|Panasonic PT-L500U LCD Video Projector|
|Home Theater Front Projectors LCD Projectors|
|Written by Matthew Evert|
|Friday, 01 October 2004|
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Since this is a HD digital projector, why not start the test drive out with some HDTV source material? Using a DirecTV satellite feed, I was able to witness a concert on the new HD Bravo channel. “European Concert 1996” (2003) was a classical performance from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra visiting St. Petersburg. Included in this concert was a performance of Beethoven’s “Romance For Violin - Nos. 1 and 2.” The clarity of the picture was enthralling. The resolution of HD is a monumental improvement over regular cable NTSC feeds wherever you choose to compare them. Some of the more obvious differences are in the close-ups of the musicians and their instruments. Strings vibrating on the violins were not blurred, but rather were crisp lines that jumped out of the screen. Individual gray hairs on conductor Claudio Abbado’s head can be counted and flow through space as he jerks his body to the rhythm of the music. The deep reddish brown tones of the violins and the shiny platinum-colored flutes are examples of how the PT-L500U was able to reproduce rich, saturated colors. The resolution was good, but as I tried to read the sheet music placed in front of the clarinet player, I could not make out the individual notes the way I could with more resolute and expensive projectors. Faces of audience members could be made out in the darkness, but the images were on the faint side and not strongly detailed. This is the result of the PT-L500U’s lower contrast ratios in comparison to more expensive digital technologies like DLP, D-ILA and specifically CRT devices. Also, Abbado’s black suit was hard to isolate from the mainly dark background of the audience during some of his close-ups. Distinguishing dark images from each other is a weakness of any LCD-based projector, but this was probably one of the more extreme cases where it was a noticeable issue.
“Gladiator” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) also had some dark and murky backgrounds during the opening fight scene with the barbarians. Here the PT-L500U was challenged with displaying dark gray landscapes against the dull gunmetal armor of the Roman soldiers. In this case, the projector flourished and the Roman soldiers appeared to pop out of the screen. Gone were the issues as aforementioned with the concert footage and dark images. The moment where the archers light the gloomy gray soil with fire to ignite their arrows mesmerized me. Even as the frame was frozen to scrutinize the colors, the bright yellow flames did not spill into the gray or over-saturate the two distinct colors. Looking at the crimson shields, one will notice the golden wing-shaped emblems and how they are clearly defined despite the apparent distance from the viewer in that scene. No jagged lines were outwardly noticeable on the spears and other straight objects; everything looked pretty smooth. The black mane on the top of Maximus’s helmet contrasted beautifully against an overcast sky. Having seen this movie a dozen times on a 32-inch screen and at the movie theater, I still was amazed at how many new details I saw on my 100-inch screen with this projector. Plus, there was no snotty kid behind me kicking my seat and screaming every time a limb got hacked off.
Lastly, “Step into Liquid” (Artisan Home Entertainment) was placed into my DVD player to put the PT-L500U to the test. The footage of big wave rider Laird Hamilton tackling the 20-foot-plus waves of Pea’hi (aka “Jaws”) was breathtaking. The huge rolling waves were rich in light and dark blues and brought you into the movie. The huge crashing crests of the waves resulted in some massive spraying of white water. When I froze the screen, some pixilation in the form of little white squares was visible, but it is hard to be too critical of this. The white water crashing against the black lava rocks along the shore was stunning and rich with contrast. No rainbow effects were apparent, as with some of the DLP-based projectors out there. The rainbow effect occurs when the viewer sees short flashes of colors, especially when one’s eyes move quickly across the screen or with images with very bright and or black and white areas. If you ever wanted to learn to surf the big waves, be sure to watch the wipeout scenes on the Pipeline – ouch. I’ll stick to the six-foot San Diego waves -- thanks anyway.