Four Great Home Theater Projectors Compared
This comparison looks at two very different DLP home projectors, Optoma’s HD91 and BenQ’s W7500. Despite differences these two projectors also have a number of things in common.
There are two dramatic differences so we’ll start with those.
The first is the light engine. The BenQ W7500 uses a traditional UHP lamp as do the vast majority of projectors (other than those tiny pico and pocket projectors), while the Optoma HD91 is one of the first mid-priced home theater projectors to sport a solid state LED light engine (rated 20,000 hours).
There’s a direct effect to having that light engine, and that is price. Although there’s no lamps to replace, which saves money, the light engine is also responsible for this projector being over $1000 more than the BenQ.
The other major difference is brightness. The BenQ W7500 is what we oft refer to as a light canon, capable of large screens in dedicated theaters, and of working in reasonable family/living/bonus/media room type setups, while the HD91 is more of a small to medium sized screen projector, that’s best in a dedicated theater/cave.
Just remember to be objective. There are some great average brightness or below projectors. What matters is does a projector work in your room, for the kind of usage you plan. It’s like considering cars with lots of horsepower. If you don’t need it, then focus on what you do need.
Out-of-the-Box Picture Quality
NOTE: In the above images, the Optoma image comes first, followed by the BenQ.
Let’s start this comparison with out of the box picture quality. Both projectors have multiple picture modes.
The BenQ has a couple that look very good, without additional adjustment. None are extremely close to ideal calibrated color, but they still are probably more accurate than what most of your friends see on their little old LCDTVs. More to the point, they provide a very watchable picture.
The Optoma HD91 though, is a different matter. Not one of our review projector’s picture modes had anything reasonably good looking. Skin tones at best, were way over the top red. Fire instead of being yellows and oranges and reds, (and a touch of blue) were mostly magenta, red and green. It makes for some weird explosions!
How Calibration Factors In
The good news, is that the Optoma HD91 has a full set of color management controls and can be properly calibrated. Mike’s calibration was reasonably successful. The finals looked very good on paper, but not as good as most projectors calibrate. I wouldn’t be overly concerned though, as a) I wouldn’t recommend this projector unless you deal with the color – by getting a calibration, or trying our settings, and b) If you hire a calibrator, they will likely be able to tweak better color than Mike got, since Mike mostly goes by the auto calibration software. Your personal calibrator should address minor changes if there’s room for improvement. One advantage of an LED light engine is once you have good color it should not change significantly over years of use. Lamps, on the other hand, naturally shift color slightly over even a few hundred hours.
Our normal thing is to calibrate each projector’s “best” mode. That is, start with the mode that’s closest to ideal and adjust it for optimum results. Best modes are usually the least bright, or close to it, and often lose a few more lumens by virtue of the calibration.
So, we look at both a calibrated “best” mode, and also the best looking “bright mode” for when you need maximum lumens – typically for dealing with ambient light, or for 3D viewing. (Yes, both projectors are 3D capable, more on that in a bit).
With the Optoma HD91, post calibration, with respectable color the projector measured about 550 lumens with the zoom at mid-point. Brightest mode needed serious adjustment to have watchable color, which resulted in measured brightness of about 670 lumens, or about 20% brighter. Just for comparison purposes unadjusted brightest mode – Bright – measured about 750 lumens at mid zoom. That’s the the long range of the HD91 zoom, there’s a good amount of brightness difference between mid zoom and wide angle (closest). The HD91 becomes about 1/3 brighter in wide angle. It actually measured right on claim of 1000 lumens before adjustment, and still managed a tad shy of 900 lumens after adjustment.
Just for reference, those kind of brightness numbers aren’t much different, say to many very good projectors from the likes of Sony, JVC, Optoma, Mitsubishi, etc. a few years ago. Today, though most projectors are a step up in brightness, primarily to support 3D (which sucks up lumens), or to handle non-theater type rooms. Bottom line: The HD91 has plenty of lumens for normal theater use, as long as your screen sizes are typically under 110” diagonal. By comparison, the BenQ’s brightest mode – Dynamic – clocked out at 2340 lumens at wide angle on the zoom. But that mode is pretty ugly as well. Mike determined that by the time you try to improve Dynamic mode it would not be significantly brighter than the calibrated Cinema mode. So that means you still have calibrated color, but at about 1900 lumens at wide angle on the zoom.
The BenQ W7500, by comparison clocks out at about 1750 lumens calibrated – over three times as bright. It would be noticeably brighter on a 150” diagonal screen than the Optoma, calibrated would be on a 100” screen.
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