If you’re willing to forgo features like lens shift and THX-certification, there are some great deals to be had. BenQ’s MH530 DLP model weighs less than five pounds but offers an incredible 3200 lumens and 3D for only a thousand bucks.
BenQ MH530 Full HD 1080p Home Entertainment Projector
- Over 60 footLamberts output when calibrated
- More than 200fL in Dynamic mode
- 1080p native resolution
- Single-chip DLP with 196-watt bulb
- Supports 3D
- Very quiet
BenQ is not one of the first names you’d utter when talking about home theater displays. Better known for their excellent desktop monitors and boardroom projectors, they haven’t really made a big splash in AV circles. However if one looks more closely at the specs, it turns out they are just as dedicated to color accuracy and image quality as any of the companies more commonly associated with home entertainment.
Native aspect ratio:
1920 x 1080
Yes, Frame-sequential, Top/bottom, Side-by-side
116% Fixed Vertical, Above Axis
Light output (mfr):
1 x HDMI, 1 x composite, 2 x VGA, 1 x S-video, 1 x stereo audio (3.5mm)
1 x VGA, 1 stereo audio (3.5mm)
1 x USB
1 x 2 watts
Rated lamp life:
4000-6000hrs Depending on Mode
3.7" H x 11.1" W x 8.7" D
BenQ, BenQ MH530, DLP, Projector Reviews
Nearly all of their projectors correctly display the Rec.709 gamut with 2.2 gamma tracking and at least one color temp preset that hits D65. Those facts alone mean BenQ should be on every home theater enthusiasts’ short list.
A trend I’ve seen of late is a move towards higher brightness. Home theater projectors used to struggle to top 16fL peak which is fine in a completely dark room but not so good once you turn on a few lights. In an effort to become viable replacements for HDTVs, the latest compact displays have managed to pack a lot more lumens into their designs without resorting to super-hot high-wattage bulbs.
Today I’m checking out BenQ’s MH530. It’s a single-chip DLP that extracts 3200 lumens from a 196-watt lamp. It also sports some of the best 3D I’ve ever seen, great picture quality, flexible calibration options and a quiet fan. About the only thing it doesn’t have is lens shift but at $1000 MSRP, it’s hard to fault BenQ for delivering a product that looks so good on paper. Does it measure up to my benchmark and viewing tests? Let’s take a look.
Though not the smallest projector I’ve reviewed, the MH530 is quite compact and easily transported. It doesn’t include a bag but it would certainly fit in many backpacks or totes. The front-mounted lens is offset to one side and has its focus and zoom controls on top. Both are very precise and operate firmly and without play. Getting the image sized and sharp takes only a few seconds. There is no shift available so you’ll have to place the projector either above or below the screen’s edge to center the picture. With an offset of 116%, it’s probably best to hang it from a ceiling mount though you can set it up on a coffee table in front of your seating.
Ventilation is handled by strategically-placed grills on the front and sides. Light leakage from these areas is minimal as is fan noise. Even in the lamp’s brightest mode, I barely heard it in operation. This is the quietest small projector I’ve worked with to date.
Thanks to a small keypad on top, the MH530 can be installed and operated without using the remote. Menu navigation is provided along with source selection, screen blank and volume controls for the built-in speaker. At two watts, it isn’t very loud but it will work in a pinch. It sound a bit like the speakers built into desktop computer monitors with a limited but well-balanced frequency range.
You don’t often seen VGA ports on displays any more but the MH530 supports legacy sources with two inputs and an output. You also get composite and S-video jacks. A three-wire component connection can be made using a breakout adapter. Digital signals are handled by a lone HDMI input that is 1.4a-compliant. It supports 3D in all three major formats as well as the audio stream if you wish. For external sound systems, there is a 3.5mm stereo output as well as an input in the same form factor.
The remote is a tiny wand that is not backlit. It is however well-packed with buttons that access most projector functions without going into the menus. Some of the keys operate the presentation features of the MH530 like paging through documents or zooming into the image. The labels are extremely tiny but readable. You can also adjust the volume of the built-in speaker, toggle the lamp modes and change 3D formats among other options.
If you’re wondering just how BenQ managed to coax 3200 lumens from a 196-watt bulb here is the answer.
This is the MH530’s light engine. The part with the wire coming out the back is the bulb which is followed closely by the color wheel and then a filter that directs light to the DLP chip. This extremely short path means that no power is lost and you can have an extremely bright image without a super-hot bulb. The lamp in my Anthem projector consumes slightly more power (200 watts), yet manages only around 18fL output. In the BenQ’s dynamic mode, I measured over 200fL!
The MH530 also supports 3D and is compatible with DLP-link glasses. None were included with my press sample but I was able to use an off-the-shelf pair made by Xpand. Frame-pack, top/bottom and side-by-side formats are supported and the projector will automatically go into the appropriate picture and lamp mode when fed a 3D signal.
Derived from a presentation design, the MH530 offers legacy support for VGA, composite and S-video sources. I tested and viewed signals only using its lone HDMI input however. Both patterns and content from my reference BDP-93 Blu-ray player were used.
Most portable projectors in this price range have a limited menu system but BenQ has included everything needed for calibration except gamma adjustments. This turned out to be a non-issue since its gamma tracks perfectly.
All image controls are in the picture menu and its two sub-menus for color temp and color management. There are four fixed presets plus two user-adjustable modes. If you’re looking for maximum light output, Dynamic offers over 200fL peak. Cinema and sRGB come closest to Rec.709 and are both suitable for home theater. They’ll deliver around 46fL in the bulb’s Eco mode. To calibrate, select one of the user modes then choose sRGB as the reference. That will set a good starting point for any adjustments.
The MH530 won’t display information below black or above white so I used a 10-step black pattern to set brightness. The default value of 50 works well. When I viewed a color PLUGE pattern, I saw that the three primary colors clipped significantly. Lowering contrast to -27 took care of that. Brilliant Color should be left on regardless of other settings.
The projector has a two-point white balance adjustment which doesn’t require much tweaking to achieve success. The gains and offsets interact a bit so you’ll have to go back and forth until everything lines up. The effort is rewarded with excellent grayscale tracking.
The CMS is complete but doesn’t quite work as expected. I found no help from the saturation or hue sliders. However I was able to make a significant improvement in color luminance by maxing the gain controls for all six colors.
The Info screen provides some vital details. Most important is the lamp mode. There are four options, two fixed and two variable. Normal and Eco lock the output at 61 and 46fL respectively after calibration. SmartEco and LampSave will extend the bulb’s life by varying brightness according to content. The fan will change in speed as well. You can pick up a little contrast this way but it doesn’t respond as quickly as a traditional auto-iris.
You can also see from the photo that the MH530 supports 24Hz input and testing showed the signal was processed correctly. 3D formats include frame-pack, top/bottom and side-by-side. The projector automatically switches over when a 3D signal is detected. Then the picture mode and lamp power settings are locked to their brightest levels.
I love the sharp detail rendered by DLP projectors. Thanks to their one-chip design, there are no convergence issues to affect the image. And the MH530 has been equipped with decent optics. I saw no evidence of aberration even at the extreme edges of the screen.
Since I typically calibrate every review projector before watching movies, I’m already familiar with their color tendencies so I try not to let that cloud my judgement. I wondered if reds and greens would look under-saturated or off in hue as the CIE charts indicate but I saw none of that. Color looked natural and just as expected as I watched a few familiar Blu-rays in both 2D and 3D.
I, Robot is a prime example of what happens when too much digital clean-up is applied in post-production or during the transfer process. The entire movie can look like a CGI construct on some displays, especially those with low contrast. Even though the MH530 won’t render the black levels of my favorite LCoS projectors, the extra brightness made up for it. I saw a depth and dimension in this viewing that I rarely see outside my reference Anthem LTX-500.
Fleshtones looked especially good and fine details like razor-stubble and pores just popped from the screen. Monochromatic scenes like the futuristic building interiors retained their intended cold appearance of coldness but never became featureless. This is where a good DLP can really shine.
During my initial review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Blu-ray, I noticed a slight red push at times; not so much in skin tones but in red objects like the droid BB8 and console buttons. This error seemed less obvious when watching the film on the MH530. I was impressed with how well it handled both the blackness of space and warmth of the desert planet Jakku.
It seems that the color errors I measured with my instruments don’t really impact well-mastered content. This demonstrates the greater importance of accurate grayscale and gamma tracking. When I switched to a few of the non-calibrated picture modes, the image turned into a flat-looking smear completely lacking in detail and dimension. Only the sRGB preset comes close to looking right without adjustment. Cinema isn’t too bad either but I found it too warm overall.
I selected the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey, because I could compare the same content in both 2D and 3D. Much of this movie was created in a computer. Even the actors have been scanned and processed to make them look bigger or smaller. Here I thought the MH530 looked a bit less than film-like. I had expected this behavior from I, Robot but The Hobbit just looked too clean. A little grit would go a long way towards that suspension of disbelief. Color however was exemplary and the dynamic range I observed seemed far greater than my test results indicated. I believe the MH530’s high output level is responsible for this.
Immediately after watching the above, I dropped in the 3D version of The Hobbit. Thanks to its prodigious output, the MH530 turned out to be an ideal display for this film. There is lots of dark material that would bring most projectors to their knees. I typically see five or six foot-Lamberts from high-end home theater models but the BenQ delivered over 12fL. Bulb and picture mode adjustments are locked to their brightest settings but you can still calibrate the grayscale and color management controls. Black levels seemed especially deep during some scenes lit only by firelight. Shadow detail remained strong as did color saturation.
Since Avatar is still the height of the 3D-film art form, I couldn’t resist checking it out. I don’t often get a 3D display this bright so I couldn’t waste the opportunity. James Cameron’s beautiful use of lush blues and greens was given an ideal performance on this tiny projector. I never saw any ghosting artifacts or problems with depth-of-field. Objects always seemed to be in the right place whether part of the foreground or background.
A high-output display like this is just what fans of 3D will want in their home theaters. I would go as far as to say it would be worth adding the MH530 to your setup just for that purpose. 3D may not have been the panacea Hollywood hoped for but movies and Blu-rays are still released in the format. I know I enjoyed watching The Force Awakens immensely when shown in 3D IMAX.
All grayscale, gamma and chroma readings are taken from the projector’s lens using an X-Rite i1Pro with the diffuser attachment. Contrast tests are done with a Spectracal C6 tri-stimulus meter positioned at the lens axis and measuring from the screen at a 12-foot throw distance. This method provides an accurate picture of the contrast performance seen in a typical viewing environment.
My reference screen is a Stewart Filmscreen LuminEsse fixed-frame system configured with StudioTek 130 material. It has a gain of 1.3 and is 92 inches diagonal in size. Patterns come from an Accupel DVG-5000 signal generator and the whole procedure is controlled by CalMAN version 5. Color standards are Rec.709 with a white point of 6500 Kelvins. Gamma is compared to the BT.1886 spec or the 2.2 power function where appropriate.
Projectors in this price range are unlikely to be treated to a professional calibration. So it’s important to find a picture mode that comes close to the Rec.709 gamut standard with a 2.2 gamma average and a white point of 6500 Kelvins. For the MH530, that turned out to be its sRGB mode.
You can use the sRGB mode as-is or select as a reference point for one of the two user modes, which is what I did. The default color temp preset is Normal and that comes fairly close to D65. There’s a little extra warmth starting at 40 percent which represents the critical mid-tones. While this is acceptable performance for a $1000 projector, it does dull the image just a little. The Cool preset is much too blue so my only choice for improvement was adjustment of the two-point RGB sliders. There are no gamma controls but it seems that BenQ has taken care of that nicely. Only a tiny peak (too dark) at 90 percent mars otherwise perfect tracking.
I didn’t have to make too many changes to achieve excellent grayscale tracking. This is about as good as it gets. When the white point is correct at every brightness level, it improves color gamut accuracy too. You can also see the gamma error has been largely erased leaving a perfect average value of 2.2
I tested all the picture modes and found nearly the same gamut performance in each one. None hit Rec.709 on the nose but sRGB comes closest.
There are a few things going here worth noting. The red and green primaries are under-saturated and off in hue. The cyan and yellow secondaries also miss their hue targets. Blue lines up the best hitting all five boxes almost perfectly. The biggest issue however are the luminance levels which are far too low. Brilliant Color is turned on but it’s not enough to create a rich rendering. The image looks a bit dull at this point and is definitely lacking in depth and vividness.
The color management system doesn’t respond the way one would expect. Saturation sliders have no effect at all. By maxing the gain (luminance) adjustment for all six colors, I was able to get a lot more color detail and depth. The image now looks much more saturated. The hue issues shown on the CIE chart don’t translate too obviously in real-world content. Though I would prefer lower overall errors, the MH530 produces a decent image nonetheless.
The principal goal in the MH530’s design is high brightness and on that point it delivers above and beyond the call. After calibration I measured both the Normal and Eco lamp modes. Both remain at a fixed output level regardless of image content.
In Normal I recorded a max white level of 61.4411fL, a black threshold of .081fL and a contrast ratio of 758.3:1. Turning the lamp down to Eco produces 46.0443fL peak, .0609fL black and a contrast ratio of 756.5:1. This is very consistent performance.
If you need the MH530’s maximum output, select the Dynamic mode. It delivers 211.5808fL peak white, .0957fL black and an excellent contrast ratio of 2210.7:1.
In 3D mode, picture mode and lamp settings are grayed out to ensure maximum brightness. Through a pair of DLP-link glasses I measured 12.8092 white, .0241 black and a contrast ratio of 530.9:1. This is an excellent projector for watching 3D content and one of the brightest I’ve ever measured.
I was unable to get the MH530 to show below-black or above-white information even when I fed it a PC-mode signal. This isn’t a huge problem for video content but it may hamper users showing presentations from their computers. It also failed the chroma resolution tests in 4:2:2 component mode. It’s rare that you’d use a signal like this since any DVD or Blu-ray player manufactured in the last five years will output 4:4:4. That mode along with RGB rendered the 1-pixel lines perfectly. The only cadence failures were 2:2 pulldown and mixed content vertical which is common to nearly every display sold today.
A Super-bright Projector Doesn’t Have to Cost a Lot If You’re Talking About THE BENQ MH530. It Delivers Fantastic Image Quality and Tons of Light Output For a Street Price of Less Than $1000.
- Sharp picture thanks to great optics
- High output, over 60fL calibrated and over 200fL max
- Good color accuracy
- Compact chassis
- Quiet fan
- Better out-of-box accuracy
- Auto-iris for higher contrast
- Backlit remote
It’s getting harder and harder to find a bad projector these days. It seems that no matter what the price point, they deliver good color accuracy, sharp optics and lots of light output. While I’ll always favor dedicated home theater models that work best in total darkness, there is now a greater demand for high-output models that can truly replace an HDTV and produce a jumbo-sized picture.
In the past when people asked me why some projectors cost five figures, my answer would always be – light output. It isn’t all that hard to find a color-accurate display for a low price but until recently, something that could deliver 50fL in its calibrated mode would sell for at least $20,000 and be large and heavy to boot.
To make front projection a viable option for more people, manufacturers have come to the realization that brightness is the key. If one is to match the image quality of a decent flat-panel, a lot of output is necessary. 16fL is great in a dark room but turn on even one low-watt lamp and the experience is spoiled.
When a projector is able to meet or exceed the brightness of an HDTV, the possibility of creating a space with a 100-inch screen and a few room lights is realized. By selecting a good light-rejecting screen and pairing it with something like the BenQ MH530, you don’t have to wait for movie night to enjoy an extra-large picture. A display like this is ideal for Super Bowl parties or just sitting in front of a good TV show with your family. With a compact chassis, quiet fan and superb image quality, it’s hard not to recommend the MH530 for those seeking a high-output projector for their new media room.