1080p Projector Shootout:
Panasonic PT-AE3000 vs. Sony VPL-HW10
Since we posted the review of the Sony HW10, readers have been asking how it stacks up against the Panasonic AE3000. They are both excellent home theater projectors. Both offer rich, vibrant pictures high in color saturation. However, there are some differences between them that will be important to some buyers and not to others. There are subtle differences in picture quality characteristics, and some not so subtle differences in features. Let's put them in perspective.
Lumen output. When they are both calibrated to deliver their most accurate video images, the Sony HW10 is somewhat brighter than the AE3000. On our test units, the HW10 measured 697 lumens when optimized for video while the AE3000 measured 566. So the HW10 has the edge in this regard.
However, the AE3000's maximum lumen output is quite a bit higher than that of the HW10. While video optimized mode on the HW10 tops out at 697 lumens, the projector cannot significantly increase brightness from that point. Meanwhile, the AE3000 has Normal mode, which on our test unit measured 792 lumens. Normal mode still has a very good color balance, so you don't sacrifice much in the way of color dynamics by using this brighter mode.
The AE3000 also has a Dynamic mode, which measured 1273 lumens. With nearly double the maximum light output of the HW10, the AE3000 can be used for video gaming with the lights on, or perhaps for watching HD sports broadcasts. There are occasions when one might prefer to have some light in the room while using the projector - sometimes I like to have dinner while watching a movie. With some ambient light in the room I am less likely to drop my mashed potatoes in my lap. Thanks to the extra brightness, the AE3000 is better suited for this type of use than the HW10.
Contrast. In terms of contrast, the AE3000 and HW10 are pretty much evenly matched, with the AE3000 having a slight advantage. Our AE3000 gave an ANSI contrast reading 446:1, while the HW10 registered 416:1. With respect to Full On/Off contrast, the AE3000 is rated at 60,000:1 contrast compared to the HW10's 30,000:1. Despite the huge numbers, this is actually a rather small difference in visible contrast on the screen, since a subtle change in black level can create a large swing in on/off contrast numbers.
Nevertheless, while the HW10 has very deep black levels, the AE3000's are a bit deeper still. The AE3000's slightly higher ANSI contrast and incremental edge in black level combine to make it appear to be a little bit higher in contrast than the HW10.
Color. Out of the box, our AE3000 was close to the 6500K color standard, though colors did appear oversaturated. The HW10 was slightly more difficult to calibrate, as the Medium color temperature which we used as a starting point required some tweaking to bring it closer to the 6500K standard. After calibration, either projector will give you well-balanced and well-saturated color, though getting there can be more of a chore on the HW10.
Sharpness. Neither the Sony HW10 or the Panasonic AE3000 are quite as sharp as Mitsubishi's new Diamond Series projectors, the HC6500 and HC7000, which stand out as the sharpest of the 1080p projectors we've seen this fall. However, there is nothing soft about either the HW10 or the AE3000. When viewed alone, they look razor sharp, and it is only in a side by side viewing that the Mitsubishi units show an incremental advantage in sharpness. Between the AE3000 and the HW10, the actual sharpness of image is about equal. But due to the AE3000's small edge in contrast, the AE3000 can appear to be the sharper of the two projectors.
Digital noise. Both the AE3000 and HW10 are relatively low in image noise when compared to other competing 1080p models. Both projectors have noise reduction options, but they were quite pleasant to watch even with the noise reduction filters turned off. We don't see an advantage of one over the other when it comes to noise artifacts.
Placement flexibility. The AE3000's 2.0:1 powered zoom and extensive manual lens shift (three picture heights and two picture widths) are among the best in its class, and allow it to display a 100" diagonal image from 10 to 20 feet. The HW10 has a 1.6:1 manual zoom, allowing it to throw the same 100" diagonal image from 10 to 16 feet, and manual lens shift of 2.4 picture heights and 1.38 picture widths, which falls short of the AE3000's range.
Of course, the longer zoom of the AE3000 has a downside. The AE3000 loses 41% of its total light output at the telephoto end of the zoom. So if you are in video optimized mode, its 566 video optimized lumens drop to 334 lumens. Meanwhile, the HW10, at its maximum telephoto zoom setting, loses only 22% of its total light output. That means its 697 video optimized lumens drop to 547 when using the long end of the zoom lens. Thus, while the AE3000 gives you more zoom range at the telephoto end, it comes with a penalty in light loss that you might not want to pay.
Lens Memory. The AE3000 has a Lens Memory feature, designed to imitate the performance of an anamorphic lens through manipulation of the projector's powered zoom capability. While this concept has been around for years, the AE3000 is the first projector to automate the process and add one-button simplicity. The HW10 is capable of accomplishing this same function, but you have to do it all manually every time you switch between 2.35 and 16:9 material. If you have no interest in 2.35:1 super-widescreen cinema or already own an anamorphic lens, this is a moot point. However, if you want to go with the 2.35 screen format and don't want to spring for an anamorphic lens, the AE3000 gives you some very important ease of use that the HW10 does not.
Frame interpolation. One of the hot-button features this season is frame interpolation. That is the ability of a projector to create interim frames in a video signal to reduce or eliminate the appearance of motion judder (for a discussion of judder and how frame interpolation reduces it, see Evan Powell's article on the subject). Simply put, the AE3000 has an option to activate its "Frame Creation" systems, while the HW10 has no such feature. While not everyone appreciates frame interpolation - indeed, some people think it compromises the "cinema experience" - we feel that it is among the most important innovations in home theater projectors since 1080p. If you are among those who don't care for it, it is a non-issue in deciding between these two projectors.
Comparisons like this one are often exercises in nit-picking, as it is becoming increasingly rare to see glaring flaws in home theater projectors these days. The Sony HW10 and Panasonic AE3000 are both excellent home theater projectors that will serve their owners well. The key advantage of the HW10 is that its picture is somewhat brighter when both projectors are calibrated for ideal contrast and color performance. The key advantages of the AE3000 are slightly higher contrast, the automated Lens Memory feature for 2.35 operation, and the optional on-board frame interpolation system. It is up to you to determine which of these features are most important to you. Whichever you choose, you will end up with a beautiful picture in your new home theater.