BenQ W500 DLP Home Theater Projector Review - General Performance
Topics in this section:
User Memory Settings
Lens Throw and Lens Shift
SDE and Rainbow Effect
Audible Noise Levels
Lamp Life and Replacement
Projector Screen Recommendations
BenQ W500 Projector: Menus
BenQ has finally come up with an all new menu look and feel, with the W500. Not that their older menu layout was poor, but rather, it was definitely very basic, and thin on cosmetics. The groupings of features has changed significantly as well, and the W500 now has both a Basic Picture Menu, and a separate Advanced Picture menu. Here's a quick look at the key main menus.
The menu above is the Picture - Basic, menu of the W500, featuring the usual suspects - brightness, contrast, color (saturation), sharpness, etc. Of course there is the Picture (or preset) modes at the top.
Things get more interesting on the the Picture Advanced menu shown here.
Overall, the W500 offers a very impressive Color Management system, and there are too many bells and whistles, such as the Clarity Controls, to even begin to test all the options. The Advanced menu lets you save user settings, control the dynamic iris, and of course, use the color management system.
Here's a screen shot of the Clarity Control. I left these all in default settings for testing and viewing.
As mentioned, the BenQ W500 does offer some extensive color management. In the screen shot here, you can see the controls for manipulating each of the Primary colors separately.
The Color Temperature controls are very typical, and allow separate control of both gain and offset.
Moving on to other main menus, the system menu is shown here:
This menu controls projector orientation (front, rear, table, ceiling), let's you customize the background screen, offers a sleep timer, and the option of Auto search for locating live sources.
The Advanced Setup menu, controls lamp brightness, a dust filter and lamp timer, high altitude mode for the fan, and security features.
The last menu for your inspection is the Information menu, which is pretty self explanatory!
BenQ W500 Memory Settings
The W500 projector like other BenQ projectors, offers three User Memory settings, cleverly labeled: 1, 2, and 3. These can be accessed from the remote control, with each memory having its own button, for direct switching from one to another. The User memories are not input specific, so you have a grand total of three savables. By comparison, Optoma offers only one user savable setting, but is device dependent, so that the user area will hold one set of settings from your DVD player, another from your TV source, still another for your hi-def DVD player... I personally favor BenQ's method of handling, but still would have liked to see at least 5 different savable settings in all.
BenQ W500 Remote Control
BenQ remote controls have always been favorites of mine. This one looks like just about all the others; white, long, thin, and brilliantly backlit. It follows the same layout as the others, except that it lacks some buttons as most of BenQ's more expensive projectors have power zoom, focus and lens shift, while the BenQ W500 has manual controls for it's zoom, focus and lens shift.
The W500's remote control fits well into your hand, and I would venture to say, that it's even a good size for someone with really large, beefy hands. It's easy to navigate all your favorite buttons while holding and executing with one hand, and rarely having to slide your hand up or down the remote.
From the top. Top left, has a red power button, all by itself. Press once for on, twice for off.
Immediately below, two rows of input buttons, with both component video, and composite video on the first row, and the HDMI, computer (labeled D-sub), and S-video, on the second row.
Immediately below that there are five more buttons - a row of three, and then one of 2. These control aspect ratio, and are labeled: ANA (anamorphic) for normal 16:9 content (ie. HDTV, letterboxed movies, etc), 4:3, LB for letterbox, but this is a stretched mode, Wide (another stretched mode), and Real, which provides direct 1:1 pixel mapping (you would probably want to use this setting if you are feeding DVD's from an upscaling DVD player set to 720p output.
In the middle of the two buttons on the second row, but just a little bit lower, is a round button that lets you toggle between preset modes (Cinema, etc.)
Directly below it, in a slight curve, are the three User memory buttons, and one labeled Default, which puts you (as you guessed) back into the projector's default settings.
Further down, are the four arrow keys for menu navigation, with the enter button in the center.
Next row: Menu button on the left, and Exit, on the right.
The bottom row has four buttons, allowing direct access to image controls. From left to right; Brightness, Contrast Color (saturation), and Tint.
Then, at last, about 2 inches further down the remote, in the center, all by itself, is the backlight button, which, when pressed, stays on for more than 10 seconds. BenQ's backlighting on the W500's remote control, is nice and bright. It is easy to read the text on each of the buttons, even in a fully darkened room. All of the buttons but two, have their function printed on them. The exceptions are the Mode button (yes, Cinema, Dynamic...), and the Default mode button. The unique placement of the Mode button, makes it easy to find, even without a label.
Overall, an excellent remote control.
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BenQ W500 Projector: Lens Throw and Lens Shift
As noted, the W500 has adjustable lens shift,
As to distance, for a 100" diagonal screen, the front of the lens can be as close as 10 feet 10 inches, to approximately 13 feet 1 inch from the screen. That's only a 20% range, less than typically found on LCD home theater projectors, but as good as any of the entry level DLP home theater projectors offer.
Adjustable lens shift almost always simplifies installation, and is typically needed for a shelf mounting in the back of your room. As mentioned in the overview, you can adjust the projectors lens shift from the joystick on the front of the projector. If you are not using any horizontal lens shift, then the vertical range allows you to place the center of the lens anywhere between 55% above to 55% below the center of the screen. An example for you: With a 100" diagonal screen, the screen height is approximately 49.5 inches (we'll call that 50 inches for simplicity). With the W500, the center of its lens could be positioned as high as 27.5 inches above the center of the screen, or as low as 27.5 inches below.
That's a good range for shelf mounting, but those with higher ceilings are going to have to hang that projector way down, below the top of the screen surface, by, in this case 22 inches. By comparison, with the DLP competitors, they have to be about 17 inches above. Compared to the lens shift range of the Sanyo PLV-Z5, or the Panasonic PT-AX100U, the W500 is relatively limited!
BenQ W500 Screen Door and Rainbow Effects
OK, the W500 is a 3LCD projector, so there is no spinning color wheel, and therefore no rainbow effect. As is typical of LCD projectors, with 720p resolution, pixel structure tends to be more visible than competing DLP projectors. Still, the BenQ W500 projector performs better than expected, in terms of Screen Door Effect, and pixel visibility, something which no doubt is the result of using a new generation of 0.6" diagonal LCD chips. When most (about 120" diagonal) of my 128" diagonal screen, and viewing from 11.5 feet back, I almost forgot this was an LCD projector.
That said, for most, you'll want to sit at least 1.5 times screen width, back, for pixels to be just about completely invisible, only showing up on things like movie credits, and on screen signage (such as the various stats and scoreboards on sports events), where you would just be able to make out the pixel structure.
BenQ W500 Home Theater Projector: Light Leakage
The W500 projector is pretty clean when it comes to light leakage. Under normal viewing conditions, I never noticed any light leakage on or around the screen, unless, the image is completely dark (a black screen) in which case a little is visible. Some very minor leakage comes out of a couple of the fan vents, but, again, it is not an issue. Overall, the W500 is very good in this regard.
BenQ W500 Audible Noise Levels
Typically, LCD home theater projectors are quieter than DLP models, and the W500 is no exception. Although the W500 is not particularly quiet, it is slightly quieter than the DLP competition from both Optoma and Mitsubishi, but noisier than the more expensive LCD models - the Sanyo PLV-Z5 and Panasonic PT-AX100U. Even with the lamp set to full brightness, the BenQ has noise levels that should be acceptable to most. With the lamp set to eco-mode, BenQ claims 28db noise, and 32, in full power. Since most of the DLP competition tend to also claim about 32-33db in full power, I think, in this case, that BenQ might be conservative. I definitely have the feeling that the W500 is at least a couple db quieter than either the HC1500 or the HD70.
BenQ W500 Brightness - Measured Lumens
Claiming 1100 lumens, the BenQ W500 surprised me. Most LCD home theater projectors produce less than half of claimed, when in their "best" (least bright) mode. Not so, the W500 projector, which managed to measure out to 870 lumens in the Cinema setting, with lamp in full power. Dropping to Eco-mode, brightness dropped to 725 lumens a 17% difference. That 17% difference should be fairly consistant, for the eco-mode vs. full power, for each preset mode.
A warning here. Best viewing in Cinema mode, is with the Auto Iris engaged. Since the BenQ only offers two options - Auto Iris: On, and Off, with no ability to do a manual partial closing of the iris, this basically means there is no way to measure maximum brightness in Auto Iris, or should I say, the results will be the same, with it On or Off. However, in real usage, the average brightness will be a bit lower, although on very bright scenes, it should remain the same as mentioned above (870 lumens).
Interestingly, Standard mode, was the least bright, measuring a still very respectable 602 lumens with lamp on high.
Dynamic measured only about 100 lumens better than Cinema mode - most surprising for an LCD projector, and clocked in at 972 lumens, 11% below BenQ's claimed 1100 lumens. I made no attempt to push the dynamic mode further to see the maximum lumens it would output. At the same time, the overall quality for their Dynamic mode was pretty good, definitely watchable, especially with a little adjustment. Many projectors can crank out more lumens by pushing out so much green to get the lumen count up, that the picture is downright unwatchable. The W500 did just fine in Dynamic, for my sports viewing with too much ambient light. Still it isn't as bright as the Epson Cinema 400 or Panasonic PT-AX100U (or the new PT-AX200U).
So, while the W500 is particularly bright, in best mode, it is about average when you need maximum lumens. At least no one will call this a dim projector, and in that regard, it crushes some other competition, such as Sony's AW15, and the Sanyo PLV-Z5, when in best (Cinema) modes.
BenQ W500 Lamp Life and Replacement
A classic: 2000 hours in full power mode, and 3000 hours rated for low power. That is the most common lamp life rating found on today's projectors, so the bottom line - the W500 projector's lamp life is "typical." One nice touch, the lamp life tracking counts hours separately for full power, and eco-mode, so it should really know exactly when to start warning you that it's time to replace the lamp. Few projectors in the past, have tracked both separately, at least where you can see it.
When it comes to replacing the lamp, the lamp door is on the bottom of the projector. That means you are going to have to unmount a celing mounted projector to change the lamp. That's a pain, but typical of most projectors.
Since the W500 is particularly bright, many will choose to run the W500 projector in Eco-mode, and enjoy the longer lamp life and lower operational cost.
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BenQ W500 Projector Screen Recommendations
Hmmm! As usual, I viewed the W500 on multiple screens. Because I found the projector's tendency to have a slightly darkish looking image (higher than 2.2 gamma), with normal settings, and the iris working hard in Auto mode, I did not find it to be great match with high contrast gray surface screens like my Stewart Firehawk. I enjoyed the image much better using my Carada Brilliant White screen (gain of about 1.3). I also tried the Elite HC Gray surface, which was a good compromise, as I consider it to be barely "high contrast" and it is a very light gray. Overall, though, I favored the Carada with the W500's Auto Iris engaged. With Auto Iris off (iris open), the Elite became an excellent alternative, although it couldn't get the black levels as good as the Carada produced, with the Auto Iris on.
Overall, I think this is a projector that works best with white surfaces, the exception might be for screen sizes no more than 100" diagonal.
BenQ W500 Calibration
The W500 was easy to adjust the grayscale balance, and should be equally easy for those of you using a basic calibration disk.
For my test unit, a I ended up with Brightness set to 51, and Contrast 54 (never was quite happy with the contrast setting, due to the loss of dark shadow detail, but more on that later). The default Color (saturation) is 60, and I found that to be a little over saturated, and for much of my viewing had it down around 52. Black levels were set to 7.5 IRE, which produced that loss of very dark shadow detail, but the 0.0 IRE setting seemed a bit to bright in dark areas, and letterboxes.
Overall, the default Cinema preset was a little cool, with white measuring 7167K (6500K is ideal for movies).
By using the color management, for a quick grayscale calibration, I adjusted the separate Red, Green, and Blue controls for both Gain and Offset, and ended up with these settings:
Gain: Red = 48, Green = 42, Blue = 43
Offset: Red = 50, Green = 45, Blue = 45
That yielded the following grayscale color temperatures:
I00 IRE (white): 6944K
80 IRE (light gray): 6907K
50 IRE (neutral gray): 6494K
30 IRE (dark gray): 6523K
Overall, that is still a bit cool, and further tweaking should get it closer to ideal, but these temperatures are close enough to be considered overall, to produce good colors.
On the other hand, dark gray images still managed to have a slight redish cast to them, as noted in the Image Quality section, with the black and white image from Phantom of the Opera. Also from that disk, the very, very dark cavern scene also projects too much red, compared to most projectors.
If you are using Eco-mode, as is common, the lamp temperature measures a bit cooler, so, at 100 IRE, before the adjustment, Eco-mode (Cinema) produced 7318K, about 150K cooler than full power.
Auto Iris: I preferred the Auto Iris on, as it dramatically reduced black levels, but, as noted took its toll in shadow detail in very dark areas. The pairing with a white surface screen, rather than the Firehawk that I did most of my watching on, however produces a more enjoyable image to watch, although a loss of shadow detail is still evident.
BenQ W500 Image Noise
The W500 performed very well in terms of most types of image noise. This is not surprising since there is an HQV tie-in. The BenQ uses HQV (Hollywood Quality Video) image circuitry, and I have been using the HQV test disk for looking at noise, for well more than a year now.
I would give the BenQ W500 a slight advantage over the DLP competition, in terms of motion artifacts. Noise on still images, is very good, better than typically found on DLP projectors, but that is generally true of LCD projectors. In watching about 5 hours of HDTV, and a close to 15 hours of DVD (mostly Blu-ray, but some SD-DVD, and HD-DVD), nothing ever "jumped out at me" indicating a problem. If there was a flaw, it was occasionally a touch slow, in handing motion artifacts, but you aren't likely to notice, unless looking for it.
Ok, time for a quick look at the Warranty, then the Summary section!