BenQ has more than a bit of form for offering good quality, low-cost, full HD projectors, many of which we’ve examined in the past. The latest from this lineage is the BenQ W1090, and within weeks of its arrival on the Australian market, it had already secured our Sound+Image award for Projector of the Year under $2000. Let’s find out why, with our full review.
This is certainly a small unit, and quite light in weight. Yet that doesn’t seem to take away from performance. Full HD, DLP (with a Dark Chip 3 no less, the favourite of the biggest hitters a few years ago), two-year warranty and a price-tag of just $1149. What’s not to like?
This is a shortish-throw projector, firing its image up just a little so it ought to be suitable for coffee-table placement in a lot of homes, if being used as a ‘pull-out-when-required’ projector. Of course, it can be permanently ceiling-mounted as well. As always, you should check the BenQ website to make sure the geometry will work in your environment. It offers a reasonable 1.3:1 zoom range. To fill a 100-inch (2.54 metre) screen, it must be placed between 2.55 and 3.30 metres away. There is no lens-shift function, so fairly precise placement is required.
BenQ has dropped component video inputs, which seems like a sensible savings measure (though the manual still has a chart showing acceptable signals for the component video input). Now it’s composite, HDMI or computer-style RGB. (Probably about time the last one was dropped too, though there may be markets where that remains important. And, with the use of a suitable adaptor cable, this can be used for component video input.) One of the HDMI inputs also supports MHL, as much through force of habit as anything, I’d guess, since MHL seems to be a dead standard now.
There are two USB sockets. One is to provide 5V power to accessories, such as 3D glasses or a wireless receiver. The other is for service — loading in firmware and such.
There’s a single speaker built in with 10W (peak to peak) power available, which explains the two sets of analogue audio inputs. There’s also an analogue audio output to bring the sound up to a level commensurate to the large picture size.
There was a time when projectors were like inkjet printers: the device cost very little, but replacing consumables cost a fortune. No longer. The recommended retail price for a new lamp for this projector is $149.
The projector supports 3D, but no glasses are provided with it (they cost $149 per pair). An infrared remote control is provided. This has backlit keys and proved quite powerful enough to reflect its beam from the screen back to the projector for reliable control.
For years nothing changes with particular categories of home theatre equipment. And then, finally, something does. The BenQ W1090 implements the first set-up wizard we’ve seen on a home theatre projector. It’s a five-step thing, getting you to choose your language, whether you want a keystone adjustment, whether you want the projector to scan its inputs for signals (I recommend against this because you spend too much time waiting for connections; just do it manually), whether you want the advanced or basic menu system and, as the first step, where the projector is positioned.
That item is particularly useful. Since I normally install projectors on the ceiling I am frequently searching through menus just to flip the picture the right way around. Thank you BenQ for making it easy.
Another thank you is deserved: out of the box the projector delivers a well-balanced, largely unprocessed image. And that’s in the default ‘Vivid’ mode.
There was no overscan to eliminate. No need to adjust contrast and brightness: these were properly set by default. The sharpness control? Shockingly, this was at the maximum setting — 15 out of 15. But, as I’ve noted before, BenQ has mastered the application of sharpness in a way that few other companies have. On my standard test pattern I once again didn’t notice for a moment because the projector makes images sharper without producing ghosts around them. So on the test pattern a large black circle on a grey background was free of the light-grey edge that sharpness controls usually impose. It was just sharper. One way of telling was that the near-vertical parts of the circle had become jagged. Since the projector is full HD, the jagged bits are small and not particularly obvious, so they’re something you don’t want.
But I fear I was nonetheless seduced. I spent most of my time with the projector with Sharpness set to 7 out of 15. This just tightened up edges slightly, yielding a sharper focus for the eye, increasing the contrast of thin dark lines slightly, without producing noticeable picture distortion.
For the most part, it feels like BenQ let the engineers specify the default settings, and kept the marketing department well away. However I should note that the default lamp power is ‘Normal’ in Vivid mode, by which is meant ‘Maximum’. It was very nicely bright, even under the full glare of the fluorescent tubes of my office while I was setting it up. But the cooling fan, while not unreasonably loud, was still clearly audible, and the lamp life will be shorter than in ‘Economic’ mode. This proved fine for darkened rooms and much, much quieter. ‘Smart Eco’ adjusts itself according to the picture and (I think) ambient light. I found that it was typically brighter and noisier than ‘Economic’. I preferred the more predictable settings.
Running through the picture modes, there are also ones for Games, Sports, Cinema, User and ‘Bright’. Please don’t try ‘Bright’ mode. I’m not sure what possessed them when they set that one up. In the end I mostly used ‘Cinema’.
BenQ must have done some redesigning, or perhaps used a different Digital Micromirror Device since releasing similarly priced models from a couple of years ago. The black levels were noticeably deeper, and indeed very impressive. The projector doesn’t implement a dynamic iris; it’s just the native levels are very good. And the colour performance was very natural, with reds and blues bold as needed, but properly restrained when required. The focus was perfectly sharp from corner to corner (and easy to achieve with the ring around the lens).
The projector seemed to be quite free of the rainbow effect, thankfully. The only slightly discomforting aspect of viewing was occasional marked judder. The projector implements no motion smoothing, and since DLP switches pixel states so amazingly quickly, there’s none of the slight lag induced smoothing which often occurs with LCD-based projectors. Those couple of milliseconds it takes for LCD pixels to switch states can make a difference. Any judder resulting from poor cinematography is just going to have to be endured.
When I recently reviewed this projector’s larger sibling, the W8000, I had cause to complain a little about its inadequate deinterlacing of 50 hertz content. That led to an exchange with a BenQ engineer. BenQ is based in Taiwan which has a 60Hz mains, and consequently a 60Hz TV system. So 50Hz signals are not a natural thing for its engineers. Whether that had anything to do with it or not, this projector proved a very strong performer in that regard. Its ‘Film’ mode has a very strong bias towards judging content as progressive and processing it accordingly. This was particularly evident with 576i/50, which was very solid indeed on even the most difficult test clips. Somehow, despite this, it avoided misinterpreting interlaced content as progressive. With 1080i/50 it was a touch less solid on holding film mode, but was still quite good.
Now, that little loudspeaker with its 10W of peak power. We don’t expect a little speaker in a projector will be of much use to our readers. Nonetheless, I wired up a Blu-ray player directly to the projector and it turned out that the speaker did indeed reproduce (after a fashion) the audio. The projector communicates its audio abilities to the source, which then provides only what it can manage (stereo PCM, I expect). If you plug a 3.5mm plug into the line output from the projector, the internal speaker switches off and the sound can be provided to an external sound system. The volume control on the BenQ remote adjusts the level.
The video lag is around 50 milliseconds (there’s no difference between Game and Cinema modes). The projector supports auto lip sync, so set your home theatre receiver to auto as well, and you’ll have perfect sync with sound on movies.
In addition to a low purchase price, the BenQ W1090 is also inexpensive to operate — a very impressive entry-level full-HD front projector whether used casually or properly installed.
BenQ W1090 AV projector
+ Good black levels and colour
+ Good picture processing
+ Very economical to run
- Some picture judder on poorly shot material
Projection technology: 1 x Dark Chip 3 Digital Micromirror Device (size not stated)
Resolution: 1920 by 1080 pixels
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Lamp: 210 watts
Lamp life: 3000/4500/6500 hours (Normal/Economic Mode/SmartEco Mode)
Contrast ratio: 10,000:1
Brightness: 2000 ANSI Lumens
Inputs: 2 x HDMI (1 with MHL support), 1 x composite video, 1 x D-SUB15, 2 x stereo audio in
Other: 1 x stereo audio out, 1 x RS-232C, 2 x USB, 1 x 12 volt trigger
Dimensions (whd): 347 x 102 x 215mm
Warranty: Two years (the earlier of six months or 750 hours for lamp)