BenQ MS521 review

The BenQ MS521 business projector offers a 3,000-lumen rating, SVGA (800 by 600) resolution, and a claimed 10,000-hour lamp life.
Photo of BenQ MS521

A head-to-head competitor with the Editors’ Choice Epson EX3212 SVGA 3LCD Projector, the BenQ MS521 offers the same SVGA (800 by 600) resolution. It also offers some advantages over the Epson EX3212, notably an optical zoom and full support for 3D with sources like Blu-ray players. That makes it a good candidate if you need an inexpensive projector for showing a typical PowerPoint presentation or other images without much detail. Unfortunately, I ran into a problem with it in my testing. But more on that later. Depending on how you plan to use the projector, the problems may not be an issue for your purposes.

One other apparent advantage the MS521 has over the Epson EX3212 is a slightly higher brightness rating, at 3,000 lumens rather than 2,800. However, comparing brightness between the two is a little complicated. Projectors have two kinds of brightness measurements: white brightness and color brightness. For the vast majority of LCD projectors, including the Epson EX3212, the two measurements are the same. For DLP projectors like the MS521, they’re typically different.

The differences can affect both the brightness of color images and color quality. So just because the MS521 has a higher white brightness rating than the EX3212 doesn’t mean it will be brighter for all images. (For more on color brightness, see Color Brightness: What It Is, Why It Matters.) As a point of reference, I found the MS521 bright enough in my tests to stand up to moderate ambient light with a 98-inch diagonal image at its 4:3 native aspect ratio.

The Basics
At 4.4 by 11.9 by 8.7 inches (HWD) and 5 pounds 2 ounces, the MS521 is in a size and weight class that often winds up permanently installed or on a cart. Even so, it’s small and light enough to carry easily if you want to, and it’s a lot brighter than lighter-weight 500-lumen LED projectors like the InFocus IN1144. Unlike Epson, however, BenQ doesn’t supply a carrying case with the projector, so if you want one, you’ll have to buy it separately. (BenQ’s optional case is $40 street.)

Setup is standard, with manual focus and a manual 1.1x zoom, which is enough to give you some flexibility in how far you can put the projector from the screen for a given size image. Connectors for image sources include the usual HDMI port for a computer or video source, VGA ports for computers or component video, plus S-Video and composite video ports.

Image Quality
Data image quality is a strong point, with the MS521 handling our standard suite of DisplayMate tests without any serious problems. Colors in most predefined modes were suitably eye catching, color balance was good to excellent in all modes, and the projector also did a good job with detail, keeping both black text on white and white text on black, crisp and highly readable at sizes as small as 6.8 points.

As with many data projectors, image quality wasn’t in the same league for video as for data images. The quality is obviously limited by the native resolution and the need to scale HD images to fit in the available pixels on the DLP chip. Beyond that, I saw posterization (colors changing suddenly where they should change gradually), a loss of shadow detail (details based on shading in dark areas), and a tendency for darker areas in skin tones to wind up with a green tint.

It also doesn’t help that the projector shows rainbow artifacts easily in video, with bright areas breaking up into red-green-blue flashes. This is always a potential problem with DLP projectors because of the way they create colors. With the MS521 I saw few enough of these artifacts with data screens that it’s unlikely that anyone would be bothered by them. With video, however, they showed often enough that they could be annoying to anyone in your audience who sees them easily.

The projector can connect to a Blu-ray player or other video source for 3D, with the HDMI port supporting all of the HDMI 1.4a 3D formats according to BenQ. For those issues that apply to both modes, the quality is much the same as for 2D video. Beyond that, I didn’t see any crosstalk in my tests and saw only a hint of 3D-related motion artifacts. However, the image was noticeably dim at the 98-inch diagonal screen size I was using. For extensive 3D viewing, you would need to use a smaller size. Also note that you’ll have to buy 144Hz DLP-Link 3D glasses separately.

Other Issues
One shortcoming for the projector is its sound system. The two-watt speaker is arguably loud enough for a small conference room but not much more than that. If you need audio, you’ll probably want to use an external sound system.

One additional plus that demands mention is the claimed 10,000 hour life for the M521′s lamp, rather than the usual 2,000 to 5,000 hours. According to BenQ, the long life comes largely from BenQ’s SmartEco technology, which adjusts the lamp power based on the image content. This not only saves you the price of the replacement lamps you don’t have to buy, it also saves money on electricity, since you’re using less power. The 10,000 hour claim is based on what BenQ considers typical use.

All of which brings me back to the problem I mentioned earlier, and which I saw on two separate test units. As part of our standard test procedure, if a projector has both HDMI and VGA inputs, we connect image sources to both and switch between the two. More often than not, the MS521 wouldn’t sync to the computer input properly when switching from the HDMI source to the VGA source. In some cases, it failed to show an image on screen. In others, it reported the 800-by-600 input as being 1,064 by 600, and it distorted the image to match.

I was usually able to get it to sync properly by hitting the Auto-Sync button on the remote. But that took multiple tries. Obviously, this could be frustrating, particularly if it happens in the middle of a presentation.

The good news is that, based on my experience, if you don’t connect more than one image source at a time and switch between them, you won’t see the problem. I have to hedge that a bit, however. Just because I didn’t see the problem except when switching sources, doesn’t rule out the possibility that it might show up in other circumstances as well, like when you simply turn the projector and computer on. What it suggests, however, is that if the problem shows up in other circumstances, it doesn’t happen very often.

In any case, BenQ says it’s looking into this issue. If you’re considering getting the projector, you might want to check with the company before buying anything to ensure it’s been fixed.

With the obvious exception of this problem, the MS521 offers a potentially winning balance of price, portability, data image quality, brightness, and low running cost. Keep in mind also that even if you don’t need 3D now, having 3D support helps future-proof the projector. Given the synching problem I found, I can’t give it an enthusiastic recommendation as tested. But if you expect to use the projector with only one source in a session, you may want to consider it. And if you decide to pass it by for now, you may want to take another look once BenQ gets the synching problem fixed.

Specifications
Native Resolution 800 x 600
Video Inputs Component, Composite, HDMI, S-Video
Computer Interfaces HDMI
Wireless Connectivity No
Weight 5.1 lb
Rated Contrast Ratio 13000
Engine Type DLP
Type Business
Aspect Ratio 4
Rated Brightness 3000 ANSI lumens

Verdict
The BenQ MS521 business projector is light enough to carry easily, at 5.1 pounds, and it offers a bright, high-quality data image at a native SVGA (800 by 600) resolution.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc