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Panasonic PT-AE3000U Home Theater Projector - First Look

Update:  Click for the PT-AE3000 review which has been posted.   Greetings all, I know many of you have been waiting for this one.  Well, I've got lots of news, and some may surprise you. Let me preface this by saying so far, I haven't been working with and analyzing the frame interpolation yet, nor have I played with what I like to call the "pseudo" anamporphic lens features.  Both of these are extremely interesting, and may well prove important to many potential buyers, but the word on those items will have to wait for the full review in a few days. Here are the Headlines: Panasonic's PT-AE3000U is a substantial improvement over the PT-AE2000U. Next heading Looks to be a great projector, but it still should have formidable competition, even at, and around it's great price. And finally SORRY FANS: This is not a projector that can match or beat the JVC RS series projectors!   (they have set the bar for black level performance) add this subheading: Though loaded with features, there are still better projectors in terms of black levels, shadow detail, and brightness - but not many. OK, let's start with brightness - that's easy.  It's only slightly brighter than the PT-AE2000U which was strictly average.  That means it's about the equal to the current Epson Home Cinema 1080 in "best" mode, but still about 1/3 less bright when in brightest.  So, you've got modest improvement, but it's still not a projector ready to tackle larger screens over 110" unless you've got a high gain screen. Next, let's talk black levels.  First I must point out that this projector arrived a few days ago, in non-standard packing (just bubble wrap), with 37 hours on it.  There's a bit of background unevenness, with a bit of a brighter bluish tint in the corners, and spreading from there. The top center, by comparison is a touch red.  These levels are worse than I would expect full production units to exhibit, but not as bad as many pre-production samples I get, of 3LCD or LCoS projectors.  Still, it's enough to have some bearing on black level performance.  In chatting with Panasonic, it was confirmed that this is one of the show samples, and has since participated in one dealer event, before being shipped here.  Basically, it's been shipped a lot (you should see the box), probably at least 5 times before getting here. Uneven backgrounds, from my experience, can often be caused by shipping issues.  Again, it's not enough to see during normal viewing.   OK, ready? Wow, what a major improvement in black levels compared to the PT-AE2000U.  Though I don't have the older one here, I saw the two side by side at CEDIA, and everything I've looked at here confirms what I saw there. The BUT, however, is while it takes Panasonic to a new level, it isn't breaking new ground.  First of all, placing it side by side with an Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB with over 500 hours on it (vs 65 hours on this Panny, at the time I had them together.  The Panny was slightly brighter, due to the Epson's lamp hours.  To get the two projectors virtually identical in brightness, I switched the PT-AE3000U projector into Eco-mode, which, by the way only drops brightness slightly - less than almost any other projector tested of late. The Epson still beat out the Panasonic in terms of black levels.  For sure it was very close.  To just pick a number, the PT-AE3000U has closed at least 80% of the gap in black level performance that existed between the old Panasonic and the Epson. Now, I said close.  Close enough that other factors should have more impact, if you are considering these two projectors.  As I've said in other reviews, when you have black levels this good - Panasonic PT-AE3000U or Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB, you've passed a critical threshold for performance, yes you can get better, and appreciate better, but the Panasonic is not going to deliver scenes where you would say. "Geez, I need better blacks, these dark scenes don't cut it."  I've already viewed segments from 2001, The Fifth Element, Casino Royale, and a couple of others, that have plenty of great, dark scenes, and the Panny did just fine! What this means is that at the great $2499 street price of the Panasonic may well be the least expensive of the new batch of "top of the line" 3LCD projectors, with superior performance, and likely a superb value, but it's not going to be the best in black levels.  Expect the new Epson UBs to have a slight advantage on the 1080 UB, and therefore a touch more over the PT-AE3000U.  Still, they should all be very close - all in the same class of black level performance.  The Mitsubishi HC7000 and Sanyo PLV-Z3000 also will be using the same Epson panels, and have the same or higher contrast claims.  From what I see here, we are going to have four manufacturers with projectors with excellent, if not the best black levels out there.  At least the Panasonic PT-AE3000U projector and the old Epson UB, are definitely a step down from the JVC RS1, nevermind the even better RS2. Shadow detail, after calibration, was just a touch better than the Epson, and, I'd say, the RS1 (by even less), but not as good as the InFocus IN83, which, by the way, is no match for the PT-AE3000U in shadow details. I've got side by side photos for black levels and shadow details, for PT-AE3000U vs Epson Home Cinema 1080UB, PT-AE3000U vs JVC RS1, and PT-AE3000U vs InFocus IN83.  They will be pubished in the full review.  For those of you familiar with my regular images, they are the Starship from The Fifth Element, the opening black and white office scene, the "roof" scene and the night train scene all from Casino Royale.  Very revealing! Sharpness may be just a touch better than the PT-AE2000U (which was a touch soft), but I haven't looked closely, except to say, in one scene side by side with the Epson (which is average sharpness), the two looked about dead even. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to make heads or tails of the impact of the creative frame interpolation, and the pseudo anamorphic lens features, as well as other features. I've got a lot of images to shoot, and much to do, but let me summarize this way. The Panasonic has overcome what was probably it's biggest weakness, and that was only having good black levels.  Brightness is good, features - the Panasonic has got to be the most feature laden projector around.  I suspect some of those features will figure in heavily into the value proposition, and help win Panasonic a great many customers.   BTW, the new remote is pretty OK, no complaints.  The projector is quiet.  Menus are essentially identical to last year's model, but for a few new items.   I almost forgot!  The out of the box performance is really very good, one of the best.  Oh, it still improves with a calibration - the color is very close, with just minor adjustments needed, but gamma, saturation, brightness and contrast, all need a bit of adjusting too, to get the max out of the PT-AE3000U. That's it, that's all you get, until the review comes out. I'm slammed, so comment among yourselves, but I won't have the time to follow closely, and may not respond. Lastly, Panasonic has promised a brand new Panny, for comparison purposes, regarding the background issue. I'm figuring I'll get it in about two weeks.  Again, I'm not concerned with the problem on this unit, but it does have a slight effect on black levels as you will see in the photos in the review. Thus, with an even better one, I'll be better able to pinpoint how the Panasonic does black levels compared to the new Epson Home Cinema 6500 UB, the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 and the Mitsubishi HC7000, all, but the epson should have my reviews posted before end of November.  The Epson's aren't due until early December, but I could get lucky, and get my hands on one of the early units before then. (not counting on it). Thanks. Sorry for such a long one.  This projector is going to be a really hard one for many of you to pass on.  It really does look like great bang for the buck.  -art

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