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The new Panasonic PT-RZ670 was announced this morning, and this laser-driven WUXGA DLP projector has a lot going for it. Ideal for rental and staging, command and control, constant-on, digital signage and other applications that require 24/7 operation, the RZ670 can run for 20,000 hours at full power with zero maintenance required.
We had the chance to look at a pre-production test unit, and we've learned quite a bit about the RZ670's capabilities. An MSRP of $24,399 with lens (or $23,999 without) marks the RZ670 as a serious installation projector, but the wealth of features make the price more understandable. When you need a projector ideal for heavy use, but can't afford to compromise on image quality or feature set, the RZ670 is a great option that will keep shining for years.
As the RZ670 is intended for a number of market segments, each with its own requirements, the projector is built with customization in mind. It's easy to adjust the RZ670's image to make it appropriate for the viewing environment.
The RZ670 is rated at 6500 lumens, but our test unit slightly exceeded the listed specifications. On our projector, Dynamic mode's factory settings result in blown highlights, but this could very well change before the projector is released. It is useful to know that the projector is capable of an even brighter image in situations when highlight detail is not critical.
Graphic and Standard modes offer different calibrations but the same basic bright image. Color saturation is quite high in all three modes and there is more than enough contrast to give the picture some punch.
The projector's Cinema, Natural, and Rec709 modes provide balanced images with less brightness, higher contrast, and more accurate color. Natural mode, at about 5100 lumens, stands out as particularly well tailored for film and photography use thanks to its accurate grayscale and gamut at factory settings, though perfect 6500K does require some fine-tuning.
In rooms with less ambient light, or when a smaller screen size is called for, the RZ670's Long Life modes reduce brightness significantly (the dimmest measured about 1600 lumens) but multiply the estimated life span of the laser diodes. What's more, these modes automatically adjust light output over time to keep image brightness constant.
Panasonic has made hybrid LED/laser projectors in the past, such as the excellent PT-RW430UK which we reviewed in July 2013, but the RZ670 is their first projector to use a non-hybrid, 100% laser light engine. Bigger, brighter, and more fully-featured than the hybrids, the RZ670 shares the same end goal: a great image with zero maintenance. To this end, the RZ670 has no air filter, a dust-resistant light engine, and an estimated maintenance-free period of 20,000 hours at full power. Panasonic claims to have reached this 20,000 hour estimate by running the RZ670 in a very dusty test environment. In less dusty environments, the projector should last even longer. The airtight engine obviates the need for an air filter, so there's nothing to maintain once the projector is set up.
The RZ670's 6,500 lumen brightness specification is conservative, though higher output results in some loss of highlight detail. Brightness can also be lowered to 1600 lumens or less in the projector's Long Life modes, so this isn't just a projector for well-lit rooms. Final brightness numbers may change before release, but our readings should provide a reasonable estimate of the final specs.
The RZ670 can be used with many of Panasonic's interchangeable lenses for 1-chip DLP projectors, including a super short throw option (model ET-DLE030) that will put up a 100" diagonal image from less than three feet of throw distance. The other lenses in the lineup can produce that same 100" diagonal image from any distance between 5' 8" and 60' 11".
When it comes to mounting, the RZ670 has no restrictions on orientation. Beyond the standard landscape and portrait orientations, you can aim the projector at any point and mount it at any angle without negatively affecting function or lifespan. This gives the projector 360 degrees of freedom in all three axes and opens up a range of mounting options not previously available.
Solid state laser light engine. Solid state projection has evolved over the years. Pure laser projectors such as the RZ670 are the newest and most promising iteration, combining the long life of LED with the brightness of traditional arc lamps. The RZ670 uses multiple blue-violet laser diodes, a spinning phosphor wheel, and a color wheel to create its image. On a lumen-for-lumen basis, the RZ670's laser engine produces less heat, uses less power, and is estimated to last many times longer than a projector with a traditional high-pressure lamp. And unlike LEDs, lasers are bright enough to compete directly with lamp-based projectors even in the installation market.
Maintenance free. The RZ670 is truly maintenance free, as it has no lamp and no air filter. This is possible because of a dust-resistant optical block that protects the laser diodes, DLP chip, phosphor wheel, and color wheel. Panasonic claims to have tested the RZ670 in an unusually dusty environment, and they are using that data to make their claim of 20,000 hours. At 20,000 hours the projector should reach 50% of initial brightness, at which point you can have the laser engine replaced for a price that has yet to be determined. Alternately, if you don't need maximum brightness, you can just keep using the projector as-is.
Panasonic's precautions go beyond just sealing the light engine. Projectors often malfunction due to heat, so the RZ670 uses a liquid cooling system to keep the temperature of the lasers in the ideal operating range, while a heat pipe system protects the DLP chip. Both systems function without compromising the environmental seal. Heat from the projector's internals is moved to a radiator near the outside of the case, and a fan blows across the radiator to move the hot air away. The RZ670 can safely operate in ambient temperatures up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit. A pleasant side effect is the low volume of the cooling fan, making the RZ670 much quieter than many of its competitors.
24/7 operation. The RZ670 is designed for 24/7 operation without damage or loss of lifespan. Occasionally, despite best efforts, parts fail early. This is especially true in high-stress applications like those for which the RZ670 is designed. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, laser diodes are often wired in series, one after the other, like Christmas lights. But just like Christmas lights, the failure of one laser diode would then cut power to all other laser diodes. To prevent this scenario, the RZ670 has laser diodes wired in smaller groups. If a single diode fails, that diode's group fails as well, but the other groups keep shining and light output drops by as little as 7%.
Adjustable brightness. For applications that do not require all 6500 lumens, the RZ670 has a number of Long Life modes designed to increase operation time out beyond 20,000 hours. These modes keep light output at a constant level by starting out at a lower output and then ramping up as the light source ages. The longest-lived setting, Long Life 3, produced 1600 lumens on our test unit. Long Life 3 has an estimated laser lifespan of 87,600 hours or ten years. Please note that other components in the projector may fail before the 87,600 hour mark, so this isn't a free pass to throw your product replacement cycle out the window.
WUXGA. The RZ670's 1920x1200 native resolution is ideal for applications that demand maximum picture detail. This also allows the projector to natively display 1080p HD film and video.
Interchangeable lenses. Panasonic's line of single-chip DLP lenses allow the RZ670 to display a 100" diagonal image from any throw distance between 5' 8" and 60' 11". In addition, the ultra short throw ET-DLE030 can display that same 100" diagonal image from less than three feet.
360-degree operation. The RZ670 can be mounted in any orientation. The projector has a full 360 degrees of freedom vertically, horizontally, and rotationally. Since this can lead to some interesting geometry problems, the projector includes a geometric mapping system for applications where you aren't shining onto a flat screen.
Connectivity. Every installation differs, and each customer's equipment is unique. So in addition to the usual analog connections and HDMI, the RZ670 also includes DVI-D, Digital Link, and SDI. Digital Link (usually stylized as DIGITAL LINK) is based on HDBaseT, and will function with all HDBaseT devices, but it also includes two-way communication with other Panasonic projectors and compatibility with several major AV control protocols. Both Digital Link and SDI are especially useful in large venue applications because of the ability to make long cable runs with cheap cable. It's not unusual to cut and terminate SDI or Cat-5e/6 cable on-site to ensure you get the exact length you need -- the cable itself can be purchased by the spool. For extra-long runs, you can use several commercially-available products to convert SDI to fiber-optic for cable runs measured in kilometers, not meters. Furthermore, both Cat-5e/6's RJ45 connector and SDI's BNC connectors lock in place -- ideal when a projector is mounted in a location that's not easily accessible.
Edge blending. When 6500 lumens isn't enough, the RZ670 can be edge-blended with up to 99 other units in an array. The projector has built-in brightness and color sensors and can adjust itself to match the other projectors in the group automatically. The built-in correction function can control up to eight projectors this way, and an external software program can handle thousands.
Light output. The RZ670 is a bright, powerful projector rated at 6500 lumens, but this is a conservative estimate. Maximum output in Dynamic mode can easily exceed the projector's specification, though this can also result in the loss of some highlight detail. Dynamic mode on the RZ670 is slightly blue-tinted, instead of the green-tinged unbalanced mess seen on many other projectors, so it's usable in high ambient light without sacrificing much color accuracy.
Graphic mode, at about 6700 lumens, is slightly bluer than Dynamic. Standard mode, at roughly 6000 lumens, has higher contrast than either of the preceding modes. Its near-6500K grayscale makes it useful for high-brightness video applications, though it lacks the balance and natural appearance of some of the less-bright image modes.
When it comes to video, Cinema mode is actually not the best choice. Cinema mode produces about 5000 lumens but is far too warm for realistic video, especially given Natural mode's equal lumen output and much better grayscale. Both Cinema and Natural modes have superior black performance, overall image balance, and shadow detail compared to the brighter modes, while Rec709 mode can seem dull in comparison despite light output on par with Cinema and Natural. The final mode, DICOM SIM, is useful in non-diagnostic medical settings.
In all image modes, the factory settings on this pre-production unit tend to blow out highlight detail. This can be useful in applications where there is no highlight detail to blow out, as it raises light output, but it is also easy to fix when you need more accurate highlight rendering. Correcting the problem requires lowering the Contrast control, which also reduces brightness by about 15% and brings Dynamic mode down to the specified 6500 lumens.
The RZ670 is built for a variety of applications, and you can customize light output to fit your needs exactly. The projector includes the standard Eco setting that reduces output by 20% and extends laser lifespan to 24,000 hours. But the RZ670 also allows you to set laser power exactly, using a percentage scale, for those times when you want precise control over light output.
The RZ670's Long Life modes extend lifespan, but that's not all they do. These modes automatically increase light output over time to compensate for the dimming of the lasers as they age, giving the image constant brightness over the entire run. Long Life 1 has an estimated life of 43,800 hours, or about double the life of Normal mode. This makes sense, since Long Life 1 is about 50% as bright as the full power setting. Long Life 2 has an estimated lifespan of 61,320 hours at roughly 33% maximum brightness. Long Life 3 clocks in at 87,600 hours, or ten years of 24/7 operation, at 20% of maximum brightness.
These lifespan estimates are only for the lasers themselves, and it is entirely possible that some other component could fail during the next ten years of constant-on operation.
Contrast. At 10,000:1 contrast, the RZ670 performs well against other installation projectors. After calibration, the projector has no trouble accurately reproducing shadow detail in difficult video content, and black level is more than acceptable for such a bright projector though it is clearly not built for theater use.
For better black level and overall contrast performance, the RZ670 includes Dynamic Contrast. This is the laser version of lamp modulation, and it allows the RZ670 to instantly adjust light output to match the image on screen without using an iris. This feature is helpful in rooms with little to no ambient light, such as a darkened auditorium. It also lowers average power consumption.
Color. All single-chip DLP projectors use sequential color. LED projectors can accomplish this without a color wheel, but that doesn't mean they are not displaying color sequentially. The RZ670 creates color through the use of blue laser diodes, a phosphor wheel, and a color wheel. Together, these components help to boost yellow brightness, which is a common weakness of some single-chip DLP projectors.
The RZ670 has very good color light output by non-theater DLP standards, with all modes measuring over 60% and some modes, like Natural, getting into the high 70s or low 80s. None of the image modes appear deficient in color brightness despite not measuring 100%. If you intend to use the RZ670 in a color-critical application and absolutely must have 100% color light output, you can reduce White Gain to 0. This reduces light output, sometimes by as much as 40%, but it does increase apparent color brightness.
Sharpness and clarity. The RZ670 combines a single-chip light engine and a high-quality lens to create a razor-sharp image that's ideal for the display of detailed content. The image is crystal clear, with perfect edge-to-edge sharpness and superb definition. Up close, each pixel is clearly defined with sharp boundaries, but the inter-pixel gap is minuscule and all evidence of pixelation disappears only a few feet from the image.
Digital Noise. The RZ670 is a remarkable projector, and it is clear that a lot of thought went into its design and construction. If it can be said to have a flaw, it is this: it tends to amplify digital noise in source material that already has significant digital noise. When you are able to use content of known high quality, or you are authoring your own content, the RZ670 will display a beautiful, noise-free image. On the other hand, if you are using content supplied from others, especially film and video content that is less than pristine, digital noise in the source will be exaggerated somewhat in the projected image.
Rainbow effect. All single-chip projectors are susceptible to color separation artifacts to some degree. We did not see many rainbows on the RZ670, but they were occasionally visible in high-contrast, fast-moving video. If you plan to use the RZ670 to display a lot of video, this is something to keep in mind.
Panasonic has a long history making projectors. The PT-RZ670UK may be the company's first laser projector, but it is a remarkable product that benefits from Panasonic's many years of expertise.
We expect to see flaws in first-generation products, but the RZ670 has few. It exceeds its own specifications and includes features relevant to all of its intended markets. It is capable on its own, but becomes even more capable when using the extended toolset made available in the form of external software programs and networking capabilities that allow the RZ670 to be part of a group rather than just a single projector.
The RZ670 promises a bright, high-quality image that requires no maintenance. While we cannot say for certain whether or not it can deliver on its 20,000 hour estimated life, we can say that the RZ670 is a high-quality product that is clearly built with care and attention to every detail, and the focus on life-extending features make it evident that Panasonic intends the RZ670 to go the distance. We have every confidence that it will.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Panasonic PT-RZ670BU projector page.