Editor's Note, June 14: The User 1/Dynamic setting on the BenQ W1100 produces more lumens than the regular Dynamic preset. We have edited the maximum lumen output in this review accordingly and apologize for the error.
The BenQ W1000 was one of the first 1080p projectors available for less than $1000. Now, their new 1080p projectors, the BenQ W1100 and BenQ W1200, add affordable options for home theater, home entertainment, and video gaming. These projectors offer performance above average for their price, with vivid, accurate color reproduction and brilliant, sharp images. Despite some quirks, the W1100 and W1200 are excellent performers for $1299 and $1499, respectively. Due to the fact that they are two versions of the same basic projector, we've included them both in one review.
The W1100 and W1200 are light, bright 1080p projectors intended for home entertainment and movies. At just 7.9 lbs, they are downright portable as far as home theater projectors go. The two projectors share the same casework and use the same lamp. They use the same remote control. However, there are some important differences which make these two projectors better suited to different applications.
The W1100 is perfect for video games and home entertainment. It's bright, for one, producing almost 1100 lumens once optimized for video. After some fine-tuning, color reproduction is pristine. Shadow detail is very good, making the picture appear very three-dimensional, but black level is not quite at the level of other projectors in its price range. The W1100 is brighter than the W1200. And it transfers frames from the buffer faster than the W1200, making it a better choice for fast-paced video games. It does not look too shabby with movies, either, but the W1200 has some specialized features which make it a better choice for cinema use.
The W1200 is essentially a W1100 with lower brightness, better blacks, and frame interpolation. Black level and shadow detail are superior to the W1100, with dark scenes appearing darker and subtle shadow gradations better defined. Color is more accurate both before and after calibration, and the picture as a whole appears more natural in part due to this difference. The W1200 also has a Frame Interpolation system, which is helpful for video, animation, and sports. The FI system introduces some artifacts which make it less attractive for film use, though many users may feel the smoothness it introduces is enough of a benefit to render the consequent artifacts acceptable.
Both projectors use the same lensing: a 1.5:1, fixed throw angle, manual-adjustment lens. This lens can project a 120" diagonal 16:9 image from 12' 2" to 18' 9", enough to cover the majority of installations. If you are trying to use the projector in a small 10' bedroom, you'll be limited to around a 98" diagonal, but this is still a pretty big image for such a small room. The projectors have a 34% upward throw offset, meaning that the bottom edge of the image will appear 34% of the image's height above the centerline of the lens. On a 120" diagonal image, this is a 20" offset. Remember to take this offset into account when planning your installation.
When it comes to mounting, ceiling mounting is the most professional-looking option as well as the most natural due to the fixed throw angle. Both projectors have cases which are mostly white, so they will blend into the typical ceiling very well. They can also be used on or under a low table between the seats; this reduces the cost and complexity of installation by obviating the need for long-run cables and the ceiling mount itself. One must be careful not to block the intake or exhaust vents, however, as they are found on the left and right sides of the projector. An enclosed space will cause the projector to overheat rapidly and could cause a shortening of the lamp lifespan.
Picture quality. What is most important about any cinema or entertainment projector is the quality of the image it projects, and these two BenQ projectors produce images more refined than their prices might otherwise indicate. While they have an unusually high amount of digital noise, they both have the dynamic range necessary to make Blu-ray and other HD content look engaging, with bright highlights sparking while dark shadows are nearly impenetrable. The picture has a highly three-dimensional appearance, seeming to pop off of the screen with a strong impression of depth. The reproduction of fine detail is hindered by digital noise, but is still on par with other projectors in this price range. Detail in HD material appears razor-sharp and crisp, with no discernible edge enhancement once the projector's Clarity control is adjusted downwards. This option adds an unnecessary amount of edge enhancement that does not give the projector's natural sharpness nearly enough credit.
Light output. One of the differences between the W1100 and W1200 on paper is that the former is rated at 2,000 lumens while the latter is expected to produce 1,800 lumens. In reality, both specifications are deceptive. After calibration, the W1100 measured 1098 lumens on our test sample with the lamp set to High and the lens at its widest angle setting. The Dynamic preset measured 1240, below the published specification but showing solid color performance despite its brightness. The brightest mode is actually User 1 (Dynamic), which alters lamp voltage to achieve 1459 lumens. This setting has a green tint and will decrease lamp life if used frequently, so it is best reserved for high ambient light situations where you need the brightest possible picture.
The W1200, meanwhile, measured 1325 lumens in its calibrated mode, also using high lamp and the lens' maximum wide angle setting. In other words, despite the specifications, on our test samples the W1200 was slightly brighter than the W1100 once calibrated, though both projectors are still very bright. Even in mild to moderate ambient light, either projector should have no problem filling a 120" diagonal 16:9 screen without appearing washed-out or dull. If you're feeling ambitious, a 150" screen in a room with good ambient light control is certainly realistic, although with a picture this large and dramatic, you might have a problem getting your friends to leave at the end of the movie.
For many users, over 1,000 lumens in calibrated mode is simply too much light. If you have, say, a 100" diagonal screen and good light control as many theater enthusiasts do, you will need a way to tone down the brilliant light output of these projectors. Low lamp mode reduces light output by 22% on both projectors, reducing output to 866 and 1045 lumens, respectively. Using the telephoto end of the zoom lens will also reduce light output. Our test samples showed a reduction of 18%, which is typical for a 1.5:1 lens.
Contrast. While black level is higher than average for this class of projector, both the W1100 and W1200 have great dynamic range that lends itself to a three-dimensional, life-like image. The W1200 really steals the show with its sparkling highlights and deep blacks, and the W1100 turns in a very respectable performance even if it does not measure up to its sibling. Black level, while not matching the best projectors in this class, is still quite solid. The W1200 exhibits a noticeably deeper black than the W1100, so it will be the better choice for use in dark viewing rooms where the difference will be most noticeable.
Color. Grayscale measurements on the factory default calibrations on the W1100 and W1200 were not terribly impressive. All color temperature presets, from "Warmest" to "Coolest," were too cool, with the best measuring about 7500K. However, a quick pass with our CalMAN calibration rig brought color temperature in line with the 6500K standard. While there were slight differences between the two projectors, they were similar enough that a generalized setting might be helpful. Starting from the "Normal" preset, adjust Red to 120 and Green and Blue to 100. This will probably get you in the ballpark, even if you do not own a color meter.
As for gamut, both the W1100 and W1200 required some fine-tuning before they produced really stunning pictures, but an hour's worth of work did wonders for color accuracy and conformance to published standards. Few people spend the money to have inexpensive projectors calibrated, and the W1100 and W1200 certainly qualify as inexpensive; however, it is impressive just how good the two projectors can look after some attention. A colorimeter and software can cost as little as $250, and the performance gain from a simple gamut calibration is, in our opinion, worth the time and money. Unfortunately, there is enough variance between individual units in a production run that posting our gamut numbers would be meaningless.
Effective calibration controls. Many inexpensive projectors have limited picture calibration controls. The W1100 and W1200, despite their low cost, have easy-to-use, responsive adjustments that make calibration easy. If you are an aspiring videophile looking to squeeze the maximum performance out of a low-cost projector, the W1100 or W1200 is a good choice for you for just this reason.
User-definable settings. The factory preset image modes on these projectors, Dynamic, Standard, and Cinema, cannot be changed by the user--they are eternally locked to their factory default settings. To make adjustments, you can choose one of three User modes, each using one of the factory preset modes as a starting point. In other words, User 1 loads the settings from Dynamic, User 2 loads the settings from Standard, et cetera. If you don't like those starting points, you can change the User modes to start from any preset. In other words, you can set up the projector such that User 1, User 2, and User 3 all start from Cinema mode, then alter the settings for your viewing environment. You could set up one User setting for daytime viewing and another for cinema use, while the third could be useful for video games. Projectors often include User modes, though it is unusual to see this degree of customization.
Frame Interpolation. The W1200 has a Frame Interpolation system, used to smooth motion blur and judder in a video signal. The FI system exhibits some of the artifacts seen in the more heavy-handed FI systems of the past, namely ghosting around objects moving across the screen and a touch of the "digital video effect" so often lamented by video purists. We would prefer to use the FI system on its Low setting, and then only for video or animated films, but it is encouraging to see such sophisticated processing make its way onto a $1500 projector.
4x-speed color wheel. Both the W1100 and W1200 use six-segment, 7200 RPM color wheels with RGBRGB segments. 4x-speed color wheels reduce the instance of rainbows for those sensitive to them, making it easier to simply enjoy the movie rather than be distracted by the projector. During our testing, we did not see any rainbow activity on either projector.
Dual 10W speakers. It's game day. Your friends are coming over, there's pizza on the way, the cooler is full of frosty beverages, and you've moved the projector into the living room. After all of this preparation, it would be a shame to listen to your team win on some dinky one-watt speaker. The W1100 and W1200 both include dual 10W speakers using the SRS WOW HD system, designed to improve the performance of small speakers, especially in the low end. The system works, to a degree; bass performance is superior to that of many small speakers on other projectors. However, a small speaker will always be a small speaker, regardless of how you gussy it up, so anyone looking to use the projector for home theater should invest in a proper speaker system. The W1100 and W1200 earn some points for having serviceable onboard audio for those who wish to use it. Typically home theater projectors don't have audio capability.
Digital noise/DLP dither. Unlike LCD or LCOS imaging systems, DLP pixels can only ever be fully on or fully off. As a result, shades of gray are represented by quickly fluttering a mirror between the on and off positions, allowing some percentage of light to reach the screen. The side effect of this is called dithering, which appears very similar to digital noise. All DLP projectors exhibit this to some degree, though the W1100 and W1200 show more than the average amount. This noise cannot be reduced by noise reduction circuitry as it is a function of the projector's hardware, not the video signal. If you are particularly sensitive to digital noise, these two projectors might not be for you.
Quirky menus. Occasionally, we encountered a "quirk" in the menu system that made us scratch our heads. For example: color temperature cannot be adjusted unless BrilliantColor is enabled, though the two have nothing to do with one another. Once BrilliantColor is enabled, you'll need to reduce White Peaking or highlights appear too bright in relation to the rest of the picture; however, it is not possible to completely disable White Peaking while BrilliantColor is active. We also encountered a bug during testing. On occasion, we would open the menu system to adjust color temperature only to find the options on the "Picture: Advanced" page disabled, despite being in User mode and having BrilliantColor enabled. The way to fix this was to close and then re-open the menu system. This is an easy fix, but the problem itself is odd. This may be related to the 1.02 firmware on our test sample; a new unit using BenQ's new 1.03 firmware is on the way and we will update this review upon its arrival.
Video delay. The W1200's image appears smoother and more detailed than that of the W1100, but it comes with a price. Even with Frame Interpolation disabled, the W1200 exhibits more delay than the W1100 does, which causes slightly more evident lip synch issues. Ironically, the delay is most noticeable when using the projector's onboard speakers. In any event, with a normal surround sound set up you will want to use the audio delay in your A/V receiver, or acquire an external audio delay box if your receiver lacks this function. The W1100 will be a superior choice for video games due to its quick response time, while the W1200 would be better suited for movies.
BenQ's two new 1080p projectors, the W1100 and W1200, are an attractive blend of high performance and low price. High dynamic range and dead-on color accuracy make them outstanding video performers despite their low price. The W1200's Frame Interpolation system adds options for video and animated film not present on much of the competition. A 1.5:1 zoom lens adds some placement flexibility. The two projectors have their quirks, but both deliver solid performance above and beyond what the price tag might imply. At $1299 and $1499 respectively, the BenQ W1100 and W1200 are definitely worth the money.