Home Theater Projector Reviews:
BenQ W500 DLP Projector:
Summary, Pros, Cons
I really did like the W500 overall, but debated whether it should earn our Hot Product Award. Ultimately, the BenQ's problems, which may, in part, be specific to this particular projector, in terms of limited shadow detail, a shift toward red in the dark areas, and unevenness of color across the screen, were the deciding factors, even though the W500 had a number of strengths. I have shipped back the W500 to BenQ, but have asked for a 2nd projector to check out. If the 2nd one is much better in the three above mentioned areas, I'll write off the first unit as defective, and most likely will upgrade the W500's status with our Hot Product Award. Only time will tell.
Menus were very good, the remote is excellent, and skin tones were very impressive after our minor gray scale adjustments. Except in dark scenes/dark faces, where skin tones were too red. The BenQ W500 looks great on bright scenes!
The shadow detail handling is definitely dissapointing, as this BenQ projector has a lot going for it, especially, a bright picture in Cinema mode, lens shift, which only the slightly more expensive Epson Home Cinema 400 and Sony VPL-AW15 have, and lots of good control of the image quality. It may be, that I am underselling the BenQ, as I spent the bulk of my time viewing it on my Firehawk high contrast gray screen, but did like it better on the white Carada screen in my testing room. Ultimately, though, is much brighter when you need maximum lumens, and still pretty bright in one of its best modes, though not as bright as the BenQ in Cinema mode. While the BenQ likely has the advantage in terms of black levels, the Epson definitely reveals more shadow detail.
Update 10/5/07: The 2nd W500 is still crushing the blacks (dark shadow detail), but, with the red problem now gone in this unit, my opinion of the W500 has improved. What the BenQ loses in technical performance in terms of shadow detail, it seems to make up for with an especially punchy image. If you are not really into the details of performance, let's just say that the overall picture will wow you (relative to price, etc.), even if another less "exciting" looking projector is better technically in this area. I also got to look at it, side by side, with the Acer PH530. To give you an idea of what I mean, the BenQ was definitely a bit brighter, and more dynamic looking. The Acer had the advantage in both black levels (no surprise it's a DLP), and definitely in shadow detail. But no matter, most looking at both would find the BenQ image a bit more appealing. Lastly, the BenQ produces a very sharp image, significantly sharper than the Acer. So, in this case, for example, despite the BenQ's issues, most will prefer it, as it has the stuff going for it, that appeals to the typical consumer, but not the enthusiast on a quest for perfection. -art
The Sony, on the other hand, does superior black levels, compared to the W500, but is far, far dimmer overall.
Placement is a key strength of the W500, thanks to lens shift, and its price parity with the two best selling DLP projectors, the HC1500 by Mitsubishi, and the Optoma HD70. Of these three projectors, all have limited zooms, but the BenQ, with lens shift, is far more likely to be used on a shelf, if your screen size, is the proper match for your room depth. It also lacks the limitation of the two DLP projectors in that they must both be mounted about 1.5 feet above the top of your screen surface. That distance, for a 100" screen, and therefore even more for larger screens. That large offset means both the Mitsubishi and Optoma will typically not work well in a room with less than 8 foot high ceilings. (Example, if you have a 110" diagonal screen, the screen height is about 54 inches. With an 7 foot ceiling (basement theater), and the projector (hanging down about 1 foot from the ceiling (allowing for the mount, and minimal clearance), the bottom of the screen is about 18 inches from the floor, lower than almost anyone will consider acceptable.
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I digress, back to the W500. The shadow detail notwithstanding, I was able to thoroughly enjoy watching many movies, including House of the Flying Daggers, Casino Royale, and Aeon Flux.
Colors were richly saturated, and flesh tones very good. It really is a pleasant projector to watch, easy to setup and use, and feels well built. The average consumer, should thoroughly enjoy the viewing experience, but those who are picky about this and that, will most likely be happier with one of the other home theater projectors.
Time to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the BenQ W500
BenQ W500 projector, Pros, Cons, and Typical Capabilities
BenQ W500 Projector: Pros
- Very bright in best mode
- Very good black levels
- Good out of the box color and image quality, requiring only minimum adjustment to further improve it (issues mentioned, notwithstanding)
- Vertical and Horizontal lens shift simplifies placement
- 12 volt screen trigger (for controlling motorized screens properly equipped)
- Very good (extensive) image control options on menus
- Good on image noise, better than most in the class
- Very good menu system
- Reasonably attractive, relatively small, projector
- Good price/performance
BenQ W500 Projector: Cons
- Placement flexibility: Limited zoom lens range (1.2:1)
- Filter to clean (like all other LCD home theater projectors)
- One of the louder projectors in full power lamp mode
- Lamp door on bottom, requires removal from a ceiling mount, to change out
- Color shift in background, shift towards red at very dark (low) values
- Could use a 2nd (or third) HDMI input
BenQ W500 Projector: Typical Capabilities
- Lamp Life
- Audible noise levels
- Pixel visibility (for a LCD projector)
BenQ W500 Summary:
Inherently, we all have to figure that any "entry level" home theater projector is a compromise. Afterall, for example, the W500 is the least expensive of five 720p and 1080p projectors they offer.
The W500 is one of the best when it comes to "no fuss", as it is very easy to set up, and placing it is also straight forward, with many who can make it work in their room, expected to shelf mount, to cut back on some installation hassle and cost.
If anything the W500 is really, a very good "average" projector. It's not the best at anything, but does most things well. Several competitors that have other advantages, are very dim by comparison, while some others are noisier, (audible and image noise), and so on. The W500 is definitely more of a Ford, or Toyota, than say a BMW, or Lexus. I think the biggest problem is that where the BenQ exceeds, a couple of other LCD projectors - the Epson and Panasonic PT-AX100U, which do cost more, overall seem to be worth the not to huge difference in price.
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The W500 is new, and I have already suggested that BenQ take a look at their gamma settings, and recommended a minor upgrade (they've done it before). The other possibility, as I wait for their response, is that this particular projector may have an issue. I mention that because when I originally reviewed their PE8720 a couple of years ago, their out of the box gamma settings were horrible (much, much worse), but they quickly came up with a firmware upgrade, and turned the PE8720 into a superb projector.
If BenQ agrees, and thinks that this particular projector may be at fault, no doubt I'll have another one here to look at in the next couple of weeks. It won't take very much improvement in shadow detail performance, plus a cure for the red shift, to change the W500 into a Hot Product Award winner.
Overall, a very nice, solid projector, with good image quality, better than average brightness, and aimed at the bulk of the entry level home theater market. I always have to remind myself that most people out there are happy to just fire up their projector, pop in a DVD (or much better a hi-def DVD), or put on some HDTV/TV/Sports, and just enjoy. The BenQ W500 should serve that largest group of buyers, very well.
I would also like to thank those of you owning W500s, who answered my request for feedback about the shadow detail. I heard from about a half dozen of you, and most agreed. I should also point out that most seemed very pleased overall with their W500.