Panasonic PT-AE2000 1080p Projector Review

Panasonic’s second 1080p projector shares the distinction of being the second Panasonic HD projector I’ve been able to sample. The first, Panasonic’s PT-L500U 1080i LCD projector, was a permanent fixture in my home theater for several years. I always found it to provide great bang for the buck, an area Panasonic projectors have often excelled at.

In this age of 1080p high definition I expected “more” from Panasonic’s latest LCD home theater projector, the PT-AE2000. Not just because the casing is at least twice the size of my old PT-L500U. Enough years have gone by to be able to easily pick up on improved contrast, brightness and features.

On paper the AE2000 projector reads like a champ considering its approximate street price of $2700. It boasts a 16,000:1 contrast ratio, 1500 lumens of brightness, three HDMI 1.3 inputs, and manual horizontal and vertical lens shift. These are specs often aligned with more expensive projectors, yet here they are.

One of the possible reasons why Panasonic was able to bring the price in where they did is the aesthetically challenged casing. If you were to flash a picture of the AE2000 to someone, they’d think you just showed them a black travel case. Its stark box-like visage isn’t much to look at and it is better suited to mount in a wall cavity than have out in the open. At the same time, when a movie or videogame is playing, how often are you looking at the projector? I’ll gladly take a price cut in exchange for a boxy design.

Like the casing, the remote isn’t much to look at but has it where it counts. All the calibration functions including focus are included so you can move around the room and make medications without being stuck to the projector’s case buttons. It also has a learning function which I didn’t test out, but is a nice feature that’ll come in handy in several home theater applications.

I hooked up a Playstation 3 via HDMI in a light-controlled room to test out the AE2000 and ran into no compatibility quirks. The image I projected between 100″ and 110″ diagonally from a throw of around 13 feet. The AE2000 handled this set-up without issue. Fan noise was nearly non-existent when stepping roughly 5 or more feet away from the projector in normal mode, and borderline silent in “economy” mode. Even at closer distances in normal mode the noise is within tolerance range and not an issue.

Rather than mess around with calibration I jumped right into Fox’s Live Free or Die Hard on Blu-ray to see how well calibrated the AE2000 is out of the box. I recall having to fuss around quite a bit with the L500U before I was satisfied with the image, but not so here. The factory default settings for cinema 1 are remarkably close to where I would leave them for optimal viewing.

If I were keeping this projector long-term then I’d spend a fair amount of time tinkering with the all-new split-screen calibration system. In a feature you’d expect to see only in computer graphics programs, Panasonic has devised a way to select a portion of an image, split the screen so the identical selection appears on the left and right, and then test different calibrations on one side while the other remains untouched. It’s a great way to get accustomed to how different adjustments will affect the image without worrying about losing your previous settings since you can back out at any time without saving.

The 16,000:1 contrast ratio looks great on paper, but looks even better in practice. The black levels these LCDs produce make the L500U look like a cheap third-rate garage project. I was blown away by how deep the blacks were during the commute tunnel sequence with no compromise to the quality. It would be a stretch to say the AE2000 reaches levels identical to CRT, but the gap has definitely closed into a sliver.

Colors on the cinema 1 setting (and more so color 1, for that matter) are rich and vibrant as expected from a 1080p source display device. Like contrast, the color palette blows away my old PT-L500U. They hold up well against the bright 1500 lumens from the lamp without any noticeable washout. Fantastic sharpness devoid of stair-stepping or ghosting rounds out a stunning 1080/24p HD picture.

The PT-AE2000 is a beast of projector, both in physical stature and what’s under the hood. You’d be hard pressed to find a better bargain at its price range with comparable or better features that not only sound good, but actually look good, too. If it’s in your price range and isn’t too large to mount, you can’t go wrong.

– Dan Bradley

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