The Planet Finder instrument for ESO's VLT telescope, scheduled for first light in 2010, aims to detect giant extra-solar planets in the vicinity of bright stars and to characterise the objects found through spectroscopic and polarimetric observations. The observations will be done both within the Y, J, H and Ks atmospheric windows (~0.95 - 2.32μm) by the aid of a dual imaging camera (IRDIS) and an integral field spectrograph (IFS), and in the visible using a fast-modulation polarization camera (ZIMPOL). The instrument employs an extreme-AO turbulence compensation system, focal plane tip-tilt correction, and interferential coronagraphs. We describe briefly the science goals of the instrument and deduce the top-level requirements. The system architecture is presented, including brief descriptions of each of the main sub-systems. Expected performance is described in terms of end-to-end simulations, and a semi-analytic performance-estimation tool for system-level sensitivity analysis is presented.© (2006) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.