The BenQ HT2050 projects one of the best dark-room images for the money we've tested, making it worth the money for video-quality buffs.
Like many decisions in life, whether to spend more money for a better picture is a matter of priorities. Most projector buyers can appreciate the difference in image quality between ultracheap units like the $150 iRulu BL20 and the significantly better $350 Epson 640, and most will also notice the improvement afforded by the even-better $550 Optoma HD142X over the Epson. After that, diminishing returns really set in.
Best projectors you can actually afford
The best sub-$1,000 projector I've tested so far this year is the BenQ HT2050, which costs $800. It definitely has a better picture than the Optoma, thanks primarily to darker black levels that lead to superior contrast. If you watch in a completely black room and want the best image quality you can get, it might be worth the extra money to you.
Most viewers, however, will be perfectly happy with the slightly worse, but still very good, picture delivered by the Optoma (and for that matter, the $580 Viewsonic PJD7828HDL). On the other hand, if you can afford the BenQ and appreciate its nuances, it makes a superb step-up choice.
Higher-end home theater projectors like the HT2050 often have a lower light output than cheaper units, mainly because they're designed to achieve better black levels, and 2,200 lumens is typical of the breed. If you're planning to watch in anything other than complete darkness, you should choose a brighter projector.
One step-up extra is vertical lens shift. It allows you to position the projector higher or lower relative to the screen and still get perfect geometry without having to use a keystone control (which impairs image quality). The lens can deliver a relatively short throw distance, similar to the Viewsonic projectors I tested. The closest it could get and still fill my 120-inch test screen was 118 inches, compared to 129 inches for the Epson 2045 and 156 inches for the Optoma.
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) or BenQ's own like the DGD5 ($60 each).
Lamp life is shorter than many projectors, although as usual you can adjust the settings to dim the image and extend the number of hours before you have to replace it. The cost of a new lamp is also on the high side compared to rival projectors.
The back panel of the BenQ is standard for the breed, and like many higher-end units it lacks MHL. People with legacy (but not too legacy) gear will appreciate the presence of component-video.
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. Its suite of picture adjustments is top-notch too.
Just like with a TV, the ability to produce a dark shade of black is one of the most important ingredients in projector picture quality. And according to both my measurements and eyeballs, the BenQ's black levels are a step better than all of the other sub-$1,000 projectors I compared it to.
The difference required a pitch-black room to appreciate, but once the lights were off, the BenQ's contrast and realism in dark scenes, like the void of space from "Gravity," looked significantly better and more realistic than on the Viewsonic PJD7828HDL, the Epson Home Cinema 2045 or the Optoma HD142X. Sure, those projectors achieved brighter highlights, but in a dark room that makes less of a difference than black level. That said, the difference was subtle enough that it would be tough for truly budget-minded buyers to justify the price difference between the BenQ and a unit like the Optoma based solely on that advantage.
Other aspects of picture quality were similar between the BenQ and the others. Its precalibration color accuracy fell short of the Viewsonic and the Epson, but wasn't terrible by any means -- the worst part was a the plus-green color temperature. Of course, a professional calibration could fix the issue, but I didn't perform one as part of this review.
Most 1080p DLP projectors I tested scored about the same for gaming input lag, around 33 or 34ms. That qualifies as "Good" by my scale -- it beats many TVs and should satisfy all but the twitchiest of gamers.
It's worth noting that all of these units suffered from an artifact I found distracting at times that's common to DLP: the rainbow effect. It caused brief rainbow "trails" to appear when I looked across or away from the screen in high-contrast areas (like white text against a black background). It didn't bother me much during the course of a movie, but if it bugs you, a projector like the Epson 2045, which uses LCD instead of DLP, might be a better bet.
To arrive at all of results below, I measured the HT2050's best default picture setting, Cinema with BrilliantColor turned Off and Gamma set to 2.3 (I did not perform any other calibration). The exceptions are peak white luminance and derived lumens, which were measured in Bright mode (thanks to Chris Heinonen for the lumens calculator). All observations and measurements were taken on my reference 120-inch Stewart StudioTek 130 screen.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.015||Good|
|Peak white luminance (100%)||44.5||Average|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.36||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||7.550||Poor|
|Dark gray error (20%)||5.234||Average|
|Bright gray error (70%)||10.304||Poor|
|Avg. color error||3.584||Average|
|Percent gamut (Rec. 709)||93.4||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||300||Poor|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||N/A||N/A|
|Input lag (Game mode)||34.5||Good|