I couldn't wait any longer to see what the BenQ W500 performed like, so I opened one up and set it up in our demo room. Here is my subjective review (no measurement equipment). Anyone in the Toronto area is welcome to make and appointment and come to see it for yourself at KossmanAudio.com. We also have the W10000 on demo.
BenQ W500 Review
The BenQ W500 is the newest 720p home theater projector from BenQ. It is feature-packed, and available at a very reasonable price level. It is retailing in Canada for about $1200 Can. It is BenQ's first LCD projector after a long string of DLP projectors with fantastic performance (PE7700, PE8720, W10000). The projector features 5000:1 contrast, 1100 ANSI lumens brightness, manual lens shift (vertical and horizontal), auto iris, HQV video scaling, and quite operation. There are several video inputs including dual Component video and HDMI digital input.
One of the features I was most looking forward to on the W500 was the manual lens shift. This is a feature normally reserved for $3000+ projectors. Unfortunately, its not exactly what I was hoping for. At its neutral setting, the projector is pretty much centered in the projected image. By moving the lens shift all the way UP, the projector exhibits a few degrees of offset (the bottom of the image is slightly above the centerline of the lens). While this is great for ceiling mounting, where you want the projector flush with the ceiling, and the screen high up on the wall, this is not enough offset for a coffee table setup or even a room with high ceilings. The lens shift does let you move the image quite far down, which makes it perfect for a rear shelf mount. However, the short throw lens would result in quite a large image.
I do like projectors with low offset, the BenQ PE7700 had no offset at all, and it was perfect for most of the ceiling installs we do. I find projectors with large offsets (like the Optoma HD81) very hard to ceiling mount without using keystone in most rooms. However, if a projector is going to offer lens shift, I would expect it to go higher than the W500 does. Being an entry-level projector, I would suspect many buyers would want to use it on a coffee table, which will require some keystone. It was also difficult to lock the lens shift when it was at the higher settings. It locks by twisting the lens shift "joystick". This is by no means the only projector with limited lens shift. We had to use keystone on a Sony Pearl projector when its lens shift couldn't get the image low enough in a rear shelf installation.
The on-screen menu was easy to use and offers several useful settings. There is a user accessible overscan setting, which is very handy. I didn't play around with it too much, but it seemed to keep different setting for different input resolutions. When I was watching BluRay it was set to 0% to show the full image, and when I switched over to 480i DVD it switched to 1% to clean up the edges. On DVD you don't need to use much overscan, but its really helpfull for watching TV where the picture doesn't always go right to the edge.
For my review, I ran the W500 on the HDMI input using both PlayStation3 for BluRay (1080p/24) and our Onkyo up-converting DVD player for SD DVD (480i/60). Out of the box the W500 comes set to Dynamic video mode, which is great for a store display or maybe watching the hockey game, but for cinema viewing this will be the first thing you will want to change. The best results I found (without getting out my calibration disc) was to set the video mode to Cinema, change the color temperature setting back to Lamp Native, and setting the black level at 7.5 IRE. I left auto-iris on, and set the lamp mode to Economy.
Without any further calibration the color accuracy and skin tones were very good. The whites were crisp and the colors were bright without being over saturated. The black levels were also very good. This is normally one of the problems with LCD projectors, but they were probably as good as the PE7700. They weren't pitch black like they are on our W10000 demo, but very acceptable. The shadow detail was also quite good. The projector was more than bright enough on Economy mode to fill a 100" screen in a dark room.
One thing I dislike about many LCD projectors I have tried is that the 3 LCD chips can be slightly out of alignment, causing colored halos in areas of high contrast (misconvergence). I'm not sure if my unit is typical of all W500s, but when viewing 2.35:1 movies there was a blue halo below and a green halo above the video, where the black bars began. This may have been due to using the lens shift at almost its highest setting, but I don't think it was chromatic aberration. I am going to call BenQ tomorrow about this. In general, this wasn't an issue while watching the movie, as it was mainly noticeable only on the top and bottom edges of the picture.
When running BluRay at 1080p/24, the picture was sharp with good detail. The pixels were obviously larger than on a 1080p projector, as would be expected, but I didn't notice any screen door effect. I was watching a 100" screen from about 12' back, and I wouldn't want to sit much closer than 10'. This is true of any 720p projector and if you want to sit closer, I'd recommend getting a 1080p projector. The projector wasn't as sharp as a DLP projector, but the overall image was very watchable and a couple times I forgot that I was reviewing the projector and just watched the movie!
One great feature of the W500 is that it will accept 480i on HDMI. This is the native format of all SD DVDs and its the best way to send the video to a good quality scaler. The W10000 for example will only take 480p (or higher) on HDMI so the DVD player has to deinterlace the video, which adds another layer of processing. Running the W500 at 480i/60 over HDMI let the HQV (Hollywood Quality Video) scaler truly shine. The picture quality was FANTASTIC. The scaling might have been a bit softer than watching HD on BluRay, but the detail was excellent and totally smooth. I know that its less work for a scaller to go from 480 to 720 then it is to go to 1080, but the scaling was actually better than the Faroudja scaler in the W10000! On the W10000 we let the DVD player upconvert to 1080i, with the W500 I just ran it at 480i. Its as good as the scaling from the PS3 with Firmware 1.8.
The W500 is an excellent value. The picture quality is better than the Optoma HD70 with better black levels and contrast, very good color accuracy, and excellent detail. The DLP projectors have a foot up in terms of sharpness, but the HQV scaler in the W500 is a HUGE asset for anyone who watches a lot of SD material on DVD or cable/satellite TV. The lens shift is a bit of a disappointment, and the lack of any real offset rules it out for low coffee table use. The best mounting method might be upright in a box over your head, but it wouldn't look nearly as clean as upside down with a ceiling mount. The limited zoom (1.20:1) and fairly short throw would also make rear shelf mounting difficult in a long room. Overall, its a very good value projector. Its no replacement for the PE8720, but its ldeffinitly at the top of the entry level projectors.