Home Theater Projector Comparison Report – Best in Class Awards for 2010

1080p Home Theater Projectors Our Award Winners

Entry Level Projectors Under $2000 (street price)
Medium priced projectors $2000 – $3500 (street price)
Higher End Projectors $3500 – $10,000 (street price)

Class: Entry Level Projectors: $2000 and under, Street Price

Best in Class Award: PT-AE4000

This was almost too easy. The older PT-AE3000 managed to get a tie for Best In Class, in the more expensive category last year. The $1999 MAP price of the PT-AE4000 this year, puts it at the top of the Entry Level price class, where it faced some formidable competition.

The problem is, the PT-AE4000 is anything but “entry level” when it comes to many aspects of its performance, and especially when it comes to features. I’m not sure if any other projector in this report, regardless of price, has a more varied, and powerful set of features.

The key reasons for picking up the Best In Class award:

  • Best black level performance in the class
  • Excellent post calibration color, with an extremely natural “film-like” look to movies
  • Creative Frame Interpolation (only projector in the Entry Level class to offer it)
  • Great placement flexibility
  • Lens Memory “anamorphic lens emulation” ability for working with 2.35:1 Cinemascope screens
  • A whole host of additional features including dynamic ones

The Panasonic PT-AE4000 projector has a very natural look to the image. This Panasonic projectors is one of the more film-like 3LCD projectors. Skin tone handling is extremely good.

The Panasonic PT-AE4000 got a nice increase in “best” mode lumens compared to last year’s model. Now it’s almost average in brightness, a real improvement over last year. Unfortunately, “brightest” mode on the PT-AE4000 isn’t any brighter than last year’s projector, and just barely average. Panasonic closed the gap a bit in”best” mode, compared to its most direct competitor, the Epson Home Cinema 8500UB, which competes in the Mid-Price class.

The PT-AE4000 has as smooth an implementation of Creative Frame Interpolation (CFI) to eliminate motion blur, as I’ve seen so far. Last year, Panasonic’s first effort, on the PT-AE3000 was well done, and this year’s version, is at least as good.

Cinemascope fans: If you want to go with a Cinemascope aspect ratio screen to eliminate letterboxing, the PT-AE4000’s Lens Memory feature (improved since last year), lets you emulate having an anamorphic lens. While that’s not quite the same thing as a real anamorphic lens and sled, it does a good job, and saves you about $4000 compared to the typical price of the better known lens and sled combinations (from names like Panamorph, Schneider…) The tradeoffs are discussed elsewhere in this report, and in much greater detail in the full PT-AE4000 review.

An impressive color management system is complemented by some excellent tools including an oscilloscope type analyzer and split screen (before/after) views of the same scene as you make changes.

Placement flexibility is about as good as it gets. A 2:1 zoom is hard to beat (only Epson does, with a 2.1:1 zoom ratio – barely any difference). Panasonic’s lens shift range may well be the greatest of any projector in this report.

The Panasonic beat out these other award winners for the following reasons:

The PT-AE4000 bested the Epson Home Cinema 8100. The Epson is brighter, and costs less (by about $500), and costs even less still, to operate, but the Epson is no match in black level performance, and its skin tones aren’t as natural looking. Then the Panny has Lens Memory, power zoom and focus, and CFI, all things not found on the Epson projector.

The Mitsubishi HC3800, does have a lot more lumens, but this DLP projector lacks a dynamic iris, and is no match for the Panasonic, in terms of black level performance.

As to the $999 projectors, none of them come close in picture quality or features, although two of those are drastically brighter than the Panny. All three have slow to very slow color wheels, so the rainbow effect also may come into play with these bargain projectors.

It would have been more fun if the Panasonic was more expensive. It would face a far more challenging class of projectors.

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