One look at the large fish-eye lens on the front panel of the BenQ MP512 ST projector and you know it is something special. Indeed, the ST in the product’s official moniker might also give it away. It stands for “short throw,” meaning you can park this model a mere 3 feet from a screen and still see a large, clear image. Of course, short throw projectors aren’t new, but they’ve never been this affordable.
Short-throw models have two advantages over typical projectors. First, they can be placed so close to the screen that there is little chance that a presenter will walk into the projector’s beam and cast a disruptive shadow. And second, a short-throw model can be placed up front, away from your audience, minimizing any distracting light and cooling fan noise.
Outside of its large, short-throw lens, the MP512 is a fairly typical budget projector with many of the usual cost-cutting compromises. The resolution is relatively low, at 800 x 600-pixel SVGA, and there is no optical zooming capability, which limits your ability to tailor image size to a particular screen. (A higher-resolution XGA version, the BenQ MP522 ST, is just $100 more.) The credit card–size remote control has a relatively sparse set of controls (forget a laser pointer or any buttons for navigating a PowerPoint presentation).
Nevertheless, the MP512 ST does pack a few surprises. It is one of the few budget projectors to sport an HDMI port, enabling easy connections to set-top boxes, game consoles, DVD players, and laptops with HDMI. We also like the handy Blank button on the remote, which is perfect for temporarily turning the projector image black and shifting the audience attention back to the presenter. There is even an interesting timer option so your audience will know exactly when your slideshow will end.
On our performance tests, the MP512 ST continued to impress. Our luminance meter pegged this model at almost 20 percent brighter than advertised—a rare example of a projector over-delivering on this important spec. With 2610 lumens, our review unit was bright enough for just about any business application. Our checkerboard contrast test showed a contrast ratio of 462:1, a rating that is more than adequate for business applications and one that easily holds its own among portable projectors. We did notice some varying brightness, with the upper left corner of the image being almost a third brighter than the lower right corner.
The images produced by the MP512 ST were quite sharp, although we did observe some tiny comet tails on individual pixels and some green shadows in the upper left region of the image. As is frequently the case with a DLP projector, the yellows were rather dull, but blues and reds were rich. Even though the SVGA resolution was less than optimal for HDTV images, the large image size resulted in pleasant viewing. We were able to get a 60-inch diagonal image with the projector just 43 inches from the screen.
Warm-up and cooldown times were not especially fast, but acceptable at 43 and 33 seconds, respectively. The MP512 ST’s Economy mode makes the cooling fan barely audible, increases the lamp life to an impressive 4,000 hours, and dims the brightness by only 14 percent.
Our biggest disappointment involved the speakers. Rarely have 5 watts sounded so tinny. Also, we initially found it hard to believe that a device with such a relatively powerful audio capability had no volume controls on either the projector top panel or the remote control. To adjust volume we had to navigate into the on-screen menu. A BenQ representative explained that our unit was preproduction, and the remote control that ships to consumers do include volume controls.
The BenQ MP512 ST is a very good budget projector for work and play, even though the speakers could sound better. This model’s short-throw lens, big image size, and amazing brightness make it a steal for $579.