|Panasonic PT-L500U LCD Video Projector|
|Home Theater Front Projectors LCD Projectors|
|Written by Matthew Evert|
|Friday, 01 October 2004|
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Years ago, as home theaters were sprouting up around in homes across the globe, options for dramatic video were few. Of course there were enormous big-screen rear-projected TVs and tube sets up to 40 inches, but anything better and larger was for the mega-rich. Nowadays, there are dozens of options for those of us without a license plate frame proclaiming, “My Other Car is a Ferrari.” Many are going towards the plasma and LCD flat screens for their size and utter coolness, yet for many who want the real theater experience, anything short of 100 inches is too small and as boring as a Kenny G concert. With projectors ranging from $1,000 to a staggering $70,000 and more, the big question is how much do you need to spend on high-quality projection to get a satisfying picture?
The Panasonic PT-L500U LCD Projector is an HD-capable display and retails for $2,499, making it competitive with most of the larger sets today.
The Panasonic PT-L500U LCD projector is in rare company with the specifications it boasts, while keeping the price affordable for people not fortunate enough to be related to Donald Trump. Three seven-tenths-inch PolySi LCD panels with a native resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels are the power behind the PT-L500U picture. Although I will list a bunch of specifics throughout this review, perhaps the most important point PT-L500U’s native vertical resolution of 720 pixels. This is the minimum resolution if you want to watch high-def TV as it was meant to be.
The PT-L500U is small and somewhat boxy. It actually resembles an X-Box with a silver lens on the front. The hard plastic case is sturdy and compact. It is nearly perfectly square at eleven inches wide and ten-and-nine-sixteenths inches long. This shape (along with only being three-and-three-eighths inches tall) makes it perfect for shelf placement. The only caveat is that the two vents are on the left side (as you look at the front of the unit) and on the back panel. These vents need plenty of air circulation so that you do not overheat the unit and shorten the bulb life as a result. It weighs only six-and-a-half pounds, so mounting it on the ceiling is easy and requires only a few small screws. Panasonic thoughtfully included a padded carrying case for portability.
The control panel of the PT-L500U is located on the top of the unit and includes all the functionality of the remote. The power switch is on the side and should not be used to turn the unit on and off. Use the Standby button on the remote or the control panel instead. This will allow the unit to cool and warm properly and therefore increase the life of your bulb, according to Panasonic. The temp light on front panel will tell you if the unit is overheating and the lamplight will indicate whether it is time to replace the bulb. The onscreen menu can be accessed from the remote or the front panel, without an input signal. The remote is small and well-contoured to fit in my hand. A handy light located near the top of the remote aids operation in dark rooms. The input select buttons are the most commonly used buttons (other than power) and they are necessary to switch between different types of signal sources.
The PT-L500U LCD projector has an aspect ratio of 16:9, which is the same as that utilized by HDTV and most feature films. The PT-L500U is compatible with various video sources and picture standards (PAL, NTSC, SECAM), as well as computer graphics up to WXGA pixel resolution (compressed). The contrast ratio is 1300:1, which is not particularly high, yet very consistent with most LCD and DLP projectors.
The lamp has a brightness of 850 lumens, which is not as high as many other projectors, but depending on your room’s lighting, it should be fine for most applications. There is a high and low power mode for the bulb, the lower power setting extends the life of the bulb and allows for quieter fan operation at the expense of some luminosity. Again, with a few adjustments to the lighting in your room, this will likely not be an issue. The bulbs in high power mode will last about 2,000 hours. When you do need to replace the bulb, it will cost you about $300. By today’s standards, this is an inexpensive projector to run.
The throw distance is very flexible, depending on the size of picture you are trying to achieve. I found a distance of 10-12 feet to be optimal for the 100-inch screen I am currently referencing. This range, in the case of a 100-inch screen, is due to the lens having a manual zoom of 1 – 1.2, which allows for some good flexibility when placing the projector at the necessary distance from the screen. There is no horizontal or vertical lens shift, as with some other projectors, but there is a horizontal and vertical keystone adjustment that can be used to make slight corrections to the projected image without moving the projector itself.
Connectivity options are vast. There are many video inputs including a DVI-D input (with HDCP), a composite input, a component input, an S-Video input and a PC 15-pin connector. There is also a 12-volt trigger for synchronization, with an electronic screen if desired. The unit has retractable feet and a lens cover with leash for safekeeping. Conspicuously missing was a HDMI input.
In order to obtain maximum image quality and space optimization, I mounted the PT-L500U on the ceiling about 10 feet from my front wall. I used a PBL-UMS universal mount from Premier Mounts to securely fasten the projector to the ceiling. This mount has arms that look like spider legs that can cleverly avoid covering any cooling vents on the projector. It is important to make sure that the center of the lens is the correct distance from the ceiling and is as level as possible. The mount I used was extremely sturdy and used a swivel joint that had dozens of adjustment points. With the help of this mount, I could get the projector perfectly aligned with the screen and minimize the use of the digital keystone corrections.
For the purpose of this review, Stewart Filmscreen provided me with a 100-inch diagonal 16:9 Firehawk screen, which was utilized throughout this review. It is especially made for low-lumen output projectors with low contrast ratios. The material is gray, which helps black levels in lower contrast projectors and has little to no discernable effect on whites. Stewart makes some of the most innovative screens available, used by nearly every Audio Video Revolution reviewer in their reference systems.
The user manual of the PT-L500U is well done and provides clear instructions on projector placement for a large selection of screen sizes. Once the screen was mounted, the correct location of the projector was easily determined. I then connected a HDTV video signal to the projector and made minor corrections to the X, Y and Z axes, using the universal mount. I only needed a minor keystone adjustment, a simple task from the onscreen menu. Dozens of hue, RGB, color temperature and other settings are available within the onscreen menu of the projector for nearly limitless adjustability.