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Cheap projectors - a journey (Benq, Kogan, Mitsubishi)


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This is a bit long and I'm mostly writing it for my own amusement rather than trying to be genuinely informative, but it's possibly a topic worth discussing, especially for those of us who love projectors but always work with a bit of a tight budget.

 

Back in the 1990s when I started buying DVDs (having missed out on the whole Laserdisc thing), I was super keen to see the wonders of widescreen, only to be disappointed by the unimpressive sight of a 2.35:1 image displayed on a good quality Sony 68cm Trinitron.  You could see the potential and for the first time for a lot of my favourite movies I could actually see the whole damn frame, but boy was it small.  I hankered after a better solution.  At the time, the rear-projection TV was about the only affordable way to get a bigger image but the sheer size of them didn't appeal to me.  A 68cm Trinitron was already a huge, heavy, heat creating beast of a thing.

 

Fast forward to 2004 and I had enough scratch to contemplate one of the new budget projectors that catered especially for DVD (progressive scan!  anamorphic out of the box!).  These were a big deal back then, most projection systems had been based around 3-CRT setups from Barco and the like and required a full installation.  The new range of projectors that were being produced around DLP tech were revolutionary.  So I stumped up the $1500 and bought a Benq PB6200.

 

The PB6200 was one of a few projectors built around the same chip, all of them had similar specs.  The Benq got some rave reviews for the price and it proved to be stunning when brought home - at least compared to squinting at a CRT.  It was marvellous.  The picture was bright and solid and the rubbish mastering of a lot of 2000s DVDs (crushed blacks, mpeg artifacts) meant that it's limitations were not as noticeable as you might think today.  Sure - it leaked light, couldn't really pull off a convincing black and I saw the odd rainbow effect now and again, but having that huge image splashed onto the wall made up for it.    An added bonus?  While only 1024/768 native, it did a convincing job of displaying 1080i over the component inputs when HD tv started broadcasting in Australia.  All this before HDMI gobbled the industry, everything over massive handfuls of component cable.

 

Then, HDMI took over the industry.  I avoided it for a long time just to keep my precious projector running.  Eventually I had to capitulate as modern equipment started dropping support for component video and Bluray was the final nail in the coffin - no HD over component.  I got around this with a stack of dongles (EDID injector, HDMI to component converter) and the Benq just kept chugging like a champ.  3 bulbs and I have forgotten how many thousands of hours of happy viewing.  The sound of the screen being pulled down on the chain and the startup fan noise of the PB6200 was a sign for the family to get grabbed by the couch and enjoy the wonders of affordable home cinema.  At 15 years old, the poor old thing was full of dust blobs and the support for 1080i started to look sketchy (one of the Google Chromecasts I bought refused to do 1080i) but we didn't care.  There was always a cheap LCD tv for daytime viewing but the Benq still smashed out a believable picture.

 

Then, the final straw that was the awful 2020 - the power supply in the Benq finally carked it.  Not sure whether it was helped along by an electrical storm (my tech couldn't be sure what killed it).  It was dead, could not be revived, no spare parts available at a reasonable price.  I was devastated and thanks to the wonders of 2020 skint.   Searches for cheap projectors usually came up pretty empty and it seemed like 1080 projector specifications hadn't really moved that much in 15 years anyway, which was something of a surprise (quieter, yes, and better contrast, sure, but nothing really groundbreaking).  A 4k projector was just out of the question.

 

So I caved and bought a Kogan F500.  I had read on the internet many times to completely avoid cheap projectors. although the details were always a bit vague.  I started to get the feeling that dumping on a cheap projector on the internet was a way to justify the $5k and up prices of whatever the poster had bought for themselves.

 

The F500 was a fairly obvious stretch of the truth from Kogan - they claimed 3800 lumens out of an LED bulb (for comparison, the Benq on a fresh bulb was 1700 lumen and unwatchable in a bright room).  I knew for a start that was going to be garbage but the promise of native HD and eliminating my stack of cheap chinese dongles appealed greatly - as did the price ($289.99).  I mean, for $300 what could possibly go wrong?  It was cheaper than the cheapest 2nd hand HD projector on Ebay or anywhere.  How bad could it be?

 

The answer - not awful, not unwatchable, but so annoying I had to stop using it.  For balance, I'm going to list the good features first:  It was plenty bright, it's not 3800 lumen (I didn't measure it) but was about the same as the Benq with a fresh bulb.  It is genuinely native HD - the resolution was a genuine improvement even at the 4m or so seating distance we use.  It did a good-verging-on-great contrast on greyscale and smashes the Benq on black levels.  My first impression was "hey, this thing is actually OK".  It looked good with some live sport, no noticeable lag and overall pretty engaging.  Bonus - LED lamp meant no lamp replacements and hopefully no dimming over time like the lamps in the Benq.

 

Now for the bad.  The lens is not adjustable like a Benq so the screen size is wholly dependent on the throw distance.  So there is no flexibility whatsoever on placement.  "No problem" I cheerily thought looking at the massive picture that dwarfed my old pull-down screen.  I yoinked the screen and just threw that picture up on the wall.  It's so huge!  However, it's a big strike for those who need flexibility and to be honest, the wall isn't a great screen.  My wife was ecstatic that the screen was gone - I will have to paint the wall at some stage.

 

Then the second bad point made itself apparent - the Kogan doesn't do skin tones.  At all.  Every face is a plastic mess.  On the standard picture settings a red bloom appeared on any and all skin tones that made everybody look like they had crimson burst blood vessels all over their cheeks and hands.  No problem I thought, can be adjusted out.  I did manage to tame that particular beast by pushing the contrast to a warning level on the menu and never using anything other than the "cool" picture settings.   Faces still look annoyingly plastic though.

 

Third bad point - the Kogan doesn't do Yellow.  It does shades of Green, but never yellow.  Not even close, no matter how much you fiddled with it, no yellow.

 

Fourth bad point - it was permanently out of focus on the right hand side.  No amount of adjustment or alignment could remove the fact that somewhere in the internal optics, the LCD panel was not lined up with the lens.  

 

Fifth bad point and the reason I gave up using it - the fan is so fantastically noisy it drowns out any and all subtlety in a movie soundtrack.  It's like sitting under an idling 737.  It was so loud it impeded conversation.  It's loud.

 

The worst part of this is that none of these things are hard to fix - it would likely make the thing a $400 projector instead of a $300 projector, but for the want of a bit of quality control and a more expensive fan the F500 could have been the bargain of the century it's so close to being watchable.  Incredibly frustrating.

 

Anyway, one too many beers and an over-active thumb on Ebay over New Years landed a 2nd hand Mitsubishi HC7000 on my door step.  Now, I lusted over the HC7000 last decade and the quasi-unavailability of it just made we want it more, but the $5k pricetag was never going to happen in my house.  However, a single moment of weakness ("surely it will go for more than $450!!!") and here it is.  I haven't installed it yet, just plopped it on a cabinet to see if it worked but good gravy it's a lovely thing:

 

- motorised lens adjustment - heaven.

- so quiet, so very quiet.  Can't really hear it unless you are really close - heaven.

- the skin tones are to die for

- the black levels are astonishing - even on the wall the picture just looks glossy and the shadow details on black suits etc. amazing

- YELLOW HOW I MISSED YOU

- things I thought were MPEG artifacts turned out to be projector artifacts - e.g. the Bluray of Top Gun, opening scenes of steam blowing over the carrier deck look like...steam.

 

So in conclusion - cheap projectors aren't a complete waste of time if you can live with the limitations (although with 75" LCD tvs becoming so affordable the whole PJ vs TV thing becomes interesting anyway).  If it wasn't for the quality issues of the Kogan F500 (not sold any more) were all little issues that could be addressed by the manufacturer without a lot of work.  However, once you've seen a decent projector, the F500 (and I presume others in that price range) are just too flawed for regular use.  Maybe out on the deck for a movie evening outside or whatever, but regular viewing will drive you nuts.

 

As a 2nd hand prospect, the Mitsubishi HC7000 is a massive gamble (lots of things to go wrong) however this one is superb so I'm happy again.  Caveat emptor and all that.

 

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Nice write up. Been thinking of dipping my toes into the world of projectors without breaking the bank, and your write-up is informative for me.

 

Seems like a high quality used one is the way to go compared to an inexpensive new one if you are on a budget!

 

Cheers

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1 hour ago, anandpkumar said:

Nice write up. Been thinking of dipping my toes into the world of projectors without breaking the bank, and your write-up is informative for me.

 

Seems like a high quality used one is the way to go compared to an inexpensive new one if you are on a budget!

 

Cheers

 

I would definitely lean that way after this experience, however 2nd hand projectors could potentially be a bit of a nightmare, and I think the really expensive ones are a bit like old BMWs and Mercedes - you might be able to buy what was a $100,000 car for $10,000 but the spare parts prices are still as if the car was $100,000.  If somebody was selling a good quality projector on this site it could probably be trusted, buying on Ebay felt like a massive gamble I was just lucky it paid off.

 

The upside of 2nd hand, good quality projectors seems to be that they *are* repairable / parts seem to be available (lamp replacements for example, the lamp for a HC7000 is cheaper than a replacement lamp for the old PB6200!).  You definitely should research parts availability on anything 2nd hand.

 

If you really want that "near cinema" experience though, projectors are the only option.  I can't think of a situation where a 120" TV would be acceptable in any normal lounge room or be affordable for most of us.  A projector just rocks out that massive image and gets you immersed like nothing else.

 

edit:  things to look for on a 2nd hand projector:

 

1. How many hours has it done?  does it need a bulb and are they affordable?

2. Is that model prone to dust blobs (i.e. dust incursion into the optics).  Look for online experiences / owners reports.  The PB6200 was notorious for collecting dust blobs although most of them could be cleaned at bulb replacement time.

3. Fan noise.  It's a killer.

4. If you can't darken your viewing room, you will have to compromise on image quality and some projectors do better in partial light situations - again look for owners reports.

5. Mounting options - check the throw distances the projector is capable of and whether it can do what you want in your room.

Edited by Old Man Rubber
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Thanks mate for the detailed reply and the suggestions. Definitely valuable inputs, especially with regards to buying used projectors. 

 

I agree with your comments regarding e-bay/gumtree - probably less risky to buy something from the classifieds here. I've bought quite a few components for my 2 channel stereo from the classifieds and have had very good experiences with the sellers and no quality issues so far

 

55 minutes ago, Old Man Rubber said:

If you really want that "near cinema" experience though, projectors are the only option.  I can't think of a situation where a 120" TV would be acceptable in any normal lounge room or be affordable for most of us.  A projector just rocks out that massive image and gets you immersed like nothing else.

 

Totally agree! We dislike the idea of having a large TV in the living room/bedroom - taking up visual space while not in use. A PJ is a good alternative, and can be mounted or tucked away when not in use

 

 

55 minutes ago, Old Man Rubber said:

edit:  things to look for on a 2nd hand projector:

 

1. How many hours has it done?  does it need a bulb and are they affordable?

2. Is that model prone to dust blobs (i.e. dust incursion into the optics).  Look for online experiences / owners reports.  The PB6200 was notorious for collecting dust blobs although most of them could be cleaned at bulb replacement time.

3. Fan noise.  It's a killer.

4. If you can't darken your viewing room, you will have to compromise on image quality and some projectors do better in partial light situations - again look for owners reports.

5. Mounting options - check the throw distances the projector is capable of and whether it can do what you want in your room.

Will keep in mind these suggestions when I am looking out for one. Which are the good brands to look out for? I know of Epson, BenQ & Panasonic, and you mentioned Mitsubishi

 

Cheers!

 

 

Edited by anandpkumar
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AFAIK Mitsubishi are out of the PJ business.   Benq seem to make solid, great quality projectors although the 2nd hand prices reflect that.  Panasonic / Epson seem to be plenty available and good aftermarket support.

 

Optoma is one to look out for - they always got good reviews but I've never seen one.  Looking at the specs they use similar/same light engines as the Benq DLP projectors and have/had very similar specifications.

 

Sony make some well regarded projectors at the high end as well.  Be aware of the technology of the PJ as well, if you are somebody that will hate the occasional rainbow effect of a DLP I would stick to the LCD projectors.  The images to me are a touch softer and the LCD projectors don't perform as well on light/bright scenes in my experience (the image tends to wash out), but often have much better black levels/shadow detail.  Always have to compromise on something.

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1 hour ago, Old Man Rubber said:

AFAIK Mitsubishi are out of the PJ business.   Benq seem to make solid, great quality projectors although the 2nd hand prices reflect that.  Panasonic / Epson seem to be plenty available and good aftermarket support.

 

Optoma is one to look out for - they always got good reviews but I've never seen one.  Looking at the specs they use similar/same light engines as the Benq DLP projectors and have/had very similar specifications.

 

Sony make some well regarded projectors at the high end as well.  Be aware of the technology of the PJ as well, if you are somebody that will hate the occasional rainbow effect of a DLP I would stick to the LCD projectors.  The images to me are a touch softer and the LCD projectors don't perform as well on light/bright scenes in my experience (the image tends to wash out), but often have much better black levels/shadow detail.  Always have to compromise on something.

 

Thank you for that detailed reply - you've pretty much covered everything that I had doubts over.

 

I'll have a look at Optoma as well - they seem to have good reviews

 

Cheers!

 

Edited by anandpkumar
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A small postscript now the HC7000 is ceiling mounted and I've had a chance to fiddle with the settings.  For whatever reason, the previous owner had everything slightly washed out which gave a poor impression on bright scenes.  Most of this was fixed by simply changing the gamma setting away from their user preference settings - on "Cinema" the picture is absolutely gorgeous now and details are no longer getting washed away on bright scenes.

 

One bluray I have that I always use for testing is Ridley Scott's "Black Rain" - it's a tough ask for any display given a lot of the scenes are dark / smoky.  The old Benq struggled a great deal with it and rarely resolved a satisfying image on the nighclub / parking garage scenes.  The Kogan was no better really but more because the colour balance was never right and while it did resolve more shadow detail it's inability to make faces realistic was a huge problem.  The Mitsubishi smashes it out of the park - all those sleek, black limousines looking gloriously glossy and every wrinkle on Michael Douglas's late eighties visage getting resolved - at 24hz it still isn't *exactly* "film like" but it sure does look great - shame the local cinema can't do the same trick. 

 

Extra bonus - because of the motorised lens in the Mitsubishi I know have an extremely poor man's CIH setup.  2.35:1 movie?  Hit the zoom from the comfort of the couch.  For my situation it's just about perfect - the image is being shot over the top of the daytime LCD TV onto the wall behind and now I can adjust it so there is no overlap on 1.85:1 material yet make a truly huge widescreen image.  Fantastic stuff.

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