Panasonic PT-AX200U Home Theater Projector Review: Overview
10-27-2007 - Art Feierman
Panasonic PT-AX200U Projector Highlights:
- Brightest projector in its class
- Excellent color, film-like quality, after minor adjustments
- Enhanced modes for gamers, for superior performance with game machines like Sony PS3, PS2, X-box 360, X-box, and Nintendo Wii
- Wide range zoom lens and lens shift for easy placement on tabletop, shelf, or ceiling
- Invisible pixels thanks to Panasonic's Smooth Screen technology
- Overall, image is slightly softer than many 720p projectors
- Value proposition (price/performance) is excellent
- $1299 MAP, should represent the high, online pricing.
Reviewing the latest Panasonic 720p projector is a bit of deju vu, it seems. Every fall, Panasonic rolls out a new 720p projector, and the PT-AX200U is simply the latest. Last year it was the PT-AX100U, and before that... PT-AE900U, PT-AE700U...
PT-AX200U - This year's best seller?
I'm going to devote a few paragraphs here, on the nature of this segment of the home theater projector market, in terms of what is popular. If this bores you, just skip down to the next heading.
Every year I have to listen to Panasonic remind me that the model they are replacing has been the best selling home theater projector in the market. Every year, they proclaim that they expect the newly released Panasonic home theater projector to become the new best selling projector on the market. And, it seems, every year they are right.
So, what gives? With competition out there from plenty of major players, from the likes of Sanyo, Sony, Optoma, and Mitsubishi (to name just a few), you would think that sooner or later, a more popular projector would show up from someone else.
So before we figure out in this review, whether the Panasonic PT-AX200U should be the best seller this coming year, let's spend a few more seconds exploring why Panasonic has been dominant.
It really is fairly straightforward. Until last year, Panasonic and Sanyo seemed to be in a perpetual duel for best sales, but with the launch of the PT-AX100U and the Sanyo PLV-Z5 a year ago, finally there was a major difference separating these two LCD home theater projectors. The PT-AX100U is simply far, far brighter than the Sanyo, and that alone gave Panasonic a huge edge (which should continues with the new PT-AX200U, since Sanyo has not replaced the PLV-Z5).
As to the rest - well, brands like Optoma, BenQ and Mitsubishi, normally build DLP projectors for this low cost 720p resolution market. Since LCD models like those from Panasonic, Epson and Sanyo have far more placement flexibility, they are much easier for most people to install, or just generally "fit" into their rooms. This gives a huge selling advantage to the LCD models. And as a direct result, LCD projectors dominate sales.
Two other major players on the LCD home theater projector side, are Sony and Epson. Sony however, seems to focus most of its marketing push on its much more expensive, higher end, 1080p projectors using LCoS technology (Sony calls it SXRD), and not their more affordable LCD products.
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Epson, on the other hand, has kept their sales channel for home theater projectors very limited the past few years, but recently has dramatically expanded their lineup, and has been altering distribution. So, of the competitors, I see Epson as the most likely threat, but, it may take another year before Epson has the marketing and dealer network in place to slug it out with Panasonic, for sheer volume sales.
PT-AX200U - What's new?
Okay, enough of the marketing hype, let's get back to the PT-AX200U. Talk about deja vu, the PT-AX200U is almost identical to last year's PT-AX100U projector. In fact, there are few changes changes of note, except in the support of game machines. Other than that there are subtle improvements in areas like contrast.
In fact, Panasonic has definitely focused much of its advertising at the gamers, touting the PT-AX200U as the first and best projector for video game playing. While I'm not much of a game player. I do have a Sony PS3 - mostly to play Blu-ray discs, and an old Dreamcast, but no X-Box 360. I pop in a PS3 game every month or two, although I prefer to play my pinball machine. At the CEDIA show, I listened and saw Panasonic's demonstrations as to how they have enhanced the PT-AX200U to tremendously improve the game playing experience, but not being a hard core player, I'll have to take their word (and the testamonials of top game players like Tsquared) as to the full benefits. I'll comment more on the PT-AX200U's gaming skills for game machines like the PS3, Wii, and X-Box 360, in the General Performance page.
After saying all that, the PT-AX200U has been slightly improved as both a projector for movie watchers, and TV/HDTV/sports, and it remains the brightest home theater projector on the market under $15,000! It also features Light Harmonizer 2, an adaptation from earlier business projectors, that automatically adjusts most aspects of the image to compensate for varying room lighting conditions.
Let's take a look at the basic specs. For more detailed specs: PT-AX200U
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Panasonic PT-AX200U Projector: Basic Specs
Native Resolution: 720p (1280x720)
Brightness: 2000 lumens
Zoom Lens ratio: 2:1
Lens shift: Vertical and horizontal (manual)
Lamp life: 2000 hours full power
Weight: 10.8 lbs. (4.9kg)
Warranty: 1 Year Parts and Labor
Click here for more complete Panasonic PT-AX200U specifications and brochure.
Panasonic PT-AX200U Home Theater Projector: Physical Tour
We'll begin facing the front of the Panasonic PT-AX200U. The manual zoom lens is offset to the right side. It has a 2:1 zoom ratio, providing tremendous, front to back placement flexibility. To fill a 100" 16:9 screen, the front of the Panasonic PT-AX200U, can be as close to the screen as 10.2 feet, or as far back as 20.4 feet. This makes shelf mounting the PT-AX200U practical in almost any room. Focus and zoom are affected by rotating their respective trim rings around the lens. Just to the right of the lens is the joystick control for adjusting both vertical and horizontal lens shift. Twisting the joystick will lock your setting in place. The range of the lens shift allows the projector to be placed anywhere from below the bottom of the projector screen's surface, to above the top. Primary exhaust vents are on the front left, and blow the air out diagonally, so that hot air does not pass in front of the lens, where it could distort the projected image.
An infra-red sensor for the remote control is located in the center of the front, near the top. There are two adjustable front feet, at the far left and far right bottom.
Moving to the top of the PT-AX200U home theater projector, it is virtually identical to the older PT-AX100U. As on the older Panasonic home theater projector, the PT-AX200U has a large power button (press once for on, twice for off), in the center near the front of the projector. To its immediate right (looking at the top, from behind the projector) is the Input selector button that toggles you through the various inputs. Next is the Menu button and to its right, four arrow keys in a diamond configuration, with an Enter button in the middle of them. Near the Input and Menu buttons are three indicator lights (power, lamp, temp, etc.), and the Light Harmonizer 2 sensor, which reads room ambient light so the projector can compensate. That takes care of everything on the top of this Panasonic home theater projector.
Moving to the back, you'll find the input panel. The PT-AX200U is typically endowed, for a low cost (but not "entry level) home theater projector. There are, most importantly, two HDMI inputs and they are 1.3 compatible.
In addition, there is one other "high resolution" input, the component video input, which has the usual three color coordinated RCA jacks. You'll also find both a standard composite video, and an S-video input. There's also the traditional HD15 connector for a standard "VGA" analog computer input, and an RS-232 connector for command and control of the PT-AX200U projector from a computer, or a room control system.