BenQ i500

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  • Pros

    Short throw distance. Attractive design. Connects via multiple sources, including Wi-Fi.

  • Cons

    Significant rainbow effect in video. Somewhat dull colors in data images. Low audio volume, especially considering its speakers' wattage. Larger than many of its peers.

  • Bottom Line

    The stylish BenQ i500 short throw projector lets you display a large image from near the screen, and offers an abundance of wired and wireless connection choices.

By Tony Hoffman

For a low-brightness LED projector, the BenQ i500 ($799) has some surprising features, including an unusual form factor, a short throw distance, ample wired and wireless connectivity including its own apps, and magnetic lens and port covers that can be attached to the projector when removed. The i500 is a unique and appealing entertainment projector, although its audio is surprisingly weak considering the wattage of its speakers, and the Editors' Choice LG Minibeam LED Projector (PH550) surpasses it on video quality.

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Design and Features

While most LED-based projectors of modest brightness are square units small enough to fit in your outstretched palm, the i500 is a different creature. It is significantly larger, measuring 3.7 by 8.5 by 8 inches (HWD), and weighs 3.8 pounds. It is stylish, white with gold trim, with rounded sides. The bulbous short-throw lens, which enables you to project a large image even when the projector is close to the screen, is on the left front side of the projector. It is protected by a white lens cover when the projector is not in use. When it's removed, the magnetized lens cover can be stuck to a circular depression on the projector's front right side. A focus wheel lies behind the lens on the projector's left side.

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On top are two buttons, an on-off button and a second button labeled Bluetooth Speaker. If you have a Bluetooth speaker, you can connect with the BenQ, but it's only for listening to music, as you can't project an image when Bluetooth is on.

The i500 is a DLP-based projector with WXGA (1,280 by 800) native resolution, a 16:10 widescreen aspect ratio. Its rated brightness of 500 lumens puts it in the same brightness class as any number of portable mini-projectors we have reviewed, including the 550-lumen LG Minibeam LED Projector (PH550). Its LED light source is rated to last up to 20,000 hours in normal mode, and 30,000 hours in various eco-modes, effectively the lifetime of the projector.

Ports and Connectivity

In back, beneath a magnetic panel that can be stuck to the top of the projector when removed, are the ports, which include VGA, for connecting to a computer or data source; HDMI, for connecting to a Blu-ray player or other video source; Ethernet; and one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 Type A port either for charging a device, or for a USB thumb drive from which you can play videos or music. There are also three jacks: microphone, audio-in, and audio-out.

The wireless remote is stylish and matches the projector's gold and white trim. With it, you can connect to a data or video source (VGA, HDMI, USB), adjust image settings (brightness, contrast, and picture mode, for instance), and control the audio volume.

BenQ i500

Pressing Home takes you to the so-called BenQ Launcher for displaying multimedia content. Through it, you can connect to Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and launch programs and services such as Vimeo, YouTube, and a media player.

I was able to connect to Wi-Fi from the Settings menu in this Launcher. A virtual keyboard popped up, and I was able to enter my passwords without too much trouble by navigating with the remote and pressing OK when I reached a letter, number, or symbol that I needed.

Data Image Testing

I tested the i500 in theater-dark conditions, where it projected an image about 72 inches (diagonal) on our test screen with the front of the projector barely three feet from the screen. The image stood up well with the introduction of ambient light. I also did some ad-hoc testing in viewing video clips.

Although the i500 is not primarily a business projector, I did run our normal data image tests with it using the DisplayMate suite. The i500 showed decent image quality, and should be suitabe for typical classroom or business presentations. Overall text quality was typical of data porojectors, with black text on white, and white text on black, easily readable at sizes down to 9 points.

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Colors looked bright, and color balance was good, with just a hint of green in some gray backgrounds. When testing over a VGA connection, I noticed mild pixel jitter in a few grayscale images. There were obvious rainbow artifacts—little red-green-blue flashes, especially in light areas against dark backgrounds—in several images that tend to bring them out. Still, this rainbow effect, which we frequently see in single-chip DLP projectors, was not severe enough in data images to be a significant issue.

BenQ i500

Video and Audio

Rainbow artifacts were apparent in the i500's video. There, the effect was more pronounced than usual, and it's likely that people even mildly sensitive to the effect would be distracted by these artifacts. They're visible in 3D as well as 2D content. I also noticed more digital noise in the form of granulation than usual with this projector, and in a few scenes I saw posterization, sudden changes in color where they should be gradual. Audio from its two five-watt speakers was surprisingly soft, suitable for a small room, although the sound was of good quality.

Conclusion

The stylish BenQ i500 has a lot going for it as a low-brightness projector geared mostly toward entertainment use. Although it's larger and heavier than other projectors we have looked at in the 500-lumen range, and lacks the LG PH550's compact size, built-in battery, and TV tuner, it has a good set of connectivity choices, wired and wireless. The i500's short throw lets you project a large image from close to the screen. Data image quality was solid in our testing, but video was of a quality that is best kept to use with shorter clips, mostly due to the frequency of rainbow artifacts. The Editors' Choice LG PH550 has excellent video and above-par data image quality to go with its own abundance of connection choices.

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Tony Hoffman By Tony Hoffman Senior Analyst, Printers, Projectors, and Scanners Twitter Email

As Analyst for printers, scanners, and projectors, Tony Hoffman tests and reviews these products and provides news coverage for these categories. Tony has worked at PC Magazine since 2004, first as a Staff Editor, then as Reviews Editor, and more recently as Managing Editor for the printers, scanners, and projectors team. In addition to editing, Tony has written articles on digital photography and reviews of digital cameras, PCs, and iPhone apps Prior to joining the PCMag team, Tony worked for 17 years in magazine and journal… More »

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