When you’re watching a sci-fi flick with lots of action in outer space, does the inky black of the cosmos draw you into its infinite depths, or does it appear washed out and flat? Do the stars shine intensely or merely appear as white dots on a somewhat darker background? If you’ve experienced the former rather than the latter, you know the power of a low black level, the technical term for how little light a video display can produce. In my view, this is far more important to image quality than how much light it can throw at you in bright scenes. A low black level is only one of the strengths of the XV-Z20000, Sharp’s flagship DLP model. The latest in a long line of highly regarded projectors, it’s the company’s first with 1920x1080 resolution, and it’s blacks were nothing short of amazing.
The XV-Z20000 incorporates Texas Instruments’ latest 0.95-inch 1920x1080 DMD (Digital Micromirror Device), the chip at the heart of DLP technology. In addition, TI’s DarkChip3 enhancements contribute to the astoundingly deep blacks, as does an adjustable iris in the light path. One of the iris modes is dynamic (that is, the opening changes according to what’s on the screen), but I prefer to keep the iris at a constant opening.
As befits a projector at this price, the XV-Z20000 provides vertical lens shift, zoom, and focus, all of which allow flexible placement. However, all three of these functions are manual, not motorized, which means you must stand next to the projector and fiddle with physical controls to dial them in In a high-end projector such as this, I would expect motorized controls, which let you set them from the remote while standing next to the screen. Heck, even the Mitsubishi HC5000 has motorized lens shift, zoom, and focus, and it costs only $4500 (see the review on page 68 in this issue). Not only that, the Mitsubishi provides an internally generated test pattern to help you set these controls, which the Sharp lacks.
The remote is blessedly simple and straightforward, with direct-access buttons for all inputs and many of the commonly used controls. It’s also fully illuminated with icons on the buttons (so you can see them in the dark when the backlight is on) and text labels on the body (which you can’t see in the dark in any event). Unlike many projectors I’ve reviewed lately, this remote has enough oomph to reflect its commands from the screen back to the XV-Z20000.
The menu system is very well organized, with five main menus across the top of the screen. The selected one drops down immediately, eliminating a button push. When you select a picture control to adjust, it drops to the bottom of the screen and the rest of the menu disappears—very clean, very nice.
I used the XV-Z20000 on a 72-inchwide Stewart Grayhawk RS screen at a distance of about 14 feet. As with most displays, the XV-Z20000 came out of the box with a picture that was too blue, but the Brightness and Contrast controls (which, in simple terms, determine the black and white levels, respectively) were surprisingly close to ideal at their factory settings.
Because this display lists for more than $10,000, TPV’s policy is to perform a complete, professional calibration. Unfortunately, the
service menu is incomprehensible by mere mortals, and Sharp was unable to get me the info I needed tofigure it out in time for this review. The good news is that I was able to do a “pseudo-calibration” with controls in the user menu. I got a fairly accurate grayscale (except for a dip toward blue at the very brightest end) and very accurate primaries (red, green,blue) and secondaries (yellow, cyan, magenta). Even so, I recommend that you find a professional technician who understands the projector’s service mode and can calibrate it from there.
The screen I used was pretty small, so I expected the black and white levels to be relatively high, but I was in for a real surprise. With the iris at its lower fixed setting and the lamp in its low-brightness mode, I was astonished at the black-level measurement—it was lower than just about anything I’ve seen at Grayscale Studio or anywhere else, for that matter. The white level was lower than ideal, making a completely darkened room essential.
I opened the iris wide to see what would happen, and it did raise the black and white levels quite a bit, though not to an bjectionable degree. In fact, it put the whites right where they should be, and the blacks were still respectable. In the end, however, I preferred the solid, inky blacks that came with the closed iris, which also achieved a much greater peak contrast ratio (the difference between black and white) and, thus, a punchier picture.