BenQ Corporation (pronounced Ben-kyew) has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention from home theater buyers recently. Their newest projectors tend to deliver exceptional video performance for the money. In the economy budget class the two hottest BenQ units going these days are the PB6100 and PB6200, both of which are at this writing on our lists of Top Ten Projectors. (By the way, the Top Ten lists are a popularity ranking based exclusively on consumer interest in the products; we do not select the products that appear on the lists based on price/performance or product quality attributes. Thus the lists tend to be biased toward the less expensive products.)
The PB6100 and PB6200 are identical in every respect with the singular exception of their resolution. The PB6100 is native SVGA (800x600), and the PB6200 is native XGA (1024x768). Thus we requested review samples of both of them to compare them side by side.
Specifications. PB6100: 1500 ANSI lumens, 800x600 resolution. PB 6200: 1700 ANSI lumens, 1024x768 resolution. Both units: 2000:1 contrast, native 4:3 aspect ratio, single-chip DLP with 4-segment, 2x wheel rotation speed.
Compatibility. HDTV 1080i, 1035i, 720p, 575i, 480p, 480i, and computer resolutions up to SXGA (1280x1024). NTSC, PAL, SECAM.
Lens and throw distance. Both units have the same manual zoom/focus lens with a 1.2x zoom range. However due to the different DLP chips, the throw distance geometry is different. On the PB6100 a 100" diagonal 4:3 image is achieved from a distance of 14 to 17 feet. On the PB6200, the same 100" 4:3 image is managed between 11 and 13 feet. Therefore those who have space constraints should keep in mind that the PB6200 will deliver a larger image from any given throw distance.
Lamp. Both units use a 200W NSH lamp with 2000 hours of life in normal mode and 3000 hours in eco-mode. Retail price of replacement lamp is $400, which is typical. Buyers on a tight budget who select the PB6100 due to its price tag under $1000 will want to use this unit in eco-mode to get the maximum use from the lamp.
Connection panel. Located on the rear of the unit. Compared to projectors specifically designed for home theater, connectivity on these units is limited. There is one 15-pin VGA port through which all component and HDTV signals must be fed, one S-video port, and one composite video jack.
Warranty. Three years parts/labor, with "hot swap" the first year, which means if warranty service is required a new or refurbished replacement will be sent to the customer, depending on if the customer bought a new or refurbished product, and based on stock availability, within the first year of purchase.
The BenQ PB6100 and PB6200 are both impressive machines, especially considering their low prices. Both are easy to recommend for those who are on a restricted budget, but who nevertheless want to get a high quality picture for the money.
Though they are rated at 1500 and 1700 lumens respectively, they can only come close to those numbers in their high brightness presentation mode. They do not put out that much light when calibrated for best video. We measured the PB6100 at 705 lumens, and the 6200 at 725 lumens when set for best video performance. This is still notably brighter than many competing home theater units in any price range.
Contrast, black level, and shadow detail on these units is also as good as it gets in this price range. There are no other projectors under $2,000 that exceed the performance of the 6100/6200 on these particular performance parameters.
Color accuracy and saturation are well above average considering these units were built for the presentation market. While there are better color decoders in more expensive units, there are no obvious errors that would distract the viewer. Flesh tones in particular look naturally pleasing.
The 6100 and 6200 both perform at their best with component progressive scan DVD input. Component interlaced signals, as well as of course S-video and composite, are displayed with a significant softening of the image when compared to component progressive. Thus these inputs are to be avoided when you want the best picture possible. You should therefore order a video cable that will enable you to input component video through the VGA port. That means either a cable with 3 RCA jacks on one end and a 15-pin VGA connector on the other, or one with 5 BNCs on one end and a 15-pin VGA on the other, depending on the output configuration of your source equipment. Ask your dealer about the right cable for your needs, and make sure to order the appropriate cable as these special cables do not come standard with either unit. (By the way, these cables tend to be available through professional AV dealers that handle the BenQ product line.)
Both the PB6100 and PB6200 look a bit flat and soft with standard television signals. They are certainly watchable, but non-stellar television quality is one of the trade-offs you must live with in an inexpensive projector. DVD always looks better than standard TV on any projector of course, but the performance gap between the two is more noticeable on these units than it is on higher performance projectors.
If you plan to watch a lot of HDTV, the 6200 has the ability to retain more image detail in a 1080i signal than does the 6100 simply due to its higher resolution. However we found a number of distracting artifacts on both models with a 1080i signal. Thus if high performance HDTV is your primary interest and more important to you than DVD, we'd suggest saving some extra cash for a higher performance projector.
Visible pixelation is not a problem on either unit. On the higher resolution 6200, visible pixelation disappears completely at a viewing distance of 1.6 times the screen width. On the 6100 it is about 1.9 times the screen width.
We did not find fan noise to be objectionable on either unit, even in normal mode. It is somewhat quieter in eco-mode, but the difference did not rise to the level of a big issue. Fan noise is not entirely steady; there is a noticeable oscillation in pitch if you listen to it. However, this was not a distraction once normal audio was present in the viewing room.
These products both need to be used with 4:3 aspect ratio screens. 16:9 material from DVD or HDTV is displayed with black bars top and bottom. There is no operating mode that lets you center a 4:3 image within a 16:9 format screen.
An advantage of both the PB6100 and PB6200 relative to other DLP products in this price class is their 3x speed color wheel. Some viewers are sensitive to rainbow artifacts on DLP projectors that derive from the sequential refreshing of red, green, and blue as the color wheel rotates. The faster the wheel rotation speed, the less people tend to be bothered by rainbow artifacts. For example, the popular InFocus X1 that competes directly with the 6100 has a 2x rotation speed. Many people have reported problematic rainbow distractions on the X1. The 3x speed of the 6100/6200 will eliminate or reduce the effects of this artifact for many users. [Correction: On 12/8/04 BenQ informed us that the original specification of 3x wheel speed is incorrect, and that both the 6100 and 6200 have 2x speed wheels. Therefore these units do not have any advantage in reducing rainbow artifacts as compared to other DLP projectors with the same 2x speed wheels. EP]
Neither the 6100 or 6200 come with ideal video settings as factory presets. If you get either one of these units, make sure to get a copy of the calibration disc AVIA Guide to Home Theater, or an equivalent. Significant adjustments to basic controls such as brightness, contrast, color, tint, and color temperature were required to tune up both of these units to get an optimum picture. However it is easy to get it set up right for your viewing environment with the AVIA disc.
The BenQ PB6100 and PB6200 both represent excellent values in today's market. In the economy class group of machines, there are always limitations and trade-offs; you simply do not get Porsche performance when you're on a Saturn budget. So we are pleased to recommend both of these units as long as you keep their limitations in mind and match them to your viewing needs.
If you plan to use your projector for DVD and television viewing only, the PB6100 is a beautiful and very cost effective option. You get an outstanding DVD picture for the money. However, if in addition you plan to use your projector for computer video games and your computer outputs an XGA signal, then you should opt for the PB6200 in order to match native resolutions. Under no circumstance do you want to live with the compression of the XGA signal into the PB6100's native SVGA display. Also, if HDTV is part of your viewing mix, the PB6200 is also worth stepping up to for the additional resolution. Finally, anyone planning to deploy their projector for part-time presentation use should go for the 6200, as native XGA is the only way to go in the presentation world these days.
No matter which of these units you select, you will end up with exceptional image quality for the investment you make. Considering their price/performance, we are adding them both to our Highly Recommended list. For current price quotes and availability click PB6100 dealers and PB6200 dealers. And don't forget to ask them about video cables.