Panasonic PT-LB20u Portable Projector review

The Panasonic LB20u projector produces a high quality image, that is sharp and clear.The LB20u, as noted is native XGA (1024×768) resolution. I was fed this Panasonic projector higher resolution computer sources at SXGA+ (1400×1050) and UXGA (1600×1200) and it locked on, compressed and displayed them with no difficulty. Of course compression technology kicks in to resize the data, and compression technology does degrade the image as is expected. At SXGA+ even small type (9 or 10 points) is very, very readable, but a little thick looking. Large type (30, 36, 42 point) from an SXGA+ source is virtually indistiguishable from the same size type at XGA resolution. At UXGA, the small type is still readable, but sure isn’t pretty. WXGA (1280×800) output from my widescreen Dell laptop was also displayed without a problem, with the expected, reasonable amount of degradation on small type and lines.. Like the LB30NTU, the Panasonic LB20u projector – according to the manual, the interfaces with Apple computers as well. It supports the several screen sizes unique to Mac’s and iBooks, etc. I do not have any Apple computers to confirm this information.

Daylight View

Panasonic is making a big deal about their new technology, designed to enhance performance in extremely bright rooms – full florescent lighting or plenty of sunlight pouring into your room. I, at first, suspected from seeing it in operation, that it was mostly marketing hype, increasing color saturation, and fiddling with brightness and contrast, to produce a better image under aweful lighting conditions. This would not be much different than dynamic modes found on other projectors. Panasonic’s marketing indicates that this feature, allows the new LB20 series (2000 lumens), to perform as well as their older 3000 lumen models. These images displayed were photographed with the LB30NTU, not the LB20u. Since this is a demonstration of Daylight View, it does not matter which projector is used.

The top image on the left, has Daylight View off, while the image underneath, has it turned on. (The overall washed out look on both images is attributable to the limitations of the digital camera. The room is extremely bright, the screen – a 150″ diagonal. And both images looked far better to the human eye, than captured by the camera. Still, you can see a real difference between the two images? Looking at the second pair of images, again, Daylight View is off on the first, and on, on the second. A the differences are harder to spot here, but you can make out a little more detail on the blackboard, and the color saturation on the pink sweater is also improved, and the teacher’s face has lightened up a bit.

I can’t buy into Panasonic’s full claim. The whites (which is what is measured for determining lumen brightness) remain the same, but colors do improve. I found the improvement under full lighting to be more subtle than Panasonic would indicate, still, it does help. The improvement, perhaps, is more along the lines of perhaps a 20% increase in lumens, at least in giving colors more zip and saturation. One important note, when doing its Daylight View magic, Panasonic has managed to come up with solutions, that do not screw up fleshtones, etc., it seems to work about equally well with data, graphics and photos.

The real benefit of Daylight view, is that it does it all automatically, enhancing the image without having to fiddle with settings such as (natural, standard, dynamic) or tinkering with color saturation, brightness and contrast. Bottom line: Nice feature, it does maximize the ability of this LCD projector to cope with bright rooms, especially without user intervention.

At the same time, the LB20U won’t really perform like a 3000 lumen LCD projector under bright lights, but it might be able to hold its own with a competitor rated at 2400 – 2500 or so lumens, and that’s still saying alot. Since the LB20U is an LCD projector, its going to start with better color saturation than competing DLP projectors (and the ability to handle ambient light), it should be very close to matching the bright room performance of 3000 lumen DLP models, most of which, are larger. Panasonic is not alone, with sub 5 pound LCD projectors. Epson’s Powerlite 750 and 755 projectors are rated 2000 lumens (no Daylight View, however), and their 760 and 765 projectors are rated 2500 lumens. (All are under 3.9 pounds so a bit lighter than the 4.7 lb. Panasonic projectors, but, the Epson’s are noisier.

The LB20′s performance on video is typical for an LCD projector. Similar to the LB30NTU, the LB20U’s colors are very good; dynamic and saturated, flesh tones are produced reasonably well, but the contrast of the Panasonic projector is typical of business LCD projectors, and much lower than you would get from a DLP projector. The Panasonic LB20U, will do an excellent job on video sources for business purposes, but really shouldn’t be your first choice for watching movies, where you would be better served by a DLP projector with much higher contrast.

That said, this is a great little “crossover” projector for home use, in a bright family room. The combination of 2000 lumens, LCD technology and Daylight view, should make this a good machine for viewing sports, and playing games, and OK to good on TV and movies in general. Much of the detail in very dark scenes will be lost though. Recommendation – take it home for the “playoff”s, and invite your friends over. You’ll have the necessary horsepower to watch with reasonable lighting in the room.

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