Panasonic PT-AH1000E Full HD LCD Projector Review

We take a look at a rare breed. A new 2D-only projector from Panasonic

by Phil Hinton
Home AV Review

7

Panasonic PT-AH1000E Full HD LCD Projector Review
SRP: £2,399.00

Introduction

After a plethora of 3D projectors recently, it feels strange to be reviewing a new 2D-only projector. What makes this seem even stranger is that this £2,400 model is from one of the major 3D pioneers and frankly, being 2D-only has us scratching our heads. It is certainly not impossible to launch a 3D projector at the PT-AH1000’s price point, as many have and are, such as Epson and Optoma to name but two. Plus the projectors chassis is almost identical to the PT-AT5000E we reviewed a few months back, with space for the transmitter in the front right of the body.

So, this is very much a 2D projector and as such it has a lot to live up to in terms of picture performance and value for money. Although owners of 3D displays probably watch less than 2% of 3D material compared to ‘normal’ 2D viewing, when looking for a new projector many buyers will see 3D as a must have option, even if in reality they will use it sparingly, if at all. The PT-AH1000 does have a lot of interesting features on-board and although 3D isn’t one of them, it does have the same chassis and layout as the Highly Recommended PT-AT5000 and we are hoping that many of the plus points of that model have survived the cull to get this unit in at a budget price point. So with the projector set up and run-in, it’s time to find out just how well it performs.

Design, Features and Connections

There is no mistaking the design for the PT-AH1000, it is identical to its big brother the PT-AT5000 with very few physical changes. The lens is offset to the right hand side with the main exhaust to the left, and the connections are at the rear. To the right side of the lens is a compartment that hides the lens shift joystick, and on the left side of the chassis are manual control buttons should you misplace the remote control. The only major design difference here is that the PT-AH1000 is finished in white, instead of satin black. The remote control supplied with this new projector is also identical to its more expensive sibling with its mini form factor and large keys, set in a silver body colour. The remote is also backlit for use in dark surroundings.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

The lens shift capabilities of the AH1000 are impressive with adjustments of ±65% vertically and ±26% horizontally. It is nice to see that Panasonic offers this level of possible adjustment, especially compared to DLP models in its price point. Obviously we would always recommend that you install the projector correctly and to the manufacturers guidelines, so use of such controls are kept to a minimum and you get the best image quality possible. We are probably starting to sound like a broken record, but, you should never resort to using the keystone adjustment on any projector as this will cause you serious image issues and artefacts. A correctly set up projector will save you time and image quality in the long run, so if you are not confident in installing the unit, make sure you buy from a dealer who offers you this service.

There are a few optical features on the Panasonic which are claimed to help improve the image quality. The first of these is the Intelligent Iris 3 control. The version used in the AH1000 uses a histogram to make adjustments to the lamp power, iris and the gamma curve to try and improve the contrast performance. Panasonic claim that this is done on a frame by frame basis and also claim a contrast ratio of 50,000:1 in return for using this system. As always with such Iris systems you are leaving much of the image guessing to the projector and its electronics and in such cases the image changes do not always look correct and movement and brightness fluctuations are inevitable. Here at AVForums we strongly believe in native contrast performance being the optimum approach to image quality and stability, so images can be reproduced correctly with no artificial adjustments of the image brightness and gamma curve. The system on the Panasonic will very much be a personal choice issue with the end user and their use of the projector, but for all testing and assessment here, we worked with the native output of the projector with the Iris control switched off after initial testing and viewing.

The lamp powering the AH1000 is a 280w ‘Red Rich’ bulb from Panasonic which they claim can provide up to 2800 ANSI lumens of brightness. The red rich lamp design is exclusive to Panasonic who manufacture the bulb in their own factory and is designed to raise the level of red spectral energy, which in typical UHP bulbs is very low. This allows better calibration results as less brightness is lost in attaining a workable greyscale and colour balance from the lamp. From initially switching the AH1000 on, it was very obvious that Panasonic are aiming this projector at users who perhaps don’t have a dedicated home cinema room and who require that extra brightness to combat contrast loss in less than ideal surroundings. This is a very bright projector and easily achieved approx 1000 lumens on our 120” screen in calibrated mode (bat cave surroundings). Uniformity was also very strong with the AH1000 with no visible signs of colour shifting across the image or bright corners after calibration.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

Another image tampering feature is the Light Harmonizer 3 which this time automatically messes with not only image brightness and the gamma curve, but also changes the white balance and sharpness controls as the light in your room changes. Again, we at AVForums do not advocate the use of such features as explained above in the Iris description, but we do see why manufacturers insist on adding these things. If the system could be fool proof and accurately assess the actual environmental conditions of a room as it changes through the day, it might prove useful to owners who put the AH1000 in a living room with white walls and florescent lighting so they get optimal images. But optimal images to what? Sadly, there is no way a sensor on a budget projector can read the spectral changes in the viewing environment accurately enough to be able to track this and change the image accordingly. Plus it would be changing the image to a preset the manufacturer deems optimal, which is never, in our experience, accurate to any picture standards. This is another feature that will very much be down to the end user and how useful they feel it is to them. Our advice would always be to use the projector in optimal surroundings and with day and night calibration settings if required.

The next nugget that comes with the AH1000 is a subject close to our hearts here are AVForums and one that is clearly, in our opinion, being slightly misrepresented in the marketing of Panasonic’s projectors this year. It is what they call Hollywood tuning. Now there is no denying that Panasonic are active in Hollywood with their Lab set up for Blu-ray mastering which we have visited, and they have good relationships with directors and film makers. They also have an on-going relationship with a Hollywood colourist who has helped them design a picture preset they call Cinema 1 and which they claim offers an image that expresses the director’s artistic intent. This is where we have a problem with this marketing. Cinema 1 when measured is nowhere near the established industry standards for Blu-ray reproduction in the home. It therefore is not showing the end user an image that fits with the director’s artistic intent, because it is changing the image away from what is mastered on 8 bit disc (Rec.709) and over saturating this towards the DCI cinema specifications; standards which we will never see mastered to Blu-ray and likely to only ever appear sometime in the next decade with another playback device and source.

There is also artistic licence being used by the colourist with this preset where colours are not as intended. We are all for marketing a picture preset that gives end users an image out of the box that shows the mastered content as intended. This is the Rec.709 picture standards, the standards used for Blu-ray disc specifications and the widely adopted standard for HD playback in the home (it is also very close to PAL colour standards, so win, win for us in the UK). I have also heard comments from engineers trying to say that for images projected on a large screen, Rec.709 doesn’t work. This is something we strongly disagree with and don’t know why such a suggestion would be made. So, Cinema 1 is not as the director intended, no matter what the marketing materials say. But don’t fear, the AH1000 actually does have an out-of-the-box preset that gets pretty close to the correct colour space and white point standards for home viewing and thus director's intent, it is named Rec.709 funnily enough.

Other useful features included with the Panasonic PT-AH1000 concerning picture quality is the Pure Color Filter Pro. This is an optical filter which sits in the projectors light path and uses a fixed sub-iris which cuts light leakage and increases the black level response. The filter also optimises the light spectrum of the red rich lamp improving the colour purity of the RGB primary colours. This is the same filter that is employed in the more expensive PT-AT5000 model. The unit also has Panasonic’s Detail Clarity Processor 3 which digitally assesses the compressed video image and adds a degree of artificial sharpening using high frequency signals in the video image to determine where sharpening should be added. We found that anything higher than +2 on the control for this added edge enhancement and ringing that was clear to see and which is not desired as it masks actual detail in the image. Our advice would be to use this control sparingly and never higher than +2 which added some subtle sharpening which users may feel subjectively makes the image appear sharper.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

Around the back of the chassis we have the video connections which consist of two HDMI slots (compared to three on the PT-AT5000), a VGA in, one set of component plugs and legacy inputs for S-Video and composite video. In terms of system control options we have two 12V triggers and an RS232C port available. Overall there are plenty of connections for the vast majority of users.

Menus and Setup

The menu layout of the PT-AH1000 is the traditional Panasonic design with plenty of picture tuning options available that are easy to find.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

The Picture menu includes the main picture mode settings which are; Normal, Dynamic, Game, Sports, Rec.709, Cinema 1 and Vivid Cinema. Of these options only Rec.709 produces a colour gamut that gets close to the industry standards for film and TV playback. We then have the main front panel controls (Contrast, Brightness, etc.) and a colour temperature slider. This slider is not required if you intend to correctly calibrate the greyscale using the two point method available in the advanced menu. It basically moves between a warm and cool setting in very coarse jumps. We then have the menu controls for the least desirable picture adjustments, those being the aforementioned Dynamic Iris 3 and the Light Harmonizer which we recommend are left off for image consistency and if you are looking for an accurate image. The waveform monitor will be familiar to those who dabble in professional video production as a guide to image luminance and clipping along with the split adjust for subjective image tinkering by eye. A nice touch with the Panasonic is the ability to save picture settings in the picture memory area of the main menu.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

The advanced menu offers up the controls required for correct calibration using a meter and software. Here we have two options for Gamma adjustment which are simple or advanced. The simple choice offers a low, mid and high adjustment to the curve and the advanced option is a full 9 point adjustment graph for fine tuning the curve. Next we have the two point greyscale adjustments for correcting the white point to D65 co-ordinates and which work in a fairly coarse manner, but allow correct adjustment as you will see below in the calibration section of the review. Also included here are noise reduction controls, detail clarity settings and the motion effect control.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

The Colour Management System (CMS) included on the AH1000 is the typical Panasonic two box affair which requires a workaround to get it to work correctly so you can adjust the primary and secondary colour points to the standards. With this approach selecting a wider colour gamut than the out-of-the-box Rec.709 preset and then working back to the standards is required. This is explained in detail in the PT-AT5000 review.

The one major feature that is missing from the AH1000 is the lens memory function for use with 2.35:1 screens. We are saddened to see that Panasonic have dropped this as it really was, until this year, a unique feature that set their projectors apart from the competition. With JVC and Sony now jumping on this bandwagon with their own versions of the lens memory shift we can’t help but feel that Panasonic have dropped the ball somewhat here. There are plenty of image size adjustments available along with masking options, but if you have a 2.35:1 screen, then it is back to manual zoom, shift and focus to move between the aspect ratios.

Picture Quality

The PT-AH1000 is somewhat of a difficult projector to class when it comes to the picture performance produced. That is not a negative in any way, rather it seems to be trying to suit a wide market appeal and hence it is a very bright projector, even when in calibrated picture modes. This does impact on the black level performance and shadow detail visible within the image. Indeed it was tested next to the Optoma Themescene HD83 and gave a very similar performance in terms of black level and image brightness. Without using the Iris system the image produced is very consistent with no image fluctuations or the gamma changing unnecessarily. Black level performance is not up to the same standard as the PT-AT5000 but then that model doesn’t produce the same lumens as the AH1000. The dynamic range seems restricted by this and thus shadow details at the low end are non-existent and blacks become large blocked areas with difficult mixed light scenes.

However, this is in the best possible testing conditions and moving the AH1000 into a room with less than ideal surroundings (white walls and ceiling) and the lack of absolute black level performance is negated with an image that is bright and still has some pop. This is where we feel the AH1000 is best suited, as an all-rounder. It is the type of projector that should be used in less than ideal rooms, where content will range from Sports to Games and the odd film. Putting a projector like the X30 into the same type of room would soon show up where the Panasonic is best suited to perform. The JVC in such a room would be wasted as it needs ideal conditions to get those lovely black levels and dynamic range advantages, whereas the Panasonic forgoes that for a bright image that pops in such conditions. Plus the other major downside for us is the Panasonic’s running noise which would, for us, rule it out for use in a serious home cinema set up, but as a living room light cannon it would be fine.

Now that we have found where the Panasonic would shine, what about the rest of the image? Well with such brightness on offer the calibrated modes held up extremely well and produced a nice greyscale and colour performance. Skin tones held up well and in bright scenes the image had a good degree of accuracy with acceptable black levels. As an all-round multi use display the AH1000 if an ideal choice for the less than perfect sitting room and competes very well with its peers like the HD83 from Optoma. The only thing lacking is 3D and that may well be a downside at the price point these days, as the HD83 also offers very compelling 3D playback which does set it apart in that respect.

Out-of-the-Box Measurements

As always in this section of the review we set out to measure each of the available picture modes and picture options to find those that are the closest to the industry standards for film and TV playback. In doing so we can quickly find what the best settings are likely to be with a display and with the contrast and brightness controls set for the review environment we can get a good idea of how close the picture settings can get to our desired goal.

With the PT-AH1000 we used the Rec.709 Picture mode as the best out-of-the-box settings, adjusting the contrast and brightness controls for our testing room.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

Looking at the RGB balance chart and we can see that the Greyscale tracking is what we would describe as good. Green is 5 to 9% too high with Red and Blue dipping a few per cent below our desired mix point. This gives us DeltaE errors that get progressively larger as we get further up the greyscale range towards white. Whilst this looks high on the graph, with actual viewing material on screen, only the really eagle eyed videophile is going to notice this error straight away. Gamma also tracks well and around our reference point of 2.2 for the curve. For an out-of-the-box setting this result is a good starting point and a preset many non-videophiles could use and not notice the small errors with actual viewing material.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

Thankfully the PT-AH1000 comes with the Rec.709 picture preset that does a very good job of trying to match the industry standards for film and TV playback. The Cinema 1 and other presets have extremely wide colour gamuts which are nowhere near what we are looking for with accurate colour. The preset is not perfect with Blue and Magenta tailing off with larger hue errors than we would ideally like and Cyan is pushed over because of this. However other points are more accurate and luminance doesn’t have any major errors we would be overly concerned about with this out of the box preset. When watching actual onscreen material it is very difficult to notice the off hue points and skin tones hold up well. It’s not perfect but it is a lot better than any other preset offered by the Panasonic. We should be able to calibrate the projector for much better accuracy, but the Rec.709 doesn’t allow CMS use. In this case we need to use the wide Cinema 1 mode and calibrate the colour points back.

Calibrated Results

As always we start with our Greyscale calibration as that is the most important part of the image to get correct. It is our canvas for correcting and building the rest of the image on.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

As you can see we achieved a very good Greyscale track using the coarse two point controls provided by the projector. We hit DeltaE errors of under 1 for all but one point and these errors will be unseen by the human eye, so reference level here for the greyscale track and Gamma also tracks well at around 2.2 with no luminance errors.

Panasonic PT-AH1000E

Using the Cinema 1 preset we used the CMS and our workaround to get the colour points back to Rec.709 standards, in most cases. Just a note to those who will calibrate this projector using the CMS, do not use the boxes to measure as they are inaccurate by quite some degree. You should use normal windows and the techniques explained in the PT-AT5000 review. As you can see we managed to correct most co-ordinates and points, with only Blue and Magenta still not playing ball completely. As Blue is the colour we see the least amount of errors with we shouldn’t have too many issues and the Magenta slight under saturation didn’t impact in any major way when watching onscreen material. Luminance errors were also kept as low as we could get them using the workaround and all stimulus points were checked for any major errors. Thankfully we have very good results here that help bring some colour accuracy to the images produced by the AH1000.

Video Processing

We ran the usual assortment of demo discs, test patterns and cadence tests on the PT-AH1000 in both standard definition and HD. Scaling of SD material was handled very nicely with no obvious signs of ringing and with good source material it also looked sharp enough with no introduced issues. Deinterlacing also looked good with no signs of jaggies in our various test sequences or with normal SD material on screen. Also, unusually for a Panasonic product, it handled both 3:2 and 2:2 cadences properly, although it was a little slow at locking to 2:2 at times or between edits, but nothing to get overly concerned about.

With HD material, from Blu-ray, the projector handled 24p signals with ease and reproduced motion with no induced judder and movement with fast pans also holding up well without descending into a blurry mess. That is not to say that motion issues are not present as it is an LCD projector after all. Fast movement does reduce motion resolution to around 700 lines using motion tests and very fast movement is even less than this. However, for the majority of viewing on the PT-AH1000 we didn’t find this to be an issue that worried us too much. If in doubt we recommend a demo.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Very bright even in calibrated mode
  • Good video processing performance
  • Performs well in less than ideal surroundings
  • Good calibrated performance
  • Accurate colour performance in Rec.709 and calibrated modes
  • Good greyscale tracking out -of-the-box/reference when calibrated
  • Good all-rounder for Games, Sports and Films

Cons

  • No 3D Playback puts it at a disadvantage against its peers in same price range or lower
  • Lacks dynamic range and black levels are average to good
  • Noisy when running
  • Seems expensive compared to the competition/performance
  • Cinema 1 colour gamut is very wide and not as director intended
  • No lens memory shift included

Panasonic PT-AH1000E Full HD LCD Projector Review

The PT-AH1000 is an all-rounder that sadly lacks 3D playback. We are a little baffled why a projector aimed at the mass market lacks the ability to allow gaming and movie watching in 3D, especially from a company like Panasonic who are one of the primary drivers of 3D in the home. The other reason we find this a little strange is that the AH1000 is a super bright projector that offers real world lumens for use in less than ideal rooms, something that would marry with 3D playback perfectly.

Indeed, we have struggled with where to place the AH1000 in terms of the type of end user it would suit. It is sadly a noisy runner with its 280w bulb and the black level and dynamic range performance is not up to the same standard of its more expensive bigger brother, the PT-AT5000. Had the AH1000 been released at this time last year it would have very easily have found its market as a 2D-only all-rounder for games, sports and film use. But with its direct peers such as the upcoming Epson’s and the already available HD83 and HD33 from Optoma including many of the AH1000’s plus points, and 3D to boot, it makes the choice a little more difficult, especially at the price point. The Panasonic would have been given a recommended badge easily last year, but things have moved on in the projector market and even if 3D is not the first choice for many users at this price point, I can see why potential buyers of this projector might stop and reassess what they want.

There are however many plus points for the PT-AH1000 once you take it out of the home cinema enthusiast market and position it towards the mass market user. This projector is absolutely suited to be your living room light cannon. The brightness on offer in less than ideal viewing rooms negates the issues we have found with its dynamic range and black levels. In a room with light coloured walls and some ambient light the Panasonic manages to produce bright images that do offer a good level of depth without suffering too much from contrast washout. In such surroundings it can be used for large screen sports watching, gaming in style and watching the latest films with the family. Not everyone has the perfect room or a dedicated cinema and it is this market where the Optoma, Epson and the Panasonic PT-AH1000 fit perfectly. There is a good deal of calibration options for the AH1000 and even in calibrated mode the images remain bright. We found it held up well for colour accuracy with excellent greyscale tracking that gave images a nice sense of reality.

Whilst the black levels do move towards dark navy and dynamic range is not as good as a dedicated home cinema projector, you don’t need a perfect bat cave to get the best out of what the Panasonic offers. If you want a projector for the living room and don’t want 3D getting in the way, the Panasonic offers an experience that perfectly suits the normal domestic environment. It won't give you JVC black levels and dynamic range, but it will give you a very good, bright and compelling image for your sports, games and occasional film needs in your living room.

Scores

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value For Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7

2D Picture Quality

.
.
8

Video Processing

.
9

Image Uniformity

.
9

Greyscale Accuracy

.
9

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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