Panasonic PT-AX100U Projector Review - General Performance
User Memory Settings
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
SDE and Rainbow Effect
Audible Noise Levels
Lamp Life and Replacement
Projector Screen Recommendations
PT-AX100U Home Theater Projector: User Menus
Four main menus, but most of the action is on the Picture Menu, and its sub menus. Let's start there. This image shows the main Picture Menu, and as you can see, there are a great many options. The first lets you select the preset (Cinema 1, Dynamic, Normal, etc.), and when selecting this, brings up a small menu at the bottom of the screen, and you can toggle through the 7 different presets. A minor complaint - toggling is ok, but having the full list, so you can jump directly from one to another you want, would have been better. On the other hand, the Remote does it better, as I will discuss below.
Of course the Picture menu has all the standards: Brightness, Sharpness, Color (saturation), Contrast and so on. It also has control of color temperature, and very importantly the Off/On for the Dynamic Iris, whose function is to significantly improve black levels, and provide a real improvement to overall image quality.
You can save your favorite settings into one of three Favorite settings, as discussed below in User Saveable settings.
There is also the Light Harmonizer, which if on Auto will adjust the image as room lighting changes. I didn't spend much time at all with it, but it is functional, but hardly a cure-all. The good presets, plus user saveable settings are more important.
Also on the Picture menu, is the all important Advanced submenu, which you'll use to tweak the color, if you get an easy to use calibration disk (do it)! There are extensive controls here, as you can see, for gamma color and contrast. In addition you have two different noise reduction schemes. I stuck with the defaults NR on, and MPEG NR off. That certainly worked fine for me.
The next main menu is the Position menu - with almost nothing to control by comparision, mostly, the aspect ratio, but also of note, there is an overscan control which you might need with some conventional TV if you get some noise at the top of the screen. There's also keystone correction, best avoided, especially since you have plenty of optical lens shift to work with.
The next menu gives you a choice of languages for the menus, no picture needed.
The last main menu is Options. Here you'll find all kinds of secondary goodies, relating to how the menus display, startup logo, whether you want the projector to automatically search for sources when turned on (as opposed to coming up looking for the same source as when you powered down. Projector positioning (front, ceiling, desk, etc..), and a high altitude setting for the folks in Denver, or Nepal, which runs the fan harder (and louder) to keep the projector cool. Of greatest note, however, is the lamp control for selecting normal or the not as bright Eco-mode which will stretch lamp life if you don't need the horsepower. Panasonic also provides several test patterns, a nice touch, but missing is a color bar test pattern, which would have been nice to have.
That's about it for the menus. You'll find the manual to be very helpful, with decent explanations of what all the functions do. Definitely a much better than average manual.
PT-AX100U User Memory Settings
This Panasonic offers three saveable user settings, very handy. I immediately setup one for an adjusted Dynamic mode, and another for Cinema 1. Ideally, I would have liked to see 2 or three more saveable settings, but 3's not a bad number!
This image shows the menu for saving settings, and the one for recalling a saved (Favorite) setting, looks about the same. You can, as noted elsewhere, access your Favorite settings directly from the Favorite button on the remote, or from the menus.
PT-AX100U Remote Control
The PT-AX100U has a truly excellent remote. It's small, has large buttons, well laid out with plenty of space, a pretty bright backlight, and is very easy to use with one hand, no shifting around. On top of that it's logically laid out, and lets you do what you want, quickly!
Top left, a big power button for off and on (press twice for off), and across from it, the backlite button. On the next row, the left button lets you toggle through the four "standard" preset modes (Cinema 1 and Cinema 2, Video, and Natural). The next button over does the same for the three "Bright" image modes (Vivid Cinema, Normal, and Dynamic). To its right is the Favorite button, which lets you call up the three user saveable settings.
The next row offers Aspect, 16:9, zoom, etc., The Picture Adjustment menu, which only offers a few choices (you'll need the Menus for the rest) and Color Adjustment.
Below them are the Menu and Return buttons, and then the usual 4 navigation arrow keys with an Enter button in the center.
Moving to the bottom, a Default Button (sorry never checked out exactly what that does, but I suspect it returns you from a user saveable setting, to factory defaults. According to the manual, it gives you options of what you want to reset.
Then there's a very nice Freeze button, to, of course, freeze the image on the screen (handy for my photoshoots), as well as stop action. Lastly, the bottom row has your source (Input) select, and the Sleep timer, which allows you to have the projector automatically shut off if the projector is unattended, in increments of 30 minutes, from one hour to four hours. (Great for people who fall asleep while watching!)
PT-AX100U Len Throw and Lens Shift
As previously noted, this Panasonic home theater projector offers a zoom lens with great range: 2:1. That means the closest you can place the PT-AX100U to a given size screen, is half the distance from the furthest away you could place it to fill the same screen. The previous PT-AE900U offered the same zoom range. With all that range, it offers the opportunity to most buyers, to place the projector on a rear shelf, as well as a tabletop or ceiling mounting. Generally shelf mounting is simpler and less expensive than ceiling mounting, so this is a big plus for many users. While other LCD projectors offer wide range zooms (Sanyo is also 2:1, Epson's is 1.5:1, etc.), most DLP projectors by comparison, have only 1.15:1 to 1.3:1, allowing only a 15 or maybe 30% range, not the 100% range of the Panasonic. As a result, the Panasonic will work easily in far more people's rooms.
Here are a couple of numbers, from these, you can easily figure out distances for your sized screen. If you have a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen, the closest you can Place the PT-AX100U is 10 foot 2 inches back from the screen (measured from the screen surface to the front of the lens). Or, you can place it 20 foot, 4 inches from the screen, or anywhere in between. If your screen is larger, say 110" diagonal (a popular size), since that screen is 10% larger, then just increase the distance numbers by 10%, which would make the closest about 11 foot 4.5". These numbers, by the way, are right out of the Panasonic PT-AX100U manual.
The PT-AX100U uses the same joystick control of lens shift. For those of you not familiar, this allows you to position the image higher or lower relative to the projector's placement, without ending up with keystone distortion. The PT-AX100U offers a tremendous amount of lens shift, allowing you to have the projector (measured to the center of the lens) anywhere from slightly above the top of the screen surface to slightly below. Talk about placement flexibility. Officially the range is 63%, so if you have that same 100" screen (49" tall), 50% would be even with top or bottom of the screen. With 63% that would allow you to have the lens up to about about 6 inches above the top or 6 inches below the bottom, or anywhere in between!
PT-AX100U Screen Door Effect (SDE) and Rainbow Effect
Being a 3 LCD projector, there is no rotating color wheel, thus no Rainbow Effect. Screen door effect (and pixel visibility), relates to how close you can sit to a given size image before you can spot the pixels. Thanks to Panasonic's latest smooth screen technology, in front of the LCD panels, the pixel visibility issue is basically non-existant. Normally LCD projectors have much more visible pixels than DLP, but not in this case. In fact, the pixels are far less visible than on DLP projectors, allowing you to sit significantly closer and never notice the pixels. Watching on my 128" diagonal screen, even at a mere 8 feet away, the pixels were rarely visible (and only on large bright stationary areas), and at 11 feet, I was totally unable to see them. Even with my DLP, I need to be about 14 feet back before they competely drop off my radar. This is a major breakthrough for affordable projectors.
I've got two images for you here. The one you see immediately below shows an image of the projector doing HDTV, with my cable company's Channel Guide on. Note down by the bottom center, where it says Time. If you click here, or on this image you will see a much larger image, that only looks at that area, about 1% of the total screen, and even with the huge image, you can just see the pixels. You have no idea how impressed I really am with this drastic improvement! And that's especially true because the overall image remains sharp. Not the sharpest ever (my more expensive BenQ is visibly sharper) but the Panasonic certainly provides good overall sharpness, and no pixel issue!
Only LCOS type projectors (as opposed to LCD and DLP), have less visible pixel structures, and not by much at all, if any. But, LCOS home theater projectors start at $5000, with Sony's VPL-W50. Sony calls their LCOS technology SXRD, which you may have heard of, since they tout it on their projectors, but also on many of their Big Screen TVs.
Thus, the PT-AX100U's performance in this regard (pixel visibility) is a major plus for home theater viewers, as now you can simply sit much closer and enjoy a clean image!
Minimal, a non issue, and none visible hitting the screen, where you would really care.
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Audible Noise Levels
Bingo. The PT-AX100U also excels at being quiet, very quiet. There are other projectors, even in the price range that are about as quiet as the Panasonic, when both are in their low power modes, and the noise level is insignificant. With the Panasonic PT-AX100U, however, even in full power, the projector, while noiser than low power mode, is extremely quiet. It is far quieter, for example than the Optoma HD72, or the Epson 400, which we recently reviewed, both of those are definitely noisy enough to bother some users.
PT-AX100U Projector Brightness
I've already raved about how bright this projector is. Now, I will provide you the results of my measurements. Let me state first that when measuring, the PT-AX100U was set up so the lens was in widest angle mode (allowing the largest image from any distance). This is the mode that lets the most light out of the lens. Zoom into full telephoto mode and the projector will lose some brightness - I estimate possibly up to 30%, but I'm guessing here. Obviously, with the lens in a more middle position in terms of zoom, the brightness loss will be more minimal.
This time I'd like to start with brightest mode, Dynamic. Without adjusting the settings the PT-AX100U measured a whopping 2025 lumens! Dynamic is going to be the least accurate mode in terms of color balance, contrast, color saturation etc., as manufacturers set brightest mode to do the best job under bad lighting conditions with the idea that maximum brightness is the goal. I also measured the projector in Eco (low) power mode, which saves lamp life. Eco-mode reduced brightness to 1470 lumens, a reduction of roughly 27%. This drop in brightness should be pretty consistant across all image modes.
For watching sports with a fair amount of ambient light, I mostly used the Dynamic mode to see how well the PT-AX100U could do under adverse situations. I did, however, adjust the colors, removing a fair amount of green, and making other changes, to get a more pleasing image, without sacrificing too much brightness. I didn't measure this as this was in my "theater" and I do my measurements in the "testing room". If I had to guess, my adjustments might have lowered brightness by 10% or so, to perhaps 1800 lumens or a touch less. Purely a guess, mind you!
The other bright modes: Panasonic offers two other "bright modes - Vivid Cinema (obviously for watching movies with too much room light) and Normal, which I found worked great on HDTV and TV (such as The Tonight Show, sports, Discovery HD, etc).
In Vivid Cinema mode, the PT-AX100U produced an extremely impressive (and bright) 1181 lumens (full power on the lamp) and Normal Mode was even brighter, weighing in at 1418 lumens!
Dropping down to the "more perfect" dark room modes, which provide the best pure image quality, here's what I measured:
- Cinema 1 mode: 707 lumens, ( slightly lower after I did a basic calibration on this mode - the only mode I did calibrate)
- Cinema 2 mode: 668 lumens
- Video mode: 678 lumens
- Natural mode: 709 lumens
Remember, if you don't need all that muscle (brightness), drop into low power mode, and your lamp will last longer (3000 hours vs 2000 - approximately), and the lumen count should drop about 27%. For example, that would mean Cinema 1 mode would be about 511 lumens, etc.
By any measure, that is truly bright, with the Optoma HD72, the next brightest projector, in its best mode with full lamp power measured at only 518 lumens, and close to 1400 lumens when the Optoma was pushed to the limit (and uncalbrated) Panasonic gets a WOW rating for brightness, even in its best movie modes.
To give you an idea of the relative brightness and color handling of each mode, here is a sequence of images, showing all modes, but shot with the same camera settings. Thus, the darker modes are somewhat underexposed, while the brightest are overexposed. Still this should give you a good idea.
Lamp Life and Replacement
Panasonic is a little vague on specs for lamp life, but if you read the manual, the early warning light for the lamp (assuming full power) comes on at 1800 hours and then again at 2000, which would be its normal rating. Based on that, 3000 hours should be right on the money with low power lamp use all the time.
If you are ceiling mounting the projector, you will have to unmount it to change the lamp, as is true with most, but not all home theater projectors. The good news, is that many users will choose shelf mounting instead of ceiling mounting, and then all you have to do is turn the unit upside down, unscrew the lamp door change the lamp, and flip it back over, so you are back in business.
PT-AX100U Projector Screen Recommendations
Finally, an easy projector to talk about screens with. First, it looks great on all three screens I viewed it on, the Carada Brilliant White (106"), where it was blindingly bright in its brightest modes (Dynamic, Vivid Cinema, and Normal). I also used it with the Elite HC gray ezFrame. It worked very well there too, in fact I used the Elite for most of the image shots this time (just out of convenience).
Lastly, I spent hours watching movies, football and HDTV on my 128" Firehawk, an truly excellent, but expensive high contrast light gray surface. The Firehawk was an exceptional match. The projector had the lumens even in Cinema 1 mode to fill the Firehawk with the room darkened for movie watching. The aspects of the Firehawk matched well, the Panasoniic's black levels as noted are very good, but its also very bright. The properties of the Firehawk lowered the black levels, provided a rich viewing experience, and as noted, still was sufficiently bright. (The Elite is a similar screen, but a bit lower "high contrast" and less gain, so not as bright, but less than half the price for the same sized screen).
So, in summary: Sports fans, who need the brightest image around, a white surface with gain, like the Carada Brilliant White, would be an excellent choice. A super wide viewing angle, a virtually non-existant "hot spot", and a blinding image on the screen. Movie watchers can appreciate such a screen as well, especially if you can't fully darken the room.
For purists, a surface like the Firehawk (some gain, some high contrast, but lowers black levels) is ideal. It will also reject a fair amount of side lighting (that isn't too far back). The only downside is the Firehawk (and similar screen's) narrower viewing cone - they say 28 degrees either side of center.
A screen like the Elite HC gray, Da-lite's HC Cinema Vision and other similar surfaces, can't quite match the Firehawk but do it for much less, more of an economy thing, similar but not quite as bright.
Lastly, a dark gray HC surface will also work - haven't recommended that recently. This will give you the blackest blacks, good contrast, but a narrow viewing angle, and will gobble up lumens. In this case, however, although the Panasonic PT-AX100U already has good black levels, it has more than enough horsepower to let you choose the dark gray surfaces, if you really want to knock down the blacks to their darkest, and if you are not going large on your screen (I still wouldn't recommend this type of screen if you are going much over 100" diagonal).
Gee, a projector that will work great with most screens, in most rooms. As you can see, your viewing preference (movies, vs. mixed (movies/sports/HDTV)), will be part of your choice, as well as your level of fanaticism regarding blacks. For me, I enjoyed the Firehawk the most, but each screen really worked with this projector. Consider your viewing preferences, your ambient light issues, and your seating positions, and make your best call. By the way, I particularly favor those screens with some high contrast properties of your walls are light colored, and you are by far most critical when watching movies.
On the other hand, with the 106" Carada Brilliant White, and the PT-AX100U set to Dynamic, you might find yourself looking for a pair of sunglasses! Go figure!
I really don't enjoy calibrating projectors. It takes time, and I'm not an expert, but can handle brightness, contrast and gray scale color balance. Problem is, that different controls overlap their effects, to to get a great neutral gray/white, from full white to dark levels, can take some time. Worse, not every projector gives you all the user controls you need without entering their "forbidden" service menus, where serious ISF professional calibrators play. I avoid service menus like the plague, sticking with the controls users can work with, with a basic calibration disk.
This small section is mostly for those who live to play around with their projectors.
OK, here's the interesting stuff. The Panasonic has a tendency to be cooler (color temperature) in the whites and light grays (favoring blue) and warmer (favoring red, in the darker grays). To give you an idea, the goal was to get a perfect 6500K color temperature across the board for ideal movie watching from DVD. Out of the box, in Cinema 1, the projector was overall a little too cool.
100IRE (white) 6936K
80IRE (light gray) 7107K
50 IRE (neutral gray) 6604K
30 IRE (dark gray) 6252K
After struggling a bit, I did come up with better results, but still has some of the color temperature shift. The adjustments I made, included Red Contrast +2, Red Brightness -3, and Blue Brightness -1 and here were the results:
100IRE (white) 6827K
80IRE (light gray) 6676K
50 IRE (neutral gray) 6369K
30 IRE (dark gray) 6224K
Which overall just favored red, very slightly. I used these settings for most of the images in Cinema 1 mode.
Mind you the difference between the two sets of settings is very slight. A professional calibrator I know pointed out last year, that when he goes in to calibrate a projector (that costs many hundreds of dollars), and the projector to start is not more than off by 500K, clients often want to know what they are paying him for! Of course, there are other aspects of the image besides overall color balance that a professional calibrator tunes, but the point is, my settings improved the image, but it was not a huge improvement, by any means.
At last: I found a flaw. The unit sent to me to review (brand new, not tweaked by Panasonic) had a slight shift in color from the right side of the screen to the left, with the left being slightly bluer, the right, slightly redder. This type of issue has been seen on LCD projectors in the past, including those from Panasonic, and Epson. I watched at least 8 hours of content on the projector before starting testing and calibration, and can say, that I never noticed it on movies or HDTV. When I put a full white screen up, though, there it was. The range in color temperature actually varied by almost 1000K (extreme left to extreme right) in Dynamic mode. Once spotting this while testing, I started looking for it during the next almost 15 hours of content viewing. I still found it not to be visible, except rarely, on just the right type of bright scene (white clouds across the whole top of a scene), and then, only really noticed it when looking for it.
I expect that this is something that may vary from unit to unit, and definitely do not consider it a major issue. However, it may be something to look out for. If you do notice it during casual viewing, your unit may be worse than most, and you may wish to contact Panasonic. I've got a call into their product manager, for more info, but, again, I wouldn't worry about it. This is the worst I can say about the PT-AX100U, and that means, I have no complaints with its performance!
I ran the full gamut of tests from the Silicon Optix HQV test disk, which looks at handling jaggies, image noise, motion noise, detail, cadence and how a projector handles sometimes tricky overlayed broadcast type scrolling text. The Panasonic passed all tests with no problems at all, one of the better projectors on this test so far, and I'd have to say, the best near its price range. General noise in the picture was very good, the kind you see on the sky on a non moving sunset sky shot. The only test with any issue at all was one relating to motion. It's perhaps the toughest test, and it took the Pansonic a fraction of a second to stabilize a moire' type image as the camera pans across empty stands at a race track. Still it adapted faster than any other projector I have tested recently. The PT-AX100U definitely gets an A, or maybe an A- overall.
That's it, next is a brief page on warranty, then the summary. (Got any clue, yet, as to what I think about this projector? Or, have I been too subtle?)