The backlit remote control on the AX200U is predictably simple and small in stature, which tends to be the norm with most projo remotes. Because the operation of the zoom, focus and lens shift are manual, the need for many buttons on the remote have been eliminated. In addition to standard menu, input, enter and directional buttons, there is a collection of six buttons near the top that will be used by most to adjust their viewing experience. Here you will find three quick controls to change the projectors settings for Theater Room (dark room), Living Room (bright room) and a Favorite (pre-loaded user settings). The next three include Aspect (cycles through available options), Picture Adjustment (Picture menu) and Color Management (Color menu). Using these six buttons allows for a quick adjustment to match the projector to the environment you are using it is, especially if it changes constantly.
One cool feature on the remote is the Freeze button, which captures the image on the screen as a still. This is especially nice for reviewers that are looking to take pictures of the screen for publication, but I doubt that was the thinking behind it. However, the Default button is an odd addition, as you can reset the projector to the default factory setting with the touch of a button. While I can see a need for this functionality for some folks, I prefer it be buried in a menu to prevent accidental undoing of custom settings that can sometimes take a bit of work to get right.
I cannot stress enough that creating the appropriate atmosphere to use a projector makes all the difference. Ideally, a room will be relatively dark and/or have the ability to control the lighting. In addition, the image should be displayed on a screen (not a sheet or empty wall) with the appropriate throw distance (distance from Projector to screen) for the projector and screen size.
For the AX200U, we prepped an area in an unfinished portion of my basement. This included mounting the screen, providing a stable surface to place the projector on and working to control both the natural and room lighting. The lighting is the key, as light from any angle can disrupt a projected image by casting shadows or washing out the image. While not a perfect scenario, in a little under 15 minutes, we had created a Home Theater area that was very conducive for testing purposes.
In order to figure out where to place a projector, we had to first determine the throw distance for the screen size. The AX200U has the capability of approximately a 10 to 20 foot throw distance for a 100” screen. In our testing environment, we used a 92” 16:9 screen that required a throw distance of 9-18 feet. We ended up placing our mounting shelf at a distance of 11’ 5”, which seemed to optimize the picture quality. The AX200U was placed about chest high with the feet fully extended to create the proper angle. If you have the opportunity, I would suggest playing with the positioning of your projector to find the best spot. Although it may look great where you initially place it, it might look even better with a slight adjustment.
The input selection on the back panel of the AX200U was exactly what I expected for a Gaming/Home Theater projector. Panasonic by-passed the soon to be outdated DVI input to focus on what a gamer would expect to need to hook up their gear. Two HDMI, an analog video, S-Video, Component and 15-pin VGA are joined by an 8-pin RS-232C based serial connection.
Once we had the AX200U mounted where we wanted it, it was time to fire it up and get the image matched to the screen. Personally, we have advanced knowledge of projectors, so we dug right into setting it up without hitting the instructions. If you are unfamiliar with how to work a projector or its full capabilities, you should find someone that has this knowledge or spend some time going over the instructions thoroughly.
Something that struck me as rather odd was that the zoom, focus and lens shift were all done by manual operation. Most projectors have this built into the functionality of the remote or menu, which allows for it to be adjusted regardless of where the projector is mounted. My guess is that the removal of the motors, buttons and logic needed to make these adjustments from the remote also removed some costs from manufacturing. This projector is being marketed toward gamers, and their unique needs also help justify this decision in my mind.
There is a stick that protrudes from just above and to the right of the lens that is used to manually adjust the Lens Shift, and the focus and zoom operations are done using two separate rings that surround the lens. I do like the ability you have to rotate the little joystick clockwise and it will lock in the position so it can’t get accidentally moved.
The menus are easy to read and navigate, but it is best to have the manual handy to explain what each feature does. There are many options to customize and improve the image the AX200U puts out, but if you don’t know how to use the setting properly, it could actually make the image worse and wear the lamp out faster. We initially used the options to set the projector to its brightest settings (Open Iris), and then toned it down to match what we envisioned as the most natural looking image.
The replacement lamp Panasonic recommends for the PT-AX200U is the ET-LAX100. It seems to retail on the internet anywhere from $300 to $400 dollars. It would pay to research who you are buying the lamp from and determine whether it is OEM or some other source. You would hate to pay bargain basement prices and get some after-market lamp that isn’t up to snuff.
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