Review: BenQ Joybee GP1 Mini Projector
While we're holding off on assigning a final rating to BenQ's Joybee GP1 Mini Projector ($499), a smaller-than-Mac mini-sized video display with the ability to project an image ranging from 14" to 80" on the diagonal, this otherwise complete review offers our testing results and impressions for an accessory that we've really enjoyed using. BenQ's $39 iPod dock for the Joybee GP1 is a month or so away -- the reason we're waiting on the rating -- but we were otherwise able to fully test its functionality, and generally came away impressed.
Like the Aaxa P1 Pico Projector we reviewed last month, Joybee GP1 is designed to offer a big screen video experience in a very small package, though Aaxa’s and BenQ’s approaches were substantially different. Whereas P1 Pico was literally pocket-sized and battery-powered, conceptually awesome for those in need of a “use it anywhere” projector, it was lacking in the brightness, color fidelity, and speaker quality that most prospective users would expect from a projector. By contrast, Joybee GP1 uses a roughly 5.4 by 4.7 by 2.1 inch enclosure to house a far more sophisticated set of components: inside is a comparatively powerful 3 LED projector, a touch-sensitive top control panel, and a speaker. Missing is P1 Pico’s integrated one-hour rechargeable battery, as well as its 1GB of integrated storage capacity; even without a connected iPod, both devices can play back videos and photos from USB-based storage devices, but Joybee GP1 requires that the device be connected for playback, while P1 Pico can hold the files within its own memory.
Those tricks aside, Joybee GP1 easily overpowers P1 Pico in every conceivable way. Whereas Pico is a 640x480 projector, with a 12 lumens light, a 1000:1 contrast ratio and a 0.5-Watt speaker, GP1 offers a full anamorphic DVD-ready 858x600 resolution with a 100 lumens light, a 2000:1 contrast ratio, and a 2-Watt speaker. If the differences seem numerically small, they’re considerable in practice: GP1’s picture is sharper, brighter, noticeably superior in contrast, and accompanied by much louder audio. With P1 Pico, a connected iPhone could actually produce stronger sound through its own integrated speaker; GP1 has four times Pico’s power and puts out better-than-iPhone sound for video viewing purposes.
Joybee GP1 also has a ton of tricks up its own sleeve. One is dynamic keystone correction, which automatically adjusts the projector to create as close to a rectangular box shape as possible given the angle that the projector has been placed on. Digital zoom, wall color and picture temperature adjustments, high altitude and ceiling-mounted modes, and numerous picture calibration features are just some of the many options available within GP1’s straightforward, multilingual menus; the system does best when projecting against a completely smooth, flat white surface, but can adjust for everything from tinted walls to blackboards with presets, losing major fidelity only when the surface is significantly textured. A thumbwheel on the bottom lets you adjust its projecting angle, a single multifunction AV port on its back handles computer and composite RCA video out of the box, while a USB input and 3.5mm audio output are included, as well. BenQ uses a side-mounted power cord to avoid a loss of connectivity from a tugged cable, as well.
The real highlights of this device aren’t simple bullet points, but rather its real-world performance as a projector. Once you’ve placed it on a table and made one adjustment—its silver focus knob—there’s not much left to do before you’re ready to be impressed by the video it puts out. That knob brings images to an impressive razor sharpness at a distance of five or fewer feet from the lens, and near-razor sharpness thereafter. BenQ’s 100 lumens lamp provides enough illumination to create a highly viewable image at full 80-inch sizes in a pitch-black or near-black room, and a similarly bright image at around a 40-inch size in a room with shades drawn during the daytime. Our sample images here show off how it does under sub-optimal conditions—projecting on a black board at sub-two-foot distances in bright light, and projecting on a white board at two- and four-foot distances in moderate daytime ambient light. While its daytime images will not be ideal replacements for what you’d get from a typical television screen of the same size—contrast, color, and brightness will all be comparatively lower—there’s no 80-inch or even 40-inch TV around that sells for $500 and consumes as little space as Joybee GP1. You can drop this projector on any coffee table, tilt it to point at a wall, and start watching a movie within five minutes of first unpacking it; try doing that with any old TV.
BenQ’s approach to portability and convenience with GP1 is interesting, if imperfect. The company includes a soft fabric carrying case for the glossy white and black plastic protector, but nothing for the required brick-like power supply. As GP1’s various components require 60 Watts of power, the system can’t run off of a typical battery, making the wall adapter a necessity if you plan to travel with the projector, and limiting its use to homes, offices, and other places with full wall outlets rather than planes. The company also includes an Infrared remote control that works with the projector even when it’s being controlled from the back, containing one set of simple buttons to control the projector, and a separate set for the integrated USB device reader. While the remote’s not fancy, it does what it’s supposed to do.
Our only major gripe at the moment is Joybee GP1’s AV connector design. The black two-ended cable has a 15-pin D-sub computer connector on one side and a triple RCA port component adapter on the other. During testing with our iPods and iPhone, we used one of Apple’s Component AV Cables, and there was a lot of additional dangling cabling coming from the back of the system—the single aesthetically unappealing part of this otherwise cleanly designed little projector. We’ll have to see how BenQ’s iPod dock interfaces with the unit, but we’re hoping that it looks a lot better than this; admittedly, when a unit is this attractive, we find ourselves wishing that there was a better way to ceiling-mount it without multiple cables, even though that would likely require something akin to an integrated wireless video receiver.
One additional minor gripe is the responsiveness of the capacitive top control panel. The circular, nine-button console offers access to multi-function menu, mode, and control buttons, as well as a power button that needs to be tapped twice to turn the system off. We found that the buttons worked, and looked great thanks to their bright blue backlighting, but required more pressure than plain old physical buttons would have. As nice as a flat, uniform control disk may be on the eyes, fingers almost invariably do better with traditional buttons. BenQ’s remote, as plain jane as it may be, is a more reliable input device for the Joybee GP1.
Overall, the Joybee GP1 strikes us as a truly cool little projector—an affordable unit with enough power to work very well as a nighttime or dark room 80” viewing option, and a more typical 32-42” screen during either day or night. Though its appeal to individual users will depend a lot on their space constraints, screen size needs, and tolerance for an image that’s bright and detailed but not quite as strong as a contemporary HDTV, we’re legitimately excited by the concept of a briefcase-ready projector with enough power for slideshow presentations or video playback. We’ll hold off on an iPod-specific verdict until the release of BenQ’s docking solution, but can say with certainty that it’s thrilling to see video files pumped through an iPod or iPhone looking and sounding so good with current cables; this projector does even better when paired with a good set of speakers like Boston Acoustics’ i-DS3 Plus. This may well be the start of an exciting new category of iPod and iPhone projection accessories, and if so, Joybee GP1 is a very good place for the wave to begin.