Panasonic projector gives truly big screen home theatre action
By Jim Bray
It may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but Panasonic's PT-AE8000 3D 1080p front projector can still be a great way to get truly huge pictures in your home theatre.
Introduced a few years ago, the unit goes head to head with such other home theatre projectors by Epson, JVC, Sony and the like - there's plenty of competition - and just because it isn't a brand new model doesn't mean it doesn't offer compelling features. Indeed, it does.
I last reviewed a Panasonic projector in 2008 and liked that one a lot, so it was definitely time to take a boo at their current offerings. Neither Panasonic nor its competition offer a true, affordable 4K projector yet, so if you're looking for a relatively affordable high def solution in the meantime, this $3499 CAD unit could fit the bill.
One thing the 8000 offers that my reference projector doesn't - and I wish it did, despite how much I love it in other ways - is adjustment of the picture alignment parameters via the remote control. This means that once you've mounted the unit (I use a ceiling mount in my home theatre, though for the purposes of this test I table-mounted the Panasonic because I knew it was going back at the end of my viewing sessions), you can zoom, focus etc. right from your easy chair.
My Epson requires me to get up - horror of horrors! - and do the adjustments on the projector itself, the bane of lazy people. It's also not as convenient because it's pretty dark in that room (deliberately) and it's hard for me to read the labels on the Epson's cabinet; it's also hard to reach that high without a stool. So Panasonic's putting of this stuff right on the remote is very handy and welcome. On the other hand, once you've made these particular adjustments chances are you won't have to do it again.
You can also do the adjustments from a panel on the projector if you prefer, which is nice flexibility.
The Panasonic offers a dizzying array of other adjustments - if there's something you want to tweak, chances are you can tweak it on the 8000 - to tailor the giant image however you like. I generally tweak as close to ISF standards as I can (TV's often come with this built in now, which is nice) and I use Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials HD Basics disc to do it. The Panasonic was pretty well bang on out of the box, which is also becoming quite common these days.
Panasonic Canada's sample had been around for a while, undoubtedly bouncing from writer to writer over the past couple of years, and unfortunately this showed. When projecting onto my 106 screen, I could notice a couple of burn-in spots - the kind of thing that also reared their heads on my Epson (which the company replaced under warranty) and there were nearly 1000 hours on the bulb.
This meant I couldn't audition it as it would be fresh out of the box, but I have enough experience with such projectors - and with Panasonic in general - that it didn't bother me excessively. But where it was most noticeable was with that "pop off the screen," nearly 3D look you can get from many Blu-rays; the Panasonic was visibly inferior to my - much newer - Epson in this regard.
I remember the last Panasonic projector I tried being just fine in this area, so I put it down to the 8000 having lived a hard life on the road.
Speaking of 3D, the Panasonic is fully capable of displaying such images, though the company doesn't kick in any of the active glasses you'll need to exploit it. Fortunately, I have a couple of pair from my projector, so could test its 3D performance. I used Avatar, which is a great example of the species, and the 3D was as good as it ever is (in my never humble opinion, it's an interesting gimmick at best). I don't like 3D enough for it to matter but, since they went to the trouble of including the feature, Panasonic really should have included at least two sets of the $100 glasses.
On the other hand, most people probably don't care about 3D, so Panasonic undoubtedly saves its customers some lucre by not putting the expensive glasses in the box.
As far as the 8000's specs are concerned, there's no issue here: Panasonic claims the three LCD panel projector puts out a contrast ratio of a very healthy 500,000:1, with 2,400 lumens of brightness. The brightness is particularly handy if you're watching 3D, because the glasses tend to darken the image getting to your eyes somewhat. And it's nice and bright with 2D images.
Colour performance is very good and since the contrast is also up to snuff, the blacks are nice and deep. Skin tones look fine and the detail you get from the projector is also top notch for this class. I wished I'd had a chance to play with it when it was new, because I think it would have been breathtaking, but such is life.
There's no built in audio system, but anyone building a home theatre with this as its heart would be crazy not to patch it into a separate surround audio system anyway, so this is hardly an oversight. Some competitors offer little built in speakers, but they'd only be good if you're using the projector for presentations and the like - if then.
As mentioned, there's plenty of tweaking opportunity and you can monitor what you're doing via split screen. There's also a waveform generator to play with. It's kind of fun doing this stuff, but of course once you've found your sweet spot you'll probably never do it again.
Panasonic says the AE8000 can handle screen sizes from 40 - 300 inches in 2D, and 40 - 200 inches for 3D. I don't know why anyone would want a projector for a 40 inch screen - other than for presentations and the like - when you can get a flat panel cheaper, but the capability is there if you need it.
The remote is very small and doesn't have a lot of buttons on it, but it works fine and you can access the more arcane features via the projector's menu system from it, and it's pretty straightforward.
You get three HDMI inputs, which is probably plenty; I only use one usually, coming from my audio/video stack, but it's nice to have spares in case you need to hook in a separate source, perhaps only temporarily. There are also computer, S-Video, component and composite inputs you'll probably never use but it's good that they're there just in case. They could also come in handy if you haven't yet moved to HD and HDMI; rather than having to replace your projector when you do go HD, you can grow into it.
Besides the 3D version of Avatar, I tried some of my favourite Blu-rays on the Panasonic and, other than my angst over the review unit's "long in the toothness," was quite satisfied with its performance. I watched "Lord of the Rings Return of the King," "Adventures of Tintin," "Guardians of the Galaxy" and a few other discs that offer great video and thought the projector did a nice job.
1080p is coming to the end of its run, now that 4K TV's are becoming mainstream and there's actually some content available for them, but as mentioned above there are still no mainstream consumer 4K projectors at an affordable price point. This will change, of course, and there are some projectors out there that "fudge" 4K content already, but if you're looking to exploit truly cinematic large screen images now, 1080p units like this Panasonic can do a good job.
Just remember that there's a new and supposedly better standard coming. And speaking personally, I can't wait to try a real 4K projector. I've always been willing to sacrifice a bit of quality for the "wow!" factor of a truly large screen - 1080p on a projector is great, but flat panels are better (though not as big for the price) - and I look forward to seeing what the higher resolution of 4K will look like on my 106 inch screen.
In the meantime, 1080p still looks mighty good!
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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