BenQ CineHome HT2550 review: Affordable 4K projector proves resolution isn't everything
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.
- 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.
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.
Connectivity and convenience
- 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).
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.
The BenQ could pass them as well, showing fully resolved lines at every common 4K refresh rate: at 24Hz, 30Hz and 60Hz. In the case of the 24Hz and 30Hz vertical lines they're quite dim (as in the picture on the right), but I was still able to see when I got close enough to the screen. The lines at 60Hz were darker and more visible. In other words, expect 4K/60 to look better (sharper) on this projector, which isn't the case with TVs; on TVs these patterns look equally sharp regardless of incoming refresh rate.
And in case you're curious, I could stand no farther back than about 5.5 feet from my 120-inch screen before the lines, even the 60Hz ones, became indistinguishable. That means you'll need to sit that close to get the full benefit of 4K -- and that's way too close. Of course you can still get some benefit by sitting farther away, for example the much more comfortable 11 feet I used for most viewing (see below), but as always the impact of extra resolution diminishes with seating distance.
The Epson HC4000 failed these tests as did the Optoma UHD60, but in different ways. The Epson didn't show any detail in the patterns, which I didn't expect since the company doesn't claim true 4K resolution, just "4K enhancement." The Optoma showed detail but it wasn't sharp or stable in the test pattern; the lines were fatter and vibrated with artifacts. I suspect the difference in the two DLP chips is the reason -- the BenQ's chip has 1,920x1,080 discrete pixels multiplied four times (which matches the 3,840x2,160 of 4K exactly), while the Optoma uses a chip with 2,716x1,528 pixels multiplied twice (which doesn't).
4K and 1080p image quality comparisons
Moving on from lines to Blu-ray movies (yay!), the BenQ HT2550 produced an excellent image with non-4K and 4K sources. That said, it didn't beat any of the others in my comparison tests, including the significantly cheaper 1080p HT2050, and the Optoma performed the best.
To compare the three higher-end projectors' contrast in a dark room I engaged their best low-light lamp settings, utilizing the Smart Eco modes on the BenQs, the Dynamic Black on the Optoma and the Epson's Iris. Watching some of darker scenes from "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," like the campfire conversations from Chapter 4, the Optoma delivered the deepest black levels and punchiest image, while the Epson was pretty close. The BenQ HT2550 was solid but lacked the contrast of the others, even falling short of the less expensive HT2050.
In brighter, more colorful scenes, like the throne room of the Sovereign in Chapter 2, all three projectors looked impressive but the Epson looked the best, with a bit more saturated colors and impact than the others. The Optoma appeared a tad redder and the BenQ HT2550 a tad less saturated, but the differences in color would be tough to spot without a side-by-side comparison. The BenQ measured a bit more accurate both before and after calibration than the Optoma, but the Epson was more accurate then either.
In terms of light output the Optoma was the best, as expected, but the BenQ HT2550 held its own and is plenty bright for dim-room viewing on a screen as large as the 120-incher I was using. If you want to fill a bigger screen, however, or occasionally watch with some ambient light, the Optoma is probably the best choice among the three.
Despite the HT2550's resolution advantage in test patterns, it was tough to see any resolution difference between it and the Optoma on this disc from my seating distance of 11 feet. In fact, looking at some highly detailed areas, like the texture of Ayesha's raiment and the hair of Quill and others, the Optoma actually appeared just a hair (pun intended) sharper. The difference could have easily been due to its superior contrast, however.
Next I compared the three 4K-capable units with the resolution of the 1080p HT2050, using the standard 1080p Blu-ray of "Guardians" and the same scenes. The difference was subtle but there: In the push toward the queen, for example, her garments looked just a bit sharper on the BenQ HT2550 and the Optoma than on the Epson and the BenQ HT2050. I noticed the most when going from either of the two lower-resolution units to the 4K ones; the latter looked just a bit more crisp.
Video processing was mediocre on the BenQ HT2550, with worse motion resolution than the Epson and and too much judder on film-based 1080p and 1080i sources (the UHD60 had the same issues). Gaming input lag (1080p) was fine but not great at 48ms, where again the Epson was the best of the three.
HDR: Best avoided (if you can)
Although BenQ claims HDR compatibility and the HT2550 can display an HDR image, it isn't the real thing. For "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," for example, the image looked relatively washed-out and lifeless, without the punch I expected. Colors appeared less saturated, and as a whole there just wasn't as much impact to the image. The Optoma's HDR looked even worse in most scenes, for what it's worth, with blown-out highlights and an even flatter look. The Epson was the best of the three, but even on it HDR didn't look appreciably better than standard 4K.
This impression of program material was backed up by my measurements, where both the Optoma and BenQ strayed far from the target EOTF, and all three showed major color errors and fell well short of the P3 gamut (see the geek box below). In the case of the BenQ and Optoma I greatly preferred their rendition of material in standard dynamic range (SDR), not HDR. With the Epson the benefits of HDR I'm used to on TVs -- punchy highlights and wider color -- weren't really visible either, but at least its HDR didn't look appreciably worse.
I recommend that you skip HDR with this projector, but some source devices won't let you separate 4K and HDR. The Oppo UDB-403 Blu-ray player, Roku and Apple TV 4K do, for example, but Amazon Fire TV and some other Blu-ray players, like the Samsung UBD-K8500, do not. Unfortunately on devices that don't, if you want to watch 4K, you'll also be watching HDR.
|Black luminance (0%, nits)||0.178||Average|
|Peak white luminance (100%, nits)||177||Average|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.25||Average|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||2.456||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||2.48||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||2.293||Good|
|Avg. color error||1.157||Good|
|Avg. saturations error||1.55||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||2.05||Good|
|Avg. luminance error||3.91||Average|
|Percent gamut (Rec 709)||97||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Fail||Poor|
|Motion resolution (max)||300||Poor|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||300||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode)||48.1||Average|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||106||Average|
|Gamut % DCI/P3 (CIE 1976)||76.4||Poor|
|Avg. saturations error||27.9||Poor|
|Avg. color checker error||22.4||Poor|