Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more. The PT-AE200U is a sleek, compact, and lightweight unit; it's so small, in fact, that it qualifies as a subcompact projector. It measures a scant 3.3 inches high, 11 inches wide, and 10 inches deep, and it weighs in at 6.4 pounds. The front end of the silver projector has a mirrored plate surrounding the lens, which seems to be the new vogue styling for Panasonic's latest gear.
We really liked the included remote control. Although quite small, it still covers all the bases, and--much to our delight--its keys are fully backlit. Among other niceties, it offers direct access to all inputs, picture modes, and memories. You won't find the standard consumer-friendly features such as picture-in-picture on the PT-AE200U, but there is a cool feature that allows it to double as a digital slide projector. An SD memory-card slot on the side makes it easy to view JPEGs and MPEG-4 movie clips from your digital camera on the big screen. There is also one small speaker for monaural audio playback.
Other useful video-centric features include a total of five selectable color temperatures, each with a distinctly different overall color palette. There are also four aspect-ratio choices, including a Justify ratio for blowing up regular 4:3 material to fill a 16:9 aspect-ratio screen. In addition to the six picture presets, you'll find three separate custom memory slots, so you can optimize three different video sources--DVD, VHS and cable, for instance.
The connectivity options on the PT-AE200U are somewhat skimpy. One component-video input heads up the list, and there is also one S-Video and one composite-video input. A single 15-pin, VGA-style RGB input is for computer use only, and an analog stereo audio input is on tap to feed that little speaker. According to the manual, HDTV signals can be displayed via only the component-video input. Since there's only one such input, this could pose a problem if you plan to connect a DVD player and an HDTV receiver simultaneously. The PT-AE200U does a few things well and a few other things badly. Since the unit has only grayscale adjustments for the RGB computer input and not for the analog video inputs, we were not able to perform a full calibration of the unit. Instead, we settled for making front-panel picture adjustments using test patterns from the Video Essentials DVD. The "-1" color-temperature preset proved closest to the ideal of 6,500 degrees Kelvin; it measured between 7,500 and 8,000 Kelvins from one end of the grayscale to the other--an acceptable range for an LCD projector.
One of the big drawbacks to this projector is its lack of 3:2 pull-down in the video processing, which means a progressive-scan DVD player is a real must. The opening sequence of Star Trek: Insurrection tipped us off to this failing; the rooftops and other objects in the long pan were full of jagged edges and moving lines. The lack of 3:2 pull-down was also painfully obvious on a lot of other program material. Both the Charlotte Gray and Monsters, Inc. DVDs exhibited significant motion artifacts as a result of this.
The native resolution of the PT-AE200U's three 16:9 LCD panels is only 858x484, or WVGA--a far cry from any HDTV resolution. It's also low compared to that of other LCD projectors, although it's enough to display every pixel of wide-screen DVD. Thanks to the relatively low resolution, the screen-door effect on this unit is significant; we saw the faint grid pattern of the pixels at normal viewing distances.
On the upside, the color decoding was accurate, with only a slight hint of red push. As a result, color saturation was good for an LCD projector, although not quite as impressive as the Boxlight Matinee 1HD's. Better color performance definitely made a difference on both DVD and HDTV-source material. HDTV sources from our Dish Network Satellite feed looked pretty good, especially with bright scenery. Picture quality suffered with dark material, due to the unit's poor black-level performance; blacks looked more like dark gray, and details in shadows were muddy and indistinct. We didn't get a chance to view them side by side, but we'd estimate that the Boxlight and this Panasonic have similar black-level performance.