Shootout: Three 1080p Front Projectors Page 5

The projector's Normal lamp mode is the one that most people would likely gravitate toward. But the Eco mode proved the better choice for dark-room viewing: It lowers fan noise to a whisper while extending lamp life.

The Panasonic PT-AE1000U provides an unusually wide range of picture presets, including one called Color 1 that has pretty accurate industry-standard 6,500-K grayscale tracking. It also offers the convenience of letting you modify settings and store custom adjustments in any of five memory channels that can be "loaded" via the remote. I settled on the projector's -2 color temperature and Medium gamma settings and also opted to use the Dynamic Iris feature, which proved very effective in deepening the Panasonic's black level.

PERFORMANCE A feature on the Panasonic called Smooth-scan - nondefeatable processing designed to eliminate the LCD screen-door effect - had me worrying at first about the projector's picture detail. It turned out that the feature does "smooth out" pixel boundaries when viewed up close, but I didn't notice any egregious effects when looking at test patterns or movies. For example, in a scene from the Blu-ray Disc of The Departed where Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) visits a psychologist's office, I could discern text on the spines of books lining the shelves, and I could also see fine patterns on the wallpaper. The skin tones of both actors looked completely natural. In shots that have a richer range of colors - such as the scene where, ironically, Frank Costello attends a festival of angels - the brightly colored balloons and tents looked exceptionally vivid.

Dark scenes also came across well on the Panasonic, although its rendering of shadow details lagged a bit behind the best DLP and LCoS models I've tested. In the nighttime warehouse meeting between the Boston gangsters and some Chinese customers, background details were clearly visible, rather than being swallowed up in the shadows. As I mentioned above, the projector's Dynamic Iris function helped lock down black depth and increase the image's dimensional effect in dark scenes such as this one. And the Panasonic also showed itself capable of clean upconversion of standard 480i video with regular DVDs, while its standard and MPEG noise reduction settings smoothed out noise without removing too much detail.

BOTTOM LINE This projector offers great performance at a very reasonable price, and its setup and convenience features are exemplary for a budget model. From where I sit, the PT-AE1000U looks to be yet another in a long line of excellent, affordable Panasonic front projectors.

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