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Panasonic PT-AX200U: 1080p Home Theater Projector Review - Image Quality

Posted on October 27, 2007 by Art Feierman

The Panasonic PT-AX200U Home Theater Projector: Skin Tones

This PT-AX200U, when set to Cinema 1 mode, arrived, out-of-the-box, with slightly too cool a color temperature. Once corrected (really easy), the PT-AX200U produces excellent skin tones, natural looking and I'll subjectively describe it as being rather film-like.

Quicktip: Before we start looking at photos, first, my usual warning: The photos of screen scenes are here to support the commentary, not the other way around. There is so much lost and altered info trying to get from what is projected on the screen by a projector, to your computer monitor, that everything needs to be taken with a "pound" of salt (or at least more than a few grains of salt).

Neither of my digital cameras, nor your computer monitor can begin to match the dynamic range the projector offers. The camera and displays lose a lot of info (shadow detail, create non-representative black levels, and crush whites and blacks) and also are not perfect in terms of color accuracy. Still they can be helpful when taken with the comments. Certainly, they make the review prettier, if nothing else. In the case of this Panasonic review, as with the older PT-AX100U, for some reason, I encounter difficulties with the color balance captured on my camera. Again, there is a visible shift to red. I'm not sure why, but I did something I normally shun, which is to make a minor adjustment to the images to better reflect what the projector actually projects. Enjoy!

Also, I should note, that on some displays, these images all appear too contrasty. If that's the case, adjust your monitor, or graphics card controls. On the screen, these images definitely do not look too contrasty.

We'll start with my two favorite images from standard DVD; Gandalf, and Arwen, from Lord of the Rings - Return of the King, extended edition.

Moving to hi-definition, the rest of the images on this page, (except from Sin City) are all from Blu-ray disk, using my Sony PS3. (My HD-DVD player is on vacation.)

Impressed? You should be, I certainly am. I spent a good many hours watching various movies on the PT-AX200U in the Cinema 1 mode. The AX200U never disappointed when it came to producing natural looking, film-like skin tones.

The PT-AX200U also performed well on "black and white" and sepia type tonal scenes, such as these two. The first from the beginning of Phantom of the Opera, and the second from Sin City (SD-DVD), which is basically a black and white film, sometimes looking black and white, sometimes sepia or other shades, with spot colors added for effect.

Bottom line: The Panasonic does a great job when it comes to reproducing skin tones, to provide natural realistic colors, and shades.

Panasonic PT-AX200U Black Levels and Shadow Detail

As is typical for LCD home theater projectors, the PT-AX200U cannot match the black level performance of the better DLP projectors it competes with. The PT-AX200U, however does a very good job overall, one rivaling the best under $10,000 projectors - DLP or otherwise, of just, say 3 years ago, when technology improvements such as the DLP Darkchip3, took hold. This resulted in black level performance that reached acceptable levels, so that it no longer is the most important performance criteria. I used to write that "black levels are the holy grail" of projector performance. Today, though, even low cost projectors like the PT-AX200U do a sufficiently good job at producing "blacker blacks" (blacks that come out very dark gray). As a result, other aspects of projector performance now equal or exceed the importance of black levels.

The PT-AX200U does a very respectable job on black levels, but more impressive, is its handling of shadow details. Now these two are typically closely related. If a projector can't begin to produce really dark blacks - as was typical of projectors just a few years ago, it can't reveal the dark details that are supposed to be darker than the blacks it produces. Panasonic, though, like many other projectors, deals with this electronically. The end result, is that the Panasonic happens to be excellent at shadow details, rivaling most of the far more expensive 1080p projectors out there.

Let's look:

I'll start with this image from Aeon Flux. An excellent night scene with some bright areas (which severely limit what the Panasonic's dynamic iris can do to lower black levels), the blacks come out fairly black, easy enough to watch. The shadow detail, though is really very good, with really no dark areas where all the detail is lost.

Below is a closeup of the building above. Look in the dark areas to the left of the bushes, and the lowest part of the roof, the far right, and also the darkest area between the wall and the ground in front. You'll find some details in all these very dark areas. Now, for comparison, below that image, is a similar one from the lower cost BenQ W500, which, is definitely not a good performer when it comes to shadow detail. The amount of difference between these two projectors, is nothing short of stunning.

Nothing like some good deep space scenes to show off black level performance. On these images from Space Cowboys, the blacks, overall were good, but not that ideal "inky" or "jet" black, that is ideal. There's always that awareness of a bit of gray, instead of pure black, unless the screen is extremely large, and high contrast, to lower the visibility of the blacks.

The satellite photo above looks very good, but blacks are not quite as dark - "inky black" as more expensive projectors, but do come very close to the comparably priced DLP projectors. Most of the dim stars are easily visible.

Because the PT-AX200U relies on a dynamic irs, as do almost all LCD home theater projectors, they can do a really great job of producing the "blackest blacks" on very dark scenes. Where the DLP projectors have the advantage, is on mixed scenes, where there are some very bright areas as well as very dark ones. The bright areas prevent the projector from closing down the iris to lower black levels. In all fairness, if a scene has a fair amount of those bright areas, first, the eye is drawn to, and adjusts to the bright area, and second, because of that, you are less likely to notice the slightly lighter blacks.

Time to concentrate more on the shadow area details, than the black levels of the PT-AX200U.

From Phantom of the Opera, this cavern scene is a good test of shadow details. You can also find these images on almost all reviews done in the last year, for comparison purposes. Click on the thumbnail image for a large version that is seriously (intentionally) overexposed to reveal the details that the camera loses at normal exposure. This will allow you to look at all the details in the dark areas in the walls, and ground. The frescos on the walls are easily visible, the structure of the various ducts in the walls, which are very dark, are distinguishable, which is more than a number of other projectors can claim.

Another good image is this extremely dark scene from Space Cowboys. In a room illuminated by only a single table lamp, this truly is a dark scene.

This overexposed (above) image of Clint Eastwood in Space Cowboys, reveals a respectable amount of shadow information in the wall on the right half of the image, but the blacks don't get black enough to bring out all the information. In this case, although the blacks were never inky black, the detail is excellent, rivaling far more expensive projectors. In fact, you can make out on the back wall, that you are looking at mini-blinds, and there is plenty of other detail visible.

Most impressive!

Next is an image frequently used, from Lord of the Rings. This image below is badly overexposed so you can see the details that the projector captures in the shed on the right, along the ground and the structure on the left. This image is available in most reviews done in the last couple of years. Click on the thumbnail, for an overexposed image. You can clearly see details in the shed on the right, on the posts of the open structure on the left, and along the bottom of the image.

Our last image, is the table scene from Aeon Flux (Blu-ray Dvd): The detail of the table surface itself and the shadows, are good indicators of shadow detail. The Panasonic does a good job on this image as well:

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