Panasonic PT-AE2000 LCD Projector Review

The Second of the new wave of 1080p projectors to hit the UK is Panasonic’s bargain priced PT-AE2000, but have they cut corners as well as the price?

by Phil Hinton
Home AV Review

2

Best Buy
Panasonic PT-AE2000 LCD Projector Review
SRP: £2,000.00

Introduction

Back in June 2007 we reviewed Panasonic’s first 1080 projector the PT-AE1000 and despite some minor issues we awarded it our ‘Recommended’ badge. This new model is a direct replacement for the PT-AE1000 and also carries over many of the fantastic features as well as adding some new tricks into the bargain. It is also £1,500 cheaper than the outgoing model, so surely they must have cut some corners?

Panasonic PT-AE2000

Weighing in at exactly the same as the old machine (roughly 7.2kg) and also keeping the exact same dimensions (460 x 130 x 300 mm W x H x D) the only obvious visual key to this new model is the silver lining on the central position lens assembly. The same cooling design is also employed with intake and outlet ducts on the front of the unit, either side of the lens allowing placement on a shelf if required. As expected the unit employs the C2FINE D7 HD LCD panels which offer a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and offers improved black level and ansi contrast results. (We will discuss the finer points of this in the calibration area of the review).

Panasonic PT-AE2000

The PT-AE2000, according to Panasonic, will achieve 16,000:1 on/off contrast ratio and around 1,500 lumens brightness. We will measure the unit's abilities out of the box and when calibrated, later in the review. The projector also boasts a new hand tuned optical path comprising 16 lens elements in 12 groups including two large diameter aspherical lenses and two high performance extra-low dispersion lenses. These are then fine tuned by hand to give the best possible uniform image focus possible on each unit. This process should produce an improved images free from colour bleed or distortion.

Panasonic PT-AE2000

The new D7 LCD panels use vertically aligned, liquid crystal molecules with inorganic alignment layers. When there is no voltage applied, the molecules (due to their alignment) stop light leakage into the substrate, improving black level and contrast. Added to this is a new design of dynamic iris making adjustments 60 times every second to further improve the smoothness of the unit, providing what the company claims as perfect blacks.

Panasonic PT-AE2000

And we are not finished with the picture tweaks just yet. Also available on the PT-AE2000 is Panasonic’s smooth screen technology aligned with the new optical path to create an almost pixel free image that looks smooth. Unfortunately there is no bypass for this feature. I say unfortunately as I personally find this to be hit and miss on certain material and almost makes the projector appear soft in comparison to, say, the HC6000 reviewed last month, or Epson’s TW2000 (review due for publication here soon). It could be argued that what Panasonic are aiming for is that smooth cinematic look and it has to be said that it does compliment film material in that way, although not as successfully as the JVC HD1. I would have liked to have been given the option to switch this feature off, but as its part of the optical path that would appear to be difficult to accomplish.

Another new feature for the projector is the detail clarity processor. This process analyses the content on screen and the frequency of the video image extracting the high, medium and low portions of the image components. It then looks to apply sharpness to those areas of the image that have lost the finer details due to image compression, and Panasonic claims this gives the resulting image a more natural and lifelike quality. We carried out several tests in this setting and surprisingly it did not add any unwanted artefacts to the image. More on this later.

Panasonic PT-AE2000

In terms of handling gradation of colour hues and brightness variations within the image, a new 16bit digital processing tool adds in four times the power of the previous model, and boasts to provide further image texture and depth. We certainly found this feature on the PT-AE1000 added a realistic sense of hues and gradations of fine colour that made the skylines of Manhattan seem super realistic during our Kong tests, and on this machine it just looks even better. More later in the review.

Panasonic PT-AE2000

In terms of picture calibration the waveform monitor has had an upgrade with an automatic setting now in place as well as an easier-to-follow read out, plus we also get a split screen adjust mode that lets you see in real time what changes you are making to the original image.

So with all the new toys and features covered briefly here, we will explore them in more detail as we progress through the review. You will want to know just what sources you can add to the PT-AE2000. The projector has three HDMI sockets which support deep colour and xvYCC colour space and are fully V1.3 compliant. There are two component inputs, one VGA, one S-Video and one composite as well as a serial port. The unit can be ceiling mounted, and an optional extra is a back plate that covers your cable inputs so the machine can be mounted flush with no wires being seen.

Finally, controlling everything is the units learning, backlit remote. This is intuitive to use and can be programmed easily to control other components within your home cinema (except the PS3 as that uses Bluetooth). Use the drop down menu or arrow button to move on to page two of the review.

Out of the Box

Panasonic have made great strides of late with the creative community in Hollywood. They have some of their equipment used in post production facilities and with the PT-AE2000 they approached a famous film colourist to give them some idea of how to make the product more like the results we see with film, in terms of colour and detail. As this process progressed it was decided that one of the colour settings on the projector would be unitised to show the results of this consultation period with Hollywood. What we are given under the colour 1 setting on the projector is the final accepted colour gamut. As you can see below in our measurement, the colour 1 setting is very close to the REC709 high definition colour space out of the box. This is the first time a manufacturer has done such an experiment and managed to produce something out of the box that is fairly close to what a professional calibrator would be looking at achieving. It’s not perfect and certainly the other picture controls have to be set correctly in the first place, but as an experiment it is certainly most welcome from our point of view.

Panasonic PT-AE2000

Talking about setting the main picture controls correctly brings me on to the waveform monitor which has seen a couple of tweaks since the PT-AE1000 model. Gone is the ability to over cook the brightness and contrast settings as the graph now ends at the 0-100% markers. As I explained in detail in our review of the PT-AE1000 the waveform monitor is not just a gimmick but can be used to help end users set the brightness and contrast as well as sharpness and colour. It is not 100% accurate and certainly not a substitute for having a Professional calibration (you cannot get greyscale or colour correction from the monitor) but it does allow some users to play around to get a fairly consistent result.

It should be noted that the colour 1 & 2 settings on the projector cannot be calibrated as the menu area for the CMS & Greyscale is greyed out here. To make manual calibration possible you have to select the Cinema 1 setting (or any other you may desire in fact). So with this in mind and before we set out on calibrating the projector we looked to see how far out this setting was from the accepted REC709 gamut.

Panasonic PT-AE2000

Calibration Results

As you can see the colour gamut under the Cinema 1 setting is like most of the (out of the box) settings for projectors these days, with the green point well into the oversaturated camp and colour temperature well below D65. However with a full calibration of the greyscale and then the CMS controls we get the following results.

Panasonic PT-AE2000
Colour temperature before Colour temperature after
Panasonic PT-AE2000
Panasonic PT-AE2000
RGB levels before RGB levels after
Panasonic PT-AE2000
Panasonic PT-AE2000
Gamma curve before Gamma curve after
Panasonic PT-AE2000
Panasonic PT-AE2000

We were able to get the PT-AE2000 pretty close to perfect from a calibration point of view and Panasonic must be congratulated on supplying the correct menu controls for this to be achieved. Their implementation of the CMS (Colour management system) is confusing and difficult to use and will take a while for people to get used to using, especially when using the correct measuring devices. It can be quite tricky to get the small box used to colour correct the image over the eye of the meter. However once mastered it really does make all the difference in the colour stakes, as can be witnessed above.

Other measurements taken from the PT-AE2000 confirm that the unit can produce more then acceptable results. Contrast out of the box measured 922:1 on/off and 102:1 ansi contrast, with calibrated results coming on at 820:1 on/off and 80:1 ansi. Colour uniformity was excellent along with good black level and excellent greyscale tracking. Luminance uniformity across the screen was very good with only the upper right side of the image dropping around 13% in total brightness. As usual all tests were performed in our light controlled dedicated review room. The overall results of our in-depth testing were very pleasing and could even be described as remarkable given the Panasonics price point!

Video Processing

Video processing in today’s display devices is as important as ever and the Panasonic PT-AE2000 uses the companies propriety processor. With much of the general public's viewing material still being 480 or 576 standard DVD, you want to be sure that the 1080p projector will play this back in the best possible way. You could just use the scaling and deinterlacing in your player, but with the PT-AE2000 we would suggest that you set your player to 576i and let the projector take the workload. And it offers up a superb performance as seen in the test results below.

HD Tests

Tests Possible Score Test Score
HD Noise Reduction
Noise is problem that continues to affect high-definition video sources. While analogue noise is typically introduced during the duplication and editing process, noise in HD sources represents film grain and CCD noise introduced at the time of recording (particularly in the darker areas of a scene), noise introduced during the compositing and post-processing stage due to color and exposure correction, as well as during the compression process itself. Noise affects all HD sources.

The challenge is removing the spurious noise while preserving the detail in the scene.
25 - Noise reduced without loss of detail.

15 - Noise reduced somewhat and detail is preserved.

7 - Level of noise reduced but detail is lost.

0 - There is no apparent reduction in noise and/or image detail is significantly reduced or artifacts are introduced.
15 - Noise reduced somewhat and detail is preserved.
HD Video Resolution Loss
The odd and even fields of interlaced video are recorded a fraction of a second apart (1/60s or 1/50s). This presents several problems to the video processor. When the video contains non-moving objects, it is possible to recover the full resolution of the original scene. On the other hand, if the video contains moving objects, resolution is necessarily lost; it was lost at the time of the recording.

A good video processor needs to distinguish between objects in motion or objects that are not in motion. Doing so ensures that all of the resolution is preserved. If a video processor assumes that a non-moving object is, in fact, moving, as much as half of the useful resolution is being discarded. Likewise, if a video processor assumes that a moving object is, in fact, not moving, then 'feathering artifacts' can be seen.
20 - You can see fine horizontal black and white lines in the corner boxes.

0 - The boxes in the corners strobe - half resolution processing
20 - You can see fine horizontal black and white lines in the corner boxes.
Video Reconstruction test
In these tests, we will evaluate the quality of the video reconstruction. Recall that with interlaced video, resolution in moving areas has been lost at the time of the recording. In order to replace the missing data, most video processors compute the average of the pixel above and below the area of interest. This loss of resolution causes jagged edges to form, most prominent on diagonal lines. High-quality video processors can reduce the appearance of these 'jaggies' by implementing more advanced reconstruction methods such as a diagonal interpolation (also called diagonal filtering).

The only method for dealing with motion is to throw away some of the pixels that would cause feathering. So, the difference between a good and bad video processor is how selective it is at throwing away data. If you only throw away the pixels that would cause feathering, you maximize as much detail as possible.

When you throw away data, you must replace it by averaging pixels above and below the area. The loss of resolution causes jagged edges to form, most prominently on diagonal lines. High-quality de-interlacers can reduce the appearance of these 'jaggies' through intelligent reconstruction methods. The reconstruction process get increasingly difficult as the angle becomes more oblique.
20 - All three bars have smooth edges at all times.

10 - The top two bars have smooth edges, but the bottom bar does not.

5 - Only the top bar has smooth edges.

0 - None of the bars have smooth edges.
20 - All three bars have smooth edges at all times.
Film Resolution Loss test
1080p content exists today. In fact, the majority of today's HD content on CBS and NBC is 1080p. Virtually all major Hollywood films and the majority of 'scripted' television shows broadcast over 1080i60 are originally recorded as 1080p24 (1080p resolution, 24 frames per second).

Content that has been recorded at 1080p24 is converted into 1080i60 for broadcast purposes via a telecine process. A good video processor should be able to decode the original 1080p data by recognizing the '3:2 cadence' of the repeated fields generated in this process. This process is known as 'inverse telecine.' With support for this feature, 100 percent of the pixels from the original 1080p source can be seen. Without proper inverse telecine, the video processor discards half of the resolution.

This test is relevant for testing Blu-ray and HD DVD players for any content that is 1080i and was sourced from a 1080p master that underwent a telecine process. This includes some concert footage, documentaries, films, and many television shows. For example Discovery's China Revealed available on Blu-ray is a combination of 1080i video and 1080i 3:2 content.
25 -You can see fine horizontal black and white lines in the corner boxes.

0 - The boxes in the corners strobe, or the edges of the boxes have vertical bands - half resolution processing.
25 - You can see fine horizontal black and white lines in the corner boxes.
Film Resolution Loss Test (Stadium)
This test is a follow up test to the film resolution loss test. If you failed the previous test, you will fail this test. Pay attention to the stands. Any moiré or flickering in the upper stands indicates half resolution processing. This test provides you with a real world video that can show you how improper video processing can affect an active image.

The stands in this stadium are very high in detail and a good processor, player or display should be able to reconstruct the intended 1080p image with all of its intended resolution properly.
10 - No moiré pattern or flickering in the upper stands.

0 - Moiré pattern or flickering in the upper stands.
10 - No moiré pattern or flickering in the upper stands.
Total Score for HD Tests out of a possible 100 = 90.

Pal DVD Video Processing Tests

Tests Possible Score Test Score
Colour Bar / Vertical Detail
This test verifies how good the processor is at identifying motion 10 - Image detail Is seen at marker '1', no flicker Is observed. 5 - Minor flickering is seen at marker '1'

0 - No Image detail Is seen at marker '1'
10 - Image detail Is seen at marker '1', no flicker Is observed.
Jaggies Pattern 1
This test helps to verify how good the processor is at handling motion 5 - Jaggies are not seen until the bar enters the green area; Logo is free of Jaggies

3 - Jaggies are not seen until the bar enters the yellow area; Logo is free of Jaggies

0 - No Image detail Is seen at marker '1'
5 - Jaggies are not seen until the bar enters the green area; Logo is free of Jaggies.
Jaggies Pattern 2
This test helps to verify how good the processor is at handling motion 5 - All three bars have smooth edges at all times.

3 - The top two bars have smooth edges, but the bottom bar does not.

1 - Only the top bar has smooth edges.

0 - none of the bars have smooth edges
5 - All three bars have smooth edges at all times.
Flag
This test helps to verify how good the processor is at handling motion 10 - Jagged edges are not seen In the red and white bars, and the flag exhibits fine detail.

5 - Some Jagged edges are seen, and/or the background appears soft.

0 - Jagged edges are quite apparent along edges of the bars
10 - Jagged edges are not seen In the red and white bars, and the flag exhibits fine detail.
Detail Enhancemennt
A high-quality detail enhancement algorithm is a mathematical restoration of data that is lost during the recording and mastering process. 10 - The bricks on the white building exhibit fine detail and sharp outlines, resulting In a crisp, realistic Image.

5 - There Is moderate Image detail within the bricks on the white building and the bricks' outline appears slightly blurred.

0 - The bricks on the white building appear to be flat and the bricks' outline Is blurred
5 - There Is moderate Image detail within the bricks on the white building and the bricks' outline appears slightly blurred.
Noise Reduction
Noise, or film grain, is inadvertently added to a program through capture, duplication and editing and compression process. 10 -level of noise Is noticeably reduced without loss of Image detail.

5 - Level of noise Is reduced somewhat when noise reduction Is turned on, or Image detail Is reduced.

0 - No apparent reduction In noise and/or Image detail Is significantly reduced, or the TV or monitor has no noise reduction feature
10 - Level of noise Is noticeably reduced without loss of Image detail.
Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction
In this test, noise has been added to a video of a roller coaster. A temporal filter that is does not distinguish the movement of the roller coaster from random noise will produce an echo or ghost-image of the moving roller coaster. 10 - The sky exhibits little or no noise, Image detail Is sharp and crisp, and no motion trails or smearing artefacts are observed.

5 - Some noise Is evident In the sky and/or the Image appears soft; the roller coaster appears to be slightly blurred.

0 - Noise Is clearly present In the sky and/or motion trails are visible behind the roller coaster as It moves through the scene.
10 - The sky exhibits little or no noise, Image detail Is sharp and crisp, and no motion trails or smearing artefacts are observed.
Telecine A&B Detection
Hollywood motion pictures are shot, edited and screened with a picture refresh rate of 24 frames per second (fps), progressive scan (24p). To convert these films for DVD or 1080i HDTV, a conversion process is used to find a common mathematical relationship between the original program (24fps) and the broadcast format (25fps or 50 fields). One common technique to deal with this issue is Telecine A. With Telecine A the film is digitized at 24 fps (i.e. 2:2 film) and then played back 4.166% faster (25/24 = 1.04166). A less common technique is Telecine B where you take 24fps material and add a field at the 12th and 24th film frame. 20 - No flickering, Jaggies, or loss of resolution with telecine A & B.

15 - No flickering, Jaggies, or loss of resolution with telecine A.

0 - Flickering and Jaggies apparent with telecine A & B.
20 - No flickering, Jaggies, or loss of resolution with telecine A & B.
Total score out of a maximum 80 = 75

Picture Performance Out of the Box

For out of the box viewing we recommend the Colour 1 setting and of course setting the brightness and contrast controls correctly. The Panasonics standard setting for sharpness is the default so will not need to be adjusted and I found only a slight tweak of the colour setting using the blue glasses method was required. It is also down to personal preference whether you use the dynamic iris, however I found that even though there is a vast improvement in this model over the PT-AE1000, I still prefer to have the iris switched off. Those who have read my PT-AE1000 review will remember that I had issues with a noisy iris in that machine. The new model here has no such problems and when in use the iris is relatively fast in its movement with no noticable noise.

We used our now defunct HD DVD version of King Kong as the reference point for this test (it has an excellent transfer with varied scenes) and I sat back to enjoy the show. In the colour 1 settings I was amazed at how natural the image looked and the blacks were anything but disappointing from the off. Flicking between the iris on and off positions I could notice a wash out effect on mixed scenes with the blacks losing their inky feel in favour of trying to present the scene correctly. Oddly enough I found the same scene with the iris off to give a more natural and convincing black performance for an LCD machine. The blacks are not as rich as say the JVC HD1 or the Epson TW2000, but they are not a million miles off either.

Indeed even though I originate from a CRT projector background, the blacks did not interfere with my enjoyment or stand out so much that I really noticed any greyness in the image. Colours are also rich and dynamic without any signs of over saturation present and each primary looked natural when on screen with no obvious signs of gradation in the blue skies of Manhattan. Indeed as Kong awaits day break the sky is awash with deep blackening clouds, which looked truly three dimensional and added a real depth to the image. This is where previous generations of LCD technology could let the side down, but on each of the new projectors I have had in our review room over the last few months they have put that flaw firmly to bed. Overall the Colour 1 setting provides an excellent out of the box experience for those not quite ready to learn about calibration or get a pro in to do the job.

Calibrated performance

Using the same scenes as above I switched the PT-AE2000 to our saved calibrated settings under the cinema 1 option. Again the natural looking image brings the material to life and adds a certain 3D effect where LCD has failed in the past. Colours were now even more natural and blacks looked even stronger thanks to an excellent greyscale setting. Shadow detail was more pronounced and the image certainly inherited more depth of field because of this. Image brightness never suffered at all and again the best results were with the iris switched off.

The additional image features on the Panasonic such as the detail clarity processor, really did seem to do a good job and not interfere with proceedings or produce any visible artefacts. This processor works out the focus point of the material and then adds in a certain sharpness to areas where the focal point should be, such as faces in a wide angled shot. I am usually against any kind of artificial processing of the image, but to be honest I did not encounter anything during my extended viewing sessions which made this feature stand out and be noticed. One feature you can’t switch off on the PT-AE2000 is the smooth screen technology designed to reduce any visible picture structure from the LCD pixel arrays.

This has the effect of producing what could be described as a softening look to the image. But saying such would infer that the Panasonic’s image is soft and that is certainly not the case. Indeed it resolves detail just as well as the competing projectors in its class, but rather it adds what I would describe as a ‘filmic’ look. The image in other words looks less digital then some LCD and DLP machines I have seen in the past and to someone like myself who comes from a CRT background it is a pleasing and natural look with film material. Where it becomes more noticeable is with video sources which can look just a tad soft around the sharp edges, but again, nothing that really detracts from the overall excellent performance of the PT-AE2000.

Standard Definition Performance

Standard definition material in both out of the box and calibrated settings looked excellent and certainly didn’t suffer from any processing artefacts introduced by the Panasonic. Detail was very good with excellent colour accuracy and good black levels yet that 3D feel from HD material was missing on most discs that were used to check performance. Chapter 15 from the Region 1 ‘Gladiator’ DVD looked solid with no noticeable issues other than some fine jaggies seen in one background fence. The limitations of the projectors contrast did stand out here and there, especially with depth of field on some epic shots, which just look glorious on the high contrast JVC, yet felt rather flat here. However now I am nit picking and it should be remembered that all projectors and technologies used in them have their strong and weak points. This projector at this price point provides a stunning example of just how far your money can go in terms of sheer performance these days.

Overall I have no hesitation in recommending you get a good quality demo of the PT-AE2000s picture quality and witness what it does so well in the flesh!

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Feature packed performance with full calibration tools
  • Excellent film image detail and Good black level with solid screen uniformity in both out of the box and calibrated use
  • Very good Video Processing
  • Easy to use menu system and good build quality

Cons

  • Not the prettiest machine out there
  • Video material looks slightly soft around the sharp edges
  • Complicated CMS system

Panasonic PT-AE2000 LCD Projector Review

In rounding up our review of the Panasonic PT-AE2000 we looked at the ability to add an anamorphic lens system to the projector and can confirm that it will do the vertical stretch to allow constant height. However we didn’t have a lens available at the time of review to double check its performance in this respect. It will offer the zoom method for those looking to achieve this on a budget but it will impact on the resolution and brightness of the unit.

Overall the Panasonic PT-AE2000 offers excellent picture quality out of the box in the colour 1 setting and can also be fully calibrated to various industry standards such as Rec709 for HD material. It has some unique features on board such as the detail clarity processor and waveform monitor which can be effective when use with some common sense. Black levels are certainly improved over the outgoing model and compare well with other 1080p projectors on the market at the moment and depth of field within the image is a surprising strong point for this LCD machine as well as natural colour reproduction. As for fan noise, the Panny is not as quiet as the HC6000 but at around 22db and at a tone that is not overly noticeable, it should not put you off or have you noticing the fans at all.

For the money the Panasonic has everything that an enthusiast would need to achieve good quality big screen images and has some features that more expensive projectors just cannot compete with. Because of its all round superb performance and stunningly low price we can’t help but award the PT-AE2000 with our best buy badge, we highly recommend you get a demonstration of this projector if you are in the market for great quality HD pictures!

Best Buy

Scores

Features

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.
.
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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