DLP fans have been on the outside looking in when it comes to affordable, home-theater-oriented 4K-friendly projector options. For several years now, LCoS fans have had access to native 4K HT projectors from Sony, as well as pixel-shifting models from JVC. LCD fans can get pixel-shifting models from Epson. But fans of DLP have been stuck in 1080p land--unless they could afford something like a Christie or Barco three-chip 4K DLP projector designed mainly for pro cinema use.
Two years ago at the CEDIA Expo, Texas Instruments offered me a sneak peak at a prototype of a 4K-capable single-chip DLP projector, pitted against native and pixel-shifting 4K models. The TI chip was formally unveiled in January 2016, yet still the DLP fans had to wait--the whole year passed without the arrival of any 4K-friendly single-chip DLP projectors. Happily, the wait has ended in 2017. In January, Optoma announced (and in June began selling) two 4K-friendly DLP models. BenQ followed suit in February with the introduction of the HT8050, the subject of today's review.
Let's talk right upfront about the TI 4K chip. Ever since it was first announced, there has been debate over whether or not these projectors should be considered true 4K models or be grouped with the pixel-shifting (aka wobulation) designs from JVC and Epson. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. The actual digital micromirror device (or DMD) on the TI chip has a resolution of 2,716 by 1,528; there are a total of 4.15 million micromirrors on the chip. That's better than the basic 1,920 by 1,080 resolution at the heart of the pixel-shifters, but it's still half of the 8.3 million to get a 3,840 x 2,160 UHD resolution. However, as TI explains it, the DMD's fast switching speed allows each micromirror to display two pixels, resulting in the full UHD resolution on the screen. TI labels this fast-switching technology "XPR," and that's how it is referred to in the BenQ literature.
While the initial comparisons I saw using the prototype 4K DLP projector were impressive, they weren't performed with a real-world product that I could test for myself. Thankfully, we now have real-world products to test, so we can finally answer the resolution question. Of course, I'm not going to answer it right this minute. You'll have to keep reading ...
The HT8050 can accept a full 4K/60p signal from an Ultra HD Blu-ray player or streaming media player, but it does not support High Dynamic Range playback, nor can it reproduce the wider DCI-P3 color gamut used in theatrical films (which is the current target for UHD Blu-ray). This is a THX- and ISF-certified single-chip DLP projector with a six-segment (RGBRGB) color wheel. It has a rated light output of 2,200 lumens and a rated dynamic contrast ratio of 50,000:1. The TI chip does not support 3D playback, so neither the BenQ nor the Optoma models can boast 3D as a feature.
The HT8050 is sold only through authorized BenQ dealers and carries an MSRP of $7,999. BenQ recently announced a step-up 4K model, the HT9050, that adds support for DCI-P3 color (but not HDR), uses an LED light source instead of a bulb, and carries an MSRP of $8,999.
Setup and Features
The HT8050 is more substantial in size and build than most of the little sub-$2,000 home-entertainment-oriented DLP designs on the market today. Measuring 18.5 inches wide by 8.9 high by 22.2 deep and weighing 32.6 pounds, its chassis is similar in bulk and heft to Sony's native 4K offerings, as well as the higher-end models from Epson and JVC. The chassis has a two-tone finish: the left and right thirds are matte black, while the center has a more distinctive aluminum finish. The center-oriented lens is situated between fan vents on each side and has a manual focus ring, as well as a lever to manually adjust the 1.5x zoom. The lamp is a 240-watt Philips bulb rated between 3,000 and 6,000 hours, depending on which lamp mode you use. The HT8050 is pleasingly quiet even in its brightest lamp mode--much quieter than most budget DLP designs.
The connection panel is located on the left side (when viewing the HT8050 from behind) and features dual HDMI inputs: The first HDMI input is HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, while the second is v1.4. You also get a PC input, but no analog component/composite inputs--which is a common omission in these new 4K-friendly models. For control, you get RS-232, IR, and LAN ports, as well as two 12-volt triggers. There's also one Type B mini USB port for service only. This model omits the Type A USB port found on step-down models like the HT6050 that allows you to power a wireless HDMI transmitter. On the left side panel, behind a sliding door, you'll find buttons for power, source, mode, menu, back, ok, and navigation.
The HT8050 has a throw ratio of 1.36 to 2.03; and, in addition to the 1.5x zoom, it features +/-27 percent horizontal and +/-65 percent vertical lens shifting to assist with image placement--which is more generous than you often get in lower-priced DLP models. As I always do, I placed the projector on a gear rack in the back of my room; the rack is about 46 inches tall and 12 feet from my Visual Apex 100-inch drop-down screen, and I was able to center the BenQ image with minimal effort. The HT8050 also supports the use of an anamorphic lens attachment.
As a THX-certified projector, the HT8050 has a dedicated THX picture mode, and that's the mode you get when you first power on the projector. Other modes include Cinema, Vivid, Bright, User 1, User 2, and an oddly named mode called Silence, which turns off the XPR 4K technology and delivers the chip's native 2,716 by 1,528 resolution (it also turns off the dynamic iris and sets the lamp mode to low, both of which make the projector run more quietly--hence the "Silence" nomenclature). Since this is also an ISF-certified projector, a calibrator can create ISF-Day and ISF-Night picture modes and lock in the settings.
There are plenty of advanced picture adjustments to perform said calibration. You get four color-temperature presets (normal, cool, lamp native, and warm), but they are not available in the THX or User picture modes. In those modes, you only have access to the RGB gain and offset controls to fine-tune the white balance. A full six-point color management system gives you the ability to adjust the hue, saturation, and gain (brightness) of all six colors. The HT8050's dynamic iris can be turned on to automatically adjust the lens aperture to suit the image being displayed in order to improve contrast ratio. Other adjustments include 11 gamma presets (from 1.6 to 2.8); a BrilliantColor mode to improve the color brightness; noise reduction; and three lamp modes (normal, economic, and SmartEco).
BenQ's CineMaster suite of video processing tools is also available, with adjustments for color enhancer, flesh tone, pixel enhancer 4K, Digital Color Transient Improvement (which "improves the transition between contrasting colors"), and Digital Level Transient Improvement (which "reduces noise from fast-switching luminance in video"). Those are all adjustable in small increments. I left color enhancer, flesh tone, DCTI, and DLTI set at zero or off. Pixel enhancer, when used judiciously, can produce a nice amount of sharpness without creating too much edge enhancement, or visible lines around objects. I wouldn't go any higher than about four (out of 10). In other BenQ models, the CinemaMaster section is also where you'd find the Motion Enhancer frame interpolation tool designed to reduce motion blur and film judder, but that feature is absent in this model. (Early reports suggested that the TI chip doesn't support frame interpolation, but one of the new Optoma UHD models includes frame interpolation.)
My video sources for this review were a Dish Network Hopper HD DVR and two Ultra HD Blu-ray players: the Oppo UDP-203 and the Sony UBP-X800.
Naturally, the first thing I did after setting up the HT8050 was to put up some 4K resolution test patterns, to see if this projector really passes a 4K resolution. I used two sources--the Video Essentials UHD USB stick and an Ultra HD Blu-ray test/calibration disc provided by Samsung, fed through the Sony UBP-X800 player--and compared the results directly with those of my reference Sony VPL-VW350ES native 4K SXRD projector. The results were interesting. With the "full resolution" horizontal and vertical line patterns on Video Essentials, the HT8050 did pass the lines, but they were very uneven in brightness and were less defined than they were through the native 4K projector, where they looked crisp and precise. The pattern looked a bit like when you add overscan to the image, creating some roll-off in detail. This was true with both still JPEG patterns and HEVC video patterns. Now, in the past, when I've tested pixel-shifting models from Epson and JVC, those 4K line patterns were completely blank because pixel-shifters are technically 1080p--so the HT8050 does pass more resolution than those models, but I'm reluctant to embrace it as full 4K. When I switched from line patterns to the precise 4K dot pattern on the Samsung disc, the HT8050 did not pass the individual black and white dots they way a native 4K display will.
With all that being said, with real-world UHD photos and video content, the differences in detail between the HT8050 and the native 4K Sony VPL-VW350ES were impossible for me to discern on my 100-inch screen. Perhaps if you have a much larger screen (say, 140 to 200 inches diagonal), you might be able to see the difference. Interestingly enough, at the end of my resolution test, I zoomed out the HT8050's lens and made the image much larger than my 100-inch screen, and the 4K resolution lines actually looked a little more defined (still not as clean as the Sony's), so the projector's detail seemed to benefit from the lack of zoom and/or larger screen size.
There's something else I want to point out about the 4K test patterns when displayed through the HT8050. A single-chip DLP projector like this one doesn't require panel alignment, the way an LCoS projector often does. My Sony projector has pretty good alignment, meaning that I don't see many traces of red or green along borders in real-world signals. However, when I put up a precise 4K test pattern through the Sony, there's a lot of color shifting because even the slightest panel misalignment reveals itself in these patterns. In contrast, the HT8050 exhibited no color shifting in any of the patterns. So, the detail that I did see had better color purity.
Now let's move on to the measurement/calibration portion of today's review. As I usually do, I began by measuring the HT8050's different picture modes as they come out of the box using my Xrite I1Pro 2 meter and CalMAN software, to find out which one is the closest to reference standards. Here, it was the THX mode, which is often the case in a THX-certified model. However, it's worth pointing out that the many of the HT8050's modes measure well out of the box, which provides more flexibility to choose the mode that suits your viewing environment. The two User modes have almost identical measurements and light output as the THX mode, while the Cinema mode also has low Delta Error numbers and is a good bit brighter than the THX mode. Out of the box, the THX mode had a maximum Delta Error of 4.93 and a gamma average of 2.21, and five of the six color points had a Delta Error under 2.4 (any error under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye). The least accurate color was red, which had an error of just 3.4.
As you can see in the measurements charts on page two, I was able to obtain even better results after calibration. The maximum gray-scale Delta Error fell to just 2.46, the overall color/white balance was excellent, and the gamma average was 2.42. Even though the color points were quite accurate already, I was able to use the color management system to obtain even better results. Outstanding results, in fact--with all six color points having an error under 1.0.
In the area of brightness, the HT8050's numbers are close to--albeit a little lower than--other 4K-friendly models we've reviewed recently (like the JVC DLA-X970R, Sony VPL-VW650ES, and Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB), at least in the picture modes that our readers will actually use. The HT8050 put out about 22 foot-lamberts by default in the THX mode on my 100-inch-diagonal, 1.1-gain Visual Apex screen. That number fell to 19 ft-L after calibration, which is perfectly acceptable for viewing movies in a dark theater room. If you have a very large screen or prefer a little more light output, the Cinema mode actually pops a bit more than the THX mode; it measured 35 ft-L by default, giving you a little more wiggle room to tailor the brightness to your viewing conditions. The brightest picture mode is the aptly named Bright mode, which put out 60 ft-L but was terribly inaccurate in its white balance and color. As I discovered back when I reviewed the HT6050, the Vivid picture mode (which is usually the name given to the least accurate mode) actually makes a great choice for daytime or brighter-room viewing of sports/HDTV content. It put out about 46 ft-L on my screen, and its gray scale and color aren't too far off the mark in their accuracy. Brighter HDTV and sports content looked rich and well saturated even with a little ambient light in the room. And with this HD content, the image was very crisp and sharp-looking.
Next it was time to check out the all-important areas of contrast and black level, using an assortment of Ultra HD Blu-ray and standard Blu-ray discs. I began my demos with the HT8050's dynamic iris turned on, using scenes from the Pacific Rim UHD disc. It took all of 30 seconds to realize that the auto iris does not work correctly. The light level was jumping all over the place--and we're not talking about subtle fluctuations, but abrupt jumps in brightness. So I turned off the auto iris for the remainder of my tests.
Using my favorite black-level demos from Gravity (chapter three), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (chapter three), The Bourne Supremacy (chapter one), and Flags of Our Fathers (chapter two), I compared the BenQ directly with the Sony VPL-VW350ES. The Sony clearly had better black levels, contrast, and shadow detail; the difference between the two wasn't all that subtle, as the BenQ's black levels were notably lighter, and its image consistently looked flatter and more washed out with Blu-ray movies. As I moved through my arsenal of Ultra HD discs--The Revenant, Batman vs. Superman, Sicario, and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk--the BenQ's picture was clean and very well detailed, and fleshtones and colors were pleasingly natural, but it lacked that extra degree of depth and richness that you get from the best theater-worthy projectors. I even switched the auto iris back on for a while to see if it made a huge difference in black-level performance, but it didn't help much.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
Here are the measurement charts for the BenQ HT8050, created using Portrait Displays' Spectracal CalMAN software. These measurements show how close the display gets to our current HDTV standards. For both gray scale and color, a Delta Error under 10 is considered tolerable, under five is considered good, and under three is considered imperceptible to the human eye. Click on each photo to view the graph in a larger window.
The top charts show the projector's color balance, gamma, and total gray-scale Delta Error, below and after calibration in the HT8050's THX mode. Ideally, the red, green, and blue lines will be as close together as possible to reflect a neutral color/white balance. We currently use a gamma target of 2.2 for HDTVs and a darker 2.4 for projectors. The bottom charts show where the six color points fall on the Rec 709 triangle, as well as the luminance (brightness) error and total Delta Error for each color point.
For more information on our measurement process, check out How We Evaluate and Measure HDTVs.
From a performance standpoint, the HT8050's main downsides are that its black level isn't as good as similarly priced (and some lower-priced) projectors, and the sub-par quality of its dynamic iris forces you to turn it off, further diminishing the image contrast.
The HT8050 will accept a 480i image, which many of these new 4K-friendly projectors don't do. However, the point is moot because the deinterlacing of 480i signals is so poor, any DVD movie you try to watch will be filled with jaggies and moire. With 1080i content, the projector correctly handles 2:2 video and 3:2 film sources, but it fails most of the assorted cadence tests on my Spears & Munsil Blu-ray test disc. You should let your source devices or an external processor handle the deinterlacing duties.
The HT8050 lacks a lot of features that you'll find in other projectors that carry a similar MSRP (and many that cost less). The projector doesn't support Rec 2020/DCI-P3 color or High Dynamic Range, and it doesn't support 3D playback. Now, I know 3D is considered dead in the TV world, but it's still a coveted feature for a lot of projector owners and makes sense in a big-screen HT environment. There's also no smooth mode to reduce film judder, which doesn't matter to me personally but is desirable to some. Finally, some competitors offer higher zoom and lens-shifting amounts, and these functions are motorized, instead of manual as they are on the HT8050.
Comparison and Competition
Sony's current VPL-VW365ES native 4K projector carries the same MSRP as the BenQ HT8050: $7,999. It supports 3D playback, motion smoothing, and HDR10, but not DCI-P3 color. Its rated light output is lower, at 1,500 lumens. We have not reviewed the VPL-VW365ES; however, we have reviewed the step-up VPL-VW675ES, which is brighter, adds DCI-P3 support, and costs $14,999. At the recent CEDIA Expo, Sony announced a new entry-level native 4K model, the VPL-VW285ES, that will cost $5,000 and support HDR.
JVC's closest competitor to the HT8050, price-wise, would be the DLA-X770R at $6,999. The X770R should have nearly identical performance to the step-up DLA-X970R that I recently reviewed, with just a slight decrease in light output. The picture quality of the X970R was exceptional, offering a better black level and contrast than my reference Sony (the same one that outperformed the BenQ here). The X770R is a pixel-shifting D-ILA (LCoS) projector, but it supports HDR10, DCI-P3 color, 3D playback, and motion smoothing--and it has dual 18-Gbps HDMI 2.0a inputs. JVC also announced new models at CEDIA, and the mid-level X790R will cost $5,999.
Epson's $7,999 Pro Cinema LS10500 is a pixel-shifting model that uses a laser light source and supports HDR10, DCI-P3 color, 3D playback, and motion smoothing. Epson also offers the pixel-shifting $3,999 Pro Cinema 6040UB that supports HDR10 and DCI-P3 color, although not in the same picture modes. I reviewed the 6040UB and found its performance to be excellent, with excellent contrast and black-leval performance for dark-room movie-watching.
For DLP fans specifically, the major competitors to the HT8050 are Optoma's new UHD65 and UHD60 that use the same TI chip and are rated at 2,200 lumens and 3,000 lumens, respectively. Because they use the same chip, they don't support 3D playback either, but they do support HDR10 and DCI-P3 color. The UHD65 is the one aimed at the more dedicated theater room, and its asking price is just $2,499. I received a review sample of the UHD65 just as I was finishing up this BenQ review, so I did some preliminary comparisons: The BenQ feels like a more substantial, well-built projector, and it looks to be more accurate out of the box than the Optoma, with better processing. Once again, though, the BenQ's black level fell short of the Optoma's in both the THX and Cinema picture modes, so darker film scenes lacked the same depth and contrast.
I'm kind of at a loss for how to wrap up this review. Why? Because I like a lot of things about the HT8050: This projector is quieter than many, and it serves up a very clean, sharp, accurate image without a whole lot of tweaking required. Both HD and UHD content looks quite good in the brighter picture modes when there's some ambient light in the room. The problem is that its $7,999 MSRP pits the HT8050 directly against very strong home theater projectors from JVC, Sony, and Epson that deliver better black levels and contrast for a dedicated theater or completely dark room, as well as more comprehensive 4K support and other features. Yes, the HT8050 delivers better resolution than the pixel-shifters, but that's only one piece of the complete 4K experience.
Now, unlike the other guys, BenQ tends to sell its projectors for a good bit less than the stated MSRP, but there's no official "street price" that I can use as a reference. So, I have to go with the $7,999 MSRP and judge this projector against similarly priced peers, and it falls short as a premium HT projector. To be honest, even if the HT8050 were to sell for half of its MSRP, it would still face very strong competition from the likes of Epson and Optoma in the 4K-friendly projector market. At the end of the day, this one is just a tough sell.
• Visit the BenQ website for more product information.
• BenQ Announces Its First 4K DLP Projector, the HT8050 at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• BenQ Introduces 3,300-Lumen MH530FHD DLP Projector at HomeTheaterReview.com.