The BenQ W1080ST short-throw DLP projector offers very good performance and extra placement flexibility, but the long-throw W1070 is a better deal.
It's been a year since I reviewed and lauded the BenQ W1070, and despite some serious competition from the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030, it appears BenQ is still the one to beat in the cheap home-theater projector arena. The W1080ST offers very similar performance to the model we reviewed last time and it adds short-throw capability.
The 1080's picture quality is great at the price, with very good black levels and rich color reproduction. It's not without its faults, though -- a short throw projector without a manual lens shift, leaving just the artifact-prone keystone adjustment in its place, seems like a missed opportunity. Also, the $99 price tag of the semiproprietary, not-included 3D glasses all but guarantees that this feature won't ever be used.
Still, with the added freedom that a short-throw projector brings -- finally you can play Wii without getting in the road -- the BenQ W1080ST offers some serious chops for very little outlay. Given everything else is equal, though, AV enthusiasts will probably want to opt for the BenQ 1070 and its manual lens shift.
Save for a different lens, the design of the BenQ W1080ST is virtually identical to the W1070. It has the mostly white "workplace" design aesthetic that many budget home theater and business projectors share, in addition to top-mounted controls and a rear-facing set of inputs. The 1080 is quite a compact unit at 12.2 inches wide by 4.09 inches high and 9.6 inches deep.
Like the W1070 before it, the front exhaust grille is a problem. While the Epson 2030 features an angled exhaust port to direct stray light away from the screen, the BenQ fired a pattern of weak purple light toward the bottom of our projection. On most material I watched, however, the leakage was virtually undetectable.
One area where did BenQ did improve upon the 1070 with the 1080 is in the design of the remote. While the 1070 featured a dinky, plasticky remote, the 1080ST includes a fully realized clicker that feels good in the hand and includes a backlight.
|Projection technology||DLP||Native resolution||1,920x1,080 (1080p)|
|Lumens rating||2,000||Iris control||No|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Lens shift||No||Zoom and focus||Manual|
|Lamp lifespan||Up to 6,000 hours||Replacement lamp cost||$249|
The W1080ST isn't the upgrade to the W1070 its nomenclature might seem to indicate, but rather its "short-throw" (or "ST") counterpart. Roughly speaking, the 1070 is seemingly designed with dedicated home theater in mind, while the BenQ W1080 is built for flexibility, particularly in placement.
The short-throw lens means it can be placed much closer to the screen than usual. We were able to fill a 120-inch screen from just 75 inches with the W1080ST, as opposed to the long-throw projectors in our lab, which needed to be at least 150 inches away. If you have a smaller screen, you can place it even closer. Of course, the closer to the screen, the less chance you'll have of interfering with the projector's light path, and the closer the projector comes to being more like a big-screen TV.
The BenQ W1080ST features a DLP DarkChip3 chipset and boasts a 2,000-lumen brightness, which is fine for a home theater projector at this price. While the projector includes 3D playback, sadly no glasses are included. The glasses themselves are older-style IR models, and the projector is not compatible with either the Full HD 3D standard (though the BenQ Web site appears to claim they are). I tried using the Samsung SSG-3050GB and the Xpand X104 universals but neither worked. You'll need to buy one pair of BenQ's $99 glasses for each person who wants to watch 3D.
Setup While the Epson 2030 includes quite a few setup-related tweaks, including an automatic keystone, front and rear adjustments and an "A/V mute" (read "lens cover"), by comparison the BenQ's features are sparse. It does have a front height adjustment yes, but only one of the two feet at the rear is adjustable. There is a lens cover too, but it's a transparent, SLR-camera-style one.
Additionally, the scaler on the keystone is quite bad, with blurring and jagged artifacts appearing on straight lines on anything but "0." If you have the opportunity, set the projector up directly in line with the screen. But this brings up a question: why make a short-throw projector -- which is designed to be placed between you and the screen in a low position -- without vertical lens adjustment and a poor keystone? The 1070 has vertical lens adjustment, and I wish that the designers of the 1080 had instituted it in their plans, too. If you plan on putting this projector on a coffee table you will have the choice of either putting up with a parallelogram image or using the the artifacty digital keystone.
As a further note about the setup process, the W1080ST wasn't very cooperative when being set to our reference light output of 16fL. The challenges first began when switching on the device where I saw the blacker than black bars for the first time -- I haven't seen them before when first setting up any other device, and this was in the default mode! As a result it took a fair bit of tweaking to get the picture to look normal at 30fL and then dimming it down even further.
Picture settings: As we found with the 1070, the BenQ 1080ST locks out the color and tint settings by default. The other controls are there, however, including a number of preset modes, two-point grayscale, and advanced color management system (CMS) settings. During calibration we used the CMS in lieu of Color and Tint, so we didn't miss having them.
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 aims to improve color reproduction.
Connectivity: The BenQ includes two HDMI ports, component video, composite, and even an S-Video port. There's also a PC input with audio-in/out and a 10W onboard speaker.
|Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2030||Short-throw DLP projector|
|Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB (reference)||3LCD projector|
As you've probably gleaned by now, the W1080ST behaves very similarly to the W1070 in that both exhibit very good black levels for the money as well as great color performance. Both produce ample light and are excellent at picture processing. Where the two differ is in setup; the combination of a short throw and a lack of manual lens shift means that serious picture heads should go for the 1070 instead. 3D performance had some minor issues, but largely it was excellent.
Black level: As I found with the BenQ 1070, the W1080ST is a very good performer in a dark-room environment with relatively deep black levels and acceptable shadow detail. The Benq is noticeably blacker than the 2030 on most scenes, but neither of them were able to match the more expensive Epson 5030, which is to be expected.
Compared with its main rival the Epson 2030, the BenQ was able to eke a little more detail out of the clifftop scene (Chapter 12) from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2." The amassed dark wizards were better defined via the BenQ -- they actually had volume and space -- and you could see a little further into the murky background. On the Epson 2030, the scene was washed out and gray-looking, and this is something it has in common with the cheapest LCD televisions.
Switching to the scene and the BenQ was able to convey a sense of the chaos of jumbled furniture stacked to the ceiling while the Epson 2030 wasn't. Both projectors were thoroughly outclassed by the Epson 5030 which was able to give solidity to the room full of junk.
Color accuracy: Like the 1070 before it, the 1080 is an adept performer when it comes to reproducing vivid, natural color. Skintones looked full but not ruddy, and the reds of the Starfleet Academy uniforms ("Star Trek," Chapter 4) popped on the BenQ while in comparison the Epson looked a little drab. Even on the "Tree of Life" (37.18) the BenQ's skin tones looked equally as rich as the more expensive Epson 5030 here, and this was the same with the cyan of the mother's dress.
But it's not just bright colors that look natural on BenQ; low-level ones looked decent, too. The faint brown highlights of the alien ship ("Star Trek," 28:18) were better conveyed by the BenQ and completely lost on the Epson 2030. But where the Epson did have the upper hand was in its resolving of black, there was a slight green tinge to the blacks of the BenQ while the 2030 was more neutral.
Video processing: Despite the issue with the keystone, the picture processing of the BenQ is much better than the Epson 2030 with a rock solid test results 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 2:3 pulldown errors or additional judder.
Uniformity: The uniformity of the BenQ's image was a lot more solid than the Epson 2030's, which was almost spotty when showing a bright screen. Chalk the advantage up to DLP over LCD in this department. Only the very slight chance of light leakage when viewing a dark screen gives me some pause.
Bright lighting: With a maximum light output of 56.62 fL I wouldn't advise trying to use the BenQ 1080 in a lit room, specially as the image was overly green. Still, it was a little better (3 fL) than the 1070, and this could be attributed to the shorter throw distance.
3D: When it comes to 3D performance there is a family resemblance there as well. The 3D image on the W1080ST was very good, lacking noticeable traces of ghostly crosstalk on our "Hugo" test scenes. The only minor quibbles were with an overly red cast to the image (which could be calibrated out; we don't calibrate for 3D) and some strange bulging artifacts when images at the sides of the screen were very forward in 3D space. But given that most movies don't pop out as much as "Hugo," this shouldn't be an issue.
Read more about how we test TVs and projectors.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.014||Average|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.46||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||3.127||Average|
|Dark gray error (20%)||3.853||Average|
|Bright gray error (70%)||1.91||Good|
|Avg. color error||1.933||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i Deinterlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||330||Poor|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||330||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode)||33.8||Good|