Pros: Slim, stylish units with comprehensive feature set and quick and easy set-up

Cons: Menu operation is distracting; security features are confusing to implement

Summary: Panasonic packs a load of features and high brightness into a slim 4.9 lb. package at a great price Panasonic PT-LC76U & PT-LC80U

MSRP:
$2,599 (LC76U), $3,999 (LC80U)

Street Price:
$1,799 (LC76U), $2,399 (LC80U)

Major Differences:

  PT-LC76U PT-LC80U
Lumens 1600 2000
Contrast Ratio 300:1 400:1
Keystone Correction Vertical only Vertical & Horizontal
Additional Feature   Blackboard mode
Overview:

With the HDTV-compatible LC76U and LC80U, Panasonic is setting a new standard in the sub-5 lb. XGA LCD projector class. At the time of this review, the LC76U and LC80U compete with 4 other LCD projectors in the mid-range of the mobile class - the Panasonic models are quieter, provide longer lamp life, have more powerful speakers, and are less expensive than otherwise comparable units. Measuring 2.6 x 11.7 x 8.2 inches, these feature-packed projectors are targeted to the traveling professional or tech-savvy educator who is looking for the versatility of multiple connectivity options without having to sacrifice quick and easy setup.

User Experience:

Open the box and the first words that come to mind are sleek and sturdy. Panasonic's XGA LC76U and LC80U projectors are nearly identical twins in a trio that also includes the SVGA LC56U (not reviewed in this article). In addition to the remote and a soft carrying bag, you'll find Operating Instructions and cables for computer (VGA) and RCA A/V connections. The solidly-engineered LC76U and LC80U include a flip down rear door that covers the input panel and provides convenient storage for the credit card sized remote. For ceiling mounting, you can remove the input panel door. IR receivers on both front and back of the unit will make remote operation easy from nearly anywhere in the room.

Store remote on input panel door

After plugging in and connecting cables, 3 easily-accessible onboard buttons take you quickly to presentation mode - Power, Input (video or RGB source selection) and Auto Setup. If you're using the 2 retractable, spring-loaded front feet for additional height, the Auto Setup feature includes a vertical keystone correction that uses the angle of tilt of the projector to automatically determine the correction needed. The LC80U also includes a menu option for horizontal keystone correction for those times when you need to position the projector to either the right or left of the screen. The LC76U and LC80U offer ±30 degrees vertical keystone correction and the LC80U offers ±20 degrees horizontal keystone correction. For RGB connections, Auto Setup also adjusts image position, dot clock and clock phase. Technology fans may be interested to know that dot clock adjustments correct interference that appear as vertical banding in data-intensive presentations like spreadsheets or paragraphs of text in smaller fonts.

Fan noise is low compared to similarly-featured units. Using the low lamp power setting will reduce fan noise even more. Heat vents to the right side of the unit.

Features:

Panasonic built the LC76U and LC80U using Micro Lens Array technology which increases the lumen output of LCD projectors. The LC76U's 1600 lumens make it bright enough for lights-on presentations using an average screen size of 100" diagonal. If you generally need to project onto a larger screen, you'll probably be happier with the LC80U's 2000 lumen output. Both projectors offer a typical 2000 hour lamp life if using the full lumen output (high lamp power mode). Selecting low lamp power can raise your lamp life to 3000 hours and only "costs" you approximately 20% of lumen output bringing the LC76U down to approximately 1440 lumens and the LC80U down to 1800 lumens. Don't forget to factor in lamp replacement costs - currently $289. More lamp hours means generally fewer replacement lamps which, at 14 cents per hour, could add up to a nice savings over the lifetime of your projector.

Both the LC76U and LC80U have XGA (1024x768) resolution with compression to UXGA (1600x1200) which will allow you to connect to higher resolution laptops and workstations. The native aspect ratio is 4:3 but the LC76U and LC80U provide support for video in 16:9 formats. The LC80U has a contrast ratio of 400:1 which is average for LCD technology projectors. The LC76U is 300:1. Our database shows that two comparable units have a contrast ratio of 600:1.

ViewSonic PX727-4K
4K Home Theater Projector
ViewSonic PX727-4K
4K Home Theater Projector

The LC76U and LC80U have a short throw lens which allows you to display a 42" diagonal image from as little as 4 feet away. Just as a comparison, most units in this class project a diagonal image size that is 4-5 inches shorter from the same distance. At a more typical distance of 10 feet, the diagonal image size on the LC76U and LC80U ranges from 86 inches to 102 inches. At a throw distance of approximately 36 feet, both units project a maximum diagonal image size of 300 inches.

Several presentation management features are included in the units. You can temporarily turn off the sound and picture using the Shutter function, pause a picture using the Freeze function and using the Index feature, you can divide the screen into two halves to show a static image on one side while continuing your presentation on the other. The LC80U also includes a Blackboard mode (targeted to the education user) that makes color adjustments for images projected onto the green surface of a chalkboard.

In addition to a location for attaching a cable lock, the LC76U and LC80U come with several security or anti-theft features. You can use the menu to lock out the onboard control buttons which limits projector operation to functions sent via remote control. Or you can assign a user password that launches on startup or superimpose up to 22 characters of text on the bottom of every projected image.

Menus:

Users can access menu functions either via the remote control or using buttons on the input panel on the back of the projector. Menu tabs include (from top to bottom) Keystone, Picture, Position, Index Window, Shutter, Volume, Language, Option1, Option2 and Security. One minor drawback of the LC76U and LC80U is the distracting menu operation. After selecting an item to adjust, the main menu disappears and the option field pops down to a lower section of the screen where you can monitor the effect of any adjustments you're making. The menu is large relative to image size and cannot be repositioned.

Connectivity:

The LC76U and LC80U include a VGA cable and an RCA A/V cable. In addition to the usual support for composite video, both units are HDTV compatible in both 720p (750p) and 1080i (1125i). The supported DTV standards include: 480i (525i), 480p (525p), and 576i (625i). There is a separate S-video connection so you can connect to two video devices and use the menu to switch sources.

Panasonic PT-LC76U & PT-LC80U input panel

The LC76U and LC80U projectors include a serial port that allows you to control the projector from a computer (using an optional RS-232 serial cable). In addition to the primary RGB In connector, there is a unique additional connector that functions as either a 2nd RGB In or an RGB Out. This allows you to connect a computer and run a monitor loop-through, connect to both a computer and a component video device or connect to two computers. Using the menu, you can switch the function of the connector to whichever setup works best for you.

Warranty:

3-year (or 2000 hour) repair warranty on the projector, 90-day lamp warranty

Test Setup:

We tested the LC76U and LC80U for both business and casual entertainment. For business use, we connected to a Dell Latitude laptop using the included VGA cable. Then we connected the LC76U and LC80U directly to a Panasonic DVD-S31 (progressive scan) DVD player and tested them using 3rd party S-video and VGA to component video cables on both of the RGB connectors.

As a presentation projector, the LC76U and LC80U performed beautifully. The colors were crisp and clear and the Auto Setup got us up and running in less than a minute on the first try. The Shutter and Freeze functions worked well but the Index function was less polished. The image is resized only vertically so it distorts whatever you're showing. Also, if you make image size adjustments after the presentation begins, you lose your original index image and have to start over.

You'll need the Operating Instructions to set the security features. The password menu option presents the user with a blank password entry field when the unit is first taken out of the box and every subsequent time you access those features. Another surprise was the Control Key function. Although defined as a security feature, menu access is through the Option2 menu tabs. The Text Display is a nice feature and (in addition to providing a theft-deterrent) lets you keep your company or school name in front of your audience. It was easy to set up and can be turned on and off via menu controls.

Although not suited to video, the 2-watt speaker enables you to bring a nominal level of audio to your presentations even in larger rooms. Other comparable projectors had speakers that ranged from only 0.5 to one watt. For a better audio experience, you'll want to connect to external speakers.

As a projector for DVD movie viewing, both projectors did a good job but the higher lumens and contrast ratio of the LC80U stole the show. On both units, the two RGB connections delivered component video nicely - the colors were deeper, the contrast was higher and the image clarity was better than what we saw using S-video. The default settings provided great color and if you present in rooms with varying ambient light, there are several Picture Modes to choose from. Consult the Operating Instructions for more information since it might not be clear when the Natural, Standard, or Dynamic settings should be used. For those who like to get in to manually work the image controls, there are contrast, brightness, color, tint and sharpness settings in video mode.

Conclusion:

Panasonic has set a new standard for LCD technology projectors in the sub-5-lb. class. Despite a relatively low weight, the LC76U and LC80U have an impressive feature set and great image quality that will make them a popular choice for business, education, and casual home users. The extra brightness and higher contrast ratio make the LC80U the best investment for those who are looking for a stronger video experience. If budget is the primary concern, the $600 price difference makes the LC76U a compelling alternative.