The New 720p Projectors – A Personal View

Evan Powell, November 18, 2005
Contents
Overview Continued

Of course, there are those who would take exception to this assessment. Many will prefer the Panasonic AE900 because it has zero pixelation. And if you sit very close to the screen, that is a very legitimate issue. I don't like to sit that close to a screen because I don't like the feeling of sitting in the front row of a tennis match-my head and eyes get weary moving from side to side. When I go to a movie theater I tend to sit more than half way back so I can see the full screen without a lot of physical head or eye movement on my part to assimilate it. Accordingly, I tend to sit back to a distance of about 1.7 times the screen width in my home theater for the same reason. However, there are those who like the all-enveloping feeling of a massive picture in front of their noses, and they sit closer to the screen-a good friend of mine thinks 1.2 times the screen with is just right for him. For these folks, the AE900 will offer a pixel-free viewing experience that the Z4 cannot. The Z4 has a sharper image than the AE900, but this is only obvious in a side by side comparison; standing alone the AE900 looks reasonably sharp, and certainly comparable to most DLP products it is put up against; it is not anything an AE900 user would notice as a deficiency.

Then there are those who would opt for the Mitsubishi HC3000 over either of the LCD products. The primary image quality advantage of the HC3000 is an incrementally deeper black level, and better shadow detail in dark scenes. For those who crave the deepest blacks possible, the HC3000 will have strong appeal. There is also the issue of the 768 line native display, which is ideal for XGA and WXGA computer signals. I don't use those formats in my home theater, so the 768-line format is of no use to me. But for those who do want to project native 768 line signals without compression or cropping, the HC3000 will do it, while the others will not. Then there is the filter-free feature that is unique on the HC3000--a great benefit that eliminates having to think about cleaning that filter every couple of months.

On the other hand, I personally find the HC3000's picture overall to be softer and noisier than that of the Z4, and the Z4's color saturation is superior; meanwhile, I find the black levels on the Z4, although not quite as deep, to be adequate to produce a thoroughly satisfying image. However, that is just my personal preference. Others would argue that incremental black level and better resolution of shadow details that are apparent on the HC3000 are hugely important, and that the HC3000's image is to be preferred for these reasons.

As noted in the HC3000 review, a limitation of the HC3000 is the short 1.2x zoom range and the lack of physical lens shift. Thus the optimal installation of the HC3000 for many users will be to ceiling mount it. Frankly, the last thing I want to do is ceiling mount a projector. I do not want to spend extra money on the ceiling mount and long run video cables; I do not want to run cables through the ceiling and walls and patch up the drywall afterward. And I do not want to pay a custom installer to do it all for me. What I want is to be able to tuck the projector away on a shelf on a rear wall, and simply adjust the zoom lens and lens shift controls to fill the screen on my front wall.

Last year Panasonic led the industry with the innovative 2.0x zoom lens and associated lens shift on the AE700. I was extremely enthused by that development, as it opened up a huge consumer market. It meant that no matter what your room size and desired screen size, the odds were significantly increased that you could install the AE700 on a bookshelf and avoid the cost and nuisance of the ceiling mount. People want home theater, but they want it to be easy and inexpensive to install. The long zoom range plus lens shift that Panasonic introduced delivers just that.

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