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OFFICIAL HTF REVIEW: PANASONIC PT-AX100U 720p FRONT PROJECTOR

Discussion in 'Displays' started by Ben_Williams, Jan 9, 2007.

  1. Ben_Williams

    Ben_Williams Second Unit

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    Panasonic PT-AX100U

    Introduction:

    For many home theater aficionados, front projection is the final frontier of the home cinema experience. When one measures screen size in feet rather than inches, it is safe to say that the true cinema experience has found its way into the home. Until recently, front projection has been too prohibitively expensive for many enthusiasts to consider. Panasonic and several other companies have just released front projectors that are entering the market at very low price points. The Panasonic PT-AX100U has a MSRP of $2999 and is available at street prices that are quite a bit below that number. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at this new breed of projectors - - both 720p and 1080p - - and how they perform in the home theater environment.

    Equipment & Methodology:

    For this series of projector reviews, the folks over at Carada have been kind enough to provide us with a 93” Criterion series Brilliant White 16x9 screen. I personally feel that Carada offers an exceptional value to those budding front projection enthusiasts who are looking for an extremely high quality fixed screen at a third the price of some of the name brands. The Carada screen is beautifully made, extremely easy to assemble and install and produces an extremely accurate image with no discernable hot spots. Customer service at Carada is also second to none. From the time my screen was custom ordered, Carada was in constant communication with me and I had the screen installed on-wall within seven days of the order being placed. If front projection is in your future, I highly recommend visiting Projection Screens - Home Theater Projector Screens by Carada for more information.

    In addition to the Carada screen, the following hardware has been used in this review:

    Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-Ray Player
    Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player
    Dish Network Vip 622 HD satellite receiver
    Denon DVD-2910
    Hdtvsupply.com HDMI Cables

    ISF Calibrator Steve Martin has joined me for the technical portions of this series of reviews. Steve is a member of the Lion Audio / Visual Consultants network. He received his ISF training in May of 2000 and has been calibrating professionally since 2001. Steve is also a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Having done all of my calibrations since 2003, Steve has always impressed me with his ability to not only get outstanding results from my Video equipment, but to walk me through the calibration process by showing me exactly what the calibration is doing to make my display achieve its best possible picture. For more information on services offered by the Lion A/V Consultants team, please visit Lion Audio/Video Consultants Welcomes You! Home theater Calibration Video Audio Display ISF Imaging science foundation Training Education Consultation Setup Video Essentials Digital video essentials Avia Extron Ideal lume Cinemaquest Cable Sencore C3.

    Steve's calibration equipment consists of:
    Colorfacts CF-6000 (Gretag Macbeth Eye-One) spectrophotometer
    Accupel HDG-3000 test pattern generator
    Colorfacts Professional 6.0 software

    Specifications and First Impressions:

    The Panasonic PT-AX100U is a pretty impressive piece of equipment right out of the box. Sporting a clean white case and an offset lens, the projector immediately blends in nicely with the white ceiling of my theater room. The projector itself is uncluttered and features basic controls for lens shift, focus and zoom. The varying degrees of both horizontal and vertical lens shift make this a very flexible projector for installation. The 2:1 zoom feature is also a very nice feature, allowing for screen sizes well over 100”. I ceiling mounted the projector 14 feet from the screen and was able to accurately frame the image within about 5 minutes using the lens shift and zoom features. As should be the case with any projector, keystone adjustments were not used to avoid any degradation of picture quality. According to Panasonic, the specs on the AX100 are as follows:

    Resolution: 1280x720 16:9 Native
    Display Technology:LCD
    Formats Supported:NTSC / PAL / SECAM - 1080p/60, 1080p/50, 1080p/24, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i
    Inputs:HDMI x 1, VGA, Component, Composite, S-Video, Serial
    Warranty:One Year

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    It was immediately clear upon setup, that this extremely bright projector would be a serious contender in any room without the greatest flexibility in light control. There are a total of seven preset picture modes set into the AX100: Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Video, Dynamic, Natural, Vivid Cinema and Normal. Dynamic offered the brightest image (possibly a good choice for sports being viewed under high ambient light conditions) and Natural seemed to be the most aesthetically pleasing for dark room movie content. Unfortunately, right out of the box, I wasn’t very impressed with the image quality being delivered. While the dreaded screen-door-effect was non-existent, the image seemed soft with a lack of fine detail and overly saturated colors. The image also had what amounted to a strange sort of fuzziness that seemed to add a bizarre texture to the picture. Most alarming, however, was a decidedly non-3D image on HD material. Either this projector was a dud, or some serious calibrating was in need.

    Objective Measurements:

    The first thing Steve set out to do for this calibration was to measure the greyscale in the various user modes of the AX100. As predicted, Natural mode was the closest to perfect 6500k, measuring in at 6450k (324x, 325y). Video mode was way off the charts at 8100k (289x, 319y). Here are the greyscale measurements, out of the box, for all the Panasonic's video modes:

    Cinema 1: 6000k (x321, y341) minus blue

    Cinema 2: 6540k (x310, y342) plus green

    Video: 8100k (x289, y319) plus blue, minus red

    Dynamic: 6940k (x301, y327) plus green

    Natural: 6450k (x314, y325) very slightly minus green

    Vivid Cinema: 5910k (x324, y338) plus red, minus blue

    Normal: 7360k (x300, y322) plus blue, minus red

    We decided that we'd focus on the Natural mode for the sake of the calibration. In taking gamma measurements of the Natural setting, Steve found a strange kink in the gamma curve that was clearly the result of the AX100's dynamic iris feature. Both Steve and I recommend disabling the dynamic iris altogether. Not only does it throw the entire gamma curve out of whack, but it does cause a visually noticeable stepping up and down of contrast levels during normal viewing. Steve puts it much more succinctly:

    "Whenever you take home a new TV - - turn off anything that says dynamic"

    This makes good sense to me as most of these types of features tend to resort to cheating in order to achieve a particular picture goal. What you end up with is an image that seems out of balance and a little skittish. We didn't notice a substantial reduction in contrast levels after disabling the iris, so there really is no reason to use this option.

    When measuring the colorspace of the AX100, Steve found an elevated green level that is very common in LCD devices. Red and blue levels were pretty close to ideal, but would still require a bit of tweaking.

    Edge enhancement was also visible in the AX100. By simply lowering the sharpness setting to its lowest level, all edge enhancement was eliminated without softening the image.

    Fortunately, the AX100 has some pretty spectacular color management controls. After about an hour of tweaking the colorspace and greyscale, Steve was able to completely correct any picture deficiencies in the Panasonic. Greyscale after calibration came in at a remarkable 6498k, while the colorspace was almost perfectly tuned to the desired and correct levels. Gamma came in nearly perfectly at 2.35, just a mere .15 off of ideal. It should be noted that gamma measured at 1.8 prior to calibration.

    Color Tracking Before:
    [​IMG]

    Gamma Before Calibration (Notice the kink caused by the dynamic Iris):
    [​IMG]

    CIE Chart Before Calibration:
    [​IMG]

    Subjective Measurements:

    So, what does all of this mean? Well, the Panasonic AX100 puts out a spectacular picture after calibration. This is, without a doubt, the most dramatic change in picture quality that I've ever seen from an ISF calibration. As if magical forces had intervened, the Panasonic now displays a marvelous sense of 3D imaging on HD material. Colors and skin tones are remarkable and that strange texture has vanished entirely from the picture. I was also extremely impressed with the scaling abilities of the AX100. Feeding it material from 480i, 480p, 1080i and 1080p/60 sources, I noticed an extreme smoothness in imagery with a complete lack of motion artifacts or upscaling issues. Obviously, this is a 720p projector, so its ability to effectively scale 1080 material from both satellite and the new HD disc formats is extremely important. Filmed and video based material presented from both Blu-Ray and HD DVD was visually astonishing for a projector in this price point. No corners were cut in the scaling department with the AX100. This projector is an amazing value and represents a new low-cost standard for front projection.

    The Final Analysis:

    A little more than a year ago, a projector of this quality would have run upwards of five to seven thousand dollars. Panasonic has produced an exceptional piece of projection equipment that will satisfy the front projection newcomer and the most seasoned home theater guru. Steve was extremely impressed with the AX100's extreme flexibility in calibration and I was equally impressed with its first-rate picture quality and extremely easy setup and installation. At a current street price of less than $2000, the Panasonic PT-AX100U shouldn't be missed if you’re building a front projection system on a budget. This projector, combined with a very competitively priced screen from Carada makes for an intro into the world of front projection for a price competitive with 50” plasma displays.

    HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

    [pge]PANASONIC PT-AX100U[/pge]
     
  2. ChrisClearman

    ChrisClearman Second Unit

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    Thanks, looks like a fantastic projector.

    Can you actually post the calibrated setting you used or do you like to promote ISF techs to do the job?
     
  3. Ben_Williams

    Ben_Williams Second Unit

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    Well, the raw settings wouldn't really do you any good as there are environmental factors that can require different settings for specific rooms. Really, an ISF calibration is the best way to address these issues.
     
  4. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    GREAT review Ben. [​IMG]
     
  5. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Chris:

    I know that the guys at Lion AV are working with some online vendors for front projection so that it includes the ISF calibration. Give Gregg Loewen (a moderator here) , Steve or any of the other guys Lion AV a call and see what you can get worked out.

    Parker
     
  6. Chad Ferguson

    Chad Ferguson Supporting Actor

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    Wish this was available with a good deal in Canada.
     
  7. Chris Gerhard

    Chris Gerhard Screenwriter

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    That is a nice review Ben, thanks. I was thinking of replacing my over two year old Panasonic PT-L500U when 1080p projectors are priced attractive, but the performance of this projector and my affection for Panasonic may mean I won't wait. I am reading of significant issues with this projector after 70 hours or so at AVSForum too and I am keeping track of the resolutions from Panasonic and conclusions there.

    Panasonic will hopefully fix any issues that are determined to need fixing.

    Chris
     
  8. Ben_Williams

    Ben_Williams Second Unit

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    Panasonic is a great company from a support standpoint. I have a lot of faith in their willingness to continue to support their own products years down the road.
     
  9. Chris Gerhard

    Chris Gerhard Screenwriter

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    I agree, Panasonic and the affiliated Matsushita brands are always at the top of my list when I am considering a purchase.

    Chris
     
  10. Jeff Savage

    Jeff Savage Second Unit

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    I have this projector and it has worked great for me so far. Nice to know Steve can work on this as he has ISF'd all my TV's so far. That is a nice bonus.

    One other feature that is fantastic is that this projector is able to use all of it's scaling modes on HD signals over both HDMI and component. This makes it sure easy to use in a constant image height system like mine.

    Laters,
    Jeff
     
  11. ChrisClearman

    ChrisClearman Second Unit

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    Really? I mean, most of the time people are watching projector systems in near dark rooms on similar size screens.

    I'm always surprised that the manufacturers don't just ISF these themselves if they are all out of the box "incorrect".

    Or do you mean that changing a setting like "Picture = 50" will not be the same on different projectors even under the same set-up conditions?
     
  12. Ben_Williams

    Ben_Williams Second Unit

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    Not necessarily. Your sceen plays a big part in the picture quality, so that one variable could completely change the settings. In a perfect one to one comparison with identical setups, the settings would be the same (in theory). But there are always variables in every room.
     
  13. Ben_Williams

    Ben_Williams Second Unit

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    So, has anyone here bought this fine projector?
     
  14. Karynak

    Karynak Stunt Coordinator

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    I am getting ready to purchase this projector, but I am hung up on the screen to buy. I have been looking at the Da-Lite Perm Wall High Contrast Cinema Vision, but I am not sure. With keeping on a budget of around $1000, what would the best 16:9 HDTV screen for the money?
     
  15. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Mathew:

    I would recommend a screen from Carada without hesitation.

    Parker
     
  16. Karynak

    Karynak Stunt Coordinator

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    Would you recommend the Brilliant White or the Grey? I think the White will perform better, but I am not very knowledgable in the screen department. I have controlled lighting and other light sources are minimal.
     
  17. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    I have heard nothing but good reviews of both but I really like the Brilliant White. Give David a call and talk to him about his recommendations. He won't over sell you. Let him know you heard about them from HTF.
     
  18. Karynak

    Karynak Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks! How would I go about contacting Dave at Carada?
     
  19. DanaA

    DanaA Screenwriter

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    Please excuse my ignorance, but...

    Okay, my Mitsubishi rear projection TV bit the dust tonight, so I immediately came over here to get information on a front projection system. I have a great audio system, but have NEVER been able to get the fullest of the sound due to the fact that I had the big Mitsubishi between my front speakers. Thus, I'm not too broken up over it breaking down tonight. Actually, I'm pretty happy about it. I have the ready cash to buy this Panasonic, as well as the recommended screen in a little hiding place.

    But, I know nothing about this technology!!!

    Will I have to get a separate tuner for TV stations or can I just plug in my Sure West cable connection?

    Will it have places to plug in my other stuff, like my preamp/processor, DVD player, etc?

    Or, will the projector have all I need (other than the screen) built in.

    Oh, one other thing, is this one of the things that you'd recommend an extended warranty for. I'm assuming Panasonic offers them.

    Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
     
  20. Parker Clack

    Parker Clack Schizophrenic Man
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    Mathew:

    Go to http://www.carda.com and ask for Dave. Tell him Parker at HTF sent you and that you wanted to talk to him about what screen would be best for your new projector. He will definitely get you hooked up with the best bang for the buck screen out there today.
     

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