Panasonic PT-AE1000 Review

Following hot on the heels of JVC's HD1 is the Panasonic PT-AE1000 offering full HD resolution as well as some nifty image calibration tools...

by Phil Hinton
Home AV Review

6

Recommended
Panasonic PT-AE1000 Review
SRP: £3,495.00

Introduction

A projector tuned by the picture experts in Hollywood is an appealing prospect. Add to that a full waveform monitor to see exactly what is happening within the image and allowing accurate set up, and it would appear that the Panasonic PT-AE1000E is an enthusiast’s dream. So have Panasonic released the last word in HD projection?

The PT-AE1000E introduces a number of new features to the companies projector lines as well as offering a sleek and good looking unit. The case is unusually wider than it is long and measures 460 x 130 x 300 mm (w x h x d) and weights in at roughly 7.2 kg (15.9 lbs.) The only colour available is a black satin finish which is ideal for a projector; in fact any projector not available in black rather defeats one of the end objectives of light controlled environments. The lens unit is centrally placed on the front plate with input and output air vents either side. This is a similar design to the JVC HD1 we reviewed last month and allows shelf mounting if desired as all the air is expelled from the front of the unit.

The lens system employed is a new design by Panasonic and is made up with 16 lens elements in 12 parts, including two large-diameter aspherical lenses and two high-performance ED (extra low dispersion) lenses. This coupled with a clear prism which processes the primary colours, controls any diffused reflection inside the unit reducing the chromatic aberrations that can cause colour deviation. In basic terms this new layout makes sure that colours are as accurate as possible and the projector can achieve a higher contrast ratio. Panasonic claim 11000:1 contrast from the unit, but we will come back to that later.

The PT-AE 1000E uses the C2FINE HD LCD panels which offer a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. These produce what the company claims is a better than normal black performance. In simple terms the alignment of the pixels when there is no voltage present are perpendicular to the glass substrate, so there is no light leakage and the substrate remains black. This in theory allows no light to pass thus giving an almost perfect black performance – well on paper anyway. The projector also employs a dynamic iris control to improve the black levels even further. However you may like me, ask the question of why, if in fact the new pixel structure is supposed to produce true on/off blacks, why employ an iris?

Using an UHM lamp the projector also employs a special colour filter in the optical path to improve the colour purity of the primaries and achieve a better black performance. Panasonic claim that by using this filter the primaries can almost achieve the digital cinema specifications laid down in SMPTE DC28. Looking at our test results below, you can see that this is not quite the case in practice, but it is always encouraging that manufacturers at least try to strive for more realistic colour production and calibration.

The unit also employs a unique pixel configuration to help reduce the age old LCD problem of the Chicken wire effect. Called ‘smooth screen’ the patented use of crystal double refraction helps smooth the lines between individual pixels, helping the unit produce a more three dimensional image. During use I never once noticed any problems with the chicken wire effect, and the image remained sharp at all times.

On the top of the unit are the lens shift controls which are easy to use and set correctly. These are positioned towards the front plate and have three finger holes to allow easy operation. To the left of the unit (looking from the front) is a side door revealing manual controls for all the projectors functions.

Panasonic  PT-AE1000

To the rear of the unit are the input ports. There are two HDMI slots, one component, one scart, an RS232 and finally composite, s-video and VGA inputs. Below these is the power socket. Note that there are also import units on the UK market, these do not have the scart slot but have a second component input. The model number for these would be PT-AE1000U.

In all the projector is logically laid out in terms of inputs and controls and remains sleek in its design, this is a good looking unit and a far cry from the days of the grey data based boxes.

Setting the projector up was a breeze and took about 5 minutes filling a seven and a half foot wide screen from around 11 feet back. Firing up the unit revealed it had no hours on the clock, so we could conclude it was indeed a brand new machine.

Taking a look around the menus is pleasing with the amount of options available for accurate picture tuning. There are also seven preset colour options available as default on the projector and the manual suggests that these can be used for watching a variety of material. You have the usual options like dynamic for increased image brightness in room that is not light controlled, through to settings like colour 2 which track the digital cinema specifications. As always when it comes to picture set up we would advocate a proper calibration and the Panasonic certainly has all the controls necessary to allow a very accurate calibration. The colour 1 setting is the closest to the D65 (6500k) setting and colour space for HD material, so this is what we would use as a starting point for our calibration later. One other feature which caught my attention was the waveform monitor.

Introduction

Panasonic  PT-AE1000

The Panasonic’s waveform monitor is a unique feature that displays luminance information in a simple, viewable manner. Often the reserve of video professionals, the monitor allows the end user to see what is going on within the image, allowing accurate set up of contrast and brightness. Using a 10 step grey ramp from a test DVD such as DVE, the monitor actually allows you to see the voltage steps from 0IRE to 100IRE and the points where these should be on the graph. I was so taken away by this feature that I attempted to calibrate the projector using just this feature to see how far I could go with it. I would then use our calibration equipment to take measurements to see how close I was able to get with just using the graphs and my understanding of the information on display. (The below image should help explain what the waveform monitor looks like, image copyright Panasonic.)

After an hour of using the monitor I was happy that I could not do anymore to improve the information using the controls available, so what were my conclusions?

Panasonic  PT-AE1000

Using our calibration equipment I ran an initial wizard to measure the primaries and white level on the image now produced by the projector after using the waveform monitor. As you can see in the CIE chart below colours were oversaturated, especially blue and red, with green slightly under and the secondary colours were also not quite right. Plus our white level was nearer 5500k than the target 6500k. However, although the waveform monitor didn’t allow me to accurately set the colours – and to be honest I didn’t expect that to be the case – it did show that the projector has accurate colour decoding and using the waveform for setting brightness, contrast and sharpness is recommended. The main plus point for this feature is certainly as a learning tool to see exactly what effects you make to the final picture, but as an accurate tool for calibration it sadly fails to live up to expectations.

Picture Analysis

So after getting ahead of myself and playing around with the waveform monitor, I reset the projector to the factory default settings and selected the colour 1 setting. This is supposed to track accurately at D65 so we took initial measurements as seen in the CIE chart below.

Panasonic  PT-AE1000
Panasonic  PT-AE1000

As you can see, out of the box (or at least factory defaults) the colours are oversaturated and the white level is not at D65, but more like 7200k. The secondary colours are also not tracking accurately at factory default but the Panasonic does have all the necessary controls, such as colour management (called CCM) to allow an accurate calibration to get the Panasonic looking its best. The implementation of the CCM is a little unusual in the way it operates, rather than giving a full screen adjustment it selects a small box to allow changes. This makes it a little tricky to position using a window pattern so that the box lands at the exact position where the colorimeter is pointing. However this tool is very accurate and by simply adjusting the primary colours the secondaries almost fell straight into position and only required a slight adjustment. This confirms that the colour decoding within the projector is very accurate. Also using the dynamic iris made no difference to the results obtained.

After an hour of setting the colour saturation, greyscale and high and low adjustments, we managed to finally get an accurate result from the Panasonic and it lived up to expectations.

Panasonic  PT-AE1000
Luminance Before Luminance After
Panasonic  PT-AE1000
Panasonic  PT-AE1000
RGB Tracking Before RGB Tracking After
Panasonic  PT-AE1000
Panasonic  PT-AE1000
Temperature Before Temperature After
Panasonic  PT-AE1000
Panasonic  PT-AE1000

As you can see above with the right calibration equipment (or hiring a professional) it is possible to get the Panasonic looking very accurate in terms of temperature, colour saturation, greyscale tracking and luminance. But what does it actually look like in action and with fast moving video images?

Picture Quality

The first thing I want to pick up on with the projector is its dynamic iris. Used to help boost the contrast ratio and help make blacks richer, the actual iris used here is very noisy and a little clunky in its operation. After many tests with various materials I found that actually switching the iris off (when the PJ is calibrated) actually made a big difference in terms of detail reproduction and overall contrast. The Panasonic looked better, richer and deeper without the iris employed and I would recommend trying this for yourself to see the difference it makes.

The thing that hit me when switching to King Kong on HD DVD was the lack of true black level and shadow detail from the unit, it also displays the LCD fog that is present on most of the products using this technology. I found this somewhat disappointing and even checking again with the iris control, switching that on and then off, just made no significant difference. We review projectors in the best environment possible and that is a dedicated cinema room with total light control.

Even in these perfect conditions the lack of a true inky black like that seen with the JVC HD1 is a shame as is the rather lacking contrast ratio of the machine. We have read in one published review that the Panasonic PT-AE1000 had better black level performance than the JVC, I can only conclude after extensive testing of our own, that the reviewer in question must have been watching them on the patio in full sunlight! The Panasonic suffers from a lack in black level and shadow detail, looking more grey and washed out than many other similar specified LCD models such as the Epson TW1000 which we had to hand on the testing day.

So with disappointing black levels we moved on to colour accuracy and gradation checks and this is where the Panasonic gets full marks. Looking at King Kong as he sits watching the sunrise on the Empire State Building is a joy to behold. The subtle changes in reds to yellow and the mix of grey and white in the clouds is stunningly realistic and must be in part due to the great colour performance as well as the new 14bit processing chip, helping achieve a flawless gradation of colour in the image. The projector is a full HD machine and that helps produce some excellent, detailed and sharp, bright, images on screen, with pores on facial close ups looking very good as well as a certain three dimensional feel to images hitting the screen. What lets this down again is the lack of contrast when compared to the JVC and Epson and loss of detail in the darker areas of the image.

Video Processing

Video and Film material looks very good on the Panasonic, such as upscaled DVD and off air SD material, with the on board processing doing an excellent job of presenting this accurately, only now and again did the processing speed let the side down.
Using various test discs as well as moving video tests didn’t prove too difficult for the unit, with most motion tests passed with flying colours. Jaggies and other nasties where held in check by the units processing and apart from taking a nano second or two between film and video switching, was very good for a projection unit.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Great colour reproduction
  • Colour management Controls
  • Waveform monitor
  • Good optics
  • Excellent processing
  • Ease of use and set up
  • Aspect ratio control for constant height set up

Cons

  • Disappointing black performance
  • Noisy iris control which is better left off

Panasonic PT-AE1000 Review

So what are our final thoughts on the Panasonic PT-AE1000? The unit has all the sought after features an enthusiast would want - great processing, aspect control, colour management controls, ease of use and good build quality. It also has the nifty waveform monitor which is a great learning tool for people to see exactly what picture controls do to the image; and for setting contrast and brightness it excels. It is not the most accurate monitor, and attempting to fully calibrate the projector with this has been proven not to work. However it is always encouraging to see manufacturers adding these types of features to their products, and long may it continue.

What lets this machine down is the lacklustre black performance, which even when compared to other LCD machines in its class (and below), is a disappointment. Had the contrast level and shadow detail been there this projector would have received a reference status badge. It does everything else in terms of picture perfectly well after a professional calibration, with stunningly realistic colours and good sharpness levels as well as a distinct lack of screen door effect. The iris was maybe a bad idea here as well. I just couldn’t live with the noise and jerkiness of its operation and the fact it takes detail and depth out of the image, going totally against what it is supposed to do. In our opinion leave the iris and all the noise reduction technologies turned off and get a proper calibration to achieve the very best this projector offers.

So to round off, the Panasonic has forgettable blacks, yet does everything else extremely well and should be considered for audition if you are looking to go full HD with your next projector – recommended.

Recommended

Scores

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7

2D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
.
.
7

Image Uniformity

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
8

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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