After releasing a couple of very budget friendly, bare-bones home-theatre projectors earlier in the year, BenQ has followed up with the W1500. It adds much of the fancy processing left out of those cheaper models and includes a very useful wireless HDMI connectivity, all for not much more than AU$2,000.
The projector uses DLP technology, which means it has a Full HD Digital Micromirror Device (a chip with a little over 2 million physically moving mirrors on its surface). This is from the Texas Instruments DarkChip3 family.
It is a quite compact unit and uses a fairly "short throw" lens. That is, it needs to sit relatively close to the screen — perhaps about half the distance of that required by most home-theatre projectors — otherwise, the picture will be too large to fit. There is reasonable flexibility thanks to the 1.6:1 zoom range of the lens. If you are using a 100 inch (2.54 metre diagonal) 16:9 screen, then the projector needs to be somewhere between 2.38 and 3.81 metres from it.
There's a modest amount of vertical lens shift available (a little knob is hidden under a sprung panel), so a further dimension of adjustment is available — but not very much. As always, it's wise to download the projector's manual from the BenQ website before purchase, and check out the installation tables to make sure it fits in your situation.
It accepts all the usual signal connections and has a 12-volt trigger output and RS-232C socket for system integration. There are two HDMI inputs plus the wireless connection. The receiver for this is built in and the transmitter is an HDMI dongle. This is powered by 5 volt DC, either from the supplied power adapter or from any handy USB socket.
The wireless connection works in the 5GHz space, which is still relatively uncrowded (most home wireless stuff is still running around on 2.4GHz).
BenQ's smaller projectors tend to come with built-in speakers, as does this one. Each of the two side-mounted 50mm speakers has 10 watts of power. Use them if you like, but the fact is a big picture in a home theatre demands big sound.
The projector supports 3D using an active system, whereby the left- and right-eye images are shown alternating on the screen, and the liquid-crystal shutters in the glasses switch between transparent and opaque in time. Sync is maintained through the projector shooting an IR signal at the screen. This bounces back and is picked up by a sensor on the glasses.
One pair of 3D glasses is supplied with the projector. If you need more (as you probably will, unless you're very much the loner), additional pairs are available for AU$99.
The only installation difficulty I had with using the projector was that the HDMI dongle is fatter than the normal HDMI cable plug, so it barely squeezed into the outputs on the home-theatre receivers I used. Both of them had dual outputs, so I could easily compare the wired and wireless connectivity.
The wireless system worked well. In my office, with the projector about 5 metres from the transmitter, the connection was completely reliable. There were only two differences between wired and wireless. First, wireless supported all the same signals as wired, except for 576i: interlaced standard definition. You will need to use source devices that offer a progressive or HD output. Second, the switching between signals standards was a little slower than the already slow switching with an HDMI cable. It took about eight seconds going from Blu-ray's 1080p24 to 1080p50 (upconverted digital TV) using regular HDMI and a couple of seconds longer with the wireless connection. With wireless, there are two sets of signal detection and switching happening: first the transmitter and then the projector.
The picture quality was generally very good.
There was almost none of the "rainbow effect" to which some DLP projectors are subject — perhaps three brief instances in a couple of weeks of use. The sharpness of the focus was good. The projector defaulted to having its "Detail Enhancement" and "Sharpness" settings up too high. I'd suggest turning the first to zero and the latter to the middle position of "1". For some reason, the picture seemed a touch soft at zero but had a small amount of sharpening distortion at "1". Perhaps a setting of "0.5" would have been useful.
The colour was very good: rich and natural without being overblown. And there are sufficient settings to fine tune it if you don't like the defaults.
The greatest weakness was the black levels. These days, projectors with a claimed contrast ratio in the hundreds of thousands to one are routinely offered. This one doesn't use contrast-enhancing techniques (such as a dynamic iris to control light levels), so it only scores 10,000:1. But truth be told, while not as black as the projectors I generally employ, neither was it distracting from the picture. Only in lengthy dark scenes did I wish it would go a bit darker.
The projector was pretty bad at converting interlaced 50Hz input to progressive, both in 576i50 format and 1080i50 format. It used motion adaptive deinterlacing, suitable for video sourced content, even with the "Film" mode switched on. This projector is going to work best with equipment that can deliver its high-quality progressive scan signals.
With the bulk of Blu-ray content delivered in progressive scan at 24fps, it was excellent.
Also excellent was the motion interpolation system. This calculates and displays intermediate frames between the real ones, thereby smoothing the motion. It had three levels. The "Low" setting was the best balance between virtually imperceptible artefacts and motion smoothing. It was impressively high in quality, retaining a sense of all the grain and imperfections often present in older movies while getting rid of the worst of the picture judder, which can make some scenes very difficult to view.
I don't normally read others' reviews of the stuff I'm checking out. It's too easy to fall sway to a form of groupthink. But I happened on a non-Australian one written some months ago while looking up some specifications, and it claimed there was something badly wrong with the 3D of this projector.
I suppose there's been a firmware upgrade since then because the projector I reviewed had pretty much everything going very right with 3D.
For good reason. It is a DLP projector, so its pixels switch on and off much faster than LCD or LCoS models. That means that there is no lag in the picture.
The result was brilliant 3D. There was no perceptible ghosting, so the image was just wonderfully deep and round, with everything in its proper place.
So while the BenQ W1500 is a budget home-theatre projector, it turns out to do a generally good job so long as you deliver it a good-quality progressive scan signal. And if you'd like to enjoy high-quality Blu-ray 3D, then you won't do much better than this at anywhere near the price.