Since the posting of the Sharp Z9000 review, we've had a lot of folks email asking which is best, the Sanyo XP21N or the Sharp Z9000? Here's the answer...

The Sanyo PLC-XP21N and the SharpVision XV-Z9000U are two completely different machines for two different kinds of home theater. What do I mean by two kinds of home theater?

Just this. Some people have a dedicated home theater room that is, in essence, a mini commercial movie theater. It can be (and always is) darkened completely when in use. Walls are painted or covered with muted colors to cut down on reflected light from the screen. (Personally, I use gray felt fabric on all walls to cut not only reflected light but to deaden sound.) Seating and surround sound speakers are placed in ideal locations for optimal effect. This room has one purpose-to provide the ideal environment for watching movies.

The large majority of home theater enthusiasts don't have this kind of set up, nor do they want one. Instead they have a multi-purpose room that may or may not be darkened completely. They want to use it as a theater for watching movies, certainly. But they also want to use it for parties where music videos are being shown, or Super Bowl parties, etc. They want their kids to play video games or the family to watch TV. In other words it is a social room and general purpose entertainment room as well as a theater room. In many of these situations, even if the complete darkening of the room is possible, it is not desirable.

The SharpVision Z9000 is made for the dedicated home theater. At 800 ANSI lumens, it is not particularly bright and it needs a fully darkened room. The high contrast ratio sparkles in a dark environment. But once you introduce any ambient light into the room the contrast is hammered and the picture rapidly becomes rather flat looking.

On the other hand, the Sanyo XP21N at 2500 ANSI lumens is three times the light output of the Z9000. So the effective contrast is not compromised nearly as much with the introduction of ambient light. In fact, with the use of a high contrast screen such as the Stewart Grayhawk or the Vu-Tec GreyDove, the image quality is actually enhanced somewhat with low indirect lighting in the room. So the XP21N is the better choice for multi-purpose applications where variable room lighting conditions is a factor.

The primary technical trade-off between the Z9000 and the XP21N is resolution vs. brightness. Do you watch a lot of HDTV? Is squeezing every last bit of resolution out of a high quality HDTV signal important to you? If so, the Z9000 is capable of delivering a more pristine HDTV image than is the XP21N. By comparison, the XP21N's HDTV image looks like extremely high quality DVD. It's an excellent picture, but it does not have quite the depth of resolution that the Z9000 is capable of.

On the other hand, do you watch primarily DVD movies and television? In this case resolution is not much of a factor. These sources have only 480 lines of active video information in them to begin with, so either projector is capable of rendering beautiful images from them.

The practical trade-off is price. The Z9000 retails for $10,000 from authorized dealers, and you can find it for about $8,000 from unauthorized gray market dealers without the Sharp warranty. (Note: This warranty issue may be significant; we have received information that a few Z9000U users have had a problem with video synching with audio on 480i inputs. We have not seen this problem on the two units we have looked at. We do not know the cause of the error. However, if it turns out that there is a technical problem with some of the Z9000U's, a valid Sharp warranty would be handy to have.)

The Sanyo XP21N sells on the street these days for prices close to HALF that of the Z9000. Thus it is an outstanding performer for the money. By the way, it is also sold as the Boxlight MP-38t, the Eiki LC-X999, and the Proxima DP9260+. It is worth checking warranty, return, and support policies from the dealer you buy from. Be aware that private label brands and their dealers sometimes give you better deals and/or support and service than original manufacturers.

What would I buy personally if I had $10K to spend? My preference today would be to invest in a Sanyo XP21N combined with high contrast screen with electric masking. (Don't confuse "high contrast" with "high gain"--the high contrast screens are not high gain. They are the new "gray" fabrics that are available now from all four major screen makers.)

Electric masking is an option on screens that consists of black panels that can be raised and lowered from the top and bottom to change the active viewing area of the screen. It is more expensive, but it produces a solid black frame around any aspect ratio image that you happened to be watching. This is one of the most important things you can do to improve overall image quality. (Even mediocre projectors look substantially better when the image is properly masked with a black frame.)

However, my personal preferences are based on the fact that I watch a lot of DVD and not much HDTV. So the performance edge that the Sharp has in HDTV is, to me, not worth the substantial extra investment. Also there are occasions in which I don't want the room totally dark but I want a brilliant picture anyway. And, as far as the screen goes, putting money into a top quality screen system is a lifetime investment--projector technology changes so fast that you will want a new projector every three years. But the investment in the screen will last a long time.

That's just my personal take on it. However, your needs, interests, and budget may be entirely different. That's why there is a solid market for both of these outstanding projectors.