This new model is based on the now familiar PT-AE700E,but with enhancements. Under the bonnet, the PT-AE900E has the same 1,280 x 720 LCD optical engine,but contrast ratio has been boosted from 2,000:1 to a very impressive 5,500:1,and maximum brightness has been ramped up by 10 per cent to 1,100 ANSI Lumens.

Other changes include a new mechanism for the lens shift facility,improvements to the cooling system and a new learning multicomponent remote control (the first of its type) that will operate source equipment - a DVD player for example - and accessories such as screens,screen masking and the like.

But this is a rather belt and braces approach - most people,with this kind of system,will naturally gravitate to trigger controlled switching.

Last but not least,the PT-AE900E is equipped with an HDMI digital input. One very unusual feature is the lens,which has a zoom range of 2:1. The Panasonic can be used close to the screen in all rooms where there is not enough distance to get it far away and still throw a large picture on screen.

More importantly,the lens has a sufficient focal length at the other end of its zoom range to allow it to be placed well behind the viewing hotseat,ideally on a shelf on the back wall. Used this way,light from the projector will be nearly perpendicular across the full width of the screen, giving a more uniform result, especially with directional screens (those with a gain of greater than 1.0).It also means that the source of cooling system noise will be behind the viewer,and probably less intrusive as a result.

Generally,this is a quiet enough projector,at least until you hit the 'off' switch,which triggers a brief period of accelerated cooling.

The high contrast ratio is not just down to the quality of Panasonic's optics.It is also a side product of the improved dynamic iris which, processes the changing picture in realtime using a histogram of the picture luminance information,taking particular account of the lightest and darkest ends of the scale.This produced slightly inconsistent results in underlit scenes,which are clearly important to film-based material.

So-called 'smooth screen' technology helps reduce the black borders around each row and column of pixels.An apparently similar idea is used in the Epson EMP-TW600 projector (see opposite) again with a similar side effect - a slight but significant softening of the image.The Panasonic looks smooth and colourful on screen,but with HD material (720p from Windows Media Player 9) it doesn't have the vibrancy and biting resolution of a good DLP.

Brightness is well up to DLP standards,however.You'll need an effective blackout for the Theatre settings,but picture quality is punchy. Brighter settings produce a softer picture,but one that lets you watch TV shows in the daytime under less than optimum conditions. Alvin Gold