Panasonic PT-AE4000 - Review Summary
A summary of the Panasonic PT-AE4000 projector's pros and cons and capabilities.
11/14/2009 - Art Feierman
Panasonic PT-AE4000 Projector - The Bottom Line
What a great projector for the bucks. The Panasonic PT-AE4000 is a defining projector. With it's $1999 online price, it draws the line in the sand between the entry level performance projectors and those a real step up. And, it represents the step up. While there are some lower priced projectors that can rival or beat the PT-AE4000 at some things, I really can't think of any projector below it's price that could really be considered its equal.
Rather, the Panasonic competes directly with projectors that are all at least a little more expensive "out of the box". The obvious direct competitor, for example, is the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, and we've done a separate piece just comparing these two. There are also others though, most notably the BenQ W6000, the Mitsubishi HC7000, Sanyo PLV-Z3000, and Sony VPL-HW15. All of these are "ultra-high contrast projectors with black level performance that varies a fair amount, but all are much better than the less expensive entry level models, which are no match when it comes to blacks, and handling the darkest scenes.
For those other projectors out there that cost less, the real question is not one of whether the Panasonic PT-AE4000 is better overall, but only whether one of the others has some unique advantage for you, if your budget is extremely tight. Finally, if you are a casual viewer - haven't got the bug, for the equipment, but just want a nice picture to watch, you can be perfectly happy with lower cost projectors that offer what used to be considered pretty impressive blacks just 2-3 years ago. Projectors like the Panasonic are now more affordable, but offer real enthusiast performance. Of this there is no doubt.
Some of the best lower cost projectors include the Epson Home Cinema 8100 and the Mitsubishi HC3800. Neither comes anywhere close to the Panasonic in terms of black levels althougth bother are otherwise very good projectors overall. Understand that black levels really make a difference when it comes to many dark scenes, but a projector with great blacks may not be noticeably better on an average daylight or indoor scene. Just remember, there are plenty of dark scenes out there. When moving up to an ultra-high contrast projector with really very good black level performance, what you are mostly buying is significant picture improvement in those darker scenes. And it can make a real difference.
Thank you Panasonic. The PT-AE4000 is a good bit brighter than last year's PT-AE3000, at least in best mode performance. I consider this, the most significant improvement in the projector. It now can easily work with a screen size, or lighting situation that last year's projector might have to struggle with.
That said, it's still just a little below average in best mode brightness, with low 430 measured lumens in Color 1 after calibration. That has it a little less bright than the Epson 8500UB and a lot less bright than the BenQ W6000.
.When you want all the lumens available, that will be Dynamic mode, which can produce a very respectable picture but still a good bit under 1100 lumens. You can push out another 50 or so lumens by cranking the contrast setting to +8, but you will be crushing near whites. As an example, with +8, watching a football game, you are going to loose a lot of detail in the white jerseys, but you will have the brightest reasonable looking output the PT-AE4000 is capable of.
In its brightest mode (Dynamic), it is definitely average, or slightly above average in brightness, compared to the competition. It still can't match the Epson, which is about 25% brighter, or the BenQ, which is brighter still (but not great color in its brightest mode). On the other hand its got more lumens then several others like the Mitsubishi HC7000.
Color and Picture:
When it comes to color, the Panasonic tends to look really good, pretty much all the time. Rather, color tends to look right. The projector calibrates extremely well, and it performs rather well with standard definition content, but shines with HD.
Overall the Panasonic looks spectacular on most bright and moderately light scenes. Blacks in those scenes seem particularly black. When you get into the darker scenes, the PT-AE4000 may have excellent blacks but it is still bested a bit in those scenes by the Epson, and to a much greater degree with a projector like the JVC RS25. The JVC, of course, is almost four times the price. I don't think there are any other projectors besides the Epson, that are under $3000 that can beat the Panasonic in handling dark scenes, although the Mitsubishi HC7000 should give it a run for the money.
The Panasonic is dripping in fancy features. With it's Lens Memory feature it can work with 2.35:1 "Cinemascope" screens without an anamorphic lens, which for those that want to go that route saves a bundle. It, of course uses a dynamic iris to get great blacks, and also has a number of other dynamic features to improve perceived detail, contrast, and the crispness of the image. Most work rather well in small doses.
And of course, there's the Creative Frame Interpolation, which does work rather well. It offers three modes and Mode 1 has very little "live digital video" look when watching films. You are messing with "the director's intent", because it does change the feel of a movie, but it's not too bad and many folks may like it for some movies. For sports and animation it works really nicely, and can on much HDTV content. Generally, though - moderation. I like the lowest setting - Mode 1. Some may crank it up further for sports type viewing.
The very bottom line:
The Panasonic PT-AE4000 is a great projector. Like all the others we review, it's not perfect, but it offers sensational performance for under $2000. The color is great, the blacklevels are great. the sharpness good, and the brightness is respectable. The Panasonic PT-AE4000 is easy to watch, it tends to always look pretty much "right."
That's hard to beat.
Time to wrap up this review. All that's left is our list of pros and cons. Thanks for listening!
Panasonic PT-AE4000 Projector: Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
Panasonic PT-AE4000 Projector: Pros
- Very good color, out of the box, and even better once calibrated
- Particularly good skin tones
- Black levels are excellent for a lower cost projector, bested by only a few
- Brightness in best mode improved over last year's model
- Brightness in brightest mode slightly above average
- Creative Frame Interpolation already very good, now better
- Extremely good dark shadow detail
- New, more capable, CMS (color management system)
- Three HDMI 1.3b inputs, full support for 24 fps, Deep Color, CEC, etc.
- Outputs 24 frame per second sources at 96 fps
- Good layout on the remote control, and a good backlight with easily readable buttons
- Excellent, virtually unmatched placement flexibility due to 2:1 zoom and lots of lens shift, perfect for ceiling or rear shelf mounting
- Focus and Zoom are motorized
- Lens Memory system allows "anamorphic lens emulation", so you can use a 2.35:1 screen to eliminate movie letterboxing
- Very good menu system
- Excellent price performance
Panasonic PT-AE4000 Projector: Cons
- Slightly below average brightness in "best" mode, with with just 430 lumens - we consider average, to be about 500 lumens This limits screen size with a typical screen to about 110" maximum
- Very slight red push after calibration (that a full calibration including indivdual colors should handle no problem)
- While lamp life is typical, several competing projectors are offering much longer lamp life, and also in some cases lower lamp costs, which can dramatically reduce total cost over several years. In other words this projector has a significantly higher operational cost than just a few competitors
- Warranty could be better (2000 hour limit)
- Slight (but acceptable) pixel misalignment (typical of virtually all LCD projectors)
- Physical styling
Panasonic PT-AE4000 Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Just average lamp life - 2000 hours in High lamp power, 3000 in eco-mode
- Price of lamp - (about $400)
- Average sharpness for a 1080p projector - this can be improved slightly, with the sharpness and detail enhancement controls, without creating significant sharpening artifacts. "all things in moderation"
- Documentation (I'm still waiting to see a projector that really does provide good explanations of all the menu functions).
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