Panasonic PT-AE900U LCD Projector Page 2
There's also a Lamp Power adjustment (High and Low). I found Low plenty bright on my 16x9, 1.3-gain, 78-inch wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, though the High setting will be useful on a larger screen, when the projection lamp starts to dim, or when watching that Saturday afternoon football game when you can't completely darken the room.
While there are controls on the projector itself, you're unlikely to need them. The learning remote (which can control other components as well as the projector) is one of the best I've seen. It is fully illuminated and intelligently laid out. But it did have one annoying quirk; in order for the projector to receive commands, the remote had to be pointed directly at the sensor on the front of the projector. It wouldn't respond when I pointed the remote at the screen (as it does with most projectors) or at the back of the projector (the only sensor is on the front). Fresh batteries didn't help.
You can also enter different video settings for each available resolution (such as 480i, 480p, 720p. and 1080i) and each input, plus establish input- and resolution-unique color temperature settings.
On the Screen
I did most of my critical viewing with the projection lamp in its Low setting, the mode in Cinema 2 (with appropriate setup tweaks), and the Dynamic Iris On.
Panasonic's efforts in the color department have paid off in the PT-AE900U. While neither the post-calibration grayscale nor the color points were perfect, only a very few projectors I have tested did better in this department. If a couple of years ago someone had told me that you could get color this pleasing from an LCD projector, I would have told them to get them back on their meds.
The projector's blacks and contrast ratio are also impressive. They aren't as startling as those from the competitive Sony VPL-HS51, but the Panasonic clearly belongs in the ranks of LCD projectors that don't exhibit the weaknesses typical of LCD projectors in the past, thanks to that Dynamic Iris. Only rarely, in the very darkest scenes, did I see a hint of that telltale LCD "fog," and it was fleeting. Panasonic was one of the first to offer an active iris, and it's just as effective here as in last year's the PT-AE700U.
To test the Panasonic's deinterlacing and scaling, I fed it a 480i HDMI DVD signal and ran it through the tests on both my Faroudja and Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark test DVDs. In most respects the results ranged from very good to superb. A few minor artifacts were visible on the fluttering flag test (on both discs), but the Panasonic sailed through the two jaggies tests and the torturous racetrack bleacher test on the HQV disc. It also performed acceptably well on the unflagged 3:2 pulldown test on the Faroudja disc, but had a hard time cleanly reproducing the scrolling text in the video-over-film test.
But I did notice that the Panasonic's picture was noticeably sharper when I fed it either a 480p or 720p HDMI output from a Pioneer Elite DV-59AVi DVD player, rather than relying on the projector's on-board deinterlacing.
I watched a wide range of programming on the Panasonic, both standard and high definition, and it was an easy projector to like. Star Wars Episode III left no doubt about its capabilities, though so much of that film is computer animated and enhanced it's perhaps not the best test of a projector's capabilities.
There's more live action in Batman Begins (though clearly some CG trickery here, too). This is an exceptionally dark film, and in all but one or two spots I was never distracted by the typical black and shadow detail woes that LCD projectors usually exhibit.
But the DVD images weren't perfect. The Panasonic could look just a little soft, and sometimes a bit grainy, particularly on dark scenes. But these issues were only obvious when I compared it with much more expensive projectors. The color looked fine subjectively (apart from the lime-greens so common in modern digital projectors), though I did have some concerns about the color (see "Testing and Calibration").
On high definition material, I noticed the same slight softness I observed on DVD when I compared the PT-AE900U to the same programming played back on pricier projectors. Nevertheless, well-produced HD material looked very good through the Panasonic, though a bit short of that "looking through a window" ideal. I definitely saw the best images from high quality native 720p sources, with 1080i a notch behind. Given a good source, however, viewers who are moving up to their first projector are likely to be delighted with high definition on their PT-AE900U.
I did experience one significant issue with HDMI input of the PT-AE900U. With some source components, though not all, it would not lock onto the correct color format. With the Kaleidescape System, for example, it clearly thought the source was digital RGB, while it was actually digital component. The resulting image was a bright, unwatchable purplish-pink. The Panasonic worked well enough on the HDMI output of a Pioneer DVD player for me to use it as a source, though when a DVD transitioned from menus, or performed other operations that apparently interrupted the HDMI lock momentarily, the image would flash a purple-pink for a fraction of a second. Once the movie or other program began, however, it never displayed this behavior. The output of a Marantz DV8400 DVD player (a 480p RGB digital signal from the player's DVI output used with a DVI-to-HDMI adapter) worked without a glitch, as did the HDMI output of a JVC D-VHS VCR.