Epson 6500UB vs. Panasonic AE3000: Which projector has the sharpest picture?
If you've been reading this site lately, you know we've been working through a problem on the Epson 6500UB and 6100 concerning their tendency to defocus over a period of 30 minutes of viewing time. Epson thinks they've come up with a fix, and the new models being built going forward will have that improvement in them. We are waiting to get samples of these new units prior to proceeding with the reviews.
In the meantime, we are getting lots of questions concerning the relative performance of the Epson 6500UB against the Panasonic AE3000. So instead of waiting for the new units to arrive, I will respond to some of these questions as we are able.
There is a widespread rumor floating about that the 6500UB is sharper than the AE3000. Some of you have written in to ask whether this is true, so it warrants some discussion.
It is easy to understand where this notion came from. When the 6500UB and the AE3000 are viewed side by side with both of their sharpness controls set to zero, the 6500UB looks quite obviously to be the sharper of the two. However, it is important to recognize that the 6500UB's default sharpness control is set rather high. Of course, when you look at the 6500UB's menu, the sharpness control appears to be set to zero, but at this setting the 6500UB still has quite a bit of built-in edge enhancement. So when you fire it up and see the picture for the first time, it looks razor sharp. And there is nothing wrong with this. Lots of users like it just that way, so one cannot fault Epson for setting it up to deliver a very sharp picture. Moreover, there is no industry standard that dictates how much edge enhancement should be present at a zero setting.
However, in comparing the 6500UB to the AE3000, one must keep in mind that Panasonic does not do this. When the sharpness control on the AE3000 is set to zero, there is no artificial edge enhancement. That means that the picture, out of the box, will look softer than it would with sharpness pumped up. So if you look at the 6500UB and the AE3000 side by side when the sharpness controls on both of them are set to zero, the 6500UB will always appear to be the sharper of the two projectors.
The sharpness control on the 6500UB can be taken down as far as -5, but even at that setting there is a bit of residual edge enhancement going on. Nevertheless, -5 is the closest setting there is on the 6500UB that will roughly equal the zero setting on the AE3000. When the 6500UB is set at -5 and the AE3000 is at zero, they look the same. Conversely, if you like the sharper look of the 6500UB, you can get the same thing on the AE3000 by boosting its sharpness control to +5. At that setting, the AE3000 introduces the same amount of edge enhancement that the 6500UB gives you at its factory default setting of zero.
Unfortunately, with the menu settings skewed as they are between the two vendors, it can leave the consumer with the impression that the 6500UB is sharper, or that you have to "overdrive" the sharpness setting on the AE3000 to get it to match the 6500UB. What people miss is that the 6500UB's default setting is overdriven to begin with.
We have been looking at both of these projectors side by side on our super widescreen Da-lite JKP Affinity HD screen. On this screen any small differences in sharpness will become readily apparent. When the 6500UB and the AE3000 are adjusted to deliver the same amount of edge enhancement, there is no discernable difference in actual picture acuity. Both projectors look equally sharp. And by the way, this is true despite the presence of the AE3000's SmoothScreen filter which many assume must be the reason the picture appears to be softer out of the box. In fact, the AE3000 can appear just as razor sharp as the 6500UB, filter and all.
In some respects, Panasonic puts itself at a disadvantage by setting their default sharpness control with no edge enhancement since it tends to provoke concerns about the alleged softness of the picture. But video purists would prefer to see a picture with absolutely no artificial edge enhancement, so that is what the AE3000 is programmed to deliver at its default settings.