Highly Recommended Award
Our Highly Recommended designation is earned by products offering extraordinary value or performance in their price class.
The BenQ PE8700 represents this company's first entry into the higher end home theater arena. Featuring the popular Mustang/HD2 DLP chip from Texas Instruments, the PE8700 is a native 16:9 widescreen format projector with 1280x720 resolution.
With its recent price reductions, the PE8700 is currently among the hottest buys on the market for this level of performance. It has a high "WOW" factor, and most notably delivers sparkling HDTV and DVD via its DVI interface. We've thoroughly enjoyed having it to play with and wish we could keep it a while longer. Unfortunately it is in much too high demand. We are certainly adding it to our list of Highly Recommended Home Theater Projectors.
The PE8700 is a projector designed from top to bottom with dedicated home theater in mind as its intended market. The HD2 DLP chip generates a sparkling 2000:1 contrast ratio, and the 1000 ANSI lumen output is ample for light-controlled home theater. The light engine uses a 6-segment, 4x speed color wheel. The engine is sealed to prevent light leakage and dust contamination. Physically it is a solid unit weighing 16.7 lbs.
Remote control. The remote isn't normally one of the first things we'd comment on, but since the PE8700 has one of the best remotes we've seen, it deserves a spotlight. It is well back-lit and each button is labeled and easy to see in the dark. Separate source input buttons allow you to select your desire source without having to toggle sequentially through the options. Picture-in-picture (PIP), and picture-on-picture (POP) are both available on the remote, and the control includes the ability to resize the PIP image.
The remote also features five separate aspect ratio format buttons that let you select either anamorphic, standard 4:3 with side bars, "wide 4:3" that stretches the 4:3 image to fill the 16:9 screen, letterbox, and "through" which delivers a smaller native format image without scaling. (By the way, the wide 4:3 option expands the 4:3 image non-linearly along the horizontal axis. That means the left and right portions of the image are stretched while the center portion of the image retains its original aspect ratio. If you need to stretch the 4:3 image to fill the 16:9 frame, this is by far the best way to accomplish it.)
Lens and throw distance. The PE8700 has a 1.2x manual zoom and focus lens with a relatively short throw distance. A 100" diagonal 16:9 image is obtained from as little as 10 feet and no more than 12 feet. That is good news for those with limited viewing space, and probably not so ideal for those with larger rooms that would prefer to mount the unit closer to the rear wall.
Lamp life. The lamp has a 2000-hour life. After 1950 hours of usage you are warned at power up to replace the lamp. When usage exceeds 2000 hours, the unit will not continue to operate normally until the lamp is replaced. This safety feature exists on most projectors since running a high-pressure lamp past its intended life will run the risk of it exploding inside the projector. If this happens, you will wish you had replaced the lamp when you were supposed to. Currently the lamp replacement cost is $399.
Connector panel. The connector panel gives you three inputs in the "video group" and two in the "graphic group." The video group consists of one composite RCA, one S-video, and one set of three component RCAs for component interlaced input (no 480p available on this input). The graphic group gives you one DVI-I connector and a set of 5 BNCs for component interlaced, component progressive, HDTV, and computer input. The PIP and POP features let you select one signal from each group. (Thus you may not, for example, access the S-video input and the 3-RCA component port via PIP simultaneously.) The connector panel also incorporates an RS232c port and a 12-volt trigger.
Since you cannot feed 480p into the 3-RCA component port, you must use the BNC port for this signal. You can use a standard component video cable by attaching three RCA-to-BNC adapters to one end. These are dirt cheap and available at Radio Shack or any local electronics store.
Signal compatibility. Color systems include NTSC, NTSC 4.43, PAL-M, PAL-N, SECAM. Signal formats include 480i, 480p, 1080i, 720p and computer inputs up to 1280x1024.
The PE8700 delivers every bit of the sharp, stable, high-contrast image that folks have come to expect from most units featuring the HD2 DLP chip. Scaling and deinterlacing from the Silicon Image SI504 chipset are clean and may be described as typical of this class of product.
The somewhat noticeable geometry problems that we have seen on certain other HD2 machines do not exist on the PE8700. The image thrown by this projector is a perfect 16:9 with precise 90-degree corners.
Color accuracy is on par with many DLP products using the 6-segment color wheel. By that we mean that it is substantially better than most DLP projectors using the 4-segment wheel, but not perfect. There are no glaring errors. We found a subtle orange bias in the reds which is quite common. But in general flesh tones look natural and the picture overall is extremely pleasing to the eye. For all but the most critical of viewers, the deficiencies in color accuracy would only be apparent if there were a reference display with perfect color standing by to compare it against.
Color saturation is also comparable to most other DLP projectors in this class. With highly saturated subject matter, the colors are brilliant and rich. NFL football in HDTV looked beautiful--color appeared balanced and natural. However, with video material that is low in color saturation to begin with, the color on this (and most other) DLPs tends to be weaker than would be ideal.
DVI input with DVD. On the PE8700 the cleanest possible image from DVD is derived from a DVD player that upscales to 720p and outputs via DVI. We used the Bravo D1 by V, Inc. and the Samsung DVD-HD931 as sources. The stability and image detail from the Bravo D1 in particular was magnificent. Since scaling and signal transmission remain entirely within the digital domain, and since the Bravo D1's scaling prior to output is superb, the resulting picture on the PE8700 was pristine. It is not HDTV, but with a good quality DVD your friends and neighbors will think it is.
Technically the Samsung HD931 does the same thing as the Bravo D1. However the Bravo D1 delivers better results for less money. Our Samsung is going back to the store. (Herewith ends the shortest DVD player review on the Internet.) Click here for info on the Bravo D1, including a promotional offer with 10% discount.
By the way, you cannot upscale the 480-line video on an NTSC DVD to 720p and have the result be Hi-Def, or HDTV, or HD-DVD. What you end up with is an extremely clean display of the original 480-line video that has not been compromised by D/A conversions. Bottom line...upscaling to 720p does not create more detail than what was on the DVD to begin with. However by upscaling, deinterlacing, and transmitting in the digital domain you lose less of the information on the DVD. Therefore the picture is more stable and retains more detail than it otherwise would.
Audible noise. Most projectors currently marketed for home theater have much reduced fan noise as compared to earlier generation machines. However within this class of products the PE8700 has more of an audible presence than most competing units. Furthermore, fan speed is not constant. It accelerates and decelerates to manage internal operating temperature. While good for the lamp, it is not ideal for home theater. The change in fan noise is not abrupt or dramatic, nor does the noise jump radically from quiet to loud. It is typically not something you would be aware of during the viewing of a movie. But if the projector is mounted near the seating area, and the fan happens to accelerate during a quiet interlude, you may become aware of it. For this reason audible noise on a projector should maintain a constant dB level no matter what it is.
BenQ engineering is currently looking into the issue and may have updated information on this shortly. Meanwhile, while certainly not a show-stopper for those looking for outstanding performance for the money, the variable and not entirely quiet fan noise is the least appealing performance characteristic of the PE8700.
Currrently there are about a dozen high-performance projectors on the market featuring the 1280x720 HD2 DLP chip. Prices run from upwards of $16,000 all the way down to under $8,000. The BenQ PE8700 has an MSRP of $7,995, and is selling for street prices well below that. It delivers extremely impressive video with relatively few consequential flaws at an aggressive price. Thus it is one of the outstanding values in today's market. BenQ engineers and product designers should be justifiably proud of their accomplishment. We are pleased to add the BenQ PE8700 to our list of Highly Recommended Home Theater Projectors.
BenQ PE8700 vs. InFocus Screenplay 7200
Last month InFocus dropped the MSRP on the Screenplay 7200 to $7,999, so it is selling in the same price range as the PE8700. They both feature the HD2 DLP chip. Both are great units for the money, but each of them outperforms the other in certain ways.
The Screenplay 7200 trumps the PE8700 in color accuracy. It also has a longer life lamp (3000 vs 2000 hours), and it has a longer throw distance. (11 to 15 feet for a 100" diagonal image, rather than 10 to 12 feet for the PE8700). It has a wider array of inputs on the connection panel (eight video inputs instead of five), and two 12-volt triggers instead of one.
Fan noise is comparable, but perhaps slightly less on the Screenplay 7200. However both of these units have fan noise that is more noticeable than most of the more expensive HD2-based projectors. The differences between them in this regard are not significant.
Now the PE8700 has several distinct advantages over the Screenplay 7200 as well. It clearly outperforms the 7200 in brightness uniformity and geometry. The barrel distortion which we have noted on the 7200 does not exist on the PE8700, nor does the somewhat uneven illumination which is related to it. The PE8700 also has an edge in contrast performance, although the practical difference here is rather inconsequential. There is no light leakage from the PE8700, while there is some on the 7200. The shorter throw lens on the PE8700 gives it the ability to produce a bigger picture in a small room. The PE8700 has Picture-in-picture and Picture-on-picture, whereas the 7200 lacks these features. BenQ offers a standard 3-year warranty with its product, versus a 2-year warranty from InFocus.
Thus, with each projector beating the other in certain aspects, there is no way to say which is better. Both deliver supremely engaging high resolution imagery for excellent prices, and each has unique advantages. So consider the benefits of each and decide which will be the better solution for your own theater. You cannot go wrong with either one.
BenQ PE8700 vs. InFocus Screenplay 5700
The Screenplay 5700 uses the 1024x576 Matterhorn DLP chip. Thus it is a step down in resolution performance. And normally it would be a step down in price also. However due to the street price discounting on the PE8700, as well as the relative lack of discounting presently on the 5700, you may find that these two units are not as far apart in price as they might otherwise be. In this case, which is the better deal?
This is a direct head's up confrontation between resolution and color. The PE8700 delivers a higher resolution image with less pixelation at any given viewing distance. So if you are into HDTV, and/or you prefer a viewing distance of about 1.5x the screen width, you will definitely find value in the PE8700's resolution advantage.
On the other hand the Screenplay 5700 is the stronger performer in color accuracy and saturation. So if you sit back somewhat from the screen, say at 2.0x the screen width or farther, resolution and pixelation issues are neutralized, and color would become a more important factor in your decision matrix. In this situation the 5700 would be the better buy. An additional advantage is that fan noise is less on the 5700.
So once again, each of these projectors is better than the other depending upon the set-up. They are both outstanding products, and either one will cause your friends and neighbors to say, "Wow, I've never seen anything like that before."
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our BenQ PE8700 projector page.