Panasonic PT-AE8000 vs. Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB Projector Comparison

Panasonic PT-AE8000 vs. Epson Home Cinema 5020 Projector Comparison - Split Screen vs. Lens Memory plus Detail Enhancement

11/14/2012 – Art Feierman

Epson Home Cinema 5020 UB Split Screen vs. Panasonic AE8000 Lens Memory

PT-AE8000 Lens Memory:

Let’s start with the Panasonic’s Lens Memory, since it’s been around for about four years in this Panasonic home theater projector’s predecessors. A couple other manufacturers now offer similar features. If you are familiar with, and aren’t interested in an anamorphic shaped screen, you might as well skip down a ways.

Let’s start by explaining what it does. It’s an automated system that lets you zoom in and out, and focus, and save settings. In addition it digitally moves a widescreen image up or down the screen to make it fit.

From a practical standpoint, this gives you the option of buying a Cinemascope shaped (2.35:1 or 2.40:1) screen instead of the traditional HDTV screen (16:9 which can also be expressed as 1.78:1). Once you have it all set up – assuming you buy that shaped screen, as otherwise, you wouldn’t normally need the feature for anything, at the touch of a button you can go from filling the 2.35:1 screen with a movie – no letterbox at top and bottom, to a 16:9 shaped image, with letterboxing on the left and right.

This means, from a “big picture” standpoint, that you’ll have a larger picture when viewing widescreen movies.  The trade-off is a much smaller image when viewing HDTV and 16:9 movies.  My 124″ diagonal Cinemascope screen, works out to roughly 98″ diagonal

Daniel Craig, as Bond, in Casino Royale. PT-AE8000 first:

Above, image taken using the Home Cinema 5020UB

It’s never that simple, of course. Not all movies are Cinemascope (“anamorphic”) shaped. Almost all animation – from Disney, Dreamworks, etc. is 16:9. Most of the 3D titles are also not in Cinemascope shape, but 16:9.

In other words, there seems to be a shift towards 16:9, which was the intent, to begin with of creating the 16:9 format as a compromise between 2.35:1 and old style TV 4:3 (1.33:1).  IMAX films are not Cinemascope shaped either.

On those other movies, and all your normal digital HDTV content, including sports, you would have a larger image with the standard 16:9 screen.

Now that I’ve personally switched from my old 128″ 16:9 screen to a smaller 124″ 2.35:1, I have these thoughts.

1. I like having most movies being larger, and not having letterboxing. Of course, projectors like the Panasonic and the Epson, – these ultra-high contrast projectors, don’t light up those areas very much with their dim blacks.

Please note; I, and probably most of you, will not get as much benefit  from from ultra high contrast projectors like these two, as you would with lower cost projectors with inferior blacks.  With the Epson in particular, the “black” of the letterbox is going to be rather faint gray, i.e., hardly noticeable. The Panasonic is a bit brighter. By comparison, the $1000 less expensive, more family room oriented Epson HC3020′s letterbox, with its much brighter blacks, will be far more noticeable.

2. The trade-off is that I’m not pleased with the size of my sports images, nor my 3D in general.

My 124″ 2.35:1 is only about 98″ diagonal when doing all the 16:9 content. That’s way smaller than I’m used to.

Of my 80 or so pieces of 3D content on disc or DVR, most are 16:9, including movies like Tron Legacy, Avengers, Cars 2, etc.

My old screen (a 128″ 16:9), in terms of surface area, was almost 70% larger when I’m watching 16:9. I’m not happy with that large a reduction. Both screens are similar in width.  Had my room allowed it, I would have gone with at least 140″ in 2.35:1 just to have an equivalent of about 110″ diagonal.

I have recently decided to add a 3rd screen.  It’s going to be 16:9, and somewhere between 120 and 130″ diagonal.  I just haven’t worked out the details, but for me, it’s a must have for my sports viewing.  I’m spoiled.

Bottom line on Lens Memory: 16:9 is traditional, but a pure movie enthusiast will want to at least consider the 2.35:1 screen.

If you decide you want a 2.35:1 screen, then the Panasonic is likely the home theater projector for you, in this comparison.

How many people actually go widescreen? I have no good numbers but one company, upon my request – Carada, did provide me their trending on Cinemascope (anamorphic) screens. They really sell primarily (or only) to the home market.

Before I roll out the percentages, let me point out that in addtion to screens, Carada makes their Masquerade (I have one in my testing room), which is a screen masking system. Most of those Masquerades, like mine, work with 2.35:1 or other cinemascope screens. As a result, a much larger portion of those shopping for wide screens, would tend to gravitate towards Carada, due to the Masquerade.

Still from the data he prepared for me, mostly sales of those anamorphic screens grew slowly, as their percentage of sales, from 2004 – 2008 from 2% to about 6%

Then (and I assume in conjunction with the Masquerade hitting the market), there’s a significant jump over the last three years where their percentage has been over 10%, and it looks like about an average between 15 and 16 percent. When I consider the Masquerade and the anamorphic screens sold with it, I’ll speculate that the number of Cinemascope width screens is probably approaching 10% of the market. Consider though, that it’s likely that the majority of home theater systems using $10,000 plus projectors, use Cinemascope screens.  It is possible those expensive projectors paired with expensive anamorphic lenses, could account for half of all those anamorphic screens.  In other words, I just don’t have access to accurate numbers.

Summary: if you are movies-only viewer, definitely the Lens Memory has appeal, if it will work in your room. Note, you likely won’t be able to rear shelf mount as the projector has to be positioned in the short half of its range…

On the other hand, if you are watching a mix of everything including sports, and especially considering that almost all 3D is 16:9 and more 2D movies are too, then you, like the vast majority, will stick with a 16:9 screen, and not have any real need for the lens shift feature.

Personally, considering I always have an “ultra high contrast” projector, and considering I watch a lot of HDTV, as well as a lot of movies, I have concluded, that if I could have only one screen, and I was setting up this room again, I would stick with 16:9.  But that’s me.

Enough!

Home Cinema 5020 Split Screen:

The Epson Home Cinema 5020, can split the screen. You can define one window as an HDMI input, and pretty much use any other input for the other. I’ve tried both an analog computer input, and a component video input as part of my testing. It works! You can have both images the same size, or one larger than the other.

Unlike some other split screen or PIP (picture in picture) setups, the Epson allows you to use all hi-def sources. Since any projector has only one circuit for HDMI, but typically two jacks (or three), only one input can be HDMI. Actually it would be nice if they provided a second HDMI circuit, but there are plenty of work arounds.

I don’t know if you are going to rig up the room so you can watch football while others are watching the Rose Parade, with one group wearing headphones, the others using the speakers (or headphones all around). Maybe split screen can keep the peace between the kids. Or maybe it’s just putting my fantasy football real time stats, up there next to the game.

Or how about a movie on one side, a game being played on the other, or a game on one side, and a sport on the other…

It’s a cool feature, and all it really needs is for you to have two sources hooked up to your projector, to make it work, as long as they aren’t both HDMI (or both component, etc).

Panny Lens Memory vs. Epson Split Screen:

As with Panasonic’s Lens Memory, the vast majority of you also don’t have need for the Split screen. The thing is simply this. If you really want Split Screen abilities, then it’s an Epson for you. If you must have a 2.35:1 or 2.4:1 screen, then the Panny has the advantage.

Now if you are of the 90+% that isn’t going to choose a projector based on these two different features, we can move right along, and focus more on performance.

Intelligent Detail Enhancement

This is a new topic for this year.  There has always been a sharpening control as a standard feature on projectors forever.  More recently we’ve seen more sophisticated controls often referred to as detail enhancement.  Before I discuss, I need to make a point.

1080p basically “sucks” as a resolution for home theater.  OK, that was harsh, but in this day of 2500+ pixel screens on iPads, doesn’t 1920 pixels across 100 inches of screen seem downright primitive?  That was even more true of 720p, and standard DVD, and even worse – composite video.  Get inside of about 8 feet distance on a 100″ screen and the only phrase that works is “soft image”.

We projector fans never had a choice. Thanks to having the largest screens, we need all the resolution we can get, more than others.  Technology continues to improve so we wll get 4K to replace current 2K (1080p), and some say within 8 years, we can expect true 8K in the home.

Now we’re talking! True 4K is a huge step up:

Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K Projector - changed the game for me

I got to watch a lot of 2K (1080p) content on the VW1000ES when I reviewed it.  I also got to watch a decent amount of true 4K, including some of my own photography, a new movie by Stephen Low, which is a 4K train ride through the Rockies.  (You can see an excerpt in my Video Summary of the VW1000ES projector review).

As I’ve said in every review since, (I think) that’s the only “next” projector for me, because I saw clarity and detail that blows away everything else, including various claims of 4K, that do not have 4000 discreet, non-overlapping pixels, in which case, 4K is marketing hype, not resolution.

I’m sold on true 4K. 

Then comes along Sony’s Reality Creation on their new VPL-HW50ES.  This new dynamic detail enhancement feature seems to go where no one else has (except possible outboard processors).  It attempts to provide the closest to 4K by being smart.  It sees a 2K image of a face, it recognizes it is a face, and uses algorthms, to essentially create a 4K data set (not fully), but then it still has to reduce it to true 2K.  But the results go beyond anything I’ve seen elsewhere.

I’m not here to talk about Sony or Reality Creation, but that seeing how good a job (not without flaws) that it does, I found myself using it on virtually all content.  Normally I’ve left such controls, including Panasonic’s and Epson’s pretty much alone.  Thanks to seeing the possibilities, I’ve started playing with the Detail Enhancement of the PT-AE8000 and the Super-Resolution of the Epson.

Now I’m not interested in trying to “calibrate” detail enhancement, so basically, we need simple controls.  The Sony had just that – a 0 – 100 slider.  Epson offers 0 through 5.  Panasonic gets more complicated with multiple controls.

The bottom line, from playing with both, neither is obviously as smart and clever as the Sony, nor do either provide as “sharp seeming” an image as the Sony does, without creating very visible artifacts.   Of the two projectors however, the Epson is the one more easily capable of using its detail enhancement to make the image appear sharper. Thus, if you are looking to make the picture on the screen appear crisper, “sharper seeming”, I definitely have to favor the Epson’s performance in this area, although both companies hopefully have learned from Sony, that they can significantly improve their efforts in this regard.  They are closer to each other at this point, than either is to the Sony’s solution.

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