I've already written about how the Panasonic compares to other similarly priced 1080p projectors. When the new Panasonic arrived, I also had the opportunity to put up the Panasonic PT-AE2000U ($2699) side by side against the new, and significantly more expensive Sony VW60 projector (MSRP $4995).
The Panasonic is definitely the more consumer friendly, in terms of price, and out of the box accuracy. The Sony, by comparison, was just slightly brighter in best mode, but not as bright, in brightest modes, so the Panasonic has the advantage as a mixed use (movies in the dark, HDTV/TV/Sports with some ambient light) projector, while the Sony has the brightness edge for those almost exclusively interested in movies.
From a pure performance standpoint, though the Sony definitely improves upon the Panasonic in terms of both black levels and shadow detail. That's not surprising because the Sony is one of the best on the market in those areas, and the least expensive of the projectors really superior in those areas (VW60, JVC RS1, JVC RS2, Sharp XV-Z20000). Still the important point is that the Sony, and the others mentioned, are for lack of a better term "purist class" projectors - that appeal to those really hung up on best performance, especially in those areas. By comparison, the Panasonic may come up a little short, but still does a very respectable job that should please all but the purists and hobbiests.
For your consideration here are a few side by side images. The Sony projector will be the left image, the Panasonic, the right. Before you look, be aware, that both projectors were in their best modes, and that the Sony definitely appears a little brighter (less than 10%), enough that you need to take that into consideration:
Next comes a pair of images that are good for shadow detail and black level comparisons. As I have commented in some reviews, the roof of the building is very, very dark, and is lost or almost lost with most projectors. Consider that these images have been overexposed intentionally to better reveal what shadow detail is there (and to compensate for the camera's inability to resolve dark shadow information during a normal exposure:
This next image of a cave entrance (for lack of a better description), is seriously overexposed to reveal detail in the cave walls. Here you can really see a difference. That said, the Panasonic still handles this seen well, in real life. This image is also affected by the difference in brightness, which will tend to make the difference greater than it really is. By the way, don't worry too much about the color differences, in these two images. When I move to long time exposures of very dark material, there is also some shifting and emphasis of colors:
How do you sort all this out? Always a tough call when you are comparing to really good products but one is better than the other and appropriately more expensive. I reiterate. The Panasonic really does produce an excellent film-like image. The Sony, is simply - a bit better, but the Panasonic should easily exceed the threshold of performance demanded by most buyers! What could you do with an extra $1500 - $2000 - the difference in street price? That's a question you'll have to decide.
Panasonic PT-AE2000U Home Theater Projector - The Bottom Line
I'll stick by my original recommendation. I pretty well anticipated the differences between the first and second projectors, and I based my discussion of the PT-AE2000U with the assumption that the color shift would be minimal and not an issue on production projectors (as it turned out), and the really good out of the box color balance was confirmed.
So, I'll say it one more time. The Panasonic PT-AE2000U, is film-like, easy to set up and use, has lots of controls for those that love to tinker and tweak, and produces really good colors and overall picture quality, right out of the box.
It is certainly highly competitive with any of the other under $3000 1080p projectors currently out there (the one unknown is Epson's new Home Cinema 1080UB, likely to be slightly more expensive, and scheduled for review in the next couple of weeks). It is also, probably, the most consumer friendly in terms of setup and use. Image sharpness is a bit softer than most, but you get a completely invisible pixel structure in exchange, which many consider a real plus.
No projector in this price range is as close to perfect as some of the more expensive models, but, think this way: The Panasonic overall, is probably in most ways superior to any projector you could have bought 18 months ago for under $10,000. And, most importanly, it is one that was always a pleasure to watch (even as critical as I tend to be). It keeps coming back to that!