The AE100 is a three-panel widescreen format LCD projector in the WVGA resolution class. The physical pixel matrix on the LCD panels is 858 x 484. The projector is rated at 700 ANSI lumens with a 500:1 contrast ratio. A low-power mode reduces lumen output and increases lamp life from a standard 2000 hours to a highly desirable 5000 hours. Fan noise in low power mode is rated at 30 dB.
The AE100 comes with a manual 1.2x zoom and focus lens. The throw distance is relatively short. A 100" diagonal 16:9 image is achieved from a distance of between 10.2' to 12.1' lens to screen.
This is a small projector, just 6 lbs in weight. It is 11" wide, 9.5" deep, and about 3.5" high. It has silver-gray casework with chrome highlights.
The connector panel offers one RGB input, one set of 3-RCAs for component, one S-video, and one composite RCA. Audio inputs are available for computer, component, and either of the two video inputs if you wish to use the single 2-watt speaker on-board. We trust most of our readers will pass on this option.
The AE100 comes with a credit card size remote control unit that is as functional as a remote of this size can be. Its features include a single INPUT button that lets you toggle through the various video sources, and an ASPECT button that lets you select the correct aspect ratio. Many projector vendors don't make it this easy.
In terms of signal compatibility, you can get just about anything you need. It will accept 480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i. Color system compatibility includes NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL, PAL-M, PAL-N, and SECAM.
For buyers who don't want to exceed the $2,000 price point, Panasonic has come up with a superb little projector. Its strong points include color decoding, which is as good as it gets, and excellent display of DVD widescreen material. The 858x484 format allows 480-line DVD video material to be displayed without any vertical scaling, which makes for an exceptionally clear and crisp image.
Contrast and black levels, while not matching the higher performance and higher priced machines in today's market, are quite adequate given the price. We've seen much worse, and the AE100 delivers sufficient contrast to produce a thoroughly watchable and enjoyable image.
Signal formats. Your choice of signal format will make a big difference in image quality. The AE100 produces an unacceptably soft (bordering on fuzzy) image from S-video. Color dynamics are lacking on S-video as well. Fortunately anyone buying the AE100 does not need to settle for that. Component interlaced (480i/525i) signals significantly improve the image sharpness and color performance. And component/progressive scan (480p/525p) yields another step up in image quality. We recommend that you not consider using anything except a progressive scan DVD player or a home theater PC if you want the best performance from this unit.
Low Power Mode. The low power mode is recommended for most home theater applications. Low power mode reduces fan noise considerably, and according to specifications increases lamp life from 2000 to 5000 hours. Given that the replacement lamp is about $400, that is a huge consideration for users in this overall budget range. Furthermore, the low power mode drops actual lumen output by only 15% or so, which is no sacrifice at all. Black levels are improved somewhat in low power mode as well, so selecting this option is really a no-brainer.
Screendoor effect. A notable weakness in the AE100 is the screendoor effect. For those new to the world of LCD projectors, the screendoor effect refers to the visible pixel grid that makes it look like you are viewing the image through a screendoor. On lower resolution projectors like the AE100, individual pixels are larger and thus can be seen in the image.
The AE100's screendoor effect is not as bad as it is on a standard SVGA-resolution LCD projector. But it is definitely more noticeable than it is on an XGA product like the Panasonic PT-LC75U. The AE100 uses about 415,000 pixels to create its 16:9 image. By comparison the LC75U uses about 590,000 pixels, or 42% more than the AE100. That translates to a much reduced screendoor effect for any given image size/viewing distance combination.
At any rate, since the screendoor effect can be an irritation, sitting back from the screen a bit can solve the problem. We recommend that users of the AE100 plan for a viewing distance of at least 2.0x the screen width for best viewing results.
HDTV. The AE100 will take the 1080i and 720p HDTV formats. We found 1080i HDTV performance to be acceptable on the AE100 given its price. But it is not the ideal projector to use if HDTV performance is of primary importance to you. DVD is a different story. By being able to display widescreen DVDs in native 480-line format, the AE100 delivers an impressive image from this source. But the AE100 must compress HDTV signals into its 480-line LCD panels, and more resolution is lost in the process than it is in most XGA and higher resolution products.
United States distribution. Panasonic is offering the AE100 through their Consumer Products Division in the United States. All other Panasonic LCD projectors are being managed by their Presentation Systems Group, which is a different organization entirely. Accordingly, though Panasonic projector dealers are in general easy to locate, they are for the most part representing the Presentation Systems Group. So they handle products like the PT-LC75U and the PT-L720U, but most of them don't carry the AE100.
At this time there are not many resellers handling the AE100, and they are not all that easy to find. As of this writing, Panasonic's web site dealer locator for this product indicates that the model number is not recognized, and no dealers are listed. Our requests for dealer information from Panasonic have gone unanswered. We will continue to attempt to locate resellers of the AE100, and invite them to list their companies on our site. Dealers on ProjectorCentral who are offering the AE100 will appear on the AE100 specification page.
PT-AE100 vs. the Panasonic PT-LC75U
Last spring we included the Panasonic PT-LC75U in our list of recommended home theater products. It was a great buy at the time. Since then prices have dropped quite a bit on that model, so it remains today one of the best price/performers on the market. For a few hundreds dollars more, it is the next step up in quality from the AE100.
The LC75 is a native XGA resolution (1024x768) LCD projector that is rated at 1200 ANSI lumens. So it is higher in physical resolution and higher in brightness than the AE100. It is a native 4:3 format projector whereas the AE100 is native 16:9. However, as noted above, the LC75 produces a 16:9 image using a 1024x576 pixel matrix, vs. the AE100's 858x484.
This gives the LC75 an advantage in two ways. First, the screendoor effect is not as noticeable. So you can sit somewhat closer to the screen or throw a bigger picture without it being as much of an issue. Second, HDTV looks smoother and more refined on the LC75 simply because it uses 42% more pixels to create the image. Color accuracy and saturation are first rate on the LC75, as they are on just about every Panasonic product we've seen. Fan noise is very low, and the throw distance is short, making it easy to install a big-screen image in a small viewing room. Lamp life is 3,000 hours in low-power mode, so it is still quite economical compared to the standard 2000 hours you get on most competing units. And finally, the image is brighter and thus able to tolerate more ambient light than you'd want to have in the room with the AE100.
We remain enthused about the LC75, especially given its significant price reductions. It is an outstanding product for the money, and a great alternative to the AE100 for those who want to take the next step up in performance.
Panasonic has been and continues to do amazing things with LCD video projectors, especially in the low-price end of the spectrum. The PT-AE100 and the PT-LC75U are two of the best buys on the market at their respective current street prices. Both are enthusiastically recommended for budget-conscious home theater buyers.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Panasonic PT-AE100 projector page.