- A 160in TV in your (coat) pocket
- Long-life LED
- Excellent connectivity
- Local media playback
- Poor remote
- Limited media playback
- Only available through Apple store
- Review Price: £449.95
- RGB LED mini projector
- 1280 x 800 at up to 160in
- 565g, carrying case
- iPod dock, HDMI, USB, SD
At the other end of the scale we have pocket-sized Pico projectors like the Vivitek Qumi Q2, but those compromise by offering sub-HD resolutions and low maximum brightness. Mini projectors are a good compromise, with HD ready resolutions, decent brightness, and without overly slimming your wallet. In the mini projector market, BenQ’s quirkily named Joybee GP2 entrant looks like it could be top of its class, just like the award-winning BenQ GP1 before it.
We’re still talking about a stylish little box that’s smaller than five stacked CD cases and weighs a mere 565grams. Despite its diminutive size, however, the DLP GP2 can throw a 1,280 x 800 resolution image of up to 160” (and yes, we tested this and it was usable)! Other specs include a 2,400:1 contrast ratio and maximum brightness of 200 lumens. The GP2 also has every connection under the sun including HDMI and USB, can act as an output from any laptop using DisplayLink over USB (see the review of the VillageTronic ViBook for more info), has a remote, built-in iPod dock and speakers, and even offers an optional battery pack for superb mobility. Suffice to say we’re pretty excited.
First let’s talk design. BenQ seems fond of a two-tone black and white glossy finish, which we also saw on the GP1. While we would prefer variations on a single colour, it’s reasonably attractive. The advantage of using white casing is that it doesn’t show up fingerprints the way piano black does, but unfortunately the projector’s touch controls are located on the black top. Still, if you use the included remote, the GP2 should remain visibly smudge-free.
The GP2’s shape is also attractive, with smooth curves that lie comfortably in the hand. It doesn’t look as premium as ViewSonic’s recent PLED-W500 LED mini projector, but it’s less than half the weight and significantly smaller. Of course it’s not the projector you should be looking at but rather the image it produces, which we’ll check out later on. The BenQ’s build quality is good, with sturdy plastics used throughout, and there’s a metal screw-thread in its base for tripod mounting.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with the GP2’s connectivity, since there’s so much of it. At the projector’s rear you’ll find a full-size SDHC card slot – a far more flexible alternative to most mini and micro projectors’ MicroSDHC slots, though it is hidden behind a somewhat awkward flap. On the left is where you’ll find the majority of connections. These include HDMI for video, a proprietary port that offers VGA and composite through an included adapter, plus standard and micro USB.
The microUSB port doesn’t let you connect memory sticks to play content directly; that’s left to the full-size USB 2.0 port beside it. However, the smaller connector uses DisplayLink technology to allow it to accept input from any Windows computer with a USB port. It’s really as simple as plugging a USB cable into both devices and hey presto, your projector has all the options of a secondary monitor hooked up through HDMI. Even so, this functionality is not unique on a projector, as ViewSonic’s PLED-W500 shares this ability and it’s likely to be standard on other mini projectors this generation.
We’ll get onto the GP2’s media player talents through that USB 2.0 port in a moment, but first let’s continue with the other connections. Audio is catered for by 3.5mm line in and out jacks (sadly omissions on some rivals, the W500 in particular suffering from its lack of output), which makes external speaker systems or headphones an alternative to the projector’s poor inbuilt speakers.
Finally, up top we have the iPod/iPhone dock, which also charges your Apple device. That covers every base we can think of out of the box (barring component from your Wii, which requires an extra adapter), and it’s fair to say that BenQ’s pint-sized beast has more connectivity than many high-end monitors! Oh, and did we mention there’s an excellent full-colour manual showing how to hook up the GP2 to almost anything?
Getting to controls, those on the projector are touch-sensitive, fully backlit and laid out in a ring around a central OK ‘button’. They’re not quite as responsive as the better touch controls we’ve come across on various devices, but they’re perfectly usable.
Unfortunately its remote is where BenQ’s miniature marvel encounters its first hiccup. Stylish as super-slim ‘flat’ remotes are, they’re not particularly comfortable to hold, require cell batteries which can’t be replaced with rechargeables, invariably have horrible buttons, and are never backlit. This particular dinky model is no exception, and in the dark especially it’s a pain to use since all its buttons are the same shape and size. BenQ could really take a lesson from ViewSonic here.
Some of those buttons (pause, rewind and fast forward) will also only work for an iPod/iPhone, which is annoying. We do appreciate the “Blank” button though, which instantly turns the screen black and mutes the volume – handy for avoiding all kinds of embarrassing situations, we’re sure.
Before we get onto the GP2’s media talents, it’s also worth mentioning the carrying case you get with the projector. This is a lightly padded, felt affair with separate compartments for the device, its power/adapter cables and remote, and a Velcro system for holding it closed. It makes a nice inclusion – however, as with the remote, it’s again outclassed by the ViewSonic mini projector’s solid mesh-nylon case with magnetic flap, zippered compartment and sturdy carrying strap.
As a media player, the Joybee GP2 can handle a large number of file types either from a USB stick, SD card, or the 2GB of internal memory. The OSD is nice and colourful, and mostly attractive. It can be a bit clunky and slow to load on occasion, and folder navigation isn’t made easy by the lack of folder names in the default picture view, but overall it’s certainly usable.
Music playback is extensive, with support for MP3, MP2, APE, FLAC, OGG and WAV. Pictures, meanwhile, can be appreciated in JPG, BMP or PNG format, though it’s worth noting that – bizarrely – the GP2 crashed several times when trying to access our image library folder.
Like so many small projectors recently, the GP2 can also display Microsoft Office documents and PDFs for those rare business presentations where you absolutely can’t carry the laptop in (only use this functionality if you can’t avoid it, as it’s a slow and awkward process compared to viewing these files on a laptop).
So far, so good, and we were hoping the GP2 would be as accomplished as the best in its class. Alas, this dream was shattered the moment we tried playing an HD MKV video file. BenQ’s beastie wouldn’t recognise it, claiming the video was “damaged”. We tried various high-def MKVs (which work fine on other projectors), but the GP2 would have none of it. This is a real shame, as standard definition of every variety and even 1080p Xvid and MOV material played without a hitch, so BenQ’s latest obviously has some untapped prowess here.
Kids will love the GP2 – just make sure they don’t sit in front of the throw trajectory.
Overall, the GP2’s media talents are decent if not quite on par with the best of the rest, but its many connections and USB streaming pretty much make up for this (ViewSonic’s PLED-W500 would be superior here if only it had an audio output).
What matters more is image quality, so how does BenQ’s latest hold up? Like most small LED DLP projectors we’ve looked at recently, the answer is ‘quite well’ – though it’s not the most impressive performance we’ve seen.
Colours are vibrant and, though the default is oversaturated on all of the picture presets (or “Modes” as BenQ calls them), they can be customised to be more accurate. The ‘User’ preset is the only one you can modify and thus the only one you’ll want to use for movies and other serious entertainment, though the others tend to be fine for things like presentations or YouTube videos. One immediate niggle is that you can’t alter picture quality settings when in the menus or while streaming over USB, though at least you can switch between presets/modes.
Unfortunately, though blacks were nice and deep (as one would expect from DLP) there was just a tad of crush on the more subtle shadow details, and the GP2 couldn’t quite bring out the darkest shades of our greyscale test. You also need to remember that you’ll want to sit a few metres away to avoid seeing pixel structure, though this is a criticism of all HD Ready projectors and can even affect Full HD models. Bearing this in mind, the picture was nice and crisp, even at its maximum usable throw distance.
If this all sounds a little mixed, it’s worth remembering that the GP2 still gives a vibrant and enjoyable picture, and that it should satisfy all but the most demanding users. It also has the advantage over LCD displays of perfect viewing angles and of course size plus price (just think how much a 120” TV would cost)! However, the ViewSonic did edge this smaller projector out in overall image quality, and was less temperamental about its setup too.
As expected, the audio produced by the GP2’s 2W stereo speakers is at best negligible. It’s muddy and somewhat distorted even at their low maximum volume, and bass is notable only by its absence. In other words, it’s usable for presentations and maybe casual clips but anything more will require external speakers or headphones.
Speaking of sound, our final complaint about the GP2 is that it gets very audible. Apparently it’s going to quite a lot of effort to stay cool, as even in Eco mode it produces a loud hum that can get very annoying during quiet moments in entertainment. Power consumption is between 45 – 35w, depending on if it’s in Eco mode.
One nice innovation that’s standard on Pico projectors but less common on their bigger brethren is the GP2’s optional battery. Unfortunately we weren’t supplied with one to test, but BenQ claims up to three hours. We estimate that at normal brightness settings the projector should last around two hours, adequate for most movies, and installation is as simple as clipping it on.
Unfortunately, BenQ’s latest mini projector will only be sold through the Apple store, as the two companies have an exclusive contract for distribution. Thankfully, Apple has already discounted the GP2 from its £499 MSRP, and it can be yours for a few pennies short of £450.
There isn’t too much competition in the current-gen, HD Ready, mini LED projector market yet. At Apple’s price the GP2 undercuts the PLED-W500, which doesn’t offer an iPod/iPhone dock or – most crucially – a headphone jack/line out option, rendering its very accomplished media playback virtually useless. However, if you can live with this flaw and its added bulk and weight, the W500 has slightly more accomplished image quality, runs a tad quieter, comes with a better case and has a far superior remote with integrated laser pointer. Which one you choose will depend on your needs (and possibly on whether you own an iPod/Phone).
BenQ’s tiny GP2 is a jack of all trades and master of few, but given the size, price and versatility of this LED mini projector, there’s not much that can compete. Added to the fact that none of its flaws are fatal, it’s a worthy investment whether you want a highly portable home cinema projector or business presentation device. As long as you’re aware of its limitations, we highly recommend it.
Score in detail
Image Quality 8