Every fall, Panasonic and Sanyo release their latest home theater projectors, and every year there is a competitive face-off between them. These two vendors have been particularly innovative over the years, and both have been aggressive in price as well. Quite often, new ideas and features appear on Panasonic or Sanyo products before they appear on any other brands. This year is no different. Both the Sanyo Z3000 and the Panasonic AE3000 have the distinction of sporting unique features that exist on no other home theater projectors on the market.

The Panasonic AE3000 was the first home theater projector to come to market with on board frame interpolation. It also has a novel Lens Memory system that allows the lens to automatically reconfigure itself at the touch of a button to accommodate Cinemascope format projection on a 2.35 format screen. This provides a cost-effective and practical alternative to the use of an anamorphic lens.

As far as the Sanyo Z3000 is concerned, it is the first home theater projector to come to market with 5:5 pulldown, a unique feature that eliminates 3:2 pulldown judder for any NTSC source being transmitted at 60i or 60p. And it is just the second model to hit the market with a frame interpolation system.

Now, not everyone is interested in frame interpolation, or 5:5 pulldown, or 2.35 projection without benefit of an anamorphic lens. But the fact is, none of the other home theater projectors under $10,000 have any of these features. The marketing value of these capabilities is priceless. They get people talking and thinking and arguing about the relative merits of one feature or another. So the Sanyo Z3000 and the Panasonic AE3000 have stimulated a lot of new discussion of home theater projection technologies and solutions.

Which is the better projector?

Let's start with the basics. The AE3000 and the Z3000 are both 1080p resolution LCD projectors. They use the same inorganic LCD panels built by Epson. They both have 2.0x zoom lenses, the same throw distance specs, and extensive vertical and horizontal lens shift. They both have a variety of operating modes that offer a range of different lumen outputs that you can select based on your particular needs.

When it comes to basic picture quality, there is not much difference between them. The AE3000 is slightly higher in contrast, and can produce a somewhat deeper black. But we would not characterize the difference as earthshaking. The decision to go with one or the other of the two models is unlikely to be based on contrast differences since there are more important features and functions which distinguish these two projectors.

Panasonic AE3000

Panasonic PT-AE3000


In terms of color calibration capability, they both have extensive controls that can enable anyone armed with a meter that measures color temperature to dial in optimum gray scale tracking close to 6500 degrees. With respect to digital noise, they are about equal. As far as image sharpness is concerned, neither has an inherent advantage over the other. At the arbitrary factory defaults, the Sanyo Z3000 appears very slightly sharper. However, either one can be made to looks slightly sharper than the other based on small tweaks to the sharpness controls that fine tune the image without introducing any noticeable or objectionable edge enhancement. Fan noise is not a serious concern on either unit. The AE3000 is the louder of the two. But we do not find the fan noise level on the AE3000 objectionable. In short, if we were buying for ourselves, none of these things would be factors to consider in choosing between the two.

Sanyo PLV-Z3000

Sanyo PLV-Z3000


In addition, though the Panasonic is somewhat brighter in all modes, the difference is not drastic. Both units, for example, have a very bright mode that can nevertheless be reasonably well adjusted for acceptable color balance. The AE3000's Normal mode on our unit measured 792 lumens, whereas the Z3000's Living mode measured 687 lumens. Either of these modes produces a vibrant picture, and viewed side by side the 100+ lumen difference is almost invisible. In more refined calibrations for maximum contrast and ideal color temperature, both products have modes that deliver about 400 lumens. If you want maximum brightness for lights-on viewing of a football game, the AE3000 can produce 1273 lumens in Dynamic mode, whereas the Z3000 measured 1187. Once again, the Panasonic is a bit brighter according to the light meter, but the difference would never be noticed.

The bottom line, then, is that the Panasonic AE3000 has a slight edge in contrast and lumen output, but the overall basic picture quality of the two projectors is comparable, and the lensing on them provides equal versatility for installations in a variety of room environments.

The Big Differences

The most significant performance differences between the AE3000 and the Z3000 lie in the unique features that you may or may not be interested in ... the aforementioned 5:5 pulldown, the frame creation systems, and the 2.35 auto lens feature that exists on the AE3000 but not on the Z3000.

Let's talk first about judder reduction capabilities. The Sanyo Z3000 offers two options-5:5 pulldown and a frame interpolation system called Smooth Motion. 5:5 pulldown removes the judder inherent the process of converting 24 fps film to 30 fps video for display on video systems in the NTSC world. This conversion, known as 3:2 pulldown, produces an unequal timing of frame display. This is never a problem with subject matter that is not moving, but when the camera is panning or an object is moving across the screen at a slow to moderate speed, some shake and instability can become visible. On a smaller TV screen it is for the most part undetectable, but on a projected, very large screen image it can become quite obvious and distracting.

The solution provided by 5:5 pulldown is, in essence, to restore equal timing to the display of each frame. In so doing, the instability and vibration that is the generic by-product of 3:2 pulldown is eliminated. (By the way, none of this is an issue if you are playing a native 24 fps source like a Blu-ray disc in 24p transmission. Nor it is an issue if you are living in a PAL/SECAM country, where all 24 fps film material is adapted to 50 Hz video systems by accelerating the playback speed by 4%, so it appears on screen at 25 fps. In either case, there is no unequal timing of frame display, and no need for 5:5 pulldown to address it.) In any event, 5:5 pulldown is a feature unique to the Z3000. It does not exist on the Panasonic AE3000.

On the other hand, frame interpolation options are present on both the AE3000 and the Z3000. On the AE3000 it is called Frame Creation, and on the Z3000 it is called Smooth Motion. Frame interpolation is a process by which the projector looks at two or three successive frames, evaluates the motion changes from one to the next, and then generates intermediate "created" frames to insert between the real ones. The objective is to reduce or eliminate the judder in motion that is derived from the low film sampling rate of 24 fps. This is a completely independent source of judder from 3:2 pulldown, so the solution to it is quite different. And for the most part, judder inherent in the low sampling rate is much worse than the judder that comes from 3:2 pulldown.

Though both of these projectors have frame interpolation, they are not the same in their technical implementation. The Panasonic AE3000 has the more comprehensive of the two solutions. On the AE3000, you have the option to run in either Mode 1 or Mode 2. Mode 1 bases its frame creation activity on the evaluation of two succeeding frames, and Mode 2 uses three succeeding frames. Mode 2 takes a bit more processing time, but produces a more accurate and smoother result. On the Z3000, Smooth Motion evaluates two succeeding frames, and there is no option to have it work on three at a time.

However, the number of frames being analyzed in the buffer is not where the difference ends. When displaying a Blu-ray or HD DVD source in 1080p/24 transmission, the AE3000 will evaluate either two or three frames at a time (Mode 1 or Mode 2), then it will create three interim frames for each real frame. Each of these interim frames are approximately 25% incremental steps in the motion between two real frames. They are displayed at the rate of 96 Hz each. Thus, during each 1/24 second, you actually see four different frames in sequence, one taken from the disc, and three generated by the projector.

On the Z3000, there is only one interim frame generated for each real frame. The playback rate is 96 Hz as it is on the AE3000, but each real frame is displayed twice, followed by the display of the interim frame twice. In essence, during each 1/24 second, what you see is the real frame from the disc being displayed for the first 1/48 sec, and the interim frame appears for the second 1/48 sec.

If the source is changed from 24p to 60i or 60p, then both projectors create one interim frame for each real frame, and they are played at 120 Hz. The AE3000 still has the ability to evaluate three frames instead of two, but the output of one interim frame is the same. Also, if you leave the transmission in 24p, and turn off all frame interpolation software on both projectors, then they both display native 24p at the rate of 96 Hz. That is, they both read out the same frame four times, which is simple 4:4 pulldown. Since LCD panels are steady state devices, there is no visual difference in running a 24 fps signal four times per frame at 96 Hz, or five times per frame at 120 Hz, or even once per frame at 24 Hz for that matter. No matter what, you get naked 24p with lots of motion judder.

As you might anticipate, the AE3000 is able to produce a smoother resolution of motion than is the Z3000. The degree to which this is evident in side by side comparison depends on the complexity of the motion. Often the motion on screen is not terribly difficult to resolve, and in these situations the Z3000 and the AE3000 look roughly equivalent in image stability. But in very demanding scenes, it is not unusual to see a completely smooth image on the AE3000, while there remains some residual judder and shake on the Z3000.

One thing to be aware of regarding the AE3000's Frame Creation system is that, since the video processing load is so heavy, there is a bit more video delay. Surprisingly, it is not much given the job that it is doing. But in Mode 2 in particular, you can detect a slight lag between the AE3000 and the Z3000. Each scene change hits the screen just a fraction of an instant faster on the Z3000 than it does on the AE3000. No matter which projector you use, the frame interpolation capability will introduce more processing delay than usual. This will prompt users to activate audio delays on their AV receivers or video processors to eliminate lip-synch problems.

How do they stack up?

We've looked at several Blu-ray discs and standard DVDs with the Z3000 and the AE3000 running side by side. A difficult scene on DVD which reveal a tremendous amount of judder is found in the movie Swimming Pool, a rather eerie and beautifully filmed art house movie in the film noir genre, from 1997. In chapter 3, at 9 min, 30 sec, a car pulls into the driveway and stops. A woman gets out, and the camera pans up to the rustic stone house in which she will be staying. Viewed on pretty much any home theater projector that does not have judder reduction technologies, the car and trees shake and shimmy as the camera starts to pan, and as the house comes into view it is a visual disaster until the camera panning stops. The judder in this scene comes from both 3:2 pulldown and the low film sampling rate.

When you put the Z3000 into 5:5 pulldown mode, this scene becomes somewhat less unstable. However, it is still difficult to watch. Most of the instability derives from the low sampling rate, and only a relatively small portion comes from 3:2 pulldown. So the 5:5 pulldown system helps, but does not clean up the picture as much as you'd want it to. The next step on the Z3000 is to turn off 5:5 pulldown and activate Smooth Motion. Once this is done, this scene becomes much more stable. We cannot imagine anyone would want to settle for the modest reduction in motion artifacts that 5:5 pulldown generates after seeing the more comprehensive effect of Smooth Motion. Ultimately, however, the cleanest rendering of this problematic scene is achieved with the AE3000, with Frame Creation set to Mode 2. Here we see a panning sequence that is about as free of motion artifacts of all kinds as one could imagine.

Bottom line...when it comes to reducing motion judder, the impact of the frame interpolation techniques on both the AE3000 and the Z3000 is huge. We love what it does for the stability of the picture, and we expect to be seeing a lot more of it in the future on competitive offerings. However, our opinion is just that--an opinion. Some people believe that frame interpolation (or at least the implementations they've seen) makes the picture too clean, or too much like video, and they would not use it for that reason. We don't see that as a problem on these projectors. But for folks who do, 5:5 pulldown on the Z3000 is an effective alternative to removing the artifacts related to 3:2 pulldown conversion. Just don't expect the picture to be free of all motion judder, because 5:5 pulldown is not designed to do that.

The AE3000's Lens Memory Feature

Leaving aside frame interpolation, the one other major feature that might cause you to opt for the Panasonic AE3000 over the Sanyo Z3000 is its Lens Memory. However, this is only relevant if you are interested in setting up a 2.35:1 super wide Cinemascope screen instead of the standard 16:9 screen. If you aren't, you can skip this section.

As discussed in the AE3000 review, Lens Memory lets you automatically set the zoom lens to a wide angle setting to fill a 2.35 screen, so that you can view a 2.35 format film in full frame without any black bars. Then when you switch to a 16:9 source such as HDTV or a 1.78 film, you can press a button, and the projector will automatically zoom the lens to a position where the 16:9 image fills your screen vertically. And, unless the projector is positioned exactly at a height equal to the middle of the screen, a vertical compensation adjustment is required to get the image to center vertically on the screen. The AE3000 automatically makes this adjustment as well. Essentially, this eliminates the expense of a separate anamorphic lens.

You can accomplish the same thing on the Z3000, but the zoom lens is manual. So for each change of material between 2.35 films and regular 16:9 material, you must manually adjust the lens to accommodate it. And, if necessary, you must then manually adjust the vertical height of the image as well. This can be a tedious procedure if you do it very often.

So in a nutshell, the situation is this: if you don't want to install a 2.35 format screen, the AE3000's Lens Memory is an irrelevant feature for you. If you want to install a 2.35 screen and want also to use an anamorphic lens, you can use it on either the AE3000 or the Z3000, so again the Lens Memory feature is irrelevant. However, if you want to get into 2.35 format and don't want to spend $4,000 to $7,000 on an anamorphic lens, the AE3000 gives you a very practical and easy to use alternative.

Conclusion

The Panasonic AE3000 and the Sanyo Z3000 are fascinating products that have interesting features that no other home theater projectors have. They both deliver superb image quality. Overall, the AE3000 has a small edge in brightness, contrast, and features. Its frame interpolation system is more powerful than that on the Z3000, but it lacks the Z3000's 5:5 pulldown system that users who object to frame interpolation techniques might want to opt for in its place. The AE3000 has been, and will probably continue to be, the more expensive of the two products by a few hundred dollars on the street, and it includes either a one-year or perhaps two-year warranty in some instances. The Z3000 is less expensive, and carries an attractive three-year warranty with the basic selling price.

We've still got a lot to say, and I could keep writing for hours about the intriguing quirks and capabilities of the Z3000 and AE3000. But this article is getting too long. If you are looking for an aggressively priced high performance home theater projector, we hope that this is enough of a comparison and overview to lead you to a good decision as to which of these two innovative 1080p projectors might be the right one for you.

Comments (18) Post a Comment
Bernard Moret Posted Dec 12, 2008 11:58 PM PST
The Panasonic powered zoom (and associated format switch feature) is enormously useful even if the screen one has is not 2.35:1. Different formats will require zooming to take best advantage of any screen. (It's only with a 4:3 screen, where the limiting factor is always width, that the feature might become irrelevant -- and even then it would depend on the projector's characteristics as it switches between formats.)

I have a 16:9 screen (which works as a good compromise for all movie formats and fits well on the wall of a standard room) and have to zoom in and out (and adjust height) every time I switch between classics and 2.35:1 movies. The black bars (top and bottom for 2.35:1 or left and right for classics) have not bothered me, esp. with the kind of deep black levels one gets today. However, the powered zoom is crucial, since my projector is ceiling mounted -- it would be completely impractical to adjust manually every time.

The otherwise excellent and very helpful reviews posted here tend to understress the usefulness (I would say, the indispensability!) of a powered zoom -- at least for users who have ceiling-mounted projectors and watch media in different formats.
Eeyore Posted Dec 13, 2008 8:27 AM PST
No mention of the Sanyo's dust cleaning feature?
Matthieu Posted Dec 13, 2008 2:08 PM PST
A very interresting comparisson. I like the Panny more, but I'll wait for the Epson 6500 UB review and hope it will have that same Frame Interpolation like the Panny. Also I wanted to thank you for the Felston Audio Delay that was mentioned somewhere. It works extremely good. I had a movie from the internet with a delay of one whole second, and it was no problem for the Felson. You guy's are exstremely helpfull.

Thank you very much.
Wade Gilbert Posted Dec 15, 2008 10:14 AM PST
Hey ProjectorCentral. Can you please post your optimal settings for both projectors?
Mikael Sonermo Posted Dec 22, 2008 6:28 AM PST
120 Hz sounds perfect for the upcoming nVidia shutterglasses for stereoscopic viewing, since they require that refresh rate. Would the combination work, are the LCD panels truly fast enough to eliminate left eye/right eye ghosting? If so, I'm sold.
James Fletcher Posted Dec 24, 2008 12:24 PM PST
The 1:2.35 zoom is not really an anamorphic substitute is it? Surely the point of anamorphic is to allow all the pixels on the LCD to be displayed on the screen, thus maximizing the resolution and light delivery. As described by you, zooming the central band of pixels out wider does not offer this advantage, but just makes the zooming process more convenient. Nice review though!
kevinp Posted Dec 28, 2008 1:09 AM PST
Surley the point of anamorphic is to display the image in a 1:2.35 Format. Panasonics solution may not be a perfect. But it will do a resonable job without the need for an expensive anamorphic lens. A cheap anamorphic lens may not give you a better picture.
Jerome Posted Jan 16, 2009 4:13 AM PST
What about the noise of these 2 products ? Sanyo claims 19dB and Panasonic 25dB, has someone ever compared them ?
Phil Lewis Posted Feb 8, 2009 9:01 PM PST
I am still watching with a Sanyo Z4. I have had it for over 3 years and it has performed flawlessly. After over 1500 hours on the bulb, I replaced it as the picture had lost brightness. This is just to demonstrate the reliability for the Sanyo.

As to watching 2.35 as opposed to 1.78 and all the ratios in-between, I haven't discovered any problems. On my 10ft wall-screen (DIY paint yourself screens) the 1.78 movies fill the screen and the 2.35 movies fill the screen horizontally. As was previously mentioned, in a darkened room (movie theatre style) the blank horizontal bars on top and bottom are not really noticed. No refocusing or picture resizing or position shifting is necessary.

When I finally upgrade, I'm not sure which projector I will buy, but, at this point, I'm more intrigued by the smooth motion for the Sanyo or frame creation for the Panasonic. Each sounds very interesting and the Panasonic seems to be a little bit better according to the review. The judder problem is quite apparent when viewing panned scenes.

As an aside, I've really become accustomed to auto-lens door on my Sanyo. It has worked perfectly and does a good job at keeping dust off the lens.
Anjin Posted Feb 14, 2009 12:01 AM PST
Does anyone have any idea about input lag of these projectors? My PJ use is roughly 50/50 movies/gaming, so this is a huge factor for me.

I'd like to know AE3000/Z3000 input lag when frame interpolation is turned off, and when it´s used in max setting (mode 2 / high).

Can anyone help me out?
Uday Bhatia Posted Feb 27, 2009 5:27 AM PST
I have used panasonic pt ae 700 earlier (first bulb blew at 300 hrs.) which had dust problems sent it for cleaning to company but within few days a blue patch started appearing on bottom right corner which was increasing by the day. ultimetly sold off the projector ( bulb was on 700 hrs.) & bought Sanyo Z-5 which i am using since 2 yrs. bulb used for 1400 hrs. There is no dust problem at all. So according to my opinion Sanyo projectors are more reliable than Panasonic particularly concerning dust problems.
Alec Posted Mar 4, 2009 5:15 PM PST
I guess performance is by company is somewhat relative to model and even each unit. I have had a Sanyo projector for 3 years (plv-60) and have had a number or problems with it. It got lots of dust accumulation inside, though the filters were cleaned regularly. Then it developed a problem where it began displaying alternating red bars next to dark-light transitions. I sent it to Sanyo and they claimed it was out of warranty, even though I had the original receipt showing it was only two years old. They were supposed to have fixed it (not under warranty, at my cost - I had removed the cover to blow out the dust, and foolishly told them so), but image problems were still present, and now about 9 months later, the original problem is back. I have also read of problems with the PLV-70 blowing bulbs a lot due to heat problems. The moral of the story is that different models by the same brand may vary quite a lot.
Ahti Posted Mar 11, 2009 1:18 PM PST
I've had PLV-Z4 and Z5 for two years, no problems. In a store I compared the noise of the AE3000 and Z3000, and the difference is clear. 6 dB is as such, a huge difference in sound pressure, but of course the basic level is already very low in both units and you can never be sure of the manufacturer's measurements. However, Z3000 is clearly the quieter one.
doog Posted Apr 27, 2009 9:33 AM PST
I agree with the insightful remarks (not the reviewer's, who is usually impeccable, particularly as tutor, as I think we all gratefully know) about the aspect-ratio accommodation issues, and the proper way to deal with them. I've used the Pano AE2000, which lacks the memory (and another feature I'll get to), but has the remoted zoom-focus. I have a motorized 130" diagonal screen. The zoom-focus was (and remained) hella fun, especially for focusing (what I thought were pixels from a few inches from the screen. Turned out I was viewing tiny dimples on the screen surface- test pattern more reliable!)and for fine-tuning filling the screen. Most useful is the caliper-like V-H positioning wheels, so unlike the stick-slip joysticks on my other Panos). My ceiling mount could also benefit from such machine-like positioning; it seriously pisses me off.

But- back to the equivalent of aperture-plate filing and teasers and tormentors- what you want to to is not zoom or focus for 'Scope, but reposition the image upward and motor-up the screen to frame the bottom edge. The H-V positioner doesn't have to be motorized to do this, nor does the lens. What needs to happen is that the IMAGE raster be painted at the top of the 16X9 imager, rather than by default centered, and the screen needs to be rolled up to mask the blank unused portion of the imager, however good the contrast. Problems do occur when subtitles are maliciously formatted below the frame, but I say just learn a foreign language and chill.

This trick could be implemented on my trusty AE100 in firmware; wish they had. Also wish they'd done a smoother job with H-V adjust. One more gripe- color temp varies slightly corner-to-corner, making B%W films and credits agony for lunatics like anyone reading this far. Also: Oano AE100 has heartbreaking chromatic aberration- terrible, inexcusable, although admittedly unnoticeable except to me. AE2000 lens was Canon L-quality perfect.
doog Posted Apr 28, 2009 11:12 AM PST
Regarding noise, once again I can speak only of my experience with the AE2000 predecessor, but it was really, truly inaudible, in any mode except ramp-down. I had it on a table at ear-level while fussing with other stuff. Really excellent in that respect, as was (still is) the AE100, though the 100 (ceiling) is barely audible in my woodsy very quiet room if no one is breathing, especially the oversize pooch. Too bad movie sound has a dynamic range around 90-130dB SPL. But it's technically sweet.
doog Posted Apr 28, 2009 11:31 AM PST
I seem to have too much time- one more thing about Mr. Powell's bakeoff between the Panasonic and the Sanyo projectors. Not only does it seem self-contradictory internally, balancing each of the shortcoming of the Sanyo by re-iterating the largely useless (he points out, since it's inconsistent with frame interpolation))%:% thing.

What's more confusing his unequivocably ecstatic review of the Panasonic (considered alone, at intro) contrasts markedly with his grudging, dutiful concesion that with a laboratory of instrumentation it could produce an image in some respects similar, if dimer, thasn the Panasonic. Plus motorized remoted memorized this and thast, test patterns galore, nifty split-screen- why are these two projectors considered rivals? I say this with such frustrated heat because I just ordered the Sanyo, to check it out, on the assumption that I'll eventually return it and pony up for the Panasonic. The Pano product cycle sems pretty snappy, so maybe there'll be an AE3000.1. I hope it doesn't have a white case- another Powell fundamental world-voew error. Other wise, great work!
Henry MIlls Posted Aug 6, 2009 2:36 PM PST
I have a Panny AE700E - It was raved about in reviews when it was new - 3000 hours quoted bulb life, 2000 luniens, no screen door, fab picture, verry little VB, only 900 notes when i got it and for the first 1000 hours all this was true so ture i recommended Panny PJs to all my friends - this bigger pic for under a grand! But it was too good to be true ......... From all the internet research I have done (many hours) the marketing should have said "Great picture (true), amazing price for the performance(true), When we tweak the firmware, lamp PSU and bulb spec you will get 2000 hours out of the gobe if your lucky (otherwise you will only get 300 hours) but by the time you get to 2000 hours you will have replaced the projector at least twice! - Panasonic - replace the PJ not the bulb! To cut a long story short the things overheat. In the early months this caused bulbs to fail at sub 300 hours... this was corrected but the cooling round the LCD panels is poor and the panels and optics are organic and degrade with heat VERY quickly.... add to this that the optical block / out duffuser / LCD pannel assembly must be replaced as a whole costing more than the PJ did to begin with! After just 1200 hours my PJ's blue LCD panel is so burnt that i now don't use it. The forums are full of AE700 owners who have the same problems and have been lied to and cheated by Panasonic. £950 is cheap for the specs but a LOT for just 1200 hours. This product is not fit for purpose and I have heard similar reports on other "reasonably priced" Panny PJs

I am an engineer and I took the unit appart in the end and it is clear to see why it fails....

My advice - just Google "panasonic projector problems" then Google "Sanyo projector problems"...

then BUY THE SANYO! I wish I had!
Rich Tervo Posted Sep 22, 2009 5:57 PM PST
Been using a Sanyo PLV-Z3 now since they came out, still going strong... replaced the bulb once and thats with watching TV shows, sports and movies on it constantly. I had friends who opted for the Panny at the time, they all pooped out after a couple of years due to problems mentioned in posts here. Sanyo definitely has the better build quality. The 3 year warranty doesn't seem to be needed. Probably why they offer it!

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