The main reason for this is that the AE4000's native black-level response isn't quite deep enough. This means we found ourselves either looking at a little more greyness over dark parts of the image than we'd like, or -- if we reduced the brightness far enough to remove the greyness -- dark parts of the picture that looked hollow and short of detail.
Another lesser issue means HD pictures look slightly less crisp than we'd like, unless you switch on Panasonic's new Detail Clarity Processor 3. This is a trade-off, however, as it tends to increase video noise levels.
That's definitely the end of the bad news, though. In many ways, the AE4000's pictures are excellent. Its colours are superb, for instance, with vivid saturations, subtle blends and really credible tones. Panasonic has introduced a new red-rich lamp for the AE4000, and this definitely helps reds look more evenly balanced in the image, as well as other red-containing colours look more realistic.
Detail levels look high in HD and standard-def material alike, despite the slight lack of crispness noted earlier. Crucially for the AE4000's World Cup aspirations, its motion handling is first-rate too. As with Epson's TW2900, the LCD engine allows footballers to run to and fro without blurring or motion noise. The AE4000 goes even further though, with Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation processing removing practically all trace of judder. You have to be careful not to set this feature too high though, or it can create processing artefacts. But it's still a most welcome feature overall.
Next, while black levels are a slightly tricky balancing act, they're still capable of looking more convincing than those of many rivals at the AE4000's price.
Finally, the AE4000 is capable of running very brightly if you want it to, making it a good option to use in the sort of gently lit room that's often more convenient than a total blackout if you've got a few mates round to watch England's latest humiliating defeat.
The AE4000 doesn't improve massively over last year's AE3000 model, but its pictures are still often excellent. It's got unprecedented amounts of setup flexibility for its price too, including a really innovative system for accommodating different aspect ratios. Only a slightly limited native black-level response prevents the AE4000 from becoming a true silver-screen superstar.
Edited by Nick Hide