1080p Home Entertainment Projector
November 1, 2011
Black level. Bright projectors often lose some black level performance, and the AR100U is no exception. Compared to other home theater projectors in its price range, the AR100U's blacks are not as deep, even in the image modes meant for dark-room home theater. While the projector's auto iris helps keep black level in check, it is not always successful, and in a truly dark environment it is easy to see the outline of the image on screen (black bars of a 2.35 movie displayed on a 16:9 screen, for example). In brighter scenes, the iris is of no help and shadows appear to push towards dark gray, rather than deep black. While not a problem in ambient light, this can become an annoyance in a darkened theater.
Frame interpolation. While the Motion Effect system does help to smooth out fast-moving scenes somewhat, it is no match for a true frame interpolation system like that on the AE7000. As the AR100U is a living room projector and sports programming benefits from FI more than just about any other type of content, this is doubly unfortunate. In addition, Panasonic has one of the smoothest, cleanest frame interpolation systems in production, so its presence is missed.
Fan noise. The AR100U's fan is not overly loud nor is it high-pitched, but it is more evident than that found on most home theater projectors. During operation fan noise tends to cycle higher and lower seemingly at random, and the transitions are easily audible. The best remedy to this is to place the AR100U away from the audience whenever possible--either far overhead, or under a low table, or even at the back of the room. If you have it on a shelf immediately behind your couch, you will likely become aware of the fan noise. You won't be conscious of it during a football game, but the whisper of the projector will be there during quiet interludes in a movie.
Digital noise. When compared to other home theater projectors in its price range, the AR100U displays an above average amount of digital noise. In fields of solid color, a subtle dancing noise is often visible, causing the picture to shimmer slightly. This effect is more often exhibited in bright areas of the image, and is also more evident in standard definition than in high definition. While the AR100U has not one, but two noise reduction circuits, they do not completely eliminate the problem. Keep in mind that driving noise reduction too hard will result in a loss of fine detail. The AR100U loses less detail than most projectors, but the loss is still evident.
Focus drift. When the AR100U first starts up, the projector needs about five minutes to warm up before it reaches peak operating levels. During this time, the projector's parts expand and shift just enough to knock focus ever so slightly out of alignment, though it is all but impossible to notice unless you are standing within a few feet of the projected image. There's a simple fix for this issue, should your projector exhibit it: allow the projector to heat up for five minutes, then adjust focus. In our tests, the focus always drifted to the same spot, so post-warmup focusing will effectively eliminate the issue.
The AR100U's connection panel
Lamp life. The AR100U has a lamp life of 2,000 hours with the lamp at full power and 3,000 hours in Eco mode. A few years ago, this was the standard. These days, with home theater projectors boasting 5,000 and even 6,000 hour lamp lives, 2,000/3,000 falls short compared to other projectors in this price range. On the other hand, projectors with longer lamp lives do not have the lumen power of the AR100U.