Panasonic PT-AE8000 vs. Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB Projector Comparison

11/14/2012 – Art Feierman

The Bottom Line - PT-AE8000 vs. HC5020 UB

Overall Picture Quality, Performance 2D, 3D

Color performance is going to be more about your calibration or settings, than hardware/firmware differences between these two projectors.

Gandalf: PT-AE8000 first, Home Cinema 5020 2nd:

No question about it. when considering 2D, the Epson has to be my choice. This year it still offers a modest advantage in calibrated brightness, of more than 10%.

The extra black level performance, all by itself, gives the Epson more pop on darker scenes. If everything else is simply equal, that rates a win for the Home Cinema 5020 when running in 2D.

Overall Picture Quality:

Bottom Line 2D Winner: Epson Home Cinema 5020 Projector:

Seems like it’s for all the usual reasons I’ve liked previous Epson UB projectors – brightness, backs, warranty, pop!

Here again is the overexposed Starship image in 2D. You can see the blacker blacks on the Epson (right) (of course, click to enlarge for easier comparison).

Click Image to Enlarge

Bottom Line 3D Winner: Epson Home Cinema 5020

Panasonic gives you more 3D modes, but the Epson’s 3 are enough.  Mostly it comes down to 3D brightness.  Epson has the black level advantage now, as well, but it’s less important in 3D as you aren’t starting with as bright an image.  Unadjusted, Epson’s 3D Dynamic mode has, by my taste, slightly better color than Panasonic’s, but both can easily be tweaked to have better color with little sacrafice of brightness.  And don’t forget the Epson’s glasses are light weight and RF, although the Panasonic’s are even lighter.

Warranty and Cost of Operation

Two primary factors relate to Cost of Operation:

1. Projector warranty and reliability

The Epson has 2 years parts and labor with a 2 year, 2nd day replacement program, and no limit in hours of use on the projector. The replacement program sends you one, 2nd day, so your time without a projector if there’s a warranty issue is a few days at most.

The Panasonic also has a 2 year parts and labor warranty, however Panasonic limits the standard warranty to a maximum of 2000 hours on the projector.

If you are a heavy user, who uses the projector as a TV, then 25 hours a week, is nothing, but even then you’ll run out of warranty before the second year is up. No replacement program for the PT-AE8000, so if there is a warranty problem, you’ll be without your projector while you ship it to service, and wait for it to be repaired and returned, which can be A week, two weeks or longer, depending on how far away you are from service, and shipping times.  If you are a 40 hour a week user, then essentially you have a 1 year warranty – give or take.

Warranty: Big Win for Epson

As to reliability, historically both have good reps, although Epson I would say has the better reputation for reliability.

Epson also is particularly well known for great support, especially since they seem to take their customer’s word when they complain about a problem, and promptly ship out another projector.

2. Cost of lamp and lamp life

Lamp life this year is the same, but the Epson lamp seems to be $299 and the Panasonic is $399.

Winner: Epson – with the same rating for lamp life, the Epson’s lower replacement cost gives it the advantage.

Lamp Life and Cost: Small Win for Epson (If you go through a lamp, even every 2 years (40 hours a week), that’s an extra $50 a year. Not much in the grand scheme of things.

Cost of Operation: Winner with slight advantage: Epson

Placement Flexibility:

This has to be qualified by the Lens Memory feature. That in its own right is a plus for the PT-AE8000, and it is the reason a number of people choose the Panny.  That advantage goes away, if you, like most stick with a typical 16:9 screen. Here, we look at other aspects of placement flexibility:

Zoom ratio: A slight edge for Epson, with it’s traditional 2.1:1 vs. the Panasonic’s 2.0:1 zoom. Basically the Epson can be placed anywhere the Panasonic can, but can be a little closer or further away from the screen if needed.

Lens Shift: Both offer vertical and horizontal. As has been the case in the past, the Epson offers slightly more lens shift range. The chances that the slight differences in placement being critical to your situation, is very unlikely.  They represent two of the most flexible projectors on the market, short of having a range of lenses to choose from.

General Features: PT-AE8000 vs. Home Cinema 5020 UB

CFI – Creative Frame Interpolation

I personally rarely use CFI except for sports. When I compare their CFI, I find that for movie type viewing the Panasonic seems to have less of a “live digital video” look, so it would be the one I would prefer IF I watched movies with CFI on.  I think it does the least damage of the two.

On sports I had no issues with either.  I did not feel a need for the high setting on either projector.  I also associate both high settings with having visible noise artifacts.  Ultimately, the Panasonic has the advantage for being less “destructive” to the look and feel of film based movies, when engaged. For sports I would engage CFI with either projector.

Gamma Adjustments:

Epson offers a number of predefined gamma’s and an easy method to customize your own, based on visual adjustment or by the numbers.  Panasonic offers a more sophisticated (complicated) set of controls.  Both give the calibrator extensive control of the gamma of the image.  Remember though, Panasonic has its side by side comparison mode. That helps.

Color Management System

The HC5020 and PT-AE8000 projectors have pretty standard color management systems that are laid out, and work pretty much the same.

——

For 2D in general, my personal winner is the Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB [of course if you would like WirelessHD, choose the 5020 UBe], as the better choice for most folks who are primarily or completely into 2D. For $400 less than the Panasonic, (or $600 after the Panasonic glasses promo ends), you get a modestly brighter projector (calibrated), with better black levels and more pop on those darker scenes, and a much better warranty.

For 3D in general, again, I have to go with the HC5020 UB. 

That’s a change from last year.  The Epson is still brighter in 3D, but this year, engaging the dynamic iris, Super-Resolution and other dyanmic features now gives the Epson the black level advantage that the Panasonic had last year.

Of course it’s your job to match the right projector to your situation, and tastes. Generally, the Epson Home Cinema 5020 has a brightness advantage that can translate into a slightly larger screen. I wouldn’t sell it’s warranty and support advantage short either.  It’s 3D is brighter than the PT-AE8000, and now has similar features engaged.  3D glasses – sort of a toss up.  The Panasonic’s are so light!  The Epson’s are about 60% heavier, but still lighter than most people’s regular glasses (for those who wear them).  As I said elsewhere, even the Epson’s are almost as light as my half frameless regular glasses, and they are very light.

Panasonic gets the win for glasses weight, but I have to favor the Epson’s solution overall, thanks to switching to RF instead of IR.  The ability to give the depleted glasses battery a quick charge capable of getting one through a movie takes about half the time of microwaving a bag of popcorn, so that’s a non-issue.   Panasonic’s glasses are also rechargeable, but they make no similar claim, and I haven’t yet run the glasses down to the point where they are discharged, to see if a 3 minute charge will accomplish the same as the Epson.

The Panasonic PT-AE8000 has the convenience of motorized zoom and focus, (a nice touch), although in most cases these projectors get mounted, in which case, you aren’t zooming or focusing but once.  Motiorized zoom and focus, however, are critical to using a wide screen (“anamorphic shape, such as 2.35:1), for without the motorized, you couldn’t have Panasonic’s Lens Memory.

Finally, for a few of you:

Those two key special features I discussed earlier – Lens Memory, vs. Split Screen, can determine your decision, all by themselves. I say that because, while we can talk out which projector is truly better, they are both very good ones, and more similar than different.

This probably won’t be a surpise to many of our regular readers: The combination of price and performance that I favor consistantly, leads me to pick the Epson Home Cinema 5020 over the PT-AE8000 as my personal favorite of the two.   The Epson is one of two favorites among the 2D/3D projectors I’ve reviewed under $3500.

Above:  PT-AE8000 calibrated.  Below HC5020 UB calibrated.  Source:  HDTV from Victoria Secret Fashion Show (note they are not exactly the same frame, but other than for possible motion blurring, might as well be)

That said, choose wisely. While many folks, including some other reviewers will agree with my assessment, no doubt there will be plenty of folks (and other reviewers) who will find the Panasonic to be the better fit.

This Year's Overall Winner: Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB

The contest definitely was closer in some regards, but overall, the Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB did what it had to do, to improve performance overall compared to the Panasonic PT-AE8000.  Basically it now offers brighter, and overall better 3D, last year it offered brighter, but not as good 3D.

When it comes to movies both offer a pretty similar look in terms of skin tones, when calibrated.  For most brighter scenes, for watching movies and general HDTV content, from a color standpoint, they are about equal.  Sometimes one is likely to look better, other times the other.  And overall, they do closely resemble each other.  When the scenes get dark, though, there’s a clear winner.  Overall, on all but dark scenes the Epson has a touch more “pop” vs. the Panasonic’s touch more “natural” look.

In 2D, the Panasonic made great strides in brightness.  It’s now the equal to the Epson in brightest modes, and measures only about 11% below the Epson when calibrated (last year the Epson was 40% brighter calibrated).  None-the-less, the Epson remains the brighter, or as bright in all cases.

The Epson projector may have lost some of the brightness advantage (compared to last year’s contestants) but still has the advantage in 2 of 3 areas – calibrated 2D, brightest 3D, while brightest 2D is a statistical tie.

As a side note, Just two years ago, before both company’s first 3D projectors, it was the Epson 8700UB vs. the Panasonic PT-AE4000. That Panasonic was significantly less expensive.  Neither projector was 3D, nor as bright, but in many ways, the comparisons were similar to todays Epson and Panasonic projector (including the Panny having lens memory).  Back then, the Panasonic competed in the under $2000 price category (at $1999) while the Epson was hundreds more.  Somehow the price positioning of these two projectors has reversed over 2 years.

The very bottom line:  A need/desire for Lens Memory notwithstanding, essentially most of the performance and image quality aspects of these projectors slightly favor the Epson Home Cinema 5020UB, but what puts it way over the top for me are non-performance issues:  Epson’s definitely superior warranty, and that it is currently $400 less expensive, that will be $600 less if the Panasonic free glasses promo goes away.

If you are first and foremost a serious movie viewer, then considering the Panasonic paired with a 2.35:1 screen is a viable consideration.  If that makes sense to you, to go anamorphic widescreen, the Panasonic is a great projector.  As I’ve discussed, you will have a nice large image for those movies, but your 16:9 content – movies and HDTV, will be significantly smaller.

Otherwise, price and performance favor the Epson HC5020 and a standard 16:9 screen, at least to my taste and logic.

Now that I’m done quibbling over the “details” let me reiterate that the reason for doing this comparison each year, is beause these are both formidable projectors.  Both will look great. Both will be very successful in terms of market share.

While you can’t go wrong with either projector, in general, it’s all about “tweaking” your selection to get the one that really is the best combination of price and performance for your world!

Choose wisely!

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