Panasonic PT-AE500U LCD video projector Page 2
Some front LCD projectors are now equipped with manual lens shift to compensate for off-axis projection. Unfortunately, the PT-AE500U isn't one of them; if you can't position the projector square to the screen, your only remedy for keystone correction is the projector's digital image-resizing circuit.
The PT-AE500U's composite-video performance was mediocre. The projector's video decoder clipped detail at 300 and 400 lines, and there was plenty of color moiré. Stick with S-video or component signals whenever you can. Similarly, the PT-AE500U's deinterlacing performance was average, with some residual scan-line artifacts from the flag-waving sequence on the Video Essentials test DVD.
Switching to external 480p signals from my Panasonic RP56 DVD player made a noticeable improvement in picture quality, particularly with the bridge pans and zooms and long shots of traffic from VE. While the projector switched quickly enough between 24fps 3:2 material and 30fps video, motion still looked better from the external DVD player.
I swept the projector's component inputs to see if it had enough bandwidth to do justice to 720p and 1080i signals. Unfortunately, there was some noticeable signal rolloff above 18.5MHz with both types of signal. Switching to RGB input mode didn't improve things much. The PT-AE500U's lens was certainly crisp enough to show HD, but the projector needed more bandwidth. DVI connections provided the cleanest picture, but I have no way yet of sweeping that type of input.
After all that, I still found many things to like about the images the Panasonic whipped up. I used Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl as a test DVD for its low-level night battles and bright primary colors, such as the red and blue uniforms of the British officers in daytime scenes. The PT-AE500U's color quality compared favorably to that of my Princeton reference monitor, and the shadow detail was probably as good as you'll find on any front LCD projector.
Switching to 720p, I played sequences from last season's Monday Night Football clash between the Miami Dolphins and the Philadelphia Eagles. Pictures were crisp; colors were pleasing to the eye (particularly those orange-and-aqua Dolphins uniforms) and compared favorably with my reference monitor. Black levels, as usual with LCDs, limited shadow detail.
I did spot some motion smear when the camera panned or zoomed quickly while players were running, which can happen with LCD panels. Still, this might have been a problem with the local ABC affiliate's MPEG encoder, which had been having its own problems with variable bit rates.
Some clips of the NHL All-Star Game in 720p/60 showed some of the same motion artifacts, but the color of the ice was about as clean a white as I have ever seen from an LCD projector. In this regard, I would rate the PT-AE500U the equal of Epson's PowerLite TW100 front LCD projector, which I reviewed for Stereophile Guide to Home Theater in January 2003.
My last test was a D-VHS tape of the 2004 Grammy Awards. Some of the musical acts had unusual combinations of colored lighting splashed on stage during their performances, including some really hot lights that predictably caused some white crush on the PT-AE500U. (Of course, CBS's HD cameras were also pushed to the limits of their dynamic range during these segments.)
Although the PT-AE500U's shadow detail wasn't the equal of my reference monitor's, its color quality was still good, particularly with pastel shades. The blue-green bias of LCD projectors makes it really tough to accurately render pastels and flesh tones, but the PT-AE500 did an outstanding job—the best I've seen since the Epson TW100.
I couldn't tell if the Panasonic's AI circuit made much of a difference in black levels and dynamic range. I left AI at its "2" setting most of the time, but the results with AI off weren't really obvious. The high black levels of LCD panels may limit what this circuit can achieve—it would probably work better with a DLP design.
Panasonic's PT-AE500U is one of the best widescreen LCD projectors for the money, due solely to its color-management and rendering capabilities. You won't do much better with respect to black levels—LCD technology is limited in that regard—and the ability to fine-tune the projector's Gamma and Color settings makes it possible to get some beautiful images.
On the other hand, the projector could use more bandwidth for component HD signals. I missed having a manual lens shift; digital keystone correction doesn't do it for me, because it crops pixels and I want to use every available LCD pixel. A little more light output would also be handy for large screens and rooms where lighting can't be doused completely.
Smooth Screen technology aside, I could still see the screen-door effect if I sat too close to images from this projector. To minimize that effect, I suggest a viewing distance of three to four times the screen height. (That would put you about 12 feet back from an 82-inch-wide, 16:9 screen.) My tests with a Da-Lite matte diffusion screen provided acceptable contrast results, but a gray screen will pull blacks down a bit for a more pleasing look in a darkened room.