Monday, January 28, 2008

Panasonic AE1000U LCD Projector Calibration

The 1080p projector market is white-hot these days with several superb units priced at under $3000. Even one year ago, this was almost unheard of. Epson, Sanyo, Mitsubishi and the subject of today's article, Panasonic, all make models. The model I calibrated is the AE1000U. It has been recently replaced by the AE2000U. This unit uses a new LCD panel set and is slightly brighter. In fact, the 2000 uses the same panels as the new Epson HC1080UB. But I digress: The AE1000U has every possible calibration control available in the user menu. You have complete control over color primaries and secondaries, grayscale, and a neat 3-point gamma control. There is also a waveform monitor that makes setting black and white levels very easy. You can have the waveform on the screen while you navigate through the various menus and make your adjustments.

The AE1000U has 2 HDMI inputs as well as component, s-video and composite inputs. There is also an RS-232 port for control systems. There is no IR hookup but the receiver on the front of the unit is very sensitive. I had no trouble bouncing the remote off the screen to control the projector. My client had the projector ceiling mounted with about a 12-foot throw to a 100-inch Da-Lite fixed-frame screen. I measured the screen's gain at 1.1

First up was geometry. It's important to have the image perfectly positioned without visible distortion. There are horizontal and vertical lens shift controls for this purpose. There is also a 2x zoom for lots of flexibility in sizing and placement. Vertical shift range is one-half screen height above or below the screen. Using the extremes of the vertical shift will limit the horizontal shift. This is not an issue if you place the projector's center-mounted lens within a few inches of screen center. Once image geometry was set, the calibration was pretty much the same as a direct-view display. Black and white levels were set with pluge patterns and checked with the waveform monitor. I measured gamma before grayscale calibration and came up with a disappointing 1.71. After turning off the dynamic iris, it improved to 2.0. I was able to get it to 2.2 with the 3-point gamma control, which has sliders for high, mid and low. I only needed to lower the low control to get a perfect curve. Given this result, I left the iris off permanently.

Grayscale was no problem with the complete set of RGB gains and cuts available. Color decoding allows several approaches. You can adjust the primaries with the color management system. This involves displaying a pattern, a 75% color window works for me; then setting a target to adjust. You can tweak the color, tint and brightness of the primaries (or any other color for that matter) this way. After some very small adjustments to the color profile, I had a perfectly aligned decoder and primaries and secondaries were spot-on. At this point, I should talk about the different picture modes. The 2 to be concerned with are Cinema 1 and Color 1. Cinema 1 is claimed to be "Hollywood style colors" in the manual. It places a filter in the light path that darkens the image. It also appeared to me to introduce a slight yellow shift. Color 1 does not use the filter and is pretty much right on Rec 709, HD standard. Obviously, I left it on Color 1. The other modes are progessively less accurate.

When I was finished, I was able to save the settings in the first of the AE1000U's 8 memories. There are also 3 memories for the color profile should you wish to have multiple color gamuts available. My client's sources were an HD cable box and a Toshiba A20 HD-DVD player. The image simply leapt off the screen! Planet Earth in HD-DVD looked simply stunning. I cued up a scene where a colorfully-clad base jumper jumps into a giant cave shaft in the middle of the South American jungle. The blackness of the hole was very impressive. Any stigma LCD projectors might have had about black quality was not apparent with this model. In fact, I measured the minimum black level on a 0IRE field at .02fl. This is in the same range as any plasma I've measured. Max light output was 14fl, plenty bright for a totally dark room and a 10-foot seating distance.

I can't imagine a better projector for a small theater than this Panasonic. Other reviews I've read seem to bear this out. This projector is also the quietest I've ever worked on. You have to put your ear right up to it to hear the cooling fan. The color is very accurate, the gamma is perfect and dynamic range is very wide. At this point, I plan to add an AE2000U to my personal theater. For the same or less money than a quality 50-inch plasma TV, you can go front projection. I guess for me 92 is the new 50! Stay tuned for an article I'm preparing on my selection process for a projector and screen. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right equipment for your theater. Thanks for reading and enjoy the view!


johnvnross said...

Hi there - Did you use colorfacts pro for your calibration?

I'm currently in the process of calibrating a pt-ae 2000 (with colorfacts 7.5) and would love to pick your brain about a couple of things

Chris Eberle said...

Hi John,
I used the Progressive Labs package to calibrate this projector with a CA6X probe. If you have questions, please send me an email so I can give you a more detailed answer.