Introduction: It isn’t too often you read a projector review on a photographic website but projectors actually have a lot of applications in the photographic industry and over the last couple of years I have found an increasing need and use for projection in my print workshops (as well as using projectors to display photographs to friends in my own home). As a result, I recently updated the projector I had been using and wanted to share my findings on the upgrade as well as comment on how projection technology has matured over recent years in light of this recent upgrade; and lastly how you might utilise projection in your own home to better display your photography.
Because of the length of this review I have broken it up into two parts. Part one is a little about the history of home cinema projection (from my perspective) and how the technology has evolved and Part two is the review of the new BenQ W11000H projector. If you aren’t interested in the history (I think it is interesting see where we came from) then you can just skip forward to Part two (which I will post in the next few days).Where we Came From: By way of a brief history, As well as my photographic background I also have an extensive background in high end home cinema. In my previous life in the 1990’s and early 2000’s I designed a great many home cinemas for clients and was (and still am) both an ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) certified technician and a Level II THX Certified technician. I was also certified by CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) in home cinema design. My designs won several ‘Best Home Theatre of the Year’ awards from CEDIA. When I say I designed home cinemas, I am not referring to your generic home theatre in a box solutions, bur rather to high end custom home cinemas designed to properly replicate (and in many cases significantly improve on) the movie going experience. When I first started designing home cinemas the only real projection option available was 3-gun CRT (Cathode Ray Tube). CRT projectors were extremely large, extremely expensive and extremely dim by cinema standards. In order to get any sort of reasonable light output you either had to run a very small screen in a completely dark room, or stack projectors for additional lumens (light output). Stacking projectors was neither cost effective nor convenient. It took up a huge amount of space, put a huge dent in your wallet and required significant and frequent alignment (CRT projectors were prone to ‘drift’ which meant they needed frequent calibration). In hindsight, they were quite honestly more trouble than they were worth most of the time. However, they were the only game in town before the advent of LCD, DLP, DILA and Laser and if you wanted a home cinema projector, CRT was about you’re only choice. Of course in those days if you wanted to display your photography on the wall you used a slide projector (remember slides?). At the time I was using a Leica slide projector on a portable screen I would set up whenever I wanted to do a slideshow. The result was good, but it was quite a hassle to setup and prepare.
With the advent of advancing digital technologies the game changed in home cinema projection and it was finally possible to get truly bright large screen projection at a reasonable price point (compared to what it used to cost with CRT). The very first projectors utilising these new digital technologies were quite honestly pretty awful by todays standard, but they were a quantum leap in brightness over the previous CRT units.
Fast forward a decade or so from the advent of digital projection and the technology continued to mature to the point where the CRT was completely dead and digital projection (be it single chip or 3 chip DLP, LCD, DILA or Laser) was providing excellent 1080p High Definition content on just about any size screen you could want at a price point that was affordable for many who were constructing dedicated home cinemas utilising projection. Of course, much depended on your screen size, and room application, but there was a product for just about every application and budget. It was also around this time people started using projectors to display their photographs instead of traditional slide projectors. Along with film and the Dodo, slide projectors went the way of the dinosaur.
In the space of just a few years 1080p HD content became the defacto standard for home cinema. It was around this point in time (a bit over ten years ago) I purchased and installed a Marantz VP11-S1 1080p single chip DLP Projector in my house. It was at the time an extraordinary, industry leading projector with a superb Konika Minolta glass lens. It was single chip DLP and not super bright (around 700 lumens), but it was ‘razor blade’ sharp with outstanding on-board video processing. It had a variable f-stop allowing you to tailor the black level to your environment and it provided a great deal of adjustment to obtain the best possible picture. Once properly calibrated it was regarded at the time as one of the finest single chip projectors on the market at just about any price (and it wasn’t cheap at around $17,000 USD MSRP.) I used it for the next ten years on a 92” acoustically transparent SMX THX projection screen in a dedicated light controlled room for both movies and for photographic slideshows. The Marantz VP11-S1 remains to this day an outstanding 1080p projector that stacks up very well against just about any other single chip 2k projector south of about fifteen grand. During the many years of ownership I also used the projector for slideshows of my photography as well as for screening photography documentaries (and general movies).Fast forward to today and digital resolution has continued to increase to the point where now have a number of new projectors coming into the market place offering 4K UHD resolution as well as HDR10 capability (Dolby Vision is also starting to make an appearance). The game has changed; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the game has evolved. With the advent of 4K Projectors capable of HDR it is now possible to obtain image quality in home via projection that was up until this point pure science fiction. Enter the BenQ W11000H 4K UHD THX Certified DLP Projector. The world’s first THX certified 4K UHD projector that is HDR capable and that can display photographs (and movies) in a resolution previously unavailable in the average home. Part two of this review will focus on the BenQ W11000H and will be published in the next few days.