Panasonic has built an excellent, well balanced projector. As one of the ultra high contrast 3LCD projectors, it has extremely good black levels, although not as good as the Epson projector it shares the award with. That still makes the Panasonic the next best thing in this class and it has better black levels than a number of the more expensive projectors. The PT-AE3000 produces a natural looking, "film-like" image, with very good skin tones.
The PT-AE3000 is about average in brightness, making it suitable for screens up to about 110" diagonal, or, under the right circumstances, a little larger. It's actually a little brighter than average in "brightest" mode. That said, it shares the award with an Epson this is significantly brighter in "best" or "brightest".
Placement flexibility is outstanding, and almost identical to the Epson. Having a motorized zoom and focus is a nice plus.
Panasonic has the most comprehensive/best implementation of CFI (creative frame interpolation) of any projector in the review. And, it does it rather well, with a minimum of artifacts. It works with both 24fps movies as well as 60fps HDTV/TV content. The Sanyo, by comparison, has a good CFI capability, but only for 60fps, not 24fps movies. The Epson does well enough on 60fps, but has serious artifact problems (mostly image jerkiness) with 24fps. While I don't consider CFI an important feature, there are those who do like it. (I expect "next generation" CFI to be better.)
The PT-AE3000 also has a most interesting anamorphic lens emulation mode, which is discussed elsewhere, let's just say it's a low cost way to go Cinemascope (2.35:1) screen, to eliminate letterboxing, without spendng thousands of dollars for an anamorphic lens and motorized sled.
For those who like to play with their projectors, it has a powerful color management system and oscilloscope like image analysis tools, and a split before/after screen, for seeing your changes.
The Panasonic receives its Best In Class Award for being extremely good at everything, though not necessarily the best. You should really like the PT-AE3000, as long as you don't put it in an environment where it runs out of lumens.
Put it all of that together, and have a projector with not a single major flaw, and a great picture. You can expect one fine viewing experience.
Best in Class, Runner-Up: BenQ W5000 Projector
The W5000 is an excellent DLP projector. We really liked it last year when it cost well over $1000 more than today. Last year it was tie for Runner-up, in this class, so you may well ask, "if the price dropped so much, how come it didn't do better this year?"
The answer is straightforward - this year it's facing a large number of projectors not around last year. For example, last year, only the Epson 1080 UB (in this price range) had black levels dramatically better than the W5000. This year, we have four ultra-high-contrast 3LCD projectors in the class, instead of one.
Still, the W5000's overall picture quality is most impressive. The more than typical image noise, which hurt it last year, has been solved, and is no longer an issue. The only remaining issue, is that the HDMI inputs are 1.2 not the newer 1.3. This does mean that when we start getting Blu-ray content with Deep Color (a larger color palette), the W5000 won't be able to take advantage. The BenQ W5000 only comes with a one year warranty, which is shorter than most.
The image the W5000 projects is very sharp.
As is typical of DLP home theater projectors, the W5000 is well, brighter than the average home theater in "best" mode, so handling a large screen for movie watching is not a problem. Also typical, is the less than great increase in lumens when going to its brightest mode (Dynamic). Like virtually all DLP projectors, it offers Brilliant Color. Using brilliant color gives you a further boost of lumens which, in Dynamic mode makes the W5000 on the bright side of average. If you are looking for the best, most faithful image, you'll want Brilliant Color off, but for "brightest" mode when you need it, you'll almost certainly want it on.
The BenQ has a manual iris. The more you stop it down, the less lumens, but you do get a slight improvement in black levels. We found black levels to be very good, even with the iris almot fully open, and when it is, you have that better than average brightness I've already mentioned.
I'm an old BenQ projector owner, and was always pleased (despite my slight sensitivity to the rainbow effect). The W5000 is a projector I have recommended often, to those favoring the DLP "look and feel" and also for those bothered by "motion blur", a group that tends to favor DLP.
The BenQ is more versatile than many other DLP projectors, in that it offers lens shift. In addition, the 1.2:1 zoom lens is longer throw than most DLP's offer, so it actually can be shelf mounted in the rear of a lot of rooms, if that works best for you.
Bottom line: It starts with better than most color accuracy, and it calibrates very nicely. Good black level performance combines with those DLP film-like tendencies (including very rich dark colors), to make a well balanced, sharp, and bright projector.
As I pointed out last year, in the lower price ranges, the W5000 is one of the very few projectors I would consider as a replacement for my JVC, if I had to lose it, and buy something far less expensive.