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BenQ HT2550 - At $1499, The Most Affordable 4K UHD Projector Yet - First Look

Posted on January 10, 2018 by Art Feierman

Intro to the BenQ HT2550 Home Projector

BenQ shipped us an engineering sample HT2550 last Thursday evening, so I could play with it, and post something in time for the start of CES. We’ll I’m close, it’s the end of Day 1.

BenQ advises that those interested in the HT2550 can pre-order now, on Amazon, or the BenQ online store. Alternately it will be available in Best Buy, and other dealers soon enough.

BenQ’s HT2550 is the first 4K UHD projector at it’s price point, $1499! For that matter, it is also the first announced projector I can think of under $1999 list price, that can handle 4K content.   It offers a manual zoom lens. It is a good deal smaller than any of the other 4K UHD projectors we’ve reviewed to date.

Perhaps most important to explain, everything else so far that claims 4K UHD has been at least $1999. But, remember the old saying – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

What I mean is, this BenQ isn’t exactly the same technology as the five or six 4K UHD DLP projectors we’ve already reviewed. Background:

4K UHD Resolution Explained

Last year TI – Texas Instruments started shipping a 4K UHD chip to their projector partners – that chip is 2716x1528 pixels, times 2 – because it pixel shifts one time. That doubles the 4.15 megapixels up to 8.3 megapixels, the requirement to call a projector 4K UHD. Now regular readers of this site, know we have an issue with “4K UHD” and wish it was simply UHD. We find the 4K misleading, we believe that you want true 3840x2160 native resolution – which is to say, pixel sizes half that of those 4K UHD prjoectors.

Well, the HT2550 is still another resolution configuration. Like the Epson and JVC 1080p pixel shifters, it’s native resolution is 1920x1080, but it pixel shifts hitting the screen 4 times, not the usual twice, so it’s 2 megapixels x 4…

It means that the HT2550 has pixels physically (relative to screen size) that are much larger than the earlier DLP 4K UHDs and dramatically larger than a true 4K projector.

But, do you really care?   After all, it produces a very nicely sharp image on both 4K and 1080 content. Debating the technology is fun, but what matters is which projector is best for you. So let’s consider the HT2550:

The HT2550 claims 2200 lumens of brightness, typical brightness for these 4K UHD projectors, at least the ones with RGBRGB color wheels. Others, adding a clear slice, or other colors boost the white lumen count, but it reduces the color lumens.

2200 lumens is a healthy amount. It’s plenty if you have a great, dark room, aka home theater or “cave” (formerly “man-cave”.) If your room isn’t that ideal, it’s still plenty if you have good lighting control, or watch at night when lighting control is easier. We haven’t yet measured the HT2550, because this one is an engineering sample. We’ll measure, and calibrate a full production one, in the next month or so, once they start shipping.

Among the other features the HT2550 sports - the manual zoom lens has a 1.2:1 zoom ratio. That's about as basic as it can get, but does allow some placement flexibility.  There is built in audio, and the provided remote control, is very nice, and has an excellent backlight.  There are too many projectors under $2000 that don't bother providing a backlit remote. Lastly, for now, this BenQ does not offer any lens shift.  On the other hand it does offer 3D, using DLP-link type 3D glasses (not included). Most of the 4K UHD projectors have skimped - that is, no 3D.

Picture Quality

More importantly, the HT2550 may not meet my definition of true 4K, but as I just said, it really does produce a very nicely sharp image. It can appreciate 4K content, and do more with it, than with good old 1080p (Blu-ray), or 1080i (most HDTV) content.

Color, right out of the box, proved extremely good. I won’t be able to tell you how accurate the colors are until we calibrate a production version, but I had no complaints watching it. All these images in this First Look Review were taken in various modes, without any adjustment. If you think some of these images look great here, you should see the HT2550 putting out the content on a screen, not a photo of that, compressed and viewed on your little display.

For $1499, and 4K content capabilities, it is truly impressive. It’s going to make it difficult for those looking to spend $1500 or less, to find a standard 1080p projector that can rival the value.

The HT2550 supports HDR - high dynamic range that is touted and found on most 4K content including just about all Blu-ray UHD movies.  Like just about all projectors and most LCD TVs, it isn't bright enough to fully implement HDR, so like everyone else they have come up with their idea of the best compromise.  The other part of enhanced picture quality that is available on a lot of 4K content is support for the wider color space known as P3 and typically referred to as BT.2020.  In theory, P3 (as close as anyone gets to BT.2020), has more intense and more color range than the standard REC709 which we've been used to for all our HDTV and Blu-ray the past 15+ years.

Unfortunately, like all other lamp based projectors, about 80% or so of P3 is about all lamp based projectors can achieve, and that isn't that much greater than the old standard.  It is interesting therefore, that while all the 4K UHD projectors (and the true 4K Sonys and the 4K content capable pixel shifting 1080p JVC and Epson projectors) support HDR (well, all but one), Most of the 4K UHD projectors are not supporting P3/BT.2020.

Again, this does not reflect badly on this BenQ, rather, its a limitation primarily of using conventional lamps.  Laser based projectors (and possibly many LED light engine projectors,) do much better.  So, while the HT2550 doesn't try to do P3, there's nothing else around the price that does.  And when I took a close look at Optoma's $2499 UHD65, there was no obvious superior color result when comparing the color with P3, and then viewing the same content with REC 709.

Black level performance is fairly entry level. None of the under $5K, 4K UHD projectors we’ve seen yet, do great blacks, or even really good black performance. That’s an area BenQ and other DLP manufacturers need to work on. Most of them have some history with dynamic irises. To make this a truly serious home theater projector – rather than “home entertainment”, better black levels are called for. Those better black levels on very dark scenes, are what separate the lower end projectors from the really “serious” home theater models.  BTW like other DLPs, the HT2550 has more native contrast than 3LCD, but that doesn't solve the problem of blacks on very dark scenes looking gray.  Dynamic irises cheat in some ways, but the end result is it improves the handling of those dark scenes.

That’s OK though! The HT2550 may not be better than the others in the $1000 - $2000 price range in terms of black levels, but it is providing 4K content handling at a lower price than the others. And you simply won’t find any sub $2000 projectors with really excellent black levels.

In other words, those that are truly superior on dark scenes, also cost at least 60% more.

I won’t say that this (and other forthcoming) 1920x1080 x 4 projectors are game changers, but they certainly lower the financial bar for viewing 4K content. While a true 4K projector today still starts at $5000, the HT2550 does an impressive job for less than 1/3 the price. Look for our full review in the upcoming weeks, meantime, if $1500 is your budget, you’ll definitely want this BenQ on your short list of projectors to consider.  I do believe the HT2550, as well as some other new DLP 4K UHD projectors using the same TI chip, and supporting 4K content

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