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Which is best? Panasonic PT-L300U vs. InFocus X1

Two of the finest video projectors selling for under $2,000 are the Panasonic PT-L300U and the InFocus X1. The L300U is selling for about $500 more than the X1 on the street. So we've received a lot of email asking whether the L300U is worth the extra money? To answer this question, let's take a look at the advantages of each.

First, let's be clear up front that the L300U and the X1 are two entirely different types of machines. The L300U is an LCD projector, while the X1 uses a DLP chip. (For a review of the differences between LCD and DLP, read this article.)

Second, the L300 has a native 16:9 format with the 960x540 resolution. This is known as 1/4 HD because it is 50% of the native 1920x1080 HDTV format in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions. The advantage is exceptionally clean scaling of 1080i HDTV. Meanwhile, the X1 is a native 4:3 format unit with SVGA (800x600) resolution. However, it can be used as a 16:9 projector also. In 16:9 mode it operates with an 800x450 pixel matrix. The remaining 150 lines of the total 600 consist of non-image black bars. So for 16:9 operation, you could set it up on a 16:9 screen with the black bars falling off the top and bottom edges of the screen.

As you can see then, the L300U has an advantage over the X1 in the number of pixels it uses to display a 16:9 image-960x540 vs. 800x450. For widescreen DVD material this doesn't amount to a big difference. Native DVD format is 720x480, so with either projector the source material needs to be rescaled to fit the format of the display. Both projectors have very good scalers onboard, and the final image acuity is quite similar.

However, for 1080i HDTV, the L300 has an advantage due to the ease with which that format can be scaled into 960x540.Therefore, though HDTV 1080i looks amazingly good on the X1, the L300 delivers 1080i with somewhat better image sharpness and detail.

Image sharpness is not all there is to good video however. Contrast and shadow detail are also key elements in the ideal video image. And here the X1 has a clear advantage over the L300. DLP technology in general outperforms LCD in contrast. Shadows, or low light portions of the image, tend to have better separation of subject matter. The X1, with a contrast rating of 2000:1, outperforms the L300U (800:1) in these important aspects.

Related to contrast is color saturation, which is very good on the L300U, but better on the X1. And the X1 has a slight edge in color accuracy. Both are overall very good, but the L300 has a subtle orange bias in the red channel that we did not see on the X1.

For those mostly concerned about fan noise, the L300U is your machine. This unit is one of the quietest projectors we've seen recently. The X1's fan noise is what we describe as low to moderate-not obtrusive or shrill, and easy to become unconscious of. However it is definitely more of an audible presence than the L300U. Keep in mind also that the X1 has a fan on the power supply which continues to run even when the unit is powered down. This produces a very low but audible hum in an otherwise silent room. In order to shut it off you need to kill the power to the unit. The L300U does not do this.

One cannot do an "LCD vs. DLP" product comparison without mentioning the DLP rainbow phenomenon. On any DLP projector, due to the sequential color updating of the spinning red, green, blue color wheel, some people can detect artifacts on the screen that look like rainbows. The faster the color wheel spins, the less susceptible folks are to the phenomenon. So higher priced DLP products for home theater have 4x and 5x speed wheels that minimize this artifact. However, the X1 has a standard 2x speed wheel.

How many folks are bothered by DLP rainbows? Nobody has any scientific data that we are aware of. But based upon our latest compilation of anecdotal feedback from around the industry, we suspect that about 20% of the viewing population will see rainbows on any DLP projector with a 2x wheel, including the X1. This artifact does not occur at all on the L300, or indeed any LCD-based projector. So if you or other frequent viewers in your home theater are among those who are sensitive to DLP rainbow artifacts, this by itself may be enough to tip the scales in favor of the L300U.

Visible pixelation is another area of concern in the selection of a projector. LCDs have been notorious for this problem in the past, and SVGA resolution projectors tend to have more pixelation than higher resolution units. Panasonic made a significant breakthrough with the L300 however. This machine has no visible pixel structure from a viewing distance of 1.5x the screen width. Conversely, even though the X1 is a DLP machine, the lower SVGA resolution results in some subtle pixelation that is most apparent in text, credits, and subtitles. So while the X1 has nowhere near the screendoor effect of a typical SVGA resolution LCD projector, all things considered the L300 has the edge in pixel free viewing from closer distances. This becomes a non-issue in comparing these projectors if you are planning to view from a distance of 2x the screen width or more.

In our review of the X1 we recommended an ideal 16:9 screen size of 80" to 90" diagonal. You can stretch it farther than this certainly (it looked great on our 100" Grayhawk), but you get the best image from the X1 if you don't stretch it too far. The same is true of the L300U. But due to its higher resolution and lower pixelation, it can be stretched to 100" or more without suffering quite as serious a compromise.

If you are planning to install no more than a 90" screen, and especially if you are planning to view from a distance of twice the screen width, the lower resolution of the X1 is less of a competitive issue, and its advantages in contrast, shadow detail, and color saturation (as well as the obvious price difference) will make it the better choice for you.

Conclusion

It is simply not appropriate to say that either the L300U or the X1 is the "better" projector. They are both are outstanding values for the money. The objective of this overview has been to help you focus on the relative strengths of each of them, so you can get a good sense of which one would be best for your particular home theater.


Buy the InFocus X1 online here:

 

Buy the Panasonic PT-L300U online here: