Plasma manufacturers continue to ramp up the image sizes without increasing the resolution, while projectors and LCDs lead the pack in terms of true high definition and affordability. LCDs may be capable of some great images, but are still limited in size, but for a really big cinema experience, nothing can touch a projector. And of the two competing projector technologies, DLP and 3LCD, it appears that the latter is the winning ticket - if this Panasonic is anything to go by.
This projector doesn't replace the outgoing PT-AE900U -- for that look to the PT-AE1000 - but it appears to be based on the 900's engine. However, the new machine is considerably larger and heavier (4.9kg versus 3.6kg) and a little more boxy looking than the 900. It's still a large white box and, as we'll see later, is best permanently installed in a lounge room or home theatre space.
We like some of the little touches that come from years of designing projectors, such as the removable, SLR-style lens-cap and the straightforward controls mounted on the top of the projector.
The AE900 had an angled exhaust vent to prevent heat haze from wafting across the lens, but for the AX100E they have returned to the old design. However, in all our hours of use we never had a problem with condensation or fogginess, though the vent was always hot.
To help with height adjustment when mounted on a desk or table, there are a couple of plastic screws mounted in the front. This is in addition to the keystone and manual lens shift.
The most obvious feature of the Panasonic PT-AX100E is its high brightness, up from 1100 lumens to a claimed rating of 2000 lumens. This means the projector is able to viewed quite comfortably with the lights on, though daylight is still a challenge.
Getting the image centred and in focus is very simple with the AX100, with horizontal keystoning, zoom, and mechanical lens shift all included. However, it isn't possible to incorporate all lounge room shapes on this machine. The lens shift doesn't have as much travel as we'd like, and there is no vertical keystoning. As a result, the only position you can place the projector in is directly in front (or behind) the screen. It's an ideal unit to mount on your ceiling, but you won't be able to get a square picture placing it off-centre.
The Panasonic lens has a relatively short throw, meaning it is still able to create a decent size image in a small room. At a distance of just 1.5 metres, the projector was able to create a 50-inch diagonal image using the zoom function.
Socketry is well stocked, with component, VGA, HDMI, S-video and composite. For really ancient PCs, there is also the provision of a serial which enables the computer to control the projector. However, due to the fact there is no onboard speaker, there's no audio connectors.
3LCD's biggest failing has traditionally been the "chicken-wire" or "screen-door" effect, where the space between each pixel shows up as a black line, and makes the image look like a lattice. But successive generations have increased the pixel size and rendered this effect almost invisible.
The effect is still there on the Panasonic PT-AX100E, but only on patches of really bright light -- such as sky -- and then it looks kind of neat, like archaic gauze. But even so, this is only if you look at it from a distance of 15cm. So, negligible, then.
We tested the projector with The Lord of the Rings Parts One and Two, hooking it up via a component connection. Both movies showed just how capable this projector is. The lush, verdant scenes of Hobbitton were relayed with vibrant colour, while quick movement, such as Frodo leaping onto Gandalf's cart, was transmitted with pixel-perfect precision.
Unlike some other 3LCD projectors available, there is very little -- almost zero -- jerkiness on slow and smooth camera movements. The projector was tuned by Hollywood colourist David Bernstein, and his expertise in telecine judder is obvious here.
As with any projector, to get the truest blacks you need a professional grade projection screen. But even on the most modest of surfaces, the Panasonic has the ability to convey good contrast and detail -- especially during LOTR's eerie night-time chase scenes.
To test the projector's ability to replay a poorer quality picture, we used Foxtel's analogue re-transmission of Channel 10 via a composite cable. This source is usually too much for our own Sony 42-inch KDF-E42A10, which shudders and shakes whenever there is any movement on the screen. We were blown away when the image didn't stutter once and was actually reproduced with some finesse.
The only shortcoming we could find is that it isn't very good at duplicating text -- with ragged edges to letters. And though it's not designed for this, it's good to keep in mind if you're looking for a projector that can handle both work and play.
The Panasonic PT-AE900 scored an Editors' Choice Award when it was reviewed late last year, and though very similar, the PT-AX100E is just as worthwhile -- particularly if you don't already own that model. The price is the same and video quality -- though excellent -- really hasn't progressed as much as we'd hoped. That said, this is an awesome projector, which is suitable for medium to large rooms, and one which comes highly recommended.