Two of this year's popular 1080p projectors are the Mitsubishi HC6500 and the Panasonic PT-AE3000. Both of these models offer excellent picture quality at aggressive price points - the HC6500 retails for $2,295 with rebate while the AE3000 sells for $2,499. These 1080p projectors each bring something unique to the table, and knowing how they differ may help you decide which of the two may be the right choice for you.
Lumen output. In video optimized mode, the HC6500 and AE3000 are evenly matched. Our test sample of the HC6500 measured 518 lumens in video optimized mode, while our test sample of the AE3000 measured 560 lumens. While this difference is detectable with a light meter, it is almost invisible to the naked eye.
Things change a bit if we look at maximum lumen output. The HC6500 tops out at 752 ANSI lumens, and color accuracy suffers. Meanwhile, the AE3000 has a maximum lumen output of 1273, and color in this mode is more accurate than that on the HC6500 in its comparable mode. This makes the AE3000 better able to project HD sports broadcasts in rooms with significant ambient light.
Contrast. In our tests, the HC6500 measured 304:1 ANSI contrast, while the AE3000 measured 446:1 ANSI contrast. In any given scene, the AE3000 will appear higher in contrast when placed next to the HC6500, due to the AE3000's deeper black levels. On a fully black (0 IRE) screen, the HC6500's iris closes enough to give the projector a deeper black level than the AE3000, but this black level is not present when using mixed video content. The AE3000 also has slightly brighter highlights.
Sharpness. The Mitsubishi HC6500 is noticeably sharper than the AE3000 when the two are viewed side by side. Fine details in Blu-Ray movies stood out more clearly, and the picture as a whole seemed crisper. In an A/B comparison, where it is more difficult to notice differences, the HC6500 was still obviously sharper and more detailed than the competition. As far as sharpness is concerned, the HC6500 (and its more expensive version, the HC7000) are unrivaled in comparison to all other 1080p models we've seen thus far this fall.
Three-dimensionality. Sharpness is one of the factors that contribute to an image appearing three dimensional, and the HC6500 is a very sharp projector. However, contrast also contributes to the three-dimensionality of an image, and the AE3000 has higher contrast. So which projector appears more three dimensional? In some scenes, the HC6500 appears to have more depth than the AE3000, while in others the reverse is true. We would not classify one projector as having a definitive advantage over the other.
Digital noise. The AE3000 is very close to noise-free, even without the aid of a noise reduction filter. In direct comparisons, the HC6500 showed a degree of graininess not present on the AE3000. While digital noise is relatively easy to ignore once one is immersed in the movie, it is still a notable difference.
Audible noise. The Panasonic AE3000 is a quiet projector by any standard. From more than a few feet away, one can detect very little audible noise. However, the HC6500 is even quieter - barely a whisper emanates from the projector, even in high lamp mode.
Placement Flexibility. The Panasonic AE3000 has a powered 2:1 zoom lens, as well as a manual vertical and horizontal lens shift with a total range of three picture heights and two picture widths. The HC6500, on the other hand, trades some lens shift range for a powered shift mechanism. It has a 1.6:1 powered zoom and powered lens shift with a range of two and a half picture heights and 1.1 picture widths. If you plan to use the lens shift more often than during initial setup, this can be helpful. A powered lens shift would be useful when paired with the AE3000's Lens Memory feature, discussed below.
Anamorphic Projection. The HC6500 has Mitsubishi's dual anamorphic modes, which allow the user to forego the articulated track usually paired with an anamorphic lens. Instead, the HC6500 scales all content for proper display through an anamorphic lens, and the lens remains deployed at all times. The Panasonic's AE3000 can scale all content for use with an anamorphic lens as well, so in this regard there are no differences. However, the AE3000 has a unique feature that makes it easy to forego the use of an anamorphic lens entirely. Called "Lens Memory," it allows for three zoom lens locations to be stored and recalled at the press of a button, such that a 2.35:1 image can be blown up to fit a 2.35 format screen. This enables you to eliminate black bars on 2.35 format films without manual adjustment of the zoom.
Frame Interpolation. The AE3000 has a frame interpolation feature labeled Frame Creation, allowing for the insertion of interim frames to reduce the appearance of judder. As we have mentioned in the past, it works wonderfully. The HC6500 lacks this feature.
Other features. The AE3000 is as fully loaded with unique features as any projector we've seen. In addition to Frame Creation and the Lens Memory option, its Split Screen Calibration, on-board Wave Form Monitor, and extensive connection panel including three HDMI inputs are noteworthy.
So what does all of this mean? Taken as a whole, the picture quality from these two projectors is exceptionally engaging, but they have different characteristics. Looking at the HC6500, you'll see a razor-sharp picture that brings out every single detail of HD content, but you will also see some subtle graininess that does not exist on the AE3000. Meanwhile, the AE3000 is higher in contrast and it appears smoother than the HC6500 due to the lack of digital noise. Both have outstanding, natural color, and side by side they both look about equally bright when in their best video optimized calibrations.
With the Mitsubishi HC6500 selling for $2,295 and the Panasonic AE3000 selling for $2,499, high performance 1080p projection that would have cost $10,000 just a few years ago is now easily affordable. At the end of the day, which projector is better for you is largely a matter of personal choice.