The budget brother of BenQ's W5000 and W20000, the W500 has great specs for its price. It's not as colour-perfect as its brethren and not as easy to set up, but it's still a great option to be the backbone of a budget home cinema.
Resolution is a respectable 1280x720pixels, commonly referred to as 720p. This is standard for entry-level home theatre projectors, although there are a few class-breakers that offer 1080p support for low prices. The W500 is a 3LCD model, using a different technology to the DLP colour-wheel technology found in the rest of BenQ's home entertainment range. 3LCD has the advantage of more compact packaging, which is especially important for budget projectors, with consumers less willing to purchase heavy or bulky models.
The projector itself is built to the same high standard as the W5000 and W20000, and sports a similar gloss white casing. The lens is offset to the right-hand side and recessed into the projector's body. It offers a 1.2x zoom rating, which is a little low for our liking and limits options for placement. Thankfully, there is a decent amount of horizontal and vertical lens shift along with electronic keystone compensation to ensure optimal picture position and shape.
The control panel is on the top of the projector's body, but it is located on the rear left-hand side. This might be a problem if you've got the projector mounted on a shelf. However, like BenQ's other models, a fully featured remote is included, so after the initial setup you shouldn't need to touch the projector again.
A decent amount of connections reside on the rear of the unit, hidden under a slight lip to stop any dust collecting. Two component sets and single VGA and HDMI ports cover analog and digital high-definition resolutions, while lower resolutions are handled by composite and S-Video.
Like other 3LCD projectors, the W500 has a filter that needs to be regularly cleaned or replaced; it can be found on the base of the unit, along with the lamp door. A replacement lamp will cost around $500 on the street, which is comparable to other budget units.
Picture quality is quite good. It's not as film-like as the W20000, but it's incredibly bright with good black levels and no noticeable image noise.
Colour balance is surprisingly good. Out of the box, it was only very slightly biased towards reds, and even this was only visible during dark scenes. With this corrected and a very slight tweak to grey levels made, the projector had a very balanced and clean colour palette. These tweaks were easily made thanks to a comprehensive and easy-to-navigate menu system that features incremental adjustments for all major (and minor) colour and image settings.
Brightness is solid at 1100 ANSI lumens, and the unit's contrast ratio is 5000:1 when the dynamic iris setting is used. These figures are more than acceptable for displaying content in a darkened room, but you might have trouble in less-than-perfect conditions.
Black levels from the projector are equally impressive, giving high contrast scenes a very lively feel. Shadow detail is perhaps not as high as it could have been — during our viewing of a Blu-ray version of Batman Begins through a Samsung BD-P1000, we noticed that a lot of detail was missing in darker scenes.
Image noise was non-existent, a surprise considering the W500's budget price. Impressively, this has been achieved without compromising on sharpness; when correctly focused, pictures are crisp and clear without being too sharp or blurred.
The projector is slightly loud, however. Audible noise levels are 31dB in full brightness mode, which is quite high for its class. If you're sitting behind the projector you won't notice the majority of this noise, but if you're off to the side or in front then your surround sound experience might be somewhat spoiled.
The W500 is a projector with very high quality image for a budget model. Once it's properly configured, the W500's colours are balanced and sharpness and black levels are spot-on. The only real downside is fan noise. Our only other gripe would be the lack of a second HDMI input.