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BenQ GS50 portable projector review: Little lunchbox of light

Although it costs more than most competitors, the GS50 is a stylish way to watch movies and shows just about anywhere.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

The BenQ GS50 is a lunchbox-sized portable projector with 1080p resolution, two and a half hours of playtime with its internal battery and some surprisingly powerful speakers. The stylish design includes green, rubberized side panels and a faux-leather handle. You can connect an HDMI source or use the BenQ's included, built-in streaming stick, and you can even use a USB-battery pack to charge the projector if you're away from an outlet.

Overall performance is good, with more realistic colors than many other portable projectors. The 1080p resolution is welcome too, offering better detail than 720p competitors. You can even use it as a Bluetooth speaker. Those cute looks and performance come at a cost, however. The GS50 is basically the same price as BenQ's own excellent HT2050A. That projector, though larger and made for the home, is significantly brighter and has far better picture quality overall. 

7.2

BenQ GS50 portable projector

Like

  • Great, attractive design
  • Impressive sound for the size
  • Accurate color

Don't Like

  • Relatively expensive
  • Netflix access and use is a hassle
  • Sluggish

If you're looking for something you can use away from an outlet, the GS50 does cost more than most of its portable projector competition like the Anker Nebula Mars II, but also offers better image and sound quality. If you're only ever going to use it at home, however, you're better off getting a real home theater projector for the same money.

The little box that could

  • Native resolution: 1,920x1,080 pixels
  • HDR-compatible: Yes
  • 4K-compatible: Yes
  • Lumens spec: 500
  • Zoom: None
  • Lens shift: None
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): 20,000 hours (LED)

The GS50, rather rarely for a portable projector, sports full 1080p resolution. It's 4K and HDR (high dynamic range) compatible, but doesn't do anything to take advantage of those sources -- the image you'll see is 1080p and standard dynamic range. 

Audio is supplied by two 5-watt speakers and a 10-watt subwoofer. They're all small drivers, but this projector can play surprisingly loud.

As is usually the case with portable projectors, there's no zoom or lens shift. A retractable foot on the front lets you pivot the projector upwards, and an automatic keystone adjustment can resquare the image. However, like all keystone adjustments, it will decrease resolution and overall picture quality. 

The LED lamp is rated for 20,000 hours in Normal mode and 30,000 in the dimmer Eco mode. I would only recommend Eco mode if you're running off the internal battery, as it will give you more playtime. If you're plugging in, the brighter Normal mode is the way to go.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

Connectable

  • HDMI inputs: 1x external (w/ARC), 1x internal
  • USB port: 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A
  • Audio input and output: 3.5mm headphone out
  • Digital audio output: Bluetooth
  • Internet: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)
  • Remote: Not backlit, app available (Android/iOS)

There are technically two HDMI inputs. One is easily accessible via a removable flap on the side. The other is inside, behind a hatch. Paired with a Micro-USB cable, it's intended for use with the included BenQ-branded streaming stick. 

That streaming stick runs Android TV. This is certainly better than the Android-lite Aptoide found on many portable projectors, but it's not as complete as an Amazon Fire TV, Roku stick or Chromecast with Google TV. In particular, there's no native support for Netflix

Now playing: Watch this: How to buy the best home theater projector
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You can get Netflix streaming from the built-in stick, but it's not easy. First you need to install the Aptoide store app. Then, within Aptoide, install the Netflix app. So far not too bad, but once inside Netflix, you can't use the projector's remote. You have to download the BenQ app to your phone, and control the projector from there via the app's mouse function. And even then, it's quite finicky and exceptionally sluggish to use. Don't expect the usual slick Netflix user experience. Also, it's standard definition only. BenQ hopes to add full Netflix support eventually, but there's no word on when that might be. It can be added via a firmware update, though.

Thankfully, Netflix is the only major streaming service that requires you to jump through these hoops. Others are included natively, like HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and so on. 

You could, in theory, connect a different streaming stick inside the case. I tried with a Roku and while it technically fit, the charging plug for the stick was on the left side, which is up against the side of the little cubby. You could, again in theory, keep it and a cable inside the case and then when you want to watch something, connect it with the hatch removed. Inelegant, but possible. The Roku I connected this way gave a low-power warning at first, but otherwise seemed to work fine.

The internal battery runs a claimed two and a half hours in Eco mode, and less if you go full-brightness. Conveniently you can connect a USB battery pack to top off the internal battery, but you can't watch something and charge the battery at the same time. 

The stylish case is IPX2, which basically means you can get it damp but don't spray it with a hose. The hatch that covers the streaming stick has a rubber seal that is nearly impossible to reattach once you open said hatch. After an infuriating few minutes trying to get every corner to lock back in to its groove, I removed it completely. Mental note: don't use the GS50 as a coaster.

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Geoff Morrison/CNET

Picture quality comparisons

The BenQ's closest competition is the Anker Nebula Mars II Pro I reviewed last year. With its compact size, decent performance and affordable price, the Mars II Pro remains the best all-around portable projector for the money that I've tested, so it's a natural to compare side-by-side to the BenQ GS50. 

The picture quality differences between the projectors are not massive, but definitely noticeable. The most obvious is with color. The Nebula's color could best be described as "impressionistic." Red, for instance, is a deep crimson. The BenQ looks far more like it was designed by people with a long history of making accurate home theater projectors. Red is red, green is green, blue is blue. A wide variety of skin tones and other colors all look far more natural on the BenQ. 

Somewhat related is color temperature. Both projectors have three settings for color temp, but even in the warmest mode the Mars II is very cool (bluish). The GS50 looks far more accurate even in its mid setting. One consequence of this, however, is that the Mars II appears subtly brighter. This a trick of the eye largely due to the inaccurate colors and color temp. Even so, they're close, and unless you had them side-by-side in a dark room, I doubt you'd notice. 

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Here's the Anker Mars II Pro I used for this comparison.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Both have good sound for their size and price, as long as you keep in mind that they both use very small drivers in very small boxes. The GS50 plays a lot louder, but is a bit shouty. The Mars II is more restrained, but well balanced. Or to put it another way, at lower volumes the Anker sounds better, but the GS50 more easily fills a large space, like a campsite.

The Anker is quicker to turn on, and does so automatically with the opening of its lens cover. The GS50's Android TV interface is worth the wait, however. It's far more elaborate and modern than the simplistic Aptoide found on the Anker. (That interface looks more like a large-tile app interface from a phone circa 2010.)

One complaint unrelated to picture quality is that the GS50 can be rather sluggish to respond. Like the processor is straining to keep up with what you're asking. Everything takes a bit longer to work than feels right, and occasionally there were pauses in movies while streaming. Not a huge deal, for sure, but something to be aware of going in.

Given the steep price of the GS50, I feel it's worth mentioning that for nearly the same money you can get one of our favorite projectors, the HT2050A. This is an entirely different class of projector -- it's too big to put in a backpack, and can't run on a battery. However, if you're considering a portable projector for use at home for the occasional movie night, you should know that a more traditional projector like the HT2050A creates a significantly brighter image, with better contrast too. Which is to say, if you never plan to use the battery aspect of the GS50, you're better off getting the HT2050A simply because it looks way better.

Fade out

Overall I like the GS50. It's got a great design and it's easy to use (except for Netflix). For a weekend away camping it would let you watch a movie and listen to some tunes, all in one easy-to-tote package. 

That said, the Anker is a better value. For the GS50's extra money you absolutely get a better image and sound... but that's a lot more money. If $300 isn't a big deal for you, or you just like the design better, the GS50 is a great portable projector.