Panasonic PT-AE7000 Home Theater Projector Review
Well, we waited about 4 months from our first look at the PT-AE7000 Home projector at the press roll-out in LA, until one arrived for review last week. Now that it's finally here, and I've played with the PT-AE7000, I'm happy.
In the US, this projector is usually referred to as either the PT-AE7000 or the PT-AE7000U. Overseas, it's the PT-AT5000e. We'll primarly use the AE7000 designation, but for variety, you'll see the PT-AE7000U moniker, as well.
11/10/2011 - Art Feierman
Panasonic PT-AE7000 Projector Overview
The Panasonic PT-AE7000 is Panasonic's first 3D capable projector. It's about the same brightness in "best" calibrated mode as its 2D only predecessor, the PT-AE4000, but seems to be significantly brighter when looking for maximum brightness.
Thanks to the brighter picture, addition of 3D capabilities, and other features, the street price for the new (10/11) PT-AE7000U, is about $1000 higher than the older model. No matter, this is a great projector value for an ultra-high contrast home theater projector.
The thing is, the Panasonic PT-AE7000's predecessors have, for years, typically been either the best selling home theater projector, or right up by the top, and I'm going back almost a decade.
This PT-AE7000U, however, is the first significantly new projector from Panny in three years, as the PT-AE4000, which has had a 2 year run, follows the virtually identical PT-AE3000 which shipped in 2008. As a result of Panasonic's successful track record, expectations over here have been very high, and the long wait for a review unit, has been downright annoying, but what can a poor reviewer do?
Well, that wait is all over now. Here's the first, really new Panasonic projector in four years, sporting new LCD panels, more brightness, impressive 3D abilities, and more, with this projector. Note that there is also a second brand new Panasonic home projector as well, the lower cost, living room/ family room projector, the PT-AR100U, which we'll review in the next month or two as they become available.
Image above taken with a fair amount of ambient light present including some outside light and lights in the back of the room.
The Panasonic PT-AE7000 is very feature laden, especially for an under $3000 (MSRP is $3499) 1080p home theater projector (with or without 3D). Below, in the Special Features section, we'll discuss many of these Panasonic features and their impact.
What is the competition for this Panasonic projector? Consider first that this is a very strong entry as a 2D projector as well as being 3D. If you are 2D only, no interest and no curiousity about 3D, then the PT-AE7000, may not be as great a value as the $1000 less PT-AE4000 that's being discontinued as I write this. Still, for that extra money you do get a number of extras. After all, in many ways the PT-AE7000 is similar to the older model, certainly in general design (but less the 3D). For 2D only folks, a couple of other $2000ish projectors that are 2D only could also be considered competitors. But I'm big on 3D. Little League Baseball Championships in 3D is down right uncanny. Hey, football's pretty good in 3D, boxing, even better, but baseball, might even be the best of the traditional sports. You can't beat the X-games, though for great 3D imagery.
The real competition are the 2D/3D projectors, and that means the major players besides the PT-AE7000U are the Sony VPL-HW30ES, the forthcoming (later this month) Epson Home Cinema 5010, the Optoma HD8300, Sharp XV-Z17000... There are others too, but most of them are a full price step up from the Panasonic. For example, the top two of JVC's 3D capable models are at $7999 and $11,999. Even their lowest priced one, suitably equipped for 3D, is probably more than $1000 extra. As is usual, the Panasonic is priced well below those JVC entries.
The PT-AE7000 easily deserves our Hot Product Award. We can quibble about this or that - but the combination of performance and price looks better than any of the more expensive LCoS and DLP 3D capable projectors I've just mentioned. That doesn't mean one of those others isn't a better choice for your situation, but the aggressive pricing probably indicates that Panasonic, as usual, will find its primary competition from Epson. Since both are 3D capable, they will be slugging it out, for the top honors in our $2000 - $3500 price class. We shall see who comes out on top, in the near future.
The point is, whether or not this Panasonic PT-AE7000 is the best projector for you, it's almost certain that it should be considered and placed on your "very short list" if it fits your budget.
Note, I'd guess that I only say that about 3-6 projectors a year, spanning the range of $800 to $15,000.
The PT-AE7000 is designed for your home theater. But wait: You can put it in a living room/bonus room/ spare bedroom type environment, thanks to the brightness. (As always though, ambient light is an issue.) The PT-AE7000, though, has the picture quality performance that deserves a "real" theater environment. That is thanks to having excellent black level performance, good color performance out of the box, and excellent color and skin tones (post calibration).
The Panasonic Lens Memory feature, which they've touted for several years, and lets you intelligently choose a Cinemascope shaped screen (ie. 2.35:1) instead of 16:9, is no longer a unique feature. It has recently appeared on several - note this - much more expensive projectors, but certainly nothing that can sell for under $3000 in the US.
Panasonic PT-AE7000 Projector Highlights
- 2D and 3D capable with good brightness for 3D
- Very good color and skin tones
- Extremely good black level performance - a true "ultra-high contrast" projector
- Extensive feature set makes it a very good potential choice for most people with the budget
- Rated 2000 lumens (and comes very close) making it unusually bright for a home projector targeted first for a dedicated home theater, that makes it family room happy as well
- All considered, perhaps the best placement flexibility of any home projector without interchangeable lenses
- Lens Memory - discussed below - part of that "best" flexibility
- Power zoom and focus, and lots of manual lens shift
- 3 HDMI 1.4a inputs
- Waveform monitor - like to play with the settings? Have a blast, with your own split screen and analysis function
- Excellent price/performance value
Basic Specs for Panasonic PT-AE7000
PT-AE7000 MSRP: $3499, MAP: $2999
(no 3D glasses included - they are $179 MSRP, sell for less)
Native Resolution: 1080p (1920x1080)
Brightness: Manufacturer claim: 2000 lumens, 1637 measured max, 422 lumens, post calibration in "best" mode
Zoom Lens ratio: 2:1 motorized zoom and focus (with Lens Memory)
Lens shift: Horizontal and Vertical (manual)
Lamp life: 4000 hours at full power, 5000 hours in eco mode - Estimated replacement cost: $379
Weight: 19.2 lbs. (8.7 Kg)
Warranty: 1 Year Parts and Labor, current promo provides 2nd year when you register it. See Warranty section for important details
View full specifications here: Panasonic PT-AE7000
Panasonic PT-AE7000 Special Features
PT-AE7000 Lens Memory and Lens Features
It's been a couple of years since the PT-AE4000 review, so it makes sense to describe Lens Memory to you from scratch. There will be more info in the Tour section, and elsewhere.
What is Panasonic's Lens Memory? First, it is what its name implies. It allows you to save multiple (up to 6) different combinations of zoom, focus, and digital shift of the image.
Why? The PT-AE7000u, like almost all home theater projectors, is a native 16:9 aspect ratio. Movies, though, are mostly 2.35:1 (or similar) often referred to a Cinemascope, or Anamorphic shaped, or "widescreen" although that term can be misused. When you watch a movie, therefore, you get those pesky dark gray letterboxes above and below the movie content, filling out the screen. Of course for HDTV, the aspect ratio is correct.
Lens memory lets you choose a screen that's shaped like the usual movies (other than most animation), instead of 16:9. If you buy an anamorphic shaped screen, now you are using all of the screen for the movie content itself. Problem is, when you switch to HDTV, which is "taller" the top and bottom (roughly 10% each) of the content is off your screen.
Manually, you could zoom, get a narrower image that fits vertically. What Panasonic has done, is motorize it. Widescreen for movies, zoom out for HDTV to fit. Generally a pain, and don't forget you would need to adjust lens shift as well.
Not so with the Panasonic. Once set up, it's a touch of the button to go from filling a widescreen with a movie, to filling all but the far left and right with HDTV. Because the image "shifts" vertically, I mentioned lens shift. Adjusting lens shift would fix that, but the Panasonic PT-AE7000 doesn't have motorized lens shift.
Bottom line on Lens Memory: It works! When we moved a year ago, I added two 2.35:1 screens, a Carada BW in the testing room, and a Studiotek 130 in the theater. The Lens Memory works beautifully, piece of cake. When I recently reviewed another projector though with lens shift, but no lens memory, I would, (if I wanted the largest movie size), zoom to fill the width of my screen, but zoom manually, and refocus. Then for HDTV, zoom back, and refocus. That certainly is a pain, compared to the touch of a button, but manually works too, as a noticeable number of enthusiasts do go anamorphic screen, without a projector with lens memory. Myself, I like my choice. Of course I'm a diehard, I'm willing to manually readjust with projectors that lack this feature. Most however, want "easy" and will stick to 16:9 screens unless their projector has this feature!
Note that when you use lens memory as described, you give up about half of your placement range, since you are using two different zoom settings, fairly far apart.
How Lens Memory sets up: I set up zoom and focus for Lens Memory first to put a 16:9 image on my screen filling top to bottom. I saved that. Then, I zoomed for the larger image 2.35:1 to fill the full width of my screen. But the image is no longer all on the screen, with some of it off the top. Next step, go to the digital image shift, and lower the image so it fits perfectly (top to bottom) on the screen. At that point I refocused, and saved my 2.35:1 aspect ratio settings. Since then, it literally has been as simple as the touch of a button to switch back and forth between the two different aspect ratios used by my content.
Since I've already committed to a 2.35:1 screen, in my process of deciding on my next projector, this feature carries significant weight. Great idea!
PT-AE7000 Projector: 3D
Not even with close to 2000 lumens, can you describe the PT-AE7000 as bright in 3D (unless a very small, or special screen), but unlike every other over $2000 HT projector with 3D that we've reviewed to date, it's also not particularly dim. I can live with the PT-AE7000's brightness, even for my 3D sports. In fact, only the forthcoming Epson is likely to match or beat the Panasonic in brightness, with everything else (that's more expensive) typically being 30-60% dimmer at their brightest.
3D and best color aren't a strong match on the Panasonic. Post calibration, the PT-AE7000U measured 422 lumens, although it still looks really good with over 600 before calibration. With 3D costing 75% or more of brightness, 3D in Cinema mode is dim!
But 3D in Normal, Game, and Dynamic, are two to three times as bright, as well as being brighter than any of the competition (but that Epson 5010). Dynamic is the brightest, but you can choose any of these brighter ones, trading off some brightness for more color accuracy, etc. Overall I'm pretty pleased with Mike's "quick-cal" of Dynamic mode, for sports, but have also watched using Normal.
3D brightness is also affected by the PT-AE7000's glasses setting "Eyewear", as Panasonic calls the glasses. Choose Dark, Medium, or Light. Light is definitely the brightest, gives the projector excellent 3D brightness performance, but some visible crosstalk, and other noise. Switch to Medium, where I did most viewing, and you will notice the loss in brightness, but the image becomes definitely cleaner. Dark, is dimmer, and cleaner still. Medium works for me, in almost all cases, but I've been using Light for some sports or when I just feel it's a bit dimmer than I like. As with other features, there are trade-offs, but I like the flexibility that is offered.
Of particular note: The Dynamic iris can be engaged for those better blacks, even in 3D mode. (The entry level Epson - not the direct competition - by comparison, automatically turns off the iris when in 3D, as a brightness issue.) After all, with less bright images, you aren't going to notice less than great blacks, as much as you would with a brighter 2D image. For that reason, many say, blacks will be good enough without. Still, I'm very glad Panasonic gives me the choice!
The other feature that can also stay engaged for 3D, that some other projectors don't allow, is CFI - or motion smoothing. Now few use that feature on movies, but I assume that most people with CFI equipped projectors, that watch sports, do use the feature. So, again, nice that Panasonic's smooth motion feature operates in 3D as well as 2D.
PT-AE7000 Projector 3D Glasses and Control
Panasonic does not include glasses with the projector. The MSRP of their TY-EW3D2L glasses is $99. Competitors charge from about $40 to $250 for a pair of active glasses. Beware, there seems to be a shortage of Panasonic glasses, so you will also find them online from $99 to about $179. If you stick to authorized Panasonic dealers, they should be charging you only the $99, and not gouging you like some of those other shops.
The important things about the 3D glasses, is that Panasonic is in a consortium with Epson, XPand, and, I believe, Samsung, so that their most recent glasses should work with each other. XPand offers their 103 universal glasses, which we are bringing in to confirm compatibility. I can confirm that Epson's glasses work fine on this Panasonic, and the Panny glasses work fine on the Epson Home Cinema 3010. (There seems to be the slightest of tint differences between the two.) I mentioned glasses starting around $39 (that one required you buy 4 pair). These are all "3rd party" glasses found on the internet. As of this writing - early Nov. 2011, those lower cost glasses are just starting to surface. Who knows, we may yet see someone selling active glasses for under $30 by year end, as I had predicted at the beginning of the year. (I'm no longer believing they will get that low, but you never can tell!)
Still, until there are a bunch of good 3rd party glasses out there, most folks are spending about $100 each, or a bit more.
The Panasonic's glasses are fairly cool looking, (as 3D glasses go), and they are lighter than most other recent ones, and much lighter than last years. I'm a glasses wearer, and they fit pretty well over mine.
PT-AE7000 Sports new 480Hz LCD Panels
Panasonic has always used Epson LCD panels. Nothing has changed. Epson has rolled out new "D9" 3LCD panels, with much faster response times (good for gaming too), than previous ones. Faster panels, should also be helping with the brightness, relative to how they can time compared to the active shutter glasses. Faster can be better in this case. More to the point, though, is that in several ways, these new panels allow improved performance compared to older models, with the older panels.
PT-AE7000 Gaming Abilities
We will be sending this Panasonic to either Scott or Pete, our two hard core gamer bloggers (both own projectors), to let us know how the PT-AE7000 performs as a gaming projector. I'm hoping we'll even get to run a 3D game or two at it. Expect info about gaming with the PT-AE7000U to be added here, and to appear on our gamer blogs through early December.
PT-AE7000 Creative Frame Interpolation
Known as smooth motion, or other similar terms, the PT-AE7000, as noted above, offers CFI, with two different settings. They work in 3D as well as 2D. Even Panasonic's first generation CFI (4 years ago), was exceptionally smooth for the day. No surprise then, that the Mode 1, is one of the best CFI's we've seen. When watching movies, there is only the slightest trace of that "live digital video" (or "soap opera") look. Many of us older gen folks dislike any of that digital effect "ruining" the director's intent of our movies.
Younger folks like my 19 year old daughter, though, seem very tolerant of having this feature on for movies. For me, despite the superior workings of the AE7000's CFI, only use it for sports and some HDTV in general.
PT-AE7000 Waveform Generator and Side By Side
Like to play, adjust, etc? Is watching your projector, more fun than watching movies or sports? In other words are you a tech junky? The Waveform generator is for you, unless of course you already have your calibration equipment, and especially if you do, you'll probably love playing with the Generator.
Let's just say, that it allows you to do a good bit of calibrating, or at least, fine tuning the image performance of the PT-AE7000U. The generator can show you a lot of info about the entire image, for white, or each primary color, or it can look at a specific line of data. In the image above, you are looking at the red component of the image. Auto features allow you to adjust the image to optimum based on the generator's info.
You can also split the image into two half, one side showing your default settings, and the other side, how changes to settings affect them. If you learn to use the tools, or just have a great eye for color, you can see your changes and the effects they are having.
Below is a shot of the split screen in action. Note the very different amounts of red, in the grass, etc. between the left side, and the right side:
The split screen for adjusting settings, is very cool, and useful. I like it a lot!
Below, an image from the last Star Trek movie.
PT-AE7000 Dynamic Iris
Very smooth. I really haven't noticed the iris's action, unless really looking for it.
Okay, it is detectable, sure. They all are when you do look, but it performs very well on really dark scenes like the submarine scenes in Hunt for Red October, and performs rather well in those tough scenes where the overall scene is consistently fairly dark (like dark paneled walls as a backdrop, and a person in a white shirt walking in and out of the scene). That type of scene is very tough on most DI's but the PT-AE7000 handles those scenes better than most.
If I have but one issue with the iris, it's that Panasonic probably is being a bit conservative, to get the very smooth action. The trade-off, is you won't get blacks as dark as, say, another projector with a dynamic iris, the same LCD panels, and other similar features. Blacks are definitely excellent, but I'll bet a touch more range on the dynamic iris would further improve them (slightly).
Viera-Link is Panasonic's system for their products talking to one another. In other words, your projector's remote can control a Panasonic DVR in a different room, and vice versa.
This is done between HDMI devices that are interconnected. At this writing, I'm not sure if Viera-Link is fully HDMI-Link compatible, in which case it can control non-Panasonic HDMI devices. I will update when Panasonic responds to my query about that.
PT-AE7000 2D to 3D Conversion
Sorry folks haven't tried this even once. But I will and add some comments here in the first week.
PT-AE7000 Lamp Life
Ahh, an easy topic. Panasonic rates their lamp in the PT-AE7000u as 4000 hours at full power, and 5000 hours in Eco-mode. While that's not the best ever, it's awfully close (LED light sources notwithstanding). Most of the competition is more in the range of 2000/3000, and 3000/4000, although the competing Epson offers the same 4000/5000 hour claim. (No, I don't know if it's the same lamp they are using.)
I believe the street price of the ET-LAA310 lamp is about $379 from authorized dealers.
Bottom line: Excellent lamp life, although their replacement lamp is only average priced, with some competitors a good $100 less. Still, considering the long life of the lamp, this Panasonic projector is going to have an extremely low cost of operation, compared to most other projectors in this price range or more.
Other Dynamic Controls
As is the case with most home theater projectors today, there are multiple additional dynamic features, which can come into play for sharpness, gamma, etc. We do most of our testing with these turned off. Every cool dynamic feature takes something else away, when it adds some performance. There are always trade-offs. That makes most of those dynamic controls personal preference based.
There are almost an infinite number of combinations of dynamic controls when you consider sharpness, contrast (dynamic iris), gamma, and the others. Adjust one a bit, and something else reacts slightly. We could spend weeks and not begin to get a handle on how they all interact with the image and each other at different settings. Mike kept to "simple" settings for gamma, for example, so as to avoid opening that "can of worms". You get multiple nice features for you to play with then you can choose stick with the ones you really like, if that's the case, or maybe stick to the non-dynamic ones.
The PT-AE7000u and PT-AE7000e will provide you with plenty of choices and combinations to choose from!
Let's move on, and take a close look at the physical projector itself: