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Deep in 1080p

We are deep into the 1080p evaluations at the moment. It looks like the first review out of the shoot will be the Sony VPL-VW60. We are still in conversations with Sony about one issue we've uncovered, and we need to get that resolved prior to completing the review. But it should not take too long.

Meanwhile, many of your are asking for comments on how the Panasonic AX200 compares to the 1080p projectors, and the Panasonic AE2000 in particular. Since I referred to the AX200 as the "poor man's 1080p projector" it warrants further comment.

First, the AE2000 is showing as a magnificent projector, clearly the best home theater projector Panasonic has ever made. It is performing extremely well against the other 1080p models we have in house, and will be one of the strongest 1080p products of the fall season. Now, when we set it up against the AX200, here is what we find. First, in terms of resolution, the AX200 displays 1080p source material almost as cleanly as does the AE2000. In many scenes viewed side by side, especially those with lower inherent contrast, it is virtually impossible to tell which picture is coming from a 720p projector and which is from the 1080p model. In short, the compression of the 1080p signal into the 720p native pixel matrix on the AX200 is accomplished with surprisingly little loss of detail. This runs contrary to what you might expect, since the 1080p models are selling for several times the price of the 720p's. So you get the impression that loads of extra picture detail is what you are paying for when you buy a 1080p projector. This is not really the case. You do get a little bit more detail, but it is not nearly as significant as you might expect.

So, why pay the extra money? The truth is that the AE2000 smokes the AX200 in dynamic range. The black levels and contrast of the AE2000 are much better than those of the AX200. And the extra contrast gives the picture better definition, color saturation, and elegance, especially with material that is inherently high in contrast that pushes the limits of the projectors. Ultimately the AE2000 is head and shoulders above the AX200, in a completely different performance class. For the true videophile, it is no contest, and there is a clear reason to spend the bigger bucks for the genuine 1080p model.

Nevertheless, if you are on a smaller budget and want a picture that looks almost like full 1080p resolution, the AX200 does a truly astounding job at delivering the image detail from Blu-ray, HD DVD and HDTV. In buying the AX200 instead of the AE2000, you are primarily sacrificing contrast, deeper black levels, and the corollary effects of apparent image sharpness and improved three-dimensionality that come with higher contrast. But for the money, it is a bargain--you get almost 1080p resolution at a fraction of the price.