Panasonic has been in the front-projection business for a long time, and has been aggressively pricing its home cinema projectors for just as long, which has effectively driven prices down in the category as a whole. As a result it's now more affordable than ever to get a big-screen cinema experience at home.
The company's latest effort, the PT-AE2000U, is a 1080p resolution projector that sells for a little more than £1,800. Like most offerings in its price range, it isn't perfect, but it is better than most of its competition, such as the Sanyo PLV-Z2000.Design
The PT-AE2000U's external appearance won't turn any heads. It's a basic, rectangular-shaped box finished all in black, which means it should disappear when mounted on darker ceilings. All of the connectivity is located in the rear center of the chassis. A pull-down door on the side hides a menu button, the four-way arrows for navigation, and the focus and zoom functions.
As far as remotes go, the one included with the AE2000U is an excellent design. We liked its ergonomics, especially the easy thumb access to the most commonly-used keys. It's a fully backlit universal type capable of controlling other components. The internal menu system is fairly straightforward and easy to navigate.
Setup features abound on the PT-AE2000U. Vertical and horizontal lens shift are a boon during installation, adding flexibility in placement of the projector relative to the screen. Electronic zoom and focus also ease setup because you can focus the image while standing close to the screen, rather than back at the projector.
A total of seven picture modes is more than any projector we've seen and presents a daunting number of choices for most users. We chose Cinema 1 because it was the most neutral and provided a good baseline for getting the most accurate picture we could out of the PT-AE2000U. There is an Auto Iris feature, which we turned off, as usual, to maintain stable light output and black levels.
Selectable colour temperatures are in numeric form, ranging from -6 to +6. The -2 setting provided the most accurate grayscale prior to calibration. For real techies there is actually a built-in Waveform Monitor, which can help in perfecting some adjustments. All the grayscale and gamma adjustments are found under the Advanced menu. Gamma was a bit better than on last year's AE1000U, and therefore we didn't find it necessary to manipulate the gamma controls. After some minor tweaking we arrived at a nice, smooth-tracking grayscale.
Connectivity on the PT-AE200U is superb. It includes a whopping three HDMI inputs -- more than any projector we've reviewed so far. Having multiple HDMI inputs is great if you're connecting gear directly to the projector, but it's less useful in permanent in-ceiling installations that utilise one long HDMI umbilical to the projector from an HDMI switch near the component rack. There's also a pair of component-video inputs, one S-Video input, one composite-video input, a VGA-style PC input, and an RS-232 port for custom remote-control systems.
The PT-AE2000U is a solid performer in the entry-level 1080p projector category, delivering deep black levels and sharp video processing, but falling short of the best projectors' colour accuracy.
Our biggest complaint with the PT-AE2000U is in overall colour fidelity, which is compromised by poor primary and secondary colours. Panasonic claims on its Web site to be delivering "Digital Cinema" primary colours. We prefer them to be as close to the HDTV specifications as possible, and they are definitely not very close. Blue was good, but red and especially green were way off from the standard.
The PT-AE2000U produced a deep, compelling level of black, which provided for great "snap" indicating good contrast ratio. With that said, we believe the 1,500 Lumen light output rating is way too generous. We couldn't meet the film specification of 12 footlamberts on our Stewart Grayhawk RS screen, which is 92 inches diagonal or 80 inches wide, without losing detail in white areas -- a sure sign of overdriving the projector.
For that reason, we recommend going with a relatively small screen -- no larger than ours and preferably even smaller. White fields were quite uniform for an LCD projector, which normally exhibit some visible discolourations in bright white scenes.
Its resolution measurements were actually better than most 1080p projectors, and it more fully resolves a 1080p/24fps signal than even our current favorite, the Sony VPL-VW200, which costs about six times as much. The difference is slight, however, and the Sony handily outperforms the Panasonic in all other areas.
The early chapters from the excellent transfer of Batman Begins on HD DVD are torture tests for black-level performance. The little Panasonic delivered during these tough scenes -- Chapter 1 where he falls down the well as a kid, and Chapter 2 in a Chinese jail cell -- with good depth and shadow detail. For more colourful and natural scenery, we watched our old favourite Seabiscuit on HD DVD. It is a very natural-looking film, and therefore a good test for colour, among other things. Green objects like grass and hedges really looked a bit cartoony or punched, but the rest of it looked impressive.
Standard definition from my Time Warner Cable system looked as good as we'd expect on the big screen, an indication of the PT-AE2000U's solid video processing.
As is typical with these types of projectors, overall colour fidelity is Panasonic's biggest issue, but in other areas of picture quality it performs surprisingly well. The unit offers great connectivity and a slew of helpful setup features, and it packs a solid 1080p punch for such a compact package.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday