The Panasonic PT-AX200U
A Versatile Home Entertainment Projector
October 2, 2007
At an official street price of $1,299, the AX200U is priced in the middle of the pack of currently popular 720p resolution projectors. Lower priced models include the Mitsubishi HC1500, the BenQ W500, the Optoma HD70, and the Acer PH530. These all have limited range 1.2x zoom lenses. Among them, only the BenQ W500 has 1080p/24 capability, and none of them have the lumen potential of the AX200U. They all have one year warranties, with the exception of the Optoma D70 which is two years. Yet for those on a tighter budget, they offer alternatives well worth considering.
Priced head to head with the AX200 at $1,299 is the Sony AW15 which is selling for street prices lower than the official price. Due to the anticipated demand for the AX200 this fall, we don't expect street prices to be too much lower than the official price for some time to come. The Sony AW15 is a good value for the money, and it has a noteworthy contrast advantage over the AX200. However, the AX200 is much brighter, the image is pixel-free, and overall offers greater versatility for ambient light home entertainment.
Popular 720p models priced above the AX200 include the Epson Cinema Home 400 and the Sanyo PLV-Z5. Each of these LCD models comes with a three-year warranty. However, the AX200 has several unique advantages that will be of interest to buyers including the pixel-free image, the highest possible lumen output, 1080p/24 compatibility, and video gamers will prefer the ease-of-use offered by the new Gaming Mode.
The most impressive attribute of the Panasonic AX200U is its beautiful rendering of HD DVD and Blu-ray. During this review the phrase "poor man's 1080p projector" kept coming to mind. If you want virtual 1080p picture quality but don't have the cash to go for an actual 1080p resolution projector, the AX200U delivers a magnificent, sharp, pixel-free high definition picture for a fraction of the price. (At $1,299 it is well over $1000 less than the cheapest 1080p projector currently on the market.)
By using the AX200 as a surrogate 1080p projector, you sacrifice a small bit of detail and precision that is really noticeable only in titles and text, and even then it is not much. You also give up some black level and contrast since all of the 1080p models on the market will outperform the AX200U on these measurements. Nevertheless, the AX200U's high definition image sparkles, and for most users the incremental advantage in contrast offered by the more expensive 1080p projectors would only be evident in side by side viewing.
Therefore, if your objective is to get a terrific HD picture on the screen for the least amount of money, one way to do that is to forego the expense of a 1080p projector, buy the AX200, and buy an HD DVD and/or Blu-ray player to go with it. Entry level HD DVD players are dropping to $199 this fall, so they are well within the reach of the mass consumer budget.
Meanwhile, the AX200 will deliver a brighter image than any of the 1080p models on the market, with the exception of the big and pricey light cannons from makers like Digital Projection and Christie. Thus, its second major advantage is its ability to outperform the competition when there is some indirect ambient light in the room. This makes family viewing of sports, television, and movies less formal and more socially interactive.
The third competitive strength of the AX200 is in the area of video gaming. Its high lumen output in Game mode, its automatic gamma adjustments to bring out shadow details, and its almost instantaneous transfer of the video image from buffer to screen all add up to a projector that is particularly well-suited to large screen, rapid action video gaming.
In short, the AX200 is one of the most versatile multi-purpose projectors we've yet seen for the home entertainment market. Last year's AX100U rated a full 5 stars across the board. The AX200 delivers even better performance at a lower price. It is a highly competitive offering in today's market and warrants another solid 5-star rating. Due to its versatility and attractive price, we expect the AX200 will be one of the hottest selling home theater projectors of the season.