Panasonic PT-AE900 £1500

1st Jan 2006 | 00:00

Panasonic has refined its Smooth Screen technology

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A hugely accomplished projector that will serve anyone that buys it superbly for gaming and movies alike

Like:

<p>Exceptional colours</p><p>Decent price</p><p>Good black levels</p><p>No noise</p><p>Scart socket</p>

Dislike:

<p>Picture is fractionally soft</p><p>Black level outgunned by rivals</p>

The PT-AE700 LCD projector was a hard act to follow; in many ways it was an instant projector classic. Perhaps that's why it's been in Panasonic's range so long - but the brand has indeed replaced it, with the highly anticipated PT-AE900.

Not that this potential LCD star makes any great aesthetic first impressions. When compared with its rival, the Hitachi PJ-TX200 it looks rather bland; just a fairly chunky, rectangular shape with a distinctly plasticky finish.

Its backside is actually more attractive than its front, since it's here that you'll find an HDMI input, component video jacks, a PC connection and even, stone the crows, an RGB-capable Scart socket. Why more manufacturers don't put such a helpful selection on their projectors is simply beyond me.

As befits a sub £2K LCD projector these days, the AE900 is HD Ready, with native widescreen 1280 x 720 resolution and the aforementioned appropriate connectivity.

The AE900 improves over its predecessor in many ways. For instance, brightness is up from 1000ANSI Lumens to 1100ANSI Lumens; running noise is down from a minimum of 26dB to just 23dB; and claimed contrast ratio is up from 2000:1 to 5500:1.

The AE900's remote control also betters its predecessor in that it has a backlight and universal remote functionality - complete with 'learning' tools, an LCD display, and the capacity to handle up to eight secondary pieces of kit.

Handy joystick

During setup I was pleased to discover that one of the AE700's smartest embellishments has been retained for the AE900: a front-mounted joystick for shifting the lens up, down, left and right - great for getting the picture successfully onto your screen even in the trickiest room shapes.

The AE900 also features the latest iteration of Panasonic's once groundbreaking 'Smooth Screen' technology. This combines progressive scan picture processing and a double-refraction crystal/prism device to reduce the gaps between pixels. The object of the exercise is the removal of that characteristic LCD 'chicken wire' effect, whereby the structure of the LCD panels becomes visible in the projected image.

There's also a welcome return for the exceptionally sophisticated Cinema Colour Management system, which purportedly allows you to independently adjust over a billion colours. Obviously I didn't quite have time to test this claim to the full - but it certainly did help me fine-tune the image according to my tastes and requirements.

Also returning but in clearly much improved form is Panasonic's Dynamic Iris. The idea behind this is that contrast, or more specifically black levels, can be improved during dark scenes by having the iris constantly and automatically adjust the amount of light permitted through the lens in accordance with the brightness or otherwise of the source image.

Needless to say, if it wasn't for this tool, the claimed contrast ratio would be merely a pipe dream.

After taking full advantage of the AE900's impressively wide-ranging yet straightforward setup utilities - including a very flexible (in terms of zoom) 2:1 lens - I found myself very happy with the resulting pictures.

Impressive colours

As with the AE700, I was blown away by the fidelity of the AE900's colour palette. Using the Cinema2 preset I enjoyed scintillatingly saturations that seemed genuinely cinematic. This even holds true during dark, difficult to render scenes like those in the Mines of Moria during The Lord Of The Rings.

In fact, if anything the colour from this model is marginally better in terms of range and richness than even that of the key rival, the Hitachi PJ-TX200.

This Panasonic more or less matches the TX200, meanwhile, in the scale of its images. Again this is down principally to some startlingly good black levels, and tremendous deftness and subtlety in showing greyscale and colour blends, courtesy of the onboard 10-bit Processing and Gamma Correction.

As with previous Panasonic models, the AE900 also scores major kudos by effectively removing the LCD chicken wire effect. Even shots of mist rolling around the Fellowship during the scenes in the Elven forests fail to show up any signs of troublesome panel structure. Smooth Screen technology continues to impress in this critical department.

There's also great pleasure to be had in the absence of common DLP artefacts such as motion fizzing and the colourwheel induced rainbow effect. More general types of noise, such as overstressing on edges and colour moiring over fine details, are also exceptionally well controlled. These strengths are already enough to earn the AE900 two thumbs up.

However, the simultaneous appearance of the similarly-priced 720p Hitachi TX200 will have potential buyers weighing up the pros and cons of both. I actually consider the black levels on the Hitachi to be superior in terms of depth and shadow resolution to those of this Panasonic.

Secondly, the AE900's picture does occasionally artefact (probably due to the Smooth Screen processing). But then the Hitachi's pixel grid is more visible...

Great value

The AE900 is another high value projector from Panasonic. Easy to use and capable of great results both with standard- and hi-def sources, it's a strong argument for the LCD format in the sub-£2k HD market, and comparable in many ways to the performance seen from HD2 and HD2 DLP chipsets.

I suspect the biggest problem for buyers won't be choosing between LCD and DLP, it'll be deciding on this model or the Hitachi TX200. The best advice I can give is that you audition both and then decide for yourself. John Archer

PanasonicProjectorHome cinema
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