Review: BenQ W1080ST home theatre projector

Combine a full high definition DLP projector engine with a short throw lens and a low, low price, and you have a projector that challenges a large TV in price, yet offers a much bigger picture. That’s what the BenQ 1080ST offers.

Features

This is a compact little projector, but don’t let that fool you. It packs within it a full 1080p engine, using DLP technology. That means it will deliver every bit of detail on offer from HDTV and Blu-ray.

But even more so, since it fully supports 3D, to the extent of even coming with two sets of 3D glasses. (Additional sets cost $149 per pair.)

It has two HDMI inputs and, unusually these days, all the traditional analogue video inputs, including even S-Video.

And, more surprisingly, two sets of analogue audio inputs – one with two RCA sockets and one 3.5mm input. Why? Because there’s a built-in speaker.

BenQ offers this as a versatile projector. You can install it on a ceiling mount as part of a full home theatre system, or just pull it out of the cupboard on movie night and plug a player directly into it, letting it deliver the sound.

But perhaps the most unusual aspect of all of this projector is the short throw lens.

That means that you put the projector much closer to your screen than is normal. Typically for a 100 inch picture you have to place a projector maybe four or more metres from the screen.

This one goes to just over 1.5 metres. Rather than have it behind you, it’s in front of you. That doesn’t make much difference if you’re doing a permanent ceiling-mount installation, but if you want to pull it out from time to time and put it on a coffee table, it’s perfect!

You can use it without getting in the way of the picture. It projects the image upwards, so that the bottom of the picture is higher than the top of the projector, so it doesn’t get in the way of the picture either.

Performance

Now, obviously a cheap projector will offer a cheap picture, right? Well, no as it turns out. The BenQ W1080ST projector doesn’t have some of the features of more expensive ones, of course.

For example, there is no lens shift feature (by which the picture can be shifted without distortion) and the lens zoom is a relatively narrow 1.2:1, so you have to choose the placement of the unit fairly carefully to make sure the picture aligns with the screen.

Nor are there such fancy features as motion smoothing (which involves generating new frames), so in some poorly shot material you may see a little picture judder.

But in terms of raw performance it was very solid. The colours were excellent. There was virtually no ‘rainbow effect’, which used to afflict DLP projectors in the old days. The blacks were quite good, if not quite up to the standard of the very best (and most expensive) projectors. Blacks were certainly deep enough – especially in Smart Eco mode, which reduces lamp output in darker scenes – to provide a rich and powerful image.

The 3D was simply great. DLP is very strong in this regard and this projector is no exception. There was no visible ghosting. The 3D image had great depth and detail. It was far better than you will see on any current model 3D TV, whether plasma or LCD.

The little built-in speaker turned out to be capable of delivering enough sound … at a pinch. I actually found the analogue audio output useful here, plugging it into a set of active stereo speakers which are far more capable that the single one built into the unit.

The projector worked with audio delivered over HDMI with the picture, in addition to the analogue audio inputs.

Conclusion

With a little care in placement, the BenQ W1080ST home theatre projector delivers a very good home theatre experience, and is especially suited to those who don’t want to permanently install it, but just enjoy a big picture from time to time.