BenQ has been on a roll lately. Their W1070 and W1080ST, reviewed earlier this year, are both excellent projectors for home video and gaming. The BenQ W1500 can be thought of as a bulked-up version of the W1070, with a more flexible zoom lens, improved image quality, stereo speakers, and wireless HDMI.
That last feature is sure to raise a few eyebrows. Wireless HDMI makes ceiling mounting the W1500 a breeze, since the projector only needs a power cable connection and is otherwise cable-free. While the system has some limitations, it adds value to what is already a feature-packed budget powerhouse. The W1500 has an MSRP of $1,999 but is available for $1,599 from authorized resellers.
Just looking at the case, the W1500 looks like a sleek, streamlined version of the W1070. The contrast trim on the top of the projector has been replaced with an all-white panel, while the sliding lens shift door is now a swing-open door with a push latch. The lens shift knob is now larger and easier to turn using just your fingers; the old knob required a screwdriver or a coin for easy adjustment.
The W1500 has a longer zoom range than the W1070 as well. Its 1.6:1 lens will produce a 100" diagonal image from 7' 9" to 12' 5" throw distance, while the W1070's 1.3:1 lens will project an image of the same size from 8' 4" to 10' 11". This means the W1500 is capable of projecting a larger image from a closer distance, which is useful for small rooms, or a smaller image from a farther distance, which can be helpful for ceiling mounts far from the screen.
The W1500 produces over 1700 lumens in Cinema mode with the lamp at full power. Strictly going by the numbers, that's enough to light up a 180" diagonal 1.3 gain screen at 24 foot Lamberts, well above the recommended 16 fL. Realistically, few people will want to use such a massive screen even if they could fit it inside their house, which is where Eco mode comes in. Eco reduces light output by 37%, making for a much more reasonable picture that is still plenty bright enough for big-screen use. Since Eco mode boosts estimated lamp life by 40%, most folks will want to opt for that setting. The projector's extra brightness can come in handy when watching 3D.
Hooked up to a Blu-ray player, the W1500 produces an image that is clean and sharp, with sparkling highlights and deep, dark shadows. Color saturation is excellent thanks to the projector's 6X speed, six-segment RGBRGB color wheel -- and with no white segment, color brightness and white brightness are perfectly balanced, producing an image that appears natural and life-like. (Click here for more on ANSI lumens vs Color Light Output).
The W1500 has full HD 3D capabilities, and can accept any of the standard HDMI 1.4 3D signal types. It also reportedly has limited support for frame-sequential 3D, though we did not have the opportunity to test this feature during our review. The W1500 uses DLP Link for synchronization, and it requires faster 144Hz glasses (not included).
Image quality. The W1500 creates a great picture, without a doubt. Even straight out of the box, the W1500 produces a sharp, clean home theater image with great shadow detail and well-saturated color. Black levels are very good, and SmartEco lamp mode can make them better in some circumstances, much in the same way an automatic iris can improve on/off contrast. Frame interpolation smooths out motion without making film look like digital video.
WHDI. Wireless Home Digital Interface, or WHDI, is a specification for one version of wireless HDMI connectivity. While external kits are available, the W1500 has a receiver built in to the projector itself, while a transmitter comes in the box. Since you only get one port to work with, the optimal solution is to hook the WHDI transmitter to the video out port of your A/V receiver. The WHDI transmitter will send full 1080p in either 2D or 3D plus sound. As far as image quality over WHDI is concerned, we did see some occasional artifacts when using WHDI. Macroblocking sometimes appears when transmission range is too great or signal strength is otherwise diminished.
Customizable. The W1500 has three User memory settings, which makes it easier to adjust the projector for different types of viewing. The W1500 also has ISF Day and Night settings, though these are only accessible once the projector has been tuned by an ISF-certified calibrator.
Quiet fan. Fan noise on the W1500 is quite low, even with the lamp set at full power. Your perception of fan noise will largely depend on where you are sitting in relation to the W1500's exhaust vent. Near that quarter of the projector's front panel, fan noise is slightly louder. Once in Eco mode, though, the W1500 is as close to silent as a projector this bright can get.
SmartEco mode, which cycles lamp power in response to image brightness, is not a new concept; several manufacturers have been including similar features in their projectors for years. However, the SmartEco implementation on the W1500 is among the first to not include audible, distracting fan cycling.
Onboard sound. Dual ten-watt stereo speakers give the W1500 a powerful sound system compared to most other home theater projectors. Of course, this is partly because most home theater projectors over $1500 don't include speakers at all, instead expecting you to have an external sound system. But the W1500's speakers are of good quality and get very, very loud, making them an excellent choice for casual or portable use, say in a game room or over at a friend's place for a sporting event. Our test sample had a volume scale from 0 to 10, and the speakers did not start distorting until level 8.
Good remote. We don't typically comment on a projector's remote control, since what we like might be someone else's pet peeve. But the W1500's slim, candy-bar style remote is easy to hold, easy to use, and its backlit buttons are easy to read in the dark. The red backlight isn't obnoxiously bright, either.
Placement flexibility. With a 1.6:1 zoom lens and vertical lens shift, the W1500 has more placement flexibility than many of its DLP competitors. The vertical shift is somewhat constrained, in that it only allows for a 15% to 20% adjustment of the image's vertical position, but it is better than not having any lens shift at all. The shift allows you to adjust the projector's throw offset to anywhere between 3% and 14% of the image height above the lens centerline.
Frame interpolation. Frame interpolation, or FI, creates interstitial frames in a video signal to smooth out the judder associated with camera pans and fast motion. The W1500's FI has three levels. Low is a subtle setting which smooths out motion without any hint of the digital video effect and is a good choice for film purists who still want to reduce judder. Medium shows a bit more digital video effect but has a commensurate increase in the amount of smoothing. High is a good choice when actually watching HD video, but many folks will find it too aggressive for 24p film.
No rainbows. Quite a few people see rainbows when viewing projectors with 2X-speed color wheels; fewer still see them when watching a projector with a 4X-speed wheel. The W1500 has a 6X-speed color wheel -- meaning the projector is nearly rainbow-proof. The wheel has six segments: two each of red, green, and blue. This arrangement also ensures 100% color brightness and rich color saturation, both important to a natural home theater picture.
Light output. For a home theater projector, the W1500 has power to spare. The projector's specifications list a 2200 lumen maximum white light output, and our test sample measured 1980 lumens in its brightest mode (Dynamic). Dynamic mode uses the projector's Lamp Native color temperature option, which boosts green and makes minimal efforts at color correction but does boost light output. Standard mode, at 1750 lumens, reduces the green push and provides a much more balanced white (around 6900K on average). Cinema mode produces 1766 lumens -- yes, more than Standard mode -- and by default has a color temperature around 6400K, though there is too much green in the image. While this is not ideal for real home theater use, it can be easily tweaked to produce a perfect 6500K grayscale without too much effort.
If you plan to do most of your viewing in 3D, you're already all set - the W1500's high brightness will serve you well on a screen up to 120" diagonal. If you plan to watch more 2D content, it's time to talk about reducing light output. Eco mode on the W1500 drops light output by 37%, bringing Cinema mode to 1112 lumens. That is a much more reasonable number when it comes to home theater viewing in a darkened environment. It also pays to keep in mind that the 1.6:1 zoom lens will reduce light output by 21% at its maximum telephoto setting, so if you plan to place the W1500 near the back of your viewing room, you should make allowances for the light loss. Still, that brings Cinema mode to roughly 875 lumens, which is still more than enough for a 100" to 120" diagonal screen. When you do want to watch 3D movies, simply switch the projector back to Normal lamp mode for a brightness boost.
Contrast. The W1500 is rated at 10,000:1, a modest number in today's market. But the projector performs where it counts. Black levels are solid and very competitive with other projectors in the W1500's price range, especially when using SmartEco mode. Dynamic range is quite good, and the projector has no trouble reproducing shadow detail thanks to a solid factory gamma calibration. Gamma defaults to 2.4 in Cinema mode, which actually measured around 2.35 on our test sample. The result is a picture with plenty of pop and three-dimensionality, once again proving that specifications don't tell the whole story.
Color. The W1500 has the potential to be a great performer when it comes to color, but it does take a little bit of fine-tuning to get things just right. By default, our test sample's Cinema mode displayed a green push, which boosts brightness but does not do any favors to a home theater image.
This is not difficult to fix, luckily. The W1500 has full RGB gain/bias controls, allowing for full adjustment of the projector's white balance. It can be a little bit tricky to find the controls, though: from the Picture-Basic menu, go to Advanced, then Color Temperature Fine Tuning.
By default, all Gain controls are set to 100 and all Offset controls are set to 255. Our final calibration reduces green in both Gain and Offset and adjusts the red/blue balance in Offset to yield a final calibration that is a smooth 6500K across the grayscale.
As far as color gamut is concerned, our test sample was so close to the Rec. 709 HD standard that we did not feel the need to make any further adjustments. This is good news for you, because gamut adjustments are almost impossible to make without a color meter and calibration software package. Those tend to get expensive, so it's nice to find a projector that does not require gamut adjustments to begin with.
Sharpness and clarity. Detail on the W1500 is razor sharp, even without the aid of a smart sharpening system. Fine detail from 1080p HD movies is reproduced perfectly, without even a hint of fuzz or blurriness on the part of the projector. This is most evident when watching a high-quality Blu-ray transfer of a well-shot movie. The opening IMAX-filmed sequence in The Dark Knight is a particular favorite for this, and it'll make a good projector like the W1500 look amazing. It doesn't hurt that the camera tends to linger on its subjects during this sequence, making it even easier for you to notice the fine detail in every frame.
Input lag. Gamers concerned with quick response times need projectors with fast input lag numbers, which indicate that the image from the source reaches the screen as quickly as possible. The most demanding gamers want projectors with input lag of 33 milliseconds (2 frames) or below.
Unfortunately, the W1500 measured an average 66ms (4 frames) of input lag when fed a 2D 1080p input signal over HDMI. This is slower than several of its competitors and makes it a tough sell for gamers sensitive to input delay. WHDI increases this delay to 118ms (7 frames) on our test sample, so gamers who do opt for the W1500 will want to stick to wired transmission. Using features like frame interpolation will further delay processing, so it is wise to leave these features turned off when playing games.
WHDI. Wireless HD technologies are still in their infancy, and there are more than a few bugs left to work out. The W1500's included WHDI system can introduce some artifacts into the image, the most obvious of which was macroblocking in medium-intensity color fields. This was most visible on test patterns in the 30% to 60% illumination range, but it could also be seen on the standard background of our Playstation 3 game console. We also encountered some synchronization issues when trying to mate the WHDI transmitter to one of our laptops -- the image would appear, then several seconds later it would drop to black again. Bottom line: for mission-critical applications, an HDMI cable is still the preferred method.
Lens shift range is limited. While the W1500 does deserve credit for including any lens shift at all, its range is extremely limited and ultimately only gives you a few inches of wiggle room. This is a limitation of many DLP projectors due in part to the design of the DLP light engine.
No VESA port. The W1500 uses DLP Link for 3D synchronization, which is a fine and capable solution in its own right. But the projector does not include a VESA 3D sync port, so DLP Link is your only 3D option. Several other inexpensive 3D projectors do include a VESA port, making it easy to switch to infrared or radio-frequency glasses systems if desired.
144Hz 3D. Many DLP Link 3D glasses top out at 120Hz, which was the maximum synchronization rate for a lot of first- and second-generation 3D projectors. The W1500 runs at 144Hz, so these slower glasses will not work. While the new glasses are not too much more expensive than the old ones, it is one additional thing that can go wrong when attempting to purchase your complete 3D system. At least one review rolling around criticizes the W1500's (excellent) 3D capabilities because the reviewer accidentally used a pair of 120Hz glasses to do their evaluation.
Menu quirks. At times, the W1500's menu system gave us a bit of trouble. The projector has optional wireless networking, but attempting to enable wireless sync when this module is not present caused our projector to freeze up completely. BenQ has typically been responsive to issues like these and typically releases firmware updates to correct these problems as they are found.
The BenQ W1500 is a fully-featured home theater projector with a stellar HD picture. It packs in features typically only found on more expensive projectors, like frame interpolation and vertical lens shift, without compromising one iota when it comes to picture quality. It is easy to use thanks to an intuitive remote control and menu system, easy to set up thanks to 1.6:1 zoom and vertical lens shift, and easy to fine-tune thanks to comprehensive color controls and three User memory banks. The picture it produces is bright and engaging, and it has the power to light a large screen even when viewing 3D.
At $1599, the W1500 is not as inexpensive as some other DLP video projectors released this year, but the W1500 includes features not found on those projectors as well as an incrementally more refined picture better suited to home theater, not home video. It is not without flaws; the WHDI system has its quirks, and input lag is not quick enough for the most demanding gamers. That said, its stereo speaker system and included carrying case make it easy to take the projector on the road, should you so desire. All in all, the W1500 is a do-it-all package for film and video that won't break the bank.