Until recently, an HD Ready DLP video projector would set you back over a couple of grand, and it would probably have come in the shape of Toshiba's impressive TDP-MT700. But that's about to change dramatically thanks to BenQ, as it unleashes the HD Ready PE7700. It's comfortably priced at less than £2K, which is fine - as long as the aggressive price doesn't make an impact in performance terms...

There's nothing cheap about the way the PE7700 looks. The projector is promisingly heavy and sizeable for a sub £2k offering, and looks resplendent in its slick combination of high-gloss white and shiny silver trim. There's some icing on the cake, too, in the form of a sumptuously recessed BenQ logo.

The good first impressions continue with the PE7700's connections, which include an HDMI input, component video connection, a set of five BNCs for PC/RGB use, and the customary S-video and composite video fallbacks. A 12V trigger jack would have been appreciated perhaps - but in reality the only people likely to miss this are custom installers.

Backing up the HDMI/component jacks to win the PE7700 its HD Ready spurs is a native widescreen resolution of 1280 x 720. Other specifications of interest include a claimed contrast ratio of 2,500:1 (the same as that of Toshiba's MT700), claimed brightness of 1100 ANSI Lumens (actually marginally higher than that of the Tosh), HD2 chipset and a six-segment colour wheel.

When it comes to features, perhaps the most intriguing is BenQ's Senseye technology. This proprietary image-processing system divides all source signals into separate brightness (Y) and colour (UV) components before applying four separate enhancement procedures to deliver, so it's claimed, more details in dark areas, richer colours, greater sharpness, and improved motion. Other helpful tweaks found amid the PE7700's nicely designed onscreen menus include noise reduction; a variety of picture presets; separate adjustments for the red, green, blue and yellow colour components; a two-setting black level adjustment; low and full lamp power options; a dust filter (worth having even though the PE7700's optics are housed in a sealed environment); white balance fine-tuning; and picture-in-picture facilities. Many of these can be considered well beyond the call of duty considering the projector's crowd-pleasing price.

The PE770 is equally accommodating when it comes to ease of use. The focus/zoom rings are robust, sensitive and accessible, the keystone adjustments are helpfully subtle, and the amount of optical zoom available is unusually flexible - with the latter point making this projector adaptable to a wider-than-normal variety of room sizes.

Performance

In action, the PE7700 comfortably meets expectations. I was immediately impressed, for instance, by its colours performance during a run-through of Troy. The sumptuous hues of the garments worn by the Trojan royals as they watch Hector duke it out with Achilles are vivid and rich. And the skin tones throughout the film - even during darker scenes - strikes me as quite authentic. This PJ has a colour tone and white balance that's perfectly judged for film, as opposed to PC use.

Director Wolfgang Petersen's frequent shots of the marching (digital) Trojan armies also impress, as BenQ's PE7700 cocks a snoot at fizzing noise over horizontal motion.

When it comes to DLP's traditional nemesis of rainbow flicker (where bands of colour flicker in your peripheral vision), the model fares well. Certainly, the effect is far less overt than I'd expect for an entry-level DLP model. There really is no overstating what a boon it is to find both these micromirror nasties so well dealt with on such an inexpensive projector.

I was also impressed by the sheer scale of the picture. Perhaps because of the Senseye system, the PE7700's images have genuine depth, thanks to an extended greyscale and broad colour palette.

In use, the projector is reasonably quiet, clearly making good use of its bulk to keep fan noise to a minimum - especially when you engage the low lamp mode (typically 26dB). Of course there are some caveats.

The most overt reminder that this is, after all, a budget HD Ready projector comes from the low-level appearance of green dot noise during dark scenes. This slightly softens the picture and curtails the black level response a touch - not enough by any means to stop the picture looking cinematic (especially using the cinema mode preset), but just enough to leave more mid-range HD Ready DLP models like the Optoma Themescene H78 or Sharp XV-Z2000 (both £3,000) with a means of justifying their existence.

The PE7700 can be considered a high-value performer that is certain to put the cat amongst the cut-price DLP pigeons. Even though it's typically £600 cheaper than the previous cheapest HD Ready DLP projector, the Toshiba MT700, the BenQ actually performs at least as well. And it's without doubt the best BenQ branded projector we've yet seen.

But with LCD leading the shift to sub £2k HD Ready models, it remains to be seen if this DLP charger can carve out a chunk of market-share for itself. Worth auditioning. John Archer

A high-value performer that is certain to put the cat amongst the cut-price DLP pigeons