Panasonic PT-AX100U Home Theater Projector Review - Overview
9/27/2006 - Art Feierman
We have another winner! I rarely get overly enthused reviewing another $2000 home theater projector, but it does happen. The first projector of last year's crop of new models that I tested was Panasonic's PT-AE900U. It certainly was a great projector for the money, but it wasn't without some shortcomings (brightness, sharpness, and short warranty, of note). Still it was an excellent overall projector and picked up our Hot Product Award. Early this year, I was even more impressed with Optoma's HD72, which was the brightest affordable home theater projector, and produced an extremely enjoyable image to view, but, a typical DLP, it is limited as to where you can place it in your room. There were also other really good projectors in the price range, each with its own strengths (Sanyo Z4 for example provided an exceptionally sharp image).
Fast forward to this year's new batch of under $2000 projectors. Once again, Panasonic's new entry, the PT-AX100U is the first in for review. This time, I'm seeing a projector that is not just a slightly improved version of the AE900U, but rather a major step up in overall performance. In addition, it has managed to cure just about all of the minor weaknesses of its predecessor.
I'll save the rest for the content and summary, but must say, right now, the Panasonic PT-AX100U earns our Hot Product Award, for being the best overall projector yet, under $2000 selling price. It's not perfect, and a competitor or two might outperform it in some aspects, and no doubt, for certain users and viewing environments there will be another projector that might be better. Overall, though, it's going to be tough to find another projector at this price that will truly amaze virtually everyone that buys one.
Let's get started!
PT-AX100U Basic Specs
MSRP: $2999 MAP (minimum advertised price): $1999
Technology: 3LCD projector
Native Resolution: WVGA 1280x720
Brightness: 2000 lumens
Zoom Lens ratio: 2.0:1
Lens shift: Horizontal and vertical
Lamp life: 2000 hours full power, 3000 in eco-mode
Weight: 10.8 lbs.
Warranty: 1 year parts and labor
PT-AX100U Physical Tour
The first, and obvious thing about the PT-AX100U is that the projector is all white, except for the silver trim on its lens. Previous Panasonics including the PT-AE900U and PT-AE700U were silver. Most will appreciate the shift to white, it will simply work out better in most rooms!
Starting at the front of the projector, the PT-AX100U has its 2:1 ratio zoom lens mounted off center, toward the right side (when viewed from the front). Focus and zoom are handled manually by turning the outer and inner lens barrel. Further to the right is the same joystick control for vertical and horizontal lens shift, which allows the projector to be placed anywhere from slightly below the screen surface bottom, to slightly above the top of the surface. The more vertical lens shift you use, the less amount of horizontal shift you can use. In the center of the front is the front Infra-red sensor for the remote control. On the left is the fan exhaust. The PT-AX100U home theater projector pushes a hefty amount of hot air out, aimed forward and to the left, away from the lens. Believe me, if you set the projector low on a table, you won't want to be sitting near the flow of hot air, you'll probably want to be at least 4-5 feet away. Below are two screw thread adjustable front fee,t one each on the far front left and right. Having the hot air exhaust of the projector in the front allows you to shelf mount the projector, if so desired (and as many do). This layout is basically identical to the older PT-AE900U home theater projector.
Moving to the top of this Panasonic home theater projector, you will find the projector's control panel. There's a large Power button, close to the lens, and behind it the source select button (labeled Input Select). Moving to the right (looking at the top from the rear), is the menu button and then the usual four (up, down, left, right) arrow keys with the Enter button in the center. Lastly, just to the right of the arrow keys is the Return button.
On the right side (we're back to viewing the projector from the front) is the air intake for the PT-AX100U projector.
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That finally takes us to the back of the projector and its input panel. This Panasonic home theater projector is typically equipped with a single HDMI input, and the usual 3 RCA jacks for a component video signal. In between those two is a PC input. On the far left is a serial port that allows controlling the projector's settings from a computer, and on the far right are the usual lower resolution video inputs - an S-video and a composite video input. A few projectors in this price range may sport an extra component video input and less frequently a second HDMI (digital input), but the PT-AX100U has all the standard inputs. Lastly there is the power socket for the power cord (the PT-AX100U uses what is usually called the mickey mouse type power connector cord). There is a hard power switch next to it. This master switch must be turned on for the power button on the top to work, or for the remote control to power up this home theater projector. No surprises here.
The one thing missing is a rear infra-red sensor for the remote. Fortunately the remote has plenty of range, so even if it's in front of you, you should have little trouble "bouncing" the infra-red signal off of your screen to the PT-AX100U.
The Panasonic projector has a rear foot (bar) at the back for a stable 3 point stance. The rear foot is not adjustable. That concludes our tour of the projector itself. In our General Performance section we will take a close look at this Panasonic projector's remote control and its menu system.
Time to get serious and see how the Panasonic PT-AX100U home theater projector performs in terms of image quality!