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Panasonic PT-AE 3000
The PT-AE 3000 is a Full HD, LCD projector, released by Panasonic in late 2008 and selling from around 2,000 GBP. Pure blacks and improved motion clarity earn this unit our seal of approval.
- Clear motion depiction with 24p and 60p material.
- Outstanding contrast.
- Flexible positioning thanks to the 2D lens-shift.
- Three HDMI inputs.
- Poor de-interlacing of standard TV signals.
- Some slight color-fringing.
Panasonic's third Full HD projector, with its superb picture contrast, ranks alongside even the best DLP projectors - no mean feat for an LCD.
Features and Operation
Practical: The backlit remote control sits comfortably in the user's hand.
The motorized 2x-zoom and manually adjustable picture-offset ensure high levels of operating comfort - what's more, you won't find these features in similarly priced DLP projectors. The offset can shift the picture up to 100 percent vertically and up to 40 percent horizontally, so the projection will fit perfectly onto the screen.
Excellent: The "Color1" preset gives almost perfect colors.
The "Color1" preset represents an excellent setup, requiring only minor tweaking of the brightness and contrast. The colors are convincing, and black and white material looks natural, with a color temperature of 6,000 Kelvin.
A stepped-gray test pattern did show a minimal red tint across the lower part of the screen and a slight greenish cast in the upper right corner, but you rarely notice this so-called "Shading effect" in practice.
Handy: The color management allows you to compare the effects of your adjustments with a nifty split-screen function.
Color Management Controls:
The numerous color management controls are not available in "Color1," but the setup is so good that you don't even need them. You can access them in the "Cinema1" mode, and compare the results using a handy split-screen function.
The Panasonic can optionally optimize still images, automatically correcting their detail reproduction, clipping, color-saturation, and any lack of illumination. This is ideal for quickly polishing up JPEG photos. Image fanatics will love the useful picture-quality information provided in the waveform monitor's histogram display.
Detailed information: Fine-tuning freaks will love the waveform monitor.
Despite the many functions, handling is still astonishingly intuitive, thanks to the well-structured menus and clearly laid-out remote control.
Picture Format Changing:
The PT-AE 3000 provides one particularly tasty goodie for owners of 21:9-format Cinemascope screens: You can save the zoom, focus, and positioning (digital picture offset) settings to three memory locations, and the projector can then adjust to the saved values automatically with its motorized lens. This saves the user a lot of effort when changing picture format.
The analog inputs are not perfect, but the Panasonic makes up for this shortcoming with its three HDMI inputs.
The contrast ratio recorded between a fully white image and a fully black one (On/Off contrast) achieved a legendary value of 7,300:1. The in-picture contrast, at 3,200:1, is further testament to the Panasonic's capabilities - this is measured using a bright spot on a black background that means the projector's dynamic iris control cannot improve the dynamic contrast ratio.
Even DLP projectors only rarely reach this level, while LCDs generally clock in at around 1,000:1. With the ANSI contrast, too, the Panasonic's value of 440:1 beats most of its competitors, be they DLP, D-ILA, or SXRD. Hats off to the Panasonic developers!
Accurate: The gamma follows a curve consistent with a value of 2.2, with only slight variations. The user can also optionally set the gamma to a darker value.
Panasonic achieved this improvement using several methods. New micro-lenses attached to the front of the LCD panel improve the fill rate by optically reducing the gaps between the pixels (screen-door effect).
There is also an extended contrast management, which controls the iris and gamma dynamically. The projector's iris discreetly reduces the brightness only in dark scenes, and the control is so fast that there is no visible pumping. At the same time, any picture content that does not have the full contrast range is wisely increased in contrast with the help of the gamma correction.
The Panasonic's processing of standard video in 576i format is not particularly good. Movies often flicker during motion, or look slightly blurred in the vertical direction. Scaling and color resolution of composite and S-Video signals are not as good as they could be for this technology, and both of the YUV inputs are far removed from the capabilities of, for example, the Mitsubishi HC 5500, with its HQV processor from Silicon Optix.
Without Frame Creation (see box), the PT-AE 3000 exhibits slight blurring of moving edges, and bright scrolling texts have a small, red fringe that gets larger, the faster the text is moving. When the technology is active, the edges become sharper and the fringing decreases.
With 100-hertz test patterns, the legibility of white, scrolling texts varies constantly. With PAL-format movies on DVD, the setting does not produce these artifacts, and delivers subtly improved motion-clarity in Mode 1, without forfeiting the all-important movie-look.
HDTV material and HD movies in 1080/24p also benefit from the image enhancement. Even without Frame Creation, movies in 24p format appear with no judder at all - thanks to the enormous contrast and picture depth - and exude intense colors in dark scenes. In comparison to those on the predecessor model (the PT-AE 2000) the dark bars in letterbox format now have just over half the residual illumination - an impressive achievement.
With Frame Creation set to level 2, the Panasonic produces a large number of intermediate frames, meaning movies appear yet more fluid, but that the movie-feel is lost - camera pans look just like they might in a TV series. Frame Creation 1, on the other hand, is highly satisfactory. It discreetly increases the picture's motion sharpness, while maintaining the original feel of the movie.
A good example is the scene in Chapter 9 of "Iron Man", where superhero Tony Stark meets soldiers in a hangar. With Frame Creation active, the sew-on patch on Captain Rhodes' uniform appears sharper when the character moves around the screen. With Frame Creation set to level 1, the Panasonic also gives a more convincing look to Stark's facial expressions - his furrowed brow, or the blinking of his eyes, for example, which are always a challenging aspect to reproduce.
With movies at 50 or 60 hertz, level 1 produces a slight smoothing effect, similar to that with 24p signals. Level 2 increases this smoothening, but the TV-look may once again irritate movie-fans. With HD documentaries or 60-hertz material, simply no discussion is necessary: Motion clarity is already visibly better in level 1, and improves yet further in level 2; bothersome artifacts hardly appear. So far, no other LCD projector can achieve such a sharp resolution, with such impressive motion clarity. Even HDTV de-interlacing of 1080i material is very competent.
Settings for the best home-theater performance*:
Dynamic Iris: On
Detail Clarity: On
Frame Creation: 1
* applied to realistic playback of HDTV/Blu-Ray material through the HDMI interface in a darkened environment. Manufacturing and HDMI playback device deviations could necessitate slight adjustment.
In addition to the groundbreaking contrast, the PT-AE 3000's "Frame Creation" setting places yet another milestone by the side of the LCD highway. It conquers the typical weakness of LCD technology, ensuring better resolution of moving objects by generating additional motion phases for movies and sports broadcasts.
It can either generate 96 images (from 24p material), 100 images (from 50-hertz material), or 120 images (from 60-hertz material). In contrast to classical 100-hertz technology (which simply repeats frames), the results are not as predictable, since it is not clear which image will be repeated.
Nevertheless, it is highly effective, and does not need to insert dark frames - unlike, for example, Sony's "Dark Frame Insertion" motion enhancement. Here, therefore, there's no loss of brightness - an enormous advantage in the ambitious home-theater.
You can also control the unit using this secondary user interface, hidden under a flap.