Setting the W500 up is rewarding and frustrating in more or less equal measure. On the upside, in a move intriguingly reminiscent of Panasonic’s latest LCD projectors, you can shift the image left, right, up or down using a sublimely easy joystick arrangement on the projector’s front. The zoom and focus rings are quite well calibrated, too, and the screw-down levelling legs work more effectively than most.
On the downside, the lens tends to move up and down when you’re merely trying to adjust the focus and zoom, and the amount of optical zoom at your disposal is depressingly limited at just 1.2x.
The lens is a short-throw design, at least, helping the W500 suit the relatively small rooms it’s likely to find itself in given its price. We also strongly suggest you check out BenQ’s rather nifty projection distance calculator to ensure that the W500 will work for your available space before buying one.
Turning our attentions to the W500’s onscreen menus, they are tidily presented and contain a surprisingly lengthy set of options. Highlights include two ‘IRE’ presets, one at zero, which reduces black level depth but introduces more shadow detail, and one at 7.5, which improves black level depth but loses shadow detail.
Plus there are a few presets including a handy Cinema Mode; Eco and Normal lamp output settings (I’d recommend Eco for all movie viewing); overscan adjustment (we stuck with zero for this); and a digital zoom you can use to get round the shortage of optical zoom. However, please take heed that using the digital zoom can seriously damage your image quality’s health…
First impressions of the W500 in action are a little underwhelming. For instance, coming to it after a run of good quality DLP models, I couldn’t help but notice how inferior its black levels are, no matter how much I tweaked all the various menu options. For instance, while the 0 IRE setting delivers more shadow detail, it leaves dark scenes looking decided grey where they should be black. But if you switch to the 7.5 IRE setting, although dark areas get darker, shadow detail disappears into the abyss.
Using the lamp’s Eco setting and dynamic iris options delivers more consistently enjoyable assistance, but somehow I just never quite managed to get black levels looking as good as I would have liked. Perhaps because of this, I also found colours looking a little peaky at times during dark scenes. For instance, some of the skin tones during the many night-time sequences in Batman Begins on Blu-ray look a touch red.
One final niggle is that the 720p resolution means it’s possible to see some minor traces of pixel structure in the image, especially if you’re sat relatively near to your screen.