Epson Home Cinema 6500UB vs. Panasonic PT-AE3000
These two projectors tied for our Best In Class award, in the $2100 to $3500 class. Please note, for all side-by-side comparison images, the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB is on the left, the PT-AE3000 is on the right.
March 2009 - Art Feierman
PT-AE3000 vs. Home Cinema 6500UB - An Overview
The Epson Home Cinema 6500UB vs. the Panasonic PT-AE3000, is one of the most interesting comparisons in this report. First, both projectors are inherently very similar. They both are 3LCD projectors (using the same Epson LCD panels). They sell for about the same price. They have almost identical placement flexibility. Both have very impressive black level performance. Both offer creative frame interpolation features. Finally, both the Home Cinema 6500UB and the PT-AE3000 offer exceptional price/performance.
It will be up to you, to determine which one of these projectors is the better solution for your home theater setup, and viewing preferences.
While they have far more in common with each other, than real differences, there are distinct advantages to each, in a number of areas. Nothing I can think of, overall, makes one truly better than the other, and therein lies the reason they share the Best In Class Award.
Let me start by saying I have a preference. Overall, I favor the Epson for reasons discussed below. It is the one I would buy, for my own use, every time. At the same time, though, another well known reviewer (that I communicate with regularly), favors the Panasonic. Go figure!
Let's start with the physical attributes of these projectors. The Epson is a bit smaller than the Panasonic, and is finished in a gloss white. The Panasonic is finished in a flat dark gray. Both are boxy units, neither will win an award for the projector's styling. The Epson's design has a little more pizazz, but there are plenty of projectors prettier than either of these.
When it comes to placement flexibility, they are almost identical. Epson bests the Panasonic by featuring a 2.1:1 zoom instead of a 2:1. That buys it (for a typical screen size) almost an extra foot of range between the closest and furthest it can be from the screen. That is not likely to make one better than the other in your room. Both have a lot of lens shift, and again, not enough difference to matter in 99% of rooms. While the Home Cinema 6500UB has the slight edge here, it's not likely to be an issue for the vast majority, and not enough to have helped Epson as we sorted out the advantages of each.
I should note that the Panasonic's zoom and focus are motorized, while the Epson's are manual. Both projectors' lens shift is manual. There is one feature, anamorphic lens emulation, that the Panasonic has, in part thanks to the zoom being motorized, that the Epson can't match, but that will be covered below.
When it comes to offering a selection of inputs, the only real difference is that the Panasonic offers three HDMI inputs, to the Epson's two. While few need more than two, I have repeatedly said in reviews, that I think three should be standard - just in case, so that favors the Panasonic.
Comparing the Projectors Picture Quality
Image quality is number one on my list of what's important. The critical areas here, are black level performance, shadow detail, post calibration color accuracy, sharpness, and the overall look and feel of the picture.
Black level performance:
For years how black the blacks are, has been the most talked about ability of home theater projectors. Better black levels are often referred to as the "Holy Grail" in terms of home theater performance. Watch a really dark scene, be it something in outer space in a good sci-fi flick, or dark, earthbound scenes in movies like The Dark Knight (or for that matter any movie with really dark scenes), and great black levels can make a huge difference!
Last year, the Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB produced black levels (blacker blacks) far better than any other projectors anywhere near their price, and better than many projectors costing several times as much. This year, however, there are two other manufacturers using Epson panels that also have excellent black levels. One of them is the PT-AE3000.
OK, that all said, it comes down to this: While the Panasonic is very, very, good, it still isn't quite as good as the older Epson, and the new 6500UB is a little bit better than its predecessor. Bottom line, while the Panasonic is dramatically better than most projectors in its price range, the Epson is enough better still, that by my reckoning, it gives the Epson a signficant advantage!
Here are side by side images of the Home Cinema 6500UB and the Panasonic PT-AE3000. Again, Epson is on the left. To balance brightness between the two projectors, the Epson lamp was set to its low setting, the Panasonic to high. The two projectors were set up side by side, each projecting about a 40" diagonal image.
The Epson's black level advantage is one of the primary reasons I personally prefer the Epson over the Panasonic.
The better the shadow detail, the less very dark details are lost to the black level. Most projectors today are very comparable in terms of shadow detail, with not a great amount of difference. In this case, the PT-AE3000 does reveal just a touch more dark detail than the Home Cinema 6500UB. That said, keep in mind that the darkest details on a projector with better black levels are darker, and harder to see.
While the Panasonic can 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: We're not concerned with that here, however, since both projectors improve with calibration. The Panasonic offers more adjustment capability and some handy tools, but ultimately both calibrate very well, close enough for this to be more of how good a calibration is done, than which projector is better. More significant is the overall look and feel of the final picture quality.
Overall Look and Feel of the Picture:
Here's where the two projectors become not necessarily better or worse, but definitely different. Properly set up, the Panasonic provides a really good, very natural looking picture. By comparison, the 6500UB is perhaps a touch less natural - less film-like, than the PT-AE3000, but its picture is more dynamic looking, more "wow" factor. Where does that extra "pop and wow" come from? I attribute it primarily to two things: The better black levels, and the extra brightness of the projector.
When I watch the two projectors side by side, each projecting about a 50 inch diagonal image, my eyes are drawn to the Home Cinema 6500UB. The Panasonic just looks a little dull by comparison. And that's with the Epson running in its low lamp mode compared to the Panasonic at full lamp. (That's necessary for the two to appear roughly the same brightness.)
One could argue that the PT-AE3000's posses the technically more film-like image of the two, but I think it's hard to argue with the better black levels and more dazzling image of the Epson.
This is one area where the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB shows a distinct advantage. While you can calibrate any of the many modes of both projectors, when it comes to comparing the "best" modes the Epson is significantly brighter. This allows for a larger screen, or some extra brightness on the same sized screen. More brightness makes for a real difference. On medium and bright scenes, for example, more brightness lets the Epson shine on sunny scenes, so that the sunlight on objects doesn't look muted. Alternately, it allows the Epson to deal with a little more ambient light.
When it comes to brightest modes, the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB is even more significantly brighter than the Panasonic PT-AE3000. Even it its low lamp mode, the Epson has more muscle than the Panasonic projector at full power. Want to watch a football game with a fair amount of ambient light? The Epson has a pretty dramatic advantage!
What about sharpness.
Both projectors are very reasonably sharp, but definitely not the sharpest out there. Of course there are sharpness controls, but once adjusted to limit visible oversharpening, I still find the Epson to be a tad sharper. This is another area, though, where the two are so close that any difference is a minor point.
Panasonic PT-AE3000 Anamorphic lens emulation
Since this is covered in depth in the Panasonic PT-AE3000 review, I'll keep this short. 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
Here's an area where the Panasonic PT-AE3000 dominates. Let me start by saying I consider CFI to be a minor feature. I know a few folks though who are really into it. For them, that makes a very strong case for the Panasonic PT-AE3000 over the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB.
Both of these 1080p projectors do a reasonably good job taking a 1080i 60 source signal and add a frame to get it up to 120fps. That gives you a solution for smoother fast action sports, but really doesn't come into play for movies. When it comes to 24fps source material, the Panasonic creates 3 new frames between two originals to get to 96fps, while the Epson creates 4 new frames to get you to 120fps. Problem with the Epson though, is that the image takes on an unnatural "live digital video" (or soap opera look) feel to movies, and it has more artifacts - a noticeable amount of intermittent jerkiness to the content. The Panny handles that with far less artifacts, and is watchable, which I don't consider the Epson to be. Still, it too, adds a bit of that soap opera look, but not as bad. The Epson, by the way, does fine with basic frame interpolation - not creative, on 24fps, taking it to 96fps.
CFI, however tends to mess with the "Director's intent", and that bothers me, when it comes to movies. Consider, if CFI smooths out the changing of shape of a Transformer, it may make the sequence seem not just smoother, but tamer, less exciting. If the director saw the CFI adjusted version would he want to make changes to put back more excitement? Remember, movies run at the same 24fps in theaters as they so on a non-CFI projector. I even suspect that things like panning speeds, in scenes, would be changed if the director knew content was being viewed at a CFI 48, 96, or 120fps.
I'm sure over the next couple of years, we'll see better CFI and on more than the four current projectors that offer it. The four being the Panasonic, both UB Epson's and the Sanyo, but the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 doesn't do CFI with 24fps sources.
Home Cinema 6500UB vs. PT-AE3000 Bottom Line:
Buy either of these projectors and you should be thrilled with the performance, especially for the dollars spent. While both are 3LCD projectors, and therefore similar in many ways, a number of things separate them, and it's the differences that you should be concerned with. As I write this, the two projectors have pricing parity, at least in the US. That could change, in fact a few weeks ago, based on rebates, and selling price, the Panasonic was typically about $300 less, but for the moment pricing is not a factor.
Primarily, the Panasonic is an excellent, well balanced projector with a natural image, extremely good black levels, and boasts some very interesting new abilities, including their anamorphic lens emulation, and CFI.
I find from side by side viewing, that the Epson as a touch sharper image, but it is slight enough to not be a serious factor.
The Epson has its strengths too. While it is a touch less film-like, and can't match the "special features" of the Panasonic, the Home Cinema 6500UB's strengths include visibly better black levels, and significantly more brightness. The 6500UB's final image has more "pop and wow factor" than the Panasonic. The Epson Home Cinema 6500UB also has a better warranty.
Owners and reviewers are going to be split as to which of these projectors they favor. In my case, I would choose the Epson for my own use, and recommend it more often, but I understand why others will favor the Panasonic. I think I'm right, but you decide!
My best recommendation is to consider your own room layout, lighting, and screen size, your viewing tastes (type of content, lighting conditions for that content) and any other differences, in making your final choice. It's hard to go wrong with either projector.