Panasonic PT-AR100U Home Theater Projector Review
3/8/2012 - Art Feierman
This is a case of us waiting a long time to get in a Panasonic PT-AR100U home projector in for review, but one well worth the wait. In the days a few years back, when Panasonic offered but one home theater projetor, it was quite usually the best selling on the market. Certainly Panasonic has consistantly been a top performing brand, as is also demonstrated by the PT-AE7000, the PT-AR100U's "big brother" projector, which we reviewed not long ago, and gave a Hot Product Award to.
The Panasonic PT-AR100U is Panasonic's newest, and their brightest home projector. Typically selling for under $1000, this projector is a top competitor, especially for those needing a bright one for the family room. Let's get started!
Panasonic PT-AR100U Projector Overview
Panasonic's PT-AR100U (click for specifications) projector starts off with a huge boost in performance compared to its predecessor, the PT-AX200U. Of equal importance, the resolution is higher as well, with the PT-AR100U being 1080p, not 720p like its predecessor. Like all Panasonic home theater projectors to come before the PT-AR100U, it is a 3 LCD projector. This Panasonic offers a manual zoom lens with plenty of placement flexibility, and lens shift.
The PT-AR100U projector is Panasonic's answer to what type of projector belongs in a family room, living room, bonus room, when lighting control is less than ideal, and walls and other surfaces are often light colored or white. Basically, the PT-AR100U is designed to work rather well, in most non-caves, including those which would have many of its competitors struggling!
While the 2800 lumen claim assures plenty of brightness, the PT-AR100U is also rather well-endowed feature-wise, for a projector that, at the time of this writing, is being advertised by most authorized dealers right around $999.
With a street price around $999, brightest in class performance, and many other features we are about to discuss, the Panasonic offers both value and performance, and easily earns one of our Hot Product awards.
Again, don't let the Panasonic projector's $1999 MSRP fool you and scare you off. Seems that's now the price you would pay for a PAIR of the PT-AR100U projectors
The projector is finished in a matte white case, that is close to white. It can be set on a table, ceiling mounted, rear shelf mounted, and even used in a rear screen environment (behind the screen). It comes with a nice remote control, on the small side, but with excellent feel.
Panasonic PT-AR100U Projector Highlights
- 2D projector with exceptional brightness
- Ready to go, right out of the box, with 8 color mode choices, including Cinema1, REC709, Sports, Games, and Dynamic, to name a few
- Dynamic iris for improved black level performance
- Frame Interpolation (but not CFI)
- Brightest in class
- Suitable for theater or family room, particularly good for the living - family - other room environment
- Excellent placement flexibility
- Zoom lens with wide range, lens shift, for placement flexibilty
- 2 HDMI
- One year warranty
- Street price around $1000 - makes for an excellent price/performance value
Above, Leeloo (the Perfect Being), from The Fifth Element
Basic Specs for Panasonic PT-AR100U
PT-AR100U MSRP: $1999, Street Price: $999 online
Native Resolution: 1080p (1920x1080)
Brightness: Manufacturer claim: 2800 lumens, 2377 lumens measured (Dynamic, wide angle on the lens
Zoom Lens ratio: 2:1 manual zoom and focus
Lens shift: Horizontal and Vertical (manual)
Lamp life: 3000 hours in eco mode, estimated 2000 hours at full, Lamp: $349
Weight: 19 lbs. (8.6 Kg)
Warranty: 1 Year Parts and Labor
View full specifications here: Panasonic PT-AR100U
Panasonic PT-AR100U Special Features
PT-AR100U Projector - Typical Street Price, MSRP, and Value
I started discussing this above, because, some early feedback from readers - it was obvious they were expecting the actual selling price of the PT-AR100U to be upwards of $1500. That might have been the case, briefly, when PT-AR100U sales started late fourth quarter of last year. But after a couple of months ago, it seemed street price was down around $1200, and today, as I write this I've got two advertisers on our site advertising this Panasonic for $999.
I've decided price, in this case, should be discussed briefly as a "Special Feature," since the falling street price has had a major effect on the PT AR100U's competitiveness.
Consider: Epson has two projectors selling between $1000 and $1600. My first impression when the AR100U started shipping, was that the Epson 8350 was significantly less, offers a similar feature set, longer/better warranty, and while a bright projector, is nowhere near the brightness of this Panasonic PT-AR100U projector. People needing the extra lumens would be paying a good chunk more for the Panasonic.
But today, the Panasonic is definitely not the more expensive of the two. At around the same price, with similar feature sets overall, the Epson 8350 still has the better warranty, but you are getting far more brightness for the same price... Right now, the PT-AR100U would seem to definitely be the better value, and, the better choice for most.
Regarding the other Epson, well, it's about $600 more than the Panasonic at the moment, but for the difference, you get a 3D capable projector that's very close in overall brightness (and the better warranty), with the Epson Home Cinema 5010. As a result, it really comes down to whether you plan to buy a projector and forego 3D for another few years, or pay the extra now, and start enjoying 3D (you have to see Hugo, in 3D at home on a screen of 100" diagonal or so. Outstanding!)
So, at least here, price trades off against a major feature. Many of you will find choosing between the Panasonic PT-AR100U projector and the Espon HC5010 to be a much more difficult decision.
Panasonic PT-AR100U Projector Game Mode and Gaming
Look for Scott S, one of our gaming bloggers, to blog on the PT-AR100U as a serious gaming projector. We'll add some of his comments here, but check out his blog as well. Meantime, I ran a basic Lag Time test, feeding HDMI from my MacBook Pro.
Lag time was very impressive, measuring only 18 milliseconds. That should be fast enough to satisfy top players, and faster than most of the competition. Looks to be another good "gamer", as was the PT-AX200U before it.
PT-AR100U Dynamic Iris
A dynamic iris is the key on most projectors to improving overall black levels on darker scenes, and the resulting improvement in the viewing experience.
Image above from Quantum of Solace
Panasonic claims a pretty impressive 50,000:1 contrast - which one just might expect to translate into some very impressive black level performance. In reality, like several other under $2000 and relatively new home theater projectors, with contrast around 30,000:1 to 50,000:1, the spec looks better than the blacks. Nothing wrong with the blacks for the price, but the use of a dynamic iris hardly guarantees great blacks. Like with other 3LCD projectors (notably the Epsons), Panasonic's projectors both have dynamic irises, but far different black level performance. This will be discussed further on the Image Quality page.
PT-AR100U Projector 3D - Rather, The Lack of 3D
That's right, The PT-AR100U lacks 3D abilities. That's unlike Panasonic's flagship, the designed for home theaters: PT-AE7000U. Of course that Panasonic sells for a good 2.5 times the price. Panasonic's predecessors - the PT-AX200U and the AX100U before it, were extremely bright, 2D projectors - although lower resolution - 720p, not 1080p.
It would seem Panasonic decided to stick to 2D on this "lower end" projector, where it is the brightness champ among other 2D and 3D home projectors anywhere near its price. With a $999 street price, it's hard to blame them. They're definitely slugging it out with other 3D models with their more expensive projector. The PT-AR100U would seem to be another really high volume, widely popular projector from Panasonic.
PT-AR100U Frame Interpolation - FI - not CFI
Like almost all of the lower cost 1080p home projectors, Panasonic's PT-AR100U, lacks CFI for smooth motion, but does have basic FI (frame interpolation), which has its own advantages, but also when engaged, bothers some. (I'm one who can watch CFI no problem, but most 2:2 or 4:4 FI does affect me negatively, so I don't use it on this Panasonic, the Epson 8350, and other projectors which offer it as an option). Other people I know, prefer to have it engaged, especially with 24 fps content. FI, therefore seems like RBE (rainbow effect) in that different people, different reactions (or in the case of RBE - rainbows, for most people, no reaction at all).
Viera-Link, which I believe started a few years ago, allowing Panasonic devices such as their Plasmas or earlier Panasonic projectors, to control other Panasonic devices, such as a Panasonic Blu-ray player, from the remote of the display.
Today's Viera-Link, however, is Panasonic's name for HDMI-Link, at least their Plasma displays, where it can apparently control functions from most HDMI devices. It seems so far, though, the AR100U's Viera-link is still the same as on older Panasonic projectors, that is, only controlling other Panasonic products over HDMI.
PT-AR100U Lamp Life
Although many projectors these days sport lamps that claim 4000 or 5000 hours at full power (and even one with 6000 lumens in eco mode), a number of today's new "brightest" home theater projectors, have sacrificed lamp life improvements for getting more lumens out.
This Panasonic PT-AR100U is one of those. It's just dripping in lots of lumens, but the 280 watt lamp, is only rated by Panasonic at 3000 hours in eco-mode (typical of most projectors a few years ago). (Note: Most projectors with 3000 hour lamp life in their low power modes claim only 2000 hour at full power.) Panasonic, like many others, chooses not to "impress" us with a low full power number. So we guess it's 2000 hours.
All is fair, if you need or want all those lumens! How hard you push the lamp gives you a trade-off between lamp life and brightness. Since this Panasonic PT-AR100U projector is about having plenty of brightness for a family room type environment (or a very, very, large screen), we consider its claimed lamp life to be a reasonable trade-off. If you are trying to save money on lamps - run in eco-mode. After all, if Panasonic had focused more on the lamp life, less on brightness, quite possibly 3000 hours would have been full power life, but we might have lost hundreds of lumens, so the current "eco-mode" might be brighter than "full-power" would have been. Ahh, trade-offs!
Bottom line on lamp life - Many will probably run in eco-mode, since most of the time they may not need all of the Panasonic's brightest in class (excluding cross-over projectors) lumens. Others will favor eco-mode to bring down the overall fan noise, which is discussed later. From a cost standpoint, consider how many hours a week you expect to run your projector. Lamp prices have come down, but are still typically in the $250 - $300 range. Think sort of like this: I could buy this far brighter Panasonic for a couple hundred less than say another similar projector with barely half the brightness. That other projector has a longer life lamp, but the savings on the projector's price likely will offset that lamp price difference for your first couple years, even if a fairly heavy viewer.
PT-AR100U Gaming Abilities
We will be sending this Panasonic to either Scott or Pete, our two hard core gamer bloggers (both own projectors), to let us know how the PT-AR100 performs as a gaming projector. The PT-AR100U does have a Picture mode called Game. I would assume (risky) that at least in that mode - if not others, that lag times are pretty fast. We shall see!