The salient attributes of the PE7700 are its strong color palette and an overall look that’s a little softer than the best DLPs, but a bit more natural and less digital-looking as a result. Let’s get to the first point. Reds and greens can trip up a lot of displays but not this BenQ. I had to back down the color to tame some red push that made flesh tones look a bit sunburned and ruddy, but on some of ESPN HD’s spectacular baseball coverage the grass fields looked rich and natural with nary a hint of the nuclear greens that plague other designs. Out of the box the grayscale not only tracked well with respect to color temperature, but showed color tint only in the blue direction, which was not objectionable.
On the second point, the PE7700 is noticeably soft compared not only to more expensive DLPs, but to the InFocus 7205 reviewed above. On a white crosshatch pattern, color fringing around a pixel was noticeable even in the center of the screen. With some very sharp and over-enhanced DVD transfers and crisp-looking HD feeds, this softness, as noted, provided a pleasant film-like look, albeit with the loss of some snap. When DVD transfers were less than superbly detailed, however, the picture clearly lacked clarity. Even though increasing the sharpness added artifacts, I preferred these to the PE7700’s technically correct, but softer image.
The BenQ is also geared toward higher light output and lighter blacks. At FULL lamp power this projector put out over 40fL without crushing fine detail or showing a noticeable color tint. (Dropping the lamp power setting to ECONOMIC only lowered the light output to 35fL.) But the black levels were also high-ish as a result. Coupled with the PE7700’s slightly soft focus, this made for an image that didn’t have the impact I’d hoped for. I dropped the white level to see if this would also drop the black levels, but it only made the image appear more drab.
Putting the BenQ’s video processing through its paces, at 480i I was blown away by its performance with even the most taxing video-based torture tests. Even guitar strings moving in a diagonal direction on music videos were clean, sharp, and free of artifacts. This is critical, as many TV programs are shot on video. I was about to declare this thing a world-beater when I discovered, much to my dismay, that motion artifacts were very prevalent with film-based material. Using a 480p signal eliminated these artifacts and produced a sharper picture than 480i.
Head-To-Head with the Gatekeeper
Sony’s $3500 Cineza VPL-HS51 reviewed in TPV 61 is the gatekeeper for $5000-and-under projectors. The Sony is remarkable in its flexibility of placement, thanks to vertical and horizontal lens shift, and is loaded with performance- improving features. The InFocus gives up some of these refinements to the Sony but has a sharpness and clarity that make it worth the $1500 premium for me. The Sony’s AUTO IRIS feature takes its blacks and contrast where no LCD has gone before, but that process also causes color shifts. The InFocus has better impact with its balance of light output and black levels and does not have the slightly cartoonish colors or slight fuzziness of the Cineza. I preferred the InFocus by a nose, as I should have for the extra bucks.
The BenQ’s natural colors bested the Sony’s, but I liked the Cineza’s video processing, which showed well even with mediocre standard-def material, quite a bit more. Ultimately, the BenQ’s contrast wasn’t competitive enough to warrant a recommendation of this single-chip DLP over the Sony’s three-chip LCD design.
It’s a very pleasant surprise that most of the trade-offs that are made with these two bargain HD2+ projectors are in the feature sets rather than pure performance. The InFocus ScreenPlay 7205 is a winner, pure and simple. I’ve had many premium-priced front-projection systems in my theater, and a $5000 projector I could easily live with is a real find. My enthusiasm for the 7205 is unchecked and without qualification. The BenQ is a respectable piece of kit in many ways for $3000. This projector is good enough at the price that I don’t want to pick on it, but I have to give the nod to its competitors, based more on their strengths than the BenQ’s weaknesses. The BenQ actually has few true weaknesses, but as a discriminating DVD movie watcher I needed better black levels and contrast to jump up and down about the PE7700.
Nevertheless, it’s time for enthusiasts to celebrate. There are now several high-quality options in sub-$5k front projection.