Picture Quality in 2D. The AE7000 delivers outstanding image quality for conventional 2D home theater. Descriptors like smooth, elegant, rich, and natural come to mind. The picture has excellent dynamic range, good edge to edge sharpness, and a low level of noise even with the noise reduction filters off. These factors contribute to an exceptional clarity and depth.
The AE7000's image is just sharp enough to look clean and natural, without pushing sharpness to an extreme that it looks digital or artificial. Visible pixelation is non-existent, due in part to the SmoothScreen filters that have been deployed on Panasonic home theater products for many years. Though there is little noise in the picture with the noise filter off, the filter can be set to low to reduce what little noise there is. This is accomplished without any apparent compromise in fine detail.
Though HD source material looks pristine, the AE7000 also does an outstanding job with DVDs. The high contrast and low noise contributes to a natural rendering of DVDs, assuming the DVDs are good transfers to begin with. Our DVD of U-571, upscaled to 1080p/60 on a Panasonic Blu-ray player, looks as close to HD quality on the AE7000 as we have ever seen it on any 1080p projector.
Picture Quality in 3D. The use of high speed 480 Hz LCD panels gives the AE7000 a competitive advantage in 3D imaging over 3D projectors that use 240Hz or 120Hz imaging devices. The speed of the devices allows the LCD shutters in the glasses to be open a greater percentage of the time. On a 240Hz system, the LCD shutters on the right and left eyes are simultaneously closed 50% of the time; each eye is individually open for half of the remaining 50% of the time. On a 480Hz system, the time that both eyes are closed is cut from 50% to 25%. For the remaining 75% of the time either the right eye or the left eye is open. This contributes to a brighter 3D image, but it also aids in the reduction of crosstalk. The result is a 3D picture that is clearer, cleaner, and more stable than that which can be achieved with slower imaging technology.
The AE7000 also features a proprietary 3D OverDrive Technology that analyzes and suppresses crosstalk. Essentially it shortens the time required for the LCD panels to respond to significant changes in signal level. The result is a 3D picture with substantially reduced crosstalk compared with other 3D projectors we have seen to date.
2D to 3D Conversion. Not only will the AE7000 display 3D source material, but it will convert 2D to 3D as well. When material is converted from 2D to 3D it does not have the full dramatic effect that a genuine 3D source has. The primary difference is that in genuine 3D, elements of the image will appear to emerge from the screen plane and move toward you, whereas in a 2D conversion the image material stays behind the plane of the screen. Essentially, what it looks like is a 2D image with greater depth perspective.
The AE7000 does this as well as any video display device that we've seen. However, since the effect is not as dramatic as genuine 3D, you'll need to decide whether messing with the glasses and sacrificing the image brightness is worth the incremental depth you see in the picture. Since a good 2D image gives you the illusion of three-dimensional depth already, many will probably not be as enthused by 2D to 3D conversion. However, it is a nice feature to have since not all 3D projectors offer it.
Frame Creation. Panasonic first introduced Frame Creation on the AE3000 in the fall of 2008. It was carried forward on the AE4000 and now on the AE7000. You have four choices for Frame Creation--Off, Mode 1, Mode 2, and Mode 3. Mode 1 is ideal for film sources. It substantially reduces judder without imparting ghosting artifacts or the digital video effect--that hyper-real look that some have called the soap opera effect.
But sometimes, the digital video effect is exactly what you want. For live performance video sources such as music concerts, ballet, opera, etc., the more real it looks the better. BBC/Opus Arte has published a series of performances by London's Royal Ballet on Blu-ray. These magnificent productions look spectacular on the AE7000 with Frame Creation set to Mode 3. One of them, Elite Syncopations (a modern ballet set to the music of Scott Joplin and other ragtime composers), is an absolute torture test for video. In one segment a dancer in a black and white striped costume jumps around and spins rapidly. Every projector we've seen previously chokes on this scene. But with Frame Creation Mode 3, this sequence is rendered with amazingly few artifacts.
Animated films are improved with Mode 3 as well. Ratatouille shows plenty of judder on the big screen if viewed on a projector with no frame interpolation. But Mode 3 virtually eliminates all judder without introducing any unwanted side effects. In animated films, the digital video effect is a non-issue, so Frame Creation can be turned up to max without any worries. Once you've seen Ratatouille with a robust frame interpolation system, you won't want to watch it any other way.
On the AE7000, Frame Creation works with not only 2D but 3D as well. Its impact on a 3D video like The Ultimate Wave Tahiti is not as dramatic as it is in 2D. But it does impart an incremental sharpness and stability that makes it worthwhile. It is noteworthy that Frame Creation works with 3D, because on some 1080p 3D projectors that have frame interpolation, the system can only be activated on 2D material.
Lens Memory. Most people opt for 16:9 format screens. But many prefer the wider 2.4 to 1 Cinemascope format that allows many of today's widescreen movies to be viewed in full frame, without the black bars that you'd see on a 16:9 screen.
If you want to go this route, it is easy to do with the AE7000. The Lens Memory system lets the projector memorize the zoom position and focal point of the lens when it is set for a 16:9 image. Then all you do is reset the lens and focus to display a 2.4 movie full frame on your screen, then press a button to have the projector memorize that information also. From that point on, you can reset the lens automatically to display either 16:9 or 2.4 Scope at the click of a button. The projector even has an optional auto-detect feature that will cause the lens to automatically reset depending on what you pop into the disc player.
If the centerline of the projector's lens is above the center of the screen (which it usually is), a switch from 16:9 to 2.4 will cause a vertical off-shift of the image. But it is easy to move the 2.4 image up and down within the display's 16:9 native frame. In setting up the Lens Memory position, the projector will remember not only the image size and focal position, but the vertical offset as well.
Basically, using this system is a piece of cake. The huge advantage to it is that it eliminates the high cost and cumbersome nuisance of an external anamorphic lens. And you end up with a sharper picture to boot. The AE7000 will display a 2.4 widescreen source in native one-to-one pixel match direct from the source. When an anamorphic lens is used, the signal is digitally stretched, then optically compressed. The result is always a softer image.
There are real advantages to going with a 2.4 Cinemascope screen, but there are disadvantages also. If you are just now planning a new home theater, choosing the right screen size and aspect ratio is a critical first step. To sort the issues out, please read this: Choosing the Right Screen Aspect Ratio.