Benq W1100: Next Generation 1080P Projectors meet a reasonable Price Manufacturer: Benq Model: W1100 Single Chip DLP Projector 2000 Lumens Max Brightness** 2x10W Audio Output 4500:1 Contrast Ratio** (Please note: Lumen Brightness and Contrast ratio are manufacturers claims, and not necessarily to be accepted as fact) I’ve always kept a projector and recommended several for projects. While my Samsung 52” in my livingroom handles most of the duty, I have used an Optoma HD20, an affordable 1080P projector for bigger events, from outside barbecues and a movie on the lawn to setting up inside for a big premiere. The HD20 really hit the sweet spot; it was a 1080P projector at around the $1k marker, with decent performance and a clean look. So, when I was asked to look at another projector that was in this ballpark, I said right up front: I need to take some time with this, and try it in every environment that I have ever used the Optoma, and really evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a potential $1,000 expense by HTF members. Let me start with the rundown of the projector itself. BenQ’s W1100 is the baby brother to their recently released W1200. It sports a single chip DLP, 1080P, a sleek glossy look and plenty of connections. The W1100 supports 2 HDMI 1.3 ports (no 3D, of course), a VGA PC input, a local monitor output, component input, composite input, S-Video, a USB port (Service Only, we’ll get to that several posts later), RCA and 3.5mm audio inputs, and a 12V trigger for driving a motorized screen. For the cost, the projector manages to provide all the connections you’d expect, especially considering many will only connect one or two at best. The projector uses a 4 speed color wheel in 6 divides (RGBRGB), and a DarkChip2 (DC2) DLP chipset from TI. The lamp is rated at 230W and the purported high lumen count of 2000, which is a higher push then it’s big brother (the W1200 has a max lumen rating of 1800). The W1100 supports DeepColor, or 10Bit color modes, and that helps set it apart. The Benq does provide an inbuilt audio speaker, and I did actually test this in an outdoor setting, and let me say: it’s there.. and that’s about it. If you need something functional and on the go, It could suffice, it is definitely not the worst inbuilt speaker I’ve listened to, but it also is the kind of item I imagine most will turn off by default. The projector features up to 1.5X in an optical zoom, though it doesn’t have any ability to correct image issues (like trapezoid/etc.) so you need to make sure you correctly line this up with your projection material to avoid those problems. The unit weighs right about 7lbs, and we were able to easily mount it to two different mount brackets with great success. The fan noise on the unit was passable, in fact, it felt quieter then my Optoma. Understanding the Menus The Benq provides a fairly detailed, sometimes complex menu structure. Full of options for “Clarity Controls” and control of brightness and specific levels, I found that it would be a bit of a trick to get it adjusted correctly to really look the way I wanted. So, after having an ISF technician set up all the settings, I can tell you that this unit can be set to look very good. Despite the different environments, we found that in almost no cases did the use of Clarity Control work out for our image; in most instances, it tended to hurt the overall look of the picture and deliver an unsatisfactory feel to it. When properly set, we found that the 2000 Lumen in a bright mode was far closer to about 893 lumen, as measured off a counter. No matter what setting changes we made, we found it was necessary to throw the projector into a “Low Lamp” mode to get an image that matched up with what we wanted – not overly bright or over saturated, at least on a 120” screen. All of that, of course changed when we looked at this in the ballroom and outdoors, where the regular settings provided great performance, and on a 17” screen, we were able to get a sparkling picture, though far more difficult to measure brightness. The picture on a very large outdoor theater screen was spectacular, far better then I have been able to previously achieve with the Optoma, and it was the moment where I really began to fall for some of the joys of this projector. Making adjustments I was asked by several to post some of the adjustments we ended up making to make this unit really sing. Well, let me say, for different environments, it was different adjustments. But for the room we treated to really get the test material, our settings ended up close to this: First, we adjusted lamp to “Low Lamp” mode. Following this, we moved to the default color settings. Setting the mode to normal, on our unit, meant that we adjusted RED to 119, Green to 98 and Blue to 100. This resulted (for us) in the most accurate reading we were able to accomplish, and the colors did look fantastic once set. I want to say that these kind of settings can vary some unit to unit, so you need to keep those kind of things in mind. You should be able to find a good ISF tech to help you adjust and get the performance you are after. But going through all of this, when I spoke to my ISF tech, the comment came up that in comparison with many similar priced units – specifically thinking about my Optoma and the club’s Epson – the Benq seemed easy to handle it’s color controls and it provided all the tools really needed to help tweak the image. Many low end projectors are fairly locked into their settings, providing only “modes”, here, we could open up the specific color controls and make the best of it. The unit does come with the modes, though, and I assume several will just choose those. The modes inbuilt are Dynamic, Standard, and Cinema. Let me say that the Dynamic mode seemed wrong from the get go for us, it was the only one that I feel users would think provided an unsatisfying experience. The cinema setting, while not perfect, provides a decent picture and I’m sure many users could leave it set at the Cinema setting and be happy. I guess I’m too much of a tweaker to go with something that simple! The Big DLP Projector Question: Do you taste the Rainbow? One of the questions that gets asked most about projectors using color wheel technologies is whether or not you can see the visible rainbow effect. I admit, I have always found RBE to be extremely annoying when it occurs, but not always a deal breaker, dependant on how severe it appears. I have to say, the fast moving (7200RPM) color wheel helps really eliminate that problem, in none of the environments I tested in did I ever come across or experience Rainbow effect with the W1100. Testing In Environments: Bedroom, Ballroom, Boardroom, Backyard… In order to give this unit the rundown, I tested it in three distinct environments, a 12x14 bedroom, projecting on a 96” screen, a ballroom projecting on a 144” screen, a boardroom, projecting on a 72” screen, and my backyard, on a 17’ screen. One of the things I really wanted to deal with is how easy would this unit be to move, setup and calibrate. Moving the Benq W1100 into a bedroom was simple. The unit was able to lock in to an overhead projector bracket, and within minutes I was shooting out to a screen. The performance in a darkly lit bedroom at night was, frankly, too bright. This was the moment when I realized I would need everything in Low Light mode, and probably when I realized an ISF calibration would be necessary, at least the first time. Once configured the next day, the unit worked well – and in fact, in low lamp mode, the noise level coming off the projector was significantly less, making for a better viewing experience. In the bedroom, the primary initiating device is a Microsoft XBOX360, and a mini HTPC. The Benq handled almost all source media I through at it very well, and looked great. I also found gaming on the unit to be a good deal of fun; I had no issues keeping up with friends on XBOX or in a game of Civ5 on the PC. Colors stayed sharp and vivid, and the projector did not run up the fan into full mode often. After I had tried a bedroom environment, I wanted to give the unit more of a challenge. Using a local country club, we setup the unit to project onto a 12’ screen. This ballroom screen is often used for wedding video, reunions, and presentations. The club ballroom provided a perfect chance for the projector to take on a tough environment of projecting an image onto a dim – but not at all dark room. Many of these rooms for presentation typically use presentation projectors. They do so because at these events, weddings, parties, people are often eating or dancing – so there is quite a bit of ambient light in the room. The W1100 fared pretty well here. On a larger screen, we turned off the low lamp modes, and were able to achieve about 11fL, which is a pretty high bright count for this kind of task. I was very pleased with the overall look of it, and the picture seemed smooth, crisp and clear. But is twelve feet really big enough? How big can you go and still make the picture fun? I love my outdoor theater. Once a year or more, we blow up the 17’ blimpscreen and have a blast. The Optoma has generally taken care of it, but I will admit the image isn’t as sparkling as I wished. What about the BenQ? Well, the BenQ had no problem projecting the film of my kids choice (we watched The Incredibles Bluray) in our backyard. The image is bright and clear, and I was surprised at how sharp it looked. While the color quality was not reference level, I don’t know if anyone noticed. A quick behind the screen look tells me that even at a 17’ image, we maintained 5fL, which is about the equivalent of most movie theaters. The image was looked good. But it also became very clear that the small speaker within this unit couldn’t really find a home in this environment. The good news is, that outside, on a cool summer night, the units fan didn’t have to crank up hard, and frankly, I don’t know if we would have noticed if it had. Finally, the boardroom. The unit itself is probably far more marketed toward a boardroom then a bedroom or a backyard. Because it doesn’t have several of the options of the BenQ W1200, this should be it’s natural home. Here, we assembled a custom room with a client for their use with a Skype Video Chat Conference room. The BenQ W1100 on a smaller screen looks fantastic. The unit provides one of the sharpest,c leanest looking picture when projected at a 72” clip. While I admit, Skype on a 6’ screen is pretty creepy, the unit looked good… very good. And here’s where those inbuilt speakers really paid off. Using a small enclosed room, the speakers within the unit provide a perfect presentation. Voices of your party are behind/over you, so their voice was clear and understandable. Also, since the speakers were above us, we had no real issues with feedbacks or echoes in a conference room setting. Ok, that’s it, what does this all mean? I have to say, the BenQ unit kind of surprised me. I had mixed feelings about it, because I have been so loyal to Optoma for a very long time. But frankly, I was impressed. It of course is not a natural competitor for units in the $2,000 and up range, but within it’s own price range it is fantastic. If two years ago someone would have told me this kind of technology was available at this price, I would have dashed to the store and bought. And that’s where I’m going to give an endorsement to this unit that I almost never give.. as a reviewer, I was provided the option: keep the unit (and pay for it) or return it. Frankly, after a few weeks of testing it in every environment I can think of, I realize I’m going to end up keeping it. It will do something I would have thought at the beginning couldn’t happen, it will replace the HD20 as my primary projector. That’s not to say that there aren’t some issues. The remote can be a bit confusing and the menus are a difficult weave. But once it’s setup, this unit really gives you the feeling of a great home theater projector that should run far more than it does. If you are in the market for a projector, and you’re looking to stay in the near $1k or less ballpark, I think you owe it to yourself to see a BenQ W1100 in action. Because, bang for the buck, this projector may be one of the best options in the field.