BenQ PE8720 Darkchip3 DLP Home Theater Projector

Back in late October, I reviewed a pre-production BenQ PE8720 projector. This is an update based on the newest production version of the PE8720. The links above and below this review will take you to the full review. There you will find lots of images of the projector, its remote and menus, plus plenty of image shots from DVD movies and hi def sources. I have revised the summary Pros and Cons section to reflect the results of this new version.

For those of you who haven’t read the full projector review, the BenQ PE8720 home theater projector is “powered” by TI’s DarkChip 3 DLP. The projector retails for $7999, is rated 1000 lumens, and claims an impressive contrast ratio of 10,000:1. In addition, this top of the line offers lens shift, a backlit remote, multiple color preset modes and user savable settings. BenQ offers a 3 year warranty.

Quicktip: Contrast ratios. Click Here! Until about a year or so ago, contrast was the “holy grail” of home theater projector specifications. The higher the contrast ratio, the “blacker the blacks”. If you had a low contrast ratio the projector would produce a dark gray where black was called for, so details that were near black (and dark colors) basically came out the same as the background – end result – details in dark areas are lost, and the whole dark area is flat with no detail. With a higher contrast ratio, the projector can produce much darker grays, and therefore,more detail is visible in near dark areas.
Today, however many projectors (mostly LCD) use “AI” to enhance contrast ratios. But ulitmately they have little effect on black levels, unless the entire image is very dark with no bright areas at all. Thus, a projector with much higher contrast, no longer guarantees a better picture, with more detail. The BenQ (uses some AI) originally claimed a 6200:1 contrast ratio (about the same as the film used to shoot movies – which should tell you something). The new improved version claims 10:000:1 . Is there an improvement in shadow detail? Not that I can detect. Still 6200:1 is about as good as you can hope for. Most projectors using the Darkchip3 DLP claim about 4000:1 – 5000:1 without “AI”. This produces far better results (shadow detail and blacks), than found on the less expensive Darkchip2 and even a greater difference when compared with LCD projectors many of which are claiming 5000:1 or higher. Under normal circomstances those LCD projectors still behave like under 2500:1 DLP projectors. Bottom line, Darkchip3 projectors do the best job available today, and projectors like the PE8720 produce blacks and shadow detail well beyond lower level DLP and LCD projectors. (I hope that made sense – if not, its simple: Darkchip3 is a major step above Darkchip2 or LCD projectors, and you can really see the difference in a darkened room..)

In summary, I was extremely impressed with the potential of the original (pre-production) BenQ home theater projector – enough to give it a Hot Product Award – but, at the same time, noted some flaws. Two weeks ago, I received a final production version of the PE8720 projector, and was actually stunned by how much better it is.

My only real problem with the earlier projector related to the color handling – most notably the gamma. Overall color balance was good, and flesh tones particularly so. I should say first, that this gamma issue primarily affected the BenQ’s two primary preset modes for movie viewing: Cinema, and Home Theater. I was, with minor adjustments able to get very good results for movie viewing from their Family Room mode – normally designed to be brighter to deal with some ambient light. With the newest production projector, though, that has become a moot point.

Quicktip: For those of you not familiar, adjustments to gamma, have essentially no effect on the brightest and darkest parts of images, but can have significant effect on the low, mid and mid-bright ranges. In the case of this BenQ projector, full whites and full intensity colors were handled very well, and black levels were also excellent – what you would expect from a Darkchip3 DLP projector. Where the problem existed was all the middle ranges from near dark to near full bright. As a result if you viewed a scene in a movie, shot on a extremely bright sunny day, you would expect it to look that way. With the pre-production version, those type of scenes looked like they were shot on a hazy day, with weak sunlight). (I have referred to this issue in other reviews as the “sunshine effect”.) For movies on DVD, the gamma setting should be 2.2 and I was able to measure 3.2 in Cinema mode – a big difference, that explained what I was seeing.

The new version PE8720′s gamma is very close to the 2.2 ideal. In addition, color balance is now even better, and it was very good before. I normally only use my test software (Avia Pro) and hardware (Optic One light meter) to confirm what my eyes tell me. In this case the out of box color was almost dead on. (Measured at both 30 IRE and 80 IRE for those of you interested).

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