BenQ PE7700 Single-chip DLP Projector Page 2

While there are better single-chip DLPs out there for two or three times the price, the BenQ makes going cheaper less of a sacrifice than it would have been little more than a year ago. It's a bright little puppy, with enough light output to drive a larger screen than my 78-inch wide Stewart Studiotek 130 (white, 1.3-gain), tolerate a lower gain screen, or (with care) both. On my screen I could watch it with some room lights on, though I'd limit such use to bright program material (like sports) where black levels are less important. And apart from the occasional ruddy-looking flesh tones in dark scenes (discussed above), its color quality leaves little to be desired. Its greens, in particular, while just a tad overdone, are far less crayola-like than many digital projectors. The green fields in this fall's baseball playoffs look like real grass, not some bilious, decorator shade of Astroturf.

At first I found the BenQ's picture just a little soft. And compared to the more expensive projectors I've been living with, it is. But it's all relative. The PE7700 easily showed the difference between a sharp DVD, like Bubble Boy, and a slightly softer one like National Treasure. And the superiority of HD material over DVD is usually (though not always) very apparent.

The bargain-basement cost of the projector does, however, show itself in some ways. Its 6-segment color wheel and unusually bright image makes the rainbow effect much more obvious than I've seen from most recent generation DLP projectors. This is particularly true in the sort of scenes most prone to rainbows—particularly dark scenes with bright highlights. But not all viewers are as sensitive to this artifact as I am.

The PE7700's black level is also relatively high (about twice that of the best digital projectors), resulting in a satisfactory but far from exceptional contrast ratio. As always, this limitation is more obvious on dark scenes with little inherent contrast (scenes with lighting that ranged from black to dark gray, for example) than on dark scenes with bright highlights.

The PE7700's subjective gamma also appears to be a little off, which can affect even relatively bright scenes by raising or lowering the brightness in the mid-tones more than the program material calls for. This is more obvious on DVDs than high-definition material. In the scene just before the race starts in Hidalgo, for example, the shadow detail varies a little more from shot-to-shot than I'm used to seeing on more upscale projectors. The BenQ has no user-selectable gamma options or adjustments .

High-definition material (and 720p in particular) looks terrific on the BenQ. All of my standard test material, from the 2004 Academy Awards presentation to a Super Bowl halftime show, were crisp, detailed and fully satisfying. And the premier episode of Invasion, a new show on ABC, was beautifully shot and superbly rendered in 720p. I'm not exactly sure where this series is going, but it's certainly worth a look.

I did notice, however, that while episodes of the ABC series Lost looked great on the PE7700 played back from the disc drive in my Scientific Atlanta HD cable tuner (from its component output), they didn't look all that much better than episodes from the DVD box set of the show's first season (with an HDMI connection). While this may say as much about the source and type of connection as the BenQ, it also tells me that a high quality, standard definition DVD is still viable as a first-rate format.

When I first tried to perform the above comparison, I used a DVI to HDMI link from the DVI output of my cable box to the projector. As in the past, it failed to provide a reliable connection—displaying an HDCP warning message (generated by the cable box). This was clearly not the fault of the BenQ, as it worked fine with other HDMI sources. But when I tried to reconnect those other sources following this incident, I got the same warning! I turned off the projector and unplugged it for a few minutes. I also turned off the cable box. When I fired them both up again, everything was fine once more with those other sources. I did not repeat the HDMI connection from the cable box—once burned. . .

As I was wrapping up, I took one last look at the BenQ vs. the Yamaha. An unfair comparison to be sure, given the nearly 4:1 price spread between the two projectors. But when we want to know what advantages an expensive projector has over a more popularly-priced one it's not unjustified. When I switched back to the Yamaha I immediately noticed how much sharper it looked—even on the relatively ordinary-looking National Treasure DVD. The deeper blacks of the Yamaha were also evident, though to be fair the PE770 is a significantly brighter projector (unless you open the iris on the Yamaha all the way, which seriously compromises its black level).

But that's judging the BenQ against a very high standard. The fact that more money will buy you more projector is hardly a surprise; even BenQ has its own, more upscale PE8720 to tempt you with. (We just received our review sample, so stay tuned). What's important here is just how much video projector you can buy today for relatively little money. That alone makes the PE7700 an exciting addition to the video market. The fact that it's also a fine performer makes it a must-see before finalizing any purchase decision. I definitely recommend it.

• Excellent image
• High light output
• Relatively quiet
• Great value

• Slightly soft compared to more upscale DLPs
• Middling back level and contrast ratio
• Occasional rainbows evident to viewers sensitive to them
• No lens shift