Panasonic may have been at the forefront of 3D in the TV world, but it’s been startlingly tardy about getting involved with 3D projection. Now that Panasonic’s PT-AT5000E debut 3D projector is finally here, though, it’s a relief to find that it’s been more than worth the wait.
Aesthetically, the AT5000 is a considerable improvement over previous Panasonic LCD projectors. Gone is the fat ‘concrete block’ sculpting of the brand's previous PT-AE4000; in is a trimmer profile and some pleasingly rounded edges.
A panel to the right hand side of the lens comes off to reveal the built-in 3D transmitter, and a ‘joystick’ with which you can shift the image vertically or horizontally. Trying to use this joystick to get the images from the AT5000 correctly aligned on our screen was surprisingly difficult, though, as the joystick requires so much pressure to move the image that once it starts to go it tends to suddenly shift miles, making precise movements almost impossible. Such imprecision at the very start of the set-up process is actually quite bizarre - especially considering that the projector’s zoom and focus settings are handled mechanically, with much more finesse, via the remote control.
To calm ourselves down again after our experience with the image shifting joystick, we decided to peruse the AT5000’s spec sheet. And it really does make for some pretty delicious reading. It uses a full HD LCD chipset (sourced from Epson) for a start, and thanks to a completely reworked optical design it produces a claimed 300,000:1 contrast ratio (double that of last year’s AE4000) and 2000 ANSI Lumens maximum brightness output. These are enormously promising figures for a projector that costs only a tad over £3,000, however ‘optimistic’ they might be.
The new optical heart of the AT5000 is, crucially, built inside a sealed enclosure, which should keep the optics free of the dust problems that we’ve seen eventually blight some previous LCD models - even Epson’s otherwise mighty TW5500. Light comes courtesy of a specially created 200W lamp which pushes red more than normal lamps in a bid to compensate for UHP’s normal red deficiencies.
There’s also a brand new dynamic iris system in the AT5000 that’s designed to respond faster and more subtly to changes in image content, and crucially the LCD panels in the projector are driven at 480Hz - a speed which should minimise crosstalk and improve brightness when watching 3D.
One further improvement that could prove critical to the AT5000’s performance is the way its new design helps drain the potentially extreme amounts of heat coming from the projector’s lamp. The AT5000 really does run remarkably quietly considering how bright its images are - and unlike some 3D projectors, its running volume levels don’t change much at all when you switch into 3D mode. Excellent.
Heading into the AT5000’s onscreen menus, they’re quite pleasantly presented aside from the fact that the text used is rather ‘wiry’. They could look rather intimidating to relative home cinema novices, perhaps, but the truth is that they don’t need to cause any alarm since the AT5000 is one of those rare bits of AV kit that comes equipped with some genuinely useful picture presets.
Personally we found ourselves torn between the warmth and dynamism of the Cinema 2 preset and the ‘accuracy’ of the Rec 709 preset (Rec 709 being an industry-approved HD video standard). But people who like their images aggressively ‘poppy’ or who - shudder - have a bit of ambient light to contend with might prefer the Cinema 1 mode.