Editors' note, December 13, 2007 The rating on this review has been lowered from 8.8 to 8.3, and the Editors' Choice award removed, due to changes in the competitive marketplace, including the review of the Sony VPL-VW200.
Sharp, a major player in LCD front-projection since its inception, segued into the DLP category back in 2001 with its original 720p DLP projector, the XV-Z9000U. That unit made quite a splash as one of the first 720p DLP projectors on the market. Six years later, Sharp's latest flagship DLP projector, the XV-Z20000, has the same basic design, 1080p native resolution, and the potential to make an equally large splash. It definitely left a positive impression on me during its testing period in my home theater. Yes, that 1080p resolution does come at a premium price with DLP projectors--you can get 1080p LCD and LCoS units for a lot less--but in terms of pure performance the Sharp XV-Z20000 definitely delivers the goods.
Sharp's latest model looks virtually identical to the last several top-of-the-line Sharp 720p projectors, and its appearance is quite sleek and handsome. This is one of the few projectors out there with the lens perfectly centered on the chassis, which lends it a symmetrical look. More important, compared to projectors that have the lens off to one side of the chassis, the Sharp's center-aligned lens eases the task of ceiling-mounting the unit properly relative to the screen. The relatively large XV-Z20000 measures 11.7x6.8x16.2 inches (WHD) and weighs 20.7 lbs.
The remote control is also excellent in terms of ergonomics and aesthetics. It is fully backlit and offers direct access keys to all inputs, picture modes, and iris control among other items. Internally the menu system has five pages that are horizontally aligned, and each page is laid out vertically--a simple, direct design.
Most of the Sharp XV-Z20000's features are related to setup and picture quality adjustment rather than the convenience features that you would find on a consumer TV. As we mentioned, this projector uses a DLP light engine to achieve a native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, a.k.a. 1080p. All sources, whether HDTV, DVD, standard television, or computer, are scaled to fit the pixels.
The Sharp 20000 offers two settings which are key to getting the best contrast ratio, black levels, and enough light to properly drive the screen you are using. The first is the iris adjustment, which has three settings: high brightness for large screens; medium and high contrast. I used the high contrast mode for my evaluations, as I was projecting onto a relatively small, 72-inch wide Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 screen and wanted to get the best possible black levels. The second setting controls the lamp setting and offers two choices: High Brightness (for large screens) and Eco Mode (for small screens), which I chose for my setup. I was a bit disappointed that the lens controls, such as zoom, shift, and focus, are all mechanical rather than electronic. Electronic controls make fine-tuning easier since you can stand right at the screen to get those settings perfect.
A total of six picture modes are available, and of course the Sharp lets you save custom picture settings individually for each input. Instead of the standard presets, there's a sliding scale for color temperature selection that ranges from 5500 to 10,500 Kelvin, making for a dizzying number of combinations. We appreciated the overscan feature, which can be zeroed out so you can see the entire picture. Finally, I played with the CMS (Color Management System) extensively, only to find that it hurt the picture more than helping it--see the Performance section for details.
The connectivity options on the Sharp XV-Z-20000 are generous indeed. There are two HDMI inputs on tap, both of which can accept 1080p/60 signals but not the less-common 1080p/24. Sharp also throws in a DVI input for good measure, which will come in handy for connecting the unit to a computer. An adapter (not included) can be used to connect a computer via an analog, VGA-style cable. There are also two component video inputs, one S-Video, one composite video, and an RS-232 for control purposes.
There is no question that the Sharp is a top performer in the 1080p DLP front projection category. In fact, given the fact that it is half the price of the Marantz VP-11S1, has more accurate primary and secondary colors, and better gamma, it deserves an Editor's Choice in the 1080p front-projection class.
For my evaluation, I used Standard picture mode, the 6500K color temperature setting, and Standard Gamma for the HDDVD input (HDMI 1), and Custom Gamma for the HD cable input (HDMI 2). Using the Eco Mode and the High Contrast setting on the Iris, I measured over 15 footlamberts of light output, which is ample for front projection in a dedicated theater environment. Prior to calibration, the grayscale tracked around 7500K in the 6500K setting, which is reasonable for a preset from the factory. Gamma implementation is also good, with a nice slow rise out of black. For a full list of the picture settings I used, click here or check out the Tips & Tricks section.
Overall color accuracy on the XV-Z20000 is pretty good with excellent color decoding. The primary and secondary colors are off, but not nearly as offensively as a lot of projectors. The CMS, or Color Management System, is a double-edged sword. I found I could dial in the colors to near perfection, only to find color severely desaturated. Increasing the color control to get back the saturation resulted in strange-looking skin tones, so I reverted back to the factory settings in the CMS menu. This is a common problem with CMS systems. I wish that manufacturers would simply give us the correct primary and secondary colors, like those of the Samsung SP-H710AE 720p DLP projector, which remains my reference because of its stellar color and gamma performance characteristics.
Nonetheless, compared to most of the competition in 1080p resolution projectors, whether LCD, LCoS, or DLP, the Sharp XV-Z20000 definitely stands out as one of the best. It has a relatively large lamp (220 watt SHP), which is rated at 1000 ANSI lumens, and is capable of driving relatively large screen sizes. The lens is also impressive, delivering crisp, sharp images with very few chromatic aberrations.
Speaking of sharpness, I was pleased to find that both the component and HDMI inputs accept and display all the resolution from 1080p HDTV sources. Tests from the HQV HD-DVD disc revealed that the Sharp de-interlaces 1080i properly, preserving all the resolution in the signal. However, you must make sure that the Progressive setting in the Advanced menu is set to Slow and not Fast, or you will be losing a lot of information and gaining a lot of noise in the process.
To test the black level performance, I chose the excellent transfer of Batman Begins on HD-DVD. Chapter 28, where Batman outmaneuvers the cops and races the Batmobile back to the Bat Cave to save Rachel's life, is an awesome test of black level performance and shadow detail capability. The 20000 sailed through this torture test with finesse. Blacks were also quite clean, with little low-level noise or dithering, which is common to DLP.
I chose scenes from the reference quality HD-DVD transfer of Seabiscuit to evaluate color saturation and skin tone rendition. Again the Sharp excelled compared to most other projectors, but I did wish for more accurate primary and secondary colors. Chapter 13 has a variety of colors, including natural objects like hedges and grass, and the scene where the jockeys line up their horses before the race is an excellent test for primary and secondary color accuracy, since all six of those colors are in close proximity. While this scene looked good, it would look much better if the colors were on spec.
Watching HD from my Time Warner Cable feed was definitely an anticlimactic experience after seeing some of the best HD-DVD has to offer, but nonetheless some material did look pretty impressive. I did notice that the video processing in the Sharp is a little noisy. When I ran all my sources through a DVDO VP50 video processor it cleaned things up nicely, especially with standard definition cable channels like TCM and others.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7685/7264K||Average|
|After color temp||6558/6489K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||865K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||152K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.670/0.326||Poor|
|Color of green||0.310/0.635||Average|
|Color of blue||0.143/0.059||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down detection||Y||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|