Since we favorably reviewed the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080 projector that's now shipping for a mere $3000, we felt compelled to also review the Panasonic PT-AE1000U, especially since Panny reduced its price to exactly the same $3000 level as soon as the Epson model was released.
We had a chance to put both of the projectors on our test bench, studying their output with the same content and test patterns running through each unit's three LCDs. It was a fair matchup, with the two similarly equipped projectors playing back the same program material. In this battle royale, which projector emerges victorious?
Out of the box we noticed the Panasonic projector was slightly bigger and boxier than its Epson counterpart. No rounded corners here, but let's get beyond the superficialities. Looking around the back, we immediately noticed there are two HDMI ports, compared with the Epson's one. There's also a D-Sub (VGA) input, two sets of component inputs, S-Video and composite inputs, as well as a serial port.
At first it appears there are few controls on the projector itself, but behind the door on its left side are all the basic controls you'll need. There is an electronic zoom and focus control, which we didn't like as much as the manual controls on the Epson model, but the electronic zoom might come in handy if you mounted the projector on a very high ceiling where it's hard to reach. However, the electronic zoom didn't give us the kind of absolute fine control you can get with actually turning a focus ring on a lens as you can do with the Epson.
Turning on one projector and then the other, we noticed the Panasonic's fan was slightly quieter than the Epson's, but both were quiet enough not to be a bother at all when running at full speed. That done, we focused up both projectors on our test screen, and it was time to plug in some sources and see what the difference was between these two 1080p titans.
First we plugged in our TiVo Series3 HD personal video recorder into one of the two HDMI ports. Looking at the projected images of the Panasonic and the Epson, one after the other, it was hard to tell any difference between the two. Both were able to handle the 720p output of our HD TiVo with an alacrity we haven't seen in any of the 720p projectors we tested here. Yes, this 1080p projection brought out the best in the 720p program content, with vivid colors, super black blacks and no discernible "screen door effect" whatsoever. To our eyes, both these 1080p projectors have solved the inherent problems of LCD projection: muddy, gray blacks and that annoying and visible "screen door' latticework.
Next, we plugged in our Xbox 360 via its 1080p VGA input (using the optional 1080p/VGA cable). Here's where we were sorely disappointed with the Panasonic projector. Nothing happened. Diving into the documentation, we realized that the Panasonic is indeed able to handle computer signals of 1920 by 1080p. But for some reason, it's not working with this Xbox 360's 1920x1080p signal. Damn. So, here's a red flag: if you want to play back 1080p signals from a PC, the projector works fine, but if you want 1080p via an Xbox 360 VGA input, you're out of luck with the Panasonic, but you're good to go with the Epson. We didn't test the HDMI output of the latest Xbox 360 Elite on the Panasonic projector yet, but let's hope that works better than this VGA cable does. However, 1280x720 (720p) works fine with this VGA cable, and should serve well for most Xbox 360 games which are still in 720p.
Plugging in the component inputs, we then watched a 1080p HD DVD coming out of the Xbox 360, and it was again difficult to tell the difference between the two projectors. Both had extraordinary sharpness, perfectly saturated color, and deep, dark blacks. Yeah, we could get used to this.
Next, a we ran both projectors at the same time, both hooked up to the DisplayMate multimedia set of benchmarks. First testing the brightness of the Panasonic projector at the customary 60 inches diagonal screen size, we compared it directly to the numbers that we measured with the Epson 1080p projector using our light meter. The difference between the two is statistically insignificant, with the Epson projector's brightest point in the center of the screen slightly brighter than that of the Panasonic with 588 lumens compared to the Panasonic 542 lumens. The Panasonic's dimmest segment was the upper left part of the screen, at 483 lumens compared to the Panasonic 519 lumens in that same segment. While both of the projectors were of similar brightness, the edge goes to Panasonic for a slightly more uniform brightness across the screen. However, please note that this difference wasn't noticeable to the eye, only to precision light metering equipment.
Next, looking at color bars and all the other tests in our DisplayMate multimedia obstacle course, in pure white screens side-by-side, we did notice a slight reddish tinge to the Epson's image, compared to a slight bluish tinge of the Panasonic, but those differences were slight, and probably were more due to a particular setup of each projector than its inherent qualities. Each has color temperature controls that let you adjust these different "looks" ad nauseum.
Summing up, this Panasonic PT-AE100U 1080p projector is an extraordinary value for $3000. However, a if you want to plug in an Xbox 360 with its optional VGA adapter for 1080p playback, this is definitely not the projector for you. Because of that, we give the edge to the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080p projector, because its picture is comparable to that of the Panasonic, but its inputs are slightly more versatile. Big thumbs up to both, but the Epson edged out the Panasonic by a minuscule margin.
Product Page [Panasonic]