I still have my L300 which I bought new in Feb. 2003. I have 800+ hours, low power, on the lamp with no problems. I'm currently projecting on a 106", diagonal, Da-Lite Hi-Power screen. I don't see any SDE at 1.4 x screen width. Minor VB shows up only very rarely, like the Star Wars IV, Tatoine desert sequence (it's supposedly on the original film - due to the desert heat).
I'm running in the Cinema 2 mode with a slight reduction in Contrast, Brightness, and Sharpness settings after calibration with AVIA (and double checked with DVE). All other settings are factory default. I haven't checked the gray scale performance, but the PQ is excellent as set (good facial colors, etc.). It even does a good job on D* SD TV shows (VGA/RGB connection - Panny DVD-RP91 is connected via Component cables).
I'm planning on upgrading to a 1280 x 720 PJ that has a HDCP compatible, HDMI input, for future proofing, plus better CR. I've seen (in-home) demos of both the AE500 and the AE700. While both throw a very good picture, but neither one has less VB than my L300. The AE700 is much better than the AE500, in this regard. Consequently, I'm still looking.
My L300 is my 3rd PJ since the late '70s and was bought, sight unseen. My first PJ was a CRT (Kloss Model One) and my second was a (around 1985) Sharp LCD (640 x 480 - for $7000, ouch), so I was familiar with PJs.