Regular readers will know that our current favourite test sequence for black level response is the beginning of Chapter 12 on the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt II Blu-ray, and The Panasonic PT-AT6000E handles this entire sequence quite brilliantly, combining its lovely deep blacks with enough shadow detail to let you see the individual outlines of all of Voldemort’s followers on the night-time hilltop; lots of detail in the extremely dark shot of Hogwarts in the valley blow; and even details of the hills behind Voldemort.
To be clear, most TVs struggle to show all these subtleties and details on a small scale, yet here we have an affordable LCD projector not only presenting pretty much everything this incredibly dark scene has to offer at 90-inches and more, but doing so with total stability and without a trace of the light uniformity issues that you get with most TVs.
Not that the Panasonic PT-AT6000E is only about a brilliant contrast performance, though. It also performs superbly where colour is concerned. The red-rich lamp Panasonic has used helps the AT6000E deliver the slightly warm tone that generally works best for accurate video rendition versus the slightly cool look LCD tech generally leans towards.
The colour range is extreme, meanwhile, and Panasonic’s latest colour processing engine delivers bags of finesse when it comes to colour blends and tonal shifts. Especially, we’re impressed to report, with skin tones. Wrapping up a really terrific 2D video performance is an impeccable approach to sharpness and detail - courtesy in part of Panasonic’s Smooth Screen technology.
The Panasonic PT-AT6000E lets you see even the finest nuance and detail in such HD specialities as a suit texture, head of hair, or tree-filled long-distance view. But crucially it does this without forcing the sharpness to the point where grain becomes excessive or edges look stressy. The result is a picture that looks effortlessly engaging and cinematic, even with notoriously ‘fizzy’ and even noise-reduced transfers such as - again - the Harry Potter disc. To be clear here, we’re not saying the Panasonic PT-AT6000E gets rid of natural film grain. It just handles it more naturally than many rivals.
The Panasonic PT-AT6000E’s sharpness remains intact when there’s motion in the picture too, and we were also pleasantly surprised by how little judder there is, even if you don’t bother with the Frame Creation motion compensation processing system the projector carries.
The final remarkable aspect of the Panasonic PT-AT6000E’s 2D performance is how bright it is. Even using its Cinema presets it manages to look notably brighter than the preceding AT5000E, raising it to a level that would previously have been unthinkable on an affordable projector still capable of producing a brilliant black level response.
All in all, the Panasonic PT-AT6000E’s 2D performance is so good it frequently caused us to simply shake our heads in amazement. However, while its 3D images are also substantially better than those of the Panasonic PT-AT5000E, they’re not quite as satisfying as its 2D ones.
Our concerns are based around two factors: brightness and crosstalk. Regarding the former, while 3D images of the Panasonic PT-AT6000E are much brighter than the really quite dark efforts of the AT5000E, they still lose so much brightness versus the scintillating 2D images that you can’t help but feel less enthralled by them. Just lift your glasses while watching a 3D image and we guarantee you’ll be startled by just how much brighter the pictures get without the glasses on.
Panasonic has included the option to adjust the brightness of its 3D glasses, and there is indeed quite a jump between the dark, medium and light options. But the lightest option seems to increase in crosstalk, so we ended up settling on the medium level.
Talking of crosstalk, the 480Hz-capable LCD engine inside the Panasonic PT-AT6000E has certainly reduced the regularity with which it appears and its obviousness versus the Panasonic PT-AT5000E. But you can still quite routinely see at least traces of ghosting over distant objects and even the occasional foreground one. And sometimes this is sufficient to make distant objects and backgrounds look a little out of focus. When this happens, moreover, the sense of depth in the image can be slightly reduced.
However, before anyone gets too despondent about any of these points, we must stress that the Panasonic PT-AT6000E is still a good 3D projector overall. It does a lovely job, for instance, of rendering the full HD detail you get from today’s 3D Blu-ray discs. Motion seems clean and natural too, and there’s some quite lovely refinement in the way the AT6000E presents depth in well-designed 3D shots.
Active shutter flicker isn’t a serious problem either, so long as you’re doing the right thing and watching the projector in a blacked-out room, and there’s a surprising amount of subtlety in the handling of 3D colours, even if vibrancy levels have taken a hit. Finally, we really should stress once again that while we might still yearn for even more brightness, the Panasonic PT-AT6000E’s 3D images are definitely punchier than those of the Panasonic PT-AT5000E.
The last aspect of the AT6000E’s performance to cover is its running noise. This is generally very acceptable for such a prodigiously bright projector, to the point of being practically inaudible if you’re using the Eco lamp setting. You can become aware of a whir when watching 3D - when the lamp is running hardest - but only if you’re sat quite close to the projector. So you should be able to easily work around this issue given the Panasonic PT-AT6000E’s impressive set up flexibility.
Panasonic has kicked the new projector season off in spectacular style with the Panasonic PT-AT6000E. Pretty much every part of it has been either tinkered with or completely rebuilt versus its predecessor, resulting in a projector that’s good with 3D and outstanding with 2D, setting new standards for LCD projection technology. As noted at the start of this review there are some tantalising other projectors in the offing over the coming weeks, but it’s fair to say the Panasonic PT-AT6000E has set the bar mightily high.