Panasonic PT-AE700 £1700

1st Jan 2005 | 00:00

Panasonic proves its mastery of the LCD format

TechRadar rating:

5 stars

The low fan noise and outstanding image quality make this a very attractive option for film fans

Considering how successful, cutting-edge and influential it is, it's amazing that Panasonic's winning formula for its PT-AE range of projectors hasn't been copied by more rival brands.

The PT-AE700 is the third generation of its family and it astound us that there is still only a handful of other projectors carrying an RGB Scart input. We're also surprised that no one else seems to have followed Panasonic's lead in developing proprietary lens arrangements for tackling the dreaded 'chicken-wire' effect.

The PT-AE700's appearance is radically different from its predecessors, favouring a new, clean cut, ultra-minimalist style that we much prefer to the slightly eccentric designs of the past.

The connections show signs of progression, too. For now, alongside that handy RGB Scart, there's a next-generation HDMI input.

Yet more innovation comes from an extraordinarily handy manual image-shifting joystick on the projector's fascia. This provides possibly the most intuitive and flexible way we've ever seen for getting an image up on a screen, even in the most awkwardly shaped rooms.

The most important internal feature of this projector is its Smooth Screen system (or dichroic mirror separation/prism synthesis system to be more precise). This double-refraction crystal lens device narrows the gaps between pixels, thereby reducing the chicken-wire effect. Panasonic reckons that the PT-AE700's system is even better than that found on its predecessors.

Also of interest are a dynamic iris and gamma adjustments for the high, mid and low brightness segments of the picture. Then there's individual red, green and blue contrast and brightness adjustments, noise reduction, high and low lamp power settings, and Normal and High fan control settings. Excellent.

Performance

The picture proves that Panasonic definitely hasn't rested on its laurels. For instance, the contrast range shows massive improvement over previous AE projectors. In fact, there's a much more profound sense to black picture portions, giving images plenty of field depth and texture, even in shadowy areas.

Perhaps because of the enhanced black-levels, colours look impressively natural too, with even those ever-tricky skin tones being constantly believable. What's more, since the black-level response is joined by impressive brightness, colours are as wonderfully rich and vibrant as they are natural.

Fine detail response is also much improved. Previously, we've felt that while the Smooth Screen system does a cracking job of eliminating the chicken-wire effect, it also slightly softens the picture. But here, especially with the HDMI input, it looks pin-sharp, while, crucially, only betraying the faintest sign of the LCD panel structure.

Throw in some immaculately rendered, halo-free edges, terrific stability and impressive suppression of all kinds of noise, and you've got arguably the best affordable LCD performance yet. It's so good, in fact, that it emphasizes HDMI's extra qualities to a tee.

We are, of course, not talking complete perfection. Compared with the best recent DLP budget models, there are occasionally still minuscule traces of the LCD grid pattern and the PT-AE700's black-level response only looks good rather than great. But you have to balance this with DLP's problems with peripheral-vision colour banding and fizzing noise over motion.

Once again, Panasonic has struck back in the scrap between DLP and LCD, and once again, the PT-AE700 proves the company's mastery of the LCD format. It definitely deserves at least an audition against the best that affordable DLP has to offer. John Archer

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