Panasonic PT-AE8000 vs. Epson Home Cinema 5020 Projector Comparison
11/12/2012 - Art Feierman
2D Brightness - Epson HC5020 vs. Panasonic PT-AE8000
Big change here, over last year's shootout. The year ago projectors were noticeably different in brightness, with the Epson significantly brighter in both "best" and "brightest" modes, but especially calibrated best mode.
Panasonic has closed the gap in maximum brightness. From our standpoint, the PT-AE8000 and the HC5020UB measured the same - well within the margin of error, when measuring maximum brightness in their Dynamic modes, and was also close calibrated, and after our brightest mode tune-up. I'm talking 2D here.
Later I'll talk 3D brightness where Epson still has a very visible advantage.
Epson still maintains the advantage after calibration, with a measured difference of 678 to 602. That makes this year's Epson HC5020UB about 11% brighter calibrated.
Most likely an 11% difference in their best modes is not going to be enough to be a primary reason for choosing the Epson, but every lumen helps, so it may be a factor for many, especially those focused almost solely on 2D, and primarily on movies - That 11% means a larger screen, all else being equal.
Below, from Harry Potter - PT-AE8000 in "best", lamp on full power (left) vs. Home Cinema 5020 in "best", lamp on eco (low) power:
When comparing brightest mode - after our quick-cal - tuning of their Dynamic modes, the Panasonic produced 1637 lumens, while the Home Cinema 5020 still managed 1702 lumens, which is just about 4% brighter.
3D Brightness: Epson HC5020UB vs. Panasonic PT-AE8000
This time there's a clear winner. The Epson maintains a large brightness advantage here. That means they are being a lot more efficient maximizing 3D lumens. Panasonic came up with the super light 3D glasses compared to Epson's merely very light ones, but, perhaps the glasses, perhaps the circuitry, but the Epson seems about 20% - 30% brighter in 3D (roughly almost as much as the drop from full power lamp to eco-mode on the Epson, and of course it's 3D when you really, really need every last lumen.
The Epson does not allow eco-mode in 3D, (figuring you'll need all the lumens), which is unfortunate. I would have liked to run the PT-AE8000 at full power / 3D, and the Epson on eco-mode / 3D, and see which is brighter. That would help quantify the difference.
Two favorite images (2D) to compare:
Panasonic above, Epson below, from The Fifth Element. The Panasonic image is a touch brighter, just due to the exposures.
Those of us really into 3D, or thinking they will be when they get their first 3D capable projector, should consider the Epson advantage in 3D to be very important. If you really don't care about 3D, then the two projectors are closer.
Panasonic PT-AE8000 vs. Epson HC5020 UB - Shootout
Black Levels and Shadow Detail in 2D: Epson HC5020 vs. Panasonic PT-AE8000
With very few exceptions, a dynamic iris is the key to achieving deep blacks. Dark shadow detail is determined by several factors, so we rely on viewing dark images, to deterimine shadow detail
In 2D, the annual shootout between the Panasonic and Epson has been consistent. Epson, year after year, demonstrates the better black performance. Whether on our night train scene from Bond, or the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter, the Epson has a very visible advantage.
Image above, Panasonic PT-AE8000 on left, Epson Home Cinema 5020 on the right image from Casino Royale
The thing is, this year Panasonic upped their specification to 500,000:1 contrast, compared to the HC5020's 320,000:1. One would expect it to have the blacker blacks. Not the case though. I had briefly both a PT-AE7000 and PT-AE8000, and the PT-AE8000 was definitely slightly better.
The Epson though, is still a good deal better than the PT-AE8000 when it comes to blacks. Both are "ultra-high contrast" which means they are going to be dramatically better then many other
Above, from Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix. Both taken in "best" calibrated mode. The Panasonic's iris doesn't shut down as much as the Epson's, which results in very dark scenes like this one, appearing a bit brighter, while the Epson, by comparison appears darker, with darker blacks.
On scenes like this, the HC5020 projector does have more "pop" than the PT-AE8000.
The difference in blacks is significant for those of us who appreciate vivid, rich dark scenes. As a guy who watches a lot of sci-fi, and action, I don't want to sacrifice any black level performance.
Epson's iris offers two speeds, compared to the Panasonic's single speed. Both have good iris action, rarely noticeable.
Below, click for larger. Panasonic is on the left, as with all the other side by side photos.
Epson's blacks are still, perhaps, Epson's biggest advantage over the Panasonic. I've been a huge fan of the Epson UB projectors we've been reviewing for the last 5 years. While Epson claims no improvement in contrast this year, Panasonic did improve their spec to 500,000:1. Any improvement on the Panasonic, however appears minor, as Epson seems to still have the same black level advantage this year, as last.
Shadow detail also favors the Epson, but apparently it is a slight difference. My take is blacks are more important than differences in shadow detail among good projectors in this price range. Either way, though, the Epson Home Cinema 5020 has a distinctive advantage in this critical image aspect.
Overall Winner: 2D Black Level Performance and Shadow Detail: Epson Home Cinema 5020!
3D Black Levels and Shadow Detail:
Epson HC5020 vs. Panasonic PT-AE8000
Last year the Panasonic won hands down when it came to black level performance in 3D. Not so this year.
Last year, Epson did not allow the dynamic iris to work in 3D. They do now and as a result, the Epson Home Cinema 5020 has, as you would expect based on 2D, a signficant black level advantage in 3D. Of course unless you are on a smaller screen, the 3D images won't be exceptionally bright, so blacks are a bit less important than on 2D, but ultimately, the Epson still outperforms the PT-AE8000 in this regard.
Overall Winner: 3D blacks and shadow detail: Epson HC5020UB.
Final comment: Blacks and Dark Shadow Detail: 2D vs. 3D:
Epson is the winner this year in all combinations of 2D and 3D, in terms of both blacks and dark shadow detail, instead of winning 2D and losing at 3D last year. The bottom line is that Epson's 3D now has the advantage over the Panasonic, whereas last year, Panasonic had a big 3D advantage, except in brightness.
2D Image Quality - Color: Epson HC5020 vs. Panasonic PT-AE8000
Both projectors calibrate nicely. Both have good out of the box modes. Panasonic recommends its Rec 709 mode as best for calibrating. Mike used THX mode as the basis for the Epson calibration (which worked out very well.)
Images below: PT-AE8000 left, HC5020 right, for your consideration.
Overall winner: Image Quality and Color: Winner: Tied.
3D Image Quality - Color: Epson HC5020 vs. Panasonic PT-AE8000.
Outcome: No advice.
Neither projector in 3D has as accurate color as in 2D. Let me clarify, that's based on viewing calibrated 2D on both "best" modes. We didn't actually calibrate 3D performance - we lack the proper tools. If we could, that might change things a little.
The Epson can be run in default 3D Cinema, or 3D THX vs. the Panasonic using the calibrated REC 709 in 3D or any of its Cinema modes. Last year the Pro Cinema 6010's 3D THX mode (last year's HC5010 lacked a THX mode) was a bit brighter than 3D Cinema mode, but this year, on both the Home Cinema 5020 and the Pro Cinema 6020, the THX mode is slightly less bright than 3D Cinema. Go figure!
I have to take the position that getting flawless color on 3D isn't quite here, and isn't critically important. Even on a 100" screen, where some of these bright 3D projectors can do a passable job in brightness in their "best" 3D modes, most will still prefer to watch a not quite as good brightest mode, if it means twice the brightness.
In other words, for 3D with these two, brightness trumps accurate color - unless you have a small enough screen.