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.