Projector Reviews

2019 Holiday Guide to Seven Great Home Theater Projectors Under $2000 – Part 2

Next up, we have two rather impressive BenQ’s – one best suited for bright rooms, and one that belongs in a dedicated home theater. Nestled in between the two is the perfect stocking stuffer for the kiddos!

The TK850 Projector – Combining Picture Quality with High Brightness: BenQ Proves you can have fun with the lights on!

BenQ TK850 Product Shot

The TK850 is one of two almost-identical fully 4K capable BenQ projectors. The pair represent the middle of BenQ’s line-up of 4K UHD projectors. They are especially good values. We’re going to tell you about both, starting with this one, and later, the HT3550, which we have reviewed (and awarded).

Unlike it’s similar twin, the TK850 is brand new. How new? As I write this – exactly one week before Thanksgiving, it is getting ready to ship. It’s not yet available on Amazon or even BenQ’s own store yet. By the time you read this, however, the “shelves should be stocked.” So, perhaps this BenQ will make your holidays happier!

We haven’t reviewed the TK850 yet, but here’s a sports image – DirectTV (1080i, not 4K), taken using the less expensive TK800. Expect even better!
We haven’t reviewed the TK850 yet, but here’s a sports image – DirectTV (1080i, not 4K), taken using the less expensive TK800. Expect even better!

If you want horsepower – that is, a lot of brightness to tackle ambient light in living rooms, family rooms etc., this is the one. Picture quality is a cut above that of the lower priced BenQ 4K UHD projectors. And that 3,000 lumens should do the trick!

If you plan to be watching in a home theater, or generally, in fully darkened rooms or those with very low light levels, this is NOT the projector for you. It will work fine, but the HT3550 will be slightly better “in the dark.”

4K (no HDR) again with the lower performance TK800, The Blacklist (on Netflix).
4K (no HDR) again with the lower performance TK800, The Blacklist (on Netflix).

BenQ has long made having really good color out of the box a priority. With the TK850, they combine that with a dynamic iris for deeper blacks, in those dark scenes. Turn down the lights to enjoy the improvement! Even with a respectable amount of ambient light, this TK850, paired with a good “light rejecting” screen (ALR), will be great for sports, streaming, etc.

This Passengers scene was taken with the HT3550. 4K HDR content. Both the TK850 and the HT3550 will provide excellent skin tones.
This Passengers scene was taken with the HT3550. 4K HDR content. Both the TK850 and the HT3550 will provide excellent skin tones.

Both the TK850 and the HT3550 are DLP projectors that use pixel shifting to achieve 4K UHD resolution (not native 4K – that starts at $5K!) and they differ in the color wheels used. This TK850 uses a color wheel designed for maximum brightness – four segments: Red, Green, Blue, and White (which is clear, not white) – RGBW.

Taken using the lower cost TK800, in a room with window shutters partially open, moderate ambient light. Taken in “best” mode, for rich, realistic colors as well as good brightness.
Taken using the lower cost TK800, in a room with window shutters partially open, moderate ambient light. Taken in “best” mode, for rich, realistic colors as well as good brightness.

The TK850M positioning is pretty straightforward. The TK850 has several key characteristics: “Cut above” picture quality (rather than typical “entry level 4K”), improved black levels thanks to a dynamic iris, and, of course, very bright – built for your brighter rooms, but works in a theater, (except if you have a theater, you’ll likely want the HT3550 twin).

Short of going to laser projectors, it will be hard to find a better-quality picture that’s geared for brighter rooms, around $1,500 list price! Warranty is 3 years, parts and labor. Nice! The BenQ TK850 is an excellent, “cut above” choice, especially for the sports fanatic who has less than stellar room conditions. Definitely one to consider for those Super Bowl parties!

ViewSonic M1 Mini – The Perfect Stocking Stuffer This Holiday Season!

ViewSonic-M1-Mini-Product-Shot

Give the gift of a home theater to your little one this holiday season! For my nephew’s 7th birthday, I gifted him a little pico projector from AAXA, and my brother got him set up with a DIY home theater under his loft bed.

A white poster board mounted to the legs of the bed for a makeshift screen, a sheet tucked under the mattress to serve as a curtain that blocks out ambient light, a bean bag chair, plus the projector and new-age Super Nintendo came together to not only give this kid an awesome gaming lounge, but made him the coolest kid among his friends.

ViewSonic-M1-Mini-Colors
Even cooler, match your Mini to your style or mood with swappable color panels included in the box.

With a little imagination, and the ViewSonic M1 Mini, you can do the same for your kid! It’s the perfect stocking stuffer: small enough to actually fit in a pocket – or, in this case, a stocking – and a $169 list price make the M1 suitable to be your child’s first projector. You’ll look like the coolest parent ever to your kid, and save a couple hundred dollars that you can put toward your own home theater projector!

It’s available on Amazon, which makes it all the more easy to snag one in time for the holidays.

The ViewSonic M1 Mini is an ultra-portable DLP projector, weighing just 11 ounces, and claims a healthy 50 lumens for a projector this size. In a darkened room, you and your kid should be able to enjoy a projected image of around 60” from this tiny package.

ViewSonic M1 Projected Image The Greatest Showman
This is a scene from The Greatest Showman being projected by the ViewSonic M1, which is a higher-priced model than the M1 Mini we reviewed last year.

The M1 Mini has an internal battery of up to 2.5 hours – enough to watch a movie or two from Disney+ between charges. It has an HDMI input, a USB port, and a small internal JBL speaker that should provide some respectable sound for such a small size!

The uses of the ViewSonic M1 Mini are only as limited as your own imagination. Use it to create a DIY gaming lounge, like we did for my nephew, or a cool fort to watch movies in. When the weather allows, you can take it outside for an outdoor movie night to project on the garage or a sheet, or you can even take it camping and project on your tent wall! With that 2.5-hour battery life, the question becomes – why not?

The Mini is a WVGA resolution projector, but supports full HD content of up to 1080p! Most Pico and Pocket projectors have lower resolutions, as they’re not intended to fill a 100” screen for more serious movie viewing – you’ll want to check out the other projectors in this guide for that purpose. WVGA will be just fine for your kiddos!

BenQ HT3550 – Affordable Home Theater 4K: A Step up from the Competition Yields a Better Experience

HT3550

The HT3550 has been shipping since spring of 2019 and is one of BenQ’s most popular home theater projectors. Extremely similar to the previously covered BenQ TK850 in this guide, it is geared for the dark room – the home theater, or dedicated cave. It has plenty of lumens to tackle modest ambient light and can do a fine job on daytime sports with moderate lighting.

Journey to the South Pacific – an IMAX 4K UHD film from disc.  Very good blacks, dynamic scene – 4K, HDR.
Journey to the South Pacific – an IMAX 4K UHD film from disc. Very good blacks, dynamic scene – 4K, HDR.

But the real story is the picture quality, which is a step up from the entry level 4K UHD projectors including BenQ’s own HT2550 and TK800. The HT3550 uses BenQ’s “movie” color wheel, which is RGBRGB. This is the one you want for your home theater.

With its more serious home theater color wheel, the BenQ HT3550 still claims 2,000 lumens (vs 3,000 for the TK850). Even in its very best mode, it achieves over 900 lumens, which is double what is called for to fill a 100” screen for movie viewing. The extra lumens help with HDR content, score!

From Passengers – 4K/HDR, Impressive handling of a very dark scene (for the price). On images like this, it’s the dynamic iris that sets the HT3550 apart from lower cost competition.
From Passengers – 4K/HDR, Impressive handling of a very dark scene (for the price). On images like this, it’s the dynamic iris that sets the HT3550 apart from lower cost competition.

With the HT3550, you get a 1.30:1 manual zoom lens and modest lens shift for very respectable placement flexibility considering the price point. It should work in almost any room, but doesn’t have enough zoom or shift for back of the room shelf mounting. Most will use on a table, or ceiling mount – ceiling mounts tend to be preferred in dedicated theaters! It is somewhat portable, weighing in at 9.3 lbs., and it comes with a longer-than-most 3-year warranty.

Overall, this BenQ is very similar to the lower end HT2550 (a few hundred less), but:

There’s more! The HT3550 has a dynamic iris!

For years, BenQ pioneered dynamic irises in projectors. More recently, as in, until last year, there was only one in the line-up. Now, I believe there are 5, four of which are 4K UHD models.

HDTV – Colbert!  1080i, off of DirectTV  Home theater was  modestly lit all rear downfacing lights were on full.
HDTV – Colbert! 1080i, off of DirectTV Home theater was modestly lit all rear downfacing lights were on full.

It does good 3D too. True, most projectors do 3D, but then, with most LED TVs no longer supporting 3D, it’s worth pointing out. Of course, most TVs are too small to properly immerse you in the 3D experience – which is why 3D is big with projector folks, but not TV ones.

The dynamic iris improves black level performance, setting the HT3550 apart from a whole lot of competing 4K UHD DLP projectors around or below its price.

But, if you want a 4K UHD projector with even better black levels, I can only think of two others under $10,000 and one of those is the next step up BenQ HT5550, about $1,000 more, that has an even higher performance iris/optical system.

BenQ’s major emphasis on having really good out of the box color in its best (of many) picture modes, and adding to that better dark scene performance – thanks to the dynamic iris – than any other under $2000 projector I can think of, it is a personal favorite, for the bucks.

Excellent skin tones – right out of the box – no calibration! Source – HDTV – DirectTV Victoria Secret Swimsuit Special, 1080i content (no HDR)
Excellent skin tones – right out of the box – no calibration! Source – HDTV – DirectTV Victoria Secret Swimsuit Special, 1080i content (no HDR)

Remember, if your room is brighter, and sports (or regular HDTV) is your primary form of content you consume, the TK850 is probably your better choice. The HT3550, however, isn’t that much less bright, and performs great in your theater or media room with good lighting control. Definitely serious bang for the buck!

This HT3550 may be the “home theater” version, but it looks great on sports too – standard HDTV 1080i/DirectTV.
This HT3550 may be the “home theater” version, but it looks great on sports too – standard HDTV 1080i/DirectTV.

We were very impressed when we reviewed it (read our review here) and consider it perhaps the best combination of picture quality and price – near its price point. The HT3550 is available at many local dealers and installers, and of course available at Amazon and large online sellers.

Fire this one up, feed it a 4K UHD movie off of disc (or quality streaming content), dim the lights, and enjoy! BenQ has come up with a good value, with cut above movie performance.

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