Panasonic PT-AR100U Home Theater Projector Review

Panasonic PT-AR100U vs. Epson Home Cinema 3010

Very interesting! Once again, we’ve got a 3D projector, the Epson, costing more by about $500-$600 than the Panasonic. Overall, the Epson is the next brightest 2D projector after the PT-AR100U, the Panny wins, but it’s close ehough to be a fight. The Epson Home Cinema 3010 also happens to be about as bright as it comes in 3D.

The Epson has the big warranty advantage, with two years, and replacement program, vs. a single year standard warranty.

The Panasonic has tons of placement flexibility, while the Epson is fairly limited.  Without question, in terms of flexibility the Panasonic PT-AR100 wins. Epson lacks any adjustable lens shift, but has a respectable 1.6:1 zoom vs. the PT-AR100U projector’s 2:1 zoom and lots of lens shift.  Thus the AR100 easily wisn this part of the comparison.

Both can be calibrated very accurately.

If you consider all the modes, the Panasonic and Epson are fairly comparable in “best” modes pre-calibration, but in the brightest modes, out of the box, the Panasonic has better color balance. Both can stand improvement, and when both are adjusted for better color (but not fully calibrated since they’d both end up more like “best” mode in terms of brightness. Try our calibration settings, when the brightest mode is adjusted.

Got the extra money? the Epson gives you pretty impressive 3D, the blacks in 3D aren’t great (dynamic iris doesn’t work in 3D), but then 3D images are a lot less bright than 2D, so you won’t miss the blacks anywhere as much compared to 2D blacks where both projectors have dynamic irises working. I had these two projectors over 3 months apart, so it’s tough to be precise as to which as the better blacks. Both are first family room/livingroom projectors, both are capable of doing a fine job in a dedicated home theater or cave, although, of course, neither of them can match the black level performance of more expensive projectors, especially both of their more expensive siblings, the PT-AE7000U and the Home Cinema 5010.

Another distinguishing difference is if you are a serious gamer. The Panasonic projector is reasonably fast in terms of lag times. The Epson 3010, however, not so fast. I normally leave lag time performance to my gamer/bloggers, but, I recently measured the Epson 5010 at 84 milliseconds with all the fancy features turned off (like CFI). I believe the Home Cinema 3010 had similar numbers, per one of my bloggers.

That is a bit slow. Both my our hard core gamers, think about 50ms is marginal for games requiring fast reflexes, etc., with being down around 30-35 or less, being really good. This Panasonic should fit nicely into “being really good”, while, the Epson 3010, is better suited for Chess, Monopoly, and card games, (maybe angry birds?), than World of Warcraft, Halo, or many racing games. Mind you .84 ms, is still less than 1/10 of a second, but consider, if you delay 1/10 of a second while braking your car from 60 mph, your car will travel an extra roughly 9 feet before you react. OK, that wasn’t a great point. Let’s just say that in a gun fight, you don’t want some one beating you to the draw by .84ms.

Panasonic PT-AR100U vs. Epson Home Cinema 8350

2D against 2D. Epson’s Home Cinema 8350 is slightly more than the Panny, and a year older. It has Epson’s usual 2 year warranty with two years of replacement policy vs. the Panasonic’s basic one year warranty. Both projectors have great placement flexibility. It’s been a long, long time, since I’ve used a Home Cinema 8350.

I can tell you that the Panasonic has the brightness won hands down, and if you’ve got a family room type of environment has a significant advantage. The Epson though with about 500 lumens calibrated has plenty for a dark room with normal screens at sizes up to 110″ diagonal, with no problem. With the brighter modes, the 8350 tackled my 124″ diagonal screen without any difficulty for sports, with modest ambient light, for entertaining.

Both have good color calibration controls, call them a tie in general post calibration, and once again

If brightness is your primary requirement, definitely go with the Panasonic PT-AR100U projector. If, in your world, you don’t need that rather dramatic difference in brightness, consider these two to be roughly comparable, both with dynamic irises, similar feature sets, etc., with the Epson having the warranty and support advantage.

Gaming: Both Panasonic, and this Epson projector have reasonably fast lag times, making them suitable for some really serious gamers. Our site’s two bloggers that are projector using gamers, write mostly about gaming with projectors – which ones are best at it, and which ones can’t stand the heat – not fast enough for good FPS (first person shooters) and other fast games. Check out their blogs: Pete (BitBound) and Scott S.

The Panny Compared to the Optoma HD20, Vivitek H1080D, and BenQ W1200

These three projectors have all been reviewed at least 6 months ago, the oldest more than a year and a half ago. All are solid entry level DLP projectors. In terms of brightness, the Vivtek’s 800 lumens gets it closest to the Panasonic PT-AR100U.

When it comes to brightest modes, this time the Vivitek and BenQ are the brightest of the three, with a definitely family room capable 1800 lumens, but that still doesn’t make the contest particularly close. Therefore it what matters is maximum brightness, the Panny has about 25% extra, about the difference between full power and an economy mode.

Placement flexibility belongs of course to the PT-AR100U, the others all have 1.2:1 ratio or less, zoom lenses, and no lens shift.

These are all 2D projectors. Feature wise, none of these can match the Panasonic, although one has a better warranty. They are in the same ballpark in terms of blacks or shadow detail, with differences, but no drastic ones. That is to say, if you look back in the image quality page of this report, to the black level and shadow detail area, consider the huge difference between this projector and the much more expensive Epson 5010, or about equally more expensive top of the line Panny, the PT-AE7000 projector. While between those two the differences in blacks a there, but not great, either is signicantly better than this PT-AR100 projector, or any of these three.

Like most of the others, all three of these lower cost – entry level – DLP projectors should be plenty fast for those of you who are gamers.

When considering any of these entry level DLP projectors, figure your first reason for choosing one of them is the “DLP look and feel”. Now consider, DLP projectors are liked better by a fair number of home theater enthusiasts, but for a lot of others, it matters little, or not at all. For almost all of you that don’t tweak your toys, such as play with the settings of your LCDTV’s, most likely you wouldn’t care.

I would say, for the large – maybe vast – majority of first time buyers, don’t worry about the DLP vs. LCD vs. LCoS from a picture quality standpoint. If you get hooked on the wonder of watching on the big screen, not a tiny little 42″ LCDTV. When you decide you want a newer/better second projector, that’s probably the better time to agonize over which technology you prefer.

Sharpness, tends to favor single chip devices, in this case, though, optics quality is also coming into play. Of the three DLP projectors, the BenQ W1200 definitely has the crispest image of the three DLP’s based on my reviewing them. Without playing with sharpening, or dynamic sharpening… The Panasonic is visibly softer than the BenQ, but less so than the other two. A sports fan would really like the BenQ over the Panasonic, for the sharpness difference, but with today’s dynamic controls you can “up” the sharpness – or better said – the crispness of the PT-AR100U

From a practical standpoint, the biggest advantage of these three projectors compared to the Panasonic, is that they cost less – typically $100 to $200 less, rather than $999. All produce a very respectable image, worthy of their price point. None is capable of screaming “I’m ready to take on the competition that’s twice the price.”

 

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