Product Review (July 2004) - Panasonic
PT-AE500U High-Definition LCD Projector

By Kevin Nakano

Home theater projectors have significantly increased in numbers over the years, primarily due to the demand from enthusiasts seeking larger screens. There are certainly limitations to a front projection system that can make achieving an optimal picture difficult, such as room lighting and screen options. However, as prices decrease, many consumers are seriously considering this option. Furthermore, projectors are improving not only in resolution, but in overall video performance and reliability. Panasonic is making the home theater dream come true with the introduction of their new PT-AE500U high-definition LCD projector, priced at an amazing $2500. Unlike DLP projectors that have received high praise from the videophile community, the new PT-AE500U is based on three 0.7" diagonal 16:9 high definition LCD panels. The 1280x720 native resolution is the same density found on today's best HD2 and HD2+ DLP projectors that create almost a million individual pixels on the screen for a truly impressive cinematic experience. The two technologies (LCD versus DLP) differ yet both are capable of producing high resolution images. One of the concerns related to LCD-based projectors is the screen-door effect that is often very noticeable with this technology. However, the PT-AE500U appears to have reduced this problem considerably. We're not exactly sure how Panasonic accomplished this, but the results are impressive compared to other LCD projectors we've seen in the past.

The PT-AE500U also offers full gamma and color temperature controls with up to three custom memory settings. A full set of inputs accommodate a wide variety of input options including an HDCP compliant DVI interface. The 130-watt UHMTM lamp produces 850 lumens and the projector offers a contrast ratio of 1300:1. If you're used to noisy projectors in you theater room, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how quietly the PT-AE500U operates. Panasonic claims a mere 27dB of noise in the low power mode. A slight increase in fan noise can be heard when going to the higher power mode. Full 10-bit gamma correction and color temperature control is included for optimal picture quality and the built-in digital keystone correction adjusts the image a full ±30° in both the horizontal and vertical axis.

The top of the unit has controls for operating the projector, particularly when it's sitting on a table top where the unit is easily accessible. The power indicator light illuminates red when the unit is in Standby mode and changes to green when the unit goes into Operational mode. The Temp indicator will illuminate if there is a problem with the temperature of the projector. In extreme cases, the lamp will automatically shut off to prevent overheating. As part of normal maintenance, Panasonic recommends that the air filter be cleaned after every 100 hours of use. The filter is easily removed and can be cleaned by the user. The Lamp indicator will illuminate red when the lamp operation time approaches 1800 hours of use in the High Power mode. The Lamp
indicator may also flash if there's a problem with the lamp circuit. Full menu controls are available to adjust the projector settings. Keystone controls are also available.

The PT-AE500U footprint is fairly small, measuring 11" x 10-1/2" x 3-1/2" (WxDxH). We inverted the projector and mounted it on the rear ceiling of our room. The manual zoom and focus lens (1:1-1:1.2, F 1.9-2.2, f 22.0-26.2mm) projects a sizable image from a rather short distance. In our case, we projected video onto our reference 100" diagonal 16:9 Stewart FireHawk filmscreen from about 12 1/2 feet. This gray screen works well with DLP™ projectors by deepening the black level. Since the PT-AE500U does have some difficulty with deep blacks, we recommend using a gray screen with this projector. We found this projector to also work well with the less expensive 92" Da-Lite High Contrast Cinema Vision screen mounted on their Cinema Contour frame. We set the lamp power to low, which keeps the black level in check and reduces the fan noise. The High setting may help when ambient light is a little more difficult to control. We positioned the projector to minimize geometric errors, so that we could avoid using the built-in digital horizontal and vertical keystone correction, as this tends to introduce undesired artifacts in the picture. We were able to get the geometry almost perfect with a slight over-scan on the screen, which was completely absorbed by the black frame material, resulting in a perfect looking 16:9 image.

The rear panel of the PT-AE500U has a good selection of inputs including both analog and digital interfaces. The cooling fan is also located here. The composite and s-video inputs are fully compatible with NTSC, PAL or SECAM standards. The component video inputs (YPrPb) use the standard three RCA jacks. All of the RCA jacks are gold-plated including the composite input. There's also a VGA-style 15-pin D-sub connector for the RGB inputs. This input accepts many computer VESA standards for using it with a PC as well as high definition 1080i video. The DVI-D interface is fully DVI/HDCP compliant for encrypted video content. For those who need it, an optional adapter can be used to interface to HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) equipment.
There's even a 12V trigger to work with other devices.

The infrared remote supplied with the PT-AE500U is small, yet fits nicely in our hand and provides all the needed functionality to control the projector. The glow-in-the-dark Light button, located in the upper right corner of the remote, illuminates the rest of the buttons for easy viewing in a poorly lit theater room. The top three buttons control the input to the projector and are labeled Video, Component, and PC. The Video button toggles between the composite input and the s-video input. The Component button selects the component video input and the PC button toggles between the 15-pin VGA input and the DVI input. The Menu and Enter button in conjunction with the Up/Down/Left/Right navigation buttons completely control the functions of the projector through the menu hierarchy . The Keystone button is also provided to correct for geometric distortions in the image due to the projector's placement. The Aspect button changes the aspect ratio based on content sent to the projector. This is particularly important with the wide variety of material being displayed on today's screens. Both 4:3 and 16:9 content can be adjusted. A total of five display modes are supported for optimal viewing of both 4:3 and 16:9 formats. Even older non-anamorphic (non-16:9 enhanced) DVDs can be displayed in the zoom mode to better fill the screen, albeit with a loss in resolution due to the format of these discs.

The Picture Mode changes the picture settings for various viewing conditions. Selecting this mode lets the user choose from several different settings (Cinema 1, Cinema 2, Video, Natural, Normal, and Dynamic). We used the Cinema 1 mode for most of our viewing of content. The user can also push the Memory button and choose from three predefined settings (Memory1, Memory2 and Memory3) depending on the input video mode.

Under the Picture menu, the user has full control of Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, and Sharpness. Color temperature control is also adjustable with five different settings. When the DVI input is being used there are no controls available for Color or Tint. There's also an Advanced menu that allows the user to control the RGB contrast and gain individually as well as low, medium and high gamma levels. The TV-System (Auto, NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL, PAL-M, PAL-N, SECAM) is selectable when a composite or s-video signal is being input. When any other video input (RGB, Component or DVI) is used, the Signal Type (i.e. 525i, XGA, etc.) is displayed.

The Position menu has full horizontal and vertical screen adjustments as well as Aspect ratio control (16:9 or 4:3). The Dot Clock and Clock Phase are also adjustable to help tweak the sample time of the incoming video to properly align the fixed pixels on the screen with the data. The Dot Clock is not available when using the component inputs and neither Dot Clock nor Clock Phase are available when using the DVI input. These controls definitely work as we were able to align the incoming video when using the analog RGB input.

The Option menu has several parameters that configure the projector, including the On-Screen Display (On/Off), PC Priority (Normal/Wide), Background Color (Blue/Black), Projector Configuration (Front/Rear, Desk/Ceiling), Fan Control (Normal/High), Lamp Power (High/Low) and Extended Display Identification Data (EDID1/EDID2). The EDID setting must be on EDID1 to work with high definition content. Our review projector was set on EDID2 and it took us a while to figure out why the DVI interface was not working with our high-definition set-top box. The Lamp Runtime is also displayed here so that the user can see total accumulated time on the lamp.

Color Tracking
We set the projector mode to Cinema 1 and adjusted the color temperature to the middle setting before we started taking measurements. We began with the 15-pin D-sub (RGB) input and calibrated the projector using our Sencore VP300 video generator. Using 720p video in the RGB/HV mode, we set the black level and verified the stair step levels on the screen to ensure we had properly adjusted the display. Using our Sencore CP5000 All-Display Color Analyzer, we measured the color temperature in 10 IRE increments starting with 20 IRE. The desired 6500 °K setting was very accurate and deviated no more than ±400 °K across all measured IRE levels. The Advanced Menu options allow the user to adjust RGB contrast (high IRE) and brightness (low IRE) as well as high, mid and low gamma. Using these controls, we were able to adjust the color temperature to within ±200 °K across all IRE levels. However, the pre-calibration levels were quite impressive to us for such an inexpensive projector.

Display Primaries
We measured the primary colors produced by the PT-AE500U using our GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro Spectrophotometer along with the ColorFacts System from Milori. Measurements were taken from our 100" Stewart FireHawk filmscreen. The CIE chart shows where the ideal primaries are located with the smaller three points making a dark triangle. The measured primary colors have the red, green and blue markers connected together with the white triangle. Only colors inside the white triangle can be generated by the display by definition. Even prior to calibration, the PT-AE500U produced accurate flesh tones with rich saturated reds, deep blues and lush greens. In fact, all colors were well saturated in the material we tested.

We used a variety of source material including over-the-air high definition material with the DVI and analog RGB inputs. We also connected our Marantz MV8300 D-VHS VCR using the component inputs. Once the projector was calibrated, we watched The Tonight Show and Las Vegas using our Samsung SIR-T165 high definition set-top box through the DVI input on the projector. The picture was beautiful with only a slight amount of low-level grain in the image. Using our D-VHS VCR, we watched some colorful scenes from our HD-Net tapes that included Bikini Destinations at Lake Powell and Over Ireland. The colors were well saturated and the resolution was certainly high-definition. Skin tones looked amazingly natural. The screen-door effect was not visible from our seating distance, which was approximately 14 feet with a screen size of 100" diagonal on our 16:9 FireHawk. Even close up to the screen, the fill factor wasn't nearly as bad as other LCD projectors we've seen in the past. However, the picture did lack the ability to produce deep blacks particularly in night scenes. For example, some of the dark racing scenes from the D-Thearter version of The Fast and The Furious revealed this. Shadow detail was good, but not perfect as one might expect with an LCD projector. However, as mentioned before, the gray screen definitely helps. Brighter scenes were absolutely gorgeous and it really surprised us that this inexpensive projector was capable of producing such impressive picture quality. The colorful scenes from Moulin Rouge were very satisfying to watch. Excellent color fidelity was noticeable especially compared to the DVD version. Overall, this projector has a slight softness to the image when compared to some of the more expensive (three times the cost) DLP projectors that we've seen. This didn't appear as a loss of resolution, but a more smooth looking film-like quality. The picture brightness was excellent and we didn't have any problem filling our Stewart FireHawk in our theater room. We happen to have good light control in our environment, so potential buyers need to make sure they too can control their room lighting.

The only 720p video we had on hand was Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials in the D-Theater format, which has some excellent reference video patterns for calibrating the projector. The majority of material we watched was 1080i high definition content, which requires the projector to scale this to the native 720p format. We didn't notice any objectionable artifacts with the scaling process, nor did we see any real problems with 480p DVD material. We watched very little 480i (Component or NTSC) video with this review system, but did notice some degradation in picture quality as one might expect, especially when using a composite source. We would recommend using a progressive scan DVD player with this projector for DVDs.

The Panasonic PT-AE500U sets a new standard for delivering a quality high-definition picture to its customers for a fraction of the cost of many competing products. The resolution of the PT-AE500U is certainly one of its best attributes and the accurate colors we saw surely make it a projector that we can recommend without hesitation. The color tracking was excellent and the overall picture was simply amazing for a $2500 projector. The limitations would be in the deep blacks, but is not terribly distracting and certainly forgivable given the price. Its ability to accept 1080i, 720p, 480p or 480i makes it compatible with any high-end home theater system. The out-of-the-box color tracking was actually quite good, but certainly benefited from our calibration. The fan noise was relatively quiet when set to the low power mode. In fact, this has been one of the quietest projectors in our theater room. Anyone on a budget who desires to have a large screen with a real high definition picture needs to take a look at the PT-AE500U. One must pay attention to room lighting and the improved quality that comes with mating it to a high-quality screen.

- Kevin Nakano

OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray Player

Review System

Screen #1: Stewart Filmscreen 100" Luxus Deluxe FireHawk Screenwall
Screen #2: Da-Lite 92" Cinema Contour with High Contrast Cinema Vision Screen
Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 TripoleŽ Surround Speakers
Subwoofer: Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Samsung SIR-T165 Terrestrial HDTV Receiver with DVI
HDTV Receiver/Controller: Mitsubishi HD-5000 Receiver
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
Laserdisc Player: Pioneer CLD-D704 CD/VCD/LD Player
A/V Cables: Ethereal A/V Cables
DVI Cable: AudioQuest DV-1 High Performance 20-meter DVI-D Cable
Video Generator: Sencore VP300 SDTV/HDTV Video Pattern Generator
Video Signal Analyzer: Sencore VSA794 NTSC Video Signal Analyzer
Color Analyzer #1: Sencore CP5000 Multi-Display Color Analyzer
Color Analyzer #2:
ColorFacts System

Review - At a Glance

Panasonic - PT-AE500U High-Definition LCD Projector

Panel Type 0.7" Diagonal 16:9 Active Matrix LCD Panel
Pixel Resolution 1280x720 (921,600 pixels)
Manual zoom/focus lens
(1:1-1:1.2), F 1.9-2.2, f 22.0-26.2mm
Lamp 130W UHMTM lamp
Brightness 850 lumens
Contrast Ratio 1300:1 (full on/full off, AI mode activated)
Fan Noise 27dB (low power mode)
Installation Ceiling/desk, front/rear (menu selection)
Digital Keystone Correction Horizontal: ±30°, Vertical: ±30° (approx.)
Uniformity 90%, corner to corner
Video Signal Support NTSC, PAL, SECAM, M-NTSC, PAL60, PAL-M, PAL-N
HDTV Compatibility 480p/720p/1080i
Power supply100–240 V AC, 50/60 Hz
Projection Size 40 to 200 inches (16:9, diagonal)
Dimensions 311/32'' x 11'' x 109/16''
Operating Temperature 0° C - 40° C (32° F - 104° F)
Humidity: 20%-80% (no condensation)
Operating humidity 30% to 85%
Weight 6.4 lbs

Composite Video In 1 (RCA)
S-Video In 1 (4-pin mini DIN)
Component In 1 (3 x RCA)
RGB/HD In 1 (VGA D-Sub 15)
DVI/HDCP In DVI w/HCDP replaces IEEE1394
DC Trigger Out 1 (3.5 mm mini jacks)

IR Remote 1 (N2QAEA000019)
Batteries 2 (AAA Type)
Power Cord 1 (K2CG3FR00001)
Video Cable 1 (K2KA2FA00003)
Carrying Bag 1 (TPEP008)

Company Information
Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company
Division of Matsushita Electric Corporation
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, New Jersey
Phone: 800-211-7262

Source: Manufacture loan
Model Number: PT-AE500U
MSRP: $2,500

Optional accessories:
Replacement lamp unit: ET-LAE500


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