Panasonic PT-AE8000 Home Theater Projector Review
The Panasonic PT-AE8000 projector, is the latest in a long line of popular Panasonic projectors Certainly each year, the latest PT-AE series projector is one of the very best sellers in the price range.
In the US, this projector is usually referred to as either the PT-AE8000 or the PT-AE8000U. Overseas, it's the PT-AT6000. We'll primarly use the AE8000 designation, but for variety, you'll see the PT-AE8000U moniker, as well.
There will be some additional comparison images added over time.
10/21/2012 - Art Feierman
Panasonic PT-AE8000 Projector Overview
The Panasonic PT-AE8000 is Panasonic's second generation 3D capable projector. It is already shipping (10/2012).
What we have here is one of the most feature laden projectors on the market. The PT-AE8000U is versatile, with lots of placement flexibility. It's even got a toy store of cool features for geeks, including a waveform generator, and the ability to do side by side comparisons when you change some settings.
Before I go further, I want to thank one of our dealers for providing us with a brand new PT-AE8000U for this review. I still had not been able to confirm a unit from Panasonic, so Visual Apex came through for us.
It is also bright. Rather, last year's PT-AE7000 was very bright, claiming 2000 lumens. This year Panasonic claims an extra 400 lumens under the hood. That certainly helps with 3D viewing, and gives you a genuine light canon. The PT-AE8000 is built for a dedicated home theater or cave, but is one of the most capable projectors for brighter rooms - your bonus, family and livingrooms.
Image above taken with a fair amount of ambient light present including some outside light and lights in the back of the room.
It really is bright. The Panasonic's most direct competitor this year is Epson's Home Cinema 5020. (These two companies slug it out every year, as the two dominant top quality 3LCD home theater projectors.) A strange thing has happened. For years, the Epson projectors were always the brighter - never drastically so, just something you could count on. This year the Panasonic PT-AE8000 claims 2400 lumens - the same number as the Epson. In their brightest modes, when we measured, however, the Panasonic beat the Epson by a few dozen lumens. That's never happened before. For the first time, they are essentially a dead tie at their brightest.
The real competition are the 2D/3D projectors, and that means the major players besides the PT-AE8000U are the Sony VPL-HW50ES, the aforementioned Epson and its sibling, the Pro Cinema 6020, the Optoma HD8300, Sharp XV-Z30000, and JVC has a projector around $3500, so all are +/- about $500 of this Panasonic. There are others too, but most of them are a big price step up from the Panasonic. For example, the top two of JVC's 3D capable models are at $7999 and $11,999. Sony has a more expensive one too, for $5999.
The PT-AE8000 takes home our Hot Product Award.
The feature set alone almost earns this projector our Hot Product Award. But, on the other hand, how can we forget picture quality. The Panasonic as you will read, is quite impressive there, as well.
The PT-AE8000 is designed for your home theater. That said, I will repeat - it is one of the very brightest projectors out there, which means it's going to be every bit as good a choice in a "brighter" room - whether living, family, or bonus - room. There are only a few brighter (in brightest mode) home theater projectors on the market that are under ten grand. (Even most of the "lower cost/quality home entertainment projectors aren't as bright.)
Panasonic's PT-AE8000 offers you their Lens Memory feature, discussed below.
Panasonic PT-AE8000 Projector Highlights
- 2D and 3D capable with best in class 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 moderate budget
- Rated 2400 lumens (and comes very close) making it very bright for a home projector targeted first for a dedicated home theater, but just as happy in a family room
- 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 tweakthe settings? Have a blast, with your own split screen and analysis functions - toys for techies
- Excellent price/performance value
Basic Specs for Panasonic PT-AE8000
PT-AE8000 MAP: $2999 including 2 pair 3D glasses free with registration - thru 12/31/12 (so far)
Native Resolution: 1080p (1920x1080)
Brightness: Manufacturer claim: 2400 lumens, 2178 measured max, 602 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: 2 Year Parts and Labor, 2000 hours maximum, whichever comes first, plus, through 12/31/2012, 3rd year with 3000 hours max.
View full specifications here: Panasonic PT-AE8000
Panasonic PT-AE8000 Special Features
PT-AE8000 Lens Memory and Lens Features
What is Panasonic's Lens Memory? It really gives you the choice of going with a Cinemascope shaped screen - typically 2.35:1, instead of 16:9, without spending the extra for an anamorphic lens. While Panasonic pioneered this feature in home projectors, there are now a number of others offering the same core ability - using the wide screen. Since zooming the lens is involved, only those projectors with motorized zoom can do it.
Why? The PT-AE8000, like almost all home theater projectors, has a native 16:9 aspect ratio. Movies however, are mostly 2.35:1 (or similar) often referred to as 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 on a typical 16:9 screen.
Lens memory lets you choose a screen that's shaped like most movies instead of 16:9. If you buy an anamorphic shaped screen, 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 out, resulting in an image that fits horizontally, but no longer fits vertically. What Panasonic has done, is automate the process. Generally it would be a pain to do manually: Widescreen for movies, zoom out for HDTV to fit, back and forth. And you would also 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-AE8000 doesn't have motorized lens shift.
Bottom line on Lens Memory: It works! When we moved almost 2 years 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.
One downside: 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.
Setting up Lens Memory: 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-AE8000 Projector: 3D
As with most 3D capable projectors, this Panasonic has multiple 3D modes. As with the 2D modes they vary from some less bright, higher color quality, to brighter modes. Unless your screen is rather small, most likely you'll trade off a bit of quality for the signifcantly brighter image of one of the brighter modes. 3D in Normal, Game, and Dynamic, are two to three times as bright as the Cinema mode, as well as being brighter than any of the competition. 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-AE8000'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. Last year that gave the Panasonic a distinct advantage in terms of black levels, when compared to last year's Epson 5010. For this year, however, Epson's newer Home Cinema 5020 also allows use of the dynamic iris when viewing 3D.
PT-AE8000 Projector 3D Glasses and Control
Panasonic is launching the PT-AE8000 with a promotion for two pair of free 3D glasses, when you purchase, then register your projector with them. (So, no, you normally won't be getting your glasses with your projector, unless some dealer makes it possible). The promotion officially ends 12/31/12. Check with your dealer to see if they extend it.
The amazing thing about these new Panasonic glasses is they are incredibly light. They weigh less than one ounce, which makes them lighter than my sunglasses. They really are by far the lightest 3D glasses to come my way. The Panasonic's glasses are again cool looking, (as 3D glasses go).
PT-AE8000 Gaming Abilities
Lagtimes coming soon. Last year's PT-AE7000 was considered fast enough in terms of lagtimes for those fast first person shooters, and other games. Please assume that this year's Game mode is at least as good and fast as last year's, and brighter too.
PT-AE8000 Creative Frame Interpolation
CFI is also called smooth motion, and other similar terms. The PT-AE8000, as noted above, offers CFI, with two different settings. They work in 3D as well as 2D. Even Panasonic's first generation CFI, now five years ago, was exceptionally smooth for its time.
Once again, Mode 1, is one of the highest quality CFI's we've seen. I'm talking about 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. Panasonic's basic mode is naturally fine for sports.
Younger folks like my 20 year old daughter, seem very tolerant of having this feature on for movies. These days most LCDTV's if they have it, have CFI turned on as default. For me, despite the superior workings of the AE8000's CFI, I only use it for sports and some HDTV in general. No movies for me with CFI on.
PT-AE8000 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.
If you're not at least a bit of techie at heart you'll probably never use these features. It's not to say you couldn't follow the instructions, it's just that you would probably just watch the projector, rather than "understand" it.
The next two images were taken with the older PT-AE7000. Both represent what the PT-AE8000 also looks like.
Let's just say that the waveform generator allows you to do a good bit of calibrating, or at least, fine tuning the image performance of the PT-AE8000U. 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.
The PT-AE8000 has the ability to split the image into two halves, 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. It is a useful tool and can be much fun as well as helpful.
Below, an image from the last Star Trek movie.
PT-AE8000 Dynamic Iris
Panasonic presents us with a better contrast spec this year than last. When the Panasonic team visited me a couple of weeks prior to the official announcement at CEDIA '012 (and IFA), they brought both a PT-AE8000, and the older PT-AE7000. They demonstrated, among other improvements, an improvement in black level performance.
Panasonic has been doing a really good job on blacks for years. It certainly has blacks good enough to meet my subjective criteria of "ultra high contrast". Given that this year is slightly improved over last year's, it's still not a match for the best. I shot side by sides with last year's Epson 5010. The Epson is still clearly a bit better on most of the scenes I view to make my determinations. Epson for years, has had the best black level performance of any costing less than the $8K JVC X70R projector and $6K Sony VPL-VW95ES.
Panasonic has a very smooth dynamic iris. It would rarely be noticeable, unless you are looking for its action.
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-AE8000 handles those scenes better than most.
Here's the thing. Panasonic probably could have delivered deeper blacks by giving up a bit of smoothness. That's just fine. When I call a projector "ultra high contrast" in indicates that it's got some impressive blacks, good enough that almost everyone can live with them, allowing many to worry more about having a special feature, such as lens memory. For us performance seekers though, I'd like to see even better blacks next year.
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.
PT-AE8000 2D to 3D Conversion
I really have not spent a lot of time with this feature - I generally think it's fun for viewing your own vids, but I don't know if I'm ready to start converting 2D movies to 3D. Still, each generation of 2D to 3D conversion gets better. A nice secondary feature to have.
PT-AE8000 Lamp Life
Panasonic rates their lamp in the PT-AE8000 as 4000 hours at full power, and 5000 hours in Eco-mode. Excellent! about as good as it gets short of an LED or other solid state light source projector. 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.
The replacement lamp has a list price of $379.
Bottom line: Excellent lamp life. The lamp cost is a bit higher than average for sub $3500 projectors.
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 other 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 and detail enhancement, contrast (dynamic iris), gamma, and the others. Adjust one a bit, and something else reacts slightly. We could spend weeks and not get a good 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". He also found the gamma to be quite accurate. You get multiple nice features to play with, then you can choose and stick with the ones you really like, if that's the case, or maybe stick to the non-dynamic ones.
The PT-AE8000 (and the EU PT-AT6000), will provide you with plenty of choices and combinations to choose from!
Time to take look at the hardware.