July 2014

BenQ W7500Reviewers' ChoiceI’d never had a BenQ projector in my system -- surprising, because they’ve made top-notch projectors for almost as long as the 13 years I’ve written for the SoundStage! family. In any case, their W7500 projector really got my attention for its combo of bright light, high contrast, and reasonable price ($2799 USD). Plus, I’ve been married to JVC’s D-ILA process for so long, I wanted to see the latest improvements in DLP, and find out what the scientists at Texas Instruments have been up to lately. As it turns out, quite a lot.

In 2001, BenQ was spun off from Acer Inc., which no longer owns any share of the company. “BenQ” is what’s called a “euphonious acronym” for Bringing Enjoyment ’N’ Quality to Life. Lars Yoder, president of BenQ America, used to be VP and GM of Texas Instruments’ DLP front projection business. BenQ is now the world’s largest producer of DLP projectors.

The BenQ W7500 weighs about 15 pounds and has a stylish look that should complement most interior designs. It uses a six-segment color wheel (RGBRGB), which should kill the rainbow effect for 99.9% of the population. BenQ claims a contrast ratio of 60,000:1 and an output of 2000 ANSI lumens for the W7500, and also boasts that the DLP engine’s picture is so bright and sharp that it can project a quality image onto a 300" screen. Based on what I saw, that may not be an exaggeration. The W7500 can accept two HDMI 1.4 signals, as well as computer D-sub, composite (why?), S-video, and component feeds.

Inveterate tinkerers like me will be pleased with the number of settings the W7500 can store. They include Dynamic, Standard, Cinema, User1, User2, User3, 3D, ISF Night, and ISF Day. If you’re not familiar with those last two, BenQ has set aside two presets full of discrete manipulations created solely for the use of your local ISF-certified technician. Given the depth of the unlocked menus, they should be able to coax a nearly perfect picture from the W7500. I don’t know how many people will spend $300-$500 or more for a professional calibration of a $2799 projector, especially one that comes pretty well balanced straight from the factory, but you have that option. The W7500 will also play virtually any 1080 rate, interlaced or progressive. Plus, it’s compliant with Panamorph lenses, for those with 2.35:1 screens.

BenQ W7500

The W7500 has 1.5:1 of zoom, which means it can be placed fairly easily -- and if you have to use lots of zoom, BenQ has done an excellent job of managing light loss. Despite the W7500’s wide range of manual adjustment of lens shift, it works best if the lens is within the boundaries of the screen. Ideally, the center of the lens should be even with the center of the screen, but BenQ has designed the W7500 so that it will work well anywhere within the screen’s perpendicular boundaries. If you absolutely must position the projector outside those boundaries, you can tilt it and use keystone correction. BenQ has done a good job with their keystone correction, but it’s always best to avoid it if you can. Focus and zoom are manually adjusted by moving rings that surround the lens.

Navigating the menu for the initial setup is simple and intuitive enough that you could do it yourself. If you’re lucky enough to have an ace dealer nearby, they might provide an ISF setup for a better price. They might even offer basic installation and setup for free, or for a reduced price. But there’s a good reason for getting someone else do the job.

But before I go jumping on some engineer’s toes -- once you’ve gotten the setup right, you’ll never again have to go through what I’m about to describe. If you share my predilection for perfection, then prepare yourself for several minutes of wishing bodily harm to whoever designed the bizarrely interactive zoom/focus/lens-shift apparatus. Vertical and horizontal lens shift can be adjusted with a short-throw joystick. I like a short-throw manual shifter for a sports car, but in the W7500’s case you get too much adjustment for too little movement of the shifter: To get the picture exactly where you want it, you need steady hands and lots of patience. And even after you’ve set it in place, it drifts: Let go of the joystick and it starts drifting down.

This problem is made worse when you use the zoom or focus ring, which you must to get the picture centered and focused. BenQ’s solution is a locking mechanism on the lens shifter that basically just screws it down, but the combination of shifting in microscopic increments between lockings and unlockings, all while having the zoom and focus create their own shifts, is annoying and ultimately discouraging. I recognize that BenQ is trying to provide the absolute best projector for the price, and they’ve succeeded in delivering a startlingly clear, bright picture. But getting the picture properly sized, placed, and focused is of primary importance. I think finely adjusted, slow-moving, motor-driven focus is crucial -- that way, you can stand directly in front of the screen to ensure that you have the clearest possible picture. I feel almost as strongly about automatic lens shift and zoom.

BenQ W7500

As I mentioned, the W7500 was designed to be installed by a professional -- you shouldn’t have to address any of these problems yourself. Still, I prefer having a projector that I can set up myself, in case I decide to move it. If you’re more likely to have someone else set it and forget it, none of these issues should cause you any worry -- buy it and let the dealer sweat the hard stuff. Still -- when I finally finished setting up the W7500, I mixed a pitcher of tequila sours and we relaxed with some cool jazz.

But once you’ve finished the mechanical setup, everything else is easy and will pay rich dividends. The color is close enough to ideal that you can get a very nice picture with just a good test disc and a little time spent fine-tuning a few things. That done, you’ll have a very bright picture with sharp details and very good black levels. The picture is so bright, it might even better suit a room with a small amount of ambient light rather than a completely darkened space. You certainly wouldn’t want to use it with a small screen in a blackened room.

The W7500 showed up at just the perfect time for TV’s single greatest test: the NBA Playoffs. I was a little hesitant to switch from my reference JVC projector, but the BenQ did a fine job. The Dynamic setting was just too much, but the Cinema setting worked well with everything, whether sports or film, TV series or live events. During the playoffs -- the best in a long time -- I loved the way the BenQ handled the players’ speed and darting movements.

Anyone who loves dark dramas will go for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. The darkness isn’t just one of tone, the feeling of aggressive anomie -- the images themselves are literally quite dark. Shadows dominate, and blood is deep red. Clothes are in shades of gray. The production looks as if it cost a fortune, and the directors never seem to wink at the audience -- this is deadly serious stuff. If DLP projectors have a bête noire (so to speak), it’s their ability to produce dark black. Engineers have tried all sorts of tricks to get blacker blacks from DLPs, from changing light sources to using variable-aperture irises. BenQ uses the best of them to get really dark blacks. The amazing thing is that the W7500 could produce such prodigious amounts of light, yet was able to project a really wide range of contrast -- and Penny Dreadful’s dark production design really showed off its capabilities.

We watched several movies to get a general idea of how the W7500 does with day-to-day viewing. Blue Is the Warmest Color is a love story about the drama of taking a chance on love and then having to contend with a breakup. It’s groundbreaking in that the love story is between two women, and that the director chose to show us their sexual relationship in tremendous detail. I found the breakup scene even more powerful than the sex scene. Actress Léa Seydoux positively melted the screen, while her lover, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, was simply heartbreaking as she attempted to talk her way out of a serious dilemma. Exarchopoulos’s face, which is continuously in close focus, is a miraculous thing in both its pliability and its exquisite beauty. The greatest compliment I can give the W7500 is that I stopped looking for problems. There just weren’t enough to notice.

BenQ W7500

Once Upon a Time in the West is another film with stunning studies of the human face. The final shoot-out features tight close-ups of the faces of Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson. Ultimately, director Sergio Leone zooms in until their eyes fill the screen. The precision was startling -- the W7500 had all the detail I could hope for, and the coloration mirrored what I’ve seen in cinemas. This got me thinking of other films that deeply ponder the human face: Doctor Zhivago’s close-ups of Julie Christie’s gorgeous face, the shadowed visages in Francis Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, Scorsese’s investigations of De Niro’s swollen face in Raging Bull, Howard Hawks’s celebration of cowboy culture as the cattle drive gets underway in Red River. The W7500 brought these images to life -- and isn’t that what we want from a home-theater component?

BenQ is also touting the W7500’s extra-special abilities with 3D. I’m still waiting to be wowed by the medium, but Martin Scorsese’s Hugo has very nearly made me a believer. What I always hope for is a director who will use 3D to add depth of field to the picture so that it starts to look like real life, and that’s exactly what happens with Hugo’s fantastical world inside the clocks and mechanisms of his Paris train station. I’m bored with things zinging at me -- Scorsese uses 3D to add realism. Avatar should be a model of what 3D can deliver, yet the only time I find myself getting lost in the moment is when little things float by at various distances. But I can say this: The W7500 produced the best 3D images I’ve seen in my home.

BenQ’s W7500 ($2799) is a leading competitor in its price range, but it isn’t alone. You might also want to consider the Sony VPL-HW40ES (SXRD/LCoS, $2499), the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 5030UB (LCD, $2595), and the nearly identical Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 6030UB (DLP, $3499). Each is light-years beyond what was available for its price just a few years ago, and displays both the strengths and weaknesses of its display technology.

Sony’s VPL-HW40ES has extra-rich blacks, and when it’s in perfect focus, the pixels almost disappear. Its fan is whisper quiet. On the downside, it has the lowest rated brightness. The BenQ’s 3D performance is the best I’ve seen, and its DLP system uses a single chip -- no worries about whether multiple chips are perfectly aligned. But it uses a color wheel, something that bothers a very small but vocal group of viewers. The two Epsons have the highest claimed light outputs and contrast ratios, are THX Certified, and come with two pairs of RF 3D glasses. The Sony, BenQ, and Epson Pro have three-year warranties, the Epson Home a two-year warranty. The Epson Home is widely available to private buyers looking for the best deals; the Pro is sold through professional dealers and installers. The Pro costs $700 more, but, as I said, nothing beats local service.

Which is the best choice? I’d pick the one with the best support, preferably from the local dealer you buy it from. If you’re loyal to them, they’ll be loyal to you. Plus, nothing beats having someone else do the installation and setup. BenQ normally sells through their network of pro dealers and installers, so you can get that nice local service -- but you can also buy via the Internet. To me, buying local is a no-brainer bargain, but in terms of picture quality it makes no difference -- these projectors are all so close to their potential ideal performance that the limiting factor is the technology. Do you prefer the trade-offs of LCD, LCoS, or DLP?

If DLP’s your thing, the BenQ W7500 should be at the top of your list. It’s a terrific projector, certainly one of the best single-chip DLP projectors ever made, and a bargain at $2799.

. . . Wes Marshall

BenQ W7500 DLP Projector
Price: $2799 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.

BenQ Corporation Headquarters
16 Jihu Road Neihu, Taipei
114 Taiwan
Phone: +886 2-2727-8899

BenQ America Corp.
3200 Park Center Drive, Suite 150
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Phone: (714) 559-4900

Website: www.benq.us