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BenQ SP890 review: BenQ SP890

The BenQ SP890 may masquerade as a 1080p home theatre projector, but its high asking price and poor black levels mean that it's better suited to well-heeled motivational speakers.

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Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg

Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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3 min read

In the days between the death of CRTs and the rise of flatscreens, it seemed like projectors were the future of big-screen entertainment. Now that TVs are affordably available in sizes of 65-inches and above, though, projectors have only become more niche. In fact, they've had to adapt, shift and take on a more utilitarian role. The BenQ SP890 is an example of this "one-size-fits-all" methodology, and it incorporates both business and cinema-friendly features. But is it putting its eggs in too many baskets?

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6.9

BenQ SP890

The Good

High brightness. Excellent image processing. Bright scenes are engaging.

The Bad

High price. Skewed towards business use. Remote not backlit. Not very adept at dark scenes.

The Bottom Line

The BenQ SP890 may masquerade as a 1080p home theatre projector, but its high asking price and poor black levels mean that it's better suited to well-heeled motivational speakers.

Design

The BenQ is a large projector by home cinema standards, and it rivals many home cinema receivers with its height of 156mm, depth of 345mm and width of 428mm. Like a receiver, it's also quite heavy at 7.2kg.

The projector is solidly built, and the lens has sturdy manual controls, although the silver plastic hood looks quite cheap. The model comes with a series of buttons on the top of the unit, which cover most of the main functions. As with most projectors, the rear of the unit includes all of the relevant connections.

Features

The SP890 is a full 1080p projector, which features a DLP system with a six-segment colour wheel. While most companies are overly generous with their contrast ratio calculations — read: "outrageous lies" — we're a little nonplussed by BenQ's claims of 50,000-to-1! Particularly when the rating is taken from "full-off to full-on", as switching on and off really quickly during use is not a feature of this projector. It does include a "dynamic iris", though, in the form of VIDI Lighting Technology, and a high 4000 Lumens brightness.

The projector offers a mechanical vertical and horizontal lens shift, and has a relatively short 1.5x throw capable of producing a 500-inch image.

Belying its schizophrenic nature, the BenQ features both a laser pointer remote perfect for PowerPoint presentations, and HQV (Hollywood Quality Video) projection image processing suited for home cinema. BenQ pitches this projector as a "large venue" model, which can also be used in a home theatre, but some of the features, such as Ethernet control, will probably go to waste in most home set-ups.

The projector's fan is rated at 33dB in normal mode, and we didn't find the noise distracting during normal use.

The projector also features a stereo speaker system with a 2x 5W power rating. In use, though, it sounds no better than a laptop, and would be inaudible in most auditoriums.

Connections include LAN, HDMI, component, S-Video, composite, USB, audio in/out and even a monitor out.

Performance

While the marketing material may boast of a high full-on/full-off contrast, the black levels weren't the best that we've seen. Rather than simply letting the projection surface act as black, the projector seemed to imprint its own, much brighter, black onto the screen. As a result, the projector wasn't able to render the detail in dark scenes very well, and was much more successful with brighter material.

Plugging Mission Impossible III on Blu-ray into the rear of the machine, we found that the BenQ was able to render the film quite smoothly with excellent 24p support. Image processing care of the HQV engine was quite sophisticated, with the rails at the side of the opening shot of the "bridge scene" free of moire noise. The sky above was also relatively free of digital noise, and motion was excellent. Only on occasion would DLP rainbow effects appear on contrasting edges.

With synthetic testing, we found further evidence that the projector was even-handed with both Blu-ray and, crucially, DVDs. The BenQ handled the DVD tests mostly well, but failed on the video content tests with visible jaggies. This doesn't mean that DVDs taken from video sources won't play; they simply won't be processed as capably as film content. Random noise was well handled, though.

Conclusion

While the projector was able to render most movies well, its weakness with dark content is an Achilles' heel. Unfortunately, the BenQ SP890 is a Jack of all trades, master of none: it's too barebones for a home theatre projector, and too expensive and large for a business. If you're after a projector for your home, we'd look at models in the AU$3000-$4000 price range instead.