BenQ GP20 Ultra-Lite LED-lit-DLP Projector Review Highlights
The BenQ GP20 LED projector houses a single DLP chip in a small lightweight chassis barely larger than a hardcover book. Its light engine is rated for 20,000 hours and will never change in brightness or color. It comes with a WiFi dongle to stream content wirelessly and a convenient carry bag so you can quickly set it up for an impromptu movie night. A complete set of inputs are provided including HDMI with MHL for easy connection to smart phones or tablets. It’s compatible with a wide variety of still image and video formats so content can come from a laptop as easily as it does from a Blu-ray player. Today I installed it in my reference theater and put it through my benchmark suite as I have done for our prior BenQ projector reviews.
For $850, the BenQ does quite well. It is an unusual projector in that the light source is LED. Fiinally, LEDs are bright enough for projectors. The imaging device is a single DLP chip, and I could not detect any rainbow effect.
The color balance was pretty much usable right out of the box, which will make impatient consumers very happy. How about “Plug and Watch” as a new catch phrase for such projectors? Although 700 lumens is not really bright, it can be dealt with. It’s brighter than the $5,000 projectors we had when digital projectors first emerged in the market.
BenQ GP20 Projector Review Highlights Summary
- LED light engine rated for 20,000 hours with no change in brightness or color.
- Small lightweight chassis makes for easy portability in the included carry bag.
- Multiple inputs including HDMI with MHL means you can charge your tablet or smartphone while streaming its content.
- Wireless streaming with included WiFi dongle.
- USB port accepts a variety of computer image and video formats.
- Built-in speakers eliminate the need for a separate sound system.
- Setup is streamlined with a simple menu system and automatic keystone correction.
Introduction to the BenQ GP20 Ultra-Lite LED-lit-DLP Projector Review
A few months ago, in Secrets’ Best of 2013 Awards roundup, I lamented about the apparent death of the LED projector. Several high-end products were introduced at the CEDIA Expo in 2009 and I reviewed Runco’s Q750i way back in the summer of 2010 but since then, there has been zero progress in bringing this revolutionary technology forward – until now.
BENQ GP20 ULTRA-LITE LED PROJECTOR REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
- Type: Single-chip DLP w/RGB LED
- Native Aspect Ratio: 16:10
- Native Resolution: 1280 x 800
- Anamorphic Lens Support: No
- 3D: PC Only
- Throw Ratio: 1.2:1
- Lens Shift: No
- Light Output: 700 Lumens
- Contrast Ratio: 10,000:1
- Image Size: 20″ – 240″
- Inputs: 1 HDMI 1.4a (MHL), 1 Composite, 1 VGA, 1 3.5 mm Stereo Audio, 2 USB, 1 SD Card
- Audio Output: 1 3.5 mm Stereo Mini-jack
- Rated Lamp Life: 30,000 (Eco) / 20,000 Hours (Normal)
- Dimensions: 2.4″ H x 8.6″ W x 4.6″ D
- Weight: 3.5 Pounds
- Warranty: 1 year
- MSRP: $849
- SECRETS Tags: Projectors, LED, BenQ, GP20 Ultra-Lite
When I received the initial press release on BenQ’s new GP20 Ultra-Lite projector, I was immediately drawn to its LED technology. I hadn’t seen a new LED model from anyone in quite some time! And for it to suddenly be part of a sub-$1000 product, my interest was piqued.
An LED light engine has several advantages over a traditional UHP lamp. First and foremost is lifespan. Where a lamp might last 3000 hours, an LED can last as long as 30,000. And with said lamps costing $300-$400 a pop, you’re looking at a major cost savings over the lifetime of the projector. Secondly, LEDs don’t grow dim as they age. UHP lamps gradually lose power, and shift in color as they accumulate hours. Most will be down to half their original output by 1000 hours. An LED engine remains at its original output level with no color change for its entire service life.
Needless to say, an LED projector for 850 bucks is pretty significant. The aforementioned Runco sells for just a bit more than that, $14,150 more to be exact. BenQ is using the compact form factor of LED to create a portable entertainment display that’s easy to set up and use. It even comes with a carry bag! Now that you’ve been properly intrigued, let’s take a look.
The Design of the BenQ GP20 Ultra-Lite LED-lit-DLP Projector
The BenQ GP20 is easily the smallest projector I’ve ever seen. It’s roughly the size of a hardcover book. Packed in the box is a nice carry bag which makes it very easy to transport. The bag is padded nicely and offers plenty of protection.
The lens is offset to the right and offers focus as its only adjustment. There is no zoom or shift so you’ll have to move the unit around until the image lines up to your liking. The vertical offset is fixed at 100 percent which means you should aim the lens at the bottom of your screen if you want to avoid using the keystone correction. The three feet are threaded so you can level the GP20 on a tabletop. There is also a tripod socket if you want to set up that way. Since it only weighs three-and-a-half pounds, you won’t need a super-strong stand.
Up top is a small control panel which can almost replace the remote. You get menu navigation along with a power toggle and LED status lights. Input selection is accomplished by pressing Home then cycling through the different options. The on-screen menu is pretty simple without too many choices. Unfortunately, there are no calibration options either; more on that later. At the upper left you can see the lens focus ring. The case is stylish in its squareness and made from a high-impact shiny white plastic. It’s a fairly rugged package designed for ease of use and maximum portability.
The big feature here is the LED light engine. Previously found only in projectors with five-figure price tags, this is major breakthrough in value. BenQ uses red, green, and blue LEDs from Luminus (part number PT-54) along with a Texas Instruments WXGA DMD chip. That means the maximum resolution is 1280 x 800. You do get a tad more image height for a native aspect ratio of 16:10 but you’ll need a computer input to see images like that. When using a Blu-ray player or other typical video source component, the effective resolution is 720p.
Of course when you use an RGB LED light source, the need for a spinning color wheel is eliminated. This is the reason some users see the DLP rainbow effect. Instead of colored filters zipping between the light source and the DMD chip, the LEDs are cycled on and off very rapidly. This can greatly reduce or even remove the issue. A few very sensitive people may still see it however. The only way to completely remove the artifact is with a 3-chip DLP engine.
Moving around back, you can see that BenQ has included plenty of connectivity options. The HDMI port is MHL-compatible which means it can accept input from a smartphone or tablet, and charge the device while connected. You can input signals up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 Hz. There are also legacy inputs for VGA and composite video. Two USB inputs accept a variety of file formats from either a thumb drive or external hard drive. BenQ includes a USB to WiFi adaptor so you can stream content wirelessly to the GP20. Audio gets both in and out via 3.5mm mini jacks. There are internal speakers which sound fairly tinny and small but for an impromptu movie night, they work fine.
The remote is small and minimalistic; offering very little beyond what’s on the projector’s top control panel. The buttons are raised bubbles on an otherwise smooth surface so there’s no real mechanical action. And there’s no backlight. The volume buttons control the GP20’s internal speakers. The transport keys work with content coming in via USB, SD Card, and MHL. You can’t use them to control a Blu-ray player. The lone IR sensor is on the front of the GP20 so you’ll have to bounce commands off the screen. This works fine if you’re less than 10 feet away.
BenQ’s website mentions that the GP20 is “3D ready” but I could find no mention of this in the manual. After inquiring, I was told that it accepts frame sequential XGA and WXGA signals at 120 Hz through its analog input. This means you can only view content in 3D if it’s generated by a computer, and the max resolution is 1280 x 800 pixels. Just to be sure, I attempted to load up Avatar using an Oppo BDP-93 but it would only play in 2D. I didn’t receive any glasses with my press sample so I couldn’t try it out further. Given the lack of any obvious emitters on the GP20’s chassis, I believe the sync is via DLP Link.
Setup of the BenQ GP20 Ultra-Lite LED-lit-PLP Projector
With no lens controls save focus, I had to set the GP20 up on a small stand in front of my seating. From just under eight feet away, I was able to fill my 92-inch Carada screen with a 16:9 image. This is a short-throw projector with a ratio of only 1.2 (image width x 1.2 = throw distance) so it will give you a large picture in a small room. For those who want to project on the wall, BenQ has included color offsets in the menu in case your room is a color other than white. You’ll have to experiment with these to find the one that works best.
The lens offset is fixed at 100 percent so if you do use a screen, aim for its bottom edge. If you must use the keystone correction, there are buttons for it on top of the chassis. As always, this will reduce resolution so use it sparingly or not preferably not at all.
There are five picture modes; User, Cinema, Game, Standard, and Bright. In my tests, only Cinema approached reasonable accuracy. Bright will give you about 38 percent more light output but the resulting color errors are fairly substantial. Check out the benchmarks for the complete story.
When I saw the User option, I hoped I would find calibration controls but alas I did not. You do get brightness, contrast, and three color temp presets (Normal is the best one). And you can choose any picture mode as a reference for said adjustments. Cinema is by far the best and with some tweaks to brightness and contrast, I came up with a fairly bright image with nicely saturated color and decent depth. Contrast is not stellar but actual content looks better than the measurements suggest.
When it came time to check out movies on the GP20, I hooked up my tried-and-true Oppo BDP-93 via HDMI. Since I had done the benchmarks first, I knew I had to turn off 24p output so I could use the Cinema mode. Any signal rate other than 60 Hz forces the projector into Bright mode and locks out any adjustment.
The BenQ GP20 Ultra-Lite LED-lit-DLP Projector In Use
I mentioned earlier how an LED-lit DLP will have little to no rainbow effect in real content. Naturally, I tested this theory right off the bat. In all of the content I watched, I could not see it even when I flicked my eyes back and forth rapidly. I am not particularly sensitive to it but I can sometimes see it on projectors with slower color wheels. The LEDs in the GP20 are cycled rapidly enough that I doubt anyone will see a problem.
Casino Royale is still my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond films. The image is warm and natural throughout without the edginess found in the later movies. I especially like the opening black & white sequence as a test for displays. It has lots of blown-out contrast, along with moments of smooth-toned goodness and some creepy-crawly film grain thrown in too. The GP20’s accurate grayscale tracking in Cinema mode meant that black & white looked appropriately neutral throughout. The grain looked fine too with no visible artifacts or reduction in resolution. Since this is my first review of a sub-1080p projector, I expected a little softness but didn’t see any. The image looked quite sharp on my 92-inch screen. And despite an issue I had with the cyan secondary (more on that in the next section), color looked quite good. There was plenty of saturation and detail with no hint of overblown highlights.
Grand Prix is one of the best vintage film transfers out there but it does exhibit a little red push on some displays. Fortunately, I didn’t see this on the GP20. The opening race at Monaco features a very red-faced man in the pits. He looks like a boiled lobster in fact but I didn’t find him objectionable this time. To watch in Cinema mode, I had to force my Oppo player to output 60p so I saw a little judder in horizontal pans, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. The night sequence when cranes fish a wrecked racecar from the marina looked decent as well. This is where any DLP projector will fall a little short. They just can’t quite match the deep blacks of an LCD or LCoS model. At least this BenQ has decent gamma tracking so detail is still rendered properly at all points in the brightness scale.
The Matrix is almost a monotone film, especially in the first 30 minutes or so. If you like the color green, this is your movie! It looks as if a filter has been placed over the camera lens. Even though the GP20 is no contrast champ, image depth was preserved reasonably well. A tinted picture like this can often look flat but that was not the case here.
It’s a shame that The Abyss is still not available on Blu-ray. You can’t even buy it on anamorphic DVD in fact. I have the widescreen edition but filling the screen means using the zoom function on my disc player. Needless to say, the reduction in resolution is pretty significant. Despite these obstacles, the GP20 did a passable job with this awful transfer. I had no trouble sitting through the entire movie and enjoying it as I always do. Like The Matrix this movie is tinted, only blue is the color this time. I missed the extra pixels of a full-HD display for sure but this little BenQ did just fine! There was still a good depth of contrast and detail was about as good as it could be.
The BenQ GP20 Ultra-Lite LED-lit DLP Projector On The Bench
I installed the projector right-side-up at an 8-foot throw distance. Test gear included an Accupel DVG-5000 Pattern Generator, i1Pro Spectrophotometer, Spectracal C-6 Colorimeter, and CalMAN 5.2 software. Measurements were taken off the screen; Carada Brilliant White, gain 1.4.
There are no calibration controls on the GP20. If you select the User mode, you can adjust brightness and contrast, and have access to three color temp presets. You can also use any other picture mode as your starting point.
The GP20 is a bit light-challenged so one might be tempted to engage the Bright mode to maximize output. In my tests it provided about 38 percent greater brightness than Cinema but there is a tradeoff.
The color temperature is very cool in Bright mode. And the gamma tracking is quite poor. Those two big dips at 10 and 90 percent mean those brightness levels are too high. This kind of error reduces the perception of contrast and makes the image look very flat and one-dimensional. The average grayscale error is 13.13 Delta E, and the gamma average value is 1.91.
Unfortunately, this has a negative effect on color accuracy.
Needless to say, the color results are well outside SMPTE standards. All primary and secondary colors are over-saturated with significant errors in hue. And the luminance chart is, well, off the chart. I can understand the need to pump up color in a display’s bright mode to help compete with room light and less-than-ideal projection conditions. The hue errors however will not improve image quality. The average error here is 14.26 Delta E.
Do not fear for relief is at hand! The Cinema mode is markedly better.
For an uncalibrated display, this is pretty good. It runs slightly cool as brightness increases but the error is barely visible. And gamma is far better. The dip at 10 percent represents an aberration of only .33 footLamberts. This is decent performance.
Color is also much better in the Cinema mode although I can’t account for the cyan result. All other colors track their correct hues well with just a little over-saturation. Cyan however is visibly off. Even when I look at a color bar pattern I can see it’s wrong. The average error is 6.31 Delta E, mostly thanks to cyan.
Out of the box in Cinema mode I measured 12.4996 fL peak, .0484 fL minimum, and a contrast ratio of 258.3 to 1. In Bright mode, I measured 20.1357 fL peak, .0804 fL minimum, and a contrast ratio of 250.6 to 1. There is no iris or dynamic contrast feature to improve these numbers.
To try and coax more light from the GP20, I experimented with the contrast control. Most displays won’t let you turn it up too much before clipping ensues but this projector was different. I was able to increase the slider 10 clicks before any detail was lost. This gave me 14.0755 fL peak, .0647 fL minimum, and a contrast ratio of 217.7 to 1. Honestly, I couldn’t perceive any reduction in contrast but the extra brightness made a huge difference. I also dropped the brightness slider one click to improve black levels.
When switching signal formats on the GP20, I ran into some odd behavior. If you input a 24p signal, the projector will process it properly but it locks into Bright mode and cannot be changed. The only way around this is to force your player to output 60p. Then you have access to all the picture modes.
Above-white and below-black signals did not appear in the 4:4:4 component signal mode but they did render properly in 4:2:2 and RGB. Since this projector does not output 1080p, I considered the multi-burst tests passed if there was some sort of information in the 1-pixel pattern. All of them looked fine except for 4:2:2 which could only show a solid red square instead of the red and blue lines in the original pattern.
The best signal format to use with the GP20 is RGB. If you use a computer for input, set it for 1280 x 800 pixels at 60 Hz. If you use a Blu-ray player, turn off its 24p output and set the resolution to 1080p.
Conclusions about the BenQ GP20 Ultra-Lite LED-lit DLP Projector
- LED light engine means no bulb replacement – ever
- Decent accuracy without calibration
- Small, lightweight, and portable
- Lots of connectivity options including wireless
- Calibration controls
- More light output
- Better black levels and contrast
Overall, I was impressed with the GP20. I’ve been wishing for more LED projectors since the technology first appeared and BenQ has answered the call. For small to medium sized units like this, LED is the ideal solution. The cost savings in lamp replacements alone are enough reason to switch. With UHP lamp prices hovering around $400, who wouldn’t want to?
BenQ is really going for the party with friends market here. A projector this small and light can be quickly set up on a coffee table and connected to a phone or Blu-ray player for an instant sports or movie big-screen experience. Since it will easily fit in an overnight bag, you could even use it in your hotel room. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to complicate things either. You can pretty much hook up, turn on, and go.
Performance is on par with a sub-$1000 projector. I find the lack of calibration controls a little vexing but the Cinema mode makes good strides toward image accuracy. In my completely dark theater I saw enough output but if you have any light coming in from other rooms, or you leave a lamp on, you may wish for a little more power.
Thanks to a complete set of connections you will be able to hook just about anything up to the GP20. That coupled with unparalleled portability adds up to flexibility; which is just what you want in a product like this. For home theaters, turn to the W7500 I reviewed back in March. For something you can throw in a bag and take to a friend’s house, this is your ticket.
I hope to see more LED projectors in the near future; perhaps combined with a high-contrast technology like LCD or LCoS. BenQ has certainly taken a step in the right direction and I look forward to their future efforts.