Panasonic PT-AX100U Home Theater Projector Review
There’s a lot to cover in this section, and I have plenty of photos to help illustrate. Let me point out that the images (photos taken of the PT-AX100U) cannot fully capture the dynamic range (from darks to bright) that projectors are capable of. As a result, in a typical scene, if the overall exposure is right for mid and bright areas, the camera will lose all the details in the darkest areas. Therefore, there will be a couple of images where I show you the normal exposure, and then a seriously overexposed image of the same frame, so you can see the shadow details the camera lost on the first shot.
PT-AX100U - Black Levels and Shadow Detail
The real challenge for LCD powered home theater projectors is not color balance, but rather the ability to handle black levels and shadow detail. DLP projectors inherently do “blacker blacks” than LCD projectors. Neither technology can actually output pure black, there is always some light in any area, so blacks come out dark gray. The big question is – how close to black can those dark grays get? DLP projector’s big advantage over LCD in this area, has been offset in the last couple of years, by the use of additional technologies. Primarily LCD projectors rely on a dynamic iris, which can stop down amount of light passing through the lens. This iris, which the Panasonic PT-AX100U has, adjusts frame by frame as you watch TV/HDTV, or movies on DVD or /Hi-Def DVD players. When a scene lacks very bright areas, the iris closes down, so that the areas that should be black get darker – closer to black. Other technologies are also used to adjust the image frame by frame so that the whole thing really works.
The question is, how well? And the answer this time, is the Panasonic does it extremely well. If you are looking for it in certain scenes where the image goes from bright to dark, you can sometimes see the effects of a dynamic iris. With the PT-AX100U, they have done a very good job, with it far harder to detect any flaw than the last generation.
So, blacks are very good, in fact beating out the Optoma HD72 that I like so much, and mentioned at the beginning of this review. I have a side by side image of these two, which you will see later.
Please note, that although I’m pleased with the PT-AX100U projector’s black levels (they are, as said, very good), there are however, DLP projectors in the price range that are better. Notably, the Mitsubishi HC3000 is significantly better than the HD72, and although I don’t have the Mitsubishi HC3000 here for direct comparison, it was sufficiently better than the HD72, that I have no doubt that it produces blacker blacks than the PT-AX100U. The Sony HS-51A, which until now had the best blacks I had seen from an LCD projector, I believe also still has a slight advantage over the Panasonic, but it should be a close call. Note, however that the Sony is not at all a bright projector, one of the least so in fact, and it also costs hundreds more!
Let’s look first at my favorites – space scenes (I’m a big Sci-fi/Fantasy buff).
In this image above blacks look very neutral (no shift to blue, purple, red, whatever color). Immediately below is the same frame, but this time overexposed. You’ll note that I have also included on the lower image some of the letterboxing at the top and bottom. I’ve placed the usual 4 pixel wide border around this (and all images). See if you can see the difference between the pure black of the frame, and the actual scene’s blacks.
This scene below from StarshipTroopers is dazzling. The camera fails to capture how dynamic the actual projected image is, but still gives you a good idea.
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