The BenQ W600 is a DLP 720p home entertainment projector with 3D capability. With 2600 lumens of brightness, it has the power to be used in almost any projection environment. Its 3000:1 contrast is great for home entertainment such as video games and television. Its user interface is sometimes difficult to manage, and its limited adjustability will not appeal to those who like to fine-tune their equipment. But with a price of $799 at most retailers, it is a solid value.
Light output. The W600 has a highly variable light output that makes it easy to use in almost any projection environment. Dynamic mode, the brightest available, measured 2494 lumens on our test unit, very nearly reaching the projector's specified maximum of 2600 lumens. This mode has a strong green push, but would be appropriate for high-brightness applications such as HD sports in a living room or even "party" video games meant to be played by a large group in a moderately-lit room.
Standard mode, the next brightest, has less of a green push than Dynamic along with better color saturation and contrast. Our test sample read 1748 lumens in this mode. If you do not need the extreme brightness of Dynamic mode, Standard mode results in a generally more accurate, better saturated image with better shadow detail.
If color accuracy and contrast are your primary concerns, Cinema mode is better still, though lumen output drops to 1320. Using low lamp mode extends lamp life from 2500 hours to 4000 hours, but also decreases brightness by 20%.
For the best possible performance with film or video, you will want to disable BrilliantColor, which is enabled by default. BrilliantColor boosts highlights without affecting the rest of the image, leading to a brighter picture with much higher dynamic range. While this sounds like a good thing, it also destroys the sense of balance that you get from a good home theater projector, where the picture feels like an integrated whole. This quality, sometimes difficult to describe but always important, is improved greatly by disabling BrilliantColor. This brings lumen output down to 795 in Cinema mode using high lamp and 636 in Cinema mode using low lamp.
Contrast. When using the brighter image modes, the W600 has a very dynamic picture, with brilliant whites and deep blacks - or, at least, it seems that way. In image modes like Cinema, especially with BrilliantColor disabled, dynamic range is reduced but the picture as a whole looks more natural and well-balanced. The actual measured black level does not change; it merely looks less deep in comparison to the less brilliant highlights. Shadow detail is very good - in fact it is better in Cinema than in Dynamic - so you are not losing any information in the projected image itself. The W600's competitors do not fare well with regards to black level either, so in comparison it has a slight edge.
Inexpensive Maintenance. The W600 is not just inexpensive at purchase; it is also inexpensive to maintain over time. Lamps last 2,500 hours in High lamp mode or 4,000 hours in Eco mode. Replacement lamps cost only $199 each directly from BenQ. Assume for a moment that the lamp runs for a full 4,000 hours, and the cost per hour is a mere nickel. At 2,500 hours of runtime, it is still only eight cents per hour. And, since there are no filters to replace, lamp changes are the only required maintenance you will ever have to perform.
Placement. The W600 has a fixed throw offset of 18%, meaning the bottom edge of the projected image will appear 18% of the image height above the centerline of the lens. In practical terms, a 100" diagonal image would have an offset of just under 9". While this is ideal for a coffee table placement, a ceiling mount might require a drop tube if you have a ceiling fan or other obstruction.
The projector has a manual 1.2:1 zoom lens, allowing it to throw a 100" diagonal 16:9 image from 11' to 12' 8". This leeway should allow you some flexibility when mounting the projector, though care must still be taken to plan at least the basics of your installation before purchase.
Speaker. The W600 has a 2W mono speaker. This doesn't sound like much (pun fully and completely intended), and indeed volume is rather low. The sound never gets loud enough to cause distortion, which is good, but it also never gets loud enough to be audible to more than about three people, which is not so good. Unless you are sitting very close to the projector in a quiet room, you will need an outboard sound system of some kind.
2x speed color wheel. The W600 has a 2X-speed, 6-segment color wheel, with Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Yellow, and White segments. This configuration is standard in this class of projector, and the W600's main competitors share this same color wheel layout. However, people who are susceptible to seeing rainbows will very likely see them on the W600.
User interface. The menu system is the same as that on the W1000, but there have been a few modifications. Where the W1000 had named color temperature presets, the W600 has presets named T1 through T4, with no indication what they represent. The T1 preset seemed to be the warmest of the bunch, though it still had a noticeable green bias. Like the W1000, there is no system for the fine-tuning of RGB gain and bias. The projector does have a control to adjust the overall gamut, which is useful in some circumstances, but not nearly as effective or important as simple gain/bias adjustments.
Color saturation and Tint controls are grayed out in many instances, including when using 1080p/24 over HDMI. The projector supposedly has 3D capability, though we encountered difficulty getting it to function correctly (more on that shortly). In short, the W600's interface made normally easy tasks more difficult, and normally difficult tasks impossible.
The remote control is actually quite well-designed, but its range was so short that we ended up using the hardwired control panel more often than not. Even at a relatively short distance from the screen (about six feet), we were not able to bounce the signal back to the projector and were instead forced to turn around and aim directly at the sensor.
3D Capability. The W600 is billed as a 3D Ready projector, meaning it can handle a 120Hz refresh rate and incorporates DLP Link technology. However, we ran into the digital equivalent of a Mexican Standoff when we tried to use it. Sound confusing? Well, that's because it is.
The W600's "3D Mode" option is grayed out in the menu, and will only become available if the projector detects a 120Hz signal being sent to it. However, many devices, including both 3D-capable computers we have in our lab, will only send a 120Hz signal if the display is capable of displaying it. And the W600 does not report that it is capable of displaying such a signal until you turn on 3D Mode. But you cannot turn on 3D Mode until you send a 120Hz signal, so you loop back to step one.
If you can force your 3D source to output 120Hz, or somehow trick the W600 into enabling 3D mode, you can use 3D mode as intended. However, many people will find this system frustrating and difficult to use.
The Optoma HD66 is another 3D Ready 720p DLP projector for home theater. Our review of this projector was posted in early February, but we happened to still have the projector in our lab when the W600 showed up. The two projectors are remarkably similar, at least when it comes to specifications - both are over 2,500 lumens, both have relatively low contrast, and both are 3D Ready. However, side-by-side testing reveals just how different these two machines actually are.
Light output. The W600's 2494 lumen Dynamic mode is much brighter than the HD66's 1979 lumen Bright mode. For rooms with a lot of ambient light, the W600 is the clear choice. However, when it comes to home theater, things are not so clear-cut. The HD66's Movie mode, after proper calibration, measures 670 lumens in high lamp mode and 582 lumens in low lamp mode. After some basic calibration, the W600 measures 795 lumens in high lamp mode and 636 lumens in low lamp mode. This is a much smaller divide - only 125 lumens - and might not be visible to your naked eye. Therefore, there is no decisive winner in the lumens category, at least when it comes to home theater.
Contrast. The HD20's black level is good, but not excellent. In comparison, the W600 has deeper blacks, though the two projectors perform equally in terms of shadow detail. During use, the HD66's higher black level did not put it at a visible disadvantage in most scenes, but night skies and star fields will suffer in comparison.
Another point that some folks might not consider is black bars. Since the HD66 can also natively display 1280x800 content, all 1280x720 content will have small black bars on the top and bottom of the image. These bars are not very bright or distracting, but the W600 has none at all, which is an advantage in a very dark theater setting.
Color. The W600 has four color temperature presets and no easy method of adjustment. The HD66 has three presets, but more importantly it has extensive color adjustment options. Since neither projector starts out at perfect 6500K, the ability to adjust color balance and saturation is critical if you want to get the most bang for your buck. Since it is difficult (if not impossible) to adjust color on the W600 but fairly trivial to do so on the HD66, the latter will be the projector of choice for those who demand accurate color.
3D. Using the same settings, we attempted to use both the W600 and the HD66 with our nVidia 3D gaming system. Neither projector is nVidia certified, meaning setup is more complicated and tricky than simply "plug and play." However, there were differences here, as well. The HD66 automatically told the computer that it was 3D capable, then detected the 120Hz signal without issue and activated 3D mode. Total setup time was about five minutes. Meanwhile, after two hours of tweaking, troubleshooting, and trying different options, the W600 still would not accept a 720p 3D signal from our computer system.
Overall Image Quality. Thanks in part to its easy-to-adjust color and well-balanced picture, the HD66 looked better integrated, more film-like, and more natural than the W600 while watching a Blu-ray movie. The two projectors are equal in terms of digital noise and sharpness, but the accurate color and shadow detail of the HD66 made it our favorite in this setting. While it cannot hold a candle to the W600 where sheer brightness is concerned, the HD66's cinema performance went unmatched.
The BenQ W600 is not a bad projector--far from it. It is exceptionally bright, and its brilliant, high-contrast image is a great fit for projection in ambient light. However, when it comes to viewing high-definition movies in a darkened room, it cannot match the performance of its nearest competitor. Its user interface is frustrating at times, and fine-tuners will not enjoy the difficulty of adjusting color balance. But for those who just want to put a bright, high-contrast, high-definition picture on the screen, the W600 is another solid option.