3LCD WUXGA Laser Projector Review
+ Excellent, high-contrast image quality for both entertainment and presentations.
+ Good placement flexibility through 1.6x zoom lens, vertical and horizontal lens shift, keystone and corner/curvature correction, and 360-degree projector orientation.
- Relatively high input lag unsuitable for fast simulations or more than casual gaming.
If you are looking for a 5,000-lumen, WUXGA (1920x1200) projector with a street price under $2,500 for conference rooms, higher-ed classrooms, museums, photo clubs, houses of worship, and other venues where a bright, high-resolution image is a must, Panasonic has just brought a prime contender to market with its new PT-VMZ50U 3LCD Laser Projector. It comes with some significant advantages including small size, light weight, and exceptional uniformity across the image.
At just under 16 pounds with dimensions of 13.75 x 15.75 x 5.25 inches, the PT-VMZ50U is unusually small and light for its brightness. This is significant when you consider that projectors in this class are often mounted high off the floor and many times on extension tubes dangling from the ceiling. If you have ever tried mounting a projector while balancing on a ladder or scaffold, the small profile and heft of the PT-VMZ50U will be appreciated.
The VMZ50U can function as a portable projector, but it will readily accommodate ceiling- or shelf-mounting thanks to its rare combination of vertical and horizontal lens shift, a 1.6x zoom ratio, and a throw ratio ranging from 1.09:1 to 1.77:1.
- WUXGA Resolution With 4K Scaling. WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution; 4K scaling allows for signals up to 4096 x 2160, 30 Hz for display at the projector's native resolution.
- Long-life Laser Light Source. 20,000 hours in Normal and Quiet modes, and up to 24,000 hours in Eco mode.
- High Brightness, 3LCD Design. The PT-VMZ50U's 3LCD architecture delivers equal color and white brightness. And in the case of our test sample, its brightest Dynamic mode measured a surprising 15% higher than the projector's 5,000-lumen rated spec.
- No Rainbow Artifacts. Another virtue of the three-panel LCD design is an absence of rainbow artifacts that can appear on some single-chip DLP projectors with a color wheel.
- Short Throw. With a minimum throw ratio of 1.09, you can place the PT-VMZ50U relatively close to the screen in rooms where front-to-back distance is limited. An 80-inch image, for example, can be thrown from as close as 6 feet, 2 inches from the screen. Total image size range is from 30 to 300 inches.
- Image Positioning Flexibility. Vertical lens shift of +44% and horizontal shift of ± 20%, along with the 1.6x zoom, provide flexibility of placement and some accommodation for mounting errors.
- Image Distortion Correction. Nearly all high-end projectors offer vertical and horizontal keystone correction, but the PT-VMZ50U complements those adjustments with corner and curvature correction for projection surfaces that are not flat.
- DIGITAL LINK Input. The same RJ-45 LAN connector on the rear panel of the PT-VMZ50U, one of two provided, can accommodate either an Ethernet network input or an HDBaseT-compliant signal.
- USB Viewer. The PT-VMZ50U's integrated USB media viewer offers broad support for file types including .jpeg, .bmp, .gif, .tiff, and .png images. Images up to 2GB can be displayed, and the viewer can address up to 1,000 images on a flash drive.
- Warranty The PT-VMZ50U is warrantied for three years or 2,500 hours of use, whichever occurs first.
In my auditions, the PT-VMZ50U put up a stunning video image with well-balanced color and even saturation across the image. Video and photo images popped with saturated color and very good color balance. (Panasonic later confirmed that the projector covers 90% of the Rec.709 color space associated with HDTV.) Highlight and shadow details had definition due, in large part, to the projector's very high 3,000,000:1 dynamic contrast rating. A hallmark of the PT-VMZ50U is its ability to enhance the clarity of background figures and scenery that would otherwise be dim or obscured by many lower contrast projectors. Flesh tones were right on the mark in Cinema Mode, and images had a satisfying luminance and striking three-dimensionality. Unlike most single-chip DLP projectors, the PT-VMZ50U's three LCD imaging devices make it immune to rainbow artifacts.
Though it hit its stride with video projection, the PT-VMZ50U was also very effective with data projection. Even at full horizontal or vertical keystone correction, small fonts were easy to read, and the image was sharp from edge-to-edge with no digital artifacts.
While it certainly functions well in medium-sized venues, don't overlook its potential versatility as a weekend DIY home theater projector, especially in rooms with high ambient light. Our test sample's Cinema Mode delivered over 5,000 lumens in Normal power mode—plenty of brightness to ensure that images do not get washed out. Where ambient light is less threatening, Cinema mode in the Eco/Quiet power setting still delivers nearly 3,500 lumens while maintaining good image quality and reducing fan noise.
The VMZ50U's on-screen menus and remote control offer substantial versatility and control. Inputs can be selected with a single button activation, and there is a shutter button that can blank the screen and turn off audio if the presenter needs to pause. Eco Mode can be selected from the remote, and unlike with many projectors, you are returned to the same menu item you previously selected when you re-activate the on-screen menu. There is even a programmable Function button that selects your choice of menu items, which is very convenient during projector set-up.
Setting up the PT-VMZ50U is simplified by a well-labeled connection panel and a versatile lens. The projector offers both a 1.6x zoom and both vertical and horizontal lens shift (0 to +44%, and +/- 20%, respectively) along with its 1.6x zoom. Keystone correction ranges from +/- 25 degrees vertical to +/- 35 degrees horizontal. That gives you a fair amount of flexibility in determining your mounting position and installing the hardware. The projector further offers the option of full 360-degree orientation. While the VMZ50U provides all the usual input connections (HDMI, VGA, USB, video, and audio), it also offers Panasonic's DIGITAL LINK interface which accommodates HDBaseT-compliant inputs for cabling runs of up to 325 feet.
The on-screen menus of the VMZ50U are extensive, but relatively easy to navigate. Image adjustments include the usual suspects (Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, Color, Tint) but also options to tune Color Temperature, Gamma, and white balance with RGB gain and offset controls (the latter appear as red, green, and blue Contrast and Brightness sliders). Along with these image control options, the PT-VMZ50U provides a custom user programmable memory in addition to its six preset modes (Dynamic, Standard, Cinema, Natural, Whiteboard, and Blackboard). As mentioned, Cinema Mode was perfect for movie content and needed no visible adjustment out-of-the-box, and Standard Mode was well calibrated for PowerPoint and document presentation. There is also a Daylight View setting in the menu that works in whatever mode you're using to correct the projector's brightness, contrast, and gamma for varying degrees of ambient light. Options include Off, one of three levels of correction, or Auto, which uses a luminance sensor on top of the projector to read the present viewing conditions and automatically select a correction setting.
Another unusual feature of the VMZ50U is its low power option: standard Eco mode or Quiet mode. In Quiet mode, image brightness is decreased by 30% and fans run at a reduced speed with illumination system life of about 20,000 hours. In standard Eco mode, brightness remains at 70%, but normal fan speed is not reduced, and illumination system life is extended to about 24,000 hours.
The 10-watt speaker built into the PT-VMZ50U is not adequate for a medium-size venue where this projector is likely to be used, but those rooms usually rely on an external sound system. The laser illumination system generates less heat than a comparably-sized lamp system, so fan noise is low and won't distract viewers regardless of where they are seated.
The PT-VMZ50U is versatile when it comes to networking and multiple projection sources. In addition to Crestron RoomView compatibility, the VMZ50U can project images from mobile devices like laptops and phones with its optional wireless dongle (part number AJ-WM50, $160—though Panasonic is offering it free with the projector's purchase through June 30, 2019). It is also capable of handling multiple computer inputs via its Network function.
The Panasonic PT-VMZ50U sets a new standard for medium-sized venue WUXGA projectors. For its 5,000-lumen brightness, it is relatively light with a small footprint. It can handle up to 4K 30p images, and its stunning video performance will impress any audience.
Its target market is medium-sized venues, but it could make a good candidate for day-to-day TV watching in a high ambient light multi-purpose room, even those where exposed windows bring in natural sunlight. (Don't expect comfortable viewing in dark rooms given its brightness, however.) For temporary set-ups, its short throw distance makes it ideal for living room get-togethers to watch anything from Aunt Louise's latest cruise ship photos to the latest 4K Blu-ray release.
The VMZ50U is priced comparably with its competitors, but its advantages give it a significant leg up in both performance and value. If its specifications for brightness meet your criteria, it's an easy recommendation.
|Review Contents:||Features, Performance, Setup, Conclusion||Connections, Measurements|
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