By Nigel Beale
Panasonic PT-A4000E. $4299
The most notable aspect of the AE4000E in New Zealand is Panasonic’s price point. Despite the very competitive pricing which more or less aligns New Zealand with overseas markets, the AE4000E includes a number of key upgrades from earlier models that make this projector more valuable than its predecessors. So it’s a double win for the local consumer.
I was quite excited when I first heard about some of the features in the Panasonic AE4000E and I was keen to get my hands on one to check it out.
The same... but different
Visually, the AE4000 is essentially unchanged from previous 1080 models, and some argue that the look will never win many wife approval awards. If you are into function over form then you will ignore the appearance. I don’t mind it myself, the daughters first comment was, “what a beast!” Can’t argue with that.
The dimensions of the AE4000 (130x460x300mm HxWxD) fits a shelf location quite well, but allow for 50-100mm at the rear for connections and power. For ceiling mounting you will need a bracket capable of supporting 7kg of weight. Of course make sure the support bracket actually grips something solid.
The AE4000E has several advances from the AE3000E that work together to deliver a substantial increase in overall performance. By a quick glance of the spec sheet these are not overly apparent. The contrast ratio going from 60,000:1 to 100,000:1 is the obvious step, but a less obvious one is the lumen rating, which on paper is the same as the previous model.
Panasonic has developed a red enriched lamp for this model, so although the lumen value is the same the output at the screen is substantially higher.
The reason for this is that this new design overcomes the problem with the traditional projector lamp that is deficient in red. With the traditional lamp when balancing the red, green and blue to the correct levels (ITU-R BT.709), typically lowers the lumen output limited by the red. The vast majority of traditional projector lumen ratings are based upon a less than accurate image to get the higher outputs, the dynamic modes. Although even here the highest rating is still based upon dynamic mode that does in fact clip, the overall red boost comes through into all modes.
When using the accurate modes the increase from the earlier models is measurable and visual, the red enriched lamp does indeed result in higher lumens output than previous models whilst maintaining accurate image balance.
After the LCD panels there is a new pure contrast plate to filter light leakage. Light leakage is the basic limit of the black level obtainable by an LCD based projector and so with the leakage blocked the black level is lowered. Basically less greyness to the low light level image, the traditional weakness of the LCD based projector.
The result of the combined filtering and the red enriched lamp, and not forgetting the fifth generation intelligent iris, all combine to increase the dynamic range commonly known as contrast ratio, hence the spec sheet increase from 60000:1 to 100000:1.
Additionally there is a pure colour filter, which assists the colour balancing act to adhere to the standards. The mode Colour1 is the closest to ITU-R BT.709 – the official HD reference standard for video imagery. Colour2 is aimed at the DCI standard. There are even more advanced features involving colour management, white balance and gamma tracking, which I’ll go into in the really geeky section of this review.
There is various image processing options that have been revised and added, Panasonic's Smooth screen technology continues as in previous models and functions very well to remove the LCD structure, no change here as this is already well developed.
Further processing is done with the ‘Detail Clarity Processor 3’ with seven steps of adjustment that acts like an advanced sharpness control. This processor analysers the image to try and reproduce information damaged by compression or other losses.
Then there is the updated frame interpolation technology that is known as ‘Frame Creation 2, with motion blur reduction’, with options, off, mode1, mode2 and mode3. Displaying 50hz/60hz material there is an additional frame added so you will see 100hz/120hz and for 24hz material an additional 3 frames are added so you see 96hz. Each mode just makes the effect more or less pronounced.
A note with these processors is they add time delay to the image processing so you need to add delay to audio when using these.
The lens memory function has been updated as well with auto detection so you don’t need to dive into menus to switch between your stored zooms. This has six memories for zoom and focus. Devised as a pseudo anamorphic setup, although not true anamorphic it does allow for the use of a wide angle screen for the 2.35:1–2.40:1 movies then zooming to a different position for 1.78:1
There is a true stretching option to use all the LCD pixels then reshape the image with an external anamorphic lens. So the AE4000E is capable of true anamorphic constant height setups as well.
The lens has 2x optical zoom and lens shift allows for +/-40% horizontal and +/-100% vertical movement. It of course has keystone correction, but I advise use of this only if there is no other option as it destroys resolution.
So how does all this sum up?
Really quite superb. The exact words from my wife were (before viewing), “so how is this projector better than what we have now?” Peering at the my old AE900E looking nervous perched up on the roof, “Everywhere dear”. Thirty minutes later and the wife mutters, “This is just unreasonably good”
One of the things that really had me startled is how good upscaled standard definition is. First disk on was Half-light, which actually is a really good reference for natural colour and has an excellent range of high contrast scenes. Despite the only copy I have of it being standard definition on DVD, upscaled from my BD35 at 1080p50 it blew away my wife with detail and colour (colour1). The detail clarity feature is targeted more at this sort of material, you actually shouldn’t need much enhancement on true HD material. Although the BD35 plays its part in this the image upscaling was never this good on my AE900E despite keeping it well tuned. The AE4000E just takes it to another level.
Next up was Blackhawk Down on Blueray, this was even better even though it is a naturally grainy movie. I played with the frame creation feature, which works by creating more frames of information between the original frames, the effect works surreally on your head. If you haven’t seen frame creation working, this is worth a look. Although some find the effect less film like as the extra frames creates a digital look. Then again the film look is just our heads used to lower flicker rates.
Panasonic projectors, from the early days of the AE300E until now do what I like to see with hardware, where the manufacture incrementally updates each year. Every few models though we have seen a big technology jump from a previous years model. The AE700E is an example, then the AX100, the AE became the 1080 model range with the AE1000E. Now we have the AE4000E and I believe we have another of the performance jump models.
You can argue the pros and cons of any of the current crop of 1080 projectors and still have your personal favourites. But in all reality, for hit power for buck Panasonic and the New Zealand consumer are on a winner here, with the AE4000E at a rrp of $4299 there will be a number of current projector owners let alone any first timers to the projection world thinking buy now time. So if you are thinking about an upgrade or new purchase this one is worthwhile considering.