BenQ TK700Sti 4k Gaming Projector Review
Lightning-fast response times put BenQ's latest gaming projector ahead of the pack, says Michael Darroch.
Short Throw 4K Gaming Projector
What was once the niche domain of teens loitering in gaming arcades has now become mainstream. Modern gaming has grown into an industry reportedly worth over US $150billion in 2020. If you needed proof of the impact this has in the AV world, look no further than the fallout over the HDMI 2.1 bug that impacted many AVR OEMs this year, and the lengths manufacturers went to in developing fixes. Given this ripening market, it's no surprise that companies are looking to harness the unique needs of gamers in developing products.
BenQ is the latest brand to join this growing party with its new TK700STI projector, aimed squarely at gamers. It is offering short-throw and large screen thrills with fast refresh rates and low input lag partnering with some gamer-specific visual trickery to give the edge in competitive environments where visual perception and every millisecond can count.
The jewel in its crown is the new Texas Instruments DLP471TE DMD chip, which has been updated with a High-Speed Serial Interface (HSSI), something BenQ takes advantage of to deliver a claimed 16.67ms input lag in their 4K60Hz Fast Mode, 8.33ms at 1080p 120Hz via HDMI, or as low as 4ms in 1080p mode at 240Hz via PC interface. Being among the first to market with the DLP471TE-based design means that the TK700STI is currently in rarified air for input lag, which gives it a distinct advantage over its competitors in gaming applications.
Similar to the established players in this segment, this is not a native 4K chip, and instead uses 1920x1080p micromirrors performing engineering magic on a 4K input signal to increase the output by 4 pixels per frame of resolution – with the end result a true 4096x2160p image with 8.3million distinct, addressable pixels. To purists, this may be a sore point, but if you are set on avoiding a DMD 4K device, you're going to spend a lot more and sacrifice input response, which sits in contradiction to much of what BenQ are trying to achieve here – so it's a compromise worth making.
Outside of resolution, we have an incredibly bright reported 3,000-lumen output, which is not only helpful for displaying supported HDR10/HLG content but can be used to light up a screen size anywhere from 30 to 300 inches. However, BenQ recommends sticking between 60 and 200 inches for optimal image quality. Importantly, as a short-throw projector, you can send out a 100-inch image from as little as two metres away, making this perfect for table-top applications.
The TK700STI also sports an Android TV interface via an included HDMI streamer, which sits curiously in a hidden third HDMI port behind a rear cover plate. This lets you access most streaming services, with the exception of Netflix which requires to be cast from a laptop or secondary streamer due to licensing concerns. Rounding off the inclusions, there's a built-in 5W speaker and a slim-profile remote. The remote is the same one that's included with other BenQ models, such as the recently reviewed W2700, and is easy to use, with direct access to Amazon Prime and a Google voice-command button prominently placed. The TK700 will also support 3D via a planned firmware update, expected later this year.
The projector itself is a compact unit. Measuring in at 312x110x246mm and a lightweight 3.1kg, it's easy to store and move, which does speak towards portability for table-top use, or when gaming night moves to a new location. Typical of this level of projector, it has a very business feel with a basic rectangular shape and clean white/grey exterior. Physical setup requires careful planning for this unit, with a small zoom range and complete absence of even a manual lens-shift leaving your only physical adjustability coming from outright placement or three levelling feet on the bottom of the projector.
There is a robust and effective 3D keystone adjustment, including rotation control, but this is at the expense of resolution – and critically in fast mode (which is arguably the main reason you would buy this projector) the keystone adjustments are bypassed in the pursuit of input response. Additionally, the narrow throw ratio of 0.9 to 1.08 can mean there is a very small window of distance you can place the TK700 in if you are planning to illuminate a specific screen size. If you are ceiling mounting this unit within the right throw distance or projecting onto a temporary screen or wall, you will find this not to be an issue, but if you have a long room with rear placement, or a screen mounted very high, this could cause problems.
Getting the projector up and running is wonderfully simple; there isn't much to do but plug in your source and go. The projector starts up with a (thankfully muteable) beep and briskly reaches full brightness. BenQ claim - and indeed, I tested a 35dB noise level from the TK700 which compares to a claimed 26dB for the Optoma UHD50X. This is a side-effect of the high output from the 240W lamp, which requires active cooling, but does get quieter if you select one of the Eco light modes. Even with my Playstation 5's Pulse3D headphones on, I could hear the fan noise, but in a conversational room or once you get started in your gaming, this is quickly forgotten.
The menu system is a simple and uncluttered display, but in some cases the options can be confusing in the way that they appear and disappear contextually depending on what you are watching. As an example, despite possessing many picture settings such as Bright, Living Room and Cinema, when the TK700 detects an HDR source, it defaults to one of two selectable options – HDR10 or HDR10-Game (and presumably HLG, although I was unable to test with any HLG content), leaving you to wonder where the other options are. It took me a while to figure out the keystone bypass in Game mode, while wondering why it wasn't working for me as the menu doesn't allude to this being the case.
Once you become accustomed to these quirks, it's an easy-to-use system with a surprising amount of depth in its colour management. One such here is BenQ's so-called Brilliant Colour adjustment which adds a lot of body and highlight to the image, but there is also an abundant menu system for RGBWCMY saturation, hue and gain adjustment. Given the market this product is aimed at, I think this is likely to go unused in most cases. I suspect it's likely a default BenQ menu option that was harder to remove than to leave in, and it will be nice for people intending this for media watching to know there is a level of customisability to suit your preferences if you aren't happy with the default picture.
Gamers have a specific HDR-Game setting, which lets you select not only the Fast Mode (off/low/high) but also one of three purposely designed image and sound profiles for FPS (First Person Shooter), RPG (Role Playing Game) and SPG (Sports). Each will subtly adjust the colour and sound to suit the content. For example, FPS mode will highlight mid-tones to help objects stand out in dark areas of the screen so that you have the best chance of finding loot or seeing enemies before they see you. RPG mode will enrich colour saturation to provide a more appealing setting for exploration, and Sport mode aims to give a more 'real' colour profile to proceedings. Each of these also has an impact on the sound from the built-in speaker, even if it is a meagre little thing.
Plugging in my PS5 and loading up Gran Turismo Sport, it was easy to see the benefit in the response rate of the projector. Inputs felt noticeably more direct, and there was a more connected sensation with what was happening on the screen. Dare I say the responsiveness helped me feel like a better driver! There was no perceptible rainbow effect with the DLP colour wheel (to my eyes), and the picture was bright, vibrant and drew me into the game. Projecting onto a 130” 16:9 screen in my dedicated room with light control, it was a clear image, but even with my wall sconces on, the bright output was such that it was still easy to play and comfortable on the eyes.
For those of you more suited to role-playing, Ghost of Tsushima provides expansive and rich landscapes of feudal Japan to really test the immersion that the BenQ could provide, while running in fidelity mode on the PS5. Similar to my previous experience, the BenQ maximised my screen real estate, really drawing me into the lush island scenery of Tsushima. The autumn colours of the first island were beautifully represented, and the ability of BenQ's Brilliant Colour really shows in bringing out exceptional colour detail – claimed by BenQ at 96% of Rec 709. Turning this setting down induces a noticeable dulling of the image, but leaving it on, I never felt like it was giving me too much saturation in any of the colours.
One area the TK700 did seem to struggle with (and I only noticed it in this game) was the gradients of the sky scenes. Particularly in the third section of the game where mist/snow was present. While my Sony X9000F renders this flawlessly, the BenQ introduces noticeable colour banding, made more obvious by the scale of the image. Turning Fast Mode on or off, or moving from HDR-Game to HDR10 did not seem to induce any noticeable difference to this. It's possible that a calibration may resolve some of the issue – but again, considering the market for this projector, I think most users are likely to look past this.
Upping the graphical ante, the newly released Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart on PS5 was a perfect opportunity to see just how sharp the BenQ could go with a true next-gen title. I can assure you that anyone concerned about the ability of a DMD to render 4K can take a sigh of relief. The game looks as glorious on the TK700 as it does on my Sony TV. Moments like the opening sequence left me wide-eyed at Rivet and Ratchet's insanely detailed fur, or Clank's brushed metal finish glinting in the light. The rich colour palette of the various dimensions are represented wonderfully, the TK700 faithfully displaying all the hallmarks of this true next-gen showpiece.
As a gaming display then, the BenQ was a truly eye-popping experience. Any projector involves an inherent level of compromise, but you will easily forget such thoughts when your brain is hit with 100 inch-plus versions of your favourite games in silky-smooth and twitch-responsive detail. The biggest complaint I had about the TK700 for gaming was that I will never be able to unsee just how “cardboard cutout” the trees in Gran Turismo are. Blowing a last-gen game up to almost life-size proportions is utterly unforgiving, but a credit to the ability of the TK700 to cast such a large image in small spaces.
Many will be considering this projector for a media room, so it was prudent to sample some film content to get a feel of how the TK700 would respond. I started with the best 4K60 demo I could think of – 2019's Gemini Man. The 60Hz HFR (High Frame Rate) capture of this movie, albeit less than the 120Hz cinema release, along with the high contrast cinematography, played right into the strengths of the TK700. Motion was clear and sharp, and highlight detail was dazzling, perfect for scenes like the motorcycle chase through Cartagena. But despite the great daylight showing, when we move on to the catacombs fight scene, we can see the TK700 does have difficulty showing detail in dark scenes. This comes down to a combination of a poor black floor, and the limited contrast ratio of 10,000:1, compared to market rivals the Optoma UHD50X with 500,000:1 or even 100,000:1 for the Epson TW7100.
Moving onto something less “60fps”, and 2013's Oblivion is another title that has some sweeping motion as Jack Harper's “bubble-ship” flies across the Icelandic landscapes. Again, colour detail and HDR highlights are pleasing and enjoyable – reflecting the efforts of BenQ's Brilliant Colour, but when faced with darker picture areas, the TK700 struggles, such as reproducing the texture details in Tom Cruise's hair – an issue not helped by the 2K intermediate for this film.
Considering something more realistic and gritty, and the 2017 war epic Dunkirk was a good opportunity for the BenQ to shine. The opening scene showed a lively and tangible Malo-Les-Bains streetscape, the showering propaganda leaflets almost popping out of the screen – but again, the BenQ is let down by the black-crush in the shadow detail as Tommy crouches by a darkened alley before being interrupted by a hail of gunfire. That's not to say that these issues make the BenQ unwatchable – far from it, but it's an area where the picture output gives away the more budget price-point, at odds with the expectation set by the high brightness.
Ultimately the BenQ TK700STI is quite a niche product. If you are looking to fill a media room, where gaming is only a small part of a larger entertainment equation, then high operating noise, poor black levels and BenQs baffling relationship with Netflix on their Android TV devices make it hard to recommend the TK700 over other, more balanced, options.
However, if you are serious about gaming and want the fastest 4K response time on the biggest screen possible at a great price, then this is completely unrivalled. For gaming, its shortcomings are easily overlooked in pursuit of that almighty low lag, and its brightness and short-throw make it suitable for almost any viewing environment.
With a 20 year passion for home cinema ensuring he will never be able to afford retirement, Michael’s days involve endless dad-jokes and enjoying the short time before his son is old enough to demand the home theatre becomes a temple to Frozen II.
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