Epson Home Cinema 8500UB vs. Panasonic PT-AE4000
These are two of the most dominant home theater projectors on the market. Both are 3rd generation 1080p projectors from the respective manufacturers. Both are "ultra-high contrast" projectors using 3LCD technology, (even the same LCD panels), and dynamic irises. Both use extensive polarization techniques to improve contrast and black level performance. The Home Cinema 8500UB and the PT-AE4000 cost roughly the same. Yet, for those trying to get the best projector for their particular needs, there are some distinct differences that will make one or the other, the better home theater projector choice. Let's get started -art
Just posted, still needs proofing and a few more words.
11/23/2009 - Art Feierman
PT-AE4000 vs. Home Cinema 8500UB - An Overview
Let's get some basics out of the way. Both are really excellent projectors for the money. Color calibrations notwithstanding, the two normally look very similar to each other in terms of picture quality. There are other times though where one or the other does excel. While capabilities differ, neither projector is truly overwhelmingly superior overall. To a large degree, this article is simply quibbling over subtle differences. For those of us who are enthusiasts, hey, it's fun.
For a more casual consumer, overall, in performance, the Home Cinema 8500UB and the PT-AE4000 projectors would seem almost identical. They likely would simply not really notice or miss the performance advantages in different areas that one projector might have, unless someone pointed it out. If I started a movie out on one projector, and we took a 15 minute break and I whiched to the other, without telling my friends, I'd be surprised if most would notice the change at all. Got it?
On the other hand, home theater projectors truly make for a spectacular experience, so it's only natural that even the casual consumer, may get the bug!
After I posted the Panasonic PT-AE4000's review, I started spending a whole lot of time with both projectors. In my larger theater I would switch back and forth after watching scenes of 3-15 minutes, watching most of the content on both, sometimes back and forth 3-4 times. In my testing room I had them set up side by side (about 50" diagonal each). There I'd sit 4 feet back right between them, or drop back to about 10 feet, still between them, looking at different things. I'd do a lot of pausing, and looking at the frozen frame, and a lot of "rewinding" and playing clips over again. Between the two rooms, I've logged at least a dozen hours comparing them, one way or another, in the last 72 hours.
A good deal of what is discussed below is going to be somewhat subjective. I know what I like, and I understand that others may have slightly different priorities, so I'll try to put everything in perspective. After all my comparing, I have a favorite of the two, but fully understand why another enthusiast might favor the other one. I am particularly biased toward projectors with the best black level performance. I like a dynamic, yet natural look, with some pop to the image. And I don't care for dim at all. I love sharpness but I'll trade a little for other stuff, like better blacks.
Last year, the predecessors of the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB - the 6500UB, and the Panasonic PT-AE4000's predecessor, the PT-AE3000 ended up in a tie for our Best of Class Award (for mid-priced home theater projectors). Will this year be repeat? We shall see.
Both of these new projectors are evolutionary. Although each sports a new feature or two, both models are fundamentally the same as last years, just better, and less expensive. Better, for less, folks, is always a good thing.
The Panasonic currently sells for $1999, and comes with a one year warranty, but when you register, you can get a second year free.
The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB just launched for $2499, and there's a $200 mail-in rebate to run at least through 12/31/09, for a net of $2299.
That means we start off, essentially with a $300 selling price difference. Don't let that steer you wrong though, for, as I will discuss below, the Epson does have a lower long term cost of operation. Best to consider them costing about the same. Heavy users will end up spending less with the Epson, light users, with the Panasonic.
At first glance, the Epsn seems smaller. Upon closer inspection you quickly realize they are pretty much the same size, with the Panasonic being just slightly bulkier. The Epson is more styled, while the Panasonic has more of an industrial look. Perhaps the biggest difference in styling, though may be that the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB is off white colored (shiny case), while the Panasonic PT-AE4000U is finished it a flat very dark gray.
Both have long range zoom lenses. The Epson's has slightly longer range - with the operative word being slightly - it's 2.1:1 zoom trumps the 2.1:1 on the PT-AE4000.
Offsetting that, the Panasonic has slightly more lens shift range, but again, they are very similar, and both have more shift range than almost all the competition.
In terms of both zoom range, and lens shift range, both projectors are about as good as it gets. The Epson projector is all manual, while the Panasonic has manual lens shift, but motorized zoom and focus. As a side note, Epson uses a Fujinion lens. I'm not sure who does Panasonic's lens.
The Panasonic PT-AE4000 offers one more HDMI port (3) than the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, and it also has 2 screen triggers, the Epson only one. Last year the Epson had one, the Panasonic had no triggers.
On of the biggest differences between these two projectors is in terms of anamorphic lens support. The PT-AE4000 does support an optional anamorphic lens, and motorized sled. The HC8500UB does not. With the Epson, you would have to buy an outboard processor. If an anamorphic lens is in your future, you'd pass over the 8500UB and get the 9500UB, as that is one of the few differences.
Panasonic also has something called Lens Memory which I consider a sort of anamorphic lens emulation ability. That will be discussed below, and is a great option.
Comparing the Projectors Picture Quality
Image quality is number one on my list of what's important. The critical areas here, are black level performance, shadow detail, post calibration color accuracy, sharpness, and the overall look and feel of the picture.
Black level performance:
Ok, I'm a big black level performance fan. One thing, I think, that separates the men from the boys, is how well a projector handles dark scenes, and slighty brighter ones with a lot of critical dark areas. Two projectors that are very similar on brighter scenes will be very different on darker ones if they are very far apart in terms of black level performance.
With that in mind, the Epson can produce the blacker blacks. When you get those really dark scenes, the Home Cinema 8500UB has a distinct advantage over the PT-AE4000. Since a large part of the black level performance of these projectors is tied to their dynamic irises, having the very blackest blacks on dark scenes doesn't mean that a particular projector will also have the blackest black on a black object in a brighter scene.
Which is just fine. what would be tiny difference to the eye of those blacks on the bright scene, would be a significant difference on the dark scene. I've seen plenty of instances where the Panny bests the 8500UB in blacks in moderate to bright scenes. Doesn't matter though, the Epson's advantage on the darker scenes is a clear advantage.
The Home Cinema 8500UB will simply produce a richer, more dynamic very dark scene. The PT-AE4000, by comparison will look a little flat.
Again, remember, these two projectors are very close in black levels, and both are among the very best.
What I'm trying to say is that the Panny is extremely good in terms of black level performance, but a definite Win goes to the Epson.
In the images below, from The Fifth Element, because of the usual slight differences in color, I'm starting something new with this comparison, I've taken some of the space scenes, and reduced color saturation to make them effectively black and white. This makes comparing a lot easier, without the distraction of different colors.
In the first two images below - a normal exposure of the starship, and a dramatically overexposed version, the Epson is on the left.
Please note, I took the comparsion images in two batches many days apart, and in the more recent batch, the images are reversed, with the PT-AE4000 on the left in the others. In the images below, there are several notworthy points to consider. In the first (normally exposed) image, you'll find that the blacks seem roughly the same, but the whites are a little brighter on the Epson. (For these I had the Epson in low power mode, so the two projectors were very similar in brightness. On the overexposed image, you can now make out the slightly darker blacks in the star scene, and the letterboxing on the Epson. YOu can see the white difference as well, by looking at some of the brighter spots, or, more easily, the pause icon in the lower left.
Another space scene, but this time from Space Cowboys, one of the satellite images, overexposed, and again, reduced to black and white for comaprison:
This next image is the side by side, long time exposure. This is the black between two scenes. It's not always a great indicator of the ultimate black when minor light is present, but you can see the difference, in this long time exposure is significant. You can also see some color shifting in the backgrounds, which is greatly exaggerated. That said, the Panasonic's background isn't very even with hot spots in the corners. This is not uncommon with pre-production projectors. I expect production units to be good enough so as not to be visible during normal viewing. The Epson obviously demonstrates much lower black levels in this pair.
The Epson's black level advantage is one of the two primary reasons I personally prefer the Epson over the Panasonic, overall, for my own viewing. We'll get to the other, below. Please note, that while I definitely favor the Epson for characteristics that the Epson is stronger at, the Panasonic has other things going for it. Many will favor the Panasonic slightly for some of it's strengths.
Winner: Panasonic! No question about it. The Panasonic PT-AE4000 does provide better dark shadow detail. This is a chronic thing. Dark shadow detail has never been a strength of the Epson UB projectors. The Epson projectors do a nice job, but could do better. The Panasonic clearly wins this category.
The Epson image will tend to therefore look a touch more contrasty - it has a bit more pop to it, and one reason may be that some of those very near black details comes out that darker black that the Epson is capable of.
None-the-less, there are some scenes where you may make out enough more detail to improve the viewing. With the Epson on the left, again, look to the details on darkest part of the moon's surface (lower right corner). There's more detail there with the Panasonic. The Panasonic also reveals more details in the Train scene from Casino Royale, in the woods and shrubs. On scenes like the train scene, and this re-entry scene, the Panasonic will reveal more dark shadow details, but I should note, that the Epson does have a slightly punchier look. (more dynamic look, thanks to the black level advantage. As far as I'm concerned, all else being equal, I prefer a projector with slightly better blacks and slightly less good shadow detail, better than a different projector stronger on shadow detail, but not as good on blacks.
Even though the Panasonic PT-AE4000U can reveal a touch more, I don't consider the difference to be in any way significant.
In the dark, heavily overexposed image above from Space Cowboys, It's pretty hard to make a good determination. A very close look will show just a touch more detail on the Panasonic, especially in the window shades. At the same time, howver, you can also notice that the blacks are darker on the Epson, so, even with a touch less dark detail, the Epson still looks a touch more dynamic.
Overall, however, no matter what type of dark scene I throw at these two projectors, the Pansonic does, always, show that extra dark detail.
This next paragraph is right out of last year's Epson vs. Panasonic article - some things don't change:
Out of the box color accuracy differs between these two projectors: We're not concerned with that here, however, since both projectors improve with calibration. The Panasonic offers a touch more adjustment capability and some handy tools, (ie. waveform generator) but ultimately both calibrate very well, close enough for this to be more of how good a calibration is done, than which projector is better. More significant is the overall look and feel of the final picture quality.
As noted, Mike's attempt to calibrate these two pre-production projectors, resulted in neither being "perfect". The Panny still maintains some of it's out of the box propensity for too much red, and the Epson, just a tad of yellow green. Of the two, as they ended up, the Panasonic's shift is a touch more noticeable, but both look very good, a lot better than the posted images.
Overall Look and Feel of the Picture:
Ok, more subjective is the look and feel. I sometimes use expressions such as "film-like" which is hard to describe, but a very real effect. Film and digital video do not look the same.
As with last year, my initial reaction is that the Panasonic PT-AE4000 is a tad more film-like. But, I must qualify that statement. All bets are off pretty much as soon as you start firing up those dynamic sharpening, "Super-Res", clarity, detail, type controls. They may do what they are named after, but for a vislble improvement in those areas, it will cost you in terms of "film-like" because there are contrast changes to objects, that are definitely visible.
With the Epson, for example with it's dynamic contrast at 0 and Super-Res at 1, it is very film like. With the Panasonic's control set for less than 2, it's even a touch more film-like than the Epson. By the time the Epson is at 1 and 2 for Super-Res, and the Panasonic's control is at 3, we are distinctly less film-like than the lower settings.
So, if you want a crisper looking image, a touch more twinkle in someone's eye, and a touch of manufactured pop, do use these controls. It's about what you like. And, as they say, most things are good, in moderation.
Ultimately, with minimal settings on the dyanmic controlsh, the Panasonic Wins for film-like.
Conversely, the Epson trades that just slightly less natural look for an image that just pops a bit more than the Panasonic. As noted, it is slight on medium and bright scenes, but definitely more pop and wow on dark scenes, with the Panny seeming just a touch dull by comparison.
Just remember, the discussion of "film-like" becomes a non-conversation for those who like using the slightly sharper appearing, dynamic enhancements offered by both projectors. Once you start playing, then the one that's most film-like, is likely to simply be the one where you have those types of controls set the lowest. I should note, this similar type of thing occurs when comparing DLP projectors, relating to TI's Brilliant Color. On the DLP's that offer various steps for Brilliant Color, the more you turn it up, the more pop, the less film-like/natural.
Below are the PT-AE4000U on the left, 8500UB on the right. The first image has the dynamic contrast and sharpness related controls used sparingly. In the second image they are turned up a bit. For the Panasonic the first image has their Detail Clarity control on its default which is +2. In the lower one, it has been increased to +4. For the Epson Contrast enhancement is set to one (choices are off, 1-2-3), and Super-Resolution is at 0. In the second image the Epson Contrast Enhancement is still at 1, and Super-Resolution is +2.
You can look at the differences in sharpness of her skin, hair, eyes... Compare Panasonic to Epson with the moderate settings, the two different settings of the Panasonic (or Epson) to each other, etc. You can see the trade-offs as you go from a softer more natural looke to one that looks a touch sharper, with a little more pop.
The third image in the set, look at the Epson (right), that has the same setting as in the first one, for Super-Resolution - 0, but Epson's Contrast Enhancement is off in this one. quite a bit of difference as the face looks lighter with more contrast between bright areas and darker ones, with it set to 1.
I spent a lot of time staring at a lot of still frames and rewatching clips repeatedly to be able to both spot and describe differences between these two.
There were a couple of scenes in particular where I'd like to describe differences. One is from Quantum of Solace, there's a closeup of Mathis girlfriend's face. I've studied her face in freeze frames, replaying perhaps a few seconds worth repeatedly, etc. watching with the various dynamic controls (except iris), in different settings. This was one of my scenes, which allowed me to determine that by my taste, with minimal controls, that the Panasonic was just a touch more natural seeming than the Epson. As I pointed out earlier, though, cranking up those controls, even a little definitely diminishes "film-like" qualities. Her face almost immediately starts looking a bit to contrasty (from a purist's standpoint) with both projectors. Mind you still extremely watchable - just a tad less true.
When I viewed the dark train scene from Casino Royale, both projectors looked almost equally good. The Epson had more pop, and the blacker blacks, but in the darkest areas of the scene, in the trees and shrubs on the left side, the Panasonic reveals a bit more detail. As such, on a scene like that, since there are no large consistently dark areas, the strengths tended to offset each other. This is one very dark scene, where the Epson black level advantage really doesn't make any significant difference. On other dark scenes though, the difference is often rather significant.
Watching the starship, and battle scenes near the beginning of The Fifth Element, while doing my second photo shoot of side by side viewing, the Epson, (I should remind you, it's almost 20% brighter, and this time was running in full power mode), had blacks just a tad darker than the Panasonic. That's just half the story though:
it's brightest areas were far brighter than the Panasonic. Had the two been of near identical brightness, the blacks would have been quite noticeably darker with the Epson. Of course, then, the bright areas would be about the same. On both the starship/The Fifth Element scene, and on most of the scenes I use from Space Cowboys, Galaxy Quest, and other movies, the Epson has the distinct overall advantage, thanks to the still better black levels.
Last night as my last viewing before publshing this piece, I also watched about 30 minutes from the new Star Trek movie. First on the Epson, then the Panasonic, and finally, on my RS20. (I would have used the RS25, but since my RS20's lamp is older it's closer to the Epson and Panasonic in brightness. Let me say this, now, as it may help with perspective: In this comparison, it seems like from the read, that we have all of these supposed differences, yet I'm always saying that these projectors are fundamentally very similar. That I watched some of the same scenes with the JVC may help you better understand. The JVC's black levels were still significantly better than the Epson, and in many scenes the difference between JVC and Epson in black levels, is still rather impressive! On most scenes, let's say that if we gave the RS20 or RS25 a score of 95 for overall black level performance, then the Epson would probably earn an 80, and the Panasonic a 75. On the very darkest of scenes with no really bright areas, maybe that becomes JVC 95, Epson 90, Panasonic 85. Also remember that while I constantly describe the Epson as having more punch or wow than the Panasonic on dark scenes, the JVC easily bests the Epson, and it doesn't need to compress the bright areas, which really helps.
The scenes I viewed from the new Star Trek movie were mostly shipboard, and space scenes.
They were followed by watching large portions of Galaxy Quest which I just picked up on Blu-ray, a couple of days ago. I had never seen it in Blu-ray, so for a change, I was watching something that I wasn't really familiar with (the Blu-ray disc is really something impressive, compared to the standard DVD). Galaxy Quest may not have the highest production qualities that I've seen on Blu-ray, but they did do a very good job, and the space scenes, which merely hinted at spectacular on standard DVD looked truly sensational on Blu-ray.
Both projectors were still just a bit off in terms of really accurate skin tones. The Panasonic definitely, a bit too much red. The Epson 8500UB is also off a little (not as much), but with a slight yellow/green shift. Of the two, the Epson is the closer to ideal, but, I do believe that Mike could re-calibrate both and get some improvement on both. I should note, that, as usual, my digital camera tends to bring up those greens a little, especially on LCD projectors, so, in terms of comparison images, the Panasonic shows a little less red, in these images, than it does on the screen, and the Epson shows a little more green. With Mike's calibrations, all considered, the Epson comes out slightly ahead, in color accuracy. I stress again, though, that may not be the case with a different person calibrating...
All considered I have a number of additional side by sides of these two projectors, which will be posted as soon as we can get them all resized, etc. These will include images from Galaxy Quest, August Rush, and The Fifth Element.
For your consideration. Note, the Panasonic is on the right in all of these. The Epson is brighter by about 17% overall (varies when the dynamic irises are in use). As a result, the Epson's will look to the eye, as having more pop. There was no good way to deal with the brightness difference. I almost reduced the size of the Panasonic's image to balance the brightness, but that also makes it difficult to compare since the eye will be drawn to the bigger one.
These images are not accurate reflections of the actual color seen on the screen. You can see here that the Panasonic shifts more towards red, and the Epson more yellow-green. The difference between the two is exaggerated in these images, and further, both projectors' skin tones really do look significantly better than seen here.
Take your pick! Both are impressive.
A signifcant difference in brightness has been a defining difference in the past, between the PT-AE4000 and the Home Cinema 8500UB.
My congratulations to Panasonic for making the PT-AE4000 brighter in some ways than the older PT-AE3000. In part thanks to a new "Red Rich" lamp design, the PT-AE4000 now produces significantly more lumens in its best mode, than the earlier PT-AE3000.
Panasonic definitely cut the gap in best mode, but not in brightest mode.
In fact we measured about 430 lumens, almost 50% brighter in best mode than the older model.
Still, the PT-AE4000 is chasing the Epson, which measured 500 lumens. While that roughly extra 17% advantage for the Epson may not sound like a lot, but think of it this way. It means that the Epson can do just as good a job on a screen about 8% larger. (ie. the Epson would be a tad brighter on a 100" diagonal screen, than the Panasonic could be on a 92").
The difference isn't great, but it is enough to be a significant point. Especially for those, like me, who don't like being underpowered. Remember, those lamps dim (to about 50% brightness) over time, and while these projectors may seem to be plenty bright for you when you first get one, as the lamp nears life end, many folks are wondering why their projector has lost its umph, and seems underpowered.
That covers best mode. When you want maximum lumens (ie for sports viewing, but any time you want at least some ambient light present, the Epson has an even greater advantage when comparing brightest modes. In this case, the Home Cinema 8500UB measures in at 1309 lumens at mid-point on the zoom after Mike's quick cal. (The Epson's out of the box color in Dynamic/Vivid mode, is pretty good for a "brightest mode". . The Panasonic PT-AE4000 clocks in at 930 lumens after Mike's "quick-cal" which was needed to get comparable and respectable color on the AE4000.
After the "quick-cal" of both, the Home Cinema 8500UB is about 40% brighter. With the PT-AE4000 however, you can get some extra lumens out, by cranking up the contrast control. Doing so adds back almost 90 lumens by boosting contrast to +8. Doing so, however does significantly "crush" near whites, ie no detail in the white jerseys of football players. Watchable, if you need that extra 10% of lumens, at least for sports.
Even that technique, though still has the Epson 28% brighter, and with almost no crushing of near whites (into white).
Bottom line: Epson by a smaller margin than last year (best mode), but still by a significant amount. Further, there's a still larger deficit for the Panasonic, when comparing brightest modes.
I think we can all appreciate that having more lumens let's you power a larger screen. Also worth considering is the value of simply having a brighter projector on the same sized screen.When I was viewing the two, side by side, my daughter and friends came home. They barged in, and looked at the two images, and agreed immediately that the Epson was the better one.
I do believe they all pointed to the Epson simply because it was brighter, on the same sized screen (45" in this case). And that, sets up the philosophical question:
If "all else being almost equal", won't the slightly brighter projector seem to be the better projector?
My own personal answer would be yes.
I really believe that one projector is going to do something noticeably better in another aspect of performance, to offset a small amount of brightness.
Consider these side by sides. In each case you are drawn to the brighter image. In a couple, the Panny is a bit dark, and the Epson right, in others the Panasonic image is good and the Epson a bit too bright, but you should get the idea.
I think very few owners of 1080p projectors, these days, run their projectors in low power, which is another reason to support the idea that many can use more lumens. I believe using low power was far, far, far, far, more popular 3-4 years ago, for two reasons:
1. Black level performance was significantly inferior. "Blacks" would often be a medium dark gray, including the letterbox. Many of us may have chosen low power, even though we might have been underpowered, to keep those blacks under control, and not be too bright, especially in the letterbox area, where it would be a huge distraction.
2. Fan noise (audible noise) from the projectors were often much higher, so a lot of people, bothered by the noise, would choose to run in the much quieter eco-mode.
Today, though projectors are quieter, and all but the most basic entry level 1080p projectors have black level performance better than the normal 720p projectors. Also, the these two ultra high contrast 1080p projectors are in a whole different class in terms of black level performance.
In other words, two of the three compelling reasons to use low power are no longer in play for most. (The 3rd reason would be to save money, as most lamps last longer in low power (this Epson is an exception.)
What about sharpness.
Both are "typical" or "average" in sharpness among 1080p projectors. That said, when I have all those dynamic contrast and detail/sharpness features dialed down to minimum, the Epson does appear very slightly sharper. The side by side image of most of the PS3 display screen show here, is a good example. All that small text looks a little bit sharper on the Epson.
Those projectors that are sharper than either of these two are mostly DLP projectors (single chip devices so no convergence issues). When it comes to mis-convergende, the Panasonic and Epson projectors I have here are roughly comparable to each other.
I don't see, however, a really noteworthy difference between these two. Both have several sharpness and contrast, and detail enhancing controls, which can be used to end up with a sharper appearing, "crisper" looking image, but using them more than a little, does take a toll in overall image quality, as expected. I'll use those controls more on content like sports and pure digital content (ie. Discovery HD, or Planet Earth), but tend to be more conservative with movies. For example, when I want the image to look crisper, say for football, with the Epson I'll have contrast enhancement at 1 and Super Resolution on 2. For a similar setting on the Panasonic, Clarity control to on, and Detail Enhancement to +4.
Bottom line: Pretty much a tie, but if I had to pick one, the Epson does have the slight advantage, before you start playing with creating a crisper look with the "artificial" dynamic contrast and sharpness controls.
Panasonic PT-AE4000 Anamorphic lens emulation
Since this is covered in depth in the Panasonic PT-AE3000 and PT-AE4000 reviews, I'll keep it pretty short here.. As most of you know, most movies are shot in Cinemascope - with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, a shape significantly wider than the 16:9 HDTV standard aspect ratio that is native for all home theater projectors. This leaves you with a letterbox (dark gray area) on your 16:9 screen, above and below the movie content. To get rid of that, you need a wider screen (2.35:1), and a stretching of the image horizontally with an anamorphic lens. You'll also want a motorized sled for that lens, to move it out of the way for 16:9 and 4:3 content. Problem is, an anamorphic lens and sled combination costs more than either of these projectors.
Panasonic's solution is to let you change the zoom for different aspect ratios. By having the ability to save different lens settings, this makes things practical for folks to go with that Cinemascope shaped screen. It's not a perfect solution, those dark gray letterbox areas are still there, but above and below a Cinemascope lens, and essentially invisible if your wall around the screen is dark. The other limitation is that with a real lens/sled combination, the projector uses every pixel for the movie, but with Panasonic's method, only about 80% are used, so the real anamorphic lens solution is about 20% brighter. To allow this to work, it also limits the usable range of the zoom to about half of the 2:1 ratio of the lens.
Very few people go anamorphic lens, and I doubt that many buying the Panasonic will pair it with a Cinemascope shaped screen, but the feature is a nice one, and there for those who desire it. By comparison the Epson doesn't do this, and for that matter, doesn't support an anamorphic lens at all, without an outboard processor. If you want to go anamorphic with the Epson, you'll be better off buying the Pro Cinema 9500UB version which does have internal support for an anamorphic lens, but costs a lot more (likely around $3500 or perhaps a bit less, at this time - 11/09).
Lens Memory Bottom Line: Big Win for Panasonic. While there are weaknesses to the Panasonic's solution, compared to the big bucks for an anamorphic lens, it's a viable option that first time projector buyers looking at the Panasonic should consider, especially if they have dark front walls or draping around the screen), and are primarily interested in movies. Those simply replacing an existing projector with the Panasonic already have a screen, which is almost certainly 16:9, so to take advantage of the Lens Memory (anamorphic lens emulation), they would need a new screen, too, making the switch less attractive.
Creative Frame Interpolation
The Epson will work (and creative frames) with more different types of content streams than the Panasonic, but ultimately for what we care most about 24fps to 96 or 120, and 60fps to 120, the Panasonic is generally the slightest bit better of the two. Both now do a very good job of providing basic creative interpolation, with a minimum of "live digital video" (or "soap opera") look. Some may enjoy having it on with some movies. At least, that's the way I see it. I don't often use it with either of these projectors (for movies), but when I do, it's because it's a particular type of movie where a little live digital video look doesn't matter much (say Transformers, for example). You are most likely to not like it in movies with a lot of closeups and slow movements.
I watched sequences from Galaxy Quest, with the two projectors side by side. I do believe the Epson has that touch more live digital video look, but I can say it's more of an impression than a "fact". I could never quites "spot" a real difference in how they looked, rather I would sometimes get the impression on certain scenes that that Epson showed that "live digital video" look just a tad more than the Panasonic. It was never excessive on either (on the lowest setting). On much of what I watched I could decern no difference in this area. Both are now rather artifact clean when using their low settings: Mode 1 for the Panasonic, Low for the Epson. In staring, looking for artifacts, I think, just once every so often, I see a minor motion artifact with the Epson, that's not on the Panasonic, but, I really have to go hunting to find one. Not likely you would notice any significant such artifacts during normal movie viewin with either home theater projector.
The Epson still has a problem with HDTV content at 1080i/60, showing a 24fps movie. The Epson strips the 60fps back to 24fps to get rid of 3:2 pulldown judder. But, it doesn't work well. Best to not use it, but then, as I've said, I'm not a big fan, so far, of CFI with most movies anyway. The point is, though, if a 24fps movie is coming over your 1080i HDTV at 60fps, then, with the Epson 8500UB, turn off the CFI!
I'll give the Panasonic a slight overall advantage here, but they are close enough this year, for the CFI and FI functions not to be a significant determining factor.
For movies, remember, the objection to CFI is that it changes the director's intent. Not just the live digital look, either. That director knows what speeds to use, when, say, panning a scene, to get a desired effect. CFI will smooth the panning, thus the apparent "speed" of the scene. If the director knew everyone was using CFI, perhaps he would have panned the scene faster, to get the same effect he intended. That of course is just one example.
Home Cinema 8500UB vs. PT-AE4000 Bottom Line:
The Panasonic PT-AE4000 comes to you with the lower cost entry point, at $1999. The $2499 Epson, launching with a $200 rebate, nets out to $300 more, but the fact that you have to lay out $500 more up front, and then get the rebate a bit later, may be a factor for some.
The Panasonic PT-AE4000U is simply a high performance, well balanced machine. There's really nothing major to fault it for. It's got really good color, excellent black levels, and truly great shadow detail. In addition it's feature laden.
The Epson has its strengths too. While it is just a touch less film-like, and can't match the "special features" of the Panasonic, the Home Cinema 6500UB's strengths include visibly better black levels, and noticeably more brightness. The 8500UB's final image has more "pop and wow factor" than the Panasonic. The Epson Home Cinema 8500UB also has a better and longer warranty.
I find from side by side viewing, that the Epson as a touch sharper image, but it is slight enough to not be a serious factor.
The Home Cinema 8500UB does take longer to lock onto signals so, when you switch from TV, to say Blu-ray, expect as many as about 8 seconds, before the new image appears. the Panasonic is usually a lot faster (2-4). I haven't tested, but I assume the Panasonic is a touch faster in other ways, that may be beneficial for gamers, but I can't confirm that.
Favoring the Panasonic PT-AE4000: The Lens Memory feature paired with a 2.35:1 "Cinemascope screen" instead of the usual 16:9 screen, to get rid of letterboxing on most movies (but, of course giving you letterboses on the side, when viewing 16:9 HDTV. Hard core, "movie first" folks would rather have letterboxing on their sports and tv, than movies. The Panasonic (when both projectors are using a minimum of "dynamic" features (iris excepted), has a tad more "film-like look". Once again, as soon as you start cranking up Detail Enhancement, Contrast Enhancement, Super-Resolution and other such controls, all bets are off, when it comes to "film-like."
The Panasonic is also the slightly quieter of the two projectors and is more "loaded" with features like motorized zoom and focus, instead of manual, like the Epson. And of course, the Panasonic PT-AE4000 does have a real advantage in dark shadow details.
Both can have their lamps changed without unmounting a ceiling mounted projector. The Epson has the slightest advantage in zoom lens range (2.1:1, vs. 2.0:1), but the Panasonic has the slightest advantage in lens shift range.
The Panasonic, this year, still has a very slight advantage in CFI, but, I'm not sure that the difference is enough to matter to anyone. First you have to decide whether to use it at all.
I mentioned above, that the Panasonic costs less up front.
However, the Epson has the lower cost of operation, and for those keeping their projector for years, the lower overall cost of ownership, thanks to the longer life, and lower cost lamp:
Lamp Life ratings:
Full power on lamp: Panasonic 2000 hours, Epson 4000 hours, $399
Low Power on lamp: Panasonic 3000 hours, Epson 4000 hours, $299
(At 6000 hours of use, the Epson would be on its 2nd lamp, and have 2000 hours left. The Panasonic would be on its 4th lamp, with 2000 hours left. (assuming full power on both projectors).
Combining upfront cost with lamp costs, at the end of 6000 hours (24 hours a week, 5 years):
Panasonic: $1999 + $1197 (3x$399 lamp) = $3196
Epson: $2499 - $200 (rebate) + $299 (1x$299 lamp) = $2598
Or, for those of you who aren't heavy users in terms of weekly hours, or figure you'll be upgrading in a year or two, or three, here's the breakout for the end of 2000 hours use (10 hours a week for 4 years, or 20 hours/week for 2 years):
Panasonic: $1999 + $399 (lamp) = $2398
Epson: $2499 - $200 (rebate) = $2299
As you can see, even at the end of just 2000 hours, the Epson costs a touch less, since at 2000 hours, you would have just bought a new lamp for the Panny, and have 2000 hours left. With the Epson you'd be on the first lamp, but still have 2000 hours left.
True, comparing low power (3000 hours - Panny, vs. 4000 hours - Epson), the numbers are a bit closer, but, also consider - the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB is inherently brighter. More likely you'd end up with the Panasonic on full power, and the Epson on low, that way, they'd be very similar in brightness.
Owners and reviewers are going to be split as to which of these projectors they favor. In my case, I would choose the Epson for my own use, and will recommend it more often, but I understand why others will favor the Panasonic. Perhaps it's bcause I'm spoiled, with the JVC RS20 as my main projector.
BTW, while both of these projectors are excellent, fancy features notwithstanding, my JVC produces a generally, and quite visibly superior image to both.
While Panasonic closed the gap this year, a reasonable amount in the area of "best mode" brightness, the Epson is still brighter. ON the other hand, the Epson closed the gap in performance in terms of CFI, and also slightly in terms of "film-like". And so on. In other words the differences are slightly less this year, but, when push comes to shove, this year's models still have the same advantages, just in some cases the differences are less than last year.
First time buyers considering the Panasonic vs. Epson definitely should consider whether they want to go with the Panasonic for the Lens Memory feature, and pair with a 2.35:1 screen. I really do like that feature, and if I were considering from scratch, it would be the number one capability of the Panasonic that would draw me to it.
Ultimately, these are two projectors with different personalities. The Panasonic is the more sedate projector. Smooth, nothing to offend, balanced, good brightness and flexible. The Epson is the projector with a bit more attitude. It's got that slightly more dynamic look and feel, in part the image characteristics and part the sheer horsepower of being a particularly bright projector. Certainly the Panasonic has plenty of juice for smaller screens, the Epson has just enough more to go up about one screen size.
My best recommendation is to consider your own room layout, lighting, and screen size, your viewing tastes (type of content, lighting conditions for that content) and any other differences, in making your final choice. It's hard to go wrong with either projector.
The Panasonic PT-AE4000, I earlier described as sedate. I'm trying to say it just tends to feel right. It doesn't call attention to itself, thus it doesn't seem to add or subtract from the content as much as the Epson. The Epson has the dynamic personality - more pop and wow, but also more noticeable. It can really wow you, but there will also be moments when it doesn't look quite as neutral as the Panasonic.
I hope I've described the practical personalities of these two projectors for you in a fashion that will help you choose wisely between them.
Remember - you don't get to put them side by side in your house. As a result, you'll get one home and it's really going to look great, as these are excellent projectors. This article gives you some insights, that may be helpful, but, again, in the grand scheme of things, they are very close, we just seem to make the differences seem greater as we discuss them. Be practical, and more importantly, when you get one all set up, kick back and enjoy, and don't start second guessing yourself. -art