The release of the new high contrast LCD projectors has stimulated a lot of interest in how they stack up against their DLP competition. As a point of comparison, we set up the Panasonic PT-AE900U (review here) along with the BenQ PE7700 (review here). These are both 1280x720 resolution projectors that sell in a similar price range. In a side-by-side shootout between these two models, here is what we found.

With regards to lumen output, both the AE900 and the PE7700 are rated at 1100 ANSI lumens. The BenQ PE7700 produces about 400 ANSI lumens at settings ideal for home theater, while the AE900 can put out anywhere between 200 and 600 ANSI lumens for theater use, depending upon how you wish to set it up for your particular viewing room and screen size.

In our experience, LCD projectors have always tended to have an edge in color performance, whereas DLP projectors have been stronger in black level and contrast. With respect to color accuracy and saturation, this once again holds true in this particular contest. Side by side, the AE900's color was richer, more natural, and more pleasing to the eye than the slightly artificial cast that the BenQ seemed to impart to the image. LCD's latent strength in color processing continues to be apparent.

However, DLP's traditional advantage in black level and contrast did not hold true. The AE900 delivered a deeper overall black level than the PE7700. It also produced better detail in heavily shadowed scenes. For example, dark scenes in Heat that were clear and detailed on the AE900 appeared, in comparison, to be muddy and indistinct on the PE7700. Attempts to improve the BenQ's image were limited by a lack of gamma adjustment options and the appearance of some solarization when brightness was set too high. The difference between the stated 2500:1 contrast ratio of the PE7700 and the 5500:1 ratio of the AE900 was clearly visible from the start.

When we originally reviewed the BenQ PE7700, we stated that the image was nearly noise-free in most situations. However, when placed next to the AE900U, the noise that does exist in the PE7700's image becomes more visible, as the AE900 is able to produce a more stable image overall.

The deinterlacing capability of the PE7700 was a topic of concern in the original review; in comparison, the AE900U has much fewer motion artifacts. Straight lines seldom break up on interlaced signals, and complex patterns maintain their clarity.

The AE900's image is also consistently sharper and more three-dimensional with standard DVD and 480-line material in general, while the BenQ PE7700 looks somewhat flat in comparison. The three-dimensional quality of the AE900 is due in part to the higher contrast and better black level.

With regard to installation versatility, the Panasonic AE900 has a 2.0:1 zoom lens, which offers greater latitude for placement as compared to the 1.37:1 zoom on the PE7700. In addition, the AE900 has vertical and horizontal lens shift, which the BenQ PE7700 lacks. So once you have determined the ideal size and location of your screen, you will find fewer limitations on where the AE900 needs to be placed in relation to it.

When we reviewed the BenQ PE7700 six months ago, we liked it a great deal and gave it a high rating. However, the Panasonic AE900 represents a major step forward in price/performance. For the first time in the home theater projector industry, LCD projectors are being made which can surpass their DLP competitors. Today, LCD is not just a technology for people who wanted 1280x720 performance on a budget as it used to be. It is also more than a match for many DLP home theater projectors in terms of absolute picture quality. These new competitive developments will make things very interesting in the coming months.