The arrival of the AE4000E in New Zealand is most notable by the price point that Panasonic NZ has managed to deliver
it to us. The thing is, despite the very competitive pricing which more or less aligns NZ with overseas the AE4000E has
actually a number of key upgrades from earlier models that make this projector more valuable than its predecessors. So a
double win for the NZ consumer.
I was quite excited when I first heard about some of the features in the Panasonic AE4000E and I was keen to get my hands
on one to check it out.
The unit itself by visual appearance is essentially unchanged from previous 1080 models, some argue that the look will
never win many wife approval awards. If you are into function over form then you will ignore the appearance. I don’t mind
it myself, the daughters first comment was, what a beast! Can’t argue with that.
The dimensions of this beast H*W*D 130*460*300mm actually fits a shelf location quite well, allow for 50~100mm at the
rear for connections and power. For ceiling mounting you will need a bracket capable of supporting 7kg of weight. Of course
make sure the support bracket actually grips something solid.
The AE4000E has several advances from the AE3000E that work together to deliver a substantial increase in overall performance.
By a quick glance of the spec sheet these are not overly apparent. The CR going from 60,000:1 to 100,000:1 is the obvious step,
but a less obvious one is the lumen rating, which on paper is the same as the previous model.
Panasonic has developed a red enriched lamp for this model, so although the lumen value is the same the output at the screen
is substantially higher.
The reason for this is that this new design overcomes the problem with the traditional projector lamp that is deficient in red.
With the traditional lamp when balancing the red, green and blue to the correct levels, typically lowers the lumen output limited
by the red. The vast majority of traditional projector lumen ratings are based upon a less than accurate image to get the higher
outputs, the dynamic modes. Although even here the highest rating is still based upon dynamic mode that does in fact clip, the
overall red boost comes through into all modes.
When using the accurate modes the increase from the earlier models is measurable and visual, the red enriched lamp does indeed
result in higher lumens output than previous models whilst maintaining accurate image balance.
After the LCD panels there is a new pure contrast plate to filter light leakage. Light leakage is the basic limit of the black
level obtainable by an LCD based projector and so with the leakage blocked the black level is lowered. Basically less greyness to
the low light level image, the traditional weakness of the LCD based projector.
The result of the combined filtering and the red enriched lamp and not forgetting the fifth generation intelligent iris, all
combine to increase the dynamic range commonly known as contrast ratio, hence the spec sheet increase from 60000:1 to 100000:1.
Of course it doesn’t stop here, there is improved optics comprising of 16 lens elements in 12 groups carefully aligned at the
factory to deliver greater accuracy and less distortion.
But wait there’s more! Additionally there is a pure colour filter, which assists the colour balancing act to adhere to the
standards. The mode Colour1 is the closest to ITU-R BT.709 the official HD reference standard for video imagery, Colour2 is aimed
at the DCI standard. There are even more advanced features involving colour management, white balance and gamma tracking, which
I’ll go into in the really geeky section of this review.
There is various image processing options that have been revised and added, Panasonics Smooth screen technology continues as
in previous models and functions very well to remove the LCD structure, no change here as this is already well developed.
Further processing is done with the ‘Detail Clarity Processor 3’ with 7 steps of adjustment that acts like an advanced
sharpness control. This processor analysers the image to try and reproduce information damaged by compression or other losses.
Then there is the updated frame interpolation technology that is known as ‘Frame Creation 2, with motion blur reduction’,
with options, off, mode1, mode2 and mode3.
Displaying 50hz/60hz material there is an additional frame added so you will see 100hz/120hz and for 24hz material an
additional 3 frames are added so you see 96hz. Each mode just makes the effect more or less pronounced.
A note with these processors is they add time delay to the image processing so you need to add
delay to audio when using these.
The lens memory function has been updated as well with auto detection so you don’t need to dive into menus to switch
between your stored zooms. This has 6 memories for zoom and focus. Devised as a pseudo anamorphic setup, although not true
anamorphic it does allow for the use of a wide angle screen for the 2.35:1~2.40:1 movies then zooming to a different position
There is a true stretching option to use all the LCD pixels then reshape the image with an external anamorphic lens. So
the AE4000E is capable of true anamorphic constant height setups as well.
The lens has 2x optical zoom and lens shift allows for +/-40% horizontal and +/-100% vertical movement. It of course has
keystone correction, but I advise use of this only if there is no other option as it destroys resolution.
So how does all this sum up?
Really quite superb, actually the exact words from my wife were (Before viewing), “So how is this projector better than
what we have now?” Peering at the my old AE900E looking nervous perched up on the roof, “Everywhere dear”. Thirty minutes
later. Wife mutters, “This is just unreasonably good”.
One of the things that really had me startled is how good upscaled standard definition is. First disk on was ‘Half-light’
which actually is a really good reference for natural colour and has an excellent range of high contrast scenes. Despite the
only copy I have of it being standard definition on DVD, upscaled from my BD35 at 1080p50 it blew away my wife with detail
and colour (colour1). The detail clarity feature is targeted more at this sort of material, you actually shouldn’t need much
enhancement on true HD material. Although the BD35 plays its part in this the image upscaling was never this good on my AE900E
despite keeping it well tuned. The AE4000E just takes it to another level.
Next up was Blackhawk Down on Blueray, this was even better even though it is a naturally grainy movie. I played with the frame
creation feature, which works by creating more frames of information between the original frames, the effect works surreally on
your head. If you haven’t seen frame creation working, this is worth a look. Although some find the effect less film like as the
extra frames creates a digital look. Then again the film look is just our heads used to lower flicker rates.
Panasonic projectors, from the early days of the AE300E till now do what I like to see with hardware, where the manufacture
incrementally updates each year. Every few models though we have seen a big technology jump from a previous years model. The
AE700E is an example, then the AX100, the AE became the 1080 model range with the AE1000E. Now we have the AE4000E and I believe
we have another of the performance jump models.
You can argue the pros and cons of any of the current crop of 1080 projectors and still have your personal favourites. But in
all reality, for hit power for buck Panasonic and the NZ consumer are on a winner here, with the AE4000E at a rrp of $4299 there
will be a number of current projector owners let alone any first timers to the projection world thinking buy now time. So if you
are thinking about an upgrade or new purchase this one is worthwhile considering.
Really geeky stuff!
The waveform monitor returns again, although most people don’t understand its purpose. It is not uncommon to find the source
equipment varies in output levels, the idea here is to match the source output levels so that you do not clip the top end
‘contrast’ or cut off the bottom end ‘brightness’ of the source. Running the auto align with a stepped greyscale from your
player matches the projector to the player.
Now the section I was so eager to get my hands on.
Even though the Colour1 mode is good out of the box it can be fine tuned to be even tighter tolerances or any of the other
modes can be dialled in as well.
Deep in the AE4000E menus are some serious calibration tools for the advanced enthusiast and professional calibrator to fine
tune the image, though I should point out with the advanced calibration tools doing anything by eye will probably lead to creating
a mess of the image.
Firstly, the old colour management tool, which has been part of the AE projectors for a long time, which no one ever used because
it did absolutely nothing useful except to change one colour out of thousands to another colour, finally has been updated. The old
mode exists, however switch it to the six colour mode and it is now a functioning colour management tool to set the primaries and
secondarys closer to HD standard ITU-R BT.709 or any other gamut within the adjustment range.
Although the tool is disabled in Colour1 or Colour2 modes since these are predefined and fairly accurate out of the box, you
can however use it in any of the other modes that uses the default full gamut range producible by the projector.
For white balance there is the standard RGB cuts and gains, but for the gamma section there is a new adjustment tool with 2
main options, the traditional low, mid and high gamma control and an advanced option. Enabled allows for a 9 point adjustment of Y,
R, G and B gamma tracking. This is a really powerful tool for the professional calibrator, even though it does add quite of bit of
time to do a calibration process the resulting gamma white balance tracking can be superb.
The following charts are a calibration of Cinema 1 mode, it doesn’t get any better than this, enjoy.