Looking for a medium-venue installation projector that checks just about all the boxes? NEC’s PA1004UL not only pumps out up to 10,000 lumens but also boasts sealed optics and a laser light engine that can mean a long and maintenance-free life.
- Bright medium-venue laser projector
- Uses NEC’s NP lens family
- Sealed optics and no dust filter
- Five-year, 20,000-hour warranty
- Most cost-effective 3LCD laser projector in its lumen class
- Lacks Wi-Fi
With the ability to blast nearly 10,000 lumens of light onto a screen, NEC's PA1004UL isn't the cheapest laser projector in its brightness class at its $17,500 price tag (without a lens). On the other hand, at this writing it's the least costly 3LCD projector in that class for those who value 3-chip color fidelity (less costly models are all single-chip DLP), while still offering attractive value in the segment overall. It has all the ports, features and abilities a school, house of worship or business could want for an auditorium, sanctuary or large conference room. And since it uses NEC's NP family of nine lenses, the transition to the PA1004UL might be a little easier than some other projectors, particularly if it's replacing an existing NEC projector. All told, it is a powerful projector that can create huge, sharp, and vibrant images.
The PA1004UL combines three 0.76-inch LCD panels and a complex laser light engine to create vivid and bright images. Its light path starts with a pair of blue diode lasers. One beam is bounced off a phosphor wheel converting it into yellow light that is combined with part of the second blue laser's beam to make green. The rest of the second laser's output creates streams of red and blue light. The red, blue and green light beams are aimed at the individual LCD panels, which use a micro lens array design to sharpen the output.
After combining the output of the three chips, the WUXGA (16:10) image projected through the lens is said to have a 10,000:1 contrast ratio and a claimed 97% of the Rec. 709 HDTV color gamut. Rated at 20,000 hours, the laser light engine can run for the equivalent of 12.5 years if it's used for eight hours a day for 200 days a year, as might be found in a learning institution. In other words, you can forget about climbing a ladder to change its lamp, potentially saving thousands of dollars in replacement costs and labor over the projector's life.
Despite its emphasis on business visuals and infographics, using the PA1004UL's Normal mode does surprisingly well at rendering photorealistic images and flesh tones. On the downside, its brightness peaks at about 9,000 lumens in Normal mode. To get closer to the projector's 10,000 lumen rating you need to use NEC's illumination Boost mode at the cost of an odd color balance that is strongly shifted to blue and green.
If you want, the projector can handle 3D imaging for showing a new design or presenting building plans to a group. You will need to wear the usual compatible 3D glasses that separate the video stream into right and left fields to simulate the illusion of depth.
As is the case with other projectors in its class, the PA1004UL doesn't include a lens. That adds between $650 and $6,600 to the projector's price tag. The good news is that there are nine different options in NEC's NP family of lenses. This can help if you're replacing an NEC projector that uses NP lenses or are able to buy one used.
I used the $2,000 NP-12ZL lens that combines manual focus and zoom with throw ratios of 1.16:1 to 1.52:1. It has a 1.3x zoom. Around its lens barrel are a ring to focus the image and a lever to adjust its size. NEC also has powered zoom and focus models as well as an innovative ultra-short throw (NP-44ML-01LK) that can fill a 10-foot diagonal screen as close as 12-inches. This makes it great for constrained spaces, such as behind the chorus in a church or a short, wide lecture hall. There's more detailed projection data for distance, image size and aspect ratio at ProjectorCentral's NEC PA1004UL throw calculator.
A bonus for projectors that will be in plain view is the PA1004UL's included lens shroud. It covers the open area between the lens barrel and the case, but doesn't work with the ultra-short lens, and is only available in black while the projector can be purchased in either a black or white case.
The projector's rear port panel provides the expected connections needed for a modern business, school or house of worship. These include one DisplayPort 1.3 and a pair of HDMI 2.0 ports with HDCP 2.2 to facilitate 4K signals which are displayed at the projector's native resolution. If your institution uses HDBaseT video, there's an RJ45 input and, unusually, an RJ45 HDBaseT output that allows up to four PA1004ULs to be easily daisy chained for a multi-projector installation (edge-blending is onboard) or for delivering video to a secondary display, such as for an overflow room. On the other hand, there's no standard HDMI or VGA output serving that function, though there is a legacy VGA input for when it's needed.
Like many in its class, the PA1004UL lacks speakers but its audio input and output jacks can connect to an external audio system. There's a 3D synchronization connector, a jack for wiring the projector to its remote control, and USB Type A and RS-232 ports. It can work with control hardware and software from Art-Net, Crestron, Extron, AMX and PJ-Link.
While the PA1004UL lacks built-in Wi-Fi for wireless data, its dedicated RJ45 gigabit Ethernet port (separate from the HDBaseT ports) makes getting the projector online a snap. It's easy to take control with an online computer by entering the projector's IP address in a browser window, allowing the operator to do anything from changing the source or adjusting the brightness to muting the audio and turning the projector off. It works just as well with a notebook as with a tablet or phone.
If you don't want the projector's warren of wires on view or wish to prevent inadvertent disconnections, NEC's $87 optional cable cover can neaten things up considerably. It snaps onto the back of the projector and can hide even the sloppiest wiring job.
Unfortunately, the projector's control panel is placed next to its exhaust, which has the potential to make its use a little uncomfortable. It includes an on/off button as well as keys for opening the Menu, selecting choices and a four-way navigation control. The projector has four LEDs for Power, Status, to indicate whether it's projecting, and an emergency light to warn the device is overheating.
Its remote control goes a lot deeper than most, with buttons for Light (changing between Normal, Boost and its two Eco modes), Shift (to move the image up or down and left or right), as well as to bring up the projector's five test patterns. It uses a pair of AAA batteries and had a range of 22 feet, but that can be extended by using an audio jumper cable to wire the remote control directly to the projector.
The projector is close to maintenance-free because its optical components are sealed and it comes without a dust filter. The only periodic work that needs to be done is to vacuum away any dirt or dust that accumulates at the input and exhaust vents. Under the surface, the PA1004UL has an innovative heat pipe design to cool the optics with a series of copper pipes that draws the heat away from the projector's delicate components and sends it to a finned radiator in the projector's back. A pair of cooling fans blow air over the radiator and out the exhaust vent.
With a five-year warranty, the PA10004UL comes with overnight replacement policy for the first year. Its illumination engine is covered for a generous 20,000 hours. This outdoes the two- and three-year warranties from competitors including Optoma, InFocus and Epson.
Make no mistake, the NEC PA1004UL is a big and heavy projector at 8.5 x 23.6 x 19.3-inches and more than 50 pounds. Plan on having at least two people on hand to safely get it into place.
In addition to four adjustable feet for setting it up in a wall nook, the PA1004UL has six threaded attachment points underneath for use with mounting hardware. It worked fine with a generic mount but NEC's $175 PA600CM kit can firmly hold the projector in place while allowing precise aiming.
Because of its laser lighting, the PA1004UL can be set at any angle, including up and down—it accommodates full 360-degree orientation in any axis. NEC recommends using its optional snap-on scoop to better pull cooling air into the projector when the projector is pointed straight down. In any event, make sure you leave 12-inches of space on each side of the projector for ventilation.
With nine NP lenses to choose from, the PA1004UL can be used in a variety of rooms, including lecture halls, houses of worship and large conference rooms. In addition to mechanical lens shifting of 50 percent up and 10 percent down, the image can be moved 20 percent right or left. In addition to horizontal and vertical keystone correction of up to 40-degrees, the projector has NEC's Cornerstone correction that lets you pull the image's corners in until it's square. Like most projectors, engaging keystone/cornerstone correction results in a loss of brightness; correcting the PA1004UL for a tilt of 15 degrees lowered the light output by 13 percent.
The PA1004UL allows both picture-in-picture as well as picture-by-picture to show two streams at once, which can come in handy on video conferences and school lab experiments. An extra bonus is the ability to swap the large and small pictures at the touch of the remote control.
The projector's menu is straightforward but many of the sections have three or four sub-pages to scroll through. A nice touch is the ability to plug a USB mouse into the PA1004UL to quickly move through menus to the right place and click on the selection.
Despite its heft and bulk, the PA1004UL was easy to set up on the test bench. It took 16.1-seconds to start up but unlike other laser projectors, it took about a full minute to ramp up to full brightness. It took a quick 8.6 seconds for the projector to shut down its fan after being turned off. It can be started with a prewired wall switch if desired or turn itself on when the projector detects a live signal.
The projector's seven Picture modes can be used to suit a variety of material. They include High-Bright, Presentation, Video, Movie, Graphic, sRBG and Dicomm Sim. A slew of individual image controls are at your fingertips, including the usual Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, Color and Tint, but also RGB White Balance controls, RGBCMY Saturation and Hue, and a mix of Color Temperature and Gamma settings. The PA1004UL can compensate for projecting onto a colored surface with settings for a whiteboard, blackboard or grayboard as well as for yellow, green, rose, pink and two shades of blue.
In its High-Bright mode, the PA1004UL delivered 8,080 lumens, although if you use the Boost mode, the output rises 15 percent to a peak brightness of 9,550 lumens that falls well within the projector's ANSI specification. As is found with the brightest mode in many projectors, engaging Boost imparts a bluish-green cast to everything, making photos look odd. If you use the Presentation mode, things look more neutral but the projector's output drops to 7,117 lumens and a blue hue remains evident. The Video and Movie settings are a bit warmer but less bright at 6,860- and 5,862-lumens. By contrast, the Graphic mode aims at infographics and put out 6,912 lumens, while the Dicomm Sim mode is for medical scans and delivered 6,632 lumens.
As far as projecting photo-realistic images goes, the PA1004UL's best setting is the sRGB mode. It delivers 6,005 lumens, about 60 percent of the projector's maximum output.
In its full-power High-Bright mode with the illumination Boost engaged, the PA1004UL used 792 watts of power as well as 0.1 watts at idle to keep the controls and networking ready to be woken up. If it's used for eight hours a day and 200 days a year, it will cost roughly $165 a year to operate, assuming the cost of electricity is the national average of 13 cents per kilowatt hour. This is its full cost because there are neither lamps nor dust filters to replace.
The PA1004UL has two ECO modes. While ECO 1 reduces output and power use by about 14 percent, ECO 2 is more frugal, lowering it another 38 percent. This brings the projector down to the level of a 5,000-lumen device, potentially saving roughly $80 a year in electricity bills.
At full blast, the PA1004UL's exhaust was 117 degrees Fahrenheit, although this declined to as low as 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit in its power-saving ECO 2 mode. This is at the cost of having two fans whirring that put out a maximum of 47.8 dBA of exhaust noise from 36 inches away in my casual measurements in a room that registered a background noise level of 33.6 dBA. Dropping to either of the ECO modes reduced that to as low as 39.7 dBA. Keep in mind that this measurement is taken closer to the projector than any students, meeting participants, or congregants are ever likely to be situated, and not suprisingly, higher than NEC's lab measurement of 35 dB. It's neither a concerning amount of noise for such a high-output projector nor likely to be of consequence in any real-world installation.
By combining a laser light engine, innovative cooling system and sealed optics, NEC's PA1004UL has created exactly what businesses, schools and houses of worship have been asking for: a bright, medium-venue projector that requires little or no maintenance. With the ability to put nearly 10,000 lumens of light on-screen, the PA1004UL will never need a lamp or filter, potentially savings a lot of money over its life.
At its $17,499 MAP/street price (without a lens), the PA1004UL falls attractively near the lower-end of the 10,000-lumen laser category. At the full 10,000 lumens rating the only cheaper projectors (according to ProjectorCentral's Find a Projector database) are single-chip DLP models (vs. the PA1004UL's 3LCD configuration), while the price for most of the competition sits above it. More to the point, none can match the NEC's class-leading five-year, 20,000-hour warranty, which, along with its filterless, no-maintenance design, makes the PA1004UL an attractive option among mid-sized venue projectors.
Brightness. In its High-Bright mode with its illumination Boost mode turned on, the PA1004UL delivered 9,550 lumens of light onto the test screen. That's 5 percent below its 10,000-lumen spec and well within the ANSI tolerance. In its Normal mode, High-Bright puts out 8,080 lumens but has better color.
The device provides the option of lowering light output to lower its carbon footprint and electricity costs. While ECO 1 lowers output by 14 percent, ECO 2 lowers it another 38 percent. At this point, its peak output is a little over 5,000 lumens, or half its full output. Along the way, its power use is reduced from 792 watts to 392.7 watts, potentially saving about $80 a year.
NEC PA1004UL ANSI Brightness Results
|MODE||BOOST||NORMAL||ECO 1||ECO 2|
Color Brightness. By using a trio of LCD imaging targets that are continuously lit, the PA1004UL exhibits relatively close white and color brightness readings. Its color brightness of 5,860 in sRGB mode was slightly below the white level of 5,940.
Zoom Lens Light Loss (from widest to maximum zoom), NP-12ZL lens: 37.1%
Brightness Uniformity, NP-12ZL lens: 90.1%
Fan Noise. The PA1004UL is more than bright enough to light up a lecture hall, church or large conference room but, not surprisingly for its lumen class, it does so at the cost of substantial noise from its cooling fan. NEC rates it at 35dB based on tests in its sound-proof room, though in casual in-room measurements the projector reached a maximum of 47.8dBA from a relatively close 36-inches in a room that has a background noise level of 33.6dBA. Using either of the ECO modes reduced this to a low of 39.7dBA. In any event, the fan noise shouldn't be an issue in any real-world installation with higher ambient noise and placement that is likely to be much further than three feet from any viewers.
- DisplayPort Version 1.3
- HDMI 2.0 (x2) with HDCP 2.2
- Computer RGB in (x2, 15-pin D-Sub)
- RS-232C Serial Port
- USB (Type A, for accessory power, mouse, service)
- Wired LAN (RJ-45)
- HD Base T In (RJ-45)
- HD Base T Out (RJ-45)
- Audio in (3.5 mm)
- Audio out (3.5mm)
- 3D Synchronization (mini DIN 3 pin)
- Remote Control extension (3.5mm)
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our NEC PA1004UL-B projector page.