Epson Home Cinema 8350 vs Panasonic PT-AE4000U
The Home Cinema 8350 is an excellent value--so much so, in fact, that we put it head-to-head with the Panasonic PT-AE4000U, a $2,000 rockstar of a projector from the class of 2009. With a $700 price gap between the two, there are some obvious differences; what is most surprising, however, is how similar they are in picture quality.
Features. The AE4000 is in a class by itself when it comes to features, even compared to more expensive home theater projectors. The AE4000 has powered zoom and focus, a lens memory function for automatic resetting of the zoom lens for the display of Cinemascope movies, frame interpolation, split screen calibration, an on-board waveform monitor, a detail enhancement function that makes standard-definition movies look good, and several other features that make using the projector an easier, more intuitive experience. The Home Cinema 8350 does not have most of these things, nor do any other home theater projectors. As far as extra features are concerned, the AE4000 is unique in the industry.
Light output. In Cinema mode, the Home Cinema 8350 produces 556 lumens while the AE4000 produces 548, so the two are almost identical. In terms of maximum brightness, the Home Cinema 8350's Dynamic mode produces 1507 lumens, which is a bit brighter than the AE4000, and more importantly it does so with better color balance. Between the Cinema and Dynamic modes, both models have a middle option. On our test samples, we measured the AE4000's Normal mode at 792 lumens, and the Home Cinema 8350's Living Room mode at 951 lumens.
Contrast. While the brightness is more or less equivalent, the two pictures have a different character about them. Viewed side-by-side, the Home Cinema 8350 has more brilliant highlights, while the AE4000 has black levels reminiscent of inter-galactic space (read: very black). In terms of actual dynamic range they are very similar, though the AE4000 has a minuscule advantage. Lest we be accused of creating a tempest in a teacup, in the large majority of scenes the difference in black level is small enough that it would be hard to differentiate without putting the two projectors side by side. The AE4000's advantage in black level becomes more evident in very dark or black scenes such as rolling credits on a black background.
Color. Neither the AE4000 nor the Home Cinema 8350 is in need of serious color correction. After changing the Home Cinema 8350's color temperature slider to 7500K, the two projectors were nearly identical - though the AE4000 is a touch warmer, especially in skin tones.
Sharpness and clarity. The Home Cinema 8350 has a clear, razor-sharp picture with plenty of detail, so it should say something that the AE4000 seems a touch more detailed. This may be due to a number of factors, from the AE4000's slightly higher dynamic range (a higher contrast picture appears to have more sharpness and depth), the detail enhancement system, or an actual advantage in pure sharpness. Whatever the case, this difference is tiny, at best.
Lamp Life and Cost. The 8350 has an estimated lamp life of up to 4000 hours when used in eco-mode, which reduces lumen output by 22%. The replacement lamp is $300 retail, but can be purchased on the internet for around $250. Panasonic estimates lamp life at up to 3000 hours in eco-mode, which reduces lumen output by 32%. The retail price of the replacement lamp is $400, but it can be found through Internet suppliers in the mid-$300s.
Warranty. The Epson 8350 has a standard two-year warranty on parts/labor, with no stipulations on hours of usage. The AE4000's warranty does have such a stipulation. The purchase price includes parts/labor for one year or 2000 hours of use, whichever comes first. By filing a claim form similar to a mail-in rebate, Panasonic will extend the warranty to two years or 2000 hours, whichever comes first. The 2000 hour limit is not typical in the industry, and is something to be aware of if you anticipate extensive daily usage. If you run your projector for 5.5 hours per day, 7 days per week, you will hit the 2000 hour limit in 12 months. In this case the extension secured by filing the claim form does you no good. On the other hand, if you don't watch your projector more than 2.7 hours a day, seven days a week, you will get the full two years of warranty.
The Epson Home Cinema 8350 is a wonderful new home theater projector that brings big-money performance home for less than $1300. Its bright image has dynamic range to spare and color that will make you swear you're looking out a window. Even head to head against the Panasonic AE4000 it manages to hold its own--no small accomplishment considering the AE4000 was one of the best projector values of 2009. But the $700 price advantage in the Home Cinema 8350's favor makes it all the more impressive.
At this year's CEDIA convention, the expensive 1080p 3D projectors attracted a lot of attention, so the Home Cinema 8350 was lost in the shuffle somewhat. It isn't 3D and it doesn't have some of the bells and whistles of pricier models. But it delivers a superb, high-quality home theater picture at a price that's tough to beat. The Home Cinema 8350 is one of the finest values in projectors we've ever seen, and we are enthused to give it our Editor's Choice Award.