Panasonic PT-AE3000 vs Sanyo PLV-Z3000
The Panasonic PT-AE3000 was one of our Best In Class winners, but the Sanyo PLV-Z3000, a similar projector in many ways, is serious competition, especially when you consider it costs significantly less!
March 09 - Art Feierman
PT-AE3000 vs. PLV-Z3000 - An Overview
What we have here, are two of the new 3LCD home theater projectors that I refer to as ultra high contrast (UHC) projectors. What that means, is that both projectors produce black level performance (blacker blacks), noticeably superior to more typical lower cost home theater projectors, and many more expensive ones. From a feature standpoint these two home theater projectors are far more similar than different. At the time of this writing (March 09), the Sanyo is selling for about $400 to $500 less, and that's likely going to influence many in their purchase decisions.
Both projectors sport CFI - creative frame interpolation to reduce motion blur. This is a new feature that only Sanyo, Epson, and Panasonic are featuring on their top of the line models.
Overall, the Panasonic has more interesting new features, and is generally brighter in "best" mode, when comparing apples to apples (more on this below), and one significant advantage is its better black levels. On the other hand, Sanyo is a solid performer overall, it can put out the brighter image when you need maximum lumens, and it comes with a longer warranty.
We have two 3LCD projectors here, so, physically, there are more similarities than differences. First of all, neither the PT-AE3000 or the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 should win any awards for beauty. The Panasonic is purely an industrial looking larger gray box. The PLV-Z3000 is significantly smaller, which many will like. It too, comes finished in a (not quite as) dark gray. The Sanyo, for those that care, has nicely rounded corners, and has a clean look. I'd say it's definitely the better looking of the two, should you need a projector your wife will allow in the room from an aesthetic standpoint.
On to more serious matters: Both have 2:1 zoom lenses, although the Panasonic's is motorized. Both have extensive lens shift (manual). In the case of the Panasonic, the lens shift controls are wheels recessed into the top, while on the Sanyo, the controls are recessed on the side. Both have all their inputs and outputs on the back.
Both have the overall placement range to allow rear shelf mounting in the vast majority of rooms. The Panasonic has 3 HDMI inputs, compared to two for the Sanyo. That's a good thing for some, but very few will need it.
Neither projector offers a 12 volt screen trigger, but these days, there are easier ways to control a motorized screen.
The Sanyo has a nice motorized door to keep dust and cobwebs away from the lens when the projector is powered down.
As I said, not a lot of real differences in this area.
Comparing the Projectors Picture Quality
For most people, price not withstanding, the most important consideration is picture quality. As I've said, these projectors are more similar than different, but there are noteworthy differences in the projected image.
Black level performance:
Although both of these projectors are what I call ultra high contrast (UHC) projectors, and both use the same Epson inorganic LCD panels, black level performance is visibly different. After calibration, the Panasonic retains a very small, but visible advantage over the PLV-Z3000. That's not to say that the Sanyo isn't very good, in fact it's far better than any projector costing less, and a number of projectors costing a lot more, including a favorite of mine, the $5000 InFocus IN83.
All that said, the Panasonic is better at black levels. Is it enough to make you pay the extra $400+? I would say, for many people, it's not. I like to talk about how much different people are willing to pay for the last 5% of performance. Well, if I had to put a number on the difference, it's probably 1%. In fact, if the black level difference between these two is, by your standards, enough to make the Panasonic a huge favorite, then you probably won't buy the Panasonic, instead opting for the Epson UB, whose black levels are better still, and whose price is about the same as the PT-AE3000.
The two projectors were set up side by side, each projecting about a 40" diagonal image. Our first image is between two black scenes. The pre-production Panasonic has an issue of blue in the corners, but if you forget that, you'll get the idea that its advantage is definitely there. The first side by side, is a black frame. Black scenes in their own right are hardly great indicators, because of the use of dynamic irises. One projector may shut down the iris a lot more on a pitch black scene, but even with a little ambient light, two projectors might end up the same in terms of blacks. Based on that image compared to others, I'd say the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 iris can shut down further than the PT-AE3000. The other images immediately below should give you a better perspective regarding the differences. The Panasonic was in Cinema 1 mode, the Sanyo in Pure Cinema. The Panasonic as you can see is the brighter of the two in these modes.
Note: Don't worry about color shifts - at these long exposures (typically 10+ seconds) subtle differences in color are greatly exaggerated.
In the starship image, despite the brightness difference, you can see that the blacks are a bit better with the PT-AE3000. The same is true on the overexposed casino image from Casino Royale. Look at the sky on the left.
Both projectors do a really good, if not excellent job in terms of dark shadow details.
While the PLV-Z700 does reveal a touch more, I don't consider the difference to be in any way significant.
Out of the box color accuracy differs between these two projectors: Without a doubt, the Panasonic PT-AE3000 has better out of the box color, but we're not concerned with that here. Both projectors improve with calibration. The Panasonic a good bit, and the Sanyo, quite a lot. Both projectors offer plenty of adjustment capability, but the Panasonic has some nice touches to help you adjust it, including image analsys tools and a split screen - before/after feature. Once we calibrated both, the Panasonic still had an advantage. The PLV-Z3000 still exhibited a small amount of shift to yellow green that Mike didn't manage to eliminate. That's not to say a fresh calibration wouldn't solve the problem. We've had to do that before. Please note, when looking at the photos, that that yellow green shift, in reality is a small fraction of what you see. As I've reported multiple times, my camera already adds a little green, and that gets accentuated here.
By comparison, the Panasonic is a touch strong on the reds, especially in the darker levels.
All considered though, the Panasonic PT-AE3000 does have the more accurate color, post calibration. In fact, from a grayscale standpoint, it is one of the best we've seen, with everything from 30IRE to 100IRE (white), within 57K of the ideal 6500K. (Remember, we calibrate gray scale, but not individual colors, so a pro calibrator would use the color management system to compensate for that yellow green issue found on the PLV-Z3000). Think of it this way: The adjustments we make, are with a broad sword, not a scalpel.
Overall Look and Feel of the Picture:
This comes down to a lot of options. Comparing Pure Cinema on the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 to Cinema 1 on the Panasonic, the less bright Sanyo looks a little flat, uninspiring. We recommend using one of the brighter modes, though, a customized Creative Cinema, or if you really need lumens for movie watching, their Brilliant Cinema. This changes the ballgame. First, it allows the Sanyo to match the brightness of the PT-AE3000, and with Brilliant Cinema, beat the Panasonic.
The Sanyo offers extensive controls on its iris setup (and lamp dimming), so a lot of possibilities exist. Get the PLV-Z3000 out of its Pure Cinema mode, though, and the bottom line is that the image starts to look nice and dynamic. In fact, all considered, with the settings I used for most of my viewing, I really liked the picture - it had pizazz. By comparison to that, the Pansonic now, was a touch muted, but, in fairness, the PT-AE3000 is very right on - what I describe as film-like for a really good 3LCD projector.
Bottom Line - Image Quality
I have to give the advantage to the Panasonic. The slight yellow green shift definitely weighs in heavy in that call. I feel bad for not having Mike take another go at the calibration, for if the PLV-Z3000 was as neutral in color accuracy as the Panasonic, I would definitely have liked it more, and who knows - maybe picked up a Runner-up award.
Still, that wasn't the only difference if you recall. The PLV-Z3000 can't match the Panasonic's black levels (although it makes up for some of that with slightly better shadow detail). Remember what I indicated earlier. While there is a distinct black level difference, it's small compared to any of the same or lower priced projectors, so don't get too hung up on the difference.
I touched on this above. Let's start by saying that if you use the Sanyo PLV-Z3000's Pure Cinema mode, it's not very bright. In fact its 235 measured lumens in Pure Cinema make it the dimmest of all the projectors in this review. Fortunately we calibrated and made changes to iris settings, for their Creative Cinema mode, and the PLV-Z3000 comes to life, not to mention measuring 373 lumens.
That 373 lumens puts it at least par with the PT-AE3000's measured 293 lumens. I say that because the PT-AE3000 was pre-production and I figure full production projectors usually measure at least 10% higher. Still, neither one is overly bright in "best" mode.
Moving to "brightest" mode, to my surprise, the Sanyo had some muscle. We clocked a brighter than average 1046 lumens, a full 20% more than the PT-AE3000's 824 lumens. This is going to be a plus for those dealing with some ambient light while enjoying a sporting event, or your favorite sitcom, variety or cop show. As a side note, only three competitors in this class beat the Sanyo, and they were all Epsons sporting an additional 40% more lumens.
What about sharpness:
Much to my surprise, the Panasonic came out as the slightly sharper of the two projectors (that wasn't the case with last year's models). I can't explain why. As I have said many times in this report, though, the differences in sharpness are slight enough to be a very minor issue. That's especially true since I classify both of these as average, not "sharper still".
Panasonic PT-AE3000 Anamorphic lens emulation
This is covered in depth in the Panasonic PT-AE3000 review, I'll keep this short (you'll also find these paragraphs in all the other head-to-head comparisons that include the Panasonic). This feature is only found on the Panasonic, so it is a distinct advantage for those who would like to get rid of letterboxing when watching movies. Note please, that while the PLV-Z3000 lacks this feature, being an ultra high contrast projector, the black letterboxing is pretty dark, so far less noticeable than on most projectors which have noticeably inferior black level performance. Of course if you are replacing an older projector, to take advantage of this feature with the Panasonic, you'll also need to replace your screen. OK, here's the scoop:
As most of you know, most movies are shot in Cinemascope - with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, a shape significantly wider than the 16:9 HDTV standard aspect ratio that is native for all home theater projectors. This leaves you with a letterbox (dark gray area) on your 16:9 screen, above and below the movie content. To get rid of that, you need a wider screen (2.35:1), and a stretching of the image horizontally with an anamorphic lens. You'll also want a motorized sled for that lens, to move it out of the way for 16:9 and 4:3 content. Problem is, an anamorphic lens and sled combination costs more than either of these projectors.
Panasonic's solution is to let you change the zoom for different aspect ratios. By having the ability to save different lens settings, this makes things practical for folks to go with that Cinemascope shaped screen. It's not a perfect solution, those dark gray letterbox areas are still there, but above and below a Cinemascope lens, and essentially invisible if your wall around the screen is dark. The other limitation is that with a real lens/sled combination, the projector uses every pixel for the movie, but with Panasonic's method, only about 80% are used, so the real anamorphic lens solution is about 20% brighter. To allow this to work, it also limits the usable range of the zoom to about half of the 2:1 ratio of the lens.
Very few people go anamorphic lens, and I doubt that many buying the Panasonic will pair it with a Cinemascope shaped screen, but the feature is a nice one, and there for those who desire it. By comparison, the Epson doesn't do this, and for that matter, doesn't support an anamorphic lens at all, without an outboard processor. If you want to go anamorphic with the Epson, you'll be better off buying the Pro Cinema 7500UB version which does have internal support for an anamorphic lens.
Creative Frame Interpolation
Both The Sanyo PLV-Z3000 and the Panasonic PT-AE3000 offer CFI - creative frame interpolation. Both do it admirably well, but that's where the similarities stop.
Panasonic simply offers more. Sanyo's CFI is limited to adding one creative frame in betwen each pair of 1080p 60fps frames. The PT-AE3000 does the same thing, and both do it pretty well. You'll probably like this for sports viewing on HDTV, I do.
Where they differ, though, is that Sanyo doesn't mess with 24fps source material - which is usually movies on Blu-ray disc. Panasonic does! They add three creative frames between each pair of 24fps frames, to get you to 96fps and less motion blur.
No CFI solution is artifact free, but the Panasonic does a reasonably good job with movies, with a minimum of artifacts. Sanyo simply doesn't mess. This should count as a small advantage for the PT-AE3000. Small, because I hardly think of CFI as a key benefit, although some appreciate it more than most of us. I should note that for dealing with one type of motion blur, simply a faster frame rate suffices. For this reason the Sanyo with movies at 24fps simply repeats each frame five times - 5:5 cadence. Many projectors take 24fps to 48fps, and others to 96fps. The PLV-Z3000 is one of the very few out there that goes to 120.
Sanyo PLV-Z3000 vs. PT-AE3000 Bottom Line:
Let me start by saying, I really like the PLV-Z3000. I was looking forward to it picking up an award, especially as the least expensive of the ultra high contrast (great black level performance) projectors. I also liked the extra brightness the Sanyo provides in brightest mode. The combination, however, of the black levels being the least great of the UHC projectors, combined with that slight yellow-green shift we never quite got rid of, was enough to take it out of the running.
The Panasonic PT-AE3000, on the other hand is simply an excellent, affordable high performance projector without any real flaws, and those extra features - notably its more versatile CFI, and its anamorphic lens emulation. Given, the first of those features isn't a significant thing for the vast majority of potential owners, and only a percent or two of us will use the anamorphic lens emulation.
As usual, you will have to weigh the differences against your specific tastes and requirements, but all considered, despite the bargain price of the PLV-Z3000, I have to say that the Panasonic is worth the extra price. Let's say they provide roughly the same value proposition, but, with the Panasonic, you get a slightly better projector for not that much more money.