A lot has happened in the last 12 months for home cinema projection, with more projectors released in this time frame than any other so far. When released, there was little around that could touch the Panasonic PT-AE500’s performance at the price. Twelve months on and the same can’t be said, with strong models from other manufacturers available.
Notable specification changes with the AE700 over the 500 are with the brightness (up from 850 to 1000 ansi Lumens), contrast ratios (up from a respectable 1300:1 to a whopping 2000:1) and the inclusion of a HDMI connection (replacing the DVI port on the 500 – HDMI/DVI convertors are available).
The AE700 is extremely versatile in how it can be set up and is the only projector in its class to have a 2.0 times zoom, which means a 100 inch picture can be achieved from as little as three metres or as much as six metres away. Combine this with the horizontal and vertical lens shift and you have a projector that can be placed in a variety of positions within a room to achieve the big screen experience.
The increased contrast ratio has been achieved through the use of a dynamic iris, which adjusts the light output levels on a frame by frame basis, deepening black levels of the projector. Its an interesting sounding feature and in reality it worked very well, with the AE700 having the best black levels from LCD projectors I have seen so far.
The early scenes of Star Wars: A New Hope were brilliant, with outstanding black levels in the space background and shadow detail from inside the alliance’s ship. Vader comes across on screen in a rich, brilliant and menacing black.
Other testing scenes were sampled (tent scene from Gladiator, opening scenes from Crimson Tide and Toy Story2). All were rendered well, with excellent shadow detail, black levels and no “digital murkiness”.
High contrast not only helps boost black level but it also adds depth to the image and vibrancy to the colour palette. The AE700 certainly benefited from the additional contrast, with superbly rich, vibrant colours evident in Toy Story 2 and the first arena battle scene inGladiator (nice rich blood red as they are walking to the arena). Difficult colours (particularly skin tones and sky blue) were rendered well and appeared natural.
As with the previous models (AE300 and AE500) the AE700 utilises Panasonic’s “smooth screen” technology to minimise/eliminate screen door effect (SDE). As with the prior models, this works exceptionally well, with SDE only occasionally evident and only noticeable for a moment before disappearing. I did notice some fixed panel noise on panning scenery shots, but again, this is not problematic and is evident on most LCD projectors.
I was fortunate enough to be able to do some direct comparisons between the AE500 and the AE700 thanks to a loan from fellow reviewer, Jamie Gemming. For me, the AE700 is a step up in terms of performance. Black levels were noticeably darker, with less haze, colours had more richness and overall the picture was punchier.
The AE700 faces some stiff competition now, including the similarly priced Epson TW200 and the $1000 cheaper Infocus Screenplay 4805. Sony is to release in December the HS51, another 1280 x 720 resolution LCD projector with published contrast ratio of 6000:1 (no, that’s not a typo). As always, manufacturer’s specifications must be taken with a grain of salt.
The 700 is clearly a better performer than the TW200, with a smoother and more dynamic/contrasty picture, but the competition from Infocus is strong. The AE700 may have the higher resolution, but for straight DVD watching, this is often irrelevant. Viewable contrast levels are similar and SDE is not an issue with either projector. A few strong factors in the favour of the AE700 is with the horizontal and vertical lens shift, and the extremely versatile zoom, allowing more room placement options, the inclusion of the scart plug on the AE700 is also a strong feature, allowing you to connect to Sky digital boxes using the RGB output, obtaining maximum quality.
Panasonic have clearly developed a winning formula with their PT-AE line of projectors, and from the AE100 and onwards, each new generation has been a step forward in terms of quality and value. Like the AE500, the AE700 has set a “bang for the buck” benchmark for others to try and achieve.
Panasonic PT-AE700 projector, $4999