The Panasonic PT-AE700E doesn't really stand out in the style sweepstakes, but it's not hideous either. It's a no-nonsense, clean looking silver box, with its only apparent design element the vertical air output grilles on the left side of the front face. These nicely balance the lens, the tiny remote control signal receptor and a small joystick lens control on the right side. The front facing exhaust fan also means that the projector can be placed on a narrower site than those with side vents. The unit is quite light, weighing only 3.6kg so it's quite easy to move around if you so desire. Note that there's no included carrying case, however.
The 70g (with batteries) remote control is also quite small (43 x 135 x 22mm). The buttons can be illuminated by pressing the Light button at the top, opposite the Power control. The lights turn off automatically when no buttons on the remote control unit have been pressed for 10 seconds. Buttons to adjust the input signal, aspect, colour management, picture mode and vertical keystone distortion can be easily accessed from the remote, and there is also a Freeze control.
The PT-AE700E is easy to set up and operate, so you won't have to spend hours reading the manual before you're up and running. Its 2x optical zoom lens lets you adjust the image size to match the room layout and screen dimensions. It has a wide range of throw distances so that even in a fairly large room, you can get an extremely good quality image whether you're setting it up on a coffee table in front of your viewing position, or above and behind it.
For example, it can project a 254cm (100-inch) picture from as close as three meters and as far back as 6 meters. If you've got serious space, you can push the picture size up to 508cm (200-inches), but you'll need a projection distance of between 6-12 meters to do it.
Setting up a projector can be difficult in odd shaped rooms (such as the one this was test in), but the PT-AE700E simplifies that complication with the inclusion of a joystick vertical and horizontal lens shift control. So if you have to set up the projector on a bookshelf that isn't quite square on to your screen, you can move the image, without moving the projector. Horizontally, the lens can be shifted a maximum of 25 per cent of the width of the screen and vertically up to 63 per cent of the height of the screen. If you're adjusting both positions of the projected image, the percentage of movement is roughly halved. Since the lens moves within the projector housing, there is no distorion of the on-screen image, unlike adjustmenst with digital keystone correction -- although the projector does have a vertical keystone distortion which can be corrected to ±30Ã‚Â° of the angle of tilt.
This projector allows you to change the aspect ratio to match the type of input signal. The options include: 4:3, 16:9, 14:9, Just (which stretches a 4:3 image to fit a widescreen display without distorting the centre of the image), three zoom options and VScroll (PC images projected without expansion or reduction). When set to 'Auto', the projector switches the aspect ratio automatically if the input signal has a detector signal.
It has the standard array of terminals for DVD players, PCs and game machines (including Scart), but unlike most low end projectors, the PT-AE700E is somewhat future-proofed in its inclusion of HDMI input. Unfortunately, the HDMI cable is not part of the package, but if you invest in one, you'll be compatible with all high-definition digital sources. If you have DVI sources, DVI - HDMI adapters are available. It also has a trigger terminal, so you can connect it to devices such as an electric screen. No stand-alone audio capabilities though.
With some advanced technology and the PT-AE700E's high-definition 1,280x720-pixel resolution, Panasonic has pushed LCD technology to a very high level. The 1000 lumen lamp and its 'Dynamic Iris' optical system with AI techology yield brightness and colour variations that are quite subtle, so images seem very realistic
It has a dynamic contrast ratio of 2000:1, so the picture is sharp and clear. There is a Dynamic picture mode for watching in a a brightly-lit room, but the image is so much more enticing in the three Cinema modes, you'll want to hit the light switch. The blacks are deep and bright, even in dark monochromatic scenes such as when Cate Blanchett's character in The Missing is being stricken by the curse of an Apache shaman.
The high-definition picture is also remarkably smooth - at normal viewing distances there is no discernable screen door effect. Nor did we notice any of the dreaded 'rainbow effect' where the image seems to blur.
If you're not happy with any of the seven built-in picture quality modes, you can easily make up to three of own image presets and store them in memory. Colour, brightness and tint can be adjusted up to 8 points from a cursor managed from the remote control. (White, grey and black cannot be adjusted.) When the Picture Mode menu is selected, the settings will switch automatically to the last Profile setting that was used.
We were concerned that the front exhaust system would be noisy, but the projector in operation is actually very quiet - a mere 26dB.
Panasonic says the intended lamp replacement interval is 3000 hours, which is neither at the top nor bottom end of the lamp-life scale, but it does drive down the cost per viewing hour.
All up, we couldn't find much to complain about with the Panasonic PT-AE700E. There are certainly cheaper home cinema projectors on the market, but for its image quality, ease of set-up and HD widescreen capabilities, this projector leaves many of its more fancied and more expensive competitors for dead.