After a lengthy pause following the introduction of 3D TVs, the real 3D action in front projectors is starting to ramp up. And perhaps surprisingly, the pricing of 3D front projectors isn’t even all that high. The Sharp XV-Z17000 projector, for example, has a recommended retail price of just $5499, and that includes two sets of liquid-crystal 3D shutter glasses.

EQUIPMENT

On paper, there are only two obvious differences between this new projector and the company’s 2D XV-Z15000 which we reviewed last year. There’s the 3D, of course, and also a slightly higher contrast ratio (from 30,000:1 up to 40,000:1).

The 3D support is well-integrated. The infrared sync transmitter for the projector is built in, and there are two dedicated controls on the remote control for 3D operation— one for switching 3D on and off and the other bringing up a menu of relevant operations.

But back to the basics. Optically, this projector provides a narrow zoom range of 1.15-to-1 and no lens shift. So in short, you need to do your calculations carefully when installing, because there’s very little flexibility afterwards. For a 100-inch (2.54 metre) screen, the projector needs to be placed between 3.1 and 3.6 metres from the screen.

That puts it a little towards the ‘short throw’ category of projectors. I have a 1.5-metre-long rail for my ceiling mount, and this amount of adjustment has comfortably accommodated dozens of projectors for my projection screen. This one also worked, but right at the most extreme forward position (so that it was pretty much above my head when sitting in my favoured viewing seat) with the picture wound down to the minimum possible size.

The projector’s engine is single-chip DLP. Sharp doesn’t say much about the digital micro-mirror device it employs, other than that it is a 16.5mm full high definition unit.

As with the previous XV-Z15000, two irises are provided: one can be manually set to ‘High Brightness’ while the other can be set to operate automatically in accordance with the needs of the picture.

PERFORMANCE

The default settings on a projector are, arguably, relatively unimportant since, after all, you can change the settings to something else. But it’s hard not to imagine that many people won’t change them, if only because they are too uncertain about the meaning of many of the settings. Taking the latter view, the default settings for this projector seem a little behind the times.

It started up with its picture mode set to ‘Standard’. This set the Eco/Quiet mode to off, the manual iris to ‘High Brightness’ and the automatic iris to ‘On’. So the 3000 hours of lamp life promised for the ‘Eco’ mode aren’t going to be achieved without user intervention. If you don’t want to fiddle with too many settings (and don’t worry if you do; there are ‘Reset’ items to return everything to their factory settings), choose the ‘Movie 1’ picture mode. This switches off the dynamic iris, clamps down the manual iris for greater contrast and reduces the lamp output to the Eco level. Of these, switching off the dynamic iris is the most important (see below).

The lower lamp output setting is now the default of most other brands, extending lamp life as well as having the side effect of reducing the cooling fan speed. With the high brightness setting, this was just loud enough to be a little intrusive in my room where, as explained, the projector ended up virtually overhead. In Eco mode, it was extremely quiet. The only time I noticed it was in absentia, when I switched off the projector and, after ten or so seconds, the fan also switched off.

The picture produced by this projector with 2D material was really very classy. Of course, with a single-panel projection engine, convergence was excellent across the whole screen. The colours were accurate and nicely rich, and the focus was sharp.

The projector doesn’t offer any frame interpolation capabilities to smooth motion — no great loss in my opinion — and the extremely quick on/off pixel times for DLP meant that frame judder was sometimes a little more apparent than with LCD projectors. That’s a price worth paying. Nonetheless I did notice a little picture distortion from time to time that seemed vaguely reminiscent of the kind of artefacts produced by this processing. Exploring the menus further, I found that the default settings had left some pretty high settings in place for dynamic noise and mosquito noise reduction. Switching both of those off fixed that nicely.

There was no — none, zilch, nada — rainbow effect, and that’s something to which I’m pretty sensitive.

The dynamic iris did indeed seem to enhance the contrast with some scenes, allowing darker scenes with no bright parts at all to assume a deeper darkness while retaining excellent detail. But in the end I switched it off — there were particular scene switches that tricked it, causing a distracting pumping of picture brightness. It didn’t happen very often, but these were repeatable on the same scenes. For example, when I was watching Apollo 13 on Blu-ray, I initially thought there was a mastering error. But when I switched off this process, the temporal brightness uniformity became excellent.