Panasonic PT-F100NTU Wireless Projector and PT-F100U Projector: Overview
7-26-2007 Art Feierman
If your requirements are for an advanced, very bright XGA projector, with wireless networking, the F100NTU LCD projector should be on your short list. The almost identical, and slightly less expensive F100U, is virtually identical, but lacks the wireless networking capabilities. There is also a third projector in the F100 series, which is a widescreen projector, The Panasonic PT-FW100NTU. I won't cover that one here, although it has the same basic feature set. If you like what you read here, but need a widescreen projector, you'll know where to look (yes, it too has the wireless/wired networking features).
With a current typical street price over $3000 (for the NTU), the F100NTU isn't for those with weak budgets. It is, however, a 3200 lumen LCD projector, and that's enough horsepower for bright conference rooms, training rooms, etc., and has plenty of power for large multi-purpose rooms, hotel ballrooms, and small auditoriums, with sufficient lighting control to keep ambient light to "moderate".
The F100 series projectors are a bit too large to be considered portable (and too heavy at almost 14 pounds), unlike the similarly bright, but smaller Epson Powerlite 1815 projector recently reviewed.
On the other hand, the F100's have some extra features that give them a big advantage over the Epson's for fixed installations, notably, full lens shift, and an automatic filter system, that drastically cuts down on maintenance, and the associated labor costs of frequently cleaning filters. Panasonic calls their system ARF - Automatic Rolling Filter. I works like it sounds. I'll discuss this in greater detail below.
What the PT-F100NTU and PT-F100U really are, are lower cost, alternative projectors to larger projectors that can accept different lenses. The F100 series does not offer lens options, but thanks to its 2:1 zoom lens, it should position easily in the majority of fixed installations. While some facilities will call very extremely short throw lenses (ie. for rear projection), or extremely long throw, that the F100's can't do, the F100's should work well in all the rest.
The PT-F100NTU, may well have the most feature laden wireless networking of any projector near or below its price, and that can be a huge plus for some corporations and educational facilities. For example, it can hook up, at the same time, to as many as 16 computers (laptops or desktops) equipped with wireless capabilities, while allowing quick switching from one computer to another. Imagine a half dozen or more people in a conference room. Click, you are looking at the output of "computer 1". Then you can toggle to see thumbnails of the screens of all the computers at one time, then choose and click, and amazing, "computer 5" is now controlling the projector, and projecting its presentation. Pretty impressive!
Panasonic PT-F100NTU and PT-F100U Projectors - Basic Specs:
MSRP: $5999, MAP (minimum advertised price): $3499
Native Resolution: XGA (1024x768)
Brightness: 3200 Lumens
Zoom Lens Ratio: 2.0:1
Lens Shift: Vertical and Horizontal
Lamp Life: 3000 hours
Weight: 13.7 pounds (F100NTU)
Warranty: 3 Years
Panasonic PT-F100NTU and PT-F100U Projectors: Physical Tour
As always, we start facing the front of the projector. The first thing different about the PT-F100 projectors is the hinged door in the front. Under normal operation, the door is closed, protecting the lens, and also covering the control panel, which is next to the lens on the left, in the front. To the right of the lens, you'll find a joystick controller for adjusting the vertical and horizontal lens shift, very similar o the one on most of Panasonic's home theater projectors like the PT-AX100U. The lens itself, has manual focus and zoom, which you can adjust from the trim rings around the lens. As noted, these Panasonic projectors have a 2:1 zoom range.
To fill a 100" (4:3 aspect ratio) diagonal screen, the front of the F100NTU (or F100U) projector can be placed as close as 9 feet 10 inches, or as far back as 19 feet 8 inches.
The control panel, as mentioned, is inside that fold down door, in the front. Starting from the left side, first is a large Power button, followed by Input (source) select, the Menu button, and a traditional four arrow key layout, with the Enter button in the center. Lastly, closest to the lens, is the Return button (which returns you to the previous menu). Between the Return button and the lens, is the front IR sensor. Closing the door hides the controls but there is a clear area (glass) so the light can shine through, while keeping dust out of the system. Panasonic states in their manual that the door should be kept closed, except when using the control panel.
There are two screw thread adjustable front feet below the front right and left of the F100 series projectors, (and a single rear foot).
Normally, next we go to the top of the projector where most projectors have their control panels. These Panasonic projectors, however, have nothing on the top, but the Panasonic name, and, along the front edge (above the control panel) are four indicator lights that can be seen from the top or front. Not surprisingly, the four indicators are Power, Lamp, Temperature, and Filter.
OK then. Next, let's go to the back and look at the PT-F100NTU's inputs and outputs.
Starting from the top left, the first connector is a standard Network connector wired networks (only on the F100NTU). Next comes the Computer 1 input, and to its right Computer 2/Out. This connector can be used for a 2nd computer input, or can be menu switched, to instead be a monitor output if needed. Continuing our quest for knowledge, next comes an S-video input and a composite video (RCA jack) below it. Then, setup vertically are 3 RCA jacks for the component video input. Lastly, comes the stereo inputs (2 RCA's) for audio supporting the video inputs.
Review continues below this advertisement.
That takes us to the second row, and back on the left. A serial connector for "command and control" to monitor or run the projector from a computer or control system. Next is a hard wire option for the remote control, for those large rooms where the projector may be more than 25-30 feet from the remote.
We're almost done here. Next comes another pair of audio inputs, for the computer's audio, and lastly, a stereo mini jack for variable audio out. This allows you to hook powered speakers to the output, and control the sound levels to those speakers (and there is an internal 3 watt speaker) with the projector's remote (or control panel). That's always a nice touch and can save some wiring costs, in an installation.
To the right of the input panel is the lamp door for replacing the lamp.
A single rear foot (in conjunction with the two adjustable front feet) gives the PT-F100NTU and PT-F100U a three point stance for stability.
The projectors also have the usual kennington lock, for security, and also a more "robust" security bar, on the bottom rear of the projector, shown here:
As with many other Panasonic projectors, the F100 series can be powered down completely, immediately. That means it can be unplugged from its power source, without having to worry about damaging the lamp. Even with all power cut to the projector, the fan will continue to run, until the projector has sufficiently cooled down. This makes their Direct Power On/Off feature viable.
We're almost done with the physical tour. The last thing to cover is the ARF filter system, an innovative design, that I expect we will see a lot more of.
The system, as mentioned above, is basically a filter on a roll, one reel feeds out the filter, another collects the "used" filter. Why bother? This is an "LCD projector thing". In the ongoing battle between DLP and LCD projectors, one item that the DLP proponents have made much noise about, is the cost of ongoing maintanence. Not breakage and warranties, but what it takes to keep a projector running.
DLP projectors typically have a "sealed lightpath" which prevents dust from getting into the system and mucking up the image. Not so LCD projectors. As a result most DLP projectors have no filters, or have a basic filter that doesn't need to be changed often at all.
Review continues below this advertisement.
Everyone knows that the lamps have to be replaced every so often, but in all but the heaviest use environment that is measured in a couple or more years. These projectors for example, used 20 hours a week, need a new lamp about every 3 years, but might need a filter cleaning or change every few months if not for the ARF system.
Imagine managing a fleet of 10 or even 50+ projectors, all ceiling mounted, all being used different amounts, for the AV or IT person responsible it would likely seem like they have to get out their ladders on a regular basis for cleaning or replacing filters in LCD projectors.
NOT with the F100 series, thanks to the rolling filter system. There are three different settings, depending on your environment (how clean the air is). As a result, depending on the setting will determine how long the ARF filter will work before it needs to be replaced. I shouldn't do this, but I assume that it should last as long as the lamp or longer, at least in the "cleanest air" setting. Afterall, if it doesnt take you from a couple months between cleanings to a couple of years, what's the point. Panasonic does not publish any numbers in their manual as to the life of one ARF unit. If I learn more, I'll update the info here.
Ultimately, it's a great idea. Anything that can eliminate a significant number of maintenance calls, has to be a major plus.