Panasonic PT-LB30NTU – Review

Let’s start with the remote control. Panasonic has provided a small “credit card remote”. It handles all the basic features, is laid out well, but lacks remote mousing functionality, that most other projectors offer. (No worries, buy an inexpensive RF remote like the Zen/Keyspan, and get better remote mousing than is provided with any projector).

The remote offers volume control, digital zoom in, a shutter control (that blanks the screen or puts up a menu designated colored screen), and a freeze button that captures whatever is being projected when you hit it.

The other concern regarding the remote, is tied again to being a lithium powered credit card remote. Most of these have a usable range of 20-25 feet. That’s less than the larger, more traditional remotes, which you can normally count on 30-40 feet. Since this projector can handle large rooms, if you are projecting to, say, a 20 foot diagonal screen, and you are standing at the podium, the projector will barely be within range of the remote. (Reminder, that without remote mousing, you probably won’t need to fool with the remote when you start presenting, unless you need to switch sources or want to “shutter” (blank) the screen.

One small mistake on Panasonic’s part – no remote sensor on the back of the projector, only on the front. If you are standing behind the projector (let’s say its ceiling mounted), you’ll have to get a good “bounce” off of the screen, for the projector to pick up the remote’s signal. With the relatively limited range of the remote, in a large enough room this could be a problem. Still this is a minor inconvience at worst, since you don’t use the remote for controlling your presentation. And even more to the point, you can control your presentation wirelessly from your laptop.

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Menus

The biggest problem with Panasonic’s menus, is that they look like they are right out of a 1990 camcorder. All upper case, no graphical icons. Organization of the menus isn’t bad, but could use a little work.

The Picture menu (left) has all the usual controls, plus, the off/on/auto control for Daylight View, and also Panasonic’s AI circuitry, both designed to improve overall image quality. (AI enhances contrast, along with other things).

LB30NTU - Menus

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LB30NTU - Menus

Picture Mode

Network

Wireless Manager

Full Frame

Window

Wireless networking done right:

Panasonic has done some minor improvements on their wireless networking since I reviewed their LB10NTU last year. Most significant, however is that the new projector supports both 802.11b (traditional) and the new faster 802.11g with about 4 times the throughput. Now, “g” won’t let you watch a movie wirelessly (unless its a small window – say 20-25% of the screen) with enough frame rate to have a smooth image (24fps), but it is more than fast enough for almost any business presentation you could think of.

And Panasonic didn’t stop there with the wireless networking for the LB30NTU. This is the first wireless portable projector I have seen, that carries audio as well as video over the wireless. Up until now, if you had sound (anything from cute sound effects – to music or voice), you still had to run a separate wire between source and projector, but not with the PT-LB30NTU projector.

The ability to do the sound wirelessly, I consider to be a big improvement, and one that at least a significant percentage of the “wireless” presenting population will appreciate.

The LB30NTU, (I’m told – not verified) can have up to 16 computers attached to it wirelessly at one time, and can actually display all sixteen in small frames simultaneously. More likely, users will have 1 – 4 computers in a meeting, and now you can see small, equal sized windows of all four’s content, and easily enlarge any one of them to fill the screen, or mostly fill the screen and still display 3 thumbnail views of what’s on the other screens. To your left, the Panasonic projector wirelessly displays a full frame onto a 150″ screen.

Immediately below that image, the same source has been put into the upper left of the four windows available.

All in all, Panasonic offers a very friendly wireless networking solution, with a fairly straight forward control panel. The icon’s aren’t always obvious, but if you roll over them with your cursor, you get a text definition. Software is easy to install, and setup is a snap – launch the Network Manager on your computer. It will find the projector. Then just click Live, and you are up and running! (You will need to install the software on any computer that you will connect wirelessly to the projector.)

The Panasonic PT-LB30NTU can also display two sources side by side, however only one can be live (the other will capture a still image of what’s on that computer or video source). You can select from 3 different image sizes (the largest fully fills the overall image, but stretches the images to do so). You can also quickly switch the live for the captured.

Noise Levels

The Panasonic is relatively quiet, considering the brightness of the projector and its small size. In full power mode, the projector claims 39 db maximum. This should be quiet enough to satisfy users, as the fan noise is low pitched and less noticeable than some other projectors whose noise is higher pitched. The projector gets much quieter in low power mode (which also increases lamp life). By comparison, the former “high power – small box” projector champ – Epson’s Powerlite 745c (2500 lumens) is rated 41 db, but seems significantly noisier than the Panasonic projector. We have heard complaints about the noise of the 745c in small rooms, but I don’t expect that to be an issue with the LB30NTU.

Sound

The LB30NTU has a small, 1 watt speaker – typical for this sized projector. Don’t expect hi fidelity, but it should be sufficient for typical presentations. In a large room you will definitely need additional sound, and that’s where the audio outputs come in, making it easy to daisy chain to a PA system, or external powered sound system.

Powering Down

To prevent accidently leaving the projector on, Auto Power Down will turn it off if the projector does not see a signal for 15 – 60 minutes (user selectable). This feature can be turned off/on in the menus.

When you do power down, you can immediately unplug the projector. A fan continues to run until the projector is cool. (Do not put the projector back in its carry case until the fan stops. The projector fan needs to be able to circulate the air – and that can’t happen in the tight little provided shoulder case.

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