Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
The new Panasonic PT-RW430UK is a 1280x800 (WXGA) installation projector equipped with Panasonic's new Solid Shine hybrid LED/laser light source instead of the traditional high-pressure lamp found in most projectors. This 20,000-hour light engine does not require an air filter, so the design provides maintenance-free long-term operation. It currently sells for $2,999 in both black (UK) and white (UW) case designs.
The RW430U is a highly capable installation projector that is ideal for conference room or extended duty cycle use even without its hybrid light source. It is capable of 24/7 operation, and its heat pipe cooling system keeps the internal components from degrading prematurely. One operating mode enables the unit to be installed in vertical orientation, allowing for portrait projection in digital signage applications. HDBaseT compatibility, a 2:1 zoom lens and manual H/V lens shift make the RW430U easy to set up in most venues, while edge blending and color matching features make the projector appropriate for large-scale multi-projector image walls. When you tack on the hybrid 20,000-hour light source and filter-free design, the RW430U starts to look like a sure bet.
The new Solid Shine series of projectors includes several models, including the 1920x1080 resolution PT-RZ470UW. This review covers just the 1280x800 resolution PT-RW430U, but many features of this projector are available on the other Solid Shine models as well.
The RW430U comes in both white and black versions to assist in unobtrusive mounting in any situation. At a touch over 22 pounds, it is not portable, but the added size and weight dampen the sound of the cooling system. The projector's lens is center mounted, making installation less complicated. The RW430U has a 2.0:1 manual zoom lens which allows it to produce a 100" diagonal image from anywhere between 10' 10" and 21' 10". It also has a total H/V lens shift range of 2.15 image heights and 1.65 total image widths, so you can place the projected image completely above or below the centerline of the lens or shift it 30% of the image width in either direction.
The RW430U is rated at 3500 ANSI lumens, and upon startup our test sample measured 3536 lumens in Dynamic mode. Solid state projectors reach their maximum brightness immediately upon startup, but then lose a bit of light output over the next 5-10 minutes. In the RW430U's case, it loses about 5% of its light output during warm-up, so maximum sustained light output after warm-up stabilization was 3359 lumens on our test unit.
The feeling you get from the RW430U overall is that the projector is slick -- the physical controls are effortless and easy to use, the menu system is logical, and the remote control is responsive and well laid out. The projector is not only easy to use, but also easy to install, easy to integrate, and easy to maintain.
While home entertainment is not the RW430U's intended use, it can serve double-duty as a home entertainment projector should the need arise. The projector's excellent color saturation, lack of digital noise, and comprehensive 3D compatibility make it a strong performer in the living room, though it is more expensive than consumer projectors built for this application due to its complexity and bevy of features. In a home entertainment setting, we used the RW430U on an 80" diagonal screen and sat about 8 feet from the screen (about 1.5x the screen width). At this size and viewing distance all visible pixelation disappears and the image from the RW430U looks terrific, like a very large television -- bright, high in saturation and contrast, low in noise, and sharply detailed. However, if you increase the screen size or reduce the viewing distance, the 1280x800 pixel structure becomes a visible artifact in video and film viewing, so this projector is not designed or recommended for large screen home theater. Panasonic does make the RZ470U, a 1080p solid-state projector with the same feature set as the RW430U, but it is more expensive.
Instant on. Lamp-based projectors need several minutes to come to full brightness, and often take 30-45 seconds from power on just to get a picture on screen. Solid state projectors do not have this limitation. Indeed, the RW430U comes to full brightness less than ten seconds after the power button is pressed, allowing you to get on with your work right away.
Maintenance free. The RW430U is designed to be maintenance-free as much as possible. The Solid Shine light engine is rated for 20,000 hours of operation before replacement. The projector itself comes with a three-year warranty along with an additional 10,000 hour warranty on the light source itself. If three years have elapsed and the projector has not yet reached 10,000 hours, the light source remains under warranty protection.
Placement flexibility. When no two of your conference rooms are the same, it can be difficult to choose a projector that will work in all of them. The RW430U's 2.0:1 zoom lens and H/V lens shift make it easier to install the projector in conference rooms of different size and orientation. It can also be installed vertically for use in portrait mode, allowing for its use in digital signage applications. An option in the menu adjusts the projector's cooling system to compensate for the differences in air flow and heat distribution, so it does not lose any of its significant lifespan from using it this way.
Cool operation. The RW430U uses heat pipes and radiators to channel heat away from critical system components and expel it from the projector quietly and efficiently. The RW430U's solid state light source already produces less heat than a traditional high-pressure lamp, so the end result is a cool, quiet room.
24/7 operation. The RW430U can be run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without negatively impacting its lifespan. This makes the projector ideal for digital signage and other heavy duty cycle applications.
Connectivity. In addition to the RW430U's collection of inputs, it also features an HDbaseT decoder onboard. Using an external digital input box, you can send video data to the RW430U over cat5e or cat6 network cable. This cable is ubiquitous, inexpensive, and your IT department has likely already run it all over your building. This gives you a one-wire solution to input signal that costs very little to implement.
Multiple projectors. Not only can the RW430U handle edge blending, but it also automatically adjusts the color and brightness of each picture such that all projectors involved match. As the projector's light output diminishes over time, the system will evaluate itself periodically to ensure that the picture matches, even across projectors.
Universal 3D. In addition to support for HDMI 1.4 3D formats found on Blu-ray disc and broadcast content, the RW430U also supports PC 120Hz frame sequential. This format is still used by many educational software suites. The projector can use either DLP Link or VESA synchronization via an external emitter (not included).
Light output. The RW430U is rated at 3500 lumens, and our test sample measured 3536 lumens in its brightest usable mode. After a reasonable warm-up period of five minutes, light output settles about five percent, bringing stable output to 3359 lumens.
Dynamic mode on the RW430U is different from other projectors' Dynamic modes. While other projectors use "Dynamic" as shorthand for "bright and greenish," the RW430's Dynamic mode adjusts the levels of red, green, and blue in real-time based upon the content on screen. As a result, a mostly-white image (like financial spreadsheets or text documents) is significantly brighter than a mixed image containing both highlights and saturated colors. As a result, light output in Dynamic mode can be much lower than 3359 lumens without changing a single setting, and image brightness is entirely dependent on the content of the projected image. The upside is that the image never appears unbalanced and highlights never appear too bright, as is common on many DLP business projectors with large white segments in their color wheels. The downside is that a dark image could reduce light output, and in a bright room this can make the picture seem dimmer than is comfortable.
The RW430U's other color modes are more traditional -- there is no dynamic readjustment of color and white light output. These other modes include Graphic (1949 lumens), which is slightly blue and has open mid-tones. Standard mode (1542 lumens) comes next, with higher gamma and a stronger blue push. Cinema mode (989 lumens) is the projector's go-to video mode, and after some adjustment it can produce a smooth, striking 6500K image, though these adjustments do decrease light output to 936 lumens. Natural (877 lumens) and Rec. 709 (898 lumens) are similar to Cinema mode, but with slight differences that may appeal to certain viewers of the projector. Finally, DICOM mode (776 lumens) simulates medical imaging equipment, opening up the RW430U for use in medical lecture halls and patient conferences.
Contrast. The RW430U's on/off contrast rating of 20,000:1 is higher than that of many other WXGA installation projectors. This is because the projector uses three separate "lamps" - a red LED, a blue LED, and a green laser - and can drastically reduce the brightness of any of these, independently of the others. Less light coming from the projector leads to stronger blacks. We saw excellent dynamic range coupled with strong black levels while using real-world content, not just test patterns. This, in part, accounts for the RW430U's strong crossover potential with the home video market, but it also has benefits in the display of photography or data graphics.
Color. If what you're after is a bright, highly-saturated image, the RW430U's Dynamic mode can deliver it, though there are some caveats. Dynamic mode, as mentioned above, adjusts the amount of red, green, and blue in each image on a per-frame basis. This can lead to a striking picture in the right circumstances, but it also makes color in this mode hard to measure. When displaying a solid white image, Dynamic mode tends to push green in order to increase brightness. The result is grayscale tracking that can appear to be all over the map.
Dynamic mode does not allow any user customization of white balance, though color balance in actual use is not as haphazard as the above graph would suggest. Still, if you plan to view content that changes from frame to frame, like video, it would be wise to use a different image mode as Dynamic's adjustment can become distracting.
Standard mode pushes green and blue by default, making it a good mode for use in brighter conference rooms. If the added brightness is not required, you can improve color balance and knock down light output roughly 10% by reducing green.
For accurate 6500K color, start with Cinema mode. This mode, like many of the other precalibrated modes on the RW430U, pushes green by default, but a quick calibration can take it to near-perfect 6500K white balance.
On our test unit, 6500K was reached after reducing green and blue significantly in the high and low ends of the grayscale by varying amounts. Our settings are listed below, but due to manufacturing variances they might not be ideal for all units.
|White Balance high|
|White Balance Low|
The divergence at 0% illumination is because the RW430U largely turns itself off when displaying an all-black test pattern and our meter had difficulty picking up any significant light output at this level.
Solid state technology tends to expand the color gamut. In the RW430U's case, the projector exceeds the Rec. 709 points for red, green, and blue, though green is also pushed towards yellow. In typical use these divergences do not have any practical impact.
A word on color brightness: single-chip DLP projectors designed for commercial use tend to have low color brightness in part because of the white segments in their color wheels. Since the RW430U has no white segment (indeed, it has no color wheel), it has excellent color brightness. Dynamic mode's color light output measured 81% of white, while Cinema mode measured 100% of white. Both are more than sufficient for a well-balanced, natural image.
Sharpness and clarity. As a single-chip DLP projector, the RW430U has no panel convergence errors to be concerned about as is the case with 3-chip designs. It has a razor-sharp appearance with text and data graphics. Native-resolution content is rendered with pixel-perfect fidelity, giving each pixel a sharp-edged clarity that makes text easy to read. Downscaled higher-resolution content gains a smoothness from the resolution conversion, but little detail is lost and legibility is not compromised.
Input lag. The RW430U measured a lightning-fast 17 milliseconds of delay in our input lag tests, putting it among the fastest projectors we have tested to date. This makes it an attractive choice for video games, especially since its 20,000 hour hybrid light engine will allow you to play for hours on end.
Brightness. When viewing color photographs, data graphics, or other content that isn't primarily black and white, the RW430U cannot produce more than about 2000 lumens. While the RW430U's Dynamic mode measured over 3500 lumens with black/white subject matter, light output decreases when viewing content with significant color and shadow information. So, while the RW430U is a solid projector with a vibrant, high-contrast image, for any display of color-rich subject matter it is not as bright as the 3500 ANSI lumen specification would indicate. So depending on your intended use, more ambient light control may be desirable than you'd need with conventional projectors rated at 3500 lumens.
Both academic papers and industry press report that LED projectors are often perceived as being brighter than their counterparts using traditional arc lamps. Specifically, the Helmholtz-Kohlrausch (HK) phenomenon states that humans perceive intense color saturation as a component of brightness, so a highly-saturated red, for example, will appear brighter than white of the same luminance value.
Our testing shows that a pure color image from an LED projector will appear brighter than a pure color image from a projector using an arc lamp when those two images have the same luminance value. However, this effect is most pronounced in images with large solid areas of highly-saturated color, and is either much less visible or absent when viewing video and film. There are many factors that can make two projectors look different from one another, and the HK phenomenon is only a practical concern in some circumstances. This is something we will be investigating more in the future, as our results are by no means definitive or final.
Green push. While not entirely inappropriate for conference room use, the RW430U's precalibrated image modes tend to emphasize green. This has the effect of boosting light output at the expense of color balance. While it does not unbalance the image in the same way that a white color wheel segment would, some adjustment is needed if a balanced grayscale is desired. The net result of calibration in most image modes is a 10% drop in light output.
Buyers shopping for solid state projectors have several options these days, but not all of those options are created equal. It is possible to find a projector that does some of what the RW430U can do, but it is the only hybrid projector with its specific combination of features, making it a very strong contender for a number of applications including 24/7 digital signage, conference rooms, and even home video and gaming. The RW430U also has a number of first-in-class options, like lens shift, a 2.0:1 zoom lens, and full 3D compatibility. These features are not found on any other solid state projector to date -- except, of course, for several other models made by Panasonic.
The Panasonic RW430U is a truly unique product, and as such it is difficult to judge its value relative to the competition. If you can benefit from the wide array of features provided by the RW430U, it is quite simply the only viable option. The fact that it has a sparkling high-contrast image with great color balance does not hurt its case, either. And while it is not intended for home use, its accurate color, high contrast, and minimal 17ms input lag mean that it is certainly capable of delivering a superb 80" diagonal picture for home entertainment and video gaming.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Panasonic PT-RW430UK projector page.