BenQ has been aggressively targeting the home theatre market, and it appears to be paying off. Stephen Dawson plays with the latest offering for the Taiwanese giant.
BenQ, the Taiwanese electronics company best known for display products, is making quite the push into home theatre space. Not that it has been entirely absent. It has had some interesting low-ish cost and mid-priced full HD projectors out in recent years, but the strong presence back in the days of the W5000 and W10000 models of 2008 and 2007 seems to have waned a little in recent years.
But now it’s back in a big way. There’s the W8000 projector, a full HD projector of which any company would be proud and which is the subject of this review. And now there’s the W11000 – a native Ultra High Definition model, which we shall report on when we get our hands on it – and the W12000 scheduled for release next year, also offering UltraHD resolution and a wider colour space.
What it is
But back to the W8000. This is a THX certified, full high definition home theatre receiver. As is BenQ’s longstanding practice, it is based on DLP technology. To briefly recap, DLP stands for ‘Digital Light Processor’, a term which never made much sense to me, but employs Texas Instruments’ Digital Micromirror Devices (DMDs) as the means by which pixels are switched on and off. As the name implies, DMDs have millions of tiny mirrors that swing to and fro, directing light from the lamp either through the lens, or into an absorbent light dump. On the way the light passes through a synchronised colour filter – red, green or blue for this projector, running at six times speed to reduce the ‘rainbow effect’.
As is also BenQ’s practice, it doesn’t specify which model of DMD it uses. With a contrast ratio specified at 50,000:1 (admittedly that’s the ‘dynamic’ rating), it’s likely that this is a high end one. It is also specified as having an output of 2,000 ANSI lumens.
The projector comes with a lens offering a zoom range of 1.25:1 and both horizontal and vertical lens shift. But you can purchase the projector without the lens for a saving of $500, and then add on one of four optional lenses, three zoom and one fixed, two wider and two longer in throw. They cost from around $1,300 to around $2,300. Few home theatre installations will need something other than the standard lens, but there could be circumstances where one of the options solves an otherwise intractable problem of geometry.
The projector has two HDMI inputs, one of which supports the seemingly defunct MHL standard for connecting Android phones. There’s also composite and component video. A USB socket can provide up to 1.5A of current. This can be used to power BenQ’s optional WirelessHD receiver which can be used with the matching transmitter to replace long runs of HDMI cable.
The projector is THX certified, and designed to operate in the Rec. 709 colour space. Indeed, each unit is factory calibrated on the projection line. It defaults to THX picture mode, and in this mode the colour out of the box was just about perfect. Rec. 709 is indeed the colour space in which Blu-ray and HD TV are designed to operate.
In that mode I needed to bump up the contrast level by five points on the hundred point scale because, according to my test patterns, full white was a touch duller than whiter-than-white. Remember, video levels are coded onto an eight bit space, but rather than 0 to 255, they use values of 16 to 235, and 235 is full white (roughly, the limits are different for the colour difference signals to the luminance signal, but these numbers illustrate the point). Program content is not supposed to be encoded with values above 235 (‘whiter than white’) or less than 16 (‘blacker than black’).
However some of these tests were designed in the good old days of dumb electronics. These days some displays, TVs in particular, seem to examine the picture, notice that there are higher values and rescale the levels accordingly. I don’t think this projector does that. Anyway, when I made the change, it resulted in no noticeable crushing of light colours on program material.
Even with the dynamic iris disengaged, the black levels were quite good, if not record breaking. Subjectively they produced satisfying results and provided more than enough contrast to allow the richness of colour to be fully evident.
The automatic progressive scan conversion of standard definition Australian material – that is, 576i50 content – was pretty impressive, with the projector correctly detecting that the ambiguous sections of my test clips were actually film-mode content and thus correctly processing them.
With 1080i50 material, things were nowhere near as good, with it all being treated as video sourced. Motion adaptive deinterlacing was used, so static parts of the picture looked fine, but moving parts suffered reduced resolution and artefacts such as swirling moiré patterns on what should have been closely parallel lines, and instability on fine moving detail. You’d do best to use a quality Blu-ray player, or a home theatre receiver with good quality progressive scan conversion built in.
None of that applied, of course, with the build of Blu-ray material, which is in 1080p24 format.
While on the processing front, it seems that BenQ has been working on its motion smoothing/judder removal system. Having this on the ‘Low’ setting reduced motion judder on poorly shot scenes very well while leaving no visible artefacts.
Also, BenQ seems to have a much better system for ‘Sharpness’ than most display makers. I normally inveigh against such controls because they generally produce significant distortion in the picture. But BenQ’s control just does what it claims to: sharpens up the image. I wouldn’t overuse it, but appl1ying a modest amount can make the image easier on the eye without adding the fuzziness normally inherent in those processes.
As usual with BenQ projectors, the 3D was nearly as good as it gets. Note, you aren’t supplied 3D eyewear, so if you do want to enjoy 3D, you’ll have to pay $149 per user for the active shutter glasses. The common weaknesses in 3D performance are reduced brightness and crosstalk. Of those, crosstalk is the major one. This is where your left eye sees material intended to be seen only by the right eye and vice versa. BenQ kills on that front.
The reason is that, unlike LCD and LCOS projectors, DLP is extremely fast to switch pixel states. They’re measured in milliseconds. The switching speed of the DMDs used in DLPs are measured in the tens of microseconds, or a hundred times faster. 3D works by presenting the left eye view, then the right eye view, and then the left eye and so on. The 3D glasses switch their left and right lenses between opaque and transparent to match. With slow display switching, some of that left eye is still on the screen when the active eyewear switches to the other lens. Thus crosstalk. With DLP switching is so fast, the limiting factor becomes the LCD shutters in the eyewear, not the screen.
The 3D image was a little less bright than I would have liked. In part this is due a different colour balance employed by the 3D processor to counteract the colour shift imposed by the eyewear. In part this is due to a fairly lengthy ‘blanking’ interval where both lenses are dark at the same time. The shutters are LCD, and so take significant time to switch, so BenQ appears to have designed them to have a healthy gap to ensure there is no crosstalk at that end. The means less brightness in 3D. But, hey, your eyes adjust and without the distraction of the ghostly images produced by crosstalk, the 3D involvement was just about perfect.
The projector has a 3D ‘sync’ port so that an external IR sync transmitter can be added if required. In my room, the sync worked perfectly with the projector bouncing its signal off the projection screen, but in larger installations with a wider and more distant array of seating, the ability to position a sync transmitter at the front of the room could be useful.
The BenQ W8000 is a welcome return to the quality end of home theatre projection for the company. With the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, the W8000 should find a home in many installations.