The new SharpVision XV-Z17000 is the first production-run 3D projector to make its way to our offices, and it is a sight to see. This 1080p DLP projector uses active-shutter glasses to display full 1080p 3D images from Blu-ray disc, broadcast, or PC sources. Infrared sync keeps the glasses under control without adulterating the image. Seamless 3D switching makes the whole process hassle-free. The projector produces some of the best 3D we've seen thus far. At street prices under $5000, the Z17000 is available, affordable, and the picture is certainly agreeable.
3D is the hot topic in home entertainment, and the SharpVision Z17000 is among the first 1080p home theater projectors under $5,000 to bring it home. This projector is built for the 3D enthusiast, the same person who watched Avatar five or six times based solely on its technical merits as an immersive 3D film. It is a first-generation product and has some typical first-generation quirks, but early adopters are already used to this.
The Z17000 can handle any modern 3D signal, from frame-sequential Blu-ray 3D to side-by-side broadcast/satellite. In other words, you're not limited to the 120Hz frame-sequential format required by the inexpensive, lower resolution DLP 3D-ready projectors. As these standards are established in the HDMI 1.4 specification, there is a measure of future-proofing built in to the system; these standards are likely to be in use for a number of years.
The Z17000 has a fixed 16% upward throw offset and minimal zoom range, so you can either ceiling mount the projector or place it on (or under) a coffee table. Rear shelf mounting is more or less impossible without using keystone correction, which reduces the usable resolution of the projector. Ceiling mounting has the advantage of appearing more professional, but the mount itself adds expense and some might object to having a large black object strapped to the ceiling. Coffee table placement is simple, straightforward, and requires no additional equipment. A "coffee table" could be an actual coffee table, a low table between the seats, or even placement underneath a table to keep the projector out of harm's way. The Z17000 also has an anamorphic stretch mode for those hoping to use the projector with an anamorphic lens and a 2.39:1 cinemascope screen.
When used in 2D, the Z17000 has a smooth, natural picture. While the projector has two image modes labeled Movie 1 and Movie 2, we preferred Natural mode for its higher brightness and more pronounced contrast. Color temperature in Natural mode is slightly cooler than in the Movie modes, which are too warm at their defaults. Natural mode is also brighter, which is useful if you have a large screen and want something brighter than the Movie modes. While the Z17000 has two irises (one manual and one automatic), black level is not quite up to par with other projectors in this price range.
In 3D, the brighter Natural mode becomes even more useful due to the brightness reduction inherent in 3D technology. Because of the way shutter glasses work, each eye only sees half of the light from the projector. This immediately lowers brightness by 50% assuming perfect efficiency. This does not take into account the tint of the glasses, which blocks more light (though this also deepens blacks and helps to reduce ambient light, so it's not all bad). The bottom line is that 3D display is more dependent on good ambient light control and high projector lumen output than 2D is, so the Natural mode is highly beneficial.
3D Projection. The key advantage of the Sharp Z17000 is full 1080p 3D projection. This is a new feature in home theater projectors, first announced at CEDIA last September. We can't do a direct side by side comparison with other 3D models because none of the others have yet arrived. But some useful observations can still be made.
First of all, the Z17000 can accept any standard 3D signal. In our article about 3D formats, we discuss the difference between Frame Sequential, Frame Packing, and Side-by-Side 3D. The Z17000 will accept and display any of these formats. This makes it one of the first projectors under $10,000 that could truly claim to be fully 3D Ready, in our estimation.
Secondly, 3D performance is superb. The quality of the 3D effect depends on the content being shown, but in general the Z17000's 3D capabilities were at their most impressive when viewing animated content without too much fast motion. We did not see any significant cross-talk or ghosting, as we've seen in the past when frame rate is too low in an active shutter system or polarization is not maintained in a passive system. Using Natural mode, the image is bright and clear, though light control is more important than ever. The glasses use infrared sync as opposed to the white flashes used in "DLP-Link" projectors. As a result, black level is kept relatively low, which prevents the Z17000 from taking a contrast hit in 3D mode.
If you are displaying 3D material, the Z17000 allows some people in your audience to watch it in 2D while others watch 3D, depending on each person's preference. By tapping the glasses' power button in 3D mode, the glasses switch to displaying 2D instead of 3D. Since some people find 3D disconcerting, or may simply prefer a 2D presentation, this feature helps to keep all viewers happy.
As good as it is, 3D still has some kinks to work out. I consider myself to be a stalwart 3D enthusiast, and during the course of this review I watched many hours of 3D, ranging from Despicable Me to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti. Many times, I found myself having to take a break and rest my eyes.
There is a well-understood reason for 3D-induced eyestrain: your eyes are not good at changing focus rapidly and without warning. Only one distance can be in focus at a time; if a near object is in focus, then a far object will be blurred and vice versa. In a 3D movie, camera cuts often require the viewer to quickly re-focus on an object that seems closer or farther away than they had previously been focusing, so the brain must decide where the object lies and then focus on it. This is a lot more work for your eyes than you sustain watching 2D. Filmmakers compensate for this by including fewer rapid camera cuts in 3D movies, but short of shooting a movie in a single continuous take there is no way around this issue. The Z17000 has a small on-screen warning that advises viewers to discontinue use if they begin to feel sick or strange, and we encourage you to follow this advice.
There are some 3D related artifacts as well. Fast motion tends to introduce some break-up, making it difficult to tell what is going on. We liken this effect to the judder seen in 24fps film in that it has the potential to break the viewer's immersion in the film.
The Z17000 has a depth adjustment option in the menu that controls the degree to which the left and right eye images are separated. Increasing this control did increase the appearance of depth in the center of the image, but it broke the 3D effect on the far left and right sides. It also introduced some cropping on those far edges, leading to a loss of 7% of the total image width. In other words, the 16:9 image is cropped down to 15:9, leaving small pillars of black to either side. Since the depth gain is relatively subtle and the negative effects are readily apparent, this is one control we'd just as soon leave at zero.
Light output. In home theater projectors, a high maximum lumen output is only important if you plan to use the projector on a larger than typical screen. More important is the ability to adjust lumen output to an appropriate level for your installation. The Z17000 is very good in this regard. Out of a specified maximum of 1600 lumens, our test sample measured 1236 lumens in Dynamic, its brightest mode. As on most projectors, dynamic mode sacrifices color accuracy and contrast in favor of lumen output. It is useful when there is ambient light in the room. Natural mode, which has much-improved color balance and contrast performance, measured 959 lumens. Natural can replace Dynamic mode when lighting conditions permit, and it is the preferred operating mode for 3D projection because of its high brightness. It is a good choice for very large (up to 150" diagonal) screens in traditional low-light theater conditions for the same reason.
There are two Movie presets, 1 and 2, the only difference between them being Movie 2 has the auto-iris enabled by default. Since the auto-iris only affects scenes with low average illumination, Movie 1 and 2 both measured 604 lumens in high lamp mode. However, both default to low lamp mode, where they measure 321 lumens; this constitutes a 47% drop, which is unusually high. Low lamp mode brings Natural to 509 lumens and Dynamic mode to 655 lumens. Of course, one can always switch into high lamp mode when watching 3D and back to low lamp when finished.
Contrast. The Z17000 is rated at 40,000:1 on/off contrast. The projector uses two irises, one automatic and one manual, in order to boost contrast performance in certain scenes; the manual iris deepens black levels while the auto iris lowers brightness in low-illumination scenes. Movie 1 closes the manual iris by default, while Movie 2 also enables the auto iris. Either or both can be enabled through the menu system when using the other image modes. The auto iris works as advertised, reducing light output when the average light level falls below a certain threshold. Still, the Z17000's best black level falls short of some competing models, and black bars are visible as faint ghosts.
Dynamic range is another matter. Irises have no effect on the dynamic range of any single scene, so dynamic range is determined solely by the DLP chip itself. The Z17000 has bright highlights and well-defined shadow detail even before calibration, and a slight gamma adjustment leads to more open mid-tones and punchier shadows.
No rainbows. The Z17000 uses a 5x-speed, 6-segment color wheel with two red, two green, and two blue segments. This design reduces rainbows to the point that our testing did not reveal one single instance of color separation artifacts, despite many hours of testing in optimal rainbow conditions. Unless you are hypersensitive to these artifacts, you will be safe using the Z17000.
Sharpness and clarity. Fine detail resolves very cleanly on the Z17000; the projector is capable of bringing forth all of the nuance of high-resolution Blu-ray movies. The projector also has a detail clarity enhancement feature that is supposed to increase the clarity of fine detail without adding edge enhancement artifacts. The effect of this processor was more pronounced in standard-definition material than in HD, but even then it is very subtle.
When placed side-by-side with some competing projectors, the Z17000 can appear slightly soft due to its reduced contrast in comparison to these projectors. All else being equal, a higher-contrast projector will appear both sharper and more three-dimensional than a lower-contrast projector. However, the effect is quite subtle and cannot be seen outside of a direct side-by-side comparison.
Standard Definition. When fed a 480i component video signal, the Z17000 shows clean scaling performance with just a slight hint of softness. Some fine textural detail is lost, but the effect is subtle enough that it's easy to miss. Digital noise is higher than average, though the Z17000's noise reduction circuit is very effective at reducing such. Two controls are available, Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) and Mosquito Noise Reduction (MNR), and each has three levels of intensity. DNR at level 1 reduced noise dramatically without having any negative impact on detail. DNR at levels 2 and 3 reduced detail clarity while providing less noise reduction benefit, so our preference was to leave it at level 1. MNR started reducing detail right off the bat, so we left that control in the 'off' position.
Ready to Use. Inside the box, there are two pairs of 3D glasses complete with batteries and accessories (things like nose pieces, retention straps, and the like). In other words, you don't need to purchase anything else in order to use the Z17000 right away--with the exception of a Blu-ray 3D player if you don't own one already. Extra pairs of glasses are available and cost about $150, which is a typical price for active shutter glasses.
No frame interpolation. Frame interpolation is becoming more common on home theater 1080p projectors, but it is absent from the Z17000. While some dislike the effects of this technology, it can smooth out judder artifacts associated with fast motion and camera pans. It can introduce its own set of artifacts if implemented poorly or used too aggressively, but having the option available is preferred.
Black level. While dynamic range in a given scene is typically very good, black level is not quite as impressive. When activated, the Z17000's two irises improve black level significantly, but it still falls short of the competition. And using the irises costs you 32% of the projector's light output. This cuts Natural mode, for example, from 959 lumens to 657 lumens. On large screens or when viewing 3D, a one-third loss of light output can mean the difference between a bright, pleasing image and a dull one. When viewing 3D material, we preferred to leave the irises disengaged to get the extra light.
Artifacts in fast motion. 3D has its own set of artifacts, just like 2D does. In particular, 3D projectors tend to "break up" in scenes with fast motion or rapid panning shots. The smooth, cohesive 3D image is suddenly rendered in disparate frames, appearing very much like judder in 2D projection. And just like 2D judder, the artifact can break the viewer's immersion in the movie.
Color temperature adjustment. The Z17000 does not have the traditional RGB Gain/Bias adjustments of other projectors. Instead, there are two sliders that control the global levels of red and blue. Gain and bias controls are often helpful, such as when color temperature at low IRE is too warm but at high IRE is too cool. For a projector in this price range, color controls are rudimentary at best.
Placement flexibility. The Z17000 has a simple 1.15:1 manual zoom lens and no lens shift. When the projector is level, the bottom edge of the projected image will appear 16% of the image height above the lens centerline. This is 8" for a 100" diagonal image, or almost 10" for a 120". The good news is that combined with a ceiling mount you probably won't require a drop tube to mount the Z17000 on a standard eight-foot ceiling. The bad news is that the Z17000's tiny zoom and lack of lens shift mean you'll have to be very careful when mounting in order to find a proper throw distance. The throw range for a 100" diagonal is from 10' 3" to 11' 11", about twenty inches. Compared to its competition, the Z17000's placement options for a given screen size and location are quite restricted.
Sharp Z17000 vs Sony VPL-VWPRO1
Sony's new VPL-VWPRO1 is a 1080p projector using SXRD (LCOS) technology. The VWPRO1 is not a 3D projector and the Z17000 is, so in this important regard the two units are not competitors at all. If you really want 3D, the VWPRO1 is not an option and the following comparison is irrelevant. But if 3D is not important and you're looking for an excellent 2D projector instead, a comparison of the relative performance between the Z17000 and VWPRO1 is valid. At $3400 MSRP, the VWPRO1 includes a spare lamp in the purchase price as well as a two-year warranty. The Z17000 at $4999 has a three-year warranty on the projector plus an additional 90 days of coverage on the lamp. Both can be found for sale at prices considerably below MSRP, though the $1600 difference between them is representative of their actual selling prices.
Light output.Once optimized for video, the VWPRO1's 857 lumens are somewhat brighter than the 604 lumens of the Z17000, allowing the VWPRO1 to be used on larger screens and higher ambient light. In low lamp mode, the VWPRO1 measures 575 lumens to the Z17000's 321. The Z17000 has slightly higher maximum brightness than the VWPRO1; our test sample measured 1232 lumens compared to the VWPRO1's 1033 in Dynamic mode. The Z17000 does have the advantage of Natural mode and its 959 lumen maximum; color balance and contrast in this mode are better than the VWPRO1 in its Dynamic mode, the closest analogue. While the VWPRO1 is more useful for larger screens, the Z17000 has a greater range of lumen output on the low end, allowing it to be used with smaller screen sizes in a dark theater. And since the Z17000 is mostly likely to be set up for ideal 3D presentation, most users will not be pairing it with larger than average screens anyway.
Contrast and black level. While contrast specifications never tell the whole story, they can sometimes act as a useful indicator. Compared to the Z17000 rated at 40000:1, the VWPRO1 at 85000:1 has deeper, darker blacks as well as better detail in shadows. The combined effect causes the VWPRO1's image to appear more three-dimensional, with greater depth and definition.
Color. Neither the VWPRO1 nor the Z17000 has an edge in out-of-the-box color accuracy; both require fine-tuning to reach their best performance. The Z17000 required more grayscale adjustment while the VWPRO1 needed more gamut adjustment. When both are properly calibrated, the VWPRO1 appears more accurate than the Z17000 with an overall more natural picture. The VWPRO1's higher contrast also tends to make colors look more vibrant.
Sharpness and clarity. All else being equal, a higher-contrast projector will appear sharper than a lower-contrast projector. Still, the Z17000 holds its own even without the aid of its detail clarity processor, which increases the sharpness of fine detail with fewer artifacts than typical edge enhancement. Neither projector had an advantage in sharpness or clarity since both performed so well.
Standard Definition. When fed a 480i signal, the image from the VWPRO1 was slightly higher in contrast and showed more three-dimensionality. Digital noise was more apparent on the Z17000, though noise reduction helped to lessen its appearance. Once NR was properly adjusted on both projectors, the Z17000 had slightly less noise while the VWPRO1 maintained better clarity of detail.
Placement Flexibility. The VWPRO1, with its 1.6:1 zoom lens and H/V lens shift, provides a great deal more installation versatility than the Z17000's 1.15:1 lens and fixed throw angle. In practical terms, this means that in many rooms you may be able to rear shelf mount the VWPRO1 but not the Z17000. Both projectors can be ceiling mounted, but the VWPRO1 has greater range of placement.
Other features. Neither the VWPRO1 nor the Z17000 have frame interpolation, nor do they have 4:4 pulldown or any another judder-reducing mechanism. Neither projector has much in the way of special features, other than the huge one--the Z17000 has 3D and the VWPRO1 does not. The Sony does have its panel alignment mechanism, but the Z17000 is a single-chip projector, so it never has panel alignment problems in the first place.
Summary. The big question here is whether you want 3D or not. If you do, the Z17000 can produce a beautiful 3D image and give you that unique experience that some people are looking for. However, for conventional 2D theater viewing, the VWPRO1 has incrementally better image quality. If you don't think 3D will be an important part of your viewing habits, the VWPRO1 is the model to go with not only due to its edge in image quality, but its installation versatility, incremental brightness, and lower price tag.
The SharpVision XV-Z17000 is among the first true 3D 1080p projectors released under $5,000. It lacks a number of features available on competing 2D projectors like long zoom range, lens shift, frame interpolation, and extensive color adjustments. So it is less less attractive for standard 2D use than some of its competition. But in the final analysis it is all about 3D, and with the Z17000's sparkling bright image and excellent 3D performance, it delivers on its promise.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our SharpVision XV-Z17000 projector page.