Forget hybrid cars, we take a look at Panasonic’s new hybrid projectors
AVForums pops down to Pinewood Studios to get a glimpse of the future
A trip to Pinewood Studios is always a pleasure, especially if you’re a film fan.The entire studio complex is steeped in film history and you can’t help but be impressed by the massive 007 Stage that looms over the whole site. Everywhere you turn there are reminders of classic scenes from films but perhaps the most famous is where James Bond crashed his Aston Martin in Goldfinger. In fact that part of the studio complex has become so famous that it’s now called Goldfinger Avenue and it’s at this illustrious address that you’ll find the Panasonic Experience Centre.
What better location is there for Panasonic’s professional division to show off their latest wares? The Experience Centre has actually been open for some time and has proved extremely successful with industry customers and dealers keen to get a look at the latest products from Panasonic. However it’s recently had a complete refit and was reopened on Wednesday so that Panasonic Professional could show the line-up of products they plan to launch during the second half of this year.
Panasonic’s professional line-up includes a wide range of products aimed at the film and TV industry, including the studio monitors that have proved so popular with AVForums members. Panasonic also produce a number of interactive plasmas for presentations and ultra-bright LED LCD displays for use as digital signage. Panasonic have traditionally been associated with plasmas but over the last two years they’ve significantly increased their line-up of LCD TVs. As a result Panasonic have been able to develop a new LED Wall that is comprised of multiple 55” LED LCD screens. These screens have bezels a mere 5mm wide and built-in processing which makes it easy to combine a number of them and create a much larger image. Obviously even with a 5mm bezel, that still means there is a 1cm space between the panels so it doesn’t really have any consumer applications but for large professional displays the results can be impressive.
In the education sector Panasonic has also been very active developing a range of interactive white boards that allow you to write, present information and save what’s on them as images, and thus print them out. If you attach speakers or buy the version that has speakers built-in, the board can even speak what’s on the board - in multiple languages! It’s fair to say that today’s children will find going to school a very different experience from those of us who were taught using a blackboard and chalk.
Another area where Panasonic has always been strong is with projectors designed for educational or business use. In this sector of the market, the important factors are brightness and reliability. This raises an interesting problem. The reality is that whilst traditional lamps might offer brightness, their performance can be inconsistent, they dim over time and they have a useful life of around 2,000 hours. This level of maintenance, where lamps and filters need changing on a regular basis, can be a real nuisance for companies or institutions using projectors in installations that are on for long periods or in difficult to reach areas. They are also limited in terms of where to position the projector because due to the need for the cooling fans to blow air in a particular direction, the projectors can’t be installed on their side. Finally as any one who has ever turned on a projector knows, they take time to warm up and cool down and they can't just be turned on and off at will.
What if there was an alternative to the traditional lamp - one that was more consistent, didn’t dim and lasted longer? Something that perhaps could be turned on and off immediately, could be installed vertically, didn’t require a filter and lasted over 20,000 hours. Well there is such an alternative, they’re called LEDs and using them as the light source in a projector will deliver all the benefits just listed. If you’re wondering why all projectors don’t now use LEDs, there a couple of problems. Firstly, up until now it has been very difficult to implement LEDs in a projector because they’re susceptible to changes in temperature so the cooling needs to be precise and the temperature stable. As a result, all the LED projectors up until now have either been very small portable ones for presentations or larger projectors that cost upwards of £15,000. The other big problem is that LED projectors haven’t been very bright and whilst this is acceptable in a dedicated home cinema, it is more problematic in brightly lit boardrooms or classrooms.
However with Panasonic’s new range of lamp-free projectors, all that is about to change. The company’s latest line-up of projectors includes some that use a hybrid light source combining LEDs and a laser, which the company claims can deliver 3,000 lumens. To do this they are using a combination of two LEDs, one red and one blue, and a blue laser that is bounced off a phosphor disc thus creating the green part of the RGB image. The use of a laser to create the green is obviously how Panasonic are delivering much higher lumens because green represents the largest part of the visible spectrum. The use of LEDs as a light source has resulted in another change for Panasonic, as the new projectors are also single-chip DLP rather than their usual three-chip LCD. The faster response times of the LEDs and laser help to minimise the rainbow effect often seen on single-chip DLP projectors but those that are especially susceptible might still see them on occasion. Still, at least it will be free of the dreaded ‘dust blobs’.The new PT-RZ470 DLP projector uses a hybrid light source that combines two LEDs and a laser.
The PT-RZ470 is the flagship model amongst Panasonic’s new LED/Laser hybrid projectors and it includes some impressive specifications, even if it isn’t aimed directly at the home cinema market. Aside from the benefits of its light source, the PT-RZ470 has full HD resolution, full 3D capability, a Rec.709 mode and a claimed contrast ratio of 20,000:1. Unusually for a DLP projector, the PT-RZ470 offers a great deal of installation flexibility, including a 2x zoom and a wide lens shift, although these controls are all manual. There is a portrait mode which allows 360 degree installation, as well a digital link (HDBaseT) that is compatible with Cat5e/6 and can receive uncompressed digital signals over distances of up to 100m. The PT-RZ470 is also very energy efficient and includes features such as edge blending, colour matching and multi-unit brightness.
Whilst the PT-RZ470 is aimed at the educational and business market, its potential in the custom install and home cinema market is obvious. The idea of a bright but consistent image that won’t dim, can last over 20,000 and uses far less energy is immediately appealing. As is the idea of a projector that doesn’t need to warm up or cool down, has no filters to clean and includes a digital link for connecting directly to a Cat5e/6 LAN cable. The ability to turn the projector on and off at will and a portrait mode are less important for home cinema use but edge blending, color matching, multi-unit brightness controls and especially 3D, certainly could be. When it comes to installation, the PT-RZ470 seems quite flexible but the absence of motorised lens controls means that it won’t include Panasonic’s excellent lens memory feature. Obviously we only saw a pre-production model, so there are plenty of elements of the projector that remain unknown, such as the video processing and calibration controls. In addition, the unit we saw was quite noisy but Panasonic said the actual production models will be much quieter.
Before anyone starts getting too excited, we should point out that the PT-RZ470 won’t be launched until February 2013 but we will of course try and obtain a sample for either review or evaluation prior to then, in order to see just how effective Panasonic’s hybrid light source is in a home cinema environment. However, there’s no doubt that ifPanasonic can cost effectively translate this new technology into a projector aimed at the home cinema market, they could have a highly successful and possibly game changing product on their hands.
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