Panasonic PT-AE8000 home theatre projector
This projector takes some setting up, but it’s hard to beat
- Unparalleled image quality
- Excellent price for performance
- No remote control
- Labyrinthine menu structure
The Panasonic PT-AE8000 home theatre projector is one of the best that you can buy. If you’ve got a Blu-ray player or HTPC and some high quality video material, you can be assured of excellent video quality -- a huge range of contrast, a pin-sharp lens, and seamless 3D. Setup is an imperfect process, but once set up it is one of the best ways to watch movies that we’ve seen.
Price$ 3,899.00 (AUD)
Panasonic has a solid history in the 1080p home theatre projector market, constantly evolving since the original $7700 PT-AE1000 from 2007. The PT-AE8000 is an incremental upgrade from the early-2012 PT-AE7000, significantly increasing overall brightness while maintaining and improving the already-excellent contrast and colour capabilities of its 3LCD panel setup.
Panasonic PT-AE8000: Design, setup, and features
The PT-AE8000 projector is nearly identical to its predecessor, with a large, offset lens installed next to a large front-venting air duct. There’s a matching duct at the rear, pulling in fresh air away from the exhaust. Three rear HDMI inputs are joined by VGA, component, composite, and S-Video — the omission of DisplayPort or DVI are forgivable given this projector’s home cinema-only destination.
There’s a rear switch for the projector’s power — next to the standard kettle-plug power connector — but all the PT-AE8000’s controls are clustered in a square panel on the right-hand side front, near the lens. There’s a removable panel that hides a manual joystick-style horizontal and vertical lens shift with a range of 26 and 100 degrees respectively.
The controls are simply arranged — power, input, menu and return buttons around a five-way menu navigation pad. Dedicated buttons for focus and zoom can be found on the bottom of the panel, and every button is clearly labeled enough to read upside-down (for the most-common ceiling-mount installations).
Setting up the projector is a mix of easy and difficult. It’s easy to make the rough adjustments necessary — the manual lens shift adjustment is smooth, and it’s easy to make fine adjustments and lock them in. Zoom and focus are easy to control — there’s no diving through menus thanks to dedicated buttons — and the inclusions of a remote control means that it’s possible to get up close to the screen to properly fine-tune focus. It’s an installation job that needs two people at least to complete ideally, but you can get pretty close on your own.
It’s slightly more difficult to both navigate the menu system, which is populated with menus on top of sub-menus We like to switch back and forth between presets a few times to compare them in our testing, and the menu-on-menu system isn’t perfect for it.
There’s a bevy of quality settings on offer for adjusting almost every aspect of the Panasonic PT-AE8000’s picture, and this can be quite daunting if you’re intending to install the projector on your own. We’d either opt for a professional installation, or to sit down for a long, hard read of the owner’s manual beforehand. Once you’ve got the PT-AE8000 set up correctly, it’s not going to require much fiddling (beyond an occasional calibration, if you’re intending to), but it’s an intensive process that’s more complicated, albeit for better results, than a simpler or cheaper home theatre projector.
Panasonic PT-AE8000: Picture quality and performance
We tested the PT-AE8000 on a 100-inch screen, using the lens at its widest setting to maximise brightness. The 2x zoom lens of the PT-AE8000 has a variable aperture, changing from f/1.9 at its widest to f/3.2 at its tightest — so with the projector fully zoomed, you’ll lose a moderate amount of the projector lamp’s output.
With a 2400-lumen rated lamp, over the PT-AE7000’s already impressive 2000 lumens, the PT-AE8000 is more than versatile enough to display a bright, vibrant, extremely highly-contrasted image under lighting conditions from dark all the way up to a moderately well-lit room. If you’re in a room that’s brightly lit by fluorescent lights, the projector will suffer, but this is understandable given that it’s a dedicated, installation-only home theatre model.
This is a consideration to make if you have any thoughts of using the PT-AE8000 in a living room or non-dedicated theatre room that has external windows, though; it’s only going to operate at its best when you can control the lighting in the room around you.
Moving up from the PT-AE7000 in every way, the PT-AE8000 is one of the best home theatre projectors we have tested in terms of its image quality. It’s got a huge contrast range, displaying bright white areas with impressive gradation of detail alongside equally detailed shadows and darker screen areas.
Sharpness is equally good, with the PT-AE8000 resolving every pixel we looked at across its entire frame with no noticeable variation from centre to edges or corners. We generally left the sharpness setting at its default minimum; bumping it up does accentuate edges on high detail sources like Blu-ray but introduces a small amount of over-sharpening haloing with each increment. We didn’t see any need for it with our test material.
Where the PT-AE8000 excels is in the brightness it can deliver with 3D video. The high-brightness lamp output takes a jump when changing to 3D mode, and the two pairs of bundled 3D glasses are relatively comfortable even if they aren’t quite as modern as those that this year’s LCD and plasma TVs will ship with. The 3D mode delivers impressively realistic depth of field, has no flickering, and just generally looks great — mostly thanks to the extra brightness that Panasonic’s held in reserve.
For the majority of our viewing we left the projector in its Cinema 1 mode, which has the best colour accuracy we’ve seen on a home theatre projector. The Rec.709 mode is nearly identical but brings a slight brightness boost which adds a little pop at the cost of a tiny amount of highlight detail. We’d happily use either without any calibration, although you could wring a tiny bit of extra highlight detail with some work.
Panasonic PT-AE8000: Conclusion
Given that it’s a $3800 piece of technology, buying a PT-AE8000 isn’t a decision to be made lightly. If you’re looking for a high quality projector to flatter your high quality movies in a home cinema, though, this is one that you should give serious consideration to.
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