So if you’ve wondered why the news is down over the last couple of days the answer is because yours truly has been at the Panasonic European Headquarters in Wiesbaden, Germany seeing a rather special projector…
The PT-AE1000E from Panasonic is a high quality, high end product aimed at hardcore cinephiles. It sports a ‘Full HD’ 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) native resolution courtesy of the much hyped C2FINE LCD panel, a simply incredible 11,000:1 contrast ratio (the highest in its class) and slightly more modest 1,100 lumens of brightness which reveals its yearning for a dark, dedicated home cinema environment.
Up and running the AE1000E produces one of the most vivid 1080p images I’ve seen to date with much of the credit for this going to the company’s new ‘Dynamic Iris’. It is a system which works by analysing histograms to determine the brightness level of each image then adjusting the lamp power, iris and gamma curve accordingly to improve the image. Adjustments are made 60 times per second and the resultant dynamic range is absolutely mouth watering.
Other technological wizardry that caught my eye included the ‘Cinema Works Pro’, an entirely new processing engine which has a 14bit processing circuit to smooth out image hues, Mpeg noise reduction, dynamic sharpness control and seven preset picture modes. Yet perhaps best of this bunch was the projector’s ‘Smooth Screen’ technology which reduces the gaps between pixels virtually eliminating the ‘chicken-wire effect’ you see up close on many screens.
Still none of these goodies are much use without a huge image to show them off so I was amazed to see the AE1000E create a pixel perfect 100in screen from a distance of just 3m with the ability to stretch even further. Despite this enormity, the projector itself is rather compact measuring 460 x 130 x 300mm and weighing 7.2Kg and yet it still manages to cramp in a whole host of connectivity options with S-video, D-sub, 2x Component, SCART, Serial and 2x HDMI inputs.
So having been wowed by the presentation I expected to be equally bowled over by the price. In the last six months I’ve seen my fair share of 1080p projectors and they tend to sit in the £6,000 to £10,000 range. Come November however this will all change as the AE1000E is going to launch for 4,500 euros, just over £3,000 (£3,018). This puts it in the same category as most 50/55in plasmas (including its own outstanding 50in Viera TH-50PX600). Surely a battle is looming?
On this note I spoke with Rena Yotsu, Panasonic Japan’s home cinema specialist of the product planning team, about whether she saw a move away from LCDs towards projectors in the next few years. While admitting that the projector market could only get bigger, she raised the interesting point that they are incredibly difficult to market to consumers because they cannot be easily demonstrated in an average high street store. They require darkness and a dedicated wall which could otherwise be filled by a mass of LCDs.
“Word of mouth is their future for now,” she said, “but the market share has to improve. When you can have a 100in 1080p projector image in your living room for the price of a 50in LCD that makes for a pretty attractive buying proposition”.
The AE1000E may be the first to put her theory to the test…
Unfortunately it appears that the AE1000E's UK cost will be higher than that of the Europeans after Panasonic informed us there is a different 'pricing structure'. The UK RRP will consequently be £3,500 but - considering the specs - it still represents excellent value for money.