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.
BenQ calls its lower-power lamp mode "Economic," and engaging it improves black levels while still keeping plenty of light for a dark room. There's also a Brilliant Color option that we kept engaged because it improved some aspects of the picture.
Connectivity: The BenQ includes both legacy and digital connections, so no matter what boxes you are trying to connect you should be catered for. There's two HDMI ports, component video, composite, and even S-Video -- a rarity these days. Of course there's also a PC input with audio in and and audio out as well if you don't want to use the onboard speaker.
In many of the tests, including black levels, the BenQ and the Epson 3020 were neck-and-neck, with the BenQ losing to the Epson slightly on shadow detail and reproducing more-natural colors, especially in darker areas. I also appreciated that it didn't require a (noisy) iris like the Epson's.
The 3D replay was excellent and better than that on most TVs of any price for both lack of cross-talk and image "pop." It's just a shame that the company expects $99 a "pop" for you to enjoy it.
|Comparison models (details)|
|Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020||LCD|
|Mitsubishi HC7900DW||Single-chip DLP|
|Sony VPL-HW50ES (reference)||SXRD|
Black and white level: One of the first things for our comparison test was to block the light from the front exhaust port. It did improve black levels a little according to our measurements, but not enough to be easily perceptible to the eye.
While the Epson measured better for black in our tests, this was with the help of the iris. In real-life testing we discerned little difference between them, and indeed the BenQ can often look darker depending on the scene. The W1070's contrast and pop were impressive for its price, albeit nothing like our reference Sony, for example.
However, there is one thing the BenQ doesn't get quite right: it can crush some low-level shadow detail. With the flyby of the Romulan ship in "Star Trek" (Chapter 4, 28:18), the BenQ obscures details on the passing ship that the Epson uncovers, while the surface next to Nero's face (which is a green table on the best displays) is completely missing at the 28:30 mark. Adjusting the controls to reveal these details is possible, but not without sacrificing too much in other areas, like black level.
In terms of light output, the BenQ had plenty for our dark room and 120-inch-diagonal, high-gain StudioTek 130 screen. I measured a maximum light output of 53fL in Dynamic mode, which is good for a budget projector, but the trade-offs of that mode include terrible color. That number beats the light output of the Mitsubishi, but falls a bit short of the Epson.
Color accuracy: Taking the $4,000 Sony VPL-HW50ES as my reference, colors appeared closer to it on the BenQ than the Epson -- yellows in particular. Compared with the Sony, the BenQ was still a bit worse, however, and reds were definitely lacking in saturation.
The BenQ's skin tones are good and again come quite close to the reference. One example came at the 29:51 mark in "Star Trek," where the reddish face of Captain Kirk -- as well as the red Starfleet uniforms, green grass, and blue sky -- looked much more natural than those from the Epson.
As a DLP projector, black areas of the picture were neutral on the BenQ where on the competing Epson they were bluish. This was most obvious during the starkly black scenes of the Creation sequence in "The Tree of Life" (Chapter 4).
Video processing: For so little money, the BenQ does a great job of showing "The Tree of Life" at something approaching true home cinema quality. For instance there was no solarizing on the BenQ at 24:23 during the sunrise over the alien planet. Some plasmas and LCDs don't have the processing or bandwidth to prevent banding in smooth gradations of color like this.
In our synthetic tests, the BenQ was able to parse 1080i film with a stable image whereas the otherwise excellent Epson saw some fluttering in the vertical bars. Blu-ray content in native 24 frames per second was also replayed without any judder.
Bright lighting: While it couldn't get quite as bright as the Epson, it did reasonably well in a dimly lit room, but it's not quite enough to stop light from overhead lights leaking onto your screen. If you want something that will work in a lit room without issue, you need to look at a business projector or pay a lot more.
3D: For a $1,000 projector I was blown away by how good the 3D image was. No TV under $1,000 can give you an image with this much depth and lack of crosstalk. The glasses also helped to enhance contrast giving a higher sense of a "black" background.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0167||Average|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.22||Good|
|Near-black error (5%)||0.4657||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||1.3046||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||0.9187||Good|
|Avg. color error||2.43178333333333||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||340||Poor|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||340||Poor|
|Input lag (Calibrated mode)||33.7||Good|