Panasonic PT-AE1000U Projector Review - Image Quality
A quick note: Over the next few days more images will be added, including some side-by-side comparisons with another 1080p projector, the BenQ W10000, plus more images relating to sharpness. Some additional commentary will also be added. -art
Panasonic has made a big thing about their home theater projectors being "Hollywood tuned". They have, for the last couple of years, consulted heavily with hollywood colorists and other personnel responsible for making sure that the color balance on DVD's etc., result in the color that the directors intended.
Funny thing is, it works. The Panasonic projectors have consistantly produced really excellent and accurate color "out of the box".
The Panasonic PT-AE1000U is no exception. Out of the box performance is excellent! In fact, after I completed my measurements, and started on my ritual gray scale balance, I found that I needed virtually no adjustment - just a minor tweak to the contrast and brightness (primarily to match my screen's characteristics), but needed no change to the RGB balance. With this level of accuracy, it is one of the rare projectors that really doesn't require a basic calibration to thoroughly enjoy. Of course a professional calibration will further improve performance, but it sure looks good without. The only other adjustment I made, was to reduce the color saturatation ("color") to -2 or -3, and I was all set. All images were shot with the projector in Cinema 1 mode, unless specifically indicated. The screen used for most is the Carada Brilliant White (with 1.4 gain). HDTV images were shot on my Stewart Firehawk.
So let's look at the different areas of image quality, starting with the handling of flesh tones. After that we'll consider black levels and shadow detail, then image sharpness, etc. The first images are from standard DVD: Arwen and Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, Leeloo and Bruce Willis from The 5th Element, and Will Smith from I, Robot.
Please remember there are limits to what the digital camera can capture. As a result consider that the images are provided to support the commentary, not the other way around.
Most of the images provided, can be clicked on, for a much larger image to view.
Here are a few more images, this time from the higher resolution, and better color that comes with HD-DVD sources:
Pretty impressive, considering the only color adjustment made, was a very slight drop in the color saturation. The image of Clint Eastwood above from Space Cowboys was one of the few images shot before I decreased color saturation slightly.
Panasonic PT-AE1000U Black Levels and Shadow Detail
The PT-AE1000U claims a most impressive 11000:1 contrast ratio, and to accomplish this, this Panasonic relies on a dynamic iris. By using a dynamic iris, that is adjusted frame by frame, in scenes without really bright areas, the black levels can be dramatically lowered. In other scenes, where there are very bright areas, the iris can't be closed down, so black levels are much higher. Overall, the PT-AE1000U home theater projector does a more than respectable job in terms of black levels, and an especially good job in terms of revealing shadow details.
First a look at the impact of Panasonic's use of "AI" (artificial intelligence - although, with projectors "AI" is a far cry from the true definition of aritificial intelligence. Generally AI refers to using technology to look at the images frame by frame and adjusting them accordingly to improve picture quality.
In the first image below, you are looking at a star scene from The Fifth Element. Because the image is almost all blacks, and even the stars are not very bright, the dynamic iris closes down to produce very good blacks.
Now, using the exact same exposure, I re-photographed the same frame, but with Panasonic's menu open. Since the Menu has very bright areas, the dynamic iris can no longer close down - resulting in blacks that are slightly lighter gray than the image above.
Overall, the black levels are very good on the PT-AE1000U home theater projector.
When comparing to my own BenQ PE-8720 a Darkchip3 DLP projector, the Panasonic, when it is able to fully engage the dynamic iris, produces blacker blacks than my BenQ. On other scenes, where there is a lot of bright, along with the dark, the BenQ - relying on the native advantage of DLP (especially Darkchip3), then produces the blacker blacks.
Since the Panasonic PT-AE1000U does a very good job on blacks, the next question is, how does it do in terms of shadow detail? The answer is extremely well, in fact one of the best I have seen to date. I refer you first to the same image below from Phantom of the Opera, off of HD-DVD. Note all the detail in the dark areas to the left. Again, you can click to enlarge, and the same image is used in a number of other reviews, including the Panasonic's most direct competitor, the Mitsubishi HC5000.
In the next pair of images, the first one is normally exposed. Due to the limits of my camera, the camera doesn't pick up shadow detail that is displayed on the screen, so I have provided a second, significantly overexposed photo of the same frame. Now you can see all the shadow detail that was on the screen, although the bright areas are blown out.
The next pair of images is handled the same way. This time from Phantom in HD-DVD:
Below are several images from Sin City (standard DVD), and exceptionally dark movie, that is primarily shot in black and white or sepia and white, with spot colors added.
In the first image of Nancy dancing, there is plenty of detail in the walls and
Here's another shot of Nancy, and below it, the same night scene with the red car, used in other reviews.
Back to The Fifth Element for the Starship image:
Overall, I consider the PT-AE1000U to be very good in terms of black levels, and one of the best in terms of revealing shadow details. At no time viewing any DVD, HD-DVD or HDTV, did I find any scenes where the Panasonic gave the impression of being flat without any detail at all in large dark areas where shadow details should be present.
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PT-AE1000U - Overall color handling
Below I have tried to provide a wide assortment of images to give a good feel of the Panasonic projector's capabilities. Most, as above, can be enlarged by clicking on them.
The image above is from AeonFlux on HD-DVD. Rich colors on a dark background look very good. Overall, the Panasonic PT-AE1000U produced rich colors and dynamic looking images.
"Houston, we have a problem"!
Although you almost certainly haven't noticed it on the images above, the Panasonic PT-AE1000U projector sent to me for review, has a significant problem. First, a reminder, the review unit is a pre-production sample, which arrived here about two weeks before the projector starts shipping. I have already contacted Panasonic, and they will be sending a second unit before mid-December, so that I can dismiss what seems to be an obvious, yet significant problem specific to this particular projector. I will update the review after I have received the 2nd projector.
OK, enough suspense. This PT-AE1000U exhibited a fairly extreme color shift from the left side of the screen to the right. Now, it's not something easily detectable during casual watching, but, put up an all white frame, and bingo, its blatently visible. In this case, the color balance strongly favors cool (blues) on the left side of the screen, and is pretty neutral in the center, while shifting strongly to warm (redish tint) on the right side. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, the image to the right shows the white focus screen provided in the Panasonic projector. I will concede that the image is intentionally, slightly underexposed to make the color shift more visible, but, there is no question that it is there, and pretty significant. I should note that slight color shifts are not uncommon on LCD projectors, however, this was very extreme, and Panasonic believes the projector suffered shipping damage.
Panasonic PT-AE1000U Home Theater Projector - Sharpness
This was the one real dissapointment of the PT-AE1000U. One of the big reasons for buying a 1080p projector instead of 720p is for the higher resolution, and in turn, more detailed image. Another key reason is that pixels are going to be less visible.
Panasonic decided to use their Smooth Screen technology (in front of the LCD panels), to make pixels essentially completely invisible. They have been successful with this technology on the lower priced (720p) PT-AX100U, and the older PT-AE900U. In all cases, the end result is invisible pixels at any normal viewing distance, and a slight softness to the image. The loss of sharpness on the AX100U was slight, and we found it to be more than acceptable. With the PT-AE1000U, however, people are paying over twice the price of a 720p projector, and I would think less willing to sacrifice sharpness. (Of course, it is sharper than typical 720p projectors.)
Below I have several comparison images, but first want to comment further. It's almost ironic. The Smooth Screen technology is so good, you can sit as close as you want, and no pixels, but the trade-off is, for the feel of an extremely sharp image, you need to sit further back.
I would put this forth as a guideline. For a 100" screen, if you are sitting more than 12 feet back, you should not notice the slight softness. At 14-15 feet back for that same sized screen, you probably couldn't tell the difference in sharpness between the PT-AE1000U, and a slightly sharper projector, like the Mitsubishi HC5000.
Below are four images. They are a closeup of the necklace from Phantom. (same image as shown above, but zoomed in).
The first image is shot on the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, the second on the Mitsubishi HC5000, the 3rd on the sharpest of the 720p projectors, the Sanyo PLV-Z5, and lastly, the new BenQ W10000, their 1080p DLP entry. (Basically a 1080p version of my PE-8720). Although the enlargement varies slightly from projector to projector, you should get the idea!
Please remember you are viewing a very small section of the full image.
In each case you can click to enlarge.
Sanyo PLV-Z5 (720p projector) Note: The Sanyo, though very sharp, has very visible pixels. I certainly wouldn't consider the Sanyo to be comparable, because from a pixel visibility standpoint, you would need to sit much further back with the Sanyo, for the pixel issue to dissapear.
BenQ W10000: (This image will be added shortly, as will several direct side-by-side comparison shots of the PT-AE1000U with the BenQ W10000.)
Here is a closeup of a computer monitor from Space Cowboys (HD-DVD). I'm starting to use this for sharpness comparison in future reviews. Even what you see below is only about 25% of the whole frame. (click to enlarge)
I should point out that the Panasonic PT-AE1000U's image softness would appear to be about the same as found on most LCOS projectors such as Sony's VW50, their new 1080p resolution entry ($4995 MAP - $1000 more than the Panasonic).
Bottom line on sharpness. I'm not sure why Panasonic felt it necessary to use their Smooth Screen technology on a 1080p projector, I don't think it was needed. I sit very close to a large screen (11 feet from eyeball to screen, and the screen is 128" diagonal). At that distance/size, 720p DLP projectors show very slight pixel visibility (not a problem), although with normal LCD projectors at 720p, that distance for that large a screen is just too close, the pixels become a problem.
With the 1080p Mitsubishi, however, (also LCD based), even a 11 feet from my large screen, pixels are not an issue, so I think this Panasonic projector would have been better without Smooth Screen. Of course, that's just my opinion. Other factors, especially screen size and seating distance, directly affect the situation. Since the PT-AE1000U (typical of 1080p projectors) is not especially bright (more on that later), I feel that 106" diagonal is the largest screen anyone should use, unless they opt for a screen with very high gain.
I suspect most buyers of the PT-AE1000U will choose screen sizes between 92" diagonal and 106" diagonal. In that case, the sharpness should not be an issue with seating distances (to your eyes, not the front of your chair) of 11 (for the 92") to about 14 (106" screen) feet should be far enough back to negate the softness. Fortunately, for Panasonic, those are fairly normal seating distances for those screen sizes.
Enough - I think I've beaten this topic to death.
So, below, a few more images for your consideration, then on to the General Performance page where we will consider the PT-AE1000U's menus, remote control, positioning, screen recommendations and more.
Time to move on to the next section!