$4,499 MSRP Discontinued
Its combination of compact form factor, low-maintenance laser light engine, image quality, and value put the PT-VMZ50U at the top of its class and make it a compelling option among today's WUXGA projectors.
- Unusually small and lightweight for a 5,000-lumen class laser projector.
- 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.
- Strictly manual zoom, focus, and shift adjustments may be cumbersome for ceiling-mounted projectors.
- 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.
Connections & Measurements
Connections. Along with a pair of HDMI 1.4b ports with HDCP 1.4 copyright compliance, one of the PT-VMZ50U's RJ-45 LAN connectors can function as the receiving port for a Panasonic DIGITAL LINK or other compatible HDBaseT transmitter for HDMI, audio, Ethernet, and control, over twisted-pair cable (Cat5e or higher) for runs up to 325 feet. Other highlights include two D-sub 15-pin VGA computer connections, one which can be switched to function as a monitor-out jack if desired. Audio inputs for the built-in speaker are provided, as is an audio output to support an outboard sound system.
- HDMI in (Version 1.4b, HDCP 1.4) (x2)
- VGA in
- VGA in or monitor out
- Composite video in
- 3.5 mm audio in (x2)
- L-R RCA audio in
- 3.5 mm audio out
- USB A (USB Viewer or wireless dongle)
- RJ-45 (LAN)
- RJ-45 (DIGITAL LINK or LAN)
Brightness. While the PT-VMZ50U is rated at 5,000 lumens, our test unit produced 5,750 lumens in Dynamic, its brightest mode. Eco and Quiet modes reduced brightness by about 30% while brightness dropped about 20% over the full wide to telephoto range. Preset modes produced the following brightness levels:
Brightness Uniformity. Uniformity was extremely good at approximately 91%. No hot spots were detectable in any projection mode.
Image Size and Offset. With the center of its projected image just above the centerline of the lens, the VMZ50U is well designed for ceiling or shelf mounting. The zoom lens allows for a 200-inch image to be projected from as close as approximately 15.5 feet or as far as approximately 25 feet from the screen. You can visit the Panasonic PT-VMZ5U Projection Calculator to get the range of throw distances for your screen size.
Fan Noise and Heat. Fan noise and exhaust heat are modest, with fan noise in the medium and lower frequency registers and not distracting.
Input Lag. Input lag as measured with a 1080p Bodnar lag meter was 50.1 ms, which will handle some simulations but is not fast enough for most gamers.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Panasonic PT-VMZ50U projector page.
The Panasonic PT-VMZ50U is also sold outside of the United States of America as the Panasonic PT-VMZ50E. Some specifications may be slightly different. Check with Panasonic for complete specifications.
I am.curious how a movie image from this projector, with it's high brightness and contrast ratio, with some ambient light, might compare to that of a dedicated home theater projector in a darker room. IE, how does that 3,000,000:1 ratio look compared to, say, an Epson HT LCD of a similar price with a lower theoretical contrast ratio. Does anyone actually use any of these business laser projectors for home theater? Does Panasonic have any plans to bring out a less bright laser LCD home theater unit at some point?
First, the exceptionally high brightness tends to run across all the viewing modes, so although some will offer less or much less than the full lumen output of the projector, even the dimmest mode will often be too bright for dark-room viewing. So although these might be powerhouse projectors for watching sports or the news on a big screen in a bright room with sunlight streaming in, they might not be suitable at all for dark-room theater use.
Second, few commercial projectors offer a truly accurate viewing mode out of the box for the Rec709 color space and D65 white point we most desire for standard HDTV home theater movie content. Sometimes they come close, and sometimes you have the adjustments to tune them in with professional calibration tools. This projector happens to have two default color temp settings, with the low setting at 7700, which isn't terribly far off (just a bit more blue), and it also offers white balance gain and offset controls that might allow that to be honed in further.
Third, while most better home theater projectors target full Rec709 color gamut, this is less critical for commercial projectors, which may therefore sacrifice some color space. This particular Panasonic covers 90% of Rec.709, which is also pretty good.
You can read more about how these projectors differ from classic HT models and what we found when we tested a few in Part 1 and Part 2 of this article.
Regarding contrast, you can't really judge the numbers from one manufacturer to the next, unfortunately. But one thing about a projector rated at 5,000 lumens is that it has plenty of brightness to overcome the sacrifice of brightness that traditionally comes with ALR screens, while still preserving their boost in black level/contrast. That said, you should never expect to see black levels and overall contrast in ambient light that you could get in a dark room. Black on a projector is the absence of light on the screen, and you'll always have some in ambient light.
Last, Panasonic left the home projector market a long while ago now, and we have no information to suggest they'll be coming back to it any time soon.
Working with projectors in a university setting I'm surprised at how good films look on some recent business projectors when they are occasionally used for viewing them, though I haven't seen laser light projectors except in advertising and museum displays. The brightness and reliability is appealing for home use also.
Thanks again for all the fascinating articles.
My gut is to recommend you look into a traditional 4K/UHD home theater projector for your $2,500 budget. Ultimately, your brightness needs will depend on your required throw distance from lens to screen, your image size, and the screen material. I'd suggest you have that information at hand and call one of the projector resellers you'll find at the Where to Buy a Projector link on our homepage to have them walk you through some options.