Yes, the PT-AX200U picks up our Hot Product Award. There are several reasons why, but in a nutshell, the PT-AX200U is the brightest projector, yet in its best mode it produces an excellent, film-like image, with acceptable black levels and very good shadow detail. As an added bonus, it has a Game mode that is truly optimized for gamers, whether they are using a PS3, X-Box 360, Wii, or other game machines.
Panasonic PT-AX200U and the Competition
Nothing comes close in brightness, with the exception of the Epson Home Cinema 400, which comes somewhat close in brightest mode, but is definitely dimmer in best mode. The Epson is sharper, but has a slightly hard image in my opinion, as the Panasonic is more film-like.
Sony's AW15, another LCD projector, has blacker blacks, but is one of the dimmest projectors around, and best used with screens of 100" or less, whereas the Panasonic is at home with screens from 92" to 130+ inch diagonal.
The popular DLP projectors, most notably the Mitsubishi HC1500 and Optoma HD70, have a slight edge in black levels overall, and more in scenes with lots of very dark, and very bright, but do no better in bringing out shadow details. Add to that, the Panasonic rivals them in terms of producing a natural, film-like picture quality. Then of course, there's the big differences, which are that the Panasonic is significantly brighter, and has drastically better placement flexibility.
BenQ's W500, a lower cost LCD projector, is certainly no match, with crushed blacks and far lower lumen output, although it has a very slight edge in perceived sharpness. Acer's PH530, recently reviewed, is the lowest cost projector around, but hardly compares with the Panasonic.
It comes down to this. The Panasonic is solid, across the board with no glaring weaknesses. It works great, and will wow you and your friends. Those that find the softness to be too soft, are probably on their way to getting a 1080p projector sooner rather than later. Unless that softness bothers you (you probably won't be able to tell, unless you could demo the PT-AX200U with the competition, side by side), the Panasonic holds its own in most areas, and excels in brightness and placement.