This month we are publishing the first product evaluation produced by SCN's new Reviewers Roundtable. A team of industry experts led by Alan Brawn of Brawn Consulting will conduct reviews from a commercial application perspective. The Roundtable includes integrators and consultants who bring years of experience to their product testing. Look out for future contributions from this illustrious group.
Over the course of time, we've seen a lot of projectors from a lot of manufacturers come, and in some cases, thankfully go. Along the way, small, high-performance projectors have become almost ubiquitous, to the point of being taken for granted and becoming commodities. From ultra-light, 3-pound portable devices pumping out a thousand lumens, up to massive, permanent installation 30,000-lumen light howitzers, projection technology is everywhere. Evolution, not revolution has become the norm, taking a meandering path across the manufacturing landscape, providing minor improvements to already high picture quality and performance in business class projectors.
As such, it was refreshing to work with and review a unit that may not offer a plethora of revolutionary advances, but does incorporate some advanced new features in a way that makes it stand out from many of its competitors. The Panasonic PT-F100NT, one of the new F series from Panasonic Projection, offers great performance, and solid features in a package that is well designed and put together.
In fact, the first thing you notice is that this projector is well built and solidly put together. Unlike some portable projectors, that just feel very light, empty, and "plastic", the F100 felt heavy, tightly assembled, and definitely not flimsy. The F100 is also an attractively designed projector with a clean style.
Panasonic expects this unit to be placed in a high-end meeting rooms and educational institutions, and it definitely looks the part. The white finish was a refreshing departure, given the industry trends toward the old standbys of grey and black.
The F100 is definitely portable, but not overly so. It's a healthy 17 inches wide, slightly less than 5 inches tall, and a bit over 12.5 inches deep, weighing in at a solid 12.6 pounds. This is no dainty ultra-light, and it packs a powerful 3200-lumen 3-chip LCD engine under its hood. The LCD is native at 1024 x 768, and can accept input signals up to 1080i.
The F100 has a couple of interesting physical features that make it very easy to set up, and show the attention to detail that Panasonic put into this unit. First, and most noticeably, is the windowed cover across the entire front of the unit. This cover flips down to reveal the control panel, the lens, and the lens controls. The cover, when closed, places a clear window in front of the lens, allowing the system to operate with the control panel hidden and the lens protected from dust.
Opening the front cover reveals one of the unique features of the F100 series, a joystick control for the lens. This joystick forms a manual lens shift control, allowing very quick adjustment to fit the screen. A quick turn of the joystick tightens the lens down, keeping it in place. Paired with this is a slightly disappointing manual zoom control, and the manual focus control. With a price around $3,000 USD, I would have expected a power zoom, but this only slightly hampers the overall performance of the projector. This unit is obviously intended for installation, and as such, the cover and manual controls make more sense.
Along the side of the projector resides another unique feature of the F100, the automatic rolling air filter. This filter again optimizes the projector for installation, extending its life before having to be serviced. The filter unit is cartridge-based, with monitoring in the system menu, allowing it to be replaced as necessary. Coming around to the rear of the F100 projector, we arrive at the input panel. It's fairly comprehensive, offering inputs of several types. The unit is equipped with 2 VGA inputs, one of which that can be used as an output, and one each composite, S-video, and component video ins. Audio is handled by one pair of RCA inputs for the video inputs, one stereo mini audio input for each VGA input, and a variable mini plug audio output. LAN network connections and serial ports round out the input panel, along with the usual power switch and AC input.
Now, I didn't mention a DVI video input, and again I was disappointed not to see this feature on a projector of this class. Admittedly, DVI is still not a universal video signal, but it is becoming quite common on PCs, and most mid-range display devices available today handle this sort of input, either through a native DVI port, or via HDMI. Like the lack of a power zoom, this is a minor disappointment, but it sure would have been nice to see that port make it onto the unit, along with all the other details Panasonic worked into the design.
The image is crisp and bright, and setting zoom and focus are incredibly easy, due to the manual controls placed alongside the lens. Firing up the menu system shows a well-laid-out and intuitive control scheme. Everything is easy to get to and navigate, with controls labeled in a straightforward manner. The controls on the front of the projector are minimal, and the remote is well designed, keeping the button count to a minimum, with clear labeling and layout, making it as simple as possible with a device this complex. The remote also includes a laser pointer for presentation use.
I used a Samsung BDP1000 Blu-ray player, connected via component, in front of both Stewart and Draper screens, for video testing, and my Sony laptop for computer video. I set the Blu-ray player to 720p, and the laptop to the projector's native resolution. In both cases, I cannot complain about the image produced. Video was smooth, and there was a minimum of degradation from the scaling engine. PC video was spot on perfect, and the color reproduction was good. Definitely no problems here.
Overall, the Panasonic F100NT was impressive. It is cleverly designed with specific applications in mind and meant for integration and long term durability in a classroom or conference room. It offers great features across the board, and good performance, despite a couple of missing options such as the lack of a DVI input and power zoom. With several unique features and benefits this is a solid offering from Panasonic Projection, and it is a good choice for a wide variety of applications.