For fans of DLP technology who have been waiting for prices on a very high contrast 1080p DLP projector to drop to street prices below $2,500, the wait is over. The newly released SharpVision XV-Z15000 is Sharp's most aggressively priced 1080p home theater projector to date. With a contrast rating of 30,000:1, it is one of the highest contrast DLP products to come to market. And it has some unique portability that is not found on competing 1080p models.
Now, don't pay much attention to the star ratings, because the Z15000 might be the exact right choice for you. The fact is, it is a barebones implementation of a 1080p DLP projector for a very low price. Since it lacks many features of its competitors, we cannot give it high marks for features or ease of use. But it excels in certain ways, and has its own distinct advantages that don't show up in our summary rating system. Please read on for details.
Though the official MSRP is set at $2999, at this writing Sharp is selling the Z15000 on its website at $2,499. Lower prices may be available elsewhere through dealers.
Brightness. There are more ways to adjust picture brightness on the Z15000 than just about any projector we've ever seen. Like other projectors, it has a variety of operating modes that are calibrated to deliver different lumen outputs, gammas and color balance. They each have defaults for lamp power, manual iris position, and a utility called Bright Boost. But having selected an operating mode you can manually override any of those settings. You can select a lamp setting (normal or eco), a manual iris setting (open or closed), and the optional Bright Boost (on or off). Choosing among all these controls gives you an almost unlimited range of lumen output.
The brightest configuration on our test unit was achieved by selecting either Game, Dynamic, or Standard modes, putting the lamp on normal, the iris on High Brightness, and turning Bright Boost on. At these settings, these operating modes all measured about the same in brightness, measuring 1090, 1078, and 1055 ANSI lumens respectively. Putting every lumen-related control into overdrive took maximum lumen output to about 1250, but nobody would want to watch the projector with those settings active.
Normally, when you select the eco-mode on a projector, lumen output drops by about 20% to 25%. Not on the Z15000. Selecting the lamp's eco-mode knocks lumens down by a whopping 48%. It buys you an additional 1000 hours of lamp life, and it quiets the fan down to almost silent, but this is a radical reduction of lumen output compared to industry norms.
A more modest adjustment in brightness is available with the manual iris. It has two positions-open, and a little bit less than open. The open position is called High Brightness, and the smaller position is High Contrast. Selecting High Contrast has much less of an impact on lumen output, reducing brightness by only 18% from what you get in the High Brightness setting.
Bright Boost is similarly a more modest adjustment than eco-mode. Turning it off reduces lumen output by 21%.
Normally the zoom lens setting will affect potential lumen output, but the zoom range is so small (1.15x) that it has a relatively minor impact. If you have the projector set to maximum wide angle, you get the brightest image from any operating mode, but moving it to maximum telephoto reduces brightness by 7%.
The Z15000 has two operating modes for cinema, called Movie 1 and Movie 2. These have warmer color temperature calibrations and gamma settings more conducive to quality film viewing than do the brighter modes. Movie 1 is very bright, as it causes the projector to default to the open iris, full lamp, and Bright Boost. We measured brightness on Movie 1 at a brilliant 936 lumens. Switching to Movie 2 shuts down all of the light boosting features, and gives you a net of about 325 lumens. This is much more appropriate for a low gain 120" screen in a very dark, light controlled viewing space.
In addition to differences in brightness, color temperature, and gamma, the Movie modes on the Z15000 produce a much smoother, cleaner video image than you get from the other modes. Judder is reduced, and digital noise is less apparent. Overall, the Movie modes deliver a prettier, more well integrated image.
Contrast. The Z15000 is rated at 30,000:1 full on/off contrast, with the assistance of its dynamic iris. This is the highest contrast rating of any DLP projector currently on the market under $10,000. We measured its ANSI contrast performance at 552:1, which is typical for home theater class DLP projectors. As a group, DLP projectors routinely outperform their LCD competition in ANSI contrast.
Ultimately the specs don't tell you much about what the viewer is likely to see on screen. The viewer's perception of contrast is influenced by a variety of factors. Some of these factors have nothing to do with the projector, such as the screen, the viewing environment, and average dynamic range in the material being displayed. But in the projector itself, the interaction of ANSI contrast, native on/off contrast potential (unassisted by an auto iris), the depth of blacks, and the unique effects of an auto iris all combine to produce an impression of contrast that is not specifically related to any one contrast spec.
Nevertheless, in our experience with the 1080p class of home theater projectors in particular, the full on/off rating tends to be reasonably indicative of the relative contrast the viewer might perceive under ideal viewing conditions. For example, the Z15000's rating of 30,000:1 suggests that it will be lower in contrast than competing projectors rated at 50,000:1 and up, and it will be higher in contrast than models rated 20,000:1 and less. When they are set up and viewed side by side, this is usually the case.
Conversely, the ANSI contrast number when taken in isolation, tends to be a relatively weak indicator of the actual contrast that the user perceives on screen. For example, the JVC RS20, which is a much more expensive model than the Z15000, has a much lower ANSI contrast number, but much higher native contrast. When these two are viewed side by side, the JVC produces a more dynamic picture.
Overall, the contrast performance of the Z15000 can be best described as competitive for the money, but not exceptional. It produces a very pleasing, easy to watch, high contrast image. But it does not lead the pack as far as contrast and black levels among 1080p projectors in its price range are concerned.
Connectivity. Connectivity is typical by competitive norms. From left to right, there is one RS-232c, one 3-RCA component, one RGB/Component VGA port, two HDMI 1.3a, one S-video and one composite input. There is no 12-volt trigger for a motorized screen, but this is not unusual. Several of the competing 1080p models in this price range also lack this feature.
Fan noise. Fan noise is very low on the Z15000. Even in high altitude mode it is remarkably quiet. Not only is sound pressure low, but the frequency is very low in pitch. In general, this is among the best of the 1080p models we've heard.
Sharpness. In a word, excellent. The sharpness control defaults to zero, but it has a range of -30 to +30. At the zero default there is some artificial edge enhancement which makes the picture look very sharp out of the box. For a more natural look, you might want to move the sharpness control to about -20. But this is personal preference. There is no right or wrong ... set it where you like it best.
Portability. The Z15000 has been designed with some thought to portability. It is relatively small, weighs only 12.8 lbs., and is the only 1080p projector we've yet seen to feature a built-in handle to make it easy to carry. It also has a sliding lens cover that you can manually close to cover the lens. This provides excellent protection for the lens while you are transporting it. Note that the projector will not power up with the lens cover in place. If you are ceiling mounting the projector, the lens cover must remain open.
Another feature that helps with portable use is auto-vertical keystone adjustment. If you carry it into a friend's house and set it up on a coffee table with the front elevated to hit a screen, the unit will automatically adjust keystone based on the tilt angle of the projector. This is a fine feature for a temporary deployment. We would not recommend using this feature in a permanent installation unless there was no way to install the projector at a zero tilt angle.
Zoom lens and offset. As is typical of many DLP projectors, there is not much zoom lens range, and no lens shift. In practical terms, that means the geometry between your projector and screen is pretty much fixed. If you have decided on a screen size and mounting location, that will dictate where you must place the projector. Conversely, if you have a specific location in which you must place the projector, that will determine where you must mount the screen and how big it will be. The zoom range of 1.15x gives you a modest ability to make minor corrections for distance placement.
The projector has a built-in upward throw angle that places the bottom edge of the image 26% of the image height above the centerline of the lens (or 26% below the centerline of the lens when ceiling mounted). As an example, if your screen is 120" diagonal, your image height is 59". Since 26% of 59" is 15", if you ceiling mount the Z15000, you need to mount the screen such that its top edge is 15" below the centerline of the lens (assuming the centerline of the lens is parallel to the floor).
The limitations imposed by the lensing mean that you must either ceiling mount the Z15000 or table mount it on a low table between the seats. For a 120" screen, it must be placed about 13 feet from the screen, give or take about a foot. If you want to sit at a viewing distance of, say, 1.5x the screen width, the projector will be at the same distance as the seats. If you want to sit any closer, the projector will be behind the seats, and ceiling mounting is, for the most part, the only practical option. Placing the Z15000 on a shelf above and behind the seats will cause it to project the image too high on the wall in most situations. You could tilt it downward and use keystone to correct the resulting trapezoid, but that will eliminate the possibility of seeing native 1080p material in uncompressed format, so it is not recommended.
Video judder and noise. The Z15000 delivers a smooth, clean video picture in the Movie modes. When switching to Standard, Natural, or Dynamic, you get a brighter picture, but there is a noticeable increase in judder and noise. For best video results, always run in Movie mode. If you need extra brightness, open the manual iris by setting it at high brightness, and/or activate Brightness Boost.
Remote control. There are easier to use remotes on the market. This one has relatively small buttons, and comparatively difficult to manipulate. Moreover, there is no backlighting on the remote. One cannot appreciate what a nuisance this is until you find yourself fumbling around in the dark for a flashlight, or trying to hold the remote in the projector's light path to find the buttons you want. Almost all 1080p projectors on the market these days have backlit remotes.
Lamp replacement cost. The Z15000 has a maximum lamp life of 2000 hours in normal lamp mode, and 3000 hours in eco-mode. Note that the retail cost of the replacement lamp is $600, which is higher than average. Typical cost for replacement lamps in this class of equipment is $300 to $400.
No on-board anamorphic stretch mode. For those interested in adding an external anamorphic lens for CIH 2.35 set ups, you will need to use an external video processor to accomplish the required vertical stretch of the image.
The SharpVision Z15000 can deliver a bright, smooth, and very compelling 1080p picture. Fans of DLP technology will love this projector, not only for its high contrast, but for other competitive advantages that DLP holds over LCD and LCOS. In particular, a single-chip DLP design never has any convergence problems to worry about, whereas all three-device imaging systems do. And there won't be any worries about dust particles landing on the DLP chip, creating a need to have the unit cleaned. There are no air filters to replace or clean, although Sharp does recommend periodic vacuuming of the intake and exhaust vents to minimize dust incursion into the unit.
In terms of picture quality, the Z15000 represents good value for the money. It is competitive, but not quite as high in contrast or color saturation as the current high contrast LCD models such as the Sanyo PLV-Z3000, the Epson 6500, or the Panasonic AE3000. Accordingly, it is typically not quite as three-dimensional. However, it matches or slightly exceeds the image sharpness of the LCD competition, and it has an edge in shadow detail as well.
The Z15000 lacks several features that are common on competing models. As discussed above, the zoom lens is of minimal range and there is no lens shift. There is no anamorphic stretch mode, and the remote has no backlighting. There is no frame interpolation. While it has some bright operating modes that exceed 1000 lumens, it does not have the extreme high brightness operating mode that is available on the Epson models in particular. The one-year warranty is minimal compared to the more common two or three year warranties on competing units. And the replacement lamp cost is much higher than the competition. So overall, in terms of features and extras, the Z15000 is rather sparse.
If portability is a factor in your buying decision, the Z15000 has a significant advantage. Most other 1080p models weigh 16 lbs or more, and are relatively cumbersome to carry. The Z15000 is 12.8 lbs. It has a handle, a built-in lens cover, and is designed to go. If you are frequently on the move with your projector, the Z15000 will be much easier to live with than any of its competitors.
The bottom line is that the SharpVision Z15000 will be an ideal solution for some users, and not so ideal for others. Whether it is right for you depends on the value you place on the things that the Z15000 excels in. In particular, if you've sworn off three-panel LCD products due to concerns about convergence or dust issues, or if you need to move your projector frequently, the Z15000 will be a uniquely attractive option that should be given your strongest consideration.