FLASH TECH

BenQ’s W1700 breaks the pric­ing par­a­digm for UHD pro­jec­tion with some very ‘flash’ new tech­nol­ogy...

Sound+Image - - Contents - Stephen Daw­son

BenQ’s cun­ning pixel work brings 4K pro­jec­tion un­der $2500.

The dis­ap­point­ing thing about Ul­tra High Def­i­ni­tion is how long it has taken to be­come avail­able at a rea­son­able price in the ap­pli­ca­tion for which it pro­vides the great­est ben­e­fit — the large front pro­jec­tion screen. Sev­eral com­pa­nies have been nib­bling at the edges of af­ford­abil­ity, in­clud­ing BenQ with its W11000 Ul­tra-HD pro­jec­tor. But now it’s jumped right in with the W1700, a pro­jec­tor which claims to de­liver true Ul­tra-HD res­o­lu­tion. The price? Just $2499.

Equip­ment

This is a much smaller pro­jec­tor than the W11000 (or the X12000), and it weighs a mod­est 4.2kg. In­side it achieves the 3840 × 2160 pixel res­o­lu­tion of Ul­tra High Def­i­ni­tion by means of pixel shift­ing a very small (0.47 inches, or just un­der 12mm) full-HD Dig­i­tal Mi­cromir­ror Panel to four dif­fer­ent po­si­tions for each frame. Ob­vi­ously that’s some­thing we’ll be look­ing at very closely as we get fur­ther into the re­view.

A con­ven­tional 240-watt lamp pow­ers the pro­jec­tor, but BenQ rates this one with a lamp life of at least 4000 hours. The low out­put mode bumps this up to 10,000 hours, and a ‘Lamp Save’ mode de­liv­ers, says BenQ, some 15,000 hours of life.

BenQ has also de­signed the pro­jec­tor to pro­duce 96% cov­er­age of the Rec.709 colour space, which is the stan­dard high-def­i­ni­tion colour spec­i­fi­ca­tion. The con­trast ra­tio is rated at 10,000:1 and the max­i­mum bright­ness at 2200 lu­mens.

There are two HDMI in­puts on the pro­jec­tor, with one sup­port­ing HDCP2.2 and UHD sig­nals, ren­der­ing it suit­able for use with Ul­tra-HD Blu-ray play­ers. It also sup­ports High Dy­namic Range (HDR) sig­nals. The other HDMI in­put could be read­ily used for a Chrome­cast don­gle or sim­i­lar, since the pro­jec­tor also has a USB socket for pro­vid­ing power. It could also be used with BenQ’s own wire­less HDMI sys­tem.

There is no lens shift func­tion here. There is au­to­matic ver­ti­cal keystone, which I’d rec­om­mend switch­ing off so that you don’t ac­ci­den­tally have it re­duc­ing your dis­play res­o­lu­tion be­cause of a slight de­par­ture from an ex­act level. There’s a 1.2:1 zoom range. For a 100-inch screen, a range of be­tween 3.25 me­tres and 3.9 me­tres is re­quired.

The pro­jec­tor also has a built-in speaker with a 5W amp, though we would, of course, rec­om­mend en­joy­ing your large-screen pro­jec­tion with a rather larger ex­ter­nal sound sys­tem.

Per­for­mance

The first ques­tion to be an­swered, even be­fore get­ting to the broader ques­tion of pic­ture qual­ity, is whether this pro­jec­tor ac­tu­ally de­liv­ers the res­o­lu­tion of Ul­tra High Def­i­ni­tion. I con­fess I had my doubts. The prob­lem with pixel shift­ing tech­nol­ogy isn’t any­thing to do with the gen­eral con­cept. Of course pix­els can be shifted, and amaz­ingly they can be shifted by such tiny amounts that they can be moved mere halves of pixel widths. The prob­lem has been the size of the in­di­vid­ual pix­els. A 1080p panel would pre­sum­ably use pix­els large enough to al­most en­tirely fill each pixel’s space in the grid, oth­er­wise the screen-door ef­fect would be in­tol­er­a­ble. Which means that each pixel, on be­ing shifted, would be over­lap­ping — by a long way — on top of what was sup­posed to be the UHD pixel next to it (see above).

That was my con­cern, and it seemed to be largely the case with ear­lier 1080p pixel shifters we’ve looked at. There are ways of get­ting around that, of course. The first would be to make the pix­els smaller so that they don’t over­lap as much, if at all. That would re­quire the pro­jec­tor to be locked into UHD mode all the time in or­der to avoid that mas­sive screen door ef­fect. Pos­si­bly, as an al­ter­na­tive, the pixel-shift­ing tech could some­how fo­cus the pix­els down to tighter dots. De­spite get­ting some in­for­ma­tion from Te­cas In­stru­ments (see over­leaf) which makes the Dig­i­tal Mi­cromir­ror tech­nol­ogy (see above) within this BenQ, we can’t be cer­tain ex­actly howthey have done it — but the fact is that this pro­jec­tor is in­deed ca­pa­ble of re­solv­ing Ul­tra-HD res­o­lu­tions to the screen. (The box above goes into this in won­der­ful, nerdy, depth.)

I con­firmed this by us­ing my stan­dard UHD test pat­tern — coloured and black and white lines with one UHD pixel of sepa­ra­tion sent to the pro­jec­tor. A photo of the cen­tre part of the im­age, where the lines cross, is re­pro­duced above. Each set of lines con­sists of ten lines, one pixel wide each, with a one-pixel-wide line be­tween them. Then there’s a two-pixel-wide white space to the sides of the ten, with a fur­ther coloured line out­side of that. As you can see, they are all re­pro­duced. Not cleanly, and not quite as brightly in colour at the pixel level as when they are re­in­forced by neigh­bours, but none­the­less, there they are.

I took those pho­tos with the pro­jec­tor in the de­fault ‘User 1’ pic­ture mode. Af­ter watch­ing a lit­tle, I found it use­ful to ad­vance the over­all colour sat­u­ra­tion by a few notches be­cause the pic­ture seemed to lack some rich­ness. That fixed things nicely, bring­ing to the pic­ture a colour in­ten­sity that seemed to en­hance clar­ity.

I had, af­ter all, come to this pro­jec­tor af­ter spend­ing some weeks with a 65-inch OLED TV. Get­ting the colour up was essen­tial.

Also by com­par­i­son, the black lev­els were rather brighter than the in­fi­nite black avail­able from OLED. This pro­jec­tor is not in the top rank for pro­jec­tors of deep blacks. But it

was able to pro­duce them deeply enough to achieve the all-im­por­tant ef­fect of be­ing sub­jec­tively con­vinc­ing, es­pe­cially when ab­sorbed in the pro­gram, rather than seek­ing to ex­am­ine the tech­ni­cal as­pects of pic­ture de­liv­ery.

I gen­eral I pre­fer to run pro­jec­tors at one of the eco lamp set­tings, but with this one I found it bet­ter to stick with ‘Nor­mal’. That al­lowed high­lights to re­ally punch out of black back­grounds in cer­tain scenes, al­beit at the slight loss of some dark pic­ture de­tail.

As it hap­pens, I’ve been sys­tem­at­i­cally go­ing through the Harry Pot­ter movies in or­der. I’d watched the first six on 65-inch OLED, and the sev­enth on this pro­jec­tor. It is a vis­ually dark movie in many parts, and once or twice there was in­deed a loss of low light de­tail. But apart from those cou­ple of high con­trast mo­ments, the black lev­els did not de­tract from en­joy­ment.

Which raised the ques­tion as to which was bet­ter for watch­ing a Harry Pot­ter movie on Ul­tra HD, this pro­jec­tor or a $7K 65-inch OLED? There were pros and cons both ways. Yes, colour and blacks were ob­vi­ously bet­ter on the OLED. But what it could not de­liver was a scale to match the DTS:X sound field pro­duced by the movie. The sheer size of the pic­ture be­came part of the ex­pe­ri­ence with this pro­jec­tor.

I used the test pat­tern on a Sony Ul­tra-HD Blu-ray — dial 7669 on your re­mote when the main menu is dis­played — and paid close at­ten­tion to the last few chap­ters of this. These show cal­i­brated grey-scale bright­ness lev­els for HDR. They go all the way up to 10,000 nits, some­thing no home dis­play can pro­duce. All HDR ca­pa­ble dis­plays map the var­i­ous sig­nal lev­els to what they con­sider to be suit­able out­put lev­els to achieve the best ef­fect. For ex­am­ple, if the dis­play tops out at 1000 nits the dis­play may be de­signed to map, say, 1500 nits to the max­i­mum out­put. Ev­ery­thing above 1500 nits is crushed down to that. The lev­els be­low 1500 nits are then scaled ap­pro­pri­ately be­tween full black and the max­i­mum.

With this pro­jec­tor the con­tin­u­ous black-to-white grey scale at the bot­tom of the screen showed no vis­i­ble steps, just a per­fectly smooth grad­u­a­tion in bright­ness. The marked lev­els on the larger stepped pat­terns showed a barely per­cep­ti­ble dif­fer­ence be­tween 800 and 900 nits, with a 1000 and above all match­ing 900 nits. At the other end of the scale, I could not dis­tin­guish be­tween 0.000, 0.001 and 0.005 nits, but the next step to 0.010 nits was vis­i­ble.

How about per­for­mance with lesser ma­te­rial? The pro­jec­tor did a very good job of de­liv­er­ing full-HD ma­te­rial with a sharp­ness and clar­ity that didn’t dis­ap­point by com­par­i­son with Ul­tra HD. Even my old DVD test clips seemed sur­pris­ingly watch­able, thanks to the res­o­lu­tion en­hance­ment pro­vided by the pro­jec­tor. It man­ages to pull this off with lit­tle in the way of ghost­ing, so it re­mained watch­able.

But the same prob­lem that af­flicted the X12000 and W11000 pro­jec­tor re­mained: the in­ter­nal dis­play en­gine is lock­ing in a 60 hertz dis­play se­quence. I found my­self quite sen­si­tive to the re­sult­ing ca­dence is­sues. The A B C D frame se­quence of 24p movies was con­verted to A A B B B C C D D D, pro­duc­ing marked jud­der in just about all cam­era pans, and some­times even in the move­ment of char­ac­ters across the screen. This was some­what more marked with 50 hertz ma­te­rial, such as HDTV, SDTV and Aus­tralian DVDs. For those, it seems that every fifth frame was re­peated to turn 50 into 60. So jud­der abounded.

That was off­set a lit­tle by sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved 576i/50 and 1080i/50 dein­ter­lac­ing. The auto film/video detection was not per­fect, but ac­cept­able, with nor­mal ma­te­rial be­ing com­pe­tently han­dled, and about half of my trick­i­est film clips prop­erly han­dled.

Con­clu­sion

So there you have it. BenQ has man­aged to pro­duce a full res­o­lu­tion Ul­tra-HD pro­jec­tor for just $2499. It’s a pro­jec­tor that is able to de­liver the scale that re­ally makes Ul­tra HD worth­while.

ABOVE: a de­tail from a pho­to­graphic im­age of sin­gle-pixel lines in a UHD test pat­tern (see main copy), as dis­played by the BenQ W1700. Note the lines are in­di­vid­u­ally re­pro­duced — not en­tirely cleanly, and not quite as brightly in colour at the pixel...

BenQ W1700 UHD AV pro­jec­tor

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