Panasonic PT-AE900u Home Theater Projector - Who Should Buy?
2/26/06 -Art Feierman
Before or after reading this review commentary, you can click on this link- or at the bottom - for the full multi-page review of the PTAE900u projector:
The Full PT-AE900u Review
A few words on current Panasonic PT-AE900u pricing, ( also updated on the full review) as of 5/06:
The Panasonic PT-AE900u, after you consider the large rebates, is really no longer a $2000+ projector. Most online dealers are selling the PT-AE900u for $1995 to $2095. If you subtract the current (5/06) $400 mail in rebate, and figure the included $300 Blockbuster rental card - is only worth half of the $300 to the average user, that works out to a combined rebate value of $550. That, in turn works out to a net price of right around $1500. And the Panasonic PTAE900u projector is one fine value at $1500! -art
The PT-AE900u Earns a Hot Product Award
Back in September of 2005 we were about the first to review the new Panasonic PT-AE900u projector. The AE900u was the first of a new generation of LCD projectors, that at the time of launch were selling for between $2100 and $2500. (Since then the selling prices have come down.) The 900u at the time, competed with some older LCD home theater projectors, including the Sanyo Z3, and DLP projectors like BenQ's PE-7700. We found the overall performance of the 900u to be especially good among projectors in the price range, notably, it's out of box color handling, and the ergonomic features, which allows the PT-AE900u to be easy to position in almost any room or home theater.
The AE900u Faces New Competition
Since that time (this is now 3/06), a number of new competitors for the PTAE900u have hit the market. They include Sanyo's PLV-Z4, and Epson's Cinema 550, both LCD projectors. In addition, the BenQ PE7700 has had a major upgrade to its performance, and most recently Optoma started shipping their HD72. The BenQ and Optoma are both DLP's. In addition Mitsubishi launched their somewhat more expensive HC3000, and Sony, their VPL-HS51A, also more expensive. Lastly, InFocus, finally replacing their very dated ScreenPlay 5000, will launch their IN PLAY 76 in April. There are possibly one or two others, but I see these as the major competitors.
PT-AE900u Prices - vs. The Competition
My goal is not to provide the lowest projector prices for you at this time, as they constantly change, but rather to help put in perspective, how the PTAE900u projector - or the 900u as many call it - is priced compared to the competition.
For months now Panasonic has been providing large manufacturer mail-in Rebates on the 900u. Originally $200 a month, and more recently $400 a month. In addition, Panasonic is currently offering a Blockbuster Rental card good for 40 rentals as an additional rebate. That will have a lot of value for some, little for others. The point being that the typical price for a 900u (without considering the Blockbuster rental), is substantially below $2000 at this time.
By comparison the Sanyo PLV-Z4, typically prices about the same as the 900u is offering a free spare replacement lamp - a $400 value, keeping these two projectors almost dead even in pricing.
By comparison the two hot DLP projectors, the BenQ PE7700 and the Optoma HD72, are likely to cost between $200 and $400 more (they have no rebates) than the PT-AE900u.
Epson uses a different pricing strategy on their Cinema 550, and have not reduced the pricing since launched in December. At this time, the Epson is sufficiently more expensive to not really be a direct competitor, for the 900u at least price wise.
The Mitsubishi HC3000 DLP projector (the only one of these projectors that I haven't yet been able to obtain for review), and the Sony HS51A, technically fit into this catagory, but are now significantly more expensive, to basically be in a different price range. They may, however, like the Epson, be within the budget of some Panasonic PT-AE900u shoppers, so that if they offer enough additional value to you, and you are considering the 900u, you might spend the extra (many hundreds - to about $1000 more), for one of these.
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What's So Great About the PT-AE900u?
The 900u offers one of the most flexible designs in terms of where you can place it in your room. Sporting a 2:1 zoom lens, with most home theater rooms or family rooms you can place the projector in any one of these locations:
- Near the middle of the room, on a table, placed about even with the bottom of your screen or slightly lower. Yes, you can shine on a wall, but you'll be amazed at the improvement with a proper projector screen.
- In terms of distance, you could place it further back, all the way to the back wall of the room, unless you have a very long room, and a very small screen.
- You can mount it on a shelf on the back wall (in most rooms) with the PT-AE900u mounted on a shelf located vertically anywhere from slightly below the bottom of the screen to slightly above the top edge of your screen.
- Or, you can ceiling mount the AE900u, probably from the middle of your room to the back.
Now, that's flexible positioning. The Sanyo PLV-Z4 is similar overall, and the Epson can be placed even higher or lower, relative to the screen, but doesn't have nearly as much range as the 900u in terms of zoom, so may not get as close or as far away as you would prefer to place it. The DLP projectors, by comparison, are much more limited, so, in chosing them, you pretty much have to place them where they are designed to be placed. If your room can't handle that restriction, you can't use that DLP projector.
Also of note, the Panasonic AE900u has as complete a set of inputs as found on any of these other projectors. In fact it is better equipped, than most, with one HDMI and two component inputs.
The 900u also comes with a very good remote, and it is the only projector, who's remote is a learning remote, so you can set it up to control your DVD player, Receiver and other devices, as well as use it to control a motorized screen that has an Infra-red sensor.
PT-AE900u Brightness and Sharpness
Brightness - Home theater projectors like the PT-AE900u are meant to be used in near or fully darkened rooms for watching movies, and can handle some ambient light for watching HDTV, TV, or video games. The Panasonic 900u isn't the brightest projector in its class, rather its about average, however, the difference in brightness from one projector to the next, while significant, isn't drastic. The PTAE900u is brighter than the Sanyo, or the Sony, close to the BenQ, and definitely not as bright as the Optoma HD72, or the Epson Cinema 550. If you really need the brightest projector of the group, but are limited in dollars, that would be the HD72.
Sharpness and Screen Door Effect- There is something called the Screen Door Effect, that is present to some degree on all home theater projectors. Typically it is much greater on LCD projectors, than DLP projectors. It effectively limits how close you can sit to a screen of any particular size, without a certain type of distortion becoming annoying. The Panasonic AE900u is the exception, it is an LCD projector with, by far, the least issue with Screen Door, than any other we have tested. In fact, it's virtually as good as the DLP projectors, a real plus. The 900u's sharpness does seem to pay a slight price for the ability to sit 25-35% closer than with other LCD projectors. This is a good trade off. Sharpness overall is good on DVD and very good on HDTV. DVD sharpness ( as these are all pretty close on HDTV), is not as sharp as the Sanyo, or the Sony, close to the Optoma and BenQ, and sharper than the Epson.
As to the seating distance, with the Panasonic AE900u, you can sit as close as 1.1 times your screen width and not suffer from Screen Door. To give you an idea, by comparison, we recommend almost 1.5 times screen width for the Sanyo, and slightly less than 1.5 for the Sony and Epson. The DLP's all allow you to get just slightly closer to the projector screen, than the 900u.
AE900u Image Quality and Color vs Competition
The Panasonic PT-AE900u really shines here. The color faithfulness, "out of the box" is the best of all the projectors we tested. Reds are red, blues blue, etc., and flesh tones are impressively good, without any adjustment. Overall, there is a just a slight emphasis on yellow, which is very easy to correct, with an inexpensive calibration disk (that any non-technical person can use). To maximize your enjoyment, I recommend doing that calibration. By comparison, the BenQ PE7700 also has good out of box color, making only the 900u and the BenQ that do a good enough job with out calibration to be reasonably faithful, whereas the Sanyo Z4, Optoma HD72, and Epson all, in my opinion need that calibration before they are accurate enough to properly enjoy.
There is another important aspect, referred to as black levels, "blacker blacks", and shadow detail. All these projectors, including the PTAE900u, cannot do a true black. Their attempt comes out dark gray (true also of plasma displays and lcd displays). Some get closer to black than others, and that means you can see more details in areas that are very dark. Until recently the DLP projectors have had a significant advantage. The 900u and other new LCD's though use advanced "AI" technology to close the gap, and it is now a pretty even competition among these projectors. Only the Sony does a noticeably better job, until you get to $3000 DLP projectors.
Summary: Is the Panasonic AE900u the right projector for you?
If price is a key factor, the 900u is pretty much the least expensive, current, hi-def 720p resolution home theater projector on the market, with only the Sanyo Z4 being roughly the same price. Everything else is at least a couple hundred more. The 900u offers close to the best room placement flexibility, and by virtue of minimal screen door effect, lets you sit closer to your screen than any other LCD projector in the group. On top of all that, the PTAE900u image is pretty sharp, and colors are the best out of the box. No wonder the 900u is the best selling projector in its class.
And, the 900u will work in just about anyone's room thanks to its placement flexibility.
If you need the brightest projector though, because you can't darken the room enough, look to the Optoma HD72, instead of the 900u, if your room placement supports it.
If you demand the absolute sharpest image (remember, these are not big differences), consider either the similarly priced Sanyo Z4, or the far more expensive Sony HS51A, remember though, that these are the two least bright home theater projectors in this class, that I've tested, and both are more in need of a good calibration.
If we were talking about cars, I might say that the Panasonic PT-AE900u home theater projector is the Toyota Camry, or Honda Accord of the field. Well designed, a good value overall, no serious deficiencies, and highly enjoyed by its owners. As an added bonus, unlike these two cars, the Panasonic is pretty much the least expensive in its field.
As a parting note, to make your home theater experience the most enjoyable and stress free, I recommend you not quibble over the last few dollars when choosing a dealer. Find a dealer that knows their stuff, has good policies, and can also advise you on the right screen, and recommend good performance cables. Spending a bit extra on better Digital (DVI or HDMI cables) will improve the image quality of the Panasonic AE900u or any good projector.
The Panasonic PT-AE900u, is just as deserving of its Hot Product Award today, as when released. Hopefully this projector comparison has helped you decide if the 900u is the best home theater projector for you. -art
To read the full PT-AE900u review click here:
The Full PTAE900u Review