Panasonic PT-AE8000U Home Theater Projector Review

Panasonic PT-AE8000 Projector - Image Quality

On nice bright scenes, few people care about black levels and shadow detail, unless it’s really bad. Where these more expensive ultra-high contrast projectors come into play, is on darker scenes. Note the huge variation in the photos below, the lower cost projectors wash out far more than the Panasonic, and others that are ultra-high contrast. That’s why we pay so much attention to Black Levels. Two projectors can be virtually equal in picture quality on a nice average scene, but on some dark scenes, one can look great while the other looks mediocre or poor.

This Panasonic is a true ultra-high contrast projector. Forget the 300,000:1 contrast spec, with dynamic irises and no formal testing method a projector with 50,000:1 can best a projector claiming 300,000:1, since they all measure differently. We make our determinations by actually viewing the content, not the specs.

It’s middle of the pack for an ultra-high contrast projector, but the most important thing is to be one, and not have entry level (or near) black level performance. Sure blacker is better, but at this point, it’s just one, and a very acceptable one (aspect of the PT-AE8000′s performance).

We’ll start first fairly normally exposed version of this scene from The Fifth Element, followed by a heavily overexposed one which makes it easier to compare black level performance with all the other projectors whose images are below. (The newer images have been converted to grayscale so minimize the distraction of the color).  Below the individual starship images you will find two side by side comparisions – one with the Epson HC5020, and the other with the Sony VPL-HW50ES.

The Panasonic is dramatically better than typical entry or near entry level projectors, such as the Optoma HD33, Viewsonic Pro8200, Mitsubishi HC4000 or the Epson Home Cinema 3010, or for that matter, the Epson 8350 which stays in the lineup for Epson. But once you take the leap to ultra-high contrast, the Panasonic is fine but some others can do a lot better.

The blacker the better, but the Panasonic PT-AE8000 is definitely in the game. While some of those others best it, the Panasonic has offsetting abilities.

Bottom line on black level performance: Definitely gets the job done, but not a particular strength of this projector.

Black Levels Comparison

Panasonic PT-AE8000
PT-AE7000
Sony VPL-HW50ES
Optoma HD8300:
Epson Home Cinema 5010
Optoma HD33
JVC DLA-RS45
Runco LS10d projector
Sony VPL-VW90ES
Sharp XV-Z30000
BenQ W6000
Panasonic PT-AE8000
+PT-AE7000

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Black Levels Comparison

PT-AE8000 vs. Sony VPL-HW50ES

Here are two side by side comparison images. Panasonic on the left, Sony VPL-HW50ES on the right. The Sony was placed in eco mode to try to get the brightness similar to the less bright Panny (both calibrated). The starship is a slight bit brighter on the Panasonic as a result. A close look at the blacks, in both the letterbox and the background shows the Sony to be a lot blacker.

PT-AE8000 vs. Epson Home Cinema 5020

Again, slight differences in exposure but the black levels definitely favor the Epson. In this case, on bright scenes, the Epson was slightly brighter, but on a dark scene like this, it's iris closes down more, lowering the blacks, but also making the starship a touch brighter on the Panasonic.

Shadow Detail Performance

I must say the same thing about Dark Shadow Detail handling: Essentially the PT-AE8000 is very good at dark shadow detail, but several competitors are slightly better. The Casino Royale train scene below is excellent for looking at dark shadow detail. Peek into the shrubs on the right on the other side of the tracks, and in the dark areas of the trees behind them. You can see the differences in the larger images that come up when you click.

Most of these time exposures are pretty long, the end result is that color shifts.  Focus on the details, not any color differences.

Shadow Detail Performance

Panasonic PT-AE8000
PT-AE7000
The Epson Home Cinema 5020
Sony VPL-HW50ES
Epson Home Cinema 3010
Optoma HD33
Optoma HD8300
Mitsubishi HC4000
BenQ W6000
Panasonic PT-AE8000
+PT-AE7000

Last year’s PT-AE7000

The Epson Home Cinema 5020: is the new, and higher contrast and is a direct competitor to this Panasonic projector.

Note that the blacks on the Home Cinema 5020 below are easily blacker than those of the PT-AE8000.

Sony VPL-HW50ES: Comparable shadow detail in this shot, but blacker blacks, more “pop”.

Epson Home Cinema 3010: A lower cost projector ($1599), not an ultra-high contrast projector.

Optoma HD33:  A DLP projector around $1500, it has more “pop” on this dark scene than the Panasonic, but reveals a bit less dark shadow detail.

Optoma HD8300: Note, my original expectation was that the older AE7000 Panasonic and the Optoma would be about a tie. As it turned out, the Optoma’s blacks were blacker (about half way between the Panasonic, and the Epson 8700UB at the time.  That should still give the Optoma a slight – essentially insignificant advantage.

Mitsubishi HC4000: Excellent lower cost DLP projector, but no dynamic iris for improving blacks, and it shows.  The letter box isn’t exceptionally black yet it is perhaps the darkest exposure of the bunch!

BenQ W6000 : ultra high contrast, 2D

Black Level and Shadow Detail Performance: PT-AE8000 Projector - Bottom Line

The PT-AE8000 does well on both, but not exceptionally. This is a solid, ultra high contrast projector. Blacks are really good, but there are better for the price, and in general, it’s not quite as good as those slightly more expensive projectors I’ve mentioned, as well as the Epson, which has been the best under about $4K. That said, it’s good enough to allow you to concede a small difference and be concerned with other features that the Panny has.

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