Editor's Choice Award
Our Editor's Choice award goes to products that dramatically exceed expectations for performance, value, or cutting-edge design.
Panasonic's second generation 1080p projector, the PT-AE2000U, is a significant step beyond last year's impressive AE1000. Topping its long list of great attributes is its outstanding contrast and black level performance. On these measurements it outperforms every other 1080p projector we have put it up against that is anywhere near its price range. And along with its high contrast comes excellent color saturation. Selling at an official street price of just $2,699, it is one of the most formidable and competitive of the new 1080p projectors released this fall.
ANSI lumens: 1500
Contrast (full on/off): 16,000:1
Light Engine: 1920x1080, native 16:9, 0.7" LCD with a 165W UHP lamp.
Video Compatibility: 1080p/24/50/60, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i. NTSC/PAL/SECAM.
Connection Panel: Three HDMI 1.3 ports, one 15-pin VGA input, two sets of 3-RCA YPbPr component video, one composite video, one S-video.
Lens and Throw Distance: 2.00:1 powered zoom/focus lens, with manual vertical and horizontal lens shift. Throws a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 10 to 20 feet.
Lamp Life: Unspecified.
Lamp Cost: $400
Warranty: One year.
Key Features and Advantages
The AE2000 has a long list of exceptional features, so it is hard to know where to start. As noted above, probably the single most appealing advantage of the AE2000 is that its black level and dynamic range exceed the other 1080p projectors in its price range. In this regard it is surpassed only by the JVC DLA-RS1 which is about twice the price. With its excellent contrast comes beautifully rich color saturation, which is not only rich but accurate, as it comes carefully color balanced in precalibrated Cinema modes.
The AE2000 has a remarkably clear and sharp image. Overall, image clarity with HD material is as impressive as it gets. We have not yet seen any competitive unit that can beat the AE2000 where sharpness and clarity of an HD image are concerned. In standard definition, the image is still reasonably clear, but there is more noise present in SD than there is in HD. Thus its standard definition performance, as far as clarity goes, matches most of its competition, but it is not exceptional.
The AE2000 and its predecessor the AE1000 are the only 1080p projectors we've seen to have absolutely no pixelation at all. This is due to the SmoothScreen filter, a feature that has been unique to Panasonic home theater projectors for some time now. For those who may have wondered in the past whether the SmoothScreen filter was compromising potential sharpness by eliminating pixel structure (I include myself in that group), the answer is definitely not. Since the sharpness and clarity of high definition material on the AE2000 surpasses that of other 1080p projectors that do not have the SmoothScreen filter, that concern can be put to rest.
Flexibility of installation has always been a feature of Panasonic projectors. The company was the first to come to market with a 2.0x zoom lens on a home theater projector; that was on the AE700 in October, 2004. This feature is continued in the AE2000. In addition, vertical lens shift is three full picture heights, and horizontal lens shift is almost two full picture widths. So you can install this projector in a wide variety of locations to accommodate a particular screen size and location. Moreover, the projector offers powered zoom and focus, which makes it easy to stand at the screen and focus while making adjustments with the remote. The vertical and horizontal lens shift controls are manual.
Fan noise is very low--just a whisper in full power mode. Even in high altitude mode, when the fan is moving extra volumes of air to compensation for thin atmosphere, the unit is remarkably quiet. And in eco-mode, the fan is for all practical purposes silent-you cannot tell it is on unless you put your ear close to it.
One of the most intriguing new features is split screen calibration, something we've never before seen on home theater projectors. Here is how it works. Start with a screen image that you want to use as a template for making your adjustments, as follows ...
After you freeze the frame you want, you simply activate the split screen option, and a rectangular selection window pops up. You can move it back and forth to define which section of the image you want to work with.
Once you have selected the desired section, the projector will replicate it such that you have two identical copies side by side ......
Now you can make any adjustments you want to color temperature, color saturation, brightness, contrast, or gamma. The projector will apply the adjustments you make to the image on the right side of the screen, and hold the image on the left side constant. In this manner you can see precisely the effects of the changes you are making. You can finish by either saving or discarding the changes you've been experimenting with. For many users, this is a great educational tool that helps you understand the nature and range of the various adjustment controls available to you.
As far as brightness is concerned, there is quite a range of options on the AE2000. The preset video optimized modes, Cinema 1, 2, and 3, are color balanced and set for optimal video performance. They vary somewhat in gamma and color temperature, but not much in brightness. On our test sample they measured 345, 390 and 370 ANSI lumens respectively. Among the three, Cinema 1 mode was our choice for most of our viewing.
If you want more light, Normal mode will give you a much brighter image. Normal mode measured well over 900 ANSI lumens on our sample. Color balance is not quite as good as it is in the Cinema modes, but it was surprisingly satisfying-somewhat cooler, yes, but not ice cold or disturbingly green as it is on most projectors. Typically, boosting light output to the super bright settings causes a bad shift toward blue green that makes the picture not nearly as pleasant.
Once you are in Normal mode with the default color temperature, you can reduce color temperature to compensate for the cooler image. With the color temperature control alone, you can warm up the image in incremental steps while dropping lumen output in incremental steps. At the warmest setting you still end up with a very substantial 600 lumens. The bottom line is that the AE2000 gives you a wide range of usable options for lumen output, and you can select the one that fits your lumen needs, taste preferences, screen size, ambient light situation, and so on.
While the purist videophile will want to opt for the Cinema modes, we are certain that many home theater enthusiasts will find the Normal mode a very appealing alternative. The gain of a lot more lumen output at the cost of a little bit of color accuracy will be a trade-off well worth making. In Normal mode, with a few adjustments, you can get a bright, high contrast picture with rich color saturation, and realistic looking color that has no distracting bias toward blue/green.
Finally, for those interested in setting up a 2.35:1 aspect ratio screen with an anamorphic lens, the AE2000 comes with the appropriate anamorphic vertical stretch mode needed to accommodate the lens.
We are having a hard time finding much to complain about on this model. Certainly, for those who want to ceiling mount their projector, it would be nice to have an option to get it in a white case. As it is, the dark gray casework may not be aesthetically pleasing when mounted against a white ceiling in a living room or some other multi-purpose room. However, in a dedicated theater room it won't usually make much difference.
On-board deinterlacing of 480i signals is not bad, but not great either. On the HQV test patterns, the rotating bar looked clean, but there were quite a few deinterlacing artifacts in the rippling flag. It locked reasonably well into the racetrack scene without any moiré patterns in the stands. But in the film/video cadence clip the rolling credits showed too much jitter and instability. Overall, a mixed bag.
The other limitation worth considering is that if you are going to use the Cinema modes, the light output is such that your screen size must be limited. In a dark room with no ambient light, Cinema 1 looks its very best at a screen size of 100" to 106" when displayed on our Stewart Grayhawk, with a gain of 0.95. Once we pushed it 120", we lost enough saturation and snap that we wanted to either reduce the image size or opt for the Normal operating mode. And this was all with the lens at its widest angle (shortest throw) position. Moving the projector back, and using the longer portion of the lens will dim the picture considerably. At the longest throw position, light output is curtailed by about 40% from whatever it was at the wide angle setting. So for videophiles who intend to use the AE2000 in Cinema mode, screen size and throw distances are trade-offs of great significance. Try to minimize the distance from the projector to the screen, and for the most elegant picture possible, don't push the screen size beyond about 110" diagonal unless you are using higher gain screens.
If you are opting for operation in Normal mode with higher lumen output, you have the latitude to go up to 150" diagonal or more. On all projectors there is the ever-present trade-off between image size and image quality. As you increase image size you lose effective contrast and color saturation. The interesting thing about the AE2000 is that you can go larger without as much sacrifice of color balance and color saturation as you would experience on most other models.
Panasonic AE2000 vs. Sanyo Z2000
This head-to-head shootout between the Panasonic AE2000 and the Sanyo Z2000 compares two 1080p LCD projectors, both with extensive feature sets and aggressive prices. The salient differences are as follows:
1. The AE2000 is higher in contrast, has better black levels, and better color saturation. I had commented in the Z2000 review that this was most striking at smaller image sizes, and less so at screen sizes of 120". While this is true, there is still a visible advantage of the AE2000 over the Z2000 even at the larger screen sizes. Part of it depends upon the calibration settings one chooses. But overall, the AE2000 has an advantage in contrast performance that is more than you'd imagine from the slight difference in contrast ratings (16,000:1 vs. 15,000:1).
2. The AE2000 also has an advantage in lumen output. The preset Cinema modes on the AE2000 (those with the most precise color that would have most appeal to the videophile) measure in the 345 to 390 lumen range. In Normal mode, lumen readings ranged from 600 to about 930 depending on the user's preference for color temperature setting. But even at 930 lumens we did not feel the picture was excessively cold as it is on many projectors in high brightness mode.
Meanwhile the preset Cinema modes on the Z2000 (Pure Cinema and Creative Cinema) measured in the 230 to 260 lumen range. While these are attractive calibrations, they are most appropriate for use on smaller screens in the 80" to 90" diagonal range. The Brilliant Cinema mode on our Z2000 measured 550 lumens, and this was the most practical option as far as the preset calibrations are concerned. Brilliant Cinema delivers reasonably good color balance and a bright image that can go to 120" or beyond in a dark room. It does not, however, have quite the dynamic range or the black level of the AE2000 in Normal mode. You can tweak the Z2000 through user options to dial in excellent color balance at about 400 ANSI lumens, but again it will not have the total range from black to white that the AE2000 does no matter what you do. At the brightest settings, the Z2000 can generate over 1000 lumens, but the color balance is decidely off, and would not be an appealing option for video viewing.
3. The AE2000 has no pixel structure whatsoever, and the Z2000 has a subtle and distinct pixel structure when viewed close up. At viewing distances beyond one screen width, neither projector shows any screendoor effect.
4. Both the AE2000 and the Z2000 have outstanding image clarity with HD material. In reality, the AE2000 has a slight edge over the Z2000 in apparent clarity of high definition material due to the effect of its higher contrast and saturation. However, the Z2000 has an incremental advantage with standard definition material, in that it is smoother, cleaner, and more noise free than the AE2000. When viewing Lewis Black's DVD "Black on Broadway" on these two projectors side by side, our eyes kept gravitating toward the Z2000's remarkably filmlike picture. Standard definition DVD clarity is one of the Z2000's most impressive attributes.
5. The AE2000 has powered zoom/focus, whereas on the Z2000 it is manual. Both have manual lens shift. For those setting up their projectors in a fixed location and fitting the image to a 16:9 screen, the powered zoom/focus is handy, but it will not be used much after the projector is set up and installed. So in this case it is a feature of marginal value. On the other hand, if you are setting up a 4:3 screen and intend to zoom back and forth to fill both 16:9 and 4:3 material to the maximum size the screen will allow, the powered zoom/focus is extremely helpful. Similarly, if you plan to install a 2.35 Cinemascope screen, you can use the AE2000's powered zoom to increase the size of a 2.35 movie to fill the screen, then zoom it back down to vertically fill the 2.35 screen with 1.78 (16:9) material. You can accomplish the same thing with the Z2000 as well, but you need to adjust the lens manually which means you need easy access to your projector. If your projector is ceiling mounted, this becomes impractical.
6. If you want to install a 2.35 screen and maintain a constant image height system with the use of an anamorphic lens, the AE2000 has the vertical stretch mode to accommodate this type of lens while the Z2000 does not.
7. Both projectors will accept a 1080p/24 signal. The AE2000 displays 24 at a 96Hz refresh rate. At this writing we do not know the refresh rate of the Z2000 with a 24 fps signal. However, as long as it is a multiple of 24 Hz, it should make no difference perceptually since LCDs will maintain a constant state until altered by new information from the next film frame. In actual practice, both projectors deliver a noticeble reduction of judder in motion sequences when fed 1080p/24 as compared to 1080p/60.
8. The AE2000 has an austere, dark industrial case design, whereas the Z2000's clean white case will probably be more appealing to the eye for most consumers. My guess is that if you are a man trying to sell your wife on installing a projector on the ceiling in the living room, she's probably going to like the looks of the Z2000 more than the AE2000 (I might be wrong about this--anticipating a woman's preferences has never been one of my strong suits). On the other hand, if you are installing your projector in a bookcase on a rear wall, the dark complexion of the AE2000 will cause it to blend in and be less conspicuous as an element in the room.
9. The AE2000 has 16 user programmable pre-sets, while the Z2000 has seven. Both projectors allow you to rename each of your calibrations for easy identification, rather than having to remember them by number. However, in addition, the Sanyo Z2000 also lets you rename your inputs, so instead of seeing "HDMI 1, HDMI 2, Component Video" in the menu, you can rename them to appear as, say, "HD DVD, Playstation 3, DirecTV" or whatever sources you might have hooked to those inputs. The AE2000 does not provide the ability to rename source inputs.
10. The AE2000 has some other features that the Z2000 does not. The split-screen calibration is unique to the AE2000, as is an onboard waveform monitor that can be used to assist calibrations. The AE2000 has three HDMI ports to the Z2000's two. And the AE2000's remote has some universal capability that allows it to learn and control several devices in your theater, whereas the Z2000 remote is more conventional.
Currently the Z2000 is priced at $2,195 after rebate, and the AE2000 is at $2,699. The Z2000's low price includes a three-year warranty, and the AE2000 has a one-year warranty with a current offer (at this moment in time) of an additional year for free. In our view, both projectors represent extraordinary values. For those who have the extra cash, the AE2000 is worth the extra price in terms of contrast, saturation, and lumen performance. But the Z2000 is an excellent value, and if you are planning to watch a lot of standard definition DVD in your total mix of viewing material, its exceptionally smooth image with this material is compelling indeed.
With the PT-AE2000U, Panasonic has delivered another star performer in the world of home theater projectors. It edges out the competition in contrast and color saturation. It has superb color accuracy in video optmized mode, and a supremely serviceable bright operating mode that penalizes the user very little in terms of color accuracy. For HD DVD, Blu-ray, and HDTV sources in particular, the AE2000 is the strongest of the 1080p projectors we've seen so far under $5,000. And since it is only $2,699, it represents a terrific deal for the money in today's highly competitive market for 1080p projectors.
We are reserving the final assignment of 5-star ratings on each 1080p model we review until we have been able to see and test them all. But from what we've seen so far we are certain the AE2000 will win very high ratings.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our Panasonic PT-AE2000U projector page.