The Panasonic PT-AE7000 and the Sony VPL-HW30ES are two high-quality 3D 1080p projectors priced at $3,499 and $3,699 respectively. We set them up side by side to take a close look at how they compare.
Regarding picture quality, these differences stand out:
- The HW30ES is brighter in its ideal Cinema mode, measuring 846 lumens compared to the AE7000's 526 lumens. Lumen numbers always make the difference sound more dramatic than the actual experience. You'd assume the HW30ES would look 50% brighter than the AE7000, but it doesn't work that way. The eye responds to light in a logarithmic fashion, so a 50% increase in brightness looks somewhat brighter, but the difference is not huge. The brightness difference is mostly evident in the highlights. This helps in ambient light, but is typically too bright in a dark room.
- If you are projecting in a dark theater, the HW30ES' 846 lumens can be dropped to about 540 by putting the lamp in eco mode. This makes the brightness levels virtually identical between the two units. If that level of brightness is still too high, the AE7000 can be dropped into eco mode, bringing it to about 400 lumens. The HW30ES can reduce lumen output using its manual iris, though you sacrifice the auto iris' on/off contrast boost by doing so.
- In the Cinema modes, the AE7000 shows more contrast, more color saturation, and a deeper black level than the HW30ES. The picture has more snap. Due to the higher contrast, the picture appears to have more depth and incremental sharpness. The AE7000 also has an edge in natural clarity; it looks a bit more analog, or film-like.
- If a brighter picture is required, either for a very large screen or to compensate for ambient light or room reflections, the AE7000 has Normal mode, which measures 1300 lumens. This is slightly brighter than any of the operating modes available on the HW30ES. Normal mode on the AE7000 shows exceptionally good color balance for a high lumen output factory preset. It is a bit cooler in color temperature than Cinema 1, but it can be brought very close to Cinema 1 by dropping the color temperature control two notches. Some black level is sacrificed in Normal mode compared to Cinema mode.
- In 3D operation, the AE7000 has greater clarity due to its contrast advantage as well as a lower level of crosstalk. The HW30ES is the brighter of the two, but the AE7000's greater contrast makes the image easier to see. Both of them need to be viewed in the dark to get anywhere near optimum results. In addition, the AE7000 has a 3D parallax control that adjusts parallax based upon the size screen in use. This increases viewer comfort; if the left- and right-eye images are separated by too great a distance, viewers are more likely to get headaches.
- With respect to color accuracy, our AE7000 test sample was perfectly calibrated out of the box. As a caveat, we should add that the unit we have is an engineering model. We presume, but do not know, that the calibration settings on production units will be the same as those on our test unit. Panasonic generally puts a great deal of focus on color accuracy in the design of their home theater projectors, so our guess is that production units will have optimized color calibrations. By comparison, the HW30ES required calibration to reach similar levels of performance.
- Digital Noise. The AE7000 has slightly less noise in both SD and HD. It also has a more effective noise reduction filter that can be set to low without compromising fine detail in the image. The HW30ES' noise reduction works better in SD than in HD, but increasing it too far will compromise detail and produce an undesirable airbrushed look.
Overall, the AE7000 has an edge over the HW30ES in picture quality in 2D primarily due to its contrast advantage, and in 3D due to both incremental contrast and better clarity/stability due to reduced crosstalk.
Zoom lens and light output. The AE7000 has a powered zoom and focus lens with a 2.0x zoom range that lets you light up a 120" 16:9 screen from a throw distance of roughly 12 to 23.5 feet. The HW30ES has a slightly shorter manual zoom lens with a range of 1.6x, and a throw distance to a 120" screen of roughly 12 to 18.5 feet. So the AE7000 has an additional five feet of potential throw distance on the long end.
The problem is that the AE7000 loses up to 42% of its light output when the lens is set to maximum telephoto. So unless your particular installation has no need of the full light potential of the AE7000, that telephoto end of the zoom range is something you would want to avoid. Conversely, the HW30ES loses only 13% of its potential light at maximum telephoto, so you can pretty much use the entire range of the lens without worrying much about light output.
Lens Memory. The powered zoom/focus on the AE7000 supports a Lens Memory feature that allows the projector to automatically reconfigure its image position for 2.4 format films on a 2.4 Cinemascope format screen. The HW30ES does not have this feature. In theory, you can set up a 2.4 screen and manually move the HW30ES' lens back and forth to accommodate changes from 2.4 to 16:9, but anyone planning a 2.4 format installation will strongly prefer the automated capability on the AE7000.
Black level. The HW30ES has an aggressive auto iris, so on a complete fade to black the black level can be deeper than that of the AE7000. However in mixed content with highlights and shadow, the AE7000 has a somewhat deeper black level.
On-board vs. external IR emitter. The IR emitter on the AE7000 is built into the unit, and operates from a distance of up to 6 meters from the screen. As long as you are within this throw distance, this is the cleanest and easiest setup. The HW30ES has an external emitter that connects to the projector via an Ethernet cable. The cable is not included, but is easy to find at any electronics store. Once you acquire the cable, you must position the emitter in front of the viewers, pointed at the audience. We ended up placing it on the coffee table in front of us. But the maximum cable length is 15 meters, so in a more permanent installation, you might run the cable along the wall or ceiling and attach it to the screen frame.
Fan noise. With lamps in full power, both projectors are rather quiet, putting out a soft whisper. The AE7000 is slightly louder, but you need to stand within a couple of feet and listen closely to hear the difference. When the lamps are put into eco mode, both projectors are, for all practical purposes, silent.
Connectivity. The AE7000 has three HDMI ports, while the HW30ES has two. The AE7000 also has two 12V triggers as opposed to just one on the HW30ES.
Warranty, Price, and Availability
The Sony HW30ES includes a three-year warranty. The Panasonic AE7000 has a two-year warranty, but the second year is contingent upon registering the product with a mail-in claim. If you fail to do that, you only get one year of warranty.
At the moment, neither model includes 3D glasses with the base price. The AE7000 includes the built-in 3D IR emitter as a standard feature. The HW30ES emitter and cable are not included.
The Sony HW30ES is currently in production, and $3,699 is the effective selling price at the moment. The Panasonic AE7000 has been announced but will not be shipping until next month. We expect the AE7000's MSRP of $3,499 to be followed up with a lower MAP, or official street price, as we get closer to the actual ship date.