1080p Home Entertainment Projector
November 1, 2011
Light output. The projector's brightest mode is Dynamic, which at default settings produces 2487 lumens on our test sample. Dynamic mode has an average color temperature around 8800K, which imparts a bluish cast to the image that may be helpful when trying to compensate for the presence of warm incandescent lighting. Dynamic mode sacrifices black level in exchange for this extreme brightness, but in ambient light black level is already compromised so this has no negative effect on apparent contrast.
The next brightest mode is Sports, which at 2312 lumens is almost indistinguishable from Dynamic, at least in terms of brightness. Sports mode has slightly better black level than Dynamic, as well as a less aggressive blue coloration. Following Sports mode is Normal mode, which bears little relation to the Normal mode appearing on other Panasonic projectors in the past. Normal mode on the AR100U produces 2067 lumens, so it is plenty bright. However, it has an average color temperature around 9000K, which makes it nearly the same as Dynamic mode minus about 20% of the brightness. Normal mode is a slightly less aggressive option that is suitable for the same kind of situations in which one would use Dynamic mode.
If you want an image preset that is both bright and color balanced, you're looking for Vivid Cinema. Vivid Cinema is plenty bright, at 1981 lumens on our test sample. It has slightly better black level performance than some of the other bright modes. What really weighs in its favor, though, is its default color calibration. Without any adjustment at all, Vivid Cinema has an average color temperature of 6400K, with the highlights a few hundred degrees lower than the shadows. Vivid Cinema mode, while great for a living room with some sort of light control, is also a good option for very large screens in darkened theater rooms. With almost 2,000 lumens at your disposal, screen sizes of 150" diagonal are attainable without the image ever looking washed-out or dim.
For more traditional home theater installations, the presets of choice are Cinema 1 and Rec709. Cinema 1, at 977 lumens, has a more consistent grayscale than Vivid Cinema with less variation between low and high IREs. Black level is considerably improved and the auto iris' function is more appreciable. Rec709, on the other hand, has a more accurate default gamut but a less accurate grayscale, at 6175K average. This means Rec709 will require a touch of calibration before it looks "correct," but those corrections are easier to make (gamut adjustments are notoriously tricky while grayscale adjustments are not). Rec709 is the mode of choice for the ambitious do-it-yourselfer who wants to take a crack at calibration.
Two things can affect light output within a given image mode: lamp power and lens position. The AR100U's 280W "red rich" lamp can be put into Eco mode, which boosts lamp life from 2,000 to 3,000 hours and cuts light output by 23% in all operating modes. The projector's 2.0:1 zoom lens will also reduce output when used at any position other than the widest angle possible (which is where all of our measurements were taken). At the longest throw distance for a given screen size, the lens will cut light output by 46%. Since the AR100U is so bright, this rarely becomes a problem in darkened theaters, though in ambient light it can be a serious concern--that 2,500 lumen Dynamic mode isn't quite so impressive when it's only putting out 1,600 lumens.
Grayscale tracking in Cinema 1 mode.
Color. These days, most home theater projectors can be calibrated to 6500K without too much trouble. The differences come in how easy it is to get there and how good the default factory calibration is. The AR100U succeeds on both of these counts. In Cinema 1, color temperature starts off around 6380K in the shadows and gradually rises to 6450K in the highlights. After several iterations of adjustments, our test sample calibrated to 6500K with the following adjustments:
As for gamut, the AR100U shows very good accuracy even without adjustment. However, those interested in calibrating the projector will be happy to hear that there are two adjustment methods. In the first method, you use an "eye dropper" to pick the color you'd like to adjust. In the second, you gain access to hue/saturation/brightness sliders for both primary and secondary colors, allowing a more direct method of fine-tuning. In any case, our CalMAN software indicated that the default gamut in Cinema 1 was accurate enough that the human eye could not detect any differences, so we left it alone.
Default color gamut, Cinema 1 preset
Contrast. In the living room, ambient light will ruin your black levels, so it is brightness that creates contrast. In this situation, the AR100U's high light output saves it from looking like a washed-out mess, and it is those same high light levels that make it a great living room projector. In the dark, though, the AR100U can still hold its own. While black levels are not the best we've seen, dynamic range sacrifices very little compared to competing projectors. The AR100U has a bright image with plenty of pop, and there is no loss of shadow detail to speak of. Gamma at default measures about 2.1, but some adjustments bring it to the proper 2.2 without much fuss. On large screens, where high black levels are less noticeable, the AR100U can be a solid home theater projector in a dark room.