Panasonic PT-AT5000 3D LCD Projector Review

AVForums gets stuck into testing the new Panasonic 3D projector...was it worth the two year wait?

by Phil Hinton
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Highly Recommended
Panasonic PT-AT5000 3D LCD Projector Review
SRP: £3,200.00

Introduction

It has been two long years since Panasonic last launched a home cinema projector and the market has moved on in that time with the biggest change being 3D. With so many new projectors adding 3D playback along with improved features and picture quality for 2D this new Panasonic model is going to have a lot to live up to in the £4k, and under, marketplace. Just this week we reviewed the excellent £3000 Sony VPL-HW30 which offered great quality 2D and 3D images, for the price point, and this, along with the upcoming JVC DLA-X30 and Epson TW9000/TW6000 are going to be major competitors for the long awaited PT-AT5000 we have here for review today. Enthusiasts and consumers have never had it so good when it comes to choices in the mid-level projector market, so is this new model from Panasonic a real contender?

Panasonic are a company who certainly thrive on feedback to improve their products and the input to this new projector has been no different. In July I attended their unveiling of the PT-AT5000 (PT-AE7000 in the US) at their Los Angeles Hollywood Labs where key members of the AV press, from all over the world, were gathered to see the progress of the products' development. It was a chance to speak to the key engineers and also experience the projector in action for the first time. Plus, just this week, Steve Withers and I attended the UK offices to get the final low down on the finalised product, with the engineers from the factory and, of course, to pick up our review sample. The meetings were a good opportunity to express opinions on the technology used and also get answers as to why certain features are present and the technical specifications and limitations of those.

Panasonic are certainly confident that they have a strong product, with the PT-AT5000, so is that confidence well placed? The PT-AT5000 has been put through the usual testing we employ here at AVForums and was pushed to its limits, so what did we think?

Design, Connections and Setup

Panasonic PT-AT5000

The first major improvement with the PT-AT5000, over the outgoing PT-AE4000, is the design of the chassis. We affectionately referred to the previous PT-AE line of projectors as ‘The Brick’ due to its very rectangular body shape and sharp lines. It was no design beauty but its compact foot print did allow plenty of flexibility with installation, allowing you to grab a few extra inches of screen size against larger chassis machines. The design of the PT-AT5000 falls back towards the traditional industrial LCD projector look, with the lens off to the right hand side of the body with the exhaust to the left of the faceplate. The top and sides of the unit are curved to get away from the previous sharp lines and the overall finish is a black plastic body that doesn’t offend and looks better than the outgoing model. That’s not to say it is a design masterpiece, rather it looks and feels functional. The offset lens may cause some negative comments but in practice it really doesn’t make any difference in functionality of a correctly set up and positioned projector to the screen. It perhaps doesn’t quite have that Home Cinema look that the latest models with centrally placed lenses convey but, again, design is a very personal thing.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Looking in detail at the layout of the chassis, we have a removable lid compartment to the right side of the lens (looking from the front) which hides the lens shift jog wheel and the IR transmitter. The lens shift control looks like an old gaming joystick which has movement horizontally and vertically to move the image around your screen. This is our first item for complaint as any slight movement is impossible given the tight friction of the movement of this control. We were not huge fans of the old wheel system on the PT-AE4000, but it is a million times more precise than this new approach which left us frustrated when setting the unit up. There has to be some force used otherwise the lens shift would move too freely and need touching up over time, but you need to use so much force that small precise movement is impossible. I guess we have to be thankful that this is usually a procedure you do once with initial set up and then leave for the majority of the time. The other item in this compartment is the IR transmitter which hides behind a dark lens when the cover is in place. The transmitter should be strong enough to bounce off your screen and back to the glasses to sync the 3D image; however we have found some issues with IR strength. For example our Screen Excellence 2.37:1 screen with Enlighter 4K material is acoustically transparent and has a 0.9 gain and we have had no issues with bouncing transmitters in the past off this screen, but with the Sony HW30 and the Panasonic PT-AT5000 this hasn’t been possible. I suspect this is a mix of the screen and the strength of the IR transmitters on both projectors.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

The workaround here is easy enough as the Panasonic has an optional off board transmitter which can be placed looking back at the seating area and works fine (as did the Sony system). Unlike the Sony transmitter, which was difficult to seat flat due to the lightness and build quality of the unit, the Panasonic transmitter is sturdy and feels well built. It even has screw holes for discrete and secure placement. We don’t know the cost of this optional off board transmitter just yet.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Moving to the right side of the projector, we have a panel of control buttons for manual access to the menu system and other controls should you lose the remote control. These are well placed - and out of the way - but I would have liked to have seen a compartment door placed over these controls to hide them away when not needed, adding further to the design and sleek look. The top plate of the projector body also opens up from the front on hinges so users can access the bulb for replacement; there is no access to the insides of the unit, thankfully.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Moving to the rear of the chassis and we have the video source inputs which consist of three HDMI, one component, s-video and composite legacy inputs, with a VGA/PC input rounding up the source slots. There are also two triggers (which can be configured for the outboard 3D transmitter) and an RS232C port. Overall there are plenty of connections for the vast majority of users.

Moving to the changes inside the PT-AT5000 we have a host of new features, especially in the optical block. Our first question with the engineers at our recent meeting was about the dreaded dust blobs associated with LCD projectors of the past. We were told that the optical block, including the panel and lamp housing, were now well sealed and as far as Panasonic is concerned, it is dust proof so there should be no issues concerning blobs with the PT-AT5000 (obviously long term testing is not possible on such a new unit but we were assured this will be the case). The lamp used with the PT-AT5000 is a proprietary 200W ‘Red Rich’ lamp which has been designed to produce a light spectrum with more red energy than usual UHP designs. The housing is also a sealed unit made from die-cast material that has improved cooling efficiency with improved air circulation to the lamp leading to claims from Panasonic of a 4000hr lamp life in normal mode and 5000hrs in ECO mode. The only part of the PT-AT5000 which is not propriety Panasonic technology are the Epson designed 0.74” transparent D9 LCD panels which are 480Hz driven, with a wider than normal aperture for improved image brightness along with advanced cooling. Indeed the projector is whisper quiet, when in use in Normal lamp mode, and there is no noticeable increase in noise when switching to 3D viewing.

Another piece of the optic block puzzle is the new improved Pure Color Filter Pro which has been optimised for the new optics that increases the colour purity of the three primary colours and also helps with the expanded colour space available with the PT-AT5000. Unique to the filter is a new sub iris which helps stop light leakage and improves the black level response. Panasonic are also adding a 6th generation of their Dynamic iris to the projector which they claim is faster than ever and even less noticeable than previous models. As always this was tested during our review and while it is an improvement, and was not that noticeable with normal viewing material, we still felt the projector would benefit from a manual iris for image stability. The last few components of the optics are the new lens system which does offer a very nice sharp image, the pure contrast plates carried over from the PT-AE4000 and the patented smooth screen technology. To touch on Smooth screen for a second, there does seem to be a lot of confusion about this technology and automatic assumptions that it is smoothing the image and taking detail out of the image. This is not the case, the technology is to combat screen door effect where you can see the pixel make-up of the image and reduce the space visible between each pixel, and there is no overall smoothing of the actual image content or loss of detail. Finally Panasonic claim a contrast of 300,000:1 and a lumens count of 2000; now don’t spill any of that salt!

Panasonic PT-AT5000

The remote control provided with the PT-AT5000 is the same mini design that we saw with the last projector model which has a very small footprint with large buttons on the face plate. There are button controls for a large number of image and set up parameters including the introduction of a 3D direct button. There are still a few niggles for us here with some access controls, such as no dedicated button to have a one push switch from 16:9 to 2.40:1 lens memory functions which we would find very desirable. Yes, you can set up the lens memory so it switches when it detects the aspect ratio, but this can be clunky with some viewing material and a button push would then be desirable. It is also possible to set up the function button to access the lens menu, but again not to the level we would like. Enthusiasts can be very demanding creatures and perhaps we are being a little unfair with our desires but, overall, the remote unit is sturdy and easy to use.

Menus and features

There is a full array of extensive menu options available with the PT-AT5000 (and a simpler layout available by choice if you prefer that). Every picture parameter available has its own page of options that may well seem bewildering to someone not used to setting up a display with such advanced menus screens. But fear not as everything is logically laid out and, for the most part, everything works as it should do.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

The main menu has the picture mode and front panel controls present along with settings for the dynamic iris, the waveform monitor, a split adjust screen, advanced menu and, finally, a memory set option. The picture modes available are two Cinema settings, one that is designed by a Hollywood colourist and another which is set too bright and green for any content we can think off. You then have the Normal, Dynamic and Game modes which speak for themselves and, again, should be ignored in our opinion and D-cinema which attempts to match the digital cinema specs (again useless for home viewing unless you want seriously over saturated primary colours added to your content) and finally Rec.709. The Rec.709 setting is the only picture mode on the PT-AT5000 that attempts to get close to the industry standard for Blu-ray and TV playback as intended to be seen and we have the measured results, below, to show that. What will be confusing for consumers and potential owners of this projector is the Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 presets and we had a long conversation with the engineers and marketing personnel about how Panasonic describes these modes and what they do.

The Cinema 1 preset was described to us as ‘the one the director’s intended’ and had been ‘designed by Hollywood’; but that explanation is a little misleading, technically incorrect and likely to cause confusion. The mode has been set by one Hollywood colourist to how he thinks the image should look; this is not based on any industry standards or on technical measurement and is merely his ‘Grade’ of how an image should look. In other words, it is totally subjective and an opinion. We have no real problem with this per se, it is the marketing that goes with it. It is not ‘how the director intended it to look’ as that is the Rec.709 D65 standard, it is an opinion of a colourist who works in Hollywood and a subjective exercise in what they think looks good, using the ‘director intended’ tag is misleading, at best, and likely to cause confusion. We would rather Panasonic was a little more transparent in their explanation here and dropped the directors intent marketing babble. There’s the THX mode on their TVs which IS supposed to try and get to the correct standards out of the box and the Rec.709 setting on this projector which tries to do the same thing. By then adding yet another supposed director’s intent setting just ends up in confusion and the consumer not being given the correct information. So, if any director’s intent is to be marketed with the PT-AT5000, then the correct technical mode for that (based on measurement) is Rec.709.

Now that might sound like we are being a little harsh on Panasonic but the truth is that we have been trying hard here at AVForums to give readers a clear understanding and education of what the correct picture standards are and why they exist. When you get marketing that is completely subjective and technically wrong it adds confusion to the mass market consumer who ends up being sold on an idea that will never give them an image that is technically correct. It is more subjective marketing of a subjective image set up. There is nothing wrong with marketing the Hollywood connection with the Cinema 1 setting but it needs to be clearer and more transparent, in its execution, to avoid confusing the issues. We were also told that Cinema 1 is better than Rec.709 for large screen viewing and, again, this is not technically correct and misleading with some subjective reviewers taking the bait and extoling this message as a fact.

Now, some end users might never want to have an image that is technically correct and as it was intended to be seen; and we accept and acknowledge that some users will want an over the top coloured look to what they are watching. This is why manufacturers add these subjective picture modes. All we ask is that the marketing is free from phrases like ‘as the director intended’ with these modes as it is almost as bad as calling an LCD TV an LED one (there is no such thing as an LED TV, it is an LCD TV with a backlight that happens to be LED lights). There is also no such thing as a correct subjective picture mode, which is why standards exist, but they probably don’t sell projectors. Transparency is all we ask of marketing.

Moving on.

Next on the main menu are the front panel controls (Contrast, Brightness etc.) and a new control slider for colour temperature. For 2D image set up this is probably not an ideal tool which basically makes the image warmer to the left and cooler to the right. We want the greyscale to be as close as possible and, as such, something as overt as this can mess things up if the user is not careful. However, for 3D viewing we did find this control valuable as there is no specific way for end users to calibrate the 3D image without using a professional with expensive meters. So, this control can be used to try and get some colour balance back in the 3D image in a very crude and primitive way, but it is effective.

Next we have the option to switch the Dynamic Iris on or off. This is Panasonic’s 6th generation of iris control and it is an improvement over the outgoing model. It works fast and is for the most part hard to notice but not completely unseen. As I stated at the start of this review we would rather Panasonic aimed for the best native image they could and add a manual iris for fine tuning to various viewing environments. For the majority of this review we tested the Panasonic with the Dynamic iris switched off so we could assess the image quality for stability and native performance, as we do with all projectors using Dynamic iris systems. The waveform monitor is next on the list and anyone familiar with broadcast video will recognise where this technology originates from. It can be a useful tool to check for clipping and crushing of white and the primary colours, but it is not the most intuitive option for those unfamiliar which the layout. I would imagine it will rarely be used by most consumers. Rounding up the main menu page is a split screen mode for making image adjustments, by eye, and seeing the original image on one side and the manipulated image on the other. Finally, because there is no user mode you can save your calibrated or tweaked image settings as a memory block and name it accordingly.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Moving to the advanced menu we have Gamma adjustment controls which break down into two separate menus, simple or advanced. In simple mode we have control over the low, middle and high parts of the gamma curve as one overall adjustment (i.e. no break down to separate components like RGBW). This simple control can be used to adjust the curve within the three sections and worked correctly in our testing. The advanced controls offer control over RGBW at 9 points within a graph on screen. This works fine for small corrections to the curve, but is not capable of large adjustments without severely impacting on the greyscale and should be used with care. We found the simple controls worked best with a full calibration to achieve your desired curve.

Next up we have the full manual two point white balance controls for greyscale calibration. These are named Contrast (High) and Brightness (Low) for adjustment at say 30IRE (Brightness) and 80IRE (Contrast) with a meter and suitable software like CalMAN; these adjustments cannot be made accurately by eye. We found that the control made quite coarse adjustments and some care was required to reach our desired D65 calibration. Also included within the advanced menu are two noise reduction tools, the Frame Creation controls, Colour Management and Detail Clarity. The Frame creation options are similar to the system used on the PT-AE4000 with three mode levels. We found that all three add the soap opera effect to varying degrees and as a result there are artefacts seen in the image. These modes might be useful to those who want to watch fast moving sports action and will very much be a personal choice.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

The Colour Management System (CMS) is the same design as previous Panasonic projectors and in being so has the same flawed set up routine. When you enter the CMS you have a choice of RGBYMC controls for brightness, colour (Saturation) and Tint (hue) and there is one small box that shows a supposed before colour and one that appears on adjustment to show an after representation. These boxes are not accurate and so do not represent what is actually being changed on screen. We have no idea why Panasonic continue to insist on this approach as it has never been accurate or worked in practice. The way to use the system to get accurate results is to position the menu to the top left of the screen and use your normal window patterns in the centre of the image. You select your coloured pattern first, then select the colour in the CMS menu, this opens up the adjustment menu for Colour, Brightness and Tint with the two boxes, but also your window. This is a freeze frame. To make adjustments you move one of the CMS controls and then hit enter on the remote, this applies the change to your window pattern which can be measured. This process is continued until you complete the calibration. We would like Panasonic to get rid of the box system and apply the CMS correctly for window pattern adjustment. This workaround is accurate as we run many tests to make sure the adjustments were applied correctly to the actual image the projector displays, and not what is shown in the boxes.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

The automatic lens zoom function control has been a unique Panasonic feature on their projectors, but this year there are now more manufacturers adding such functionality. The feature is for use with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio screen and allows users to have 16:9 material in the centre of their screen and then zoom the image out when watching 2.35:1 films so the image fills their screen surface and the black bars are removed above and below the screen (these black bars are still projected off screen, so a black surface behind your screen is recommended). The important part of this system is that the projector is correctly installed to the screen used as there is no motorised lens shift for use with less than ideal positioning of the projector and screen. Once set up correctly the user then adjusts the focus and zoom for 16:9 material and saves this and names it. Then, using the same controls, the image is set up for the 2.35:1 image and, again, saved and named.

There are some electronic adjustments for horizontal and vertical movement of the image but this doesn’t work entirely the same way as a lens shift would, so again correct installation is important to start with. There are also four mask options available so edges can be made clean. It is because of these masks, the fact it cannot focus automatically in 3D and some issues with zooming a 3D image's parallax that the lens memory function is not available with 3D scope films according to Panasonic engineers. This is also the same for the anamorphic stretch mode which is greyed out with 3D material. The lens adjustment menu section is greyed out as soon as the projector goes into 3D playback. See the 3D menu screen shot below and note that the lens adjustment menu is gone/greyed.

We discussed this at length with the engineers and gave them some of our suggestions for doing away with the masks and allowing the lens zoom with 3D and were told this, and the anamorphic stretch can’t be changed with this model, plus the focus issue is a major one, but they would consider the feedback for future products. So that’s your answer for that issue sorted. I wonder if the announcement from JVC that their projectors have the same functionality and allow 3D anamorphic stretch and lens zoom will make Panasonic look again at this issue? Obviously I have to point out as well that there is nothing stopping users of the PT-AT5000 applying a zoom to 3D scope material manually as normal.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Finally, we have the 3D settings menu. Like most manufacturers, at the moment, the 3D controls are not placed with the main picture options and require users to access a separate menu page further down the menu structure. Within this menu are options for setting your screen size, although these are fixed points at 60, 80, 100 and 120 inches, so you need to pick the one closest to your screen size. This helps with setting the correct 3D parallax for the size of screen used. There is a selection for choosing the method of 3D playback from side by side, top and bottom to sequential and so on, as well as an auto mode for the projector to detect the incoming signal.

Left/Right swap does what you would expect it to do and Picture balance is like the waveform monitor function where you can see if the left and right signals are the same and make adjustments to the right sided image if there are any differences. You also have options for adjusting the glasses opening times to allow for brighter images and with the 480Hz processing this can be up to 6ms in length without adding any crosstalk issues. We can also set the strength of the IR transmitter either internally or using the external device and finally we have the 3D viewing monitor. Again, this is similar to the waveform monitor but this time it gives you the parallax information and two orange lines. It is between these lines that the 3D information should be for perfect playback and manual adjustments can be made in this mode to increase or decrease the parallax information on screen.
With setup, menus and the features covered on the PT-AT5000, how well did it do in full testing?

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. The PT-AT5000 had approximately 250 hours on the bulb before testing.

With the PT-AT5000 Panasonic are claiming that their Cinema 1 mode produces images as the 'director intended'. It is a picture mode based on the suggestions of a Hollywood colourist and Panasonic’s Hollywood relationship through the Panasonic Hollywood Labs facility. We set out to measure this mode to see if it is indeed close to the industry standards for picture playback standards used in Hollywood post production of Blu-ray and TV material, and indeed the standards for Blu-ray authoring and playback. Only if it hits those standards can it be claimed that it is as the director intended.

Cinema 1 preset We started by measuring the greyscale tracking in Cinema 1 mode and were quite surprised with the results.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

As you can see the out of the box measurements of Cinema 1, greyscale was excellent with good RGB tracking and low DeltaE errors across the majority of the stimulus points (from black to white). Gamma also held up well with things just dipping slightly in the higher reaches to slightly wash out the image. This is an excellent result and wasn’t expected.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Moving to the colour gamut measurements and it is here that we see the effects of the Hollywood connection with the Cinema 1 preset. The gamut is seriously wide of the Rec.709 standards meaning that colour points are over saturated and have large hue errors. I guess it is not surprising that the Hollywood colourist’s idea of a good image almost plots nicely towards the extended gamut of 35mm film and, of course, the DCI specs for digital cinema. This would work nicely if home viewing material on DVD, Blu-ray and TV were mastered at the same standards as digital cinema, but they are not, they are 8 bit masters with reduced colour gamut sizes, which is called Rec.709. (Most standards aim for the D65 white point for greyscale which is why there are no big differences with that). So although Cinema 1 was designed in Hollywood by a colour professional it takes no heed of the standards for mastered video material and, as such, adds in lots of colour information that just doesn’t exist for home video playback, films and TV shows will not look anything like they are intended. Only when we finally get large bit depth, wide gamut playback systems will picture settings like Cinema 1 make any sense in the home and truly show material as intended. Let’s just say that we don’t see that happening very soon as it will need many times the bandwidth of Blu-ray to achieve, so it’s probably at least 10 years away.

Rec.709 preset So let’s get closer to home and look for a preset that does conform to the video standards for Blu-ray and other viewing material - and that will show colours are they should be seen in this format. Luckily the PT-AT5000 comes with a picture preset called Rec.709 and this should show some promise to hitting the correct colour points and white level.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Looking at the greyscale first and we get yet another stellar out of the box result for greyscale from the PT-AT5000. Again, RGB tracking is very good with good DeltaE results that mean that errors are not obvious with normal viewing. Gamma also tracks nicely around our reference 2.2 point so again the out of the box results here are very good indeed.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Moving to the colour gamut and we also get some good results that get pretty close, but with some room for further improvement. The sad thing is that Rec.709 has the colour management system controls greyed out, so for calibration we will need to use the Cinema 1 preset. But as an out of the box setting it is the closest picture mode to meeting the standards for colour with some oversaturation of the primary colours resulting in secondary points which are also a little skewed. On screen performance with video material is not bad at all and the errors - while there - are not overly visible and the Rec.709 mode gives the best out of the box representation of close to correct image performance. It could be better and the luminance results are a little on the bright side for some tones, but compared to the wide gamuts in other presets this is good.

Calibrated results

Although some of the calibration controls on the PT-AT5000 are a little coarse and we also need to use a work around with the CMS, we were able to get some pretty good results here.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

The first thing to note is the scale of the chart for the DeltaE results, I forgot to change the scale back so what look like huge result errors, are all actually under 2 DeltaE, which means errors are beyond human perception and unseen on screen. RGB tracking is very good and the gamma is around our reference 2.2 point, and for some rooms, like bat caves we would even suggest pushing that to 2.4 if desired. So the PT-AT5000 reaches reference greyscale results and there are no low end issues.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Moving to the colour gamut calibration and the only sticking point here was blue. It was far enough off the usual tracking that we had to just balance the errors and results here, and thankfully blue is the colour our eyes are least sensitive too so that on screen we saw nothing that stood out as being odd or wrong. The rest of the gamut calibrated back nicely with no luminance clipping or any issues across a number of stimulus point checks. Because blue was off, magenta is slightly under but again nothing was visible with real world material and it didn’t cause us any concerns with skin tones or other areas of the image. Luminance was also well behaved with no issues to the final image calibration on screen. Remember, charts are nice to look at but it is what is on screen that counts and we are happy enough to say we had an image that looked as good as it could, and as intended.

Picture Processing

We ran the usual assortment of demo discs, test patterns and cadence tests on the PT-AT5000 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. Indeed, the Panasonic handled fast movement a little better than the HW30 from Sony we have just tested. Frame interpolation is available and in mode2 and mode3 it does look super smooth. Watching the lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader in Empire on Blu-ray in mode3 was hilarious. Yes it was super smooth but it didn’t half look like something shot on consumer camcorders but with multi-million pound lighting and effects. Seriously, these modes murder film material and introduce some interesting side effects (especially with lightsabers) but for sports you may want to experiment and lets leave this area for personal preference.

Picture Quality - 2D

For this section of the review we also had on hand the previous Panasonic PT-AE4000 projector for comparison. We have used the AE4000 for the last year as a reference point model for side by sides in other reviews to judge the £2k and under products. What better opportunity than to stick them side by side to see what the improvements look like with the PT-AT5000. (We also had a JVC DLA-X9 on hand for other tests and although the price difference is huge, the 3D on the X9 is very similar to the X3 in terms of brightness and crosstalk, so a comparison could be made in the same room. Plus we also just finished with the Sony HW30ES, a projector the Panasonic will be competing with at the same price point).

Compared to the PT-AE4000 in our review room, which is light controlled with dark walls and no leakage the AT5000 offers a brighter overall image with a very visible jump in image contrast and dynamic range. You don’t need measuring devices to see this difference in image performance with black looking deeper yet still capable of excellent shadow detail where needed. The new lens also offers a sharper looking image that was on a par with the Sony HW30ES for sharpness. Image quality is a big step up from the AE4000 and compared to the Sony there is not much between them in black levels and brightness in calibrated modes. The Panasonic scores better in terms of colour accuracy as the RCP CMS on the Sony doesn’t work and we had to rely on the normal gamut which is not as accurate as the Panasonic in calibrated mode. Skin tones looked more lifelike and image depth was just that bit better in mixed scenes on the PT-AT5000 thanks to its dynamic range. Motion was also handled well with only extremely fast movement looking slightly soft and blurred. 24p playback was smooth with no projector induced judder and Blu-ray material looked superb.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

Where the Panasonic also scores over the Sony is with the use of a 2.35:1 projection screen. The Sony has no anamorphic or lens memory modes so the Panasonic excels in offering a truly immersive film experience whether you use an anamorphic lens, or the lens zoom function. Even blowing the image up with the memory lens function doesn’t cause any obvious issues with screen door effect or a lack of brightness. Instead you get that truly immersive scope experience with excellent detail levels and when calibrated it produces an image, given the price point, to knock your socks off!

It is a close run thing between the Sony and the Panasonic in image terms. For us the Panasonic just edges it with a slightly better dynamic range and the ability to calibrate the image for greater accuracy with colour performance than the Sony. But the big point for wide screen viewing is the memory lens function or the use of an anamorphic lens for 2.35:1 screens, things the Sony just can’t compete with and which gives the Panasonic the edge here.

This testing was obviously done in perfect projection surroundings and results will vary depending on the room used. Both still produce very reasonable results in less than ideal surroundings but the playing field in image terms will be closer. Both deserve and need ideal conditions to offer everything they have to offer in the image stakes.

Picture Quality – 3D

Panasonic have arguably been the most vocal company when it comes to the latest 3D push so it is surprising that it has taken them this long to make a 3D projector. Ask the company why they have taken so long and the answer is that they wanted to get it right and have a product that took full advantage of the format. And, so it looks with the end product as the PT-AT5000 is very impressive indeed with its 3D performance.

Panasonic PT-AT5000

The thing that struck me the most was the absolute lack of crosstalk and the brightness of the 3D images with the glasses on. The Sony HW30ES was a big step forward for Sony but it still has that massive drop off in brightness with the 3D glasses. There is still a drop in brightness with the Panasonic but only around the 40 to 50% mark, certainly not as bad as the Sony. Plus the 3D glasses are the same used with the Viera TVs which don’t have any yellow tint to the lenses like the Sony specs. The image brightness difference seems to come down to the fact that the PT-AT5000 uses 480Hz panels and this allows the glasses to stay open that little bit longer than normal at 6ms, allowing more light to enter the lens but also not adding in any visible crosstalk either.

The 3D images are impressive and when we say free from crosstalk, we spent hours watching 3D content and were never aware of any being seen. Instead the experience is comfortable and enjoyable with sharp images, excellent depth of field and good colour balance. You just can’t help being impressed with the excellent performance the PT-AT5000 gives in 3D. It is just a shame that 2.35:1 3D movies can’t take advantage of the lens memory function or anamorphic stretch as both are not available in 3D mode. But there again the Sony can’t offer that either and we have yet to see what the JVC models are like with this.

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Good image brightness and contrast performance
  • Very good black levels and shadow detail
  • Very good Rec.709 preset for colour
  • Excellent out of the box greyscale in Rec.709 mode
  • Excellent 3D images that are free from crosstalk issues
  • Very good image brightness with 3D material
  • Excellent lens memory shift functionality for 2.35:1 aspect screens
  • Excellent calibrated image performance

Pros

  • Lens shift contol is very frustrating to use
  • Cinema 1 mode is 'not as the director intended'
  • No 3D memory lens shift functionality
  • No 3D anamorphic stretch mode
  • Colour Management System needs a new user interface that works correctly
  • Greyscale adjustment controls are too coarse in use
  • Gamma advanced does not work consistantly as it should
  • Built-in 3D IR transmitter strength might not be enough for various screen types

Panasonic PT-AT5000 3D LCD Projector Review

For a company at the cutting edge of 3D consumer technology and a very vocal supporter of the format, it has taken what seems like an age for them to release their 3D projector. However, in our opinion after a few days of intense testing and viewing, the PT-AT5000 has definitely been worth the wait. We like the new design of the chassis which no longer looks like a ‘brick’ and, for an LCD projector, we finally have an attempt to seal the optical unit and improve air cooling so we avoid the dreaded dust blobs that have been an enemy of LCD in the past. The new manual lens shift joystick however is a definite fail in our book and is a complete frustration to try and set correctly. I suppose you can’t get everything right all the time.

The build quality is good and the connections are plentiful for most users. There have been some major improvements to the optical block which we go into detail about below and the flexibility in set up is good. There are some interesting features for picture tweaking in both 2D and 3D picture modes such as the waveform monitor and the 3D picture adjustments. Plus we almost have all the controls we need for correct image calibration although the CMS needs to be redesigned and the advanced gamma controls need a degree of respect when used. There are also some interesting picture preset modes but only one that gets close to the correct standards for image reproduction. However, if you are someone who doesn’t care for accuracy, you can really have a ball with some really wide picture settings on offer, including the Hollywood Cinema 1 preset that certainly is colourful!

In calibrated picture mode the Panasonic excels over its predecessor and also gives the latest Sony a run for its money. Black levels and dynamic range are very good at this price point with excellent shadow detail on offer and thanks to calibration colours and skin tones are natural and accurate throughout. Even out of the box in the Rec.709 settings the image produced in ideal conditions is extremely involving and pretty accurate. Indeed we found the out of the box greyscale performance to be amongst some of the best results we have seen for a while, which for a consumer projector is no mean feat. It is very close in performance terms to the Sony we reviewed last week, but it also has a few points where it provides that little bit more. For instance the Sony colour gamut cannot be calibrated accurately and it lacks slightly in the visible contrast stakes against the Panasonic. But if you are a fan of 2.35:1 aspect movies and own (or are going to own) a screen to take advantage of that ratio, the Panasonic offers what the Sony can’t. An anamorphic stretch mode and the automatic lens memory function for 2D viewing. This has always been a strong feature and with the improvements over the AE4000 in image quality, you can have that immersive scope experience in your cinema room with the PT-AT5000. It is just a shame it doesn’t work with 3D material.

When it came to 3D we expected a good standard of performance from the company and that is exactly what they have delivered. Images are free from crosstalk artefacts and the experience is comfortable and engaging with sharp 3D images and excellent depth. The 480Hz processing allows the glasses shutter to stay open longer at 6ms without adding any crosstalk and this means that more light reaches the eye, giving brighter 3D images and also less of a loss of light when using the glasses. While 3D performance is comparable and on par for the most part with the Sony HW30ES, the Panasonic offers brighter 3D images and less light drop off, where those issues are much more noticeable with the Sony.

Overall, the Panasonic PT-AT5000 has been a real surprise package that is likely to blow the market wide open for those looking for excellent 3D images mixed with superb 2D performance and the added advantage of 2.35:1 viewing with its memory lens zoom (and anamorphic stretch). The competition is going to be intense at this price point, having already seen the HW30ES from Sony and with additions from JVC and Epson only weeks away. But the PT-AT5000 has lots going for it and with its high standard of picture performance, excellent 3D playback and at this time unique features like memory zoom, we can’t do anything but highly recommend you go and check it out for yourself!

Highly Recommended

Scores

3D Picture Quality

.
9

Features

.
9

Ease Of Use

.
9

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
9

2D Picture Quality

.
9

Video Processing

.
9

Image Uniformity

.
9

Greyscale Accuracy

.
9

Colour Accuracy

.
.
8

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black levels

.
.
8
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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