BenQ PE8720 Darkchip3 DLP Home Theater Projector - Final Update!
Art Feierman, January 14, 2006 www.projectorreviews.com
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).
But a home theater projector is not just about viewing movies on DVD. And not always about pitch dark or near pitch dark rooms. So I also observed (extensively) the projector in both the home theater mode and brighter Family Room mode, with a variety of HD sources, including two D-VHS 1080i tapes (Hawaiian Tropic Pagent, and Over America sightseeing tour), and lots of HDTV content off of cable, including several football games in Hi-Def, Jay Leno, and a variety of content off of Discovery HD and INHD1 and 2 channels - assorted content including a movie or two.
This PE8720 appears extremely bright in the Family Room mode, and is able to handle modest ambient light - almost effortlessly. (The football games looked incredible, but of course even a little ambient light will wash out very dark movie scenes with any projector. In fact, the only adjustment I made in Family Room mode, was to turn down the color saturation (from its default 8 to -2 or -4 if I had the lights low, but with a lot of ambient light the 8 setting helped to limit colors from washing out.
I have worked with a number of high end projectors, including Marantz's VP-12S4 - $14,449 (which I really like, and which, like the BenQ, produces an exceptionally sharp image). Overall, this definitely is the best projector I have used so far, in its price range, or below. In fact the BenQ comes very close to the Marantz in overall performance, but there are some differences - the BenQ is actually better on shadow detail, while the Marantz's strength is highlight details in very bright scenes. One of my other favorite projectors - using the DarkChip 3 DLP is Optoma's H78DC3 projector, which is a superb value (typical online price under $4000). While the price is right on the Optoma, it cannot match (at all) the sharpness of the BenQ image, a real factor for people who like me, like to sit close to get the larger screen effect. The Optoma also needs notable color adjustments, with out of box color leaning noticeably toward green. The BenQ PE8720 though, as mentioned, is almost perfect in color balance out of the box. For those into specs, RGB values for R,G,and B, (ideally all values should equal 1) measured: R=.951, G=1.008, B= 1.054 (SMPTE 240M standard), out of the box in Home Theater Mode.
So what's the bottom line on the BenQ PE8720? It's definitely a winner. As this projector performs so well, I have made my final decision. Instead of saving money, and installing Optoma's H78DC3 to replace my aging BenQ PE8700+ (a year and a half old), I am going ahead "dropping the big bucks" to go with the PE8720 in my own home theater! This should keep me thoroughly happy until 3 chip DLP 1080p resolution projectors come down to the same price range. (The first such projectors are coming to market soon, and the prices are going to start at about 3 times this price.)
The installers are coming next Wednesday to install the PE8720 into my own home theater. (My old projector hangs down over six feet from my cathedral ceiling in my home theater.) The BenQ PE8720 projector, thanks to a longer throw lens and more range on the zoom, will be mounted on a shelf, 21 feet back, and about even with the top of my 128" Stewart Firehawk screen (a truly excellent combination). That means the old ceiling mount comes down, and wires have to be re-routed, but, that's detail stuff, compared to the huge improvement in picture quality, sharpness (and brightness). I've been using this BenQ on a table for the last 10 days, and.... I'm really excited!
Finally, BenQ's PE8720 projector certainly get's my full endorsement - or I wouldn't be installing it in my own home theater.
Where to get your BenQ PE8720 projector: My understanding is that the BenQ PE8720 will be available through custom installation companies and local home theater dealers often referred to as the CEDIA channel. According to BenQ this projector will not be available online, other than your ability to locate online, a local dealer who can sell it to you, and handle your projector installation if needed.