Fans of the big-screen experience who grew up in the early 2000s fondly remember Panasonic as the de-facto standard for home-cinema projectors. Their LCD models started quite a riot and quickly garnered a reputation for being the most natural looking at the time. Fast forward 15 years and Panasonic is back on our test bench with a totally different beast, albeit promising the same naturalness. The PT-FRQ50 is primarily aimed at the commercial and institutional markets. Still, with buzzwords like “laser” and “high brightness”, it will inevitably find its way into large home theatres too!
Panasonic FRQ50 projector review
This isn’t a projector for the faint-hearted — neither in terms of its sheer size nor specs. Weighing in at close to 17kgs and capable of a massive 5200 lumens of light output, the FRQ50 is a heavyweight by all measures. At its heart is the single-chip TI 0.65in DMD with Panasonic’s own Quad Pixel Drive that rapidly shifts each pixel horizontally and vertically to create four sub-pixels, thus achieving its 4K resolution. The laser module is built with failover circuitry, unlike other laser-based projectors so that even if a single laser diode fails, the other three diodes continue working and the FRQ50 continues to function without a perceptible loss in brightness. Its lamp life is rated at 20,000 hours and the optical engine is liquid-cooled and sealed to prevent dust from spoiling the non-stop partying. Designed to be operational 24/7, the FRQ50 really is overkill for domestic purposes, but hey, if you want maximum brightness without mortgaging your apartment, this could be the one!
Replete with features that make it an easy plug-in for large venues, the FRQ50 comes with plenty of installation-friendly features like the Digital Link (HDBaseT) for long cable runs without losses. In fact, you can run cables up to 50m with a 4K signal over this connection and in excess of 100m if you only need 1080p! There’s projection mapping and blending, again valuable for commercial applications and clubbing more than one FRQ50 to project an ultra-wide image. More specifically for home theatre use, it comes with ample lens shift, both in the horizontal and vertical domain and it is controlled via an intuitive joystick next to the lens. This works brilliantly and is much preferred over the knobs and wheels implemented by other brands as it offers a more direct input between the changes you make and the image shift on screen. 2x zoom comes in handy too and we easily achieved a 120in image from a distance of 14ft between the screen and the FRQ50.
Panasonic’s Rich Colour Enhancer adjusts the timing of the colour wheel to make fine adjustments to the picture based on the mode selected. For the most part, Cinema works well as an out-of-the-box preset, but experimenting with REC709 and Natural could work for you. The House of Dragon is a difficult piece of content to reproduce by a bright projector since it has so much detail hidden in the darker areas of the costumes and low-light scenes and yet, the FRQ50 with its HDR10 and HLG support, managed to stay immersive. Despite the ultra-high brightness, the blacks never turned to dark grey. They weren’t inky black either, but overall, with the natural skin tones and rich colour palette, it never stood out as a limitation either. Some of the modes have a tendency to sway between cooler and warmer colour temperatures, so you may have to tweak them to your personal taste, but the motion was exceptionally smooth and that lends it a very cinematic feel. Something Panasonic projectors have always been known for.
Edge-to-edge sharpness and focus are noteworthy too, giving it an almost TV-like quality when it comes to viewing angles and accuracy. But, the FRQ50 did throw up some gradation issues on sunset scenes from Life of Pi and this was via a top-grade Cleerline 8K active optical HDMI cable. This phenomenon was erratic though and seldom seen, but it hints at its limited colour gamut support. Noise from the hard-working laser light engine can be intrusive if you’re seated too close to the projector. Of course, it was designed primarily for large space and if you happen to use this in a large HT, chances are it would be a few feet away (if not in a different room) from the viewing position. Changed lamp modes didn’t affect the noise levels much and in our relatively small room, it was always heard during quieter passages of a movie.
Of course, the upside of these compromises is a picture that is bright enough to look like a Mini-LED TV in most situations barring direct light. The 5200 lumens of average brightness and dynamic contrast of 20000:1 ensure that there is no dearth of life in the picture. No matter what you play through it, the image jumps out at you, commanding your attention. Another area where it excels is gaming at 1080p, which supports a 240Hz refresh rate with an input lag of an impressive 8ms. Where your senses are more consumed by absorbing every opponent on the screen instead of appreciating black levels, the FRQ50 comes into its own with a bright, vivid and ultra-smooth image that keeps you hooked for hours!
A minor gripe is the lack of a backlit remote control. Perhaps another decision governed by its commercial nature, where it’s more of a ‘fit-n-forget’ situation. It does come with a full array of hotkeys that make setting up the FRQ50 extremely easy though.
Meant for a select use case, the Panasonic FRQ50 retains the crucial elements that made its predecessors so revered. It handles colours and motion extremely well and if you like viewing HDR content, you’ll be amazed by its peak white output and colour luminance. It won’t be suited to small rooms or for mastering-grade picture quality, but if you want the biggest and the brightest picture without spending a fortune, the FRQ50 could be your best bet. It offers immense flexibility in installation, is easy to set up and is virtually bulletproof in its construction even for non-stop use.
Lacks the last word in refinement, but if you want the maximum brightness for minimum outlay, the FRQ50 is your ticket to big-screen heaven.
|4K (1080p native)
|HDMI x 2, D-Sub I/O, HDBaseT, LAN, USB, audio I/O
|498 x 168 x 492mm