The brightness of a projected image is also a product of projector distance and image size, so you should always try and locate a front projector so you can use it close to the zoom lens’ wide-angle setting, which permits the greatest transmission of light to the screen. The AX200U is unusually versatile and bright in this regard, so it’s possible to project very large images–as big as 150 inches diagonal–and still have the image appear brighter than any 1080p projector I’ve seen. Indeed, the AX200U’s processing of 1080p images from Blu-ray or HD-DVD is so good that at least one critic has called it “the poor man’s 1080 projector.” At a street price of $1,299 US, it’s a terrific value and performer.
Even at last year’s Panasonic projector demo, I found the image from the previous 1080p Pansonic model, the AE-1000, while detailed, was somewhat muted, grainy and lacking “punch” by comparison to its less costly 720p sibling, the AX-200U.
This year Panasonic introduced its improved 1080p projector, the PT-AE2000, but the demo was somewhat marred by the insistence of a Panasonic rep explaining the virtues of the projector with the lights on in the room. When the lights were finally turned out, the image was impressive and wonderfully detailed but I still preferred the 720p AX200U’s overall contrast and brightness. I might change my mind if I get a better demo of the AE-2000.
For me, the 1080p projector to beat this year is Optoma’s HD80 DLP unit, which sells for the same amount as the Panasonic AE2000, $2,699 US. The Optoma demo was properly conducted in a pitch-dark theater with a huge screen, and the demo sequence from one of the “Pirates. . .” movies (the one where the pirate ship has capsized and the view is from underwater) was enthralling with stunning image quality, detail, vivid color and no visible “rainbow effects.” Try as I might to spot the tell-tale streaks of color when you quickly avert your eyes from the screen then back, I couldn’t. If I had to have a 1080p front projector, the Optoma HD80 is the one I’d choose.