Panasonic AE2000 vs. Sanyo Z2000
This head-to-head shootout between the Panasonic AE2000 and the Sanyo Z2000 compares two 1080p LCD projectors, both with extensive feature sets and aggressive prices. The salient differences are as follows:
1. The AE2000 is higher in contrast, has better black levels, and better color saturation. I had commented in the Z2000 review that this was most striking at smaller image sizes, and less so at screen sizes of 120". While this is true, there is still a visible advantage of the AE2000 over the Z2000 even at the larger screen sizes. Part of it depends upon the calibration settings one chooses. But overall, the AE2000 has an advantage in contrast performance that is more than you'd imagine from the slight difference in contrast ratings (16,000:1 vs. 15,000:1).
2. The AE2000 also has an advantage in lumen output. The preset Cinema modes on the AE2000 (those with the most precise color that would have most appeal to the videophile) measure in the 345 to 390 lumen range. In Normal mode, lumen readings ranged from 600 to about 930 depending on the user's preference for color temperature setting. But even at 930 lumens we did not feel the picture was excessively cold as it is on many projectors in high brightness mode.
Meanwhile the preset Cinema modes on the Z2000 (Pure Cinema and Creative Cinema) measured in the 230 to 260 lumen range. While these are attractive calibrations, they are most appropriate for use on smaller screens in the 80" to 90" diagonal range. The Brilliant Cinema mode on our Z2000 measured 550 lumens, and this was the most practical option as far as the preset calibrations are concerned. Brilliant Cinema delivers reasonably good color balance and a bright image that can go to 120" or beyond in a dark room. It does not, however, have quite the dynamic range or the black level of the AE2000 in Normal mode. You can tweak the Z2000 through user options to dial in excellent color balance at about 400 ANSI lumens, but again it will not have the total range from black to white that the AE2000 does no matter what you do. At the brightest settings, the Z2000 can generate over 1000 lumens, but the color balance is decidely off, and would not be an appealing option for video viewing.
3. The AE2000 has no pixel structure whatsoever, and the Z2000 has a subtle and distinct pixel structure when viewed close up. At viewing distances beyond one screen width, neither projector shows any screendoor effect.
4. Both the AE2000 and the Z2000 have outstanding image clarity with HD material. In reality, the AE2000 has a slight edge over the Z2000 in apparent clarity of high definition material due to the effect of its higher contrast and saturation. However, the Z2000 has an incremental advantage with standard definition material, in that it is smoother, cleaner, and more noise free than the AE2000. When viewing Lewis Black's DVD "Black on Broadway" on these two projectors side by side, our eyes kept gravitating toward the Z2000's remarkably filmlike picture. Standard definition DVD clarity is one of the Z2000's most impressive attributes.
5. The AE2000 has powered zoom/focus, whereas on the Z2000 it is manual. Both have manual lens shift. For those setting up their projectors in a fixed location and fitting the image to a 16:9 screen, the powered zoom/focus is handy, but it will not be used much after the projector is set up and installed. So in this case it is a feature of marginal value. On the other hand, if you are setting up a 4:3 screen and intend to zoom back and forth to fill both 16:9 and 4:3 material to the maximum size the screen will allow, the powered zoom/focus is extremely helpful. Similarly, if you plan to install a 2.35 Cinemascope screen, you can use the AE2000's powered zoom to increase the size of a 2.35 movie to fill the screen, then zoom it back down to vertically fill the 2.35 screen with 1.78 (16:9) material. You can accomplish the same thing with the Z2000 as well, but you need to adjust the lens manually which means you need easy access to your projector. If your projector is ceiling mounted, this becomes impractical.
6. If you want to install a 2.35 screen and maintain a constant image height system with the use of an anamorphic lens, the AE2000 has the vertical stretch mode to accommodate this type of lens while the Z2000 does not.
7. Both projectors will accept a 1080p/24 signal. The AE2000 displays 24 at a 96Hz refresh rate. At this writing we do not know the refresh rate of the Z2000 with a 24 fps signal. However, as long as it is a multiple of 24 Hz, it should make no difference perceptually since LCDs will maintain a constant state until altered by new information from the next film frame. In actual practice, both projectors deliver a noticeble reduction of judder in motion sequences when fed 1080p/24 as compared to 1080p/60.
8. The AE2000 has an austere, dark industrial case design, whereas the Z2000's clean white case will probably be more appealing to the eye for most consumers. My guess is that if you are a man trying to sell your wife on installing a projector on the ceiling in the living room, she's probably going to like the looks of the Z2000 more than the AE2000 (I might be wrong about this--anticipating a woman's preferences has never been one of my strong suits). On the other hand, if you are installing your projector in a bookcase on a rear wall, the dark complexion of the AE2000 will cause it to blend in and be less conspicuous as an element in the room.
9. The AE2000 has 16 user programmable pre-sets, while the Z2000 has seven. Both projectors allow you to rename each of your calibrations for easy identification, rather than having to remember them by number. However, in addition, the Sanyo Z2000 also lets you rename your inputs, so instead of seeing "HDMI 1, HDMI 2, Component Video" in the menu, you can rename them to appear as, say, "HD DVD, Playstation 3, DirecTV" or whatever sources you might have hooked to those inputs. The AE2000 does not provide the ability to rename source inputs.
10. The AE2000 has some other features that the Z2000 does not. The split-screen calibration is unique to the AE2000, as is an onboard waveform monitor that can be used to assist calibrations. The AE2000 has three HDMI ports to the Z2000's two. And the AE2000's remote has some universal capability that allows it to learn and control several devices in your theater, whereas the Z2000 remote is more conventional.
Currently the Z2000 is priced at $2,195 after rebate, and the AE2000 is at $2,699. The Z2000's low price includes a three-year warranty, and the AE2000 has a one-year warranty with a current offer (at this moment in time) of an additional year for free. In our view, both projectors represent extraordinary values. For those who have the extra cash, the AE2000 is worth the extra price in terms of contrast, saturation, and lumen performance. But the Z2000 is an excellent value, and if you are planning to watch a lot of standard definition DVD in your total mix of viewing material, its exceptionally smooth image with this material is compelling indeed.
With the PT-AE2000U, Panasonic has delivered another star performer in the world of home theater projectors. It edges out the competition in contrast and color saturation. It has superb color accuracy in video optmized mode, and a supremely serviceable bright operating mode that penalizes the user very little in terms of color accuracy. For HD DVD, Blu-ray, and HDTV sources in particular, the AE2000 is the strongest of the 1080p projectors we've seen so far under $5,000. And since it is only $2,699, it represents a terrific deal for the money in today's highly competitive market for 1080p projectors.
We are reserving the final assignment of 5-star ratings on each 1080p model we review until we have been able to see and test them all. But from what we've seen so far we are certain the AE2000 will win very high ratings.