The BenQ i500 Smart Video Projector Reviewed

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Introduction To The BenQ i500

BenQ i500 Smart Video Projector - Front and Rear Views
BenQ i500 Smart Video Projector - Front and Rear Views. Images provided by BenQ

Internet streaming has become a staple of home entertainment. You can access streaming content from a variety of devices, including standalone Network Media Players and Media Streamers, as well as many Blu-ray Disc players, home theater receivers, and, of course, via Smart TVs. In addition, in 2015, LG came out with a line of Smart Video projectors, and in 2016, BenQ has joined in with their own entry, the i500.

Core Features of the BenQ i500

First off, the i500 is stylish, sporting a unique oval cabinet design, which is very compact, measuring just 8.5(W) x 3.7(H) x 8(D) inches. The i500 is also light, weighing about 3 pounds, making it  portable and easy to set up at home, or take on the road.

The i500 package comes with the usual items, such as a Remote Control, Power Adapter/Power Cord, Quick Start Guide (a more comprehensive user manual can be downloaded from BenQ website), and Warranty documentation (3-years), but also includes an HDMI cable.

As a video projector, the BenQ i500 incorporates lampless DLP Pico chip and LED light source technologies to produce an image that is bright enough to be projected on a large surface or screen. Also, the benefit of LED light source technology means that, unlike most projectors, no periodic lamp replacement is required as the LEDs have over a 20,000 use hour lifespan.

The i500 can produce up to 500 ANSI lumens of white light output with 100,000:1 Contrast Ratio (Full On/Full Off).

The i500 has a 720p display resolution, but will accept input resolutions up to 1080p - all resolutions are scaled to 720p for screen display.

The i500 also incorporates a Short Throw Lens. What this means is that the i500 can project large images from a very short distance. It can project images from 20 to 200 inches depending on projector-to-screen distance. For example, the i500 can project an 80-inch image from a distance of about 3 feet.

The i500 provides manual focus, but no zoom control is provided. This means that you will have to move the projector closer to, or farther from, the screen to get the desired image size. Vertical Keystone Correction (+/- 40 degrees) is provided for additional projector-to-screen adjustment.

As with most video projectors intended for general home entertainment use, the i500 has a native 16x10 Screen Aspect Ratio, but it can accommodate 16:9, 4:3, or 2:35 aspect ratio sources.

Preset Color/Brightness/Contrast Picture Modes modes include Bright, Vivid, Cinema, Game, and User.

Connectivity

For access to physical sources, the i500 provides 1 HDMI and 1 VGA/PC monitor input.

NOTE: There are no Component, or Composite Video video inputs provided.

The i500 also includes 2 USB ports (1 is ver 3.0, 1 is version 2.0) for connection of flash drives or other compatible USB device for playback of compatible still image, video, audio, and document files. You can also connect a windows USB keyboard for easier password entries, menu and web browsing navigation.

The i500 also incorporates audio connectivity and features including a Built-in stereo audio system (5 watts x 2), supported buy a 3.5mm minijack analog stereo input and 3.5mm minijack Microphone input. For added audio flexibility there is also 1 analog stereo audio output (3.5mm) for connection to an external audio system, if desired.

Smart Features

To support media streaming capability, as well as access to locally stored content on PCs or Media Servers, the i500 features built-in Ethernet and Wifi connectivity.

In terms of streaming, the i500 incorporates the Android OS platform, as well as KODI and Aptoide, which provide access to a host of internet streaming providers, that include Amazon, Crackle, Hulu, Netflix, TED, Time Teller Network, Vimeo, iHeart Radio, TuneIn, and more....

For added streaming flexibility, the i500 is also Miracast compatible. This allows direct streaming or content sharing from compatible portable devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and select laptops and PCs.

The built-in stereo system also doubles as a Bluetook speaker when the projector is in standby mode (a separate Bluetooth On button is provided). In other words, if you are not using the video projector features, you can stream music directly to the i500's speaker system from compatible smartphones and tablets.

Next: Setting Up The BenQ i500

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Setting Up The BenQ i500

BenQ i500 Smart Projector - Side View with Focus Adjustment and Power Receptacle
BenQ i500 Smart Projector - Side View with Focus Adjustment and Power Receptacle. Image provided by BenQ

To set up the BenQ i500, first determine the surface you will be projecting onto (either wall or screen), then position the the projector on a table or rack, or mount on a large tripod capable of supporting a weight of 3 pounds or more.

NOTE: If you projecting onto a wall, the i500 has wall color compensation feature that aids in getting the correct color balance.

Once you have determined where you want to place the projector, plug in your source (such as a DVD, Blu-ray Disc player, PC, etc...) to the designated input(s) provided on the side or rear panel of the projector.

Also, for connection to your home network, you have the option of connecting and Ethernet/LAN cable to the projector, or, if desired, you can forgo the Ethernet/LAN connection and use the projector's built-in Wifi connection option.

After your have your sources connected plug in the power cord of the BenQ i500 and turn on the power using the button on the top of the projector or the remote. It only takes a few seconds to see the BenQ i500 logo projected on your screen, at which time you are set to go.

To adjust the image size and focus on your screen, turn on one of your sources, or use either the home menu or the built-in Test Pattern that is provided via the Settings Menu of the projector.

With the image on the screen, raise or lower the front of the projector using the adjustable front foot (or, if on a tripod, raise and lower tripod next or adjust the tripod angle).

You can also adjust the image angle on the projection screen, or white wall, using the manual Keystone Correction feature.

However, be cautious when using Keystone correction, as it works by compensating the projector angle with the screen geometry and sometimes the edges of the image will not be straight, causing some image shape distortion. The BenQ i500 Keystone correction function only works in the vertical plane.

Once the image frame is as close to an even rectangle as possible, move the projector closer or farther from the screen to get the image to fill the surface properly. Followed up by using the manual focus control (located on the side of the projector as shown in the above photo) to sharpen your image.

Two additional setup notes: The BenQ i500 will search for the input of the source that is active. Also, the only controls available on the projector are power (for the projector and Bluetooth feature) and the manual focus adjustment. All other features of the projector can only be access via the provided wireless remote control - so don't lose it!

Finally, don't forget to integrate the i500 to your home network so you can access the Smart features. If you are using an ethernet cable, just plug it in and you are set to go. If you are using the Wifi option, the projector will display the available networks - select the desired network and enter your network key code and the projector will connect.

Next Up: Use and Performance

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The BenQ i500 - Use and Performance

BenQ i500 Smart Video Projector - Streaming Menu
BenQ i500 Smart Video Projector - Streaming Menu. Image provided by BenQ

Video Performance

Once up and running, the BenQ i500 does a good job displaying hi-def images in a traditional darkened home theater room setup, providing consistent color and contrast, but I did find that the detail appeared a little soft, and individual pixels can become visible on large image sizes in combinations with short seating-to-screen distances.

Blu-ray Disc sources looked best, and the BenQ i500 also did well with DVD and most streaming content (such as Netflix). However, it is important to not that Blu-ray disc content did look slightly softer than what you would see on a projector with full 1080p display resolution.

On paper, its maximum 500 lumen light output rating seems a like a low spec for a video projector these days, but the BenQ i500 actually projects a brighter image than you might expect in a room that may have some very low ambient light present.

However, when using the projector in a room in such conditions, black level and contrast performance is sacrificed, and if there is too much light, the image will looked washed out. For best results, view in a near dark, or completely dark, room.

The BenQ i500 provides several pre-set modes for various content sources (Bright, Vivid, Cinema, Game), as well as User mode that can also be preset. For Home Theater viewing (Blu-ray, DVD) the Cinema mode provides the best option.

On the other hand, I found that for TV and streaming contents, Vivid or Game is preferable. The BenQ i500 also provides an independently adjustable user mode, and you can also change picture setting parameters (brightness, contrast, color saturation, tint, etc...) in each the preset modes to be more to your liking, if desired.

As part of my review of the BenQ i500, I was also sent a pair of rechargeable 3D glasses (requires optional purchase). I found that the 3D layering effects were accurate and haloing and motion smearing was very minimal.

However, the two factors working against a good overall 3D viewing experience is the lower light output and the softer 720p display resolution. My suggestion, for the best possible 3D viewing experience using the i500, it is best to do so in a completely dark room, if possible.

In addition to real world content, I also conducted a series of tests that determine how the BenQ i500 processes and scales standard definition input signals based on a series of standardized tests. What I found that is that the i500 upscaled lower resolution to 720p well - with minimal evidence of feathering or edge jaggedness.

Also, the i500 does a very good job handling various frame cadences, and also does an excellent job of scaling 1080p source content down to 720p. However, the i500 does not do a good job of suppressing video noise, if it is present in the source content.

Audio Performance

The BenQ i500 incorporates a 5-watt per channel stereo amplifier and two built-in loudspeakers (one on each side of the rear panel). The sound quality is not sound bar or home theater quality (no real bass and subdued highs) - but the midrange is both loud and intelligible enough for use in a small room.

However, I definitely recommend that you send your audio sources to a home theater receiver or amplifier for that full surround sound listening experience. You have the option to connect the audio output options on either the projector or your source devices to a stereo or home theater receiver.

One additional innovative audio output option offered by the BenQ i500 is the ability for the projector to function as a standalone Bluetooth speaker when turned off (there is a separate power on button for Bluetooth-only operation), which provides additional sound listening flexibility. I was able to both send audio to the projector from a smartphone, but I will say that I have heard better sound quality on dedicated standalone Bluetooth speakers, including BenQ's own Trevolo.

However, if you are traveling with the BneQ i500 projector, it is kind of nice to not have to also pack a separate Bluetooth speaker.

NOTE: For Bluetooth, the i500 only functions as a receiver - it does not stream audio to external Bluetooth-enabled headphones or speakers.

Smart Feature Use and Performance

In addition to traditional video projection capabilities, the BenQ i500 also incorporates Smart features that provide access to both local network and internet-based content.

First off, when the projector is connected to your internet/network router, it can access audio, video, and still image content from local connected sources, via KODI, such as PCs, laptops, and media servers.

Second, the BenQ i500 is also one of the few video projectors that can reach out to the internet and stream content from services such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, and others, without the need to connect an external media streamer or stick. Access is easy using the onscreen menus, and although the selection of apps is not as extensive as you might find on a Roku Box, it is more extensive than you would find on many Smart TVs. There is access to abundant TV, movie, music, game, and information choices.

In addition to streaming content, the projector also provides access to a compete web-browser experience via the Firefox for Android App. I found using the Firefox web browser cumbersome - even using a windows keyboard. Fortunately, the projector has two USB ports that allow connection of both a keyboard and a mouse, which definitely made the web browser easier to use - but keep in mind that you will need a flat surface to move your mouse.

For more content access flexibility, the projector is also able to wirelessly access content from compatible smartphones, tablets, laptops, and PCs via Miracast. After a couple of failed setup tries, I was finally able to wirelessly share content from my smartphone with the i500.

Overall, I really liked the network and internet streaming capabilities of the i500. Netflix looked good, and web browsing using a keyboard and mouse was easy, but I did find that finding apps was sometimes cumbersome as some are preset, some can only be found through KODI, others only through Aptoide, and others through the App Store. It would be nice if there was just one central list all of the apps that are available.

On the other hand, using KODI, I was able to easily access music, still image, and video content on my network connected devices.

Next: The Bottom Line

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The Bottom Line

BenQ i500 Smart Video Projector - Remote Control
BenQ i500 Smart Video Projector - Remote Control. Images provided by BenQ

The Bottom Line

After using the BenQ i500 over a period of time, and making the observations discussed in the previous pages, here are my final thoughts and rating, as well as information on pricing and availability.

PROS

  • Stylish Cabinet Design.
  • No lamp or color wheel - Long Life LED light source.
  • Good color image quality.
  • 720p display resolution in a compact lampless projector.
  • Better than expected light output for a 500 lumens-rated projector. No visible DLP Rainbow Effect.
  • Both Audio and Video connectivity provided.
  • Great Smart TV package - Lots and Lots of Apps!
  • Very compact - easy to travel with.
  • Fast turn-on and cool-down time.
  • Includes both 2D and 3D viewing options.
  • Web Browsing available via Firefox for Android App.

Cons

  • Black level performance is just average.
  • Only 1 HDMI Input provided - If you need to connection more than one HDMI source component, one option is to route through a home theater receiver or an HDMI switcher.
  • No zoom control - must change projector to screen distance to determine projected image size.
  • No Lens Shift - only Keystone Correction provided.
  • There are so many apps to go through that you may miss some streaming services offered such as Crackle, Hulu, and Amazon (I almost couldn't find Netflix).
  • Large external power supply.
  • 3D viewing is softer and darker than 2D viewing option.
  • Individual Pixels may be visible on large screen sizes or close seating distances.
  • Built-in speaker system is better for projector use than standalone Bluetooth use for music.

For those that are looking for a dedicated home theater projector, the BenQ i500 may not be the best match, as it does lack high-end optics, optical lens shift, zoom, heavy-duty construction, and, although I found its video processing to be very good - it isn't perfect.

However, if you desire a projector provides acceptable image quality (makes a great starter or second projector) and fun entertainment experience with lots of content access options (no need for external media streamer), can be also be used as Bluetooth speaker, and is easy to move from room-to-room and take traveling, the BenQ i500 is definitely worth checking out.

Taking all into consideration, I give the BenQ i500 Smart Video projector a 4 out of 5 Star rating.

Suggested Price: $749.00

I hope that BenQ and others pursue the "Smart" concept further for possible inclusion in midrange and high-end video projector options. The would put video projectors on more equal footing with many of today's TVs, in terms of providing content access without having to plug in as many external source devices.

Additional Components Used In This Review

Projection Screens: SMX Cine-Weave 100² screen and Epson Accolade Duet ELPSC80 Portable Screen.

Blu-ray Disc Player: OPPO BDP-103D

Smartphone For Bluetooth Test: HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition

Home Theater Receiver (when not using projector's internal speakers): Onkyo TX-NR555

Loudspeaker/Subwoofer System: Fluance XL5F Floorstanding Speakers, Klipsch C-2 as the center channel, Fluance XLBP dipole speakers as the left and right surround channels, and two Onkyo SKH-410 vertically firing modules for height channels. For the subwoofer I used a Klipsch Synergy Sub 10.

Disc-Based Content Used In This Review

Blu-ray Discs (3D): Drive Angry, Godzilla (2014), Hugo, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Jupiter Ascending, The Adventures of TinTin,Terminator Genysis, X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Blu-ray Discs (2D): 10 Cloverfield Lane, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, American Sniper, Gravity: Diamond Luxe Edition, In The Heart of The Sea, Mad Max: Fury Road and Unbroken.

Standard DVDs: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, John Wick, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Outlander, U571, and V For Vendetta.

Original Publish Date: 09/18/2016 - Robert Silva

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer, unless otherwise indicated. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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