Sanyo PLV-Z1 WVGA 3LCD Projector
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$1,295 MSRP Discontinued
Sanyo recently commenced shipments of their new PLV-Z1 economy-class widescreen LCD projector. It features a completely new physical resolution of 964x544. This format is designed specifically to deliver the best HDTV 1080i picture quality for the money. As such it is getting a LOT of attention and buyer interest.

The 960x540 resolution format has been designated "1/4 HD" both in other industry literature and on our site. This is truly unfortunate because though it is technically accurate it is highly misleading. The "1/4 HD" format was created because a native 1080i HDTV signal which is 1920x1080 can be scaled quite efficiently into a matrix that requires a compression of precisely 50% in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions. Notice that 960 is one-half of 1920, and 540 is one-half of 1080.

Predictably, the term "1/4 HD" has produced more confusion than excitement in the minds of consumers. The typical buyer would quite understandably object, saying, "Hey, why would I want a projector that does only 1/4 of an HDTV signal? I want one that will do all of it." The reality is that there are no digital projectors on the market capable of producing a good looking, high contrast HDTV image in native 1920x1080 physical resolution. So they ALL compress HDTV 1080i into their reduced native formats. Picture detail is always lost in the process, no matter which resolution you are dealing with.

To put it into perspective, a WXGA format projector (1365x768), compresses 1080 lines of HDTV information into 768 physical lines. A WVGA projector (848x480) squeezes 1080 lines into 480 physical lines. Now, the results end up looking amazingly good, and quite a bit better than DVD. But in no instance are you ever seeing 100% native HDTV.

The advantage of the 960x540 format is that scaling down precisely 50% in both dimensions generates a comparatively clean compression. The result is that the HDTV 1080i image on a product like the PLV-Z1 can look equal to or better than that which you'd get on a higher resolution WXGA projector. And you get it for a fraction of the cost.

Product Overview

The Sanyo PLV-Z1 is a native 16:9 widescreen LCD projector (964x544), rated at 700 ANSI lumens and 800:1 contrast. It is a small 7.5 lb unit, but it is not designed to be portable. There is no handle or carrying case provided.

This product will accept 1080i, 1035i, 720p, 575p, 575i, 480p and 480i, and is compatible with NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL, PAL-N, PAL-M, and SECAM. It accepts computer resolutions from VGA up to SXGA.

The PLV-Z1 has a manual zoom and focus lens with a 1.2x zoom factor. It also has vertical and horizontal lens shift, which gives you some flexibility to place the unit off axis from the screen and still produce a square image without keystone adjustments.

The lens is relatively wide-angle, and produces a big picture from a short distance. A 100" diagonal 16:9 image can be achieved with a throw distance in the range of 9.8 to 11.8 feet.

The connector panel offers one 15-pin VGA port, one set of 3-RCAs for component video, one S-video, and one composite RCA jack. There are no speakers on board this unit, and thus no audio inputs.

The PLV-Z1 comes in a dark, charcoal gray case. There is a hinged front panel that acts as a protective cover for the lens. It folds down when the projector is in use in a tabletop position, or conversely lifts up when the unit is inverted for ceiling mount.

Sanyo is the only major projector manufacturer that does not quote lamp life specifications. There are no indications of anticipated lamp life on the PLV-Z1 either in the specs or in the owner's manual. Sanyo declines to specify lamp life due to the fact that it can vary from lamp to lamp due to manufacturing variances. It can also be affected by environmental use...the warmer the operating environment, the shorter the lamp life. If you do not give a projector adequate clearance for heat dissipation, you can cook the lamp in short order. However, this is true of all projectors, not just the PLV-Z1 or Sanyo brand products in general.

There is nothing out of the ordinary about the lamp technology used in the PLV-Z1, so there is no reason to suspect that it is unusually short compared to other products. We would expect to get close to 2000 hours from the 130-watt UHP lamp under normal usage. There is a low power mode that reduces operating temperature of the lamp, and reduces fan noise as well. On other products the low power mode will result in extended lamp life. There is no indication that the PLV-Z1 lamp counter compensates for this operating mode however.

The PLV-Z1 offers a variety of menu driven picture controls. Color temperature can be adjusted through four settings, which are high, mid, low, and extra low. The factory default is "mid" but for color film/video, low is the best setting, and for B/W classic films, extra low is better.

For video sources, you can adjust contrast, brightness, color, tint, white balance (with independent adjustments for red, green, and blue), sharpness, and gamma. There are four user-programmable memories that can be recalled for specific calibrations.

The PLV-Z1 offers vertical digital keystone adjustment, which lets you square up the image if you are projecting at an angle. We suggest you avoid the use of this feature, as it softens an otherwise beautifully sharp HDTV image.


Despite what you might be led to believe by the 700 ANSI lumen brightness rating, the PLV-Z1 delivers a bright, high-contrast image that packs a lot of punch. Colors are extremely rich and saturated. Contrast and black levels are comparable to the much more expensive high performance PLV-70.

The leading strength of the PLV-Z1 is the sharp rendering of HDTV 1080i. The demonstration that cleaner scaling can be achieved by the precise 50% compression of the signal in both H and V dimensions is evident on the screen. The image depth and clarity is equal to that of many more expensive higher resolution products. Given street prices are at levels well below $2,000, this is superb HDTV performance value.

There is a reason that this product is not selling for double the price however. There is a subtle pixelation that you'd expect from LCD technology at this resolution. It is not as apparent as it is in standard SVGA, but it is present nevertheless. You can make it either invisible or quite apparent in two ways. First, the viewing distance relative to screen size will determine whether you can see it at all. A viewing distance of 2.0 times the screen width is about the distance at which it becomes a non-issue for most viewers. Beyond that, we found that the trick of slightly soft-focusing the image such that the pixel sharpness is ever-so-slightly reduced will substantially reduce or eliminate the pixelation without any noticeable compromise of the image. This however is something you need to experiment with, as the success of this will vary based upon your own set-up in terms of screen size and viewing distance.

Overall, we found that the unit produces a slight bias toward the green that is not uncommon in LCD projectors. It can be partially compensated for by reducing the green control a couple of notches. With this adjustment the color palate appears to be largely natural. The only hint of the remaining green bias appears in highly saturated yellows. However, since highly saturated yellow is a color that is rarely encountered, it is an imperfection that is quite easy to live with.

The lens shift provides less latitude that one might hope for. The optical geometry of the PLV-Z1 is set so that at the lens' highest adjustment, the image is thrown with the centerline of the lens equal to the bottom edge of the projected image. The lens can be lower to the point where the centerline of the lens is equal to the top of the projected image. Therefore, for those who wish to position the projector at a height near the center of the screen (a rather atypical placement), the lens shift gives you great ability to adjust the position of the image. If however, you either coffee-table mount the projector at a height equal to the bottom of the screen, or ceiling mount it at the top edge of the screen, your only acceptable lens shift setting is in the extreme high position.

You do of course have the option to tilt the projector and use the keystone adjustment to square the image. For DVD and other standard NTSC video sources, this works quite well. The rescaling does not have any apparent softening of the image, as it is masked by the scaling of the 480 line video into 540 lines. However, as noted above, the HDTV picture is so sharp on this projector that the use of keystone adjustment does compromise the HDTV image quality. Thus if you are using the PLV-Z1 for HDTV, we recommend that you avoid digital keystone adjustments.

In terms of the horizontal lens shift, the maximum adjustment is equal to 25% of the screen width in either direction from center. Given a 100" screen and a throw distance of 11 feet, this is enough to position the projector up to about 20" to either side of center. This is of course a lot more flexibility that you get from most projectors, which is none. In comparison to other HT projectors, the PLV-Z1's fan noise in normal mode is moderate. It is not shrill, but if it is placed anywhere immediately in front of or behind the viewer, it will be noticeable.

The PLV-Z1 has a low power mode that reduces image brightness, and substantially reduces the fan noise. On both of the units we tested, we found a problem that has been reported back to Sanyo. The fan speed was cut so much in low power mode that it allowed a slow heat build-up in the unit. This caused the unit to periodically kick into high fan mode to cool it down. The high fan cycle lasted about 2.5 minutes on both units. The cycle occurred every 20 minutes on one unit, and every 35 minutes on the other. The high fan cycle is loud, and we found this to be quite distracting. It rendered the low power mode an unacceptable option for ongoing use.

Having said that, we should add that a reader has written in to say that when in low power mode his PLV-Z1 goes into a high fan cool down only once every two hours. And a dealer has just tested it at our request and reported that he finds no evidence of this on his demo unit at all. So it is possible that should you acquire a PLV-Z1, you will get one that does not manifest this problem. Sanyo is researching the issue, and we will update this review with any comments provided by Sanyo as soon as we get them. Is it possible that this can be fixed with nothing more than an adjustment in the service menu. If it turns out to be something Sanyo needs to adjust, they have a 72-hour turn around service program. So in the worst case this is not considered a big issue--just something to be aware of in case you encounter it.

PLV-Z1 vs. InFocus X1

These are the two mini-Titans of the economy class projector world at the moment. So we've been flooded with emails asking for recommendations/comparisons of the PLV-Z1 vs. the InFocus X1. Which is better? The answer is, as is often the case, neither. They are both great machines for the money. It is your personal preferences that will determine which is the best for you.

The PLV-Z1 produces a brighter, bolder image with more intensely saturated color. Some people like the boldness of the LCD image. Others prefer what they would describe as a more refined and understated image that you get from DLP in general and the X1 in particular. This is a matter of personal taste, and we cannot say one is better than the other.

The PLV-Z1 renders better overall HDTV quality. It is superior in sharpness, detail, and overall depth than the X1. If you plan a lot of HDTV usage, the PLV-Z1 is the better solution. However, for non-HDTV film and video, the X1 delivers a smoother, more film-like image. Pixelation is more apparent on the PLV-Z1 unless you take the steps noted above to mitigate it.

Contrast would appear to be a big difference between these two products. The PLV-Z1 is rated at 800:1, and the X1 at 2000:1. In reality, the perceived difference in contrast is relatively subtle. Due to the brightness of the PLV-Z1's image, if these two were staged side by side we'd find many folks selecting the PLV-Z1 as the one which was "higher in contrast." Our recommendation here would be to ignore the published specs on contrast. They radically distort the actual perceived contrast differences between these two products.

In normal operating mode, fan noise is just a bit louder on the PLV-Z1 than the X1. However the difference is not dramatic and should not be a big deciding factor between the two.

If you are one of the unfortunate folks who are sensitive to DLP rainbow artifacts, you may see them on the X1 and you won't on the PLV-Z1. That is because LCD technology does not operate with a sequential color wheel, so it cannot produce the effect.

The X1 has a 3000-hour lamp. We would suppose the PLV-Z1's lamp is no greater than 2000 hours, but that spec is not published by Sanyo. So those who expect to put a lot of hours on their projector should runs the numbers and do a "cost of ownership" calculation that factors in the cost of replacement lamps (ask your dealer for this info.)


Sanyo has produced a machine with terrific value in the sub-$2,000 street price category. It is not without its flaws, but we have yet to see a projector that is perfect. And when it comes to HDTV performance, the PLV-Z1 is among the elite machines in the industry in true price/performance. We heartily recommend it for use in normal power mode. Once we get a clarification of the fan issue in the low power mode, we will update this review.

We cannot recommend either the Sanyo PLV-Z1 or the InFocus X1 as being better than the other. They are both superb machines that offer better video performance than we've ever seen in the sub-$2000 class. Each has its obvious strengths and weaknesses. Study the reviews of both of these products (see InFocus X1 review), get the latest pricing on them from dealers, and you will get a good feeling for which is the best for you.

For specs and dealers selling the Sanyo PLV-Z1, click here. For specs and dealer selling the InFocus X1, click here.

For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sanyo PLV-Z1 projector page.