It was October, 2009, almost two years ago, when Panasonic began shipping its last home theater projector--the popular PT-AE4000. The company had been releasing new home theater projectors every year, regular as clockwork, since 2001. But they fell silent last year; no announcement of a new model, and no peep about plans for a future model. People wondered whether they had quietly bowed out of the home theater projector business.
Then came the announcement on July 28--the industry's first LCD-based 3D 1080p projector was on its way: the PT-AE7000U. And at the heart of the AE7000's light engine is an all-new, super high speed LCD technology that supports refresh rates of a whopping 480Hz--double the speed of the next fastest imaging technology released thus far.
The Viewing Experience
Before we get to the details of the review, let's go over how we set it up in our theater, and what we saw. After checking out the various operating modes, our preferred viewing mode was Cinema 1. We measured this mode at 526 lumens with the lens at the wide angle setting and the lamp on Normal (full). Now, the first question many will ask is--Is this enough light? After all, many home theater projectors put out quite a bit more than 526 lumens. But they generally don't carry a 300,000:1 contrast ratio.
We wanted to stretch it out to see what would happen. So in a fully dark room, we set up the AE7000 with a ten-foot wide, 2.40 Scope format Stewart Studiotek 100 (white, 1.0 gain). The projection distance was 13.5 feet, the lens was at its wide angle position, and we were viewing from a distance of 12 feet, or 1.2x the screen width. That's probably about as close as most people would want to view a screen of this format.
With this set-up, the picture was vibrant, engaging, and (believe it or not) slightly too bright. It would be visually taxing to view a two-hour movie at that screen size, from that distance, and at that level of illumination. Dropping the projector into eco mode reduced the brightness by 27%, to a bit under 400 lumens. This was a more comfortable light level. However, the picture lost some of its dynamic snap, in part due to the use of the Studiotek 100. This screen is great for lab tests but not recommended for home theater. If we were using a Stewart Studiotek 130 (white 1.3 gain), or a similar product such as the Da-lite Cinema Vision 1.3 gain white screen, it would provide incremental snap and render Cinema 1 eco mode quite serviceable at this screen size.
Keep in mind that for optimum results the room needs to have no ambient light, and walls, ceilings, furnishings, etc. should be dark and non-reflective. And don't overlook those LED status lights on electronic equipment in the rack; those lights can be screaming bright in a fully dark room, and they need to be turned off or covered to prevent them from compromising black levels on the screen.
Panasonic PT-AE7000U 3D Home Theater Projector
So in this environment, the contrast of the AE7000 was sufficient to support a beautiful image on a ten-foot wide screen using Cinema 1 in eco mode. That's great for 2D, you may be thinking, but what about 3D? We always lose a tremendous amount of light in 3D operation. I was thinking we'd have to reduce image size to get a viable 3D picture. But we switched to 3D and left the picture at the full ten-foot width just to see how bad it would look.
In 3D the black levels drop like a rock and lumen output is severely curtailed. But the human eye is extremely efficient at adjusting to low light levels, and after a few seconds, we ended up with a sparkling 3D picture that was thoroughly engaging, even at ten feet wide in Cinema 1. I am not a huge fan of 3D, but the experience of seeing a clean, vibrant, high contrast 3D image on this large screen was impressive indeed.
For those who might want a brighter image, the AE7000 has an excellent alternate operating mode--Normal, which puts out 1300 lumens. In the 2D world it is useful for ambient light situations. By flipping the projector into Normal mode, lumen output is more than doubled and the 3D picture becomes more vibrant yet. Quite honestly, this 3D experience on a ten-foot wide screen right in my own home was, for me, more visually engaging than the viewing of Avatar in a 3D IMAX theater.
Panasonic's target market for the AE7000 is the dedicated videophile--the person who wants the best possible home theater image quality, and is willing to create the proper dark theater space to achieve it. Nevertheless, Normal mode puts out 1300 lumens of exceptionally high quality, color balanced video. So the AE7000 has the muscle to accommodate some ambient light without compromising image quality, if and when the need arises.