Shootout: Epson Home Cinema 5010 versus Panasonic PT-AE7000
The Home Cinema 5010's biggest competition in the under-$3000 price bracket is the Panasonic PT-AE7000. The AE7000 is a 2,000 lumen, 300,000:1 contrast, full HD 3D 1080p projector that, like the 5010, is built around LCD technology. Both projectors are built for home theater, and a darkened room will bring out their best performance.
In terms of image quality, the 5010 and the AE7000 are remarkably similar. The picture on screen is clear, sharp, and high in contrast. Color accuracy on both machines is excellent, and neither required much adjustment. The differences are mostly subtle. Try to keep this in mind as you read; some differences sound bigger on paper.
Light output. The most dramatic differences between the two projectors relate to brightness. The AE7000's brightest mode is called Dynamic, and it measured 1685 lumens on our test sample. The Home Cinema 5010's brightest mode, also called Dynamic, pumps out over 2700 lumens. In terms of color accuracy, the two are about equal; both modes sacrifice color accuracy in the interest of more brightness. If you need a projector for living room use, the Home Cinema 5010's extra light output may be beneficial.
In Cinema mode, the AE7000 produces 526 lumens to the 5010's 827 lumens. In a darkened theater, the AE7000 is the perfect choice for a 100" to 120" screen, where extra brightness would harm rather than help. If you want a really large screen, though, the Home Cinema 5010 can light up a 140" diagonal 1.3 gain screen without sacrificing any color or contrast performance.
Contrast. When it comes to black level, the two projectors are functionally tied. The AE7000 closes down to a blacker black, but this only appears on a solid black screen. If there is anything else in the image, even just a field of stars, the iris opens up enough that the two projectors have the same black level. As far as dynamic range is concerned, the AE7000 appears to have a slight advantage, with the picture appearing more three-dimensional in some scenes.
Color. Once calibrated, the AE7000 and the Home Cinema 5010 are nearly identical in terms of color. The AE7000's red is more strongly saturated thanks to its red-rich lamp, but the two are otherwise evenly matched. Out of the box, the AE7000 is a little warmer than the 5010, which appears slightly green in comparison.
Sharpness and clarity. In some scenes, the AE7000 looked a touch sharper than the Home Cinema 5010, though this may simply be the result of the AE7000's incrementally higher contrast. Blu-ray movies on either projector look superb, and this difference between them is only observable when the two projectors are set up side by side. There is also a touch less digital noise on the 5010, especially in mid-tones.
3D performance. There are a number of factors which determine 3D quality, and each projector has a few in its favor. Both projectors use 480Hz LCD panels. The AE7000 has less crosstalk, but neither projector shows excessive crosstalk to begin with. The AE7000 also has less flickering instability in its image, which can be distracting when there are large fields of a solid color. The AE7000's Frame Interpolation system works in 3D, while the Home Cinema 5010's system does not. The Home Cinema 5010 is brighter than the AE7000, and 3D brightness (or lack thereof) can contribute to the headache some people get when watching 3D. If you are using a large screen (120" to 140") and don't want to change image sizes to use 3D, the 5010's extra brightness could be helpful.
Placement flexibility. Both the 5010 and the AE7000 have zoom lenses of at least 2.0:1 and both horizontal and vertical lens shift. The 5010 has a slightly longer zoom range (2.1 versus 2.0) and an incrementally better horizontal lens shift (45% in either direction instead of 25%), but the AE7000 has powered zoom and focus while the 5010 has manual controls for those adjustments. The AE7000 supports anamorphic lenses and has a Lens Memory feature to zoom the picture up and down for a 2.4:1 screen, while the 5010 does not support anamorphic lenses and lacks this feature.
Connectivity. The AE7000 has three HDMI ports to the 5010's two. If you opt for the 5010e model, WirelessHD is a feature that's not available on the AE7000.
Special features. The AE7000 has a suite of tools meant to make calibration easy, including split screen adjust and a waveform monitor. The 5010 does not have any equivalent features. Both projectors have frame interpolation systems as well as some form of smart sharpening -- Panasonic calls it Detail Clarity, while Epson calls it Super Resolution. Both systems are effective. We noticed slightly more video delay when using the Home Cinema 5010's frame interpolation system on High than when using the equivalent setting on the AE7000. If you like to run your frame interpolation system at full blast, it is worth considering. Finally, the 5010 has a split-screen feature, allowing the display of two sources simultaneously, while the AE7000 does not.