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Shootout: Sanyo PLV-Z4 vs. Optoma H79

Evan Powell, November 2, 2005
Review Contents

As far as pixelation is concerned, the Z4 has a more distinct pixel structure when examined close up. The H79's pixels are distinct as well, but with a less visible interpixel gap. This is typical of LCD and DLP technologies respectively. LCD has made great strides in reducing the interpixel gap, and thus reducing the visible pixel grid, or "screendoor effect," that used to be a pronounced attribute of LCD projectors.

From most normal viewing distances the pixel grid on the Z4 is not visible in video. As with any projector, it becomes visible first in white highlights, such as lettering in subtitles and rolling credits. That is because the color white produces the maximum contrast with the gray shade of the interpixel gap. If you wish to sit back far enough to eliminate the visibility of the pixel structure in the white highlights, then one must view the Z4's image from a distance of about 1.5 times the screen width. One may sit as close as 1.0 times the screen width with the H79 before pixel structure becomes visible. However, we would not recommend sitting any closer than about 1.5 times the screen width with the H79 either, since the digital noise and dithering becomes more distracting the closer you are to the screen.

Therefore, we may summarize the characteristics of each projector as follows: First, the Sanyo PLV-Z4 delivers a razor sharp, smooth, stable image that is comparatively low in noise. Color is rich and beautifully saturated. Black level is solid enough to produce an entirely satisfying image, but deep blacks, as in a starry black sky, are not as black as they are on the H79. Overall, the most noticeable shortcoming on the Z4 in comparison to the H79 is in the separation of shadow details in dark scenes.

The Optoma H79 produces excellent contrast and dynamic range, with very deep black levels, brilliant whites, and good detail separation in dark scenes. Color performance rivals that of the Z4, with the Z4 maintaining a subtle edge. The H79's most notable shortcomings relative to the Z4 are a comparative softness in the image, and more noise and dithering that tend to impart a slightly grainy texture to the image.

So--which projector would we buy? They are both great projectors, and both have their faults and limitations. Each will appeal to a certain type of user. Nevertheless, we can say this: the Sanyo PLV-Z4 really shines with bright films, animated films, and most HDTV. It outperforms the H79 with highly saturated, high contrast material like Shrek and Austin Powers, by rendering a sharper image with less digital graininess. The overall result is an image with a smooth, filmlike quality.

On the other hand, films with a lot of dark content such as Heat and The Bourne Identity tend to show better on the H79 due to its ability to bring out more shadow detail and produce an incrementally blacker black. The downside is that improved shadow information also contains more dithering and noise. So neither projector does an ideal job with dark scene material, but their shortcomings are different. Some viewers will prefer the H79's better shadow detail along with the noise, and others will prefer less shadow detail in favor of the Z4's sharper, more stable image. We get into personal preferences here, and there is no solution that is objectively "better."

This shootout indicates that we have reached a fundamental turning point in the industry. For the first time in our experience, an inexpensive LCD projector can be placed along side a well-regarded high performance DarkChip3 DLP projector, evaluated purely for its image quality, and not come off second best. With some types of video material the Z4 will actually surpass the H79 in overall image quality.

Thus, Sanyo has made an extraordinary statement with the PLV-Z4, which is that LCD can no longer be viewed as a second class video technology that must compete by undercutting the price of its DLP competition. Rather, LCD has the demonstrated potential to outperform DLP head to head, regardless of price considerations. The implications of this are far-reaching, and will have an impact on industry price structure, traditional distribution channels, and the direction of new product development. In our view, the PLV-Z4 is destined to become one of the most influential product releases we have ever seen.

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