Panasonic PT-AE1000U Projector Review: Summary, Pros, Cons
Summarizing the Panasonic PT-AE1000U and positioning it against the competition is a bit of a challenge. The Panasonic has many strengths, and couple of weaknesses that impact its overall value to different users. To further complicate this, the review unit I received (pre-production) did have a major problem which may have impacted other areas less obvious.
Fortunately, another PT-AE1000U projector will be arriving before mid-December (less than 2 weeks) at which time I will update all aspects of the review that are affected. For those of you who have not read the whole review, there is significant unevenness in the colors from the left side (favoring blue) to the right side (favoring red), of the screen. It is easily noticable on a white screen, but rarely detectable during normal viewing (unless you already knew about it and were looking for it.) Panasonic believes this to be a defective projector - likely damaged in shipment. This same problem may also mean that the projector's brightness measurements aren't accurate (though I carefully took the measurements in the center of the screen which appeared most neutral).
Let's start with the good. First, Panasonic's PT-AE1000U has one immediate and obvious strength in the quest for value - it is definitely the least expensive 1080p projector, either shipping or announced. With it's MAP at $3999, dealers will be selling it for that price or less.
The excellent "out of the box" performance in terms of picture quality, especially color accuracy, is another huge plus for the PT-AE1000U.
By comparison the Mitsubishi is $4495 MAP and has been selling for very close to that price. Overall, that puts the Panasonic about $500 below the closest competition, and almost $2000 below the lowest cost 1080p DLP projectors.
The wide range (2:1) zoom provides the maximum of placement flexibility, especially combined with a tremendous amount of vertical and horizontal lens shift. I'm sure someone has a room with limitations that will prevent the Panasonic from being a viable choice, but there can't be too many such people out there. And if the Panasonic doesn't work in your room, you are almost certainly going to have a tough time finding any 1080p projector that will.
And pixels are invisible - you'll have to get two to three feet away and look closely to spot them.
And one of the things I liked most about the Panasonic, is how good it looked out of the box . The PT-AE1000U is definitely going to be a favorite of those who are not hobbiests, but just want to buy an affordable high resolution projector, and watch their movies, TV, HDTV, etc.
The Panasonic is also very quiet, more than quiet enough, even in full lamp power mode.
On the downside, the Panasonic is typical of 1080p projectors (and LCD models) in that it is very average in brightness. Unless you choose a Very high gain screen, you are going to want to stay at 110" or smaller (with a 1.0 gain screen, I'd say 106" maximum). On the bright side - no pun intended - it really looked great on my 106" screen with 1.4 gain. Fortunately, there are plenty of screens out there to choose from, so if you really desire large, and it works in your room, you do have options.
Again, though because of brightness, this is a better projector for those primarily interested in movie watching, rather than partial lights on TV and sport viewing. Keep in mind though, for a significantly brighter 1080p projector, you are going to need to go to a DLP model (and they aren't blindingly brighter), and those right now start close to $6000, so almost $2000 more.
Sharpness is the other real downside issue. The same Smooth Screen technology that makes pixels totally invisible, also adds a touch of softness. Sure, it's still sharper than 720p projectors, but you are spending a lot more money for the higher resolution.
So, take into consideration your screen size and seating distance. Certainly, if you are sitting 14-15 feet back from a 100" screen, you will have no issue with sharpness. Nor will you if you don't have 20-20 eyesight (with or without correction). We are not talking about a blurred image, just a bit of softness. Believe me, it's stil sharp enough, so that when you go from a standard DVD to an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, you are immediately impressed by the significant improvement in image sharpness.
Also remember, with lower resolution sources such as standard DVD's or regular non-HD TV, or for that matter, HDTV broadcast at 720p (instead of 1080i), all 1080p projectors will not be at their sharpest, and therefore the Panasonic should be barely any different than a 1080p projector that is inherently a bit sharper. Another reviewer was expecially impressed with how great it looked on standard DVD's compared to other 1080p projectors, where softness of the image was no longer any issue at all.
How about the competition? Let's consider! Keep in mind, that so far, this is the 2nd 1080p projector review we've published, and we have been using a third 1080p for the last week as well. Although they are not in for review yet, I can make some comments about how the PT-AE1000U compares a couple of other 1080ps that we hope to review over the next 60 days. So, here goes:
Panasonic PT-AE1000U vs Mitsubishi HC5000
This is certainly the closest contest. Both are LCD projectors, both have flexible zoom lenses and lens shift, and the Mitsubishi is about the next least expensive, currently selling for about $500 more. The Mitsubishi offers a 1.6:1 zoom so doesn't quite match the placement flexiblity of the PT-AE1000U's 2:1 zoom. That might or might not be an issue for you, in your room. (One of the first things to check is whether you can place a particular projector in your room).
The real strengths of the Mitsubishi are a sharper image, and a two year warranty. (It also measures slightly brighter, but considering the problem with this Panasonic unit, I'm not going to factor that in.). The Mitsubishi does a really good job out of the box in terms of color, but I definitely have to say that the PT-AE1000U is even better.
Also in the Panasonic's favor, is that it's dynamic iris seems to be far less visible. Translated, the PT-AE1000U seems to produce blacker blacks, yet, changes to bright scenes are virtually seamless, whereas, with the HC5000, the dynamic iris opening can sometimes be spotted. (This difference between models is subtle.) Of course the pixels are completely invisible with the Panasonic, and you can start to make them out on the Mitsubishi if you sit very close (say less than 10 feet from a 100" screen.)
Lastly I give the Panasonic the edge in shadow detail. The Mitsubishi is very good, the Panasonic is just better!
Personally, I am somewhat obsessive regarding image sharpness, because I like to sit very close to a very large screen. As a result, I prefer the HC5000 and consider the extra cost to be worth it.
In summary, if the slight softness of the Panasonic is not an issue for you, you get to save a handful of $100 bills, and end up with an excellent overall projector. If, however, you, like me, demand the maximum sharpness, you'll be pleased with what you get by spending those $100s.
Panasonic PT-AE1000U vs. BenQ W10000
The W10000 review has already begun, so I have seen enough to speak confidently of the differences.
The biggest differences:
The single chip 1080p BenQ is a couple thousand dollars more as of this writing, although with discounting, maybe as little as $1500. The BenQ is also definitely sharper. The Panasonic's pixels are essentially invisible, but the BenQ is "close enough" I can't spot them filling a 128" screen at 11 feet back, even on titles and credits.
The PT-AE1000U, has the edge in placement flexibility, but the BenQ is no slouch. It offers a 1.35:1 zoom lens, which, while no match for the Panasonic, has the appropriate throw range to work for most users, and it has lens shift as well!
Another big difference is brightness. In this area, it's not close. While I haven't done measurements yet on the W10000, I would guess that in best mode it is probably 50% brighter, maybe more. I am able to fill my 128" Firehawk with the BenQ set best mode to full power on the lamp, and the iris partially opened. By comparison, the Panasonic was only comfortable to about 100" diagonal with that screen. This is no surprise, traditionally the DLP's have been brighter in best mode.
Overall, I would say that the BenQ (placement aside) is simply the better overall projector, but since it sells for almost 50% more, I would hope so.
Panasonic PT-AE1000U vs Sony VW50
I've only seen the VW50 at trade shows, in fully darkened theater rooms, and a lot of high end equipment behind the Sony. It looked good to great under such circumstances, so the best I can do is give you some general observations:
The Sony is also many hundreds of dollars more expensive. It has limited placement flexibility with a relatively short throw zoom lens. The Sony never seemed very sharp to me. This is not surprising since it is an LCOS projector (Sony calls it SXRD), and they have traditionally produced the softest images. My hunch tells me that the Panasonic is the sharper of the two, but that's only my best guess.
Another critical area is brightness, and while the Panasonic PT-AE1000U is hardly a light canon, the Sony is well known for being not very bright, and rarely recommended for screens over 100" diagonal.
Both the Sony and the Panasonic rely on "AI" techniques to enhance black levels. The Panasonic does it particularly well. I can't venture a guess if the Sony can compete.
Short of getting the Sony in here for review, my money is on the Panasonic.
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Panasonic PT-AE1000U vs. Optoma HD81
This is almost a classic LCD vs. DLP. The Optoma is definitely brighter, and can handle much larger screens, but costs more, and the Panasonic clobbers it in placement flexibility.
On the other hand, the street price of the PT-AE1000U is more than $2000 less, so these two are hardly competitors in terms of price.
The PT-AE1000U, is far more likely to work in your room. Most people considering the HD81 will have no choice but to ceiling mount, for the projector has only a 1.2:1 zoom, and no lens shift. Even ceiling mounted it is especially limited in placement.
The Optoma HD81 should have a slight edge in sharpness over the Panasonic. I was extremely impressed when viewing the Optoma HD81 at CEDIA, doing Phantom of the Opera from HD-DVD.
The Optoma comes with an outboard processor that stays with the rest of your equipment, and has a single cable that runs from the processor box to the projector, carrying all your source selections. The HD81 has more inputs than any other projector in its class, so far.
Due to the pricing difference, these are only competitors in that they are two of the few 1080p projectors under $10,000, the Optoma's real competition is the previously mentioned BenQ, while the Panasonic's is the Mitsubishi.
As I finish reviews of other 1080p projectors you can look to the summaries there for updated info on how they compare.
- Most affordable 1080p projector
- Beautiful, accurate picture out of the box
- Great flesh tones
- No pixel visibility at all (at anything resembling normal seating distance)
- Excellent black levels (within the limits of dynamic iris'es)
- Extremely good shadow detail
- Excellent placement flexibility thanks to zoom and lens shift
- 2 HDMI inputs
- Lamp can be changed without unmounting the projector
- Very good remote control
- Waveform monitor and custom color management (for serious tweakers)
- Manual is good overall
- 5 user savable settings
- Very quiet
- Very good Price/Performance
- Image is a bit soft with 1080 sources (due to Smooth Screen technology)
- Brightness is about average, the projector is therefore not ideal for larger screens (over 110" diagonal) or for handling more than very small amounts of ambient light for things like sports viewing.
- Manual could better explain some functions, instead of just identifying them (like Cinema Reality)
- One year warranty
PT-AE1000U Typical Capabilities
- Lamp life
- Average brightness
- Requires occasional filter cleaning
- Selection of inputs
I'm probably the biggest sharpness fanatic I know of, for I like to sit close (11 feet) to a 128" screen, and if I could, might even sit a bit closer. As a result of that preference, I'm a little more biased against the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, than the vast majority would be. To me the slight softness on 1080 resolution images is a big factor, yet, I realize that the average viewer isn't likely to be able to tell the difference between, say the Mitsubishi and the Panasonic, unless in a side by side setup. Based on my strong preference for sharpness, I'm probably coming out sounding a little more down on the Panasonic than I should be.
Once that issue is set aside, the Panasonic really starts looking like not only a great value, but an excellent overall projector.
While the PT-AE1000U could use more lumens, it is typical for LCD home theater projectors in the 1080p class (so far) next year, no doubt, the replacement models will be brighter.
The great thing about the PT-AE1000U, is you can pop it out of the box and slap it down on a table, run some cables to it, and enjoy a great looking picture, even before you figure out where you are going to permanently place it.
The Panasonic's overall image quality is about as good as it gets without having to adjust anything. The PT-AE1000U projector for people who are into movies, rather than those more interested in the equipment than the content.
I'd also like to recommend that you choose your screen wisely. Unless your room layout forbids it, the proper screen can make up for the merely average brightness of the Panasonic, so that, if it is your preference you can move up in screen size or bettter handle ambient light when needed.
If you are ready for the big time - 1080p (and remember, we projector types can appreciate the extra resolution far more than those "other" people with their tiny little 50 inch plasmas and LCDTVs), then you should seriously consider this Panasonic. It will provide impressive performance and great color, without fuss, and without breaking the bank. If that sounds like you - wanting a great image for a great price, and no technical hassles, I suspect you will find that the PT-AE1000U may be perfect for you.
Remember, you can always invest more money, to buy more performance. The PT-AE1000U isn't going to be the best 1080p projector out there, but it is certainly the least expensive to date, and that translates into a real value.