Panasonic PT-AE900u Projector Image Quality
Out of the box color is excellent, but with a slight shift toward yellow. This seemed to be true in most of the preset modes (cinema1,2,3,video,natural), but to varying degrees. The color shift is easily offset with calibration. Without tweaking the color, the shift is most noticeable in fleshtones, but also in sunsets, and dusk shots when compared to other projectors. Blue skys manage to look good despite it, so it is more prevelent in the darker color ranges, rather than bright scenes.
The Panasonic projector produces a clean image - and here lies the primary improvement over the older PT-AE700u, which until the more recent releases, seemed to be plagued with some vertical banding. For an LCD based home theater projector, Panasonic's PT-AE900u projector seems to be as artifact free as I have seen. The image above, shows the Panasonic projector on the left, and BenQ's PE7700 on the right. You can see the slight shift to yellow on the PT-AE900u.
Let's talk contrast. This projector claims 5500:1, a truly impressive specification, but one based on a bit of (common) "smoke and mirrors".
Ultimately the LCD panels cannot produce contrast ratio's anywhere near that high, with this much output from the lamp. So, Panasonic continues the trend of LCD based home theater projectors, and relies on technology. In this case, the use of a variable Iris, which adjusts to each frame, and also "AI" technology. Still, the minimum black level on most scenes is not quite as good as a DLP projector with 2500:1, despite the overall edge this projector has in the final look of dark scenes. In the image above (Panasonic on the left, BenQ PE7700 on the right - the lower right of the planet washes out a bit on the BenQ because of the limits of my digital camera - the whites are brighter, on the BenQ. However, despite that, if you look very closely, and your monitor is up to the task, you can see that the blacks in the sky are still a touch less black than the BenQ. I presume, that because there is pure white in the image, the Iris and AI can't do their thing. If there was no full on white, or primary color, then the Iris could stop down and make the blacks blacker.
There is no question that the end result produces images with good "black levels" and overall very impressive dark scenes, including those shot from Sin City (DVD), and also the mulitple dusk and night scenes from Star Wars (DVD), and HiDef from D-VHS tape showing various New York City night scenes.
However, when shooting some images side by side with BenQ's popular (another Hot Product Award winner), PE7700 projector, one can see that the true black level on the Panasonic is not quite as "black" as the 2500:1 contrast ration BenQ home theater projector. Now the BenQ sells for a couple hundred more than the anticipated starting price for the Panasonic, and each has its pluses, but it is a tough call between the two, although I am now leaning toward the Panasonic, and tha after owning a BenQ for the last year and a half. BTW I also ran the Panasonic projector against the Optoma H78DC3. Although that Optoma sells for almost $4000 online, it does do a better job than the Panasonic, and the difference in black performance is immediately visible when running them side by side.
To the right is a side by side - again with the BenQ PE7700. In this shot, the Chrysler building is shot at dusk. The ideal image has a definite rose colored tint to it. The Panasonic (although it again exhibits a slight shift to yellow),does a bit better here than the BenQ , which is a bit thin on reds. However, after calibration both units should be far more similar to each other than they are different in this shot. And if you saw either image without the other, you would think they both look great (but different).
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Here are a few more images from Hi-Def tape and DVD that should give you a good idea about how good Panasonic's PT-AE900u projector really is.
The bottom line is that this new Panasonic projector really does up the performance level of LCD based projectors, and it is definitely a viable alternative to DLP, especially with the advantage of features. In the past, it was the picture quality that was the weakness. No more. Even pixel visibility (screendoor effect) has been reduced to the level of DLP projectors. Texas Instruments (the maker of DLP chips) look out!