BenQ's MP512 ST is a one-chip DLP-based front projector with a relatively low resolution of 800x600 (SVGA) that can be found for a ridiculously low price on the Internet. According to the company, this projector was designed specifically for the Nintendo Wii, a standard definition gaming platform. Owing to its surprisingly solid video quality, the little projector should serve perfectly well in that capacity, or, in a pinch, as a big display for HD sources, which look reasonably good as well. For less than $600, about the price of a cheap 32-inch LCD, I could see families using one of these projectors for gaming and casual big-screen movie watching.
Don't expect any serious industrial design flair in a projector this inexpensive. My review sample was finished in a two-tone color scheme that's mostly white, with some silver trim around the lens assembly and on the sides near the vents. The MP512 ST is a small projector (3.5 inches tall by 10 inches wide by 8.4 inches deep), making it easy to tuck away on a ceiling and also easily portable as it weighs a mere 4.9 pounds.
As expected from a budget model, the remote control is nothing to write home about. The remote control is credit-card-size with tiny buttons, which supply the functionality necessary to navigate the menu. Oddly, the audio controls are buried in the menu and not available on the remote. The internal menu graphical user interface is relatively straightforward and easy to navigate.
The BenQ MP512 ST is not loaded with features, but it does have some that are useful in maximizing its picture quality potential. Its first pertinent specification is its 800x600-pixel native resolution, which means this projector doesn't technically qualify as high definition. It will still display HD signals, of course, and simply scale them down to the available pixels, but don't expect the kind of detail you'll get with a high-resolution model.
I found the inclusion of two different categories of picture modes, Picture Mode and Reference Mode, a little confusing. Under Reference Mode there are choices called Dynamic, Standard, and Cinema, which do not let you change any of the picture parameters like contrast, brightness, and so on. If you want to tweak the projector's picture, you must select either User 1 or User 2 in Picture Mode. Then, under Reference Mode, you should choose Cinema, as it produces the smoothest most accurate picture as a starting point for fine tuning the image.
Selectable color temperatures include T1, T2, and T3. T3 measured fairly close to the broadcast standard of D65, and since there are no grayscale calibration controls, all I could do was select that mode and move on. For complete picture settings, check out the bottom of this blog post.
A digital zoom feature for zooming in on a section of the picture is available and is accessible from the remote control. This projector does not have an optical zoom control at the lens, so to size the image, you must physically move the unit or the screen back and forth. Focus is manual and available only at the lens.
Connectivity is a bit limited, but that is to be expected in a product in this price range. One HDMI input is the most important connection. There is also one 15-pin RGB/Component video input for a second HD capable source. For older NTSC sources, one S-Video and one composite video input are both included. I was pleasantly surprised to find an RS-232 control port, which I find unusual for a product in this price range.
The MP512 ST is not a serious home theater projector, and that was not BenQ's intent when they designed it. But for Wii gaming and other SD sources at a reasonable screen size of say 6-feet wide or so, it will deliver a pretty darn good picture for the money. It can' really compare with more-expensive HD projectors, however, so don't expect miracles from the MP512 ST in terms of picture quality.
The "screen door" effect, where the pixel structure appears overlaid like a screen door atop the image, is a real issue because of this unit's low 800x600-pixel resolution. This means pairing it with a smaller screen, where the structure will be less visible, is important. The BenQ is incapable of producing bright pictures, so again a smaller screen will yield a much higher contrast ratio, and consequently a better picture. I used it on my 92-inch diagonal Stewart Grayhawk RS screen and measured 10.5 footlamberts (ftl) of peak light output, which is slightly lower than the projected film specification in a movie theater of 12 ftl. I'd recommend a screen no larger than mine, and preferably smaller, in the 72-inch-wide range.
Those caveats aside, I have to say I was surprised how good a picture the MP512 ST delivered from both Blu-ray Discs and HD cable sources. The BBC 1080p version of "Planet Earth" looked impressive with nicely saturated colors and good detail. The T3 color temperature setting also produced a reasonably accurate grayscale, which was a welcome plus.
Black level performance on the MP512 ST was impressive for an 800x600-pixel resolution DLP projector, as evinced by its reproduction of The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford on Blu-ray. This is an awesome transfer, but the movie's colors are somewhat muted and cold. The MP512 ST does a reasonably good job of reproducing the film's unique look.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6250/6400||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 131||Good|
|After grayscale variation|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.644/0.348||Average|
|Color of green||0.344/0.53||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.145/0.072||Average|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|