Panasonic PT-FW100NT

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Business class projectors allow for flexibility in machine interaction, operation to be done remotely and multiple screens simultaneously. In this review we look at the Panasonic PT-FW100NT wireless network projector.

Test procedure
Projectors are placed at a distance of three metres from a test screen and zoomed to a screen size of 100 inches where possible. (We calculate expected brightness at 100 inches if this size is not achievable.)

Brightness is measured around the screen in order to determine average brightness and variance. We also use a chequerboard pattern to measure the contrast ratio of black to white regions. Ambient light is subtracted from all brightness measurements before calculations and comparisons are made.

DisplayMate software is used to assist in assessing colour quality and sharpness of static images. We also consider the performance of the machine with video output. Fast action and animated films are used to assess refresh times, skin tones, solid and graded colours and borders.

We assess the useability of the device including menu use and options, set-up, and connectivity options. Fan noise is also considered. In the case of a network projector such as this, we also do a simple check to ensure that a wired network connection can be achieved simply and with acceptable results when linking a single projector to a single computer.

Design and features
Weighing in at over 6kg, this is not a small projector -- it is a heavy-duty model with a full set of features. It can be operated over a network (wirelessly if you like), has good resolution (up to 1280x800) and a wide range of signal input choices. The casing is predominantly silver with a black control panel behind the hatch at the front.

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The networking capacity of this unit allows for multiple inputs to be displayed on one screen or else permits multiple screens to receive their input from a single source.

Call me old fashioned if you like, but I would still prefer to network these machines via cable rather than wirelessly. After all, this projector is designed to be for a fixed installation -- it is not a portable model. A few network cables are not hard to conceal and we consider them more reliable.

The projection system is 3LCD which may provide lower contrast than the competing DLP technology, but 3LCD tends to have faster refresh rates. The lamp is a powerful 3,000 lumens and the lens system has excellent angle adjustment plus 2x optical zoom.

Direction, focus and zoom must be adjusted on the machine, but other functions can be controlled remotely via computer or remote control unit. Serial port specs and command codes are provided in the manual so that enterprising individuals can custom build their own status/control software.

Video input can be via one of two VGA ports (one of which can also be used as an output to an auxiliary screen) or else via network, S-video, composite video or component video.

The projector has a small internal speaker, or sound can be routed from the device to an external audio system. Audio inputs can be from a computer or an AV system such as a DVD player (or as a component of the signal sent via network). You can even display two images simultaneously, one beside the other (there are some limits on which signal types can be displayed at once). All ports are mounted at the rear of the machine.

The lamp has a lifespan up to 3,000 hours after which it stops automatically, dead or not. Panasonic quotes the average lamp life to be 2000 hours. This machine has an automatically scrolling filter unit. Both this unit and the lamp require the removal of four screws each in order to allow replacement. LEDs indicate the status of lamp, filter and temperature.

The remote control has well spaced buttons with large lettered labels. The on-screen menu is reasonably easy to use and common functions have dedicated buttons on the remote (eg: freeze, zoom and input selection). Other features include password protection, menus in 17 languages and freeze frame.

Verdict
Image quality was fine. All colours were good, although they were very bright. A minor issue was the imperfect alignment of the LCDs causing slight magenta and green borders around pixels and objects, but this was not apparent from a normal viewing distance. Evenness of lighting was a little lower than we would hope, but not noticeable to the eye. The contrast ratio was typical of other 3LCD machines we have reviewed (33:1).

Network set-up instructions were less than ideal, but set-up was not too difficult. A 10/100 networking system is inadequate for good video transmission -- even mouse movements were very jerky. Serious users will require a Gigabit network. Overall, the machine is not difficult to operate.

Customers have access to a free customer support line and there is a two year warranty on the machine. Lamp life is good with a maximum life of 3,000 hours. A lamp guarantee also applies which protects your lamp for 500 hours or three months. Running costs are about 35c/hour, with replacement lamps costing around AU$950.

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