Panasonic PT-AE3000 Anamorphic lens emulation
Since this is covered in depth in the Panasonic PT-AE3000 review, I'll keep this short. As most of you know, most movies are shot in Cinemascope - with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, a shape significantly wider than the 16:9 HDTV standard aspect ratio that is native for all home theater projectors. This leaves you with a letterbox (dark gray area) on your 16:9 screen, above and below the movie content. To get rid of that, you need a wider screen (2.35:1), and a stretching of the image horizontally with an anamorphic lens. You'll also want a motorized sled for that lens, to move it out of the way for 16:9 and 4:3 content. Problem is, an anamorphic lens and sled combination costs more than either of these projectors.
Panasonic's solution is to let you change the zoom for different aspect ratios. By having the ability to save different lens settings, this makes things practical for folks to go with that Cinemascope shaped screen. It's not a perfect solution, those dark gray letterbox areas are still there, but above and below a Cinemascope lens, and essentially invisible if your wall around the screen is dark. The other limitation is that with a real lens/sled combination, the projector uses every pixel for the movie, but with Panasonic's method, only about 80% are used, so the real anamorphic lens solution is about 20% brighter. To allow this to work, it also limits the usable range of the zoom to about half of the 2:1 ratio of the lens.
Very few people go anamorphic lens, and I doubt that many buying the Panasonic will pair it with a Cinemascope shaped screen, but the feature is a nice one, and there for those who desire it. By comparison the Epson doesn't do this, and for that matter, doesn't support an anamorphic lens at all, without an outboard processor. If you want to go anamorphic with the Epson, you'll be better off buying the Pro Cinema 7500UB version which does have internal support for an anamorphic lens.
Creative Frame Interpolation
Here's an area where the Panasonic PT-AE3000 dominates. Let me start by saying I consider CFI to be a minor feature. I know a few folks though who are really into it. For them, that makes a very strong case for the Panasonic PT-AE3000 over the Epson Home Cinema 6500UB.
Both of these 1080p projectors do a reasonably good job taking a 1080i 60 source signal and add a frame to get it up to 120fps. That gives you a solution for smoother fast action sports, but really doesn't come into play for movies. When it comes to 24fps source material, the Panasonic creates 3 new frames between two originals to get to 96fps, while the Epson creates 4 new frames to get you to 120fps. Problem with the Epson though, is that the image takes on an unnatural "live digital video" (or soap opera look) feel to movies, and it has more artifacts - a noticeable amount of intermittent jerkiness to the content. The Panny handles that with far less artifacts, and is watchable, which I don't consider the Epson to be. Still, it too, adds a bit of that soap opera look, but not as bad. The Epson, by the way, does fine with basic frame interpolation - not creative, on 24fps, taking it to 96fps.
CFI, however tends to mess with the "Director's intent", and that bothers me, when it comes to movies. Consider, if CFI smooths out the changing of shape of a Transformer, it may make the sequence seem not just smoother, but tamer, less exciting. If the director saw the CFI adjusted version would he want to make changes to put back more excitement? Remember, movies run at the same 24fps in theaters as they so on a non-CFI projector. I even suspect that things like panning speeds, in scenes, would be changed if the director knew content was being viewed at a CFI 48, 96, or 120fps.
I'm sure over the next couple of years, we'll see better CFI and on more than the four current projectors that offer it. The four being the Panasonic, both UB Epson's and the Sanyo, but the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 doesn't do CFI with 24fps sources.
Home Cinema 6500UB vs. PT-AE3000 Bottom Line
Click to enlarge. So close. Buy either of these projectors and you should be thrilled with the performance, especially for the dollars spent. While both are 3LCD projectors, and therefore similar in many ways, a number of things separate them, and it's the differences that you should be concerned with. As I write this, the two projectors have pricing parity, at least in the US. That could change, in fact a few weeks ago, based on rebates, and selling price, the Panasonic was typically about $300 less, but for the moment pricing is not a factor.
Click Image to Enlarge
Primarily, the Panasonic is an excellent, well balanced projector with a natural image, extremely good black levels, and boasts some very interesting new abilities, including their anamorphic lens emulation, and CFI.
I find from side by side viewing, that the Epson as a touch sharper image, but it is slight enough to not be a serious factor.
The Epson has its strengths too. While it is a touch less film-like, and can't match the "special features" of the Panasonic, the Home Cinema 6500UB's strengths include visibly better black levels, and significantly more brightness. The 6500UB's final image has more "pop and wow factor" than the Panasonic. The Epson Home Cinema 6500UB also has a better warranty.
Owners and reviewers are going to be split as to which of these projectors they favor. In my case, I would choose the Epson for my own use, and recommend it more often, but I understand why others will favor the Panasonic. I think I'm right, but you decide!
My best recommendation is to consider your own room layout, lighting, and screen size, your viewing tastes (type of content, lighting conditions for that content) and any other differences, in making your final choice. It's hard to go wrong with either projector.