Black Levels and Shadow Detail in 2D: Epson HC5010 vs. Panasonic PT-AE7000
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.
The Panasonic PT-AE7000 is certainly no slouch, it is an ultra-high contrast projector, it simply, once again, isn't a match for the Epson at blacks.
In the image above, you can see that the blacks on the Epson (right) are slightly darker than the Panasonic, while the overall image is brighter. On scenes like this, the HC5010 projector really pops compared to the PT-AE7000.
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 performance.
Epson's iris offers two speeds, compared to the Panasonic's single speed. Both have good iris action, rarely noticeable.
Epson's blacks are perhaps the key reason I've been a huge fan of the Epson UB projectors we've been reviewing for the last 4 years. While Epson claims no improvement (same 200,000:1 spec), Panasonic did improve their spec to 300,000:1, but I don't see any improvement in blacks from the old PT-AE4000 to the new PT-AE7000. Too bad.
Shadow detail also favors the Epson, but not by a great amount. 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 5010 has a distinctive advantage in this critical image aspect.
Overall Winner: 2D Black Level Performance and Shadow Detail: Epson Home Cinema 5010!
No doubt Epson's logic, is that a dynamic iris not only drops the black levels, but also the overall brightness of darker scenes. With 3D inherently being limited in brightness, that can make sense. But why not let us users make the choice.
Ultimately, watching really dark 3D scenes, the Epson does well enough - this is an ultra-high contrast projector, and even without the dynamic iris, it has good blacks - about as good, for example as Epson's less expensive HC3010 when it uses its iris.
So, sure, watching 3D content, is darker, but anyway you consider it, the Panasonic does offer the blacker blacks on 3D. Myself, like most of you will, due to the brightness differences between 2D and 3D, consider black performance on 2D to be far more important, expecially since most of what we all watch is 2D.
None the less, this catagory is a split between the PT-AE7000 with it's black advantage, and the Epson Home Cinema 5010 with more shadow detail.
Overall Winner: 3D blacks and shadow detail: PT-AE7000.
Final comment: Blacks and Dark Shadow Detail: 2D vs. 3D:
As stated, since 3D is never overly bright, so black levels are going to be less critical for 3D viewing. Of course, it will be several years, before we are watching as much 3D as 2D, by almost anyone's measure.
Shadow detail favors the Epson in both 2D and 3D. The advantage in 3D may well be due to the lighter blacks and the darker image. Ultimately though, dark details is an Epson strength.
Bottom line overall, in terms of black levels (2D and 3D) and shadow detail has to still significantly favor the Home Cinema 5010.
I conclude this, based on the Epson's dominence in 2D, and the lower "return on investment" with blacks in less watched, and less bright 3D.