Panasonic has been in the front-projection business for a long time, and has been aggressively pricing its home theater projectors for just as long, which has effectively driven prices down in the category as a whole. As a result it's now more affordable than ever to get a big-screen theater experience at home. The company's latest effort, the PT-AE2000U, is a 1080p resolution projector that sells for a little more than $2,500. Like most offerings in its price range, it isn't perfect, but it is better than most of its competition, such as the Sanyo PLV-Z2000. As is typical with these types of projectors, overall color fidelity is Panasonic's biggest issue, but in other areas of picture quality it performs surprisingly well. The unit offers great connectivity and a slew of helpful setup features, and it packs a solid 1080p punch for such a compact package.
The PT-AE2000U's external appearance won't turn any heads. It's a basic, rectangular-shaped box finished all in black, which means it should disappear when mounted on darker ceilings. All of the connectivity is located in the rear center of the chassis. A pull-down door on the side hides a menu button, the four-way arrows for navigation, and the focus and zoom functions.
As far as remotes go, the one included with the AE200U is an excellent design. We liked its ergonomics, especially the easy thumb access to the most commonly-used keys. It is a fully backlit universal type capable of controlling other components. The internal menu system is fairly straightforward and easy to navigate.
Setup features abound on the PT-AE2000U. Vertical and horizontal lens shift are a boon during installation, adding flexibility in placement of the projector relative to the screen. Electronic zoom and focus also ease setup because you can focus the image while standing close to the screen, rather than back at the projector.
A total of seven picture modes is more than any projector we've seen and presents a daunting number of choices for most users. We chose Cinema 1 because it was the most neutral and provided a good baseline for getting the most accurate picture we could out of the PT-AE2000U. There is an Auto Iris feature, which we turned off, as usual, to maintain stable light output and black levels.
Selectable color temperatures are in numeric form, ranging from -6 to +6. The -2 setting provided the most accurate grayscale prior to calibration. For real techies there is actually a built-in Waveform Monitor, which can help in perfecting some adjustments. All the grayscale and gamma adjustments are found under the Advanced menu. Gamma was a bit better than on last year's AE1000U, and therefore we didn't find it necessary to manipulate the gamma controls. After some minor tweaking we arrived at a nice, smooth-tracking grayscale.
Connectivity on the PT-AE200U is superb. It includes a whopping three HDMI inputs--more than any projector we've reviewed so far. Having multiple HDMI inputs is great if you're connecting gear directly to the projector, but it's less useful in permanent in-ceiling installations that utilize one long HDMI umbilical to the projector from an HDMI switch near the component rack. There's also a pair of component-video inputs, one S-Video input, one composite-video input, a VGA-style PC input, and an RS-232 port for custom remote-control systems.
The PT-AE2000U is a solid performer in the entry-level 1080p projector category, delivering deep black levels and sharp video processing, but falling short of the best projectors' color accuracy.