Let me just say right off the bat that this Panasonic projector is outstanding and if your looking for a review filled with negativity, this isn't it. We have no problem stating that we're in love the LCD-powered 720p AX100U projector and strongly believe that there isn't a better priced (or performing) unit anywhere near the $2,999 price point. Where else can you get a projector with 2x zoom lens, vertical and horizontal lens shifts, 1080p/24 compatibility, zero screen door effect and still produce an amazing picture for three grand?
DesignThe AX100U is, well, pleasant. So much so that most wives/girlfriends will not have any issue using it as a table top projector. The pearl white color isn't flashy but rather, old-world classy. Once you get past the "moo point" of the color scheme, your attention should shift to the large knob situated right next to the monstrous lens.
One of the most significant features of this projector is the flexibility it offers installers/owners thanks to its 2x zoom lens and manual lens shift. The zoom allows people to place the projector all the way across the room and still achieve a modest sized picture -- or a really big 150-inch monster. Plus, who doesn't love the control that manual adjustments offer? I can recall more than a few projectors with "computerized assisted" lenses that I can never seem to get just right but the controls on this Panasonic allowed me to easily dial in the perfect setting. Sure, other projectors offer similar schemes but Panasonic's works flawlessly, just like the included remote.
Projector remotes are usually geared more towards utility than ergonomics but AX100U remote still performs all the heavy lifting while doing it in style. The remote is thankfully backlit (why the hell don't more remotes come backlit these days - O.K. sorry about that but it needed to be said) as most projector remotes will be used when the lights are turned down. Buttons include: lighting presets, navigation controls, and direct input buttons; what more do you need? Hopefully this remote will be used only during the installation and the owner will utilize a modern day universal remote such as a Logitech Harmony or Philips Pronto, but even still, it is nice to see Panasonic spending R/D on a quality remote - even if it is going to get shoved in the remote drawer eventually.
9 out of 10
We feel for display manufacturers these days. Everybody and their brother wants/needs a certain input for some random CE device. (Everybody should just use component but that's just me) Panasonic has included the most popular modern day inputs and they should appease just about everyone. One HDMI, one component, one S-Vid/composite, one VGA, RS-232 and an IR-input. We can't grip about those and you know what, if you need more inputs than that dude, look at ether a A/V receiver with video switching (even $200 Sony's offer HD component switching these days) or a video switch box with IR/RS-232 controls.
10 out 10
Image qualityThis is the big one. If you have scrolled through the rest of my review just to get this info, first, shame on you as we spent a lot of time on this review but second, we don't blame yeah. We do the same thing but you will be pleased to know that this Panasonic projector lived up to its esteemed pedigree. Last years model (PT-AE900U) was arguably the best projector on the market for under five grand and we can honestly say, sans 1080p and rocking 720p, this projector is sweet and here is why.
Zero screen-door effect, smooth as silk picture, great blacks, bright-whites and an ambient light sensor all combine to make one heck of an image. Panasonic's built-in a propriety noise reduction, Smooth Screen ,that virtually eliminates LCDs terrible screen-door blocking. None of us have ever seen an LCD projector, rear or front, this clear and even trained eyes will think they are looking at a DLP or LCoS system - it's just that smooth. Plus, surprisingly enough, there doesn't seem to be any loss in detail 'cause normally, as you probably know, those 'smoothers' included in most HDTVS usually boost the sharpness way up and therefore royally screwing up the detail. Not this one, oh no, it works just fine and dandy. Then Panasonic threw in a light sensor that picks up on the ambient light in the room and adjusts the output accordingly. For instance if there is more light in the room, the projector will pump up the brightness to counteract automatically. Honestly the Light Harmonizer sounds like a gimmick but it works just fine and since it all happens on the the fly, I kind of forgot about it a few days into the review
Watching high-def CSI is great but watching the show on an extra large screen is breathtaking. Details pop out thanks to the vivid colors but the dark side of Las Vegas is shrouded in deep blacks and not LCDs standard bluish-gray hue. Vegas' crime lab showed all the fictional details that we're sure is absent from the 'real thing.' Even standard-def DVDs look good from this unit. We can't say they look great but show us a 84-inch display that they do look great on and we will call you a liar. But the two DVDs we fed through our Helios up-scaling DVD player looked O.K. to us but they were definitely not high definition. We truly believe that this Panasonic projector is well worth a home theater enthusiast hard earned cash. We should mention that the out of box picture is nothing worth talking about and as always, the projector needed to be calibrated.
Thankfully Datacolor's SpyderTV calibration tool comes with a tripod mount for such a job and a few minutes later, 27 to be exact, our colors were suddenly accurate. Panasonic went to great lengths when building the setup menu. There are the standard color, tint, contrast but than there are adjustments that I'm 95% what they do but, you know, not quit sure if I should use 'em. Lets just say that there is enough adjustments here to keep the videophile busy for days.
The post-calibrated picture is amazing and we can truly recommend this projector to anyone with a small or large budget. We are sure that many people on a budget will consider this unit but you know what, consider this projector even if it seems like the price is too good to be true. It's a whisper quite 720p projector that can produce a great picture. Keep in mind that resolution isn't everything and that Panasonic future proofed this unit to accept 1080p24 signals -- it will just scale 'em down to a fine looking 720p image.
9 out 10
OverallIf you are in the market for a projector of any cost, this unit is a must see. It's that good. We don't have one bad thing to say about it and the only thing I would like to see as an option is different color schemes. The pearl white is beautiful and all but a black option would be nice. Other than that, the colors are accurate, the whites are are white, the fan is quite, and there is no screen-door effect at all. Oh and you didn't forget that this unit retails for less than $3,000 right? This is one amazing projector.
9 out of 10
ZERO screen-door effect
We had to give it back