A liquid-crystal spatial light modulator (SLM) can be used to alter the phase of the wavefront to achieve a deflection or a change in the shape of a laser beam. Ideal blazed gratings have perfect diffraction efficiency, and all the light is deflected. Encoded onto a pixelated spatial light modulator, however, the spatial limitations and phase quantization result in a stepped, nonideal blazed grating and decreased diffraction efficiency. The far-field intensity distribution was measured for different deflection angles using 4 and 32 phase levels. The result has been analyzed and used to construct a simple model of the studied SLM. Simulations of the far field based on this model show good agreement with the experimental results. © 2003 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.