Panasonic PT-AE1000U 1080p Home Theater Projector Review: Update!
12/16/2006 -Art Feierman
You can link above, to the original review sections.
Before I get started, congratulations to Panasonic. The second review unit, a full production model, worked fine, unlike the earlier, pre-production projector, which suffered a definite problem. In addition, overall performance was better, especially sharpness. As a result we are pleased to elevate Panasonic's PT-AE1000U home theater projector to winner status of our Hot Product Award. This is only the second time in approximately 100 reviews that I have convinced myself to change my mind, and give out the award.
For those of you who read the full original review, this relatively short update should clarify the differences between the two projectors, and the reason for now giving the Panasonic the award. Here goes:
As noted in the full review from 11/29/06, the PT-AE1000U projector I received for review had at least one major problem. The projector was far from consistant in color, shifting from bluish on the left side of the screen, to redish the right side.
In addition, this unevenness, I noted, conceivably could be an indicator that other aspects of the projector's performance in the review might be suspect. It might affect overall "out of the box" color accuracy (even though the first projector did very well, as long as I measured in the dead center of the screen. It might also affect brightness measurements. And sharpness? Maybe!
In discussing with Panasonic, we concluded that it was definitely defective, and Panasonic promised a new projector to look at "as soon as possible".
Well, a second, brand new PT-AE1000U arrived on 12/13/06. The first thing I did, of course, was to hook it up and feed it a pure white screen, to check into the evenness of illumination, in terms of color shift.
No question about it, the first PT-AE1000U was very defective. This new Panasonic is virtually perfect in terms of color consistancy across the entire viewing area. Immediately below is an image from the first one (of the white screen) and below that, the new PT-AE1000U.
PT-AE1000U Pre-production (and defective):
PT-AE1000U (New production projector):
I should note that this new unit arrived directly from Japan. Now, whether this was a pre-tested unit or not, I can't tell. I can only say, that this appeared to be a factory fresh projector - no signs of repacking (always easy to spot), anywhere. I'll assume, therefore, that it is a "typical" brand new unit. I have no reason to think otherwise.
I also had a visit yesterday morning from Panasonic. They updated me on the changes between the pre-production projector and the new one. We also hooked up the new PT-AE1000U, side by side with BenQ's significantly more expensive 1080p projector, the DLP based W10000. More on that later.
What a difference! Between the earlier pre-production and this new Panasonic projector.
PT-AE1000U home theater projector: Sharpness update:
Sharpness also has been improved! The PT-AE1000U home theater uses their Smooth Screen technology to eliminate the pixel structure. I found the original PT-AE1000U to be very soft looking, barely sharper than the sharpest of the lower resolution 720p home theater projectors. The original review shows several images comparing it to other 1080p projectors, and the difference is quite visible.
This time around, the W10000 (and the Optoma HD81) are still sharper, but it is no longer a dramatic difference. I feel this change is very important. The key reason the PT-AE1000U did not originally receive our Hot Product Award, was the sharpness issue. I believe now, that Panasonic has closed the gap sufficiently, (perhaps more than half way), that the difference will only be something users would perceive in a side by side comparison. In your home, it will appear very sharp. I spent several hours last night, viewing the PT-AE1000U, on HDTV (ESPN-HD, Jay Leno, and DiscoveryHD, also HD-DVD segments from AeonFlux, Space Cowboys and Phantom. I even also viewed standard DVD, about 20 minutes of Lord of the Rings. Not once was I aware of the image looking soft, as I had been very aware before.
I sit close, and it looked great on all that HDTV, 11 feet from my 128" Firehawk, and this time I was filling the screen. For the HD-DVD, and DVD, though I did reduce the image size down to about 106" digaonal due to brightness, not sharpness. I'm used to standard DVD's looking soft from my seating distance. However quick switches back and forth between the Panasonic and my BenQ PE8720, one of the very sharpest 720p projectors, the Panasonic always was visibly sharper.
I naturally reshot several of the various images I use for sharpness. Here are some, presented below, along with similar or the same photos from other 1080p projectors.
To help keep things straight, which projector will be listed directly above each image, along with an occasional comment. You may click on each for a larger version in a separate window.
PT-AE1000U pre-production home theater projector:
PT-AE1000U production home theater projector: A quite visible improvement.
Optoma HD81 home theater projector:
BenQ W10000 home theater projector:
Since I happened to have a couple of other 1080p projectors here, when this one arrived, I immediately also did some side by side images against the significantly more expensive Optoma HD81 and BenQ W10000.
PT-AE1000U - Waveform generator
I hardly touched on this built in feature, in the original review. I got to play with it this time around. Very nice. Basically, it does about everything a disk like the AVIA Guide disk does in allowing you to tune your Panasonic. It's almost too bad that the Panasonic has such great color out of the box. Still, you can use the waveform generator to set correct brightness and contrast levels, and adjust colors. The documentation on the Waveform Generator isn't bad, but could use greater explanations for novices. Instructions on using it are fine, understanding it, less so.
PT-AE1000U - Color Accuracy
I won't get started all over again, with images here, but, as I said repeatedly in the main review, overall color is excellent, and fleshtones are very good.
Just to give you an idea, however, the only weakness I could find relating to colors are with Reds. The Panasonic PT-AE1000U's reds have a slight orange cast to them. This also shows up by creating especially vibrant, but fully acceptable flesh tones, that are vivid, yet not oversaturated. The one place you can quickly notice it, is on an American Flag. The red just looks a touch to orange. Gee, that's now my biggest complaint.
Full grayscale measurements of the Panasonic in Cinema 1 mode were also better "out of the box" this time, than with the original unit, and that one was pretty good to start.
PT-AE1000U - Black levels and iris
There were no apparent differences in black level performance between this and the original unit. The Panasonic can still muster up slightly blacker blacks than the DLP projectors, on the very darkest scenes, but the DLP's do better on scenes with mixed lighting. The Panasonic team that visited demontrated the smartness of their dynamic iris and lamp system, and why, in this generation it is visibly smoother in operation than in past models. Of course in the original review of the PT-AE1000U I had already congratulated Panasonic on virtually seemless, undetectable operation except in extreme scene dynamics. Overall, the Panasonic is comparable to a good Darkchip 3 DLP in black levels in most circumstances.
The bottom line:
The combination of a pre-production projector - which in this case meant before some minor changes to the optics, and other areas, combined with the projector being physically defective, lead to a very dissapointing original review. Certainly I strongly favored the Mitsubishi HC5000 which sells for about $500 more.
This new, standard production projector, left a completely different impression with me. It is the equal or better than the HC5000 in many ways, although the HC5000 still has a slight sharpness advantage.
The PT-AE1000U is simply the most versatile of the 1080p projectors on the market in terms of ergonomics, both physical, and performance options. Combine that with the lowest price of any 1080p projector to date, and we do have a Hot Product Award winner.
Perhaps I should say the PT-AE1000U is really user friendly. It will almost certainly work in most people's rooms, looks great out of the box, and has overall extremely good performance, certainly for its price. As to the sharpness, I seriously doubt that more than a few people will dissatisfied, almost all will consider the image nice and sharp, and detailed.
In other words, I have gone from dissapointed, with the pre-production projector, to very pleased with the production model. A rare transition, but Panasonic does seem to have it right!
I will post a few additional images in the next 48 hours, however look for a lot more comparison images in my planned Comparison of 1080p Projectors due in January.