Our recent review of the LG PF85U, a $1,299 LED-based projector that straddles the home theater/home entertainment line, almost immediately started drawing questions from readers about the viability of such a projector next to a lamp-based model.
The BenQ W1070 is an $899 lamp-based 1080p projector for home video and home theater and one of our favorite projectors. It fills the same application niche as the PF85U and has excellent image quality for its price.
The PF85U is an intriguing projector, but it's not yet clear that LED projectors are better than lamp-based projectors. Many folks will want to stick with high-pressure lamps for at least a few more years.
Both the BenQ W1070 and the LG PF85U straddle the line between home video and entry-level home theater. Both use DLP technology and are native 1080p. But the W1070 uses a traditional lamp while the PF85U has a solid-state LED light engine. The W1070 is a stripped-down projector that is light on features but delivers superb image quality, while the PF85U is feature-laden and includes just about every conceivable bell and whistle available, but carries a premium price in comparison to the W1070.
The comparison between the W1070 and PF85U reveals something ironic. The W1070's film-like image and comparative lack of features make it a better choice for home theater, while the slew of features like frame interpolation, Smart TV, and excellent connectivity of the PF85U make it a killer home video projector. But the PF85U lacks the light output needed to create a large, compelling image in ambient light, while the W1070 has brightness to spare but none of the features that make the PF85U a viable TV replacement.
The W1070's image is subtle in the best sense of the word, rendering a natural, film-like picture that is true to the source material. The picture is bright, but shadow detail is preserved well. Black level is not the W1070's strongest suit, but it is on par with other lamp-based video projectors in its price range. White balance in Cinema mode is acceptable for casual viewing, but further calibration gives the W1070 near-perfect color.
The PF85U lacks the W1070's intense brightness, but its black level is much deeper, more on par with home theater models. Shadow detail is superb, with the deepest detail still visible even in difficult scenes. Color saturation is high, but the projector's Dynamic Color control can make the image appear over-saturated even at low levels. The PF85U has a lot of features that make the picture more compelling in ambient light, but those same features can make it look cartoonish in a home theater setting. Default color is not bad, but the PF85U does not benefit much from calibration.
Light output. The W1070 has a decisive light output advantage in the living room and an even bigger one in the theater. The W1070's Dynamic mode measured 1554 lumens on our test sample, though the image is greenish. The PF85U, on the other hand, maxes out at 706 lumens in Vivid mode with all brightness-boosting features turned on. The image is noticeably bluish, and both gamma and color saturation are exaggerated. For movies and other lights-off use, the W1070's Cinema mode measures 1220 lumens with the lamp at full power and 880 lumens in Eco mode. The PF85U, on the other hand, measured 346 lumens in Cinema with the LEDs at full blast.
While the PF85U can light a 100" diagonal screen in a dark room, a 120" screen is a stretch without a higher-gain screen. In a room with ambient light, going above 70" diagonal is a surefire way to end up with a washed-out image. The W1070 does not have these same restrictions.
Other Advantages of the PF85U. The PF85U has frame interpolation, which reduces judder in video and film. The PF85U also includes Smart TV functionality, so you can watch streaming video from a number of popular services right on the projector. It has a greater number of connection options, including a coaxial port you can use to attach a broadcast antenna and both wired and WiFi networking. It has stereo speakers versus the W1070's mono. It is also smaller and lighter than the W1070.
Other Advantages of the W1070. The W1070 has both a zoom lens and vertical lens shift. It is also Full HD 3D compatible. The W1070 has more accurate color in its factory default settings, and post-calibration color is more accurate as well. But really, the big draw of the W1070 is its film-like image and high light output.
LEDs versus lamps
Using light-emitting diodes instead of a traditional lamp gives the PF85U some advantages. LEDs power on almost instantly, and the projector comes to full brightness right away. Turning the projector on and off rapidly does not damage the lifespan of the LEDs as it does with traditional lamps.
Cost has always been the major selling point for LED-based projectors. Under optimal conditions, the PF85U is less expensive than the W1070 over its lifetime. But conditions are rarely optimal.
The PF85U's LED light source has an estimated life of 30,000 hours. That works out to six hours of use per day, every day, for almost fourteen years. The W1070 has a lamp that is rated at 3,500 to 6,000 hours depending on use. If there was ever any circumstance under which you would use the same projector for 30,000 hours, to match the life of the PF85U you'd have to purchase between four and eight replacement lamps at $249 per lamp -- this far exceeds the $400 price difference between the PF85U and W1070.
The W1070's rated power consumption is 353W, while the PF85U is rated at 160W. The W1070 draws more than twice as much power, so it costs twice as much to operate. It also produces more heat, so you'll end up using still more electricity to cool your viewing room in compensation.
But the numbers don't tell the whole story. For starters, it is unlikely that you will use the same projector for the next fourteen years. And at current prices, you'd have to purchase two replacement lamps for the W1070 before the PF85U is less expensive overall.
Secondly, there's no guarantee that the LEDs in the PF85U will actually last for 30,000 hours. Projector lamps occasionally fail early. It's no wonder, then, that people are eager to adopt a lamp-free alternative. But if arc lamps fail before their rated lifespan is reached, why think that LEDs will be any different? LEDs are certainly less fragile than arc lamps, but they are still susceptible to heat degradation, and projectors get hot. It is foolish to scoff at one specification while blindly trusting another. LED-based projectors have not been around long enough for anyone to know how they will endure over the years.
Third, If the LEDs fail, you can't replace them -- they are not a user-serviceable part. When the light source fails, you have to replace the whole projector. The PF85U does include a two-year warranty, but using our earlier six-hours-per-day figure, that only gets us to about 4400 hours.
So under what conditions is the PF85U a better value than the W1070? If you plan to use your projector in a light-controlled room, and you do not plan to use a screen larger than 100" diagonal, and you know you will use your projector for more than 18,000 hours, then the PF85U is a better deal. Otherwise, you should stick with the W1070.
The BenQ W1070 is a projector with a great cinema image that also works well in the living room. It is not particularly fully-featured as home video projectors go, but its top-shelf image quality makes it a bargain.
The LG PF85U combines the features of a Smart TV with the longevity and convenience of an LED light source. However, with its relatively low light output and higher price, the value proposition is not as clear-cut as one might think.
In the end, you should buy the PF85U if you need a portable entertainment projector with a ton of features and can control ambient light. If you're looking for a dynamite entry-level home theater projector and want to save some money, you should stick with the W1070 until LED technology matures and LED-based projectors get brighter.