Panasonic unveils its debut 3D projector

29 July 2011 | Hardware News, News | | 0 Comments   

Panasonic has today unveiled its first 3D projector, the PT-AT5000. And from what we’ve seen so far during the launch event at Panasonic’s Hollywood Laboratories in Los Angeles, it really is an exciting bit of kit – though maybe not entirely for the reasons we’d expected.

First, the cold hard facts. Starting with the fact that the projector uses a new dynamic iris system and improved lamp design to deliver a claimed contrast ratio of 300,000:1 – three times as high as the contrast ratio of Panasonic’s previous home cinema projector, the PT-AE4000.

Its lamp is a high-brightness 200W affair, meanwhile, capable of producing a 3D-friendly 2000 Lumens of light output. The lamp also advances further the red-enrichment technology first introduced with the PT-AE4000, designed to counter LCD’s usual weakness when it comes to showing red colours.

Panasonic has gone to town, too, when it comes to fine tuning 3D playback. Particularly interesting is a system for manually adjusting the convergence point of the picture so that 3D always looks comfortable and relaxing. Based on a realisation that different sizes of screens benefit from different parallax values, the system works by drawing two white lines, representing the maximum and minimum comfortable parallax values of the image, and then painting in a yellow line representing the parallax level in the image you’re watching. If the yellow lines go beyond the white boundary lines your viewing experience is likely to feel tiring, so the projector allows you to adjust the image’s parallax level until the yellow lines fit within the white ones.

Panasonic has also provided a toolset correcting the colour imbalance that sometimes exists in sources between left eye and right eye image information, with such imbalances being a common contributary factor to tiring 3D viewing.

Panasonic claims that the reason it’s taken so long to make a 3D projector is that it wanted to make sure it could get the quality right first. And a big part of this has meant attempting to eradicate crosstalk from the AT5000′s pictures. To achieve this, the AT5000E drives its LCD panels at 480Hz and applies what Panasonic – with deliberate vagueness – calls Overdrive Technology.

The AT5000′s 3D transmitter is built into the main projector body, to the right of the lens, and is reckoned to work over distances of up to 6m. If you have a bigger room than that, you’ll be able to buy an optional external transmitter.

Other useful features of the AT5000 include the return of the Intelligent Lens Memory introduced on the AE4000 that lets you programme up to six different zoom/focus positions. This feature is supported, too, by automatic switching between 16:9 and 2.35:1 video content.

It’s worth noting too that the AT5000′s lamp can be accessed and replaced simply by removing the lid, so you don’t need to take the projector off a ceiling mount when your lamp dies. Not that it will die as quickly as it would with the AE4000, mind you, for Panasonic ‘s improved lamp enclosure design means that lamp life has been increased to a claimed 4000 hours in Normal lamp output mode.

Wrapping the key specs up, we find an excellent three HDMIs and two 12V trigger outputs among its connections; manual image shifting; an excellent 2x optical zoom; and a startlingly low running noise of just 22dB.

The million dollar question, of course, is how well all this impressive on-paper spec translates into onscreen picture quality. Based on around 20 minutes of viewing – not under test conditions, of course – we’d say first impressions are promising. In fact, in 2D mode they’re more than promising, as the AT5000 produces pictures that are clearly a huge advance over those of the already well-received AE4000. Black levels were deeper and richer, detail levels seemed higher, brightness output is much stronger, and most strikingly of all, colours are far richer and more fully saturated. Seriously impressive stuff.

With 3D, we were veryimpressed to see only very minor amounts of crosstalk, and also by the superb amount of HD detailing its 3D Blu-ray images enjoy. The picture did seem susceptible to marginal flickering during very bright scenes, but not enough to cause concern.

We did note that seemingly quite high amounts of brightness were taken out of the picture by Panasonic’s 3D glasses. But until we get more time in full test conditions with the AT5000, it’s possible that this impression says more about the projector’s extremely dynamic 2D pictures than it does any true issues with its 3D pictures.

We’d heard rumours before today’s launch suggesting that the AT5000 might be considerably more expensive than the AE4000 was. But we can now confirm a far from unreasonable AT5000 price of 3,200 Euros – which could well convert to under £3,000 for the UK.

This approachable price could be key in attracting buyers, for it really doesn’t seem a great deal to ask for a projector as good with 2D as the AT5000, even before you’ve taken its 3D abilities into account.

The AT5000 is scheduled to launch in September, and needless to say we’ll bring you a review just as soon as we can.

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