High Performance Home Theater Projectors: BenQ's long awaited PE8720 darkchip3 Projector
Updated 01/16/2006 - by Art Feierman
This summary is an update based on receiving a new PE8720 to review at the end of Dec (2005). It's performance is much better in Cinema and Home Theater modes (with better gamma and color handling), than the original pre-production unit I reviewed over 3 months ago. The pre-production PE8720 projector, caused initial frustration with the dark mid-ranges and forced me to switch to the Family Room mode and then adjust- and watch - everything from that mode. Despite that problem with the pre-production unit I still reported that:
" I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed watching everything on this projector. When I took the projector back to the dual wide screen, and watched some DVD and Hi-Def, side by side against the H78DC3 and the Marantz VP-12S4, I came away even more impressed."
That said, the final production projector performs beautifully in all three modes, with virtually no adjustment from the out of box settings. The flesh tones are excellent (variations from ideal are related to the source material, not the projector). Overall, from using my test equipment, there is the slightest shift to blue (and a touch to green). However, for a projector out of the box, this variation is as small as any I have seen. In other words, excellent color. The high gamma problem on the original unit has been effectively eliminated. (I used the Avia Pro calibration software, and the Optic One light meter to verify what I was seeing).
BTW, HDTV viewing of sports is spectacular!
The BenQ PE-8720 is loaded with features, has a good number of inputs, and it works smoothly. I like the remote. I do suspect, though, that most owners of a projector in this price range, will, like me, use a 3rd party remote or room control system, to control all their theater equipment.
The last DLP Darkchip3 projector I reviewed was the popular Optoma H78DC3, which definitely exceeded the performance of any other projector near its price.
That said, I find the PE8720 to be, overall, a better projector than the H78DC3 (it should be - it costs a fair amount more), and (of special interest to me) a brighter one (remember that 128" screen I use).
The BenQ also offers Picture on Picture,(displaying two side by side images - I have used this to put up both a DVD and HDTV at the same time, and plan to get a second cable HD box, so I can put up two sporting events simultaneously)..
Mind you, I still think the H78DC3 is a REALLY great value, and with a street price under $4,000, it is likely to sell for at least $2000 less than the BenQ PE8720. But I find the BenQ projector to be worth the difference in price. Even forgetting brightness, and the color accuracy, what blows me away is the image sharpness. This is the sharpest projector I have worked with (with the possible exception of the Marantz VP12S4, which is many thousands more.
As much as I have liked the Marantz VP12S4, I don't think that I could rationalize paying almost twice as much, even if I felt I could afford the difference.
So, my personal issues aside, here's what it breaks down to:
- Extremely Sharp image
- Vibrant colors (good color saturation)
- Bright enough for larger screens
- Excellent reproduction of flesh tones
- Extremely good verall color accuracy (out of the box!)
- Truly excellent black levels
- Lots of image control
- Picture in Picture, and Picture On Picture
- Really good remote control
- Lens shift
- Cable cover (for neat ceiling installations)
- Price relative to performance
- Overly large projector
- Would have liked to see a 2nd HDMI input
- Manual - has what you need for setup, but doesn't explain well many advanced features, and when some of those features, are available, and when they are not.
- Lens shift (yes it has it, but it would have been nice to have a little more range so the projector could be placed a foot or so above the top, or below the bottom of the screen) Note, the range on the lens shift is typical for DLP home theater projectors
- Power Zoom, Power Focus (at least for it's price range)
- Zoom lens range
- Number of Inputs
- Lamp Life
BenQ will be distributing this product through local CEDIA (custom installation, and local home theater company) dealers, and does not plan to allow internet sales, which is typical for the more expensive projectors. If that's the case, I expect the street price to be $7000 or slightly more. If internet sales are allowed, those guys would more likely sell it intially for under $7000.
At either price, this should be one of the best values out there, especially since most of the manufacturers that have projectors sold by local dealers only, are over $10,000 for their Darkchip3 powered DLP projectors. In fact a number of those companies are starting to ship lower cost projectors in the $6000 - $9000 range using the lower contrast and older HD2+ (Darkchip2) chip. While some of these may have advantages over the PE8720 projector, they almost certainly won't come close in terms of delivering great black levels and shadow detail
Kudos to BenQ for an excellent overall projector, whos most notable issues should be corrected with new gamma, IRE, color tables in the upcoming production models. (And if they don't get it all fixed, there shouldn't be anything that a professional calibration won't cure!)
If you are torn between those under $5000 projectors available online, and the $10,000+ models available only through local dealers, this new home theater projector from BenQ appears to deliver that $10K+ performance at a definitely more affordable price.
The Bottom Line:
This updated summary page is posted on 1/16/2006. Two days from now (1/18), I am having a PE8720 installed in my home theater. It will be my reference projector for quite some time! It really works for me. Enjoy! -art