Panasonic PT-AE700u Projector Image Quality
In the 6 days I had with Panasonic's AE700u, I had the chance to watch it extensively, both with D-VHS Hi-Def source, and the usual selection of DVD's (including Lord of the Rings, BulletProof Monk, Men in Black, and Amazing Caves (an IMAX film).
The first thing to note is that the Panasonic's electronic Iris and Digital Reality processing create a very impressive image. Shadow detail appears excellent, and colors are particularly vibrant. On the other hand, much, upon close inspection, appears to be a bit artificial. When comparing the AE700u against other projectors, notably the BenQ PE8700+ (DLP) and the JVC HD2K (3 chip D-ILA), as well as LCD projectors, the image is not consistant with the other projectors. If anything, colors seem to be higher in saturation, and contrast between colors greater than any other projector. I have to believe that while many viewers will find the net effect most pleasing, it is not quite right. This sometimes (especially in darker scenes) results in flesh tones being oversaturated, so that they appear too colorful. On the other hand, in images like the Times Square shot above, that same tendency makes the image seem more impressive. So, one might say that scenes with bright colors, tend to look even more spectacular than "the original" while more "pastoral" scenes tend to be a bit over exaggerated.
Calibrating the AE-700u projector with the Avia disk, does correct some color shifts, but the Digital Reality circuitry and Iris control, seem to not "do their thing" on test patters etc. As a result, I really wasn't satisfied that I could calibrate the effects of these enhancements. As a result, after calibration the same issues (however pleasing, or annoying) remained.
One particular note regards the overall color balance of the Panasonic projector. It varies depending on color modes (ie. Cinema 1, 2, 3, Video, etc.), but overall, there is a slight shift to yellow. I found this to be very apparent on images of Gandalf's face, on the rock surfaces from one of the D-VHS Hi-Def tapes.
The good news - calibrating the projector seems to solve almost all of the shift! However, please plan to calibrate. I doubt you will be able to get the balance right on, just by tinkering with the settings.
Don't get me wrong here. Panasonic's AE700U, overall provides a really excellent image. Further, the extra "punch" the colors seem to have, is an great weapon in countering small amounts of ambient light. I am most concerned about flesh tones, and other soft colors and scenes, and believe me, despite my comments, regarding them, the performance of the AE700u projector in these areas is still very impressive, and far better than the older L500u or Sanyo's Z2.
I look forward to shooting out the AE-700u against the Sanyo Z3 when I receive a unit to evaluate. (Additional note: The AE700u I have been using is one from Panasonic's marketing department, that has been making the rounds to reviewers. As a result I am confident that this unit has been checked out by them before putting it into the field to reviewers. These are sometimes called "golden" machines. (Panasonic, to their credit, however, shipped me the projector without detailed "instructions" on how to view, measure, etc., the picture and other aspects - like noise. Some other manufacturers make it very clear as to how they expect reviewers to "treat" their machines.
The balloon photo, taken from D-VHS shows exceptionally vibrant colors. LCD projectors have always been strong in this area, but the Panasonic does especially well on this type of image. (Note: The softness on some of the balloons is due to the particular frame I froze to photograph. The balloons were in motion, so some show that while others, like the yellow were apparently stationary on tha frame. The balloons made up only a small portion of the entire frame.
Noise and Vertical Banding: This seems to be the Panasonic projector's biggest problem. I have seen noticeable vertical banding on one of the two units I worked with (the 2nd). There is also a significant amount of noise in the picture. The good news is that turning on the noise filter (an absolute must) solves the noise problem for all practical purposes. Any remaining noise is not likely to be detectable during normal viewing. Banding is a different matter. It seems to hard to pin down. Other reviewers have had the same problem, and I'll guess to say that it tends to be worse on DVI input than component, but haven't verified. The banding will occasionally be noticeable, and in some rare cases annoying, but based on other feedback, it isn't consistant from unit to unit, or rather, the way different people are using their projectors. As a result, note that banding can occassionally be visible, but not a great problem. If a little banding bothers you, you probably want a more expensive DLP projector (they don't suffer that problem).
Below is a sequence of the same frame shot with five of the different color mode settings (Cinema 1....etc.) I had already calibrated the projector in the Cinema 2 mode - the first image (generally my favorite), so this sequence gives you a good idea of the variance from one color mode to the next!
In summary Image quality of this Panasonic Home Theater projector, is excellent. It actually has more "punch" than my BenQ 8700+ on dynamic scenes like the fire truck, balloons and Times Square, but can't match the DLP's projector in film like, believeable flesh tones, etc., Still, for the $2000+ that the AE700u commands on the market (half of that of the BenQ PE8700+, it performs exceedingly well.
In overall brightness, by the time you have the Iris / Digital Reality running, the image is much darker than in brightest mode, but it should serve very well on screens to 110" and with the right screen surface, and room, I would say it can go another size larger. I did view the projector, filling my 140" screen and found it acceptable in all but the darkest - highest contrast environments. In fact its tendency to enhance dark scenes gives it an edge over most other projectors.