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Sanyo has just begun to ship their latest high performance 1080p home theater projector, the PLV-Z3000. Not only does this projector offer improved contrast over last year's popular Z2000, but the big news is that it is the first home theater projector under $10,000 to offer 5:5 pulldown. What's the benefit of 5:5 pulldown, you ask? Well, 5:5 pulldown is a way to eliminate judder that is a by-product of the 3:2 pulldown conversion required to convert 24 fps film to 30 fps video. This occurs in the NTSC world of 60 Hz power, and is not relevant to those living in countries using PAL or SECAM.
In addition to 5:5 pulldown, the Z3000 also includes a new Smooth Motion system which can be activated or not at the user's option. Smooth Motion is Sanyo's name for frame interpolation. It evaluates the motion changes in two sequential frames of film or video, and generates an interim frame that results in smoother motion when the camera is panning, or when an object is moving across the screen at a moderate rate.
None of the other 1080p projectors released thus far offer 5:5 pulldown, and few offer a frame interpolation system. So let's take a closer look at the Sanyo PLV-Z3000, with special attention to these important new features.
Sanyo PLV-Z3000 Specifications
ANSI lumens: 1200
Contrast (full on/off): 65,000:1
Light Engine: 1920x1080, native 16:9, 0.7" inorganic LCD panel, with 165W UHP lamp.
Video Compatibility: 1080p/60/50/24, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i.
Connection Panel: Two HDMI 1.3 ports, one VGA port, two YPbPr component inputs, s-video, component video, one RS-232C port.
Lens and Throw Distance: 2.0x manual zoom/focus lens with vertical and horizontal lens shift.
Lamp Life: unspecified
Replacement lamp price: About $300 street price.
Warranty: Three years.
Brightness. The Z3000 is rated at a maximum lumen output of 1200 ANSI lumens. We actually measured 1208 lumens with everything cranked up as high as it can go. This doesn't produce the best picture quality of course, since contrast and color balance are compromised to get the highest light output. But Sanyo is one of the vendors that is particularly careful at rendering accurate specs. We rarely find a lumen measurement in the lab that matches or exceeds a projector's stated lumen spec. But when we do, we are not surprised when it is a Sanyo product.
The Z3000 has seven pre-calibrated operating modes. They differ in brightness, contrast, and color balance. As with all projectors, the lower lumen output settings tend to produce better contrast and color balance. At factory defaults, our test unit measured as follows:
Dynamic mode: 1,187 lumens
Living mode: 700 lumens
Brilliant Cinema: 455 lumens
Natural: 423 lumens
Creative Cinema: 362 lumens
x.v. Color: 339 lumens
Pure Cinema: 252 lumens
These measurements are with the 2.0x zoom lens at its maximum wide angle setting, and the lamp on full. As with all long zoom lenses, you lose lumen output as you move toward the telephoto end of the lens. On the Z3000, there is a 36% drop in lumen output as you move from maximum wide angle to maximum telephoto. This is a bit less of a loss than other 2.0x zooms we've seen, which can lose 40% or more. Those who want to run in Pure Cinema or Creative Cinema mode will probably want to use the wider end of the zoom lens if possible, since these modes are not bright to begin with.
Also keep in mind that if you run your projector in low lamp mode, lumen output is curtailed by an additional 31%, which is more than the average low lamp mode.
In essence, your task is to take into account the room conditions, screen size, screen gain, throw distance, and your personal viewing preferences, and find the right trade-off between lumen output and picture quality. The calibration and set-up options are almost infinite. More on this below.
Contrast. The maximum full on/off contrast spec for the Z3000 is 65,000:1. Vendors do not typically publish ANSI contrast specs since they are much lower than the full on/off number. But we measured ANSI contrast on our test unit at 384:1. This is modestly higher than the Z2000, which measured 350:1, and quite a bit higher that most other LCD 1080p projectors from last year which tended to measure in the range of 250:1 to 300:1. On the other hand, several of the new 1080p models this fall are producing a bit more contrast than the Z3000, with ANSI contrast readings in the 400:1 to 450:1 range.
(As an aside, we do not publish our full on/off readings for the simple reason that black levels are so black on the current crop of projectors that small rounding errors in our meter can produce wild swings in the numbers, rendering them meaningless.)
Color balance. Though there are seven pre-calibrated operating modes, three of which have "Cinema" in the name, we were not fully satisfied with any of them. They are certainly usable, but in each instance color balance can be improved with some user tweaking. After adjustments, the color can look spectacular. However, the pre-calibrated modes tend to manifest a subtle yellow/green hue that not only makes color look too warm, but reduces visible contrast as well.
The Z3000 does not have separate gain and bias controls for each color channel in the basic menu. Rather, there is a single control for each primary color which adjusts both gain and bias. However, in the Advanced menu there is extensive color calibration control that a professional installer can use to calibrate to a much greater degree of precision. You can use it also if you happen to have a color temperature light meter. After adjusting calibration in each mode, we were able to get the projector to track very close to 6500 degrees. Using just the basic red, green, and blue controls we were able to get the projector to 6500 in the 40 IRE through 100 IRE range. But readings at 30 IRE and below remained too warm.
Nevertheless, in starting with the Living Mode and the Natural Mode, we introduced our own tweaks and came up with great results. If you don't have a light meter, you can still make changes to the color balance that are likely to please you. Don't be afraid to experiment with some radical changes to color settings. For example, we found the Living mode to be too blue/green on our unit. We pumped red all the way to +26, and took green down to -6, and ended up with a much more pleasing picture than we started with. Apparent contrast was improved, and in our adjustments to Living mode, we ended up with rich, natural color, a very high lumen output, and only a modest reduction of ANSI contrast, from a max of 387:1 down to 353:1. In this mode the Z3000 was hitting on all cylinders, and was a beautiful thing to behold.
Similarly, we started with Natural Mode and made adjustments in the same directions on each color, although not as radical-- +4 on red, -3 on green, ending up with a much more satisfying image. Contrast on the screen was again improved, with virtually no cost in lumen output. Lumen output after calibration was virtually unchanged, dropping from 423 to 418.
The Z3000 has seven User memories, labeled User 1 to User 7. You can introduce adjustments to all precalibrated operation modes and save your preferences. Those memories can be custom labeled once you are done with them, and they can be put to very good use.
Sharpness. The Z3000 delivers a sharp 1080p picture that is very slightly less acute than the Mitsubishi HC7000 and HC6500, and comparable to the other latest 1080p competition. In the advanced menu there is a Transient Improvement control. The options are Off, Low, Mid, and High. For results most satisfying to us, we set it to Low. At this setting, the picture looks perfectly sharp but still quite natural and unenhanced.
Fan noise. There is really nothing to complain about here. This is a relatively quiet projector. In the lower lumen modes it is as virtually silent as the Mitsubishi and Sony units. In Living and Dynamic with the lamp on full power there is some unobtrusive fan noise that is not worth worrying about. The only time fan noise might become an issue is when it is put into high altitude mode. Users in Denver will hear a low but definitely audible whir of the fan that the rest of us at lower altitudes won't be bothered by.
Zoom lens and lens shift. Sanyo has used the long 2.0x zoom lens on the last six home theater projectors it has released, dating back to the PLV-Z4 in 2005. Like the previous models, this unit has a full three picture heights of vertical lens shift, and two full picture widths of horizontal shift. That means you can install the Z3000 pretty much anywhere you want. All zoom, focus, and lens shift adjustments are manual.
5:5 Pulldown and Smooth Motion
Since 5:5 pulldown and Smooth Motion are the most significant new innovations on this product, they deserve some special focus. They are both designed to reduce or eliminate motion judder, but they do it in different ways. 5:5 pulldown eliminates the judder that comes from converting a 24 fps film source to 30 fps video, which is a standard conversion in the NTSC world of 60 Hz power. Essentially, 5:5 pulldown produces a smooth conversion of material that has been subject to 3:2 pulldown by rendering an equal timing for the display of each frame. Thus it eliminates some of the judder that is most evident in scenes that involve camera panning, or with objects moving at moderate speeds across the screen.
We say it eliminates "some of the judder" because the judder comes from two sources. First, it can be a by-product of the 3:2 pulldown conversion. Second, it can be a natural result of the low 24 fps sampling rate of film. 5:5 pulldown addresses only the judder that comes from 3:2 pulldown, but has no effect on the judder from the low sampling rate. However, the 3:2 pulldown process itself tends to reduce judder effects from low sampling as compared to what you see in 24p transmission, so judder artifacts can be rather incestuous and difficult to sort out.
In our testing, 5:5 pulldown on the Z3000 is most effective on standard definition sources. DVDs in the NTSC world are encoded in component 480i video format, so 3:2 pulldown is a predetermined part of the process. For many people, one of the most memorable examples of judder is found in the movie Titanic. If you viewed this movie on a very large screen in 60i or 60p, you probably remember the dramatic scene when the ship pulls out of the harbor. You remember it in part because it is hard to forget the absurd vibration and stutter of the prow of the ship as it moves across the screen. It is quite interesting to see how the Z3000's 5:5 pulldown and Smooth Motion features handle this challenge.
If you have it, you can put Titanic in your player and go to 27 min, 33 sec, and see how your current video system processes this scene. First you see the side of the ship, and for seven seconds you watch it moving slowly from right to left; then at 27:40, a new scene begins. The prow of the ship enters the picture from the right side and moves a bit more rapidly across the entire screen.
The judder present in these scenes comes both from 3:2 pulldown and a low sampling rate. In the first segment beginning at 27:33, much of the instability is related to 3:2 pulldown. Thus, when you activate 5:5 pulldown on the Z3000, this instability disappears, and the ship moves more smoothly across the screen.
However, at 27:40, when the ship's prow enters the picture, the 5:5 pulldown does not fix the vibration and flutter on the leading edge. To fix this problem (which is a very big problem by the way), you need to turn off 5:5 pulldown and activate Smooth Motion, which is a frame interpolation system that adds one created frame for each real frame. When Smooth Motion is set to High, the projector will show the Titanic's prow moving cleanly and smoothly across the screen, with none of the leading edge vibration or flutter that otherwise plagues this scene. However, it also cleans up the instability on the side of the ship in the previous scene as well, as if 5:5 pulldown were still active.
(As an aside, if you are playing a film source in 1080p/60, the Z3000's 5:5 pulldown overrides Smooth Motion; thus if you have both activated in the menu, Smooth Motion will have no effect. Using a video source, the reverse is true. So if both 5:5 pulldown and Smooth Motion are on, you will get the same set of artifacts as you do with 5:5 pulldown on and Smooth Motion off--the side of the ship is clean, but the prow still judders.)
The net result is this: Overall perceived judder that originates from 3:2 pulldown is eliminated with 5:5 pulldown. However, judder from a low sampling rate remains. When Smooth Motion is active, judder from both sources is largely reduced. Ultimately, we would prefer to run with Smooth Motion on in order to gain the maximum reduction of artifacts.
Some people have a distaste for frame interpolation, since in their experience it looks artificial, or it makes film look too much like video--the so-called "Soap Opera Effect." This can in fact be the case. However, a word of caution-not all frame interpolation systems are created equal. The results are entirely dependent on how comprehensive the algorithms are that generate the interim frames. The results can also look quite different and more exaggerated on a flat panel TV than they do on a projected image due to higher contrast. The net effects are also much different when viewing standard definition sources, as compared to seeing Blu-ray in 24p on a 1080p projector. So do not fall into the trap of viewing frame interpolation on a particular video product, and assuming that tells you what frame interpolation looks like on all display systems. As far as the Z3000 is concerned, regular DVDs in particular look much better with Smooth Motion activated. To us they don't look like video at all, they just look like clean, stable film.
At any rate, the Z3000 allows the viewer to see the film in either 5:5 pulldown (if it is in 60i or 60p) or Smooth Motion (regardless of transmission format), and you can select which is the most satisfactory to you. And by the way, Smooth Motion itself has three options-Low, Mid, and High. This does not change the number of interim frames being inserted, but it does change the complexity of the algorithms being used to generate the frames. We do not see material differences in video timing delays related to the choice of Low, Mid, or High. But there may be a shift in the appearance of the image that you might prefer in one mode over the others. In our case, we prefer the High mode for maximum smoothness of the image.
So what is the ultimate assessment of these features? Overall, the 5:5 pulldown system works as advertised. Similarly, Smooth Motion works quite well in many scenes such as the aforementioned Titanic launch. Though it does not generate a perfectly artifact-free rendering of the picture in all scenes that manifest judder, the system contributes handily to an obvious smoothing of motion artifacts. It is a more comprehensive solution to the judder problem than is 5:5 pulldown. For this reason, we would use it all the time and forego the 5:5 pulldown. However, for those users who might feel they see too much Soap Opera Effect with Smooth Motion activated, the use of 5:5 pulldown is a good alternative that will help eliminate some of the instability in films that would otherwise be there.
The Sanyo Z3000 is significant in that it is the first home theater projector to offer 5:5 pulldown, and one of the few thus far to offer an on-board frame interpolation capability. Its precalibrated color modes need a little work out of the box, but once tuned up and saved as user modified calibrations, it can deliver a genuinely beautiful picture. And it can pump out a lot of lumens (close to 700) with a well-calibrated video image, which is more than most of the competition can muster. Contrast is quite good; it falls a bit short of competing 1080p models, but not so much that it is a significant determining issue in selecting between models.
A key advantage of the Z3000 is its low street price and industry-leading 3-year warranty. Sanyo always seems to deliver extraordinary value for the money, and the Z3000 is currently selling in the low $2,000's and it is an excellent value for that amount. If you've got a bigger budget, more money will buy you some small increments in contrast, as well as features such as powered zoom/focus lenses and incrementally more comprehensive frame interpolation capability. But the bottom line is that for not a lot of money you get a bright, beautiful, rich 1080p picture with a unique 5:5 pulldown option. You also get frame interpolation that helps clean up a lot of sources should you wish to activate it, and the Z3000 is the least expensive home theater projector on the market to offer this capability. Sanyo has produced another winner in value, and the PLV-Z3000, to nobody's surprise, is certain to earn a good share of the 1080p home theater projector market.
(Note: As far as competitive alternatives are concerned, the Sanyo Z3000 goes head to head with the Panasonic AE3000. This model is in the same general price range on the street, and it is the only other 1080p projector on the market at the moment to offer a frame interpolation system. Epson will be delivering two models that also have it, but we still have no word on when they will see the light of day. So at the moment we are working on a separate comparison article that focuses on the performance differences between the Z3000 and the AE3000, with special attention on the relative merits of Sanyo's Smooth Motion vs. Panasonic's Frame Creation. It is not quite finished, so it will be posted tomorrow.)
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Sanyo PLV-Z3000 projector page.