Highly Recommended Award
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This year, BenQ has released a pair of full 3D 1080p projectors that are just perfect for home video or home theater. The W1070, reviewed earlier this year, has a conventional 1.3:1 lens and some vertical lens shift. The BenQ W1080ST, on the other hand, has a 1.2:1 short throw lens and no shift. Both projectors offer excellent 1080p video performance, high light output, great color, and an affordable price.
The W1080ST is a great projector for home theater or home video on a budget, but its low input lag and short throw lens also make it a good option for video games. If you're a gamer looking for an affordable way into the big screen experience, the W1080ST might just be for you.
As a short-throw projector, the W1080ST has a slightly different setup procedure than most conventionally-lensed projectors. As such, they require a different kind of setup and fit in a different sort of room.
Here's an example. The BenQ W1070 would throw a 120" diagonal image, which is a perfectly reasonable size of image for that projector, from 10' to 13' 1" depending on zoom. The W1080ST will throw the same sized image from 6' to 7' 3". In other words, the W1080ST requires about half the throw distance of its conventionally-lensed sibling, making it ideal for tight spaces and small rooms.
We set up our W1080ST on a coffee table, but quickly discovered that the projector has almost no upward throw angle offset. The bottom edge of the image is more or less level with the centerline of the lens. As a result, a coffee table placement may be too low for some people, largely depending on the height of the table in question. If you own a particularly low table, consider a ceiling mount, which will place the image higher up on your wall and make your audience more comfortable. Ceiling mounts require more work than coffee table placement, but modern ceiling mounts are not especially difficult to install. Just be sure to measure all distances several times before you start drilling holes.
A word about screens. Our testing environment uses a 1.0 gain Stewart Studiotek 100, but with a projector like the W1080ST a 1.3 to 1.5 gain screen would be closer to ideal. A slight amount of positive gain will reflect more light back towards the audience and result in less scatter. When a projector throws its image at such an extreme angle, like the W1080ST, a little bit of screen gain helps to keep the image looking bright and even. That said, don't go too heavy on the gain or you'll end up with hot-spotting.
As for the picture, it is very clear clear that the W1080ST isn't just a repurposed business projector. The picture is bright, high in contrast, and full of well-saturated, accurate color. The projector is razor sharp across the entire image, though this depends heavily on proper setup -- if you're seeing blurriness in the corners, try fiddling with the projector's position until it goes away. 3D is likewise clean and clear, with no noticeable crosstalk or flicker when watching our test clips.
Short throw. Short throw projectors are nothing new, but short throw projectors being used for home theater are relatively recent. These projectors are useful in rooms where a traditionally lensed projector takes up too much room and can be ideal for table placement in temporary setups. This also makes them great candidates for portable use, especially when they include a speaker as the W1080ST does.
For gamers, the W1080ST allows you to sit closer to the screen without getting in the way of the projected image. This is especially helpful when using a motion-sensitive system like the Kinect or Wii, where body motions are part of the game's input. A short-throw lens makes the W1080ST behave more like a television or computer monitor and removes some of the projector-specific setup concerns that gamers often run into.
2D Image quality. The W1080ST has a lot going for it when it comes to the actual image on screen. The projector's three main precalibrated image modes are all useful in some way, and those who want further customization will be pleased to hear that the W1080ST supports ISFccc calibration to unlock the projector's ISF Day and ISF Night image modes. Using the projector's various image modes, it is not hard to tailor the projector's image to the viewing environment in order to create a picture that is bright, vibrant, and life-like.
Full HD 3D. The W1080ST's DLP link 3D system, which runs at a brisk 144Hz, is capable of displaying full 1080p 3D content from broadcast or Blu-ray disc. The DLP Link system uses light pulses between frames of the projected image to synchronize the viewer's active shutter 3D glasses. The system is low in crosstalk and had no visible flicker during use, but DLP Link is disliked by some videophiles because it is the only 3D sync system to mess around with the actual picture on screen. And while DLP Link glasses are inexpensive compared to other 3D glasses, they also lose synchronization more often due to their reliance on direct line-of-sight communication with the projected image.
Long life. Like the W1070, the W1080ST's lamp is rated to last 3,500 hours in full power mode and 6,000 hours in Eco or SmartEco mode, far beyond the typical lamp life for this class of projector. This allows you to purchase fewer replacement lamps (assuming, of course, that the manufacturer's specs are accurate) and spend less money on maintenance.
Onboard speaker. With a 10W speaker built in, the W1080ST carries its own sound along with it. Now, a single 10W speaker is not a replacement for a real sound system, but several other projectors in the W1080ST's price range either offer dinky 2W speakers or no sound at all. When you're looking for a quick and dirty option, the W1080ST at least has volume going for it. And even at 80% of max volume, the speaker did not distort or sound particularly tinny.
Color wheel. The W1080ST shares the W1070's fast 6X speed RGBRGB color wheel. This does two things: one, it almost completely eliminates rainbow effects for most viewers; and two, it keeps the W1080ST's color light output at 100%. The artificially boosted screaming-bright highlights of many inexpensive DLP projectors are nowhere to be found, and in their place are rich, accurate colors in perfect balance with the rest of the image.
Light output. It's no secret that the W1080ST is mostly the same as the W1070. They share most of the same parts and their spec sheets list most of the same capabilities. So it should come as no surprise to hear that the W1080ST's light output measured about the same as we saw on the W1070, give or take a handful of lumens.
The specified maximum output for the W1080ST is 2,000 lumens, and our test sample measured 1621 lumens in Dynamic mode using the default settings. It is possible to boost light output to nearly 2,000 lumens by cranking up the brightness and contrast controls, but this is not a usable mode. Dynamic mode at the default settings is a good choice for high ambient light applications, such as a living room with the curtains open during the day. You lose out on color accuracy and dynamic range, but at 60" to 70" diagonal you can approximate the look and feel of a television even when ambient light is a concern.
Standard mode (1232 lumens) is more balanced for ambient light and living room use. Contrast in Standard mode is about as high as it is in Cinema mode, and the principal difference between the modes is Standard's slightly blue cast. The blue can help to counteract the predominantly yellowish tint of typical room lighting without compromising dynamic range or color saturation. For its intended application, Standard mode is a good balance of light output and image integrity.
Cinema mode is not terribly different from Standard mode, and at 1230 lumens it measured about the same light output, as well. What Cinema does have is better default white balance, with less of the blue tint seen in Standard mode. For a lot of folks, Standard and Cinema modes are going to be the "go-to" presets for everyday use.
If you're not trying to fight off ambient light or just want to watch at night, Eco mode will drop light output in any mode by 29%. This reduces the Standard and Cinema modes to about 870 lumens, which while still bright is more reasonable for a smaller screen size.
SmartEco mode can reduce light output even more drastically than Eco mode, but there's a catch. In order to really bring down light output, you can't just select a setting from a menu or slider. Instead, you need to find content that has the desired brightness level, then activate SmartEco mode while that content is on screen. The projector will determine, based on the content on screen, what brightness level is appropriate. It will then lock the projector's output at that level until the lamp mode is changed.
If you really want to take down light output, the easy way to do it is to put up a pure black image and then activate SmartEco. That nets you a reduction of about 70% from the projector's maximum. You can fine-tune the setting by using test patterns of differing brightness, but it would be much easier if the projector just included some kind of manual control.
Contrast and black level. In typical use, the W1080ST's dynamic range is more than sufficient. In a pitch black room, we did notice some slight crushing of very deep shadow detail in some test material, but that performance is still very good for a projector priced below $1500 and intended for living room use. In a living room, the very bottom end of shadow detail will be washed out by ambient light anyway, and the W1080ST's slight deficiency in this regard will never be visible to most people. Like the W1070, the W1080ST has gamma adjustment, but it uses a slider with numbered presets instead of a comprehensive adjustment system. Stock gamma isn't terribly far off from the 2.2 recommendation, but going up to 2.4 results in a punchier, more dramatic image that's great in ambient light.
Color. One of the W1080ST's strong points, color is both accurate and easy to adjust. The projector has a full suite of color adjustments, both for grayscale tracking and color management. There's also an ISF calibration system locked away behind a password wall. More importantly, though, the stock color calibrations are perfectly usable and more accurate than any inexpensive projector has any right to be. This is advantageous for first-time buyers and people looking for a no-hassle solution, since you don't have to spend the time and money to have the projector calibrated unless you really want to.
Also important is the W1080ST's relative balance between color and white. The W1080ST, thanks to its RGBRGB color wheel, has exceptionally high color light output (CLO) for a single-chip DLP projector. As a result, color is well-saturated and appears balanced relative to highlights. This, more than anything, contributes to the feeling that the W1080ST's picture is natural, balanced, and film-like.
Sharpness and clarity. Many projectors now include some kind of smart sharpening or detail enhancement feature, but the W1080ST eschews that in favor of high natural sharpness. While the projector's sharpness control defaults to a level that is slightly too high, you can knock it down a couple of pegs without adversely affecting the appearance of detail in the image.
Input lag. Like the W1070, the W1080ST measured a zippy 24ms (1.5 frames) of input lag using a 1080p signal over HDMI. That's fast enough for most gamers and not far from our best-ever measured time, which stands at 17ms (1 frame).
No 2D-3D conversion. Despite the W1080ST's full HD 3D capability, 2D to 3D conversion is not included. If 2D to 3D is non-negotiable for you, there are other projectors in the price range that do include this feature -- though they suffer in other areas relative to the W1080ST.
No lens shift. Lens shift isn't common on inexpensive DLP projectors, but the W1070 did have some vertical lens shift which the W1080ST lacks. Then again, lens shift and short throw are two things that don't often mix well, mostly due to the tight tolerances used in a short-throw system.
SmartEco. While the SmartEco function works exactly as designed, it isn't designed very well. Users who want to reduce light output first have to find content that matches the brightness level they want, then lock the projector into SmartEco mode while that content is on screen. How this is supposed to be simpler than just picking lamp power level from an onboard menu is a mystery.
Unusual glasses. The W1080ST runs at 144Hz in 3D, which helps to reduce crosstalk and flicker. Unfortunately, it also means that a number of DLP Link glasses are not compatible, as they run at 120Hz. Be sure you are purchasing 144Hz-compatible 3D glasses. If that fails, at least order from a store with a generous return policy.
As one of the only 1080p home video projectors to feature a short throw lens, the BenQ W1080ST is in a class of its own. This $1299 powerhouse combines high light output, strong dynamic range, excellent color, no significant rainbows, and respectable 3D performance to create a powerful image that's sure to please. With an onboard speaker and a razor-sharp short-throw lens, the W1080ST is a mobile powerhouse, a serious gaming machine, and a portable movie theater all rolled into one. While it has its quirks, including nonstandard 3D glasses and a lack of 2D to 3D conversion, the W1080ST is a strong performer that is well worth the money.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our BenQ W1080ST projector page.