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BenQ CineHome HT2550 review: Affordable 4K projector proves resolution isn't everything

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The Good The BenQ HT2550 is one of the least expensive 4K projectors available. It actually produces full 4K resolution onscreen, and its image is slightly sharper than you get from non-4K projectors. Initial color is relatively accurate.

The Bad The sharpness benefits of 4K are minor, even on a huge screen. Worse contrast than some competing projectors, and poor HDR image quality.

The Bottom Line Although it lives up to the 4K promise for an affordable price, the BenQ HT2550 lacks the overall performance to beat the competition -- at both 4K and 1080p.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Value 7

Projection fans have been waiting for 4K resolution to come down in price for years, and it's finally happened. Thanks to a new generation of DLP chips, you can finally enjoy all of the pixels of 4K TV shows and movies without paying a fortune.

The BenQ HT2550 ($1,500) is one of the least expensive 4K projectors available, and it's really good. First off, it actually delivers every line of 4K onscreen according to test patterns. It also puts up an excellent image overall, with solid contrast and accurate color, although it fell short of a couple of slightly more expensive projectors I tested, namely the 4K Optoma UHD60 and the Epson Home Cinema 4000.

But before you, the projector fan, reach for your wallet, you might want to reconsider that desire for 4K. Comparing these light cannons directly with the 1080p resolution BenQ HT2050 ($700), it was tough to see the increase in sharpness. Sure, it's there, but I had to be watching the right material from a relatively close seating distance and be paying pretty close attention. As I've seen before, the impact of superior contrast, color and other image quality benefits far outweighs the impact of 4K.

And in case you're wondering about high dynamic range (HDR), which on good TVs delivers a serious boost in picture quality, stop wondering. HDR on the projectors I tested didn't improve the image at all, and in the case of the BenQ HT2550 and the Optoma UHD60, actually made it worse.

In the end I still like the good old 1080p BenQ HT2050 best, and find it tough to fully recommend its more-expensive 4K brother. If you still want a 4K projector today I think it's worth paying a few hundred extra for the Optoma UHD60 -- its superior contrast and light output are worth the extra money over the HT2550.

Basic specs

  • Native resolution: 4K
  • Discrete pixels on chip: 1,920x1,080
  • HDR-compatible: Yes
  • Lumens spec: 2,200
  • Zoom: Manual (1.2x)
  • Lens shift: No
  • 3D-compatible: Yes
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): 4,000 hours

The BenQ uses the smaller of Texas Instruments' two new 4K DLP chips, the 0.47-inch version with 1,920x1,080 mirrors. TI says the chip can achieve full 4K resolution, with over 8.3 million pixels on screen, by moving those mirrors really fast. Here's a bit more on how it works.

With the same lumens spec as the 1080p HT2050, the 2550 won't get as bright as the more expensive Optoma UHD60, but it still has plenty of light for dim home theaters.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The HT2550 has a less versatile lens than the cheaper BenQ HT2050, with a longer throw distance -- BenQ still calls it "short throw" even though it needs to be 10.7 feet away to fill a 100-inch screen -- and no lens shift. The Optoma has vertical lens shift and a longer zoom, and the Epson is the best of the three with a long 2.1 zoom, horizontal and vertical lens shift and focus -- all power, not manual.

If you want to use 3D with the BenQ, you'll need to buy 3D glasses. The projector uses DLP Link, which should be compatible with numerous third-party glasses (starting at $25 each on Amazon).

Lamp life is decent and as usual you can adjust the settings to dim the image and extend the number of hours (up to 15,000, according to BenQ) before you have to replace it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity and convenience

  • HDMI inputs: 2
  • PC input: Analog RGB
  • USB port: 2
  • Audio input and output: Minijack
  • Digital audio output: No
  • LAN port: No
  • 12v trigger: Yes
  • RS-232 remote port: Yes
  • MHL: No
  • Remote: Backlit

Of the two HDMI jacks only one, HDMI 1, is fully 4K/60Hz compatible, with both HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 support. HDMI 2 supports version 1.4 of both specs. I would have liked to see support for MHL but that's not a huge knock.

BenQ's remote is very good, with lots of direct-access keys and full red backlighting. I especially like the Eco Blank key, which you can use to black out the image temporarily without turning the projector completely off. The projector's suite of picture adjustments is top-notch too, although despite the Dynamic Iris key on the remote, it doesn't actually have an iris (the Epson does).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Resolution by the numbers

Before I get into what actual movies looked like, it's worth sharing the results of 4K resolution test patterns. The short story is that the BenQ does deliver 4K resolution onscreen, despite not having all of the physical pixels of 4K on its chip. The fast mirror trick works!

I looked at horizontal and vertical line patterns from multiple 4K sources, including two test pattern generators and 4K patterns by Florian Fredrich played by an Nvidia Shield. The patterns are exceedingly simple: alternating black and white lines, a single pixel wide. Every 4K TV I've tested in the last few years can pass those tests perfectly, as can the Sony "true" 4K projector I have in the lab as a reference, because they all have 3,840x2,160 discrete pixels.

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