- Great value
- Sharp, detailed pictures
- Plenty of brightness
- Quite noticeable rainbow effect
- Runs a bit noisily
- Only one HDMI
- Single-chip DLP projector
- Full HD resolution
- 3,200-lumens claimed brightness
- 10,000:1 contrast ratio
- Manufacturer: BenQ
- Review Price: £530.00/$795.00
WHAT IS THE BENQ TH530?
If you’re in the market for a compact and eye-catchingly affordable home entertainment projector, the BenQ TH530 could be just what you need.
Despite costing just £530/$795, it produces pictures bright enough to watch in a little ambient light but rich enough in contrast to support serious dark-room use, and it’s equally at home with games and movies. You just need to be careful if you’re prone to noticing rainbow effects.
BENQ TH530 – DESIGN AND BUILD
Not surprisingly for a projector that costs £530/$795, the TH530 is fairly flimsily built. It’s strikingly small at 283 x 95 x 222mm and the body is clad entirely in plastic, with various venting points down its sides to let both fan noise and stray light pour out. There’s even a bright circle of light leakage from directly around the lens. The TH530 is saved from all-out ugliness by a fetching gloss-white finish and daintily curved edges that give it at least a vaguely domestic feel.
The TH530’s remote control isn’t one of BenQ’s best. It’s small, crowded with tiny and poorly labelled buttons, and doesn’t have any backlighting. All of this means it’s pretty much unusable – assuming you can even find it – in the sort of dark rooms most projectors are designed to work in.
BENQ TH530 – SETUP
As you’d expect of a budget projector, the TH530 isn’t overburdened with physical setup aids. There’s no vertical image shifting, for starters, and the amount of optical zoom on offer is so tiny that BenQ might as well not have bothered with it.
The throw ratio is sensibly pitched to suit a position on a coffee table in a typically sized room, though. Certainly it didn’t present me with any placement issues in my eternally cluttered test room.
The TH530 delivers a solid set of picture adjustments for its price point, although there are only a couple of options I’d recommend tweaking beyond choosing the Cinema picture preset. Firstly, use the SmartEco lamp mode, as this delivers the most effective all-round contrast. Secondly, set BrilliantColour on to boost shadow detailing, and then set the colour temperature to Warm.
BENQ TH530 – FEATURES
The TH530’s single-chip DLP system delivers some pretty big on-paper numbers for a £530/$795 projector. It enjoys a Full HD pixel count of 1,920 x 1,080. It also claims a maximum brightness of 3,200 ANSI lumens and a contrast ratio of 10,000:1 – a promising combination that helps allay suspicions that the TH530 might just be a business projector masquerading as a movie-watching and gaming device.
Connections are adequate rather than great. The main reason I say this is that there’s only one HDMI input where I like to see two these days, even on budget models such as this. There is an audio loop-through system to support a built-in 2W speaker, though, as well as two D-Sub computer ports. There are also S-Video and composite video options, but these low-quality connections are always best ignored where possible.
The TH530 provides some basic colour-management features, despite its exceptional cheapness, and provides an unusually varied selection of lamp modes. Particularly noteworthy among these is the SmartEco setting that cleverly boosts contrast while also reducing the lamp’s power consumption by as much as 70%. There’s also a LampSave mode that dynamically adjusts light output based on content and extends the lamp’s lifespan to a huge 10,000 hours.
Finally the TH530 supports 3D, although I wasn’t provided with any glasses I could have used to test this feature.
BENQ TH530 – PERFORMANCE
Budget projectors are like Forrest Gump’s infamous box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. But I’m pleased to say the TH530 is one of the tastiest morsels – more hazelnut cluster than coffee cream.
Particularly impressive is its combination of brightness and contrast. It’s not unusual to find a budget projector delivering a bright picture, but usually this brightness would be accompanied by much more distracting greyness over dark scenes than it is here. Instead, bright image areas on the TH530 are accompanied by surprisingly credible darks.
Even more surprisingly for such a cheap projector, dark areas contain impressive amounts of shadow detail. This ensures that dark scenes enjoy a sense of depth that’s pretty much on a par with bright ones, giving you an unusually consistent viewing experience by budget projector standards.
Perhaps the ultimate testament to the TH530’s unexpected contrast capabilities – when running in SmartEco mode at least – is that it actually looks at its best with high-contrast scenes that catch most affordable projectors out.
I was relieved to find that despite hitting brightness peaks beyond the ability of many sub-£1000 projectors, the TH530 can resolve decent amounts of detail and colour in those ultra-bright areas. There’s only the occasional hint of the ‘flared-out’ glowing effect I’ve seen on a few other cheap DLP projectors of late.
The TH530 also excels when it comes to sharpness and detail. It gets full value from its native 1080p resolution, delivering levels of texture and clarity that some projectors costing twice as much struggle to compete with. Even better, it delivers this sharpness uniformly across the screen, and without exaggerating source noise.
In fact, noise of all sorts is in impressively short supply. There’s hardly any of the gentle fizzing over dark parts of the picture that’s a feature of most relatively expensive single-chip DLP projectors, leaving you with a smooth, polished look that once again belies the TH530’s cheapness.
The TH530 handles motion surprisingly well, too. There isn’t really any judder beyond what you’d expect, and nor is there any of the fizzing noise during camera pans that many DLP rivals exhibit.
Finally, the TH530 is bright enough to be watchable with a bit of ambient light in your room, provided you run it on its High lamp setting. But it can also be adjusted to deliver an effective, more contrast-focused image for dark-room movie viewing. This sort of flexibility is unusual to find on a sub-£600 projector.
Before makers of more expensive projectors pack up and go home, though, there are inevitably a few issues to report with the TH530’s performance.
First and worst, there’s evidence of the so-called DLP rainbow effect over bright objects that appear against dark backdrops. The tell-tale fleeting stripes of red, green and blue are obvious enough that I’d expect pretty much anyone to notice them from time to time. They could potentially be a deal-breaker if you’re one of those people who’s especially susceptible to seeing rainbowing – rainbow-effect tolerance varies greatly from person to person.
Also, while black levels hold up well against many more expensive models, you can certainly get much deeper, richer, more neutral blacks if you spend more.
It’s a bit annoying that the BrilliantColour feature shifts the tone of the colour palette towards a cooler, yellower look, rather than just boosting saturation. You can partly fix this simply by choosing the Warm colour temperature, but pictures still look a bit desaturated compared with good step-up models. Yet turning BrilliantColour off leaves pictures looking duller and less convincing.
The TH530 runs more noisily than most home entertainment projectors, as I’d feared it would when I saw its petite, unusually open bodywork. There’s a high-pitched hum in the Eco lamp mode that’s presumably caused by the spinning DLP colour wheel, while the cooling fans kick out quite a racket in the High lamp mode.
The TH530 clearly has appeal as a gaming projector. However, while I certainly enjoyed the likes of Call Of Duty on it, it doesn’t have a dedicated Game preset, and although its average input lag is an acceptable 30ms, measurements around that average varied between 10ms and a rather high 51ms.
Finally in the negative column, the TH530’s built-in sound system is so weedy that it seems barely worth BenQ including it. It can hardly achieve any volume, and what audio there is sounds painfully thin and harsh.
SHOULD I BUY A BENQ TH530?
So long as you’re not especially prone to seeing DLP’s rainbow effect, the TH530 can be considered a surprisingly effective big-screen home entertainment option.
Its closest rivals are the Acer H6517ST, the Epson TW5210 and BenQ’s own W1070+. The Acer model is extremely similar, suffering almost identical pros and cons, except that it uses a short-throw lens that causes some slight edge-focusing issues. The Acer costs £570, too, handing the BenQ a £40 advantage. The LCD-based Epson TW5210 suffers no rainbow effect, which is nice, but struggles with its black level and contrast.
The W1070+’s pictures aren’t as crisp and noiseless as the TH530, but they do enjoy slightly better contrast.
BenQ continues to make life hard for its rivals with yet another aggressively priced but seriously watchable budget home entertainment projector.