BenQ W7500 Home Theatre Projector: Australian Review

What happens when you install a home theatre projector and expect it to replace a TV? Can you get the same kind of image for the same price range, but with the advantage of a much, much larger screen? BenQ's W7500 is simultaneously one of the most versatile and most capable home theatre projectors that I've seen, but it's still more suited to the cinema room than the living room.

What Is It?

I've spent the last seven years of my life writing about home entertainment, and for five of those seven years I've been writing about and reviewing home theatre projectors. I haven't tested one out for a while, though, but taking the $3499 BenQ W7500 out of its box it's like I was transported back to 2008. The W7500's design has evolved since the class-leading W5000 of that era, but it's still effectively the same design — a vaguely rectangular box with centrally-mounted lens, front-firing exhaust fan and super-glossy black body.

The BenQ W7500 is, for the most part, manual in its setup — both its 1.5:1 zoom lens and focus adjustment are entirely manual, as is its 40 per cent horizontal and 125 per cent vertical lens shift. Keystone adjustment, though, is electrically controlled, over its postive and negative 10-degree range. For anything after the initial out-of-the-box setup, you'll have to rely on the W7500's on-screen interface and either the top-mounted five-way navigation pad and shortcut keys or its full-size remote control.

Setting up the BenQ W7500 is an involved process to say the least. If you're going to be installing it for a long period of time, it's worthwhile buying the optional ceiling mount accessory kit and running power and video cables through your wall and ceiling and making it a proper install. You'll then need to use the W7500's upside-down frame flipping mode, which is a mandatory inclusion on any projector and nice to see included here.

Even if you're setting it up on a coffee table, the good range of lens shift and keystone adjustment means you'll be able to get a straight-edged, correctly-formatted image out of the W7500's projection. Two HDMI 1.4a inputs, PC VGA and a bunch of legacy analog connectors mean that you won't be short of content to pipe through the W7500 — although obviously there are no speakers inside the projector, so you'll have to send audio out from your sources directly since the BenQ doesn't have any pass-through audio outputs.

What's It Good At?

The 300 Watt, 2000 ANSI lumen lamp of the BenQ W7500 is very, very bright for a home theatre projector, and it almost entirely addresses the chief concern that I've had in the past with using a projector for regular use. I used this beast in a brightly daylit, albeit on an overcast day, and was still able to see what I'd term an acceptable range of contrast and colour on a Blu-ray version of Skyfall. This susceptibility to ambient light pollution is the biggest issue that plagues projectors, and while it's still the BenQ W7500's biggest failing, this is one of the best cinema projectors you can buy to address that problem.

The W7500's zoom lens is also very, very versatile. It can focus pin-sharp when zoomed to any screen size from 28 inches to 300 inches, so you can use it in anything from a relatively cramped environment to a mansion's movie-screening theatrette. Heaps of lens shift range and adequate keystoning means that for my two-week temporary installation on a coffee table it did a perfect job. Obviously as the projector moves back from its projection surface and screen sizes get larger, the light output falls thanks to that pesky inverse square law of light, so the larger the screen the more sensitive your setup is to ambient light.

And, at the end of the day, when you're watching TV or a movie, the BenQ W7500 just looks awesome. It, like other BenQ projectors, has a beautiful filmic quality that just can't be replicated by a plasma or LED-backlit LCD TV; Samsara plus the W7500 really is an experience to behold. Its Full HD 1080p panel has a huge amount of contrast and incredibly vibrant colours, and it's super-sharp when it's set up just right — it's the kind of projector that gets incredibly close to replicating that sitting-in-a-cinema feeling and visual effect. The W7500 is, of course, 3D capable, and Frozen looks like it's straight out of IMAX (if you're into that kind of thing).

What's Not So Good?

The issues I have with the BenQ W7500 are the issues I have with any home theatre projector in general; it requires a lot of setup, it requires external speakers, it can't be used as easily in the daytime. On that last point the W7500 excels as projectors go, but the transmissive nature of projection is never going to be as bright as a good plasma or LCD. You really do have to spend a little more time organising your life to use the W7500.

Similarly, lamp life is an ongoing concern with the W7500. BenQ doesn't rate its home theatre projector lamps as long as the competition — 2000 hours in default brightness settings (mandatory if you're using the projector at daytime) and 3000 hours in its low-power, low-brightness Eco mode. This is a tradeoff for the W7500's high maximum brightness rating, but it does mean that in around three years of two-hours-a-night viewing, you'll need to buy a replacement bulb and factor that into the running cost of this projector.

There's nothing that the BenQ W7500 is bad at; it's technically brilliant and surprisingly reasonably priced considering its image quality chops. It's just a niche product, and you have to keep that in mind when you're considering purchasing one. In a dedicated home theatre room where you can control ambient brightness and install in-wall or in-ceiling or large floorstanding speakers with impunity, it would be excellent. Replacing a TV, it's entirely possible, but just requires some more effort.

Should I Buy It?

Buying any projector in the first place is a difficult ask, purely because of the added layer of complexity in setup and control. Every time you want to watch TV or a movie, it's a little more involved, as well — you have to wait for the lamp to warm up, and you have to make sure there's nothing in between lens and screen for the entire period of your viewing. You've got to have external speakers, and you've got to have a good screen (hey, why not make it a motorised one at the same time) to make the most of the projector.

But, if you can handle the responsibility of a home theatre projector, with all the perks and downfalls that it includes, then the $3499 BenQ W7500 is one of the best. It's extremely bright — bright enough to be usable in a daylit living room — and has deep enough blacks and vibrant enough colours to make any movie or high definition TV show look amazing. It's not even especially expensive for its versatility and for the quality of the image that it creates; if you're buying a projector, set your sights firmly on the W7500.


Comments

    You can buy Government seconds for under $100 at lots of online auction houses, they do full HD and a lot of the newer ones have sound built into them. I send out about 40 - 50 per month for disposal via this method, and they go very cheap online.

      Those sound like business data projectors and not home theatre projectors. ie, the picture they project would look like balls.

        Agree. There's a big difference between a data projector and a home theatre projector. Mind you, if they're ex-govt., they could well be HT projectors. Governments aren't known for their purchasing wisdom.

      Could be a waste of money if the lamp has thousands of hours on it. Not to mention the horrible colour accuracy and contrast ratio most cheap data projectors have.

        I got a Sony Bravia VPL- VW80 quite cheaply from Allbids. It seems to perform quite well despite the globe having quite a few hours. I bought a replacement globe for about $100 but haven't needed it yet.

    Campbell, you say you're old hat at reviewing projectors yet you suggest using a motorized screen at the end of this review. I've never, ever seen a pull down or motorized screen that didn't have some form of wrinkles or imperfection on them. Fixed screens are by far the best way to go. Anything else is a compromise.

      You must be using cheap screens then. I've been using a pull down screen for years and haven't seen a single bump or wrinkle in all that time.

        Don't know if they were cheap screens or not - I've never owned a pull down, only fixed. What brand are you using?

      You're absolutely right that fixed screens are the best way to go. Not having a permanent projector installation -- like most people reading this -- means that I had to use a pulldown (pull-up, actually, but w/e) and that's the experience I'm coming from.

      Installing a fixed screen is another compromise, naturally, but it's horses for courses.

      I'd have to agree in terms of quality, but the suggestion is more a matter of practicality I'd say. Not everyone has the space for a dedicated fixed screen. I did several installs with a plasma for daytime viewing and a motorised screen to pull down in front of the flat panel at night.

    Interesting review. I used to work at an indie A/V store selling/installing projectors, but that was 12 years ago so I don't know much about the latest DLPs - do they still use the colour wheel of old? (I'm highly susceptible to the 'rainbow effect' so I'd only be interested in a 3-colour chip DLP).

    I'll eventually get a projector and a 100" screen for a dedicated HT room, but I think I'll wait till 4K projectors come down in price. At 100" you need every bit of resolution you can get (not that there's really much 4K content available yet).

      It has a 6-segment colour wheel, yeah. But there's no rainbow that I could see, despite it being single chip DLP. I'm not *super* susceptible to the rainbow effect, FWIW.

        I'll have to check out some new DLPs like the Benq, as I'm pretty sure the models I used to sell were 3-segment colour-wheel only and hence I'd see rainbow effect really badly (especially when turning my head or flicking eyes across the screen). If 6 segment has solved rainbow effect then I may well invest in one, as rainbow-aside I always found DLP had a more film-like picture with better contrast ratio than competing LCD models.

        I'd be interested to see more projector reviews from you on Giz in the future. In particular some LCD projectors for comparison.

    Ha ha Nice to see a review of these badboys here - I just got 2 installed last week for our board/training room - the increase in quality from our previous Panasonic projectors was phenomenal. Much clearer image and for the record we use 2 motorized 200inch screens with a fold-able divider wall inbetween. :)

    Thanks for the review. I'm looking into projectors atm and was hoping this was going to be the one for me. . Looks like I'm still leaning towards the epson 9200 or panasonic 8000 for same price...

      I'm on my second Panasonic AE8000. The QA on this model since moving production to China is horrendous. The one I'm on currently has colour uniformity issues (the 1st was outright broken and couldn't sync 60Hz without dropouts), but I'm keeping it to avoid the pain I had to go through to get a swap. Would not buy again. I had an AE4000 from 2 generations ago (made in Japan) that was rock solid in comparison.

      I'd be looking at a JVC DLA-X35 at this price range if you can make your room dark.

    I used to have a BenQ W5000 up till a year ago. It was great for watching action movies at night. Sure, there was some fuss in setting it up, but not that much. I bought it dirt cheap off ebay and a 100inch fold down screen pretty cheap also off ebay. The only issue for me was the clutter that the screen legs presented. I bought a new lens for about $89 from India. That said, I'd still be waiting for a 4k capable projector if you wanted to use a big screen. I think that $3500 is a hell of a lot of money for a 1080p projector too.

    At Christmas we purchased an Epson EH-TW550 for approx $700. It is 3D ready (requiring active glasses). We run it through a PC with windows media centre.
    Runs a treat in the home theatre room. Haven't tried it in the lounge. 3000 ansi lumens.
    I wanted the big screen TV, hubby wanted the projected. I've never been happier to be wrong!

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