Having never reviewed a projector with a laser lightsource before it was difficult to know where to start, and so we decided that the best course of action was to review it as a projector first, and a lightsource second.
Adopting this approach we can say, unequivocally, that this is a very well thought out projector for its intended markets in education and business meeting rooms. The styling, which owes a lot to the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, might suffer a bit of negative reaction, on the basis that it’s ‘a bit fancy for schools, but, if buyers look at the features on offer, the LW61ST ticks just about every item on the wish list.
The ‘W’ in the model designation indicates that this is the WXGA model (1280 x 800 resolution) and, being short throw, the LW61ST projects an 80-inch (2032 mm) diagonal image from 842 mm from the wall. It weighs just over 5 kilos, and so could be moved from room to room, and, while the case has the shiny plastic look, it seems tough enough to withstand life in a school or office.
Where the new BenQ really excels is in the area of connectivity, audio and other features which make the LW61ST a flexible choice for either standalone or networked applications. Taking input options first, we have two RGB D-Sub slots for computers, S-Video, an RCA jack, HDMI, RGB component input, PC audio and RCA jacks and two Type A USB ports – and an additional Mini-B USB.
This is pretty generous for a projector designed for education and meeting room applications, as is the built-in audio facility. This is the first projector we have ever reviewed that attracted complaints from colleagues working in the building that the pair of 10W stereo loudspeakers were ‘too loud’ when turned up to 10. It’s certainly loud enough to use in the context of a classroom or small meeting room, and it has the advantage of making the unit self-contained for end-users sharing the projector across a number of rooms.
Other neat touches on this front are the built-in presentation timer and the laser pointer in the remote, and also some projection templates (for example a ruled grid for teaching handwriting) provided in blackboard and whiteboard modes. For customers choosing to install the LW61ST, control options include an RS232 serial connection, a PJ45 LAN control port, a 12v trigger and two IR receivers.
So, even if you knew nothing about BenQ’s new lightsource, the generously specified LW61ST compares favourably with the majority of projectors currently addressing this sector. But what’s really going to tickle the fancy of education buyers in particular is the idea that you never have to replace the lamp. or carry out any maintenance beyond periodically wiping the case.
Unlike Casio, Optoma and ViewSonic, each of which is using a variant on the original laser / LED hybrid, BenQ has developed a new technology based on an array of 24 Blue Laser diodes to create the light and a phosphor enhanced, six segment colour wheel to create the colour. While the generic benefits of lampless technology are detailed in the main feature of this piece, it is worth underlining that using the LW61ST really is quite a different experience if you are used to UHP lamps. The ability to simply turn the projector on and off, without worrying if you have let it cool down enough, is surprisingly satisfying.
In terms of performance, we tried the LW61ST with video, images and data, and results were more than satisfactory even though ours was a pre-production sample. Standard settings were all usable and, for those with a strong colour preference, we found the adjustments available in the easily-navigable menus sufficient. Useful features include the ability to present from a USB memory stick. We used the built-in slide show function which offers some natty transforms between slides and allows user to make a basic presentation from a series of JPEGs or PDFs without any real effort.
But as with most things sold into the education markets today, getting the green light will come down to cost of ownership. Here, BenQ is setting some fairly conservative figures for the anticipated life of the lightsource, claiming 10,000 – 20,000 hours. It should be possible for users to push this up to the top end of the bracket by using BenQ’s eco functions.
We obviously can’t assess a technology designed to last a minimum of 10,000 hours in two days, but BenQ is to be applauded for developing a new projector technology, and even more so for presenting in such a well thought out package. But the TCO calculation is far from a slam dunk. The LW61ST lists at 1990 euros inclusive of VAT, or about £1400 UK ex-VAT. It is certainly possible to find a competitive UHP projector for around half that price.
This would mean that the user would have to buy at least two replacement lamps in order to show a direct cost saving. But, factor in the downtime while the replacement lamp is sought and installed, the cost of getting someone to change the lamp and recalibrate the whiteboard, then the energy savings available from the projector’s eco functions, and the decision could come down to some fairly tight calculations, with anticipated usage being the key.