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BenQ PE8700+ DLP video projector

I was mighty impressed by BenQ's PE8700 DLP projector, reviewed in the June 2004 UAV. Now its replacement, the PE8700+, has been launched, and it's no letdown. True, the price has gone up a couple of big ones over the PE8700's closeout price of $6000. But in compensation, the new model gives you the new Texas Instruments 16:9 DMD, the HD2+.

The HD2+ differs from the HD2 in one significant way. All earlier TI imaging chips had a small dimple in the center of each micromirror, where the stalk that supports the mirror attaches. TI has filled in these dimples in the HD2+ chip, which in theory should improve both the light output and the contrast ratio.

In other projectors, part of the HD2+ "package" is a new color wheel with a seventh, dark green segment. BenQ has chosen not to use the new wheel in the PE8700+, but to stick with the six-segment wheel used in the PE8700.

Description
Apart from the new DMD, the PE8700+ seems to be identical to the PE8700 in both features and appearance. (For a full description of the PE8700, see my June 2004 review, available online at www.UltimateAVmag.com.) As on that earlier unit, the lens on the new model has manual zoom and focus, with a limited zoom range, a short throw distance, and no lens shift. The projector still has a two-speed fan (though this one seems marginally quieter) and a full range of video adjustments, including multiple preset color-temperature settings, plus full calibration controls in the service menu. The remote—a relatively straightforward, illuminated affair with well-spaced, easy-to-find buttons—is unchanged.

Like its predecessor, the PE8700+ has two sets of component inputs. One (on RCAs) is for component interlaced 480i only. The other (on BNCs) will accept component interlaced, component progressive, and RGB with separate H/V sync.

I experienced a few nagging glitches with my samples of the PE8700; none of them recurred with the PE8700+. But if problems should arise, BenQ has one of the best guarantees in the business, including replacement with a new unit within 48 hours for the first year (failure of the projection lamp not included).

Performance
I was as impressed by the PE8700+'s performance as I had been by the PE8700's. With its bright, punchy image, fine blacks, and more than respectable light output on my 80-inch-wide Stewart FireHawk screen, it left me little to complain about.

Sure, I saw a few flashing rainbows—I'm more susceptible than most to this color-wheel-induced artifact—but so seldom that I could easily live with them. I'd have preferred a single fan speed of Slow and Quiet, but I was distracted only occasionally by the PE8700+'s fan, when it shifted to its fast mode. And for reasons I haven't yet determined, the projector failed to recognize a DVI signal from a Pioneer DV-59AVi DVD player (using an HDMI-to-DVI adapter cable from the Pioneer's HDMI output). The projector's DVI input is said to be HDCP-compatible, and it had no problem at all with a DVI link to players from Marantz, Denon, and V, Inc.

While I didn't find the PE8700+ to be as crisply defined as the more expensive competitors from Sharp and Marantz I've recently had in my studio, in anything short of a direct comparison, I doubt if anyone will find this projector lacking in detail and resolution on the best sources. DVI, which I used primarily with DVD, only added to that impressive perfor-mance, so you'll want to use the BenQ with DVI as much as possible.

A close look might well convince you, as it did me, that the PE8700+ produces a superb balance of maximum output, good blacks, and impressive shadow detail. Yes, I've tested pricier DLP projectors that more closely approach the blacks of a CRT. But in their optimum setup configurations, they produced a few precious footlamberts less light output than the BenQ. The opening scenes of the very dark Hellboy (nice transfer, no plot) popped off the screen, as did the rest of the movie, all of which seems to take place at night. Throw in fine color, good internal de-interlacing and scaling, and an adequate if not extensive range of adjustments, and you have a projector that this CRT diehard could easily live with for the long haul.

But is the PE8700+ better than the PE8700? I was able to compare the two side by side, driven by the same DVD source, set up for the closest possible match, and with a nearly new lamp in the older model. The images from the two projectors looked identical. This isn't by any means a black mark against the new model, but it suggests that the new seven-segment color wheel omitted from the PE8700+ might be responsible for some of the improvements noted in reviews of other projectors using the HD2+ chip. The PE8700+ did produce a significantly better measured peak contrast than the original (see sidebar, "Calibration"), but this did not, surprisingly, produce any difference that was visible on my screen.

Conclusions
The BenQ PE8700+ may not be quite the bargain its predecessor was, but its street price remains very appealing. There had been some quality-control concerns with the earlier model, but BenQ offers one of the best guarantees in the business—and, judging by Internet chatter, lives up to it.

More important, the PE8700+'s image quality came very close to that of the best, and most expensive, single-chip DLPs I've yet evaluated. It may offer less flexible adjustments, lack such setup conveniences as lens shift and a longer throw distance, and not be readily available at your corner home-theater shop. But it's still a winner, and definitely recommended.

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