BenQ PE8700: Great Picture, Great Price
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.