If you think that "budget projector" means those under-powered, handheld pico projectors, then you should think again. Like most everything else in consumer electronics, serious, wall-filling home theater projectors continue to get cheaper and better -- and models like the BenQ W1070 really stand out.
Here is a projector that includes 3D, has onboard speakers, and is almost small enough to fit in a "man bag," yet is capable of fine image quality. Colors are excellent and black levels are good enough for the money. Its picture blows away any pico projector you would care to name.
While the BenQ does cut some corners you probably won't be able to find a better big-screen experience for this amount of money. Firstly, though the 3D picture is very good, there are no glasses included. If you buy two pairs of glasses at $99 each (you must use BenQ's glasses with this unit), you end up paying almost the same as the Epson 3020, which has a similar level of 2D and 3D picture quality.
Don't want 3D, and just need a big image for a little money? I can think of nothing else at the price that will give you what the BenQ does.
While many projectors adopt a space-age look, the BenQ W1070 has a touch of the "boardroom sales meeting" to it. You could argue that unlike with a TV, most people are looking away from a projector and not at it, so its design shouldn't matter as much. The off-white and silver projector is on the small side at just 12.28 inches across, 4 inches high, and 9.61 inches deep.
The top panel houses the usual buttons on the right and a flimsy slide-down cover behind the lens controls (manual zoom and focus) on the left. Open the slider and you'll reveal a screw that controls vertical lens shift. I found that a screwdriver was necessary to perform this adjustment, and it's tough to get it right since it's quite sensitive. If this arrangement sounds wonky and annoying, that's because it is, but at least BenQ includes the control.
One thing that I wasn't impressed with was the front exhaust grill. Unlike that of the Epson 3020, its forward-firing exhaust fails to block lamp leakage onto your screen. In a dark room it wasn't all that noticeable, but still I'd like leakage (if necessary) to face away from the screen.
The menu offers a clean interface that is easy to navigate. The remote control feels like a cheap DVD remote rather than one you'd get with home theater device worth over a thousand bucks. Even so, it's functional if small.
|Key TV features|
|Projection technology||Single-chip DLP||Native resolution||1920x1080 (1080p)|
|Lumens rating||2000||Iris control||No|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Lens shift||Vertical||Zoom and focus||Manual|
|Lamp lifespan||Up to 5,000 hours||Replacement lamp cost||$219|
|Other: Integrated 10-watt speakers; optional 3D glasses (model "D3," part 5J.J7K25.001, $99 list)|
The BenQ features a DLP DarkChip3 chipset and boasts a 2,000-lumen brightness, which is fine for a home theater projector at this price. The provision of 3D is unexpected at this level, though, and as I soon found out, it's not a tacked-on stocking filler but intelligently implemented.
Unlike with the Epson 3020, however, BenQ's active, infrared glasses aren't included. Currently each pair costs about $90 on Amazon. While glass maker Xpand does make cheaper universal glasses, they are not compatible with the BenQ according to the Xpand Web site.
If you're an occasional movie watcher who needs to pack the projector back in the closet, the inclusion of a set of onboard 10-watt speakers is helpful.
In order to enhance lamp life, the W1070 comes with an Eco Blank Mode, which ratchets down the light output if no source is detected and a charming onscreen message that reads "Save up to 70% of your lamp power. Time to do your part in saving the planet."
Most projectors offer some kind of height adjustment enabling users to get the projector square on the screen. Whereas the Epson 3020 has only adjustable feet on the front, the BenQ offers front and back adjustments, which means it's better able to compensate for imperfectly level table mounts.
BenQ further one-ups the Epson and many other budget projectors by including vertical lens shift. This allows some flexibility in how high or low you place the projector relative to the screen, without having to resort to the distortions required by digital keystone adjustments. As I mentioned above, it's a pain to use, but I'm still thrilled to see it in a projector this cheap.
How big can you get the picture? With a maximum 1.5x throw ratio, BenQ says you can get a 235-inch screen. But you'll need a fairly long room to achieve that.
Picture settings: Unusually, the BenQ locks out the color and tint settings. The other controls are there, however, including a number of preset modes, two-point grayscale, and advanced color management system (CMS) settings, which are much more dangerous in the wrong hands than Color. During calibration we used the CMS in lieu of Color and Tint, so we didn't miss having them, but we still wish they were active.