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BenQ W1080ST review: Short-throw adds flexibility, similarly fine picture

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The Good The BenQ W1080ST DLP projector offers a very good image for the price with relatively deep blacks and faithful color; short throw allows placement close to the screen, on a coffee table for example; onboard speaker; decent 3D performance.

The Bad Limited setup options with no manual lens shift; old 3D system; no 3D glasses in package and cost $99 extra.

The Bottom Line The BenQ W1080ST short-throw DLP projector offers very good performance and extra placement flexibility, but the long-throw W1070 is a better deal.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Value 8

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Key TV features
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
Other: Short throw projector, onboard 10W speaker.

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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