Panasonic PT-AT6000 3D LCD Projector Review

Contrast Performance

Our light-controlled setup features a large screen (123″ diagonal, 16:9, 0.9 gain), meaning that some loss of light is inevitable due to our use of zoom settings on the more extreme end of the scale. And yet, the Panasonic PT-AT6000E’s images were bright, and were not noticeably dimmer after calibration. Brightness will decrease as the lamp ages, of course, but starting out bright is better than starting out dim!

So, brilliant whites were on show, as were very good blacks. If we had any complaint about the PT-AT6000, it’s that we could do with more control over the light output of the projector – we wanted to drop the light output a little, even on the larger screen we were using. We would loved to have had a Manual Iris control, which would reduce the brilliance of the whites a little, in order to gain darker blacks. Of course, this will be weighted by individual perception, screen gain, and other factors, so it won’t necessarily hold true for all users.

The only way of controlling the light output of the PT-AT6000E is to use the [Lamp Power] setting in the menu, which we set to the “Eco” mode as a way of cutting the light output slightly. (The normal mode caused a small high frequency whine noise to be emitted from the projector, which was another benefit of Eco mode). Don’t be tempted to reduce the [Contrast] control if you want to achieve a similar result; this is a digital control over white level, so reducing this in order to get a dimmer picture will be throwing away contrast performance (it’ll make the whites dimmer, but the blacks won’t get any darker). We did find ourselves thinking that things could have been nearly perfect had we had a manual iris control (which would also let us re-adjust the light output of the projector in hopefully fine adjustments as the lamp ages).

None of this is to say that the Panasonic PTAT6000′s blacks are bad – not by a long shot, in fact, they’re certainly some of the best we’ve seen from an LCD projector. Perhaps attaching an ND filter (of good quality to avoid colour issues) to the lens while the lamp is new and very bright, and removing it at a later point, could serve as a next-best alternative.

There is also the [Dynamic Iris] system which opens and closes the iris in the light path relative to the average picture level of the scene being shown, when instructed to by the video processor (not too unlike an LCD TV’s dynamic backlighting in theory, but much less distracting in practice). As well as the mechanical workings, there’s also some gamma manipulation thrown into the deal, we imagine to provide perceptual compensation for the difference in light output. This system does indeed work to provide the perception of better contrast during dark scenes, and some users might find it worthwhile as a result. However, be aware that this will reduce the accuracy of the projector’s output and can create greyscale tracking errors, especially in the dark scenes that such a system will be most visible with. For example, throw up a 10 IRE test pattern window and toggle the iris on and off, and you’ll see a slight shift in colour (which we imagine is the result of the dynamic gamma manipulation, which we couldn’t take into account during calibration). We didn’t find the projector’s contrast performance to be really lacking anyway, so we left the Dynamic Iris off.

Motion Resolution

The Panasonic PT-AT6000 features some motion interpolation modes, called [Frame Creation], which work in a similar way to those on LCD TVs, only with less in the way of motion artefacts. There are three modes, which ramp up in severity, and the default Off setting. Mode1 doesn’t turn films into goofy-looking video soap operas, instead only doing some gentle motion interpolation. The other two modes remove the 24fps film look we’re accustomed to.

We left the control off entirely, since we’re lovers of the film look (that’s usually the reason why most people buy projectors, right?). With that said, if you’re into using a projector as a giant screen for watching sports events and other high-motion video-originated content, then the motion interpolation modes are only good news. There’s no reason to use Mode2 or Mode3, though, if better motion resolution is your priority: we tested all of them with the FPD Benchmark Software Blu-ray test disc, and Mode1 already delivers the PT-AT6000E’s maximum motion resolution performance. All they do is ramp up the appearance of the “video motion” effect for films.

In real world 24p film usage, where we turned the control off entirely, we were presented with excellent motion quality. Although it only measured 350 lines with the FPD Benchmark Software disc, we didn’t find it limiting whatsoever with 24fps film usage, with fast camera pans being reproduced wonderfully, with a hint of gentle cinematic double-imaging – very filmic, and visibly better than high end projectors from a few years ago (perhaps we have 3D-capable LC panels to thank for that).

Another knock-on effect of the outstanding motion resolution is that, unlike on some other high-end projectors we’ve seen from a few years ago, subtle pixel changes are not blurred out by the slow response time of the LC devices. Film grain is drawn cleanly, giving the best BD transfers a filmic sheen that we’re only used to seeing on plasma displays. It’s great to see a filmic look where it belongs, on the big screen, with no response time issues to dampen the cinematic appearance.

High Definition

Especially after calibration, the PT-AT6000 can throw out some mesmerising HD video. Properly set up and installed in a sufficiently light-treated environment, and fed with the best Blu-ray material, we can think of few better movie-watching experiences in the home.

One of the first things we noticed was the near total absence of a visible pixel structure over the image. This is owed to Panasonic’s “Smooth Screen” technology. This is not any kind of video processing, but rather a smart optical trick which greatly reduces visible gaps between pixels, without introducing optical resolution limitations into images. To be fair, on other 1080p projectors, we’ve not been disturbed by visible pixel spaces from our seating position anyway, but on the Panasonic PT-AT6000E, the problem will be non-existant. In fact, if you’re used to quickly double-checking the focus of projectors by standing beside the screen and keeping your eyes on the gaps between the pixels, you’re going to have to find an alternative!

We had a good look through the different preset modes before doing any calibration, because we know from experience with Panasonic HDTVs that the different picture presets often have different “under the surface” behaviour. Such is the case with the PT-AT6000: the [D-Cinema] and [Cinema1] modes revealed more moiré on a luma zone plate test chart, revealing a difference in frequency response caused by sharpening, although this wasn’t visible with content. The [Rec709] mode (which we ended up using for calibration) and the [Cinema2] mode revealed only a small amount of moiré (which appears to originate from the video processing stage and not the lens).

Drive screenshot

Speaking of sharpening, especially with televisions, we generally recommend leaving all the sharpness controls completely off, owed to their smaller screen sizes and direct-view nature. With projection setups, in which larger screen sizes and optics are introduced, some carefully-done targeted high frequency sharpening isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. Of course, it will depend on screen size, microdisplay technology used inside the projector, the quality of the optics, and accordingly, the settings of the lens shift controls. There are two Sharpness controls on the PTAT6000E: a basic one which is simply labelled [Sharpness] (which can optionally be split into Horizontal and Vertical axes), and [Detail Clarity]. We recommend leaving the former off entirely, since it quickly draws thick, ugly halos around objects. The latter is just the sort of targeted high frequency peaking control that can be beneficial in some projection setups – but as always, if we recommend it at all, that would only go for the lower settings (certainly no higher than 3 or 4 at a push). The effect of [Detail Clarity] is consistent rather than dynamic, so it’s not unjustifiable from a “directors’ intent” point of view.

Moneyball screenshot

We had a look at a stack of our favourite BD titles: The remastered version of Gladiator and Moneyball (both originating on 35mm), and Drive (from the Arri Alexa digital cinema camera). All of them absolutely shone on our calibrated Panasonic PT-AT6000 review unit. The benefits we covered already, such as the accurate greyscale, colour and gamma output, high contrast performance, clean motion rendering without any visible smearing (with 24p material), and appropriately high quality optics ensured that we had almost no complaints with what we were seeing.

The only real negative we could find – other than the lack of manual control over the iris – related to white field uniformity. On our unit, when we ran full-screen greyscale test patterns, there were cases where the right side of the image was visibly redder than the left. In real-world usage, that typically wasn’t a problem with colour film material, but we had a look at Warners’ new Blu-ray release of Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train and did sometimes see some unwanted tinges creeping into the black and white visuals. (Warners’ BD, incidentally, looks great for the most part, clumsy automated dirt-removal errors during the tennis match near the end of the film excepted).

Strangers On A Train screenshot

In terms of optical quality, we could only see very minor panel misconvergence errors, and a little amount of chromatic aberration (both which appear on screen as coloured fringes) at the outer edges of test charts. From our seating position, none of this was noticeable, least of all with actual content. And, we did notice some very thin vertical lines at the left edge of flat test charts (whether or not this is inherent to the projector design, or our specific unit, we’re not sure).

In our setup, we first of all used the lens shift feature. The range it allows is pretty generous, but as always, it’s best to align the projector as neutrally to the screen as possible. When we used the lens shift feature to align the projected image upwards, we could see a visible fall-off in corner-to-corner sharpness, which isn’t unusual given that the centre of the lens will always be the sharpest spot. However, we did get away with the same vertical shift on another projector with no visible fall-off in sharpness, and only a very small amount of chromatic aberration. Naturally, this will vary from setup to setup, with distance, screen size, and surely also the individual lens playing a part. It’s always recommended to use lens shift controls as a second alternative to actually positioning the projector ideally, but of course, that’s only possible in a completely ideal setup. In the end, we found another way to raise the projector and used just a little bit of lens shift to get a properly framed image. This left us with excellent sharpness across the entire frame, and a very minor amount of chromatic aberration in the form of subtle green and purple fringes, which were only really visible on white credits, and not viewable from our seating position, anyway.

All in all, we were very, very happy with the performance here.

3D

The Panasonic PT-AT6000E can throw out some impressive extra-dimensional images, but as is always the case, they don’t quite match the same giddy heights as the extremely high quality of the 2D mode. Much of that is owed to the drop in brightness imposed by the active-shutter eyewear.

One of the first things we did was check out resolution, since not every display claiming “Full HD 3D” can satisfy that condition from our point of view. The PT-AT6000 didn’t show any resolution limitations during subjective assessment of Full HD 3D (2x 1080p) movies from Blu-ray. When we ran a Full HD 3D resolution test pattern, the PT-AT6000E reproduced all the fine details in the image, although interestingly it coloured the black-on-white alternating lines as dark red (and we confirmed this was happening at the LC panel stage and not at the lens). We didn’t see any ill effects with film content.

With side-by-side 3D content, the vertical resolution was slightly more limited, with black-on-white lines in the test pattern appearing more grey-and-white (they did appear, though). This shouldn’t be the case, but the limitation is barely visible anyway, and unless you’re into using a projector to view 3DTV broadcasts, we’d guess that side-by-side 3D isn’t going to be used much on a projector.

24p 3D movies from Blu-ray are reproduced nearly judder free. The motion quality is not quite as good as in 2D, although it wasn’t visibly distracting. If you do enable and disable the 3-D display mode with a long camera pan (or more practically, a credits scroll), you’ll notice that a few seconds after engaging 3D, motion begins to stutter very slightly. Some users might want to engage some gentle interpolation with the [Frame Creation] option set to “Mode1″, although we’d rather be able to see native 24p without the projector adding additional judder.

We had a look at a selection of 3D titles, including the colourful CG animation Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Prometheus, and the new 3D Blu-ray of Dial M For Murder. We were happy with the image quality from all of these, especially after we had calibrated the 3D mode and banished the slight red tint it had shown before. Only a little bit of crosstalk reared its head (which was independent of the glasses brightness setting). Not surprisingly, adding the glasses into the equation significantly cut down the brightness, although more than we’d have liked! In the third dimension, blacks appeared richer, but of course, whites also appeared much duller.

A unique feature on the Panasonic PT-AT6000E is the ability to make targeted adjustments only to the Right Eye image, in a screen called [3D Picture Balance]. That includes white level, black level, Colour, Tint, and 2-point Greyscale controls. Panasonic’s marketing materials suggest that this is intended for correcting badly mastered 3D content, which is interesting – we can’t think of any cases where the Left and Right eye views would contain video level errors or colour tints, for example, and we can’t imagine how users would begin to diagnose these issues even if present. We’d love to know the full story behind this control.

In any case, this feature could be used to independently calibrate greyscale reproduction for the left and right lenses of the active shutter glasses (the two can contain different tints, which of course colours the image that reaches your brain). In practice, we didn’t feel that it made a visible difference, but tuning the right eye lens individually is another welcome step towards better accuracy for high-end 3D setups. Just one problem: when you enter the menu, the projector goes back into 2D mode, so if you intend on going all the way with this setup, you’ll need to jump back and forth.

Console Gaming

For readers who are into big-screen gaming, the Panasonic PT-AT6000 shouldn’t disappoint, with input lag measuring at only 31ms in the GAME picture mode (which, by default, produces a very bright, blue-tinted picture). There’s a [Frame Response] option tucked away in the setup menu, which we set to the “Fast” setting during measurements.

Surprisingly, the PT-AT6000E does not reproduce full chroma detail from a 4:4:4 source – in any of its picture modes. That’s pretty surprising, seeing as Panasonic are one of the few manufacturers who have marketed advanced chroma features on their Blu-ray players.

Conclusion

Panasonic have produced an excellent LCD projector which is capable of throwing out very involving, filmic images. Properly set up in an environment which will do it justice, and fed with the best Blu-ray material, we can think of few better movie-watching experiences in the home than on the PT-AT6000.

In the out of the box Rec709 picture mode, it produces high quality video, although colour accuracy isn’t entirely accurate to the Rec709 HD standard, with a strangely oversaturated green primary. As is the case with any AV product, especially projectors, the Panasonic PT-AT6000E benefits hugely from professional ISF/THX calibration, with our review sample producing more natural colour and a richer image after going through our usual processes.

In the future, we’d love to see a manual iris control – there is a Dynamic Iris in the optical path, and allowing it to be frozen and parked at an opening of the user’s choice would allow the PT-AT6000 to be better integrated into a wider variety of installations. Even when shooting images onto a large screen from a short distance (a scenario that usually runs the risk of a dimmer image), the PT-AT6000E’s images were bright, and we’d gladly cut down light output just a little to achieve better blacks (although the black level quality was certainly not bad, even without this option). We’d also love to see totally judder-free 24p 3D reproduction in the future.

Those omissions, and some slight shading issues (part of the projected image on our review unit showed a red tinge) were our only real complaints with the PTAT6000E. All in all, it was a real joy to watch, painting big, bright, high contrast, realistic, and filmic images. If you’re looking for a high quality, big screen image and are happy to go down the projection route – and treat your viewing environment in order to do a projector of this quality justice – then we don’t think many users will find fault with the Panasonic PT-AT6000.

Highly Recommended

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