The AE4000 colours are particularly noteworthy, because their extreme vibrancy - even using the Cinema 1 mode that gets closest to the D65 video standard - is matched with an outstanding level of tonal subtlety and accuracy. In fact, while I noted earlier when talking about the red-rich lamp how good flesh tones look, I feel the need to stress this even further, by saying that they actually look almost miraculously good for a £2,100 LCD projector. Slightly better, even, than those of Epson’s £3,900 TW5500.
The AE4000 also emphatically improves on its predecessor - and outguns the vast majority of the LCD competition - when it comes to black level response. The traditional grey mistiness over parts of the picture that should look black is pretty much non-existent post calibration - or even just using the Cinema 1 preset. There’s a fair degree of shadow detail in dark areas too.
Furthermore, I was really impressed with how well the projector handles motion. Personally I went no higher than Mode 1 of the frame interpolation system, despite admiring the sheer technical prowess of the new Mode 3, since Mode 1 leaves the picture looking cinematic and natural while also reducing judder enough to stop it being as distracting as it is on lesser projectors.
In fact, provided you exercise a little caution with its processing settings, the AE4000’s pictures contain absolutely nothing to distract you from what you’re watching. There’s no sign of LCD’s common ‘screen door’ effect; no sign - obviously - of DLP’s rainbow effect and dithering noise; impressively little MPEG noise when watching rescaled standard definition pictures; and none of the graininess and ‘fizzing’ that you sometimes see when affordable projectors try to do HD.
All of its image strengths, together with its superb set up flexibility, huge feature count and anamorphic memory mode, make the AE4000 another resounding success for Panasonic’s aggravatingly small home cinema projection department.
However, there are a couple of minor weaknesses to be aware of. First of all, while dark scenes really do contain what looks suspiciously like a true black, the AE4000 still has to sacrifice quite a bit of brightness to get there, despite the new red-rich lamp. This means dark scenes don’t look as punchy as they do on the aforementioned Epson TW5500, which employs a novel two-level iris device to achieve its also excellent black levels without sacrificing so much brightness. The Epson’s dark scenes also look more stable than those of the Panasonic when you’ve got the latter’s dynamic contrast system engaged.
My other concern is that the AE4000’s HD pictures don’t look quite as sharp and textured as I’ve seen them on the best rival projectors. This could be down to the Smooth Screen technology designed to completely obliterate the screen door effect - though to be fair, Panasonic has presented me with persuasive arguments about why this can’t be so. But whatever the reason, there’s no denying that pictures look just a fraction soft when it comes to showing crisp HD edges, text and that touch of celluloid grain now accepted as being a good thing in many Blu-ray film masters.
Although the AE4000 still has room for improvement and leaves Epson plenty of wiggle room to justify charging significantly more for its TW5500 flagship LCD projector, Panasonic has undoubtedly delivered some really key improvements over the AE3000.
Couple its better pictures with its now enormous feature count, in fact, and the AE4000 is a unique, almost crazily flexible and hugely tantalising product for its price point - provided, at least, that you can house it in a room dark enough not to expose its slight lack of brightness during dark scenes.