Panasonic has been a long-standing champion of LCD technology for home video, even while it sold DLP projectors into the professional market. Its current model is the PT-AE900.
The AE900's looks are decidedly underwhelming. Particularly uninspiring is the finish, but I was also unmoved by the plain colour scheme and rather standard sculpting. If you were hoping to add a dash of glamour to your coffee table, this isn't the projector for you.
Connections get the job done. HDMI and component jacks satisfy the connectivity part of the HD Ready specifications, and they're joined by a PC input and a Scart socket. Yes, a Scart socket. Why more projector makers don't include Scarts is beyond me. So, well done Panasonic!
Panasonic's AE900's LCD system offers a 1280 x 720 native resolution, and serves up impressive contrast and brightness claims of 5500:1 and 1100 ANSI Lumens respectively.
This contrast is achieved thanks to a 'dynamic iris', which analyses the incoming picture and automatically reduces the amount of light let through the lens during darker scenes.
On hand to tackle LCD's visible pixel grid structure is a revamped version of Panasonic's tried and tested Smooth Screen technology. This uses a double refraction crystal/prism arrangement to reduce the gaps between pixels while making lines thinner and brighter.
There's also an innovative Cinema Colour Management system which allows you to adjust over a billion colours, and an inspired setup arrangement whereby you can shift the picture up, down, left or right using a joystick on the projector's front.
Panasonic's AE900 can be added to the growing list of projectors that delivers a really impressive picture performance.
Without doubt the strongest weapon in the Panasonic arsenal is its colour response. In terms of sheer vibrancy, in fact, the AE900 is arguably one of the best we've seen it its class. What's more, the brightness and richness of the colours even holds good during darker scenes, and the tone is generally unusually natural by LCD (though not DLP) standards.
Panasonic's Smooth Screen system, meanwhile, does a good job of removing all evidence of the LCD grid. In fact, noise in general is well suppressed.
Black levels are good too, going way deeper than most LCD models, including the more expensive Sony HS60. This helps give dark scenes a fair sense of scale.
However, while good, Panasonic's AE900 is found fractionally wanting in one or two areas by the extremely high standards of some of its rivals. For instance, the black levels of the DLP models, and the Hitachi LCD, are deeper and more replete with subtle shadow detailing.
Pictures from the InFocus, Sony and Hitachi projectors also look slightly sharper, perhaps because of the Panasonic's otherwise excellent Smooth Screen system.
Overall, there's a lot to like about Panasonic's PT-AE900. It's a hugely accomplished projector that will serve anyone that buys it superbly for gaming and movies alike. That it's marginally outgunned by some of its rivals in this group test says more about the quality of the competition than it does about the limitations of the AE900.