Panasonic PT-AX200U Home Theater Projector Review - General Performance
Before we get started with the various topics here, I want to discuss some of the PT-AX200U's special features.
Dynamic Iris: Panasonic's Dynamic Iris, which you normally want on for movie watching, is multi-functional. It not only dynamically adjusts the lens' iris frame by frame, but also controls lamp brightness dynamically, and according to the literature, adjusts the gamma on the fly, as well.
Light Harmonizer 2: If engaged, this will adjust the image as room lighting changes. Someone turns on a light, and the picture adapts. I barely spent any time with this, and didn't find it annoying. Most of us won't have significant lighting changes while watching normally, so I don't know how valuable it is to most people. It is an interesting feature that some may like.
Panasonic PT-AX200U Game Mode:
This is what Panasonic has been hyping about the PT-AX200U. It has been optimized for gaming (in addition to movies and TV).
Thanks to special processing any lag time is minimized.
Equally important, gamma and color tables are in place to solve the problem of images being way too dark. A great many of today's games, from the Halo to the Resident Evil, and everything in between, are very dark. Since projectors aren't as bright as say a regular TV or Plasma, the darker part of scenes tends to get way too dark, and detail is lost. Panasonic has addressed this, and has demonstrated the difference at CEDIA. No question about it, those game scenes with areas too dark to make out, in other modes, are very watchable in Game mode.
Panasonic provides these images to show their claimed difference. The image on the left is from the PT-AX200U, the one on the right, typical of the competition:
Panasonic PT-AX200U Menus
PT-AX200U User Memory Settings
PT-AX200U Remote Control
Lens Throw and Lens Shift, Pixel Structure...
SDE and Rainbow Effect
PT-AX200U Projector Brightness
AX200U Audible Noise Levels
Projector Screen Recommendations
Panasonic PT-AX200U Menus
The main image control menu is the Picture menu, shown here. The Picture Mode menu, lets you select from a wide range of presets for movie viewing, TV, and dynamic modes designed to cut through rather impressive amounts of ambient light. (Vivid Cinema, Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Natural, Normal, Game, and Dynamic.)
In addition, there are the usual brightness, contrast, color, tint, sharpness, and color temperature. There are other color management options as well.
Of note, there is also the Light Harmonizer function, where the sensor on the top of the projector adjusts many of the picture attributes to compensate for different ambient light levels.
From the Picture menu, you can select the Advanced menu, shown here. This is the area where we perform our grayscale adjustments.
There is the Position menu which handles adjustments to computer images if the auto sync isn't perfect, and other functions as well. The Function menu lets you assign one function to the programmable "Favorite" key on the PT-AX200U's remote control. When you select the Function menu, you can choose from any of the seven Presets, for the Function button (Cinema 1, Dynamic, etc, or any of about a dozen other functions including different sources, light harmonizer, or a favorite saved setting).
There is also the usual Language menu for selecting your favorite language for the menus.
That brings us to our last menu, the Option menu, which, like the Picture Menu, contains a number of important controls. It lets you control position of the menus, and their translucency, the background color when there is no source signal, and allows you to place a startup logo (Bob's Theater?) You can also set whether the projector will start back up selecting the last source used, or to auto scan for active sources.
But most importantly, you set the orientation (front, rear, ceiling, table), the auto sleep function (shuts off the projector if no source), and, of course, lamp power, either full power, or eco-mode. There is also a test pattern option.
PT-AX200U User Memory Settings
If there's one thing Panasonic does with plenty to spare, it is provide user savable settings. The PT-AX200U offers 8 savable settings, which is more than just about anyone will need. Better, though to have a couple to spare, than too few. Generally I consider 3 to be just barely acceptable, 4 is better, and having 7, 8, or 9, to be downright generous. You save your favorite settings from the option on the Picture menu (which opens up the list of all of them), and retrieve them the same way.
PT-AX200U Projector - Remote Control
Panasonic has changed the remote control, from the learning remote on previous models, to a smaller, compact, and easy to use remote. It definitely has far less buttons. Despite missing a few features, I really like this remote.
From the top: A red power button (press once to power up, and twice to shut down). Opposite it, is the backlight button.
Please note, the backlight on the Panasonic PT-AX200U is about the brightest I've ever seen, and the labels on each button are large and easy to read. Almost all of the competition can learn from Panasonic in this regard.
OK, the next two rows have lots of goodies, and an interesting scheme.
On the left is a button marked Theater Room, and it lets you toggle through all the Presets designed for darkened rooms. Cinema 1, 2, and Natural. Next to that button, in the center, is the Livingroom button. It toggles you through the Presets, that would be used in rooms with ambient light: Vivid Cinema, Normal, Game, and Dynamic.
Favorite, as mentioned, lets you bring up the one mode or other feature you want to set as your "favorite."
The next row gives you control of aspect ratio, Picture Adjust lets you toggle through all presets, and Color Management lets you access some specialty color managment profiles that you can create.
Next comes the Menu and Return buttons, and immediately below, the four arrow keys with a center Enter button.
Down at the bottom is a Default button, a Freeze (frame), the Input Select (source select), and a Function button.
Many remotes have more buttons and features, so that you don't have to access items from the menus, or can select a particular source, or Preset, but overall, the Panasonic keeps things simple. You might have to go an extra step, but they sure make it easy. Definitely a favorite remote.
PT-AX200U Lens Throw and Lens Shift
The PT-AX200U has a 2:1 zoom lens, which is "classic" for many LCD projectors. This provides exceptional placement flexibility, and means you'll be able to table, ceiling or shelf mount your projector in almost any room.
To fill a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen, the front of the projector needs to be between 10 feet 2 inches and 20 feet 4 inches.
The Panasonic has extensive vertical and horizontal lens shift. For that same 100" diagonal 16:9 screen, you can position the projector anywhere from about 6 inches below the bottom of the screen surface, to 6 inches above the top.
A few LCD projectors offer even more vertical lens shift, which is, of course nice, but the Panaonic has all most people would need. The only real advantage to having more lens shift, would be for those with high ceilings who want to ceiling mount. With more lens shift, the projector would not have to hang down as far from the ceiling.
The PT-AX200U uses a joystick to adjust the vertical and horizontal lens shift. Understand, few need horizontal lens shift (only if you can't mount your projector centered with the screen, horizontally), but if you do need horizontal, the more horizontal you use, the less vertical is available. The numbers above, assume no horizontal lens shift is used. If you only need a few inches of horizontal shift, it will have very little effect on vertical lens shift.
Panasonic PT-AX200U SDE and Rainbow Effect, Pixel Visibility
The PT-AX200U, thanks to its Smooth Screen technology, has pixels so invisible that you'll have to get within a couple or three feet (or so) of a 100 inch screen to even see them. As a result there is no screen door effect visible at anything even remotely considered normal seating distance. If you like to sit 3 feet from a 100 inch screen, sure it's there, but then it would be far, far worse on any other 720p projector on the market.
Since this is an LCD projector, there is no spinning color filter wheel, and no rainbow effect.
Well, you can't beat the PT-AX200U, in this regard.
As mentioned, the pixel structure is invisible at normal seating, however this is a 3LCD projector, and that means convergence of the image from the three LCD panels, can be off. On this PT-AX200U, they are off, but not enough to spot during normal viewing.
This image shows the red panel being a little low, blue high. Left to right convergence is better. Most importantly, though this looks pretty bad in this image or the larger one if you click, you still can't see this much misconvergence in your favorite seat.
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Another issue that has affected LCD projectors, relating to the 3 LCD panels, is having the projector be consistent in color from one side to the other. Sometimes there are shifts so that some of the left side of the screen might be warmer (more reds) than the left side. We saw that in the original PT-AX100U review (which was a pre-production version), but not in a follow up piece. As you can see from this image below, however, this Panasonic is consistent from edge to edge.
Panasonic PT-AX200U Projector Brightness
The PT-AX200U is simply the brightest 720p projector on the market, except for some $8000 to $40,000 3 chip DLP projectors. Since even the least exepensive, the InFocus SP777 - a huge 3 chip DLP, is only slightly brighter, and more than six times the price... let's just say that the PT-AX200U is the brightest projector around.
How really bright is the Panasonic PT-AX200U?
With all those Preset modes, there is a wide range of brightness measurements to report. Because of the 2:1 zoom ratio, and the nature of optics, the Panasonic (or any other projector), will be significantly brighter when the lens is in its widest angle mode (largest image from a given distance). The difference between full wide angle and full telephoto, is roughly twice as bright. In positioning the projector in my testing room, it was set up, with the lens just slightly on the telephoto side of middle. As a result an extra 30+ percent more lumens should be available in full wide angle, and about 30% less in full telephoto. As a side note, the fact that this projector was set a little more telephoto than the PT-AX100U when it was tested last year, probably explains why many of the measurements came in around 10% less. Theoretically, both should have the same brightness.
The PT-AX200U's Cinema 1 mode we used for most all movie viewing, with the lamp at full power, managed 672 lumens, before adjustment. In Eco-mode, that drops to 592 lumens, a drop of only about 12%. That 12% should be similar in any mode.
After we did our adjustments to Cinema 1 for better grayscale balance, the PT-AX200U's output drops to 536 lumens, still brighter than just about anything else out there at 720p resolution.
Cinema 2 mode, which I really didn't work with, produced a native 498 lumens.
Natural (a dark room mode primarily for TV/HDTV), manages 671 lumens.
What the PT-AX200U is about, or rather, what separates it from the competition, is how it performs in rooms that are not fully darkened. It is the best projector in its class for dealing with ambient light.
For movie watching when it's not dark, Panasonic provides the Vivid Cinema mode. Not as film-like, nor as perfect overall as Cinema 1, but it still does a nice job on movies. The Vivid Cinema mode cranks out 1110 lumens! That's two to three times the brightness of most other projectors brighter movie modes. I spent a fair amount of time watching this mode, and it is very respectable, if you are not a perfectionist. It certainly can't compare to Cinema 1, but it really makes a difference with a modest amount of light in the room.
There are even brighter modes of course.
Normal, ideal for standard TV/HDTV/Sports viewing, measured 1388 lumens!!! It's the mode I'm in, as I write this page, while also watching an HDTV college football in the background.
Still not impressed, I've got 2 more modes for you.
Game: For video gamers, is almost as bright at 1287 lumens
And finally, for sheer horsepower, Dynamic Mode. Definitely not the best color balance, with too much green (as is typical for projectors in their brightest modes), but an impressive 1771 lumens.
In an attempt to see how many lumens I could generate, by adjusting brightness, contrast, and other settings, and I was able to get Dynamic up to 2361 lumens!
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PT-AX200U Projector - Light Leakage
The PT-AX200U is very clean, when it comes to light leakage. There is no leakage worthy of note through the lens, and only very minor amounts from the vents. Bottom line: No issue here.
Panasonic PT-AX200U Audible Noise Levels
The Panasonic definitely isn't the quietest projector around, and is noisier than most of the LCD competition (the Epson being an exception). Still, the Panasonic PT-AX200U is quieter than any of the competing DLP projectors. Overall noise levels are fine for almost everyone. Even full power mode should not bother any but the most fan noise intolerant folks. Panasonic claims 25 db in Eco-mode, which is very believable, and, based on that number I would put it just under 30 db with lamp on full. Most DLP projectors come in at a noisier 31-33 db in their full power modes.
PT-AX200U Projector Screen Recommendations
Thanks to all those lumens to spare, you have a lot of options when it comes to screens. The first decision will be screen size. The Panasonic can handle some rather large screens. The PT-AX200U filled my 128" Firehawk in Cinema 1 mode without difficulty, and in Vivid Cinema, could handle a significantly larger screen if you are willing to compromise from "best picture quality", and still have very respectable movie viewing.
No worries for smaller screens either. You've got the Lamp Eco-mode to dim Cinema 1 down, if needed. I would say, though, that 92" diagonal might be a bit small, in a fully darkened room.
I really like the Firehawk, and could also recommend most High Contrast Gray surfaced screens. They will lower the black levels, taking respectable performance to still another level. These screens will also help out if you have side ambient lighting.
As I said, that works nicely, even at the 128" size.
For those, however, with significant general ambient light, and/or a very large screen, a white surface with gain, may be your preference. I found the Carada Brilliant White surfaced screen (a claimed 1.4 gain) that I use in my testing room to be almost, but not quite, too bright at its 106" screen size. But then, all that brightness was killer on sports, at that size, giving you that plasma display type of brightness. I could watch a pretty good looking image, washed out only a little, with four overhead recessed lights on full.
To clarify, in the middle sizes, say over 100" and less than 130" diagonal, you'll have to consider your ambient lighting, and your quest for best black levels, and choose the screen for you, remembering that with the lower end of that range, the blacks are going to start being a medium dark gray, with a plus gain screen.
PT-AX200U Projector Measurements and Calibration
The Panasonic PT-AX200U was off the ideal target of 6500K temperature in all of its Cinema modes, but correcting the problem was simple.
Cinema 1 mode, out of the box, was somewhat "cool" (bluish), with white measuring at 6999K. The gray points I measure looked like this:
80IRE (light gray) 6950K
50IRE (medium gray) 6890K
30IRE (dark gray) 7215K
Tuning Cinema 1.
As it turns out, for Cinema 1, all it took was going to the main Picture menu, and turning the Color Temp control down to -2. That yielded excellent numbers, very close to an ideal D65 setup:
Cinema 2 measured 7743K at white (100IRE), also too cool.
Vivid Cinema was more similar to Cinema 1 but with with a wider difference in color balance between brightest and lowest, in fact almost 1000K range:
Fortunately, the Panasonic has plenty of color management controls, and should be able to tighten that up quite a bit.
Moving to the non-movie modes:
Natural: 100IRE 7697K (very good!)
Normal: 100IRE 8427K (a bit cool, setting Color Temp to -1 works well) Normal is your primary Preset for TV/HDTV/Sports viewing.
Game: 100IRE 9056K. Not being a gamer, I'm not sure, but suspect that the default color temperature is too cool.
Dynamic: 100IRE 7091K. This was surprisingly warm, and would call for a minor adjustment such as moving color temp to +1. Remember though, this mode is all about brightness, not color accuracy. It is also very strong on greens, which, if you knock them down about halfway to where they should be, gives you a much more perfect picture quality, while only giving up a couple hundred lumens.
Overall, I found color saturation to be just a touch too much. However, that is easy to adjust, but then I do most of my watching on the Firehawk whose contrast does have that tendency.
PT-AX200U Image Noise
The Panasonic does fine here. I ran the Silicon Optix HQV 1080 disk on the Panasonic. In doing so, I was feeding a 1080p signal to the Panny, so it was converting to its native 720p. Motion artifacts tested very well, and response was pretty fast. There were no issues with jaggies. With the noise filter off (as I always have it when reviewing), general image noise levels were low, lower than the typical DLP projector.
I should note that the PT-AX200U, supports 1080p 24fps, so when it has such a source, as we are starting to see on Blu-ray discs, they do not need to use 3:2 pulldown, providing smoother motion on movies. While almost all new 1080p projectors are supporting 24fps, many 720p projectors do not.