In addition to BenQ's two higher performance DLP home theater projectors, the W9000 and W10000, the company has rounded out its home theater line with an attractive entry level projector--the W500. This is a 720p resolution LCD projector rated at 1100 ANSI lumens and 5,000:1 contrast. The W500 is the first BenQ home theater projector to use 3LCD technology; the company has traditionally produced single-chip DLP projectors for home theater. While there are some quirks - as expected with a first-generation product - the W500 is a good value at street prices around $1,000.
ANSI lumens: 1100
Contrast (full on/off): 5,000:1
Light Engine: 1280 x 720, native 16:9, three-panel 0.6" LCD with 140W lamp.
Video Compatibility: 1080p/60/50/24, 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i, 480p, 480i. NTSC/PAL/SECAM.
Connection Panel: One HDMI port, one VGA port, two sets of YPbPr component inputs, composite video, s-video, USB, one 12v trigger, and an RS232 port for an external control.
Lens and Throw Distance: 1.2x manual zoom/focus lens with vertical and horizontal lens shift. Throws a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 10'10" to 13'.
Lamp Life: 2000 hours, 3000 in eco-mode
Replacement lamp price: $250 street.
Warranty: One year.
The BenQ W500 is housed in a glossy white case, with the lens offset to one side and a heat exhaust vent on the other. Not only will the white case blend in with your ceiling, but the front exhaust makes the W500 suitable for rear shelf or coffee table mounting. Silver accents mark the lens bezel and top-mounted control panel, while the connection panel is on the projector's rear.
The W500 is no slouch when it comes to lumen output. Our test unit measured a maximum of 731 ANSI lumens with an excellent 93% brightness uniformity. Lumen output dropped 14% to 629 ANSI lumens in low lamp mode, which is not as much of a drop as on most competing units. These readings were reached using Dynamic image mode with color temperature set to "lamp native."
The Dynamic setting is wonderful for sporting events or projection in ambient light, but too bright for use in a darkened home theater environment. For more traditional rooms, Cinema mode produced 333 ANSI lumens with the lamp on low and color temperature set to "normal." For those with larger screens, using Dynamic image mode with color temperature set to "normal" will net roughly 470 ANSI lumens, which should be enough to comfortably light up a 120" diagonal screen in a room with proper light control.
Image sharpness on the W500 is superb. Image detail in HD 1080p material is displayed with precision despite its compression to 720p, and SD material does not suffer any undue degradation. For such an inexpensive projector, image clarity is exceptional.
One of the W500's most stand-out features is the inclusion of horizontal and vertical lens shift. The W500 has a total vertical range of just over two screen heights; the image can be placed completely above or completely below the lens centerline. Horizontally, the image can be moved 1/3 of the image width in either direction. This makes the W500 very flexible in terms of mounting; it can be easily ceiling mounted or placed on a coffee table, while a rear shelf mount is feasible with a bit of finesse.
The W500 includes a new menu system, unlike that of previous BenQ projectors. This new menu includes an excellent system for adjusting color -- the user can adjust hue and saturation for not only the primary colors, but the secondaries as well. It also includes three user-programmable image modes that are persistent across all inputs, so the W500 will keep the same settings regardless of what source you have plugged in.
The remote control is well built, with a very strong backlight. All buttons' functions are printed on the buttons themselves, making the remote a snap to use in the dark. The button to activate the backlight is at the base of the remote, set off by itself, making it nearly impossible to mistakenly press a different button.
Silicon Optix' HQV processor made its way into the W500, which means that standard definition material looks as clean as it ever has. Deinterlacing artifacts are virtually nonexistent, while scaling is clean and clear. In side by side testing, the BenQ consistently outperformed its competition when it came to the precision of its deinterlacing and scaling and the near lack of digital noise.
Replacement lamps for the W500 cost a mere $250. Assuming a full 3,000 hour lamp life, that brings the cost of operating the BenQ W500 down to a scant 8.3 cents per hour. Calling that figure pocket change would be insulting to one's pockets. While the projector must be dismounted from the ceiling while changing the lamp, it need not be dismounted to clean the dust filter - simply slide it out towards the front of the case. Now you'll have no excuse not to clean your projector's filter.
After being spoiled by many a 1080p projector this fall, it was something of a shock to see a visible pixel structure. The W500 has clearly visible pixelation when seated closer than 1.6 times the screen width. Visible pixelation can occasionally cause distraction, so be aware while planning your theater's seating arrangements.
With only a 1.2:1 zoom range, the W500 will display a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 10'10" to 13', depending on zoom. Coupled with the visible pixelation described above, this means the projector will usually be mounted slightly behind or directly above the audience. Considering the long 2.0:1 zoom ranges found on LCD projectors priced only $300 higher, the 1.2:1 zoom on the W500 is a noteworthy restriction.
On/Off contrast is rated at 5000:1. Out of the box, contrast was decidedly mediocre - blacks were quite deep, but shadow detail was often lackluster. The W500 has a "Black Level" adjustment in the menu system; this comes set at 7.5IRE by default. This setting caused a drastic loss of shadow detail in some footage. By changing this setting to 0 IRE and lowering Brightness a few notches, you can regain some of that lost shadow detail without sacrificing too much in terms of black level.
The W500 did need color adjustment from its default settings, as our test sample exhibited a strong push towards green. While it was relatively easy to remove some of this bias, it was not possible to remove all of it.
At 28dB in eco-mode and 32dB in normal operation, the W500 is louder than most of its competition. To keep audible noise to a minimum, run the W500 in low lamp mode and seat the audience at least a few feet from the projector itself. With that said, in normal operation it is unlikely that fan noise from the W500 would cause distraction.
BenQ W500 vs. Epson Cinema 400
The Epson Cinema 400 is arguably the most similar projector to the BenQ W500 currently in production. They are both 720p LCD machines with lens shift and very reasonable pricing. While the Cinema 400 retails for $1,599, Epson is currently offering a $500 mail-in rebate through its website and authorized dealers. This puts it close to price parity with the W500, and makes for an interesting shootout.
When placed head to head, these projectors share little in common besides superficial details. Right off the bat, the Cinema 400 is much brighter, with a maximum lumen output approaching 1400 ANSI lumens compared to the W500's 730. The zoom range and lens shift on the Cinema 400 are more extensive, making it easier to install. Black level on the Cinema 400 is superior, and there is less video lag when using high definition sources over HDMI. While color accuracy was not perfect on either projector, the Cinema 400's image was closer to a neutral 6500K while the W500 exhibited a subtle greenish cast.
On the other hand, the BenQ W500 is clearly superior when it comes to image processing, in both HD and standard definition. There was demonstrably less digital noise on the W500 in every test clip we used. Deinterlacing is superior and scaling is cleaner, leading to an image with excellent detail that made the Cinema 400 look slightly soft by comparison. It is unsurprising that the BenQ aced nearly every test on the HQV disc, as it uses an HQV image processor.
The bottom line is that the Cinema 400 has a more natural color as well as brighter operating modes for ambient light use. A longer zoom and lens shift range gives it more installation flexibility. However, if you value a sharper, noise-free image and are willing to give up a little color accuracy and black level, the W500 offers these as key advantages.
BenQ W500 vs. Mitsubishi HC1500
While it may seem like an apples-to-oranges comparison, we put the BenQ W500 up against the Mitsubishi HC1500, successor to the venerable HD1000U which helped pioneer 720p projection under $1000.
The HC1500 is, like the Cinema 400, much brighter than the W500 in its brightest operating modes. The HC1500 measures up to 800 ANSI lumens in Cinema mode, and can easily be made brighter; meanwhile, the BenQ has an absolute maximum of 730 ANSI and measures closer to 300 ANSI in Cinema mode. The HC1500 also has more vibrant and better balanced color and a deeper black level. The result is that the image from the HC1500 is more natural, film-like, and engaging than that of the W500.
The W500 again has the edge in terms of image processing, though the differences between the HC1500 and W500 are not as drastic. As the HC1500 has no lens shift, the W500 holds an edge in placement flexibility, though both projectors have a 1.2:1 manual zoom lens.
We still highly recommend the Mitsubishi HC1500 if it will fit in your viewing environment. If that's not possible, the W500's added flexibility can help ease the pangs of an imperfect projector placement.
The BenQ W500 is an interesting mix of high-end and low-budget. High lumen output and first-rate image processing circuitry make it a great budget option for video games, sporting events, and HDTV watching. However, a 1.2x zoom range limits placement flexibility, while color is less than perfect. The projector's main strengths are its low asking price and $250 replacement lamps, which can make the BenQ W500 an attractive, affordable option.
For more detailed specifications and connections, check out our BenQ W500 projector page.