For the classroom, there are two characteristics of a projector that are of paramount importance: versatility and value. BenQ's new short-throw MX613ST fits the bill on both counts and gives you the added attraction of a very low maintenance cost. Its DLP design has no air filter and its lamp life is longer than most at up to 6,000 hours in Eco mode. Even the lamp warranty is unusually long at one year or 2,000 hours, whichever occurs first. Its list price of $649 is aggressive as it is, but dealers offer education discounts that lower the price even further and increase the value proposition of this multi-faceted projector.
Image Quality: Short-throw projectors have a tendency to be less crisp and focused across the image than conventional projectors because of their compound aspheric lenses. However, the MX613ST has remarkable clarity from edge-to-edge over the entire image. Data images are easily readable with small typefaces even with full keystone correction. Photos are particularly stunning in sRGB mode where color accuracy is emphasized over brightness, and fine detail is readily apparent. Spreadsheets have high contrast, and the MX613ST's optics keeps line detail sharp.
More surprising for an inexpensive projector is its video performance. With no adjustments at all, flesh tones were very realistic, and color balance was excellent. The MX613ST's sufficient contrast rendered good shadow detail and highlights were well modulated. Cinema mode had a bit too much reddish hue, but Presentation mode was right on the money. If the image is too bright for movies, going to lamp Eco mode lowers brightness by a little over 22% and it reduces fan noise to a whisper.
Brightness and Uniformity: In Dynamic mode, maximum brightness measured 2,685 ANSI lumens, or 7% higher than the 2,500-lumen specification. Each image mode had unique brightness, contrast, and color temperature characteristics, and they delivered lumen readings as follows: Dynamic - 2,685; Presentation - 2,150; sRGB - 1135; and Cinema - 1,170. Uniformity was excellent at 87% with peak brightness in the center of the image.
Network Connections and Management: The MX613ST is set up nicely for network management. It has a D-sub 9 RS-232 connector for remote sensing and LAN control. Your LAN can remotely monitor projector status such as lamp condition and internal temperature and alert maintenance personnel to possible problems. Projector operations can be remotely managed using BenQ's Q Presenter software which is downloaded from a proprietary Web site. With the addition of an optional LAN dongle, wireless control of the projector is enabled.
Connections: When it comes to connectivity, the MX613ST offers a lot of choices. Even though there is only one VGA computer connector, it is complemented with a Type B USB computer input, composite video, S-video, HDMI digital, and a Type A USB input for flash dives. Audio in and out are handled by mini jacks, and you will also find a monitor pass through and an RS-232 network connection. About the only thing missing is an RJ-45 for Web connection.
Fan noise: With the lamp set to normal mode, the low- and mid-frequency fan noise from the MX613ST is not distracting, and when you switch to lamp Eco mode, the noise level drops to the point that it is barely noticeable amid normal room noise and speaker output.
Audio Quality: Ten watts is enough speaker volume for a moderate sized room, and the MX613ST does a nice job of providing that audio output without any rumble or boom even at full volume.
User Memory: If your projector is shared with your colleagues, it is nice to be able to store your favorite presets and color settings in user memory. The MX613ST has dual user memories so at least two presenters can store their favorite settings and get to them quickly and easily.
Digital Input: Unlike many of the competitors in its class, the MX613ST has an HDMI input so you can connect digital signals from your computers and DVD players.
3D Ready: Like most DLP projectors, the MX613ST is 3D ready via TI's DLP Link™ technology using active shutter glasses and a computer source outputting a 120 Hz frame-sequential 3D signal. The fact that the projector is 3D ready does not mean it is compatible with all 3D sources on the market, so if you plan to use the 3D option, ask your dealer about compatibility issues before buying.
Warranty Provisions: The MX613ST's warranty period is one year, but its lamp is warranted for an industry best of one year or 2,000 hours of use. This is a big factor in cost of ownership, and even when the lamp needs replacement, it costs only $199.
Maintenance: Since the MX613ST is a DLP projector, you will not be changing air filters anytime soon . . . there are no filters in the projector at all. When the lamp needs replacement, access is provided through the top cover, so even ceiling-mounted units are easy to maintain.
Computer-free Presenting: If you have up to 200 JPEG, TIFF, GIF, PNG, or BMP images recorded on a flash drive, you can plug it directly into the MX613ST's USB Type A connector and run a slideshow without the need for a computer connection.
Auto Source Search: On many inexpensive projectors, you have to search for sources manually. The MX613ST can look for sources automatically. On power up, it searches all seven inputs and selects the first active connection it finds. This is convenient when you have multiple sources connected but cannot recall which inputs are active, the MX613ST will find them for you. If you prefer manual source selection, you can disable the auto search feature.
Not Really Short-throw: One of the advantages of a short-throw projector is its ability to get close to the screen and eliminate shadows on the image. The MX613ST stretches the definition of "short-throw," requiring almost seven feet to put up a 100" image. Many competing short throw projectors do not need anywhere near seven feet for this size image.
4:3 Format: If you want to show movies or put up images from a widescreen laptop, the MX613ST's native XGA format may be an issue as both situations will reduce the image brightness since only part of the DLP chip is illuminated with these 16:9 aspect ratios.
Remote Control: The MX613ST's remote control has a simple array of buttons, but that is not always an advantage. This simplicity contributes to the need to access menus for many image adjustments although such adjustments are usually only made on initial set-up. The Menu button is not well located and it is easy to miss in a darkened room. The remote is credit card sized, so be careful that it doesn't inadvertently wander away from the projector in someone's shirt pocket.
Color Wheel Artifacts: If you are familiar with DLP projectors, you know that lower speed color wheels can cause "rainbow" effects. The MX613ST's color wheel is no exception, and that means that some people may see RGB artifact intermittently when viewing fast moving video scenes. If this might a concern for you or your audience, try before you buy.
On-Screen Menus: The MX613ST has six menus which are well laid out and easy to navigate. Best of all, none requires scrolling to see its contents, so getting to the setting you are after is straightforward. One of the menus even contains FAQs pertaining to performance issues, and another puts up teaching templates for letter formation, worksheets, and coordinate charts.
Image Size and Position: For a 100" image, the center of the lens is three inches below the bottom of the image. Since the MX613ST is a short-throw projector and is fairly close to the screen, you may need to raise the image by elevating the front of the projector, using a drop tube on the ceiling mount, or tilting the projector in the mount. The projector can be elevated by extending either/both front feet, and this can also correct any horizontal leveling issues. If the image keystones, there is ±40° of electronic keystone correction available.
Education Discount: While there is no published education price for the MX613ST, dealers do offer education discounts. A review of BenQ's published discounts shows an average of 25% off list price for classroom purchases, but you will have to contact a BenQ dealer to get the current education price.
Placement Flexibility: The 1.2:1 zoom capability gives you a modest projection distance variation for a particular image size. For example, to project a 100" diagonal image, the projector is about 6'9" from the screen and can shift about ±7" and maintain that image diagonal.
Security: To complement the monitoring capability of its RS-232 connection, the MX613ST provides a Kensington lock to help ensure that the projector stays where you put it.
Short-throw projectors are terrific for eliminating shadows on images that interrupt presentations, but in many instances they fall short in terms of uniformity and clarity because of their complex lens design. Happily, the BenQ MX613ST overcomes those limitations and puts up very high quality data and video images although its throw distance is a bit longer than some competitors. It is priced aggressively, and its cost of maintenance is very low which makes it a real value for classroom and conference room use. It is bright, it has every connection you will need, and it is networkable. All in all, it is a potent package at a very reasonable price. It should be on your short list if you are looking for a short-throw projector, and it deserves our highest rating for performance and value.