You have to hand it to BenQ. Somehow it has managed to use a single DLP panel with 4.15 million physical pixels to produce an actual, honest to goodness, display resolution of 8.3 million pixels. And it has done this with all the displayed pixels in, more or less, the correct positions. Which means that the new BenQ W11000 AV projector provides Ultra High Definition projection in the home at a price just under $8000. That’s impressive.
We shall return to how this feat is achieved shortly. First, though, the other stuff.
This is a physically large, imposing projector, weighing very nearly 15kg, and measuring over half a metre long. The inputs have been cut back, with two HDMI inputs, of course, but the only analogue inputs being via a D-SUB15 VGA-style socket. There are a couple of triggers, RS-232C, a USB Mini-B socket (for firmware updates), an IR input and an Ethernet socket, again for control.
A 240W lamp pushes up to 2200 ANSI lumens of light out of the lens. There are three lamp modes: Normal, Eco and Smart Eco — the last of these adjusts automatically to what the projector thinks is appropriate in the given ambient light. The lens has a zoom range of 1.5:1 and both vertical and horizontal lens shift, adjusted by means of controls on the top of the projector. These offer up to 27% of screen width in horizontal shift, and up to 65% of screen height in vertical shift.
I almost didn’t check if there was keystone adjustment — you’d be mad to purchase a projector like this and then mount it at an angle to your screen. But I did check, and apparently BenQ agrees with me: there’s no keystone adjustment available.
With the available adjustments, for a 100-inch screen the projector needs to be mounted between 3.0 and 4.5 metres away.
One of the HDMI inputs accepts signals up to 1080p. The other one supports HDCP 2.2 — the necessary copy projection standard to work with Ultra HD Blu-ray — and it accepts signals up to 3840 by 2160 pixels at 60 frames per second, progressive. The projector electronics do not support the ‘pro’ 4K resolution of 4096 by 2160 pixels.
The projector is THX HD certified and defaults to a THX picture mode. It can be ISF calibrated. It is also factory calibrated to the REC.709 colour standard. It does not support HDR, nor wide colour, as potentially delivered from UHD Blu-ray. This seems surprising, but BenQ argues that currently projectors don’t have the contrast ratio range — particularly brightness limitations at the top end — to allow HDR to be properly employed. Were an HDR signal spread proportionally across the brightness range provided by a front projector, the mid-tones would prove to be much too dark. BenQ notes that there are as yet no set standards available for projectors in the Ultra HD Premium certification granted to some OLED and LED/LCD TVs.
The effect of this is that the Ultra HD Blu-ray player will notice that HDR isn’t available and deliver the picture using the profile designed for eight-bit (per colour) display devices. So you won’t be getting an HDR signal poorly handled, but a signal as good on the colour and brightness front as a regular Blu-ray, just with a lot more pixels.
Let me quickly dispose of the normal things we talk about in these reviews. Yes, I’ve seen darker blacks in a projector picture, but the dynamic iris nonetheless delivered an engaging level of black that was better than you’re going to see at a cinema, and which was quite low enough to not draw attention to itself.
The default picture mode was THX and, regardless of specification, didn’t seem quite as bright as I am used to on my projection screen. I went to the lamp output setting to see if it could be brightened it a little, but it was already set to ‘Normal’, which is the brightest setting.
We don’t want to exaggerate this. Seconds after settling down and watching a program, after my eyes had adjusted, it never once occurred to me that I might have preferred the picture a touch brighter. However I think that one would rarely use the lower brightness Eco mode.
Could this perhaps be because projector is only painting half the pixels in the UHD grid at a time?
Doubling up on pixels
So, how does BenQ achieve the display of Ultra HD? I was at first confused, assuming that a display with a 3840 by 2160 resolution and a total of 8.3 million pixels would involve the use of a digital micromirror device (DMD — the Texas Instruments display technology) which also has a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels.
But no. The DMD employed has 2716 by 1528 pixels, for a total of 4.15 million, which is slightly more than double the number of pixels in full HD. Apparently doubling again to 8.3 megapixels is doable, but only at the cost of a much larger chip and so a very much larger price.
So the DMD takes us halfway there. Then the Texas Instruments technology called XPR comes in — ‘eXpanded Pixel Resolution’. There’s very little information available about how all this works. And to a certain extent, understanding isn’t really required — it’s what we see on the screen which is important, and we’ll get to that soon. But let’s lay out what we do know.
The resolution is doubled by means of an ‘optical actuator’, which displays each physical pixel twice, each display shifted diagonally by certain amount. This sounds remarkably like the ‘pixel shifting’ technology of some other projectors (about which we’ve been either dismissive or grudgingly accepting, depending on the implementation).
But DLP switching speed is so fast that the shifted pixels are likely to be more cleanly separated from each other. While talking to BenQ, trying to gain greater understanding of how the system works, I was told that the two separate frames move so quickly the shift is imperceptible by people. But “technically, if you use a high speed camera to shoot the projection image you will get a 120 fps result”.
Since it was a Taiwanese engineer writing to me, and since Taiwan is a 60Hz nation, I mentally added at the end of that “or 100 fps result” for 50Hz content. But actually, no (see below).
Before getting to UHD discs, I checked whether the projector was actually producing the advertised number of dots, so I fed a static UHD test pattern (available via avhub.com.au/UHDtest) to the projector using a Samsung Ultra HD Blu-ray player, reading the image from the network. The result: each horizontal line in the test pattern was one pixel tall. Each vertical line was one pixel wide. As you can see from the centre image detail above (taken from a photograph of the screen), they are all delivered. So this truly is a Ultra High Definition Projector, delivering the available detail down to the pixel level.
But if we look a little closer, you wouldn’t say that it does so entirely cleanly. For comparison, we’ve put up a picture taken of the same detail from the test pattern shown on an Ultra HD LCD TV, on the right.
Please don’t judge these by reference to the boldness and saturation and contrast. We’re talking about an extreme close-up on a 55-inch TV, versus a front projector. Of course they’re going to look different.
We’re interested in the lines — how clearly they are etched, how evenly they are separated.
By comparison with the UHD TV, some of the horizontal lines in the picture produced by the UHD projector seem reasonably cleanly separated from the ones above and the ones below, particularly the blue ones. But even those seem a little variable in thickness. The green and red lines seem to show a ‘beat’ pattern when there’s a mismatch between the signal and native resolution. Nonetheless, while this might reduce the contrast on fine detail somewhat, it is still there. Likewise for the vertical lines, except that there seems to be hints of diagonal movement of the pixels showing up here. (I used a really long exposure — a fifth of a second — on these shots, so you’re getting 24 cycles of the optical actuator in these pictures.)
Those were at the default setting with a Sharpness of ‘10’. Turning it down to zero made little difference to the horizontal lines, but tended to blur the vertical ones into each other.
Of course, I’ve taken close-up photos using a macro lens so that we can see reasonably clearly what’s going on. The actual width of each of the lines on this projected image is slightly under one half of one millimetre. Even from a couple of metres away (from my 2.12-metre screen) it’s very difficult to resolve the separate lines, let alone see imperfections in them.
Note also that all of the red lines are red, blue are blue and so on. With this test pattern, that indicates that a full 4:4:4 colour signal is being carried from source to display. If some are black, that means lower resolution colour is being carried.
Hard as it is to comprehend how pixel-shifting can produce such lines of single-pixel resolution, seeing is believing.
Tests complete, I watched the UHD versions of Pacific Rim and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (see Blu-ray reviews) with this projector, as well as a fair bit of regular full-HD content. It did a fine job indeed on the latter, while Pacific Rim was good and sharp. But there were moments in BvS where the UHD really paid off, though it’s hard to put your finger right on them. Things just seemed that much sharper, that little bit cleaner, that much slightly easier on the eye. But when a particularly fine font was used to list the stars near the start of the movie, this was so wonderfully thin and beautifully drawn that it would be beyond the capabilities of a full-HD projector. Yet, looking closely, it was also with the finest, barely perceptible, zigzag to the edges, seemingly thanks to the pixel switching (see panel).
Net result on UHD discs? Absolutely wonderful!
Some sacrifices have been made for this result, though. First, there’s no frame inter-polation motion smoothing. The available time is taken up moving the mirrors and pixels, so there’s no time left to display newly created intermediate frames.
Second, this projector converts 50Hz content to 60Hz. If you’re watching a pan on an Australian DVD, it’s going to be jerky. If you’re watching credits scroll, they’re going to jerk unevenly. You make 60fps out of50fps by repeating every fifth frame. Jerkiness is unavoidable.
It’s also a good idea to avoid sending interlaced 50Hz material in interlaced format to the projector. It offers no control over deinterlacing. One of my test clips had the astonishing feature, when fed as 576i/50, of being incorrectly interpreted as video sourced, when it’s actually film sourced, and thereby generating swirly moire artefacts, while at exactly the same time displaying comb artefacts as though video-sourced material was being incorrectly interpreted as film-sourced! That’s the weird stuff that happens when you turn 50fps to 60fps.
I guess that last bit suggests that if you simply must watch a lot of Australian TV on your projector, the BenQ W11000 might not be suitable. But for normal Blu-rays and particularly for Ultra HD Blu-ray, to the extent that more resolution is available on the disc beyond that on the regular Blu-ray, the BenQ W11000 will deliver it.
Now, depending on how you look at things, at the finest level of detail the projector’s UHD delivery might seem disappointing, or it might seem amazing. I have no doubt that a projector with a full-UHD panel would produce more cleanly drawn lines and eliminate even the zig-zags I mentioned briefly in Batman v Superman (these aren’t visible, of course, from any reasonable sitting position). That’s still something to desire.
I lean towards the second view: this is amazing. Despite turning this over in my mind, drawing sketches, imagining pixels in different positions switched on or off at different times, I still can’t quite envisage precisely how it is achieved.
But the picture of the test pattern demonstrates that it has been achieved! By artful switching and moving, thanks largely to the incredibly rapid on/off times available from DLP, Texas Instruments and BenQ have managed to pull off the trick of creating 8.3 million pixels using a single 4.15-million-pixel panel. Wow!
+ Ultra HD for the big screen
+ THX HD approved picture quality
+ Excellent value for money
- No support for HDR nor wider colour gamuts
- Converts Australian 50Hz content to 60Hz, leading to jerky pans
Projection technology: 1 x Digital Micromirror Device (size not stated)
Resolution: 3840 by 2160 pixels (with XPR); 2716 x 1528 (without XPR)
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Lamp: 240 watts
Lamp life: 2500/3500/6000 hours (Normal/Economic Mode/SmartEco Mode)
Contrast ratio: 50000:1
Brightness: 2200 ANSI Lumens
Inputs: 2 x HDMI (1 with UHD support), 1 x D-SUB15
Other: 1 x RS-232C, 1 x USB-B, 2 x 12 volt trigger, Ethernet, 1 x IR In
Dimensions (whd): 471 x 225 x 565mm
Warranty: Three years (incl. three years and unrestricted hours for lamp)