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...