Obviously, 3D projectors are the hot products right now, but you'll note that this is a 2D-only projector. If you're in the market for 3D and looking to add Panasonic to your comparisons, check out the PT-AE7000E (RRP is AU$1100 more).
Panasonic's entry-level projectors have earned our esteem over the years, whatever year we happen to be in. Ever since the company introduced the dynamic iris in the early years of the last decade, it has allowed affordable projectors to produce decent image quality.
Panasonic has long been an LCD house when it comes to projectors, so the engine of this one uses three full HD LCD panels. It scores a high-powered (280 watt) lamp, which Panasonic says is capable of delivering 2800 lumens, which is pretty bright. It also offers a lower output "Eco" setting.
The projector has a wide zoom range of 2:1 and a lens-shift feature, which is manipulated by means of a joystick on the unit's front. This worked smoothly, so it was quite easy to get the image properly aligned with the projection screen.
A full set of inputs are provided, covering all standard analog-style connections, plus two HDMI sockets. There are two triggers for system control, and these can be set to either start other equipment or respond to an external trigger signal by switching on.
The projector had been used by others before me (the lamp indicator showed 8 hours), and we couldn't find a factory reset, so we cannot be certain how it comes new in the box, or comment on the default settings.
During set-up one thing soon became clear: the panel alignment of this projector was absolutely perfect. Having adjusted the focus, I went up to the screen to check that the pixels were well defined, and found that they were perfectly defined. Usually, there is a very slight variation between the red, green and blue panels. Not enough to produce fringes on one of the primary colours, but enough to soften the edges of the pixels. But this projector could just as well have been a single-chip DLP with high-quality optics, with each pixel precisely square.
Of course, sitting back down 2.7 metres from the screen (obviously, a bit closer than would normally be recommended, but we have to push the limits of things in this job), those edges had softened into creating a smooth image.
The image was really very bright with the normal lamp power setting. Even under the full blare of my twin fluorescent tube office light, the picture was fully detailed, except in the darkest sections. The fan noise was also a bit obtrusive.
So I flicked the lamp power down to "Eco", and the fan became much quieter (although still quite a bit louder than some other projectors that I've been using recently), but to the extent that the picture darkened, the difference was very nearly imperceptible. If you like, you can use the "Eco Management" setting to have the projector switch automatically to the lower output level whenever the room is dark (that's the "Ambient Light Detection" setting).
Black levels were adequate in our test labs, but not especially impressive. The reason was simple: too much light, even with the "Eco" mode, for our 83.5-inch (212cm) screen. The dynamic iris — which seemed silent in operation — did its best to tame the brightness in dark scenes, but there was a limit to what it could achieve.
However, if you have a 120-inch (305cm) or bigger screen, then that extra brightness would be welcome, and the screen's expanse should tame the black levels. Still, I'd hesitate at recommending this projector for a smaller screen.
To check our contention that the "Eco" lamp mode was not eco enough (therefore leaving the projector producing too much light), we measured the projector's power consumption on the same (fairly bright) scene in both modes. In "Normal" mode, power consumption was 298 watts, but "Eco" brought this down by a fairly modest amount to 267.5 watts, a reduction of just over 10 per cent. In our experience, most "Eco" modes chop off a lot more than this.
Its progressive scan conversion was mediocre. Panasonic has some of the best progressive scan-conversion electronics in its US$400 Blu-ray player. Perhaps the display division should try poaching it. To get a quality picture from DVD, or from the occasional Australian Blu-ray, which is encoded at 1080i50, you ought to use a source device capable of delivering high-quality progressive scan. Watching 1080i HDTV from most HD set-top boxes will leave you with the fairly low-quality progressive scan conversion in this projector.
There is no 3D performance, given that the projector does not offer 3D. This is the main reason for the low CNET Australia rating shown to the right. I might previously have given a projector a pass for lacking 3D, given the lower price — but there are lower-priced, and still perfectly respectable, all-around projectors that do support 3D. Indeed, Panasonic itself sells large-screen plasma TVs with 3D support for under AU$1000, so having this capability, without necessarily bundling the hardware, must count as a negative.
If you're uninterested in 3D, then the Panasonic PT-AR100EA home-theatre projector is worth a close look — as long as you have a large projection screen and a quality Blu-ray player.