Panasonic's latest home theatre projector, the PT-AE900, is a dead ringer for its predecessor, the excellent PT-AE700E. Both share the same silver chassis and are identical in size and weight - 95x335x270mm (HxWxD) and 3.6kg. You'll have to look very closely to notice the differences between the two - the PT-AE900 sports a slightly different button configuration at the top, and its front facing grille has more of a streamlined look. And due to the similar style, we'll have to give the PT-AE900E the same design verdict as we gave its predecessor - it's more functional than funky, but it's certainly not ugly.
There's thankfully little clutter at the back of the unit, which should make installation easy for even projector novices. All of the connectors are clearly labelled to avoid confusion, and are logically placed. They're even colour coded - blue for digital connections, and yellow for analogue.
While Panasonic did little to change the outside of the PT-AE900, it has performed several upgrades on the inside of the unit. Most significant is the projector's contrast ratio, which has more than doubled from the previous model to be now rated at 5500:1 (as opposed to 2000:1). Brightness has also marginally improved, up to 1100 lumens (from 1000). The PT-AE900 retains the PT-AE700E's native 16:9 widescreen format, 1280x720 pixel resolution, 2x optical zoom, and the ability to display more than one billion colours. Other technology inside the box includes Panasonic's proprietary Smooth Screen system (to smooth out the screen door effect noticeable in some LCD projectors), Cinema Colour Management technology which allows independent adjustment of colours, and RGB 10-bit full digital processing of video signals.
The PT-AE900 sports some impressive connectivity. At the back, you'll find one component, one S-Video, one composite, a SCART, serial and PC connector. There's also an HDMI plug there for those lucky enough to have a HDMI-enabled source player.
Panasonic has wisely retained the lens shift functionality of the PT-AE700E. This nifty little toggle at the front of the unit allows users to easily set the height and alignment of the projected image. The toggle seems somewhat easier to manipulate than in the previous model, which makes the PT-AE900 easy to plac in a wide variety of locations.
The PT-AE900 also comes with what Panasonic claims is the industry's first learning remote. This little device can effectively control up to eight home cinema components such as DVD players, amplifiers, projector screens and more. The remote, which features a backlight display, is quite an intimidating looking unit, and will probably take many some time to master.
But while the remote can be confusing, the projector is nothing but. The PT-AE900 is a breeze to set-up thanks to its intuitive lens control system. Simply plug in your desired source to the back of the projector, turn on the unit, and adjust the picture using the lens toggle and focus control. You'll be up and watching your favourite DVDs in no time.
We were more than impressed by the PT-AE700E's picture, but the image quality of the PT-AE900 was nothing short of outstanding. The PT-AE900 produces an image that would put much more expensive home theatre projectors to shame. The company's work in improving the contrast ratio has paid off - the PT-AE900 produces impressive black levels with plenty of detail. In the opening scenes of Star Wars Episode III, the projector was able to pick out the fine detail and folds in both Anakin Skywalker and Chancellor Palpatine's dark cloaks. The projector has also retained its brightness - it produced a more than watch-able picture even in brightly lit environments. Colours are also impressively reproduced.
All of the above comes together to produce a truly sharp and vibrant image. The opening space battle of Star Wars Episode III highlights all of the PT-AE900's strengths - blacks are deep, colours are vibrant and movement is free from blurring or artefacts. If outstanding home cinema is what you're after, then Panasonic's PT-AE900 is a superb choice for the price.