 gain CinemaVision and the new Stewart Grayhawk. The Grayhawk, currently rated at 0.95 gain, is strongly recommended for use with the XP21N. The amount of light reflected from the Grayhawk as compared to the Da-lite is lower by about 30%.
But more importantly, the Stewart Grayhawk has the optical property of further increasing contrast, especially when there is low indirect lighting in the room or when light from the screen is being reflected from white or light-colored walls and furnishings in the viewing room. The most beautiful performance of the XP21N and Grayhawk combination occurred when low indirect ambient lighting was introduced into the viewing space. The screen image, which already sparkled, tended to take on an even richer and more well- integrated appearance.
The Grayhawk is a premium quality product and is priced accordingly. But those who are opting for the XP21N are serious about top performing video. After seeing it on the Grayhawk, we wouldn't want to watch the XP21N on anything else. If you can fit one into your budget, we encourage you to do so.
Conclusion. The Sanyo PLC-XP21N is visually stunning. It is truly unique in that it combines the beauty of LCD color with an astounding 700:1 contrast ratio, and tops it off with virtually pixel-free projection. The day we had to pack up our review unit and ship it back was a sad one indeed. We are pleased to recommend it highly as among the finest price/performing projectors for home theater ever brought to market.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sanyo PLC-XP21N projector page.