It’s almost a year to the day since I found myself reviewing - and very much enjoying - Panasonic’s PT-AE3000 LCD projector. And lo and behold, sat on my projector stand as we speak is that model’s annual successor, the cunningly named PT-AE4000.
And I should imagine that it’s feeling just a bit nervous, as it happens. For the last few months have been a real vintage period for the projection market, with all manner of great new models from a variety of manufacturers at a broad range of price points. So the AE4000 is going to have its work cut out if it’s to look as impressive relative to the competition as its predecessor did.
Unfortunately, it stumbles at the very first hurdle. For in these days where even the most bargain basement projectors are managing at least a dash of style, the AE4000 enjoys all the aesthetic pleasures of a breeze block. Seriously, is there really any need in this day and age for Panasonic’s premier home cinema projector to be housed in a plasticky, matt black, chunky rectangular box that looks like a throw-back to the worst bits of the 1980s?
The best that can be said about its drab looks is that they’re symmetrical - although on a practical level, its matt black finish does at least not reflect light, and helps the projector ‘disappear’ if installed on the ceiling of a permanent, dark home cinema room.
The AE4000 steps up its game dramatically when you check out its connections, though. For rather superbly it carries three v1.3 HDMI inputs. This level of digital/HD catering isn’t even found currently on ultra-costly projectors like Vivitek’s H9085FD or SIM2’s MICO 50.
Elsewhere there are component video inputs (as demanded by the increasingly outdated HD Ready specification), an S-Video input, a composite video input, a D-Sub PC port, a serial control bus and last but not least, two 12v trigger jacks. These are more interesting than unusual in that they can be set to function as inputs and outputs, enabling the projector to be engaged on a much more sophisticated level with other bits of kit in your system.
Another handy early feature of the AE4000 can be seen on its top panel, in the shape of two rotating ‘dial’ knobs. These provide a straightforward means of optically shifting the image in both the horizontal and vertical planes. And they let you do this over a wide enough range to accommodate the demands of even the most oddly shaped room without having to call on the image-distorting nastiness of keystone correction.
I have to say that I found the image shift knobs a little hard to use with any finesse, but with a little patience you’ll get the image exactly where you want it. Zoom and focus, meanwhile, are motorised, and accessed simply by pressing a dedicated Lens button on the remote control. I was impressed, too, to see the AE4000 reinforcing its positioning flexibility by providing a really healthy x2 optical zoom level.