Panasonic Strikes Back: The Hot PT-L300U
In the last couple of months we've seen two inexpensive widescreen LCD projectors hit the market--the Sanyo PLV-Z1 and the Sony HS10. Both have been very impressive entries. But now Panasonic strikes back with a dynamo of its own, the new PT-L300U. In this review we will refer to the unit as the PT-L300U or just the L300U for short. But note that this same machine is also sold by Panasonic's Consumer division as the PT-AE300.
The PT-L300U is the latest 16:9 widescreen format projector to hit the market at street prices under $2000. And like previous Panasonic machines used for home theater, it delivers truly exceptional value for the money.
The L300U features three 0.7" native widescreen LCD panels in 960x540 resolution. This is the new "1/4 HD" format, so called because the native HDTV 1080i signal of 1920x1080 can be compressed exactly 50% in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions. The advantage is that it yields a particularly clean scaling of HDTV.
The L300U is rated at 800 ANSI lumens of brightness and 800:1 contrast, the combination of which delivers a sparkling image in a typical home theater setup. Lamp life in full power mode is 2000 hours, but in low power mode (the preferred way to run it), Panasonic claims you will get up to 5,000 hours.
At just 6.4 lbs, this is one of the more compact of the home theater projectors on the market. Viewed from the top it is almost square, measuring about 11" in both length and width. It stands just 3.2" high. The casework is dark gray. There is no fancy high-style design work here, just a simple unassuming little box. All the visual drama of the L300U is packed inside. It shows up on the screen.
The L300U takes 525i (480i), 625i, 525p (480p), 750p (720p), 1125i (1080i). Color systems include NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL, PAL-M, PAL-N, PAL60, and SECAM.
It comes with a 1.2x manual zoom and focus lens. Throw distance is relatively short. A 100" diagonal 16:9 image can be achieved from a lens-to-screen distance of 10.2 to 12 feet. Note however that the cooling system vents exhaust out the back of the unit. That means you cannot restrict rear clearance by mounting this product in a bookcase or on a rear wall shelf without risk of heat build-up. It needs at least 18" of space behind the unit to allow for adequate heat dissipation.
The connection panel is on the rear of the unit. It offers an array of connection options, including one composite jack, one S-video port, one DVI-D input, one 15-pin VGA input, and a set of three RCAs for component video. There is also a set of audio input jacks to drive the single 2-watt onboard speaker should the need arise.
There is an SD memory card slot on the L300 as well. It enables you to load pictures or presentation data that have been stored on an SD card via a digital camera or computer. The SD card is a Panasonic product. The memory card reader on the L300U will read only SD cards. It is not compatible with Compact Flash, or other competitive formats such as Sony's Memory Stick.
The L300U has several pre-programmed operating modes including Dynamic, Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Music, Sports, and Natural. In addition to these you have the ability to set your own calibrations and save them in three user memories. Picture controls include contrast, brightness, color, tint, sharpness, color temperature, and black level and white level gamma adjustment. Color temperature can be altered with separate contrast and brightness controls on red and blue. With a PC or DVI signal, there is additional independent white balance control on red, green, and blue.
The L300U's remote control is small and easy to use once you get used to it. It has back-lighting for convenient use in the dark. Range is excellent (over 40 feet), and the projector's responsiveness to it is virtually immediate. The remote lets you select three input categories: video, which toggles between composite and S-video; component, which selects the component input, and PC, which toggles between the VGA and DVI ports.
Aspect ratio control can be toggled via a button on the remote, as can the picture mode. A freeze button freezes the video image. A "Normal" button causes all settings to default to factory presets. However it is not active unless you are already in a calibration menu, so you need not worry about hitting it by accident in the middle of a movie.
Horizontal and vertical keystone adjustments are also available either through the menu or via a button on the remote. This enables you to set the projector off axis from the screen and still square up the picture. As with almost all other projectors with this feature, the additional scaling required for keystone adjustment softens the image. Thus for best video performance, the projector should be placed so that no keystone adjustment is required.
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