Pros: support for most wireless cards, great image quality - even for presentations in wireless mode, easy to setup and use
Cons: projector ships with just one type of connection cable - VGA
Summary: Panasonic takes wireless to a new level with broad support and fast and easy connection of up to 4 PCs, user-friendly features and high brightness in a slim 4.9 lb. package at a great price
Street Price: $2,399 (Click for dealers)
Looking for a fumble-free transition from one presenter to another? Well, look no further. Based on the feature set of the PT-LC80U, the 4.9-pound PT-LB10NTU is Panasonic's newest (and smallest) addition to a wireless projector lineup that includes the PT-L735NTU and the PT-L780NTU. Like its predecessors, the LB10NTU uses an 802.11b card and comes with Panasonic's "Wireless Manager" software. The newest version of the software is a Mobile Edition (ME) that allows up to 4 PCs to connect to a single projector. The LB10NTU is ideally suited to educational institutions and conference planners. After a few minutes set-up for each presenter's PC or laptop, they will appreciate this projector's ability to quickly and easily switch from one presentation to the next. The one noteworthy limitation of this type of wireless technology is the inability to connect to a LAN or WAN - including the internet - while using the wireless function. If that capability is important to you, you'll need an external wireless device - more on that later. Part of the beauty of the LB10NTU is its support for most 802.11b wireless cards. If your PC doesn't already have wireless capability, Panasonic offers an optional wireless card for PCs.
The LB10NTU delivers quality beyond the wireless function as well. You'll need to purchase cables for S-video, component video or audio connections however. When determining your budget for this type of equipment, don't forget to factor in the cost of additional cables.
Wireless setup is fairly straightforward even if you're not already familiar with 802.11b systems. Panasonic includes both a Quick Start guide and a CD with documentation and software. The Wireless Manager software is an easy install and if you need documentation, a PDF is located in the "network" folder on the CD. Heads up when you're using Panasonic's Quick Start card. It may cause some confusion if you already have a PC with a wireless card since the documentation assumes that you'll be installing their optional card and driver.
After the Wireless Manager installation, a status window launches and the program searches for the projector. As promised, Panasonic delivered an easier installation for our Intel Centrino laptop. During testing, the wireless card in the laptop sensed the projector before the software program had connected to the projector so we were up and running in minutes. Once the projector shows in the status window, click OK. To start projecting, you'll need to change the projector from stand-by mode to live mode using Panasonic's Wireless Manager Control Panel seen below.
The control panel provides an unobtrusive and user-friendly interface for handling most of the functions you'll need during a presentation, and although it displays on your PC monitor, it does not project onto your screen. PC users already connected to a LAN or WAN when they install the software will notice that they lose their network connection or cannot connect to the projector. This happened during testing, so we unplugged our network cable and were able to connect to the projector. Panasonic creates its own mini-network of up to 4 PCs and overrides any other connections. When you close the Wireless Manager, the projector's wireless connection is also closed and you'll be able to restore connection to your network. To show presentations stored on your network, skip the wireless functionality or download the presentation to your PC before the meeting.
If staying connected to your network or accessing the internet is an important component of your presentations, look for a universal external adapter like the recently-introduced WiJET.Video from OTC Wireless. This 802.11g wireless adapter includes software that allows your PC to connect to the Internet, or a LAN, and the projector simultaneously via a wireless access point. You can then project a web page or information from other computers on the network directly through the projector wirelessly.
The credit card sized remote control works well in both wired and wireless modes and includes most of the functions you'll need for presentations and casual video viewing. Auto select locates either an RGB or video source but can't switch you to the wireless or "network" mode. You'll need to go into the Wireless Manager software for that. In wired mode, if you prefer to handle controls without the remote, the web browser control feature lets a networked computer become the projector's remote-control panel, even while you're projecting an image from a video source.
The LB10NTU offers a "live" mode for single-user presentations, or a "multi-live" mode for up to four presenters. We tested both live and multi-live modes, first using a laptop then a laptop and a desktop computer with our own wireless cards. In multi-live mode, we were able to easily switch from the split window to index style. In split window operation, the LB10NTU projects side-by-side into separate, equally-sized windows on the screen. In index mode, the LB10NTU projects images from up to four PCs as small thumbnail windows along the bottom of the screen while one PC projects into a larger image above. Use the remote control to switch PCs.
The PT-LB10NTU offers quick and easy start up and shut down. During testing, we set the adjustable height and got acceptable results using one-touch Auto Setup with the digital keystone correction (which operates in the range of ±30°).
For security, the LB10NTU offers anti-theft features including a Kensington-style security lock, password protection, control panel lock-out, and text superimposing.
For smaller rooms or up-close presentations, the LB10NTU includes a short throw lens that minimizes the required projection distance. For example, a user can project a 100 inch diagonal image from less than 10 feet away which puts you a foot or two closer to the screen than you would need to be with a standard lens. The LB10NTU is capable of projecting a diagonal image size of 33 to 300 inches
The LB10NTU is an LCD projector with native XGA (1024 by 768 pixels) resolution. In our tests, the colors were smooth and the image focused well across the entire screen. Because the wireless connection is digital, we found that it provided a better image than the same material using the included VGA cable which provides an analog signal.
One of the factors that projector manufacturers need to consider for wireless presenting is the trade-off between presenting speed and image quality. Projecting a photographic image will require much more information than projecting a text document. Panasonic handles this challenge two ways. One is through the use of compression and data handling utilities that are optimized to the type of data being sent. Another way they handle this is by allowing a user to select either normal mode or high definition mode in the Wireless Manager. Normal mode increases the level of compression so images are sent to the projector faster but some image quality may be lost. High definition provides more image data but may result in slower load and transition times between screen frames. During testing in normal mode, we found some background distortion on slides with large font text on colored backgrounds. The problem was sporadic but happened often enough to warrant a comment here.
Using our own S-video cable and a progressive scan DVD player, the 2000 lumens and 500:1 contrast ratio provided excellent image quality - even in a bright room. One contributing factor is Panasonic's Projector AI (Artificial Intelligence). When the projector is operating at default lamp and contrast settings, the AI continually adjusts lamp brightness up to 20% through a high-speed process that detects whether the material being projected is dark or light.
If you've ever blown a lamp because you unplugged the power cord too soon, you'll be happy to hear about this next feature. Through the use of an on-board capacitor, the Direct Power Off feature allows a user to unplug the projector immediately after a presentation without having to wait until the lamp cools down. Just remember to let the projector cool down before you return it to the carrying case.
The 1-watt speaker delivered enough volume for a typical conference room, though it was overloaded and distorted at maximum volume.
The LB10NTU has an RS-232 serial port to allow wired control, one analog input for computer and HDTV signals and one analog output (that offers a convenient pass-through connector for an external monitor) as well as both an S-Video and video connector.
The PT-LB10NTU has a native aspect ratio of 4:3 and is HDTV compatible for 1080i and 720p applications. Users who are looking for 480p, 480i and 625i component video or S-Video are covered too. Compatible video material can also be projected in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
If you're looking for wireless presentation capability with nearly universal 802.11b support, then the LB10NTU is definitely for you. Fast and easy set-up for multi-presenter meetings makes it the ideal tool for collaborative gatherings. Users looking for internet or network connections for their wireless presentations may prefer a solution that uses an external adapter.
Product images courtesy of Panasonic.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Panasonic PT-LB10NTU projector page.