Projector Reviews

BenQ HT2550 Low Cost 4K UHD Projector Review – Picture Quality 2

BenQ HT2550 Low Cost 4K UHD Projector Review – Picture Quality 2: Black Levels and Dark Shadow Detail, 4K HDR and Color, Bottom Line on Picture Quality

Black Levels and Dark Shadow Detail

I’ll start with Dark Shadow Detail. No problems here. Look into the dark woods, on the right, or the bushes behind the the tracks on the right side, and there’s plenty of detail. (Bond night train scene)

And it’s very visible, but that, as always, is in part because projectors without really dark blacks naturally have near blacks that are appropriately brighter, and therefore easy to see.

Of course, there are other great dark images here for your consideration. The City of a Thousand Planets (Valerian) dark photo may end up being a new photo for comparisons, one that is 4K with HDR, since 4K with HDR behaves rather differently than all our good old 1080p content which all lacks HDR.

Black Levels are a disappointment, as they have been on every single chip DLP 4K UHD projector we’ve reviewed, except the far more expensive HT9050, and that projector, while better at producing dark blacks, still wasn’t great. It it was a definitely step up from entry level/near entry level, where this BenQ fits in just fine with its competitors. There’s a whole sequence of labeled greyscale and overexposed shots of the Bond train scene for comparison. The last two, Epson and Sony, are over $1000 more, and $4999, but are good examples of step up performance on black levels.

Of course, to get a dramatic improvement in black levels, you’ll probably need to spend close to an extra $1,000 at this time.

If you are used to projectors with what I have long called “ultra high contrast” projectors,  such as the Epson UB and higher, JVCs, Sony HT projectors with dynamic irises, and some really high end projectors we don’t get to review, then the HT2550 will be a real disappointment in this area.

That’s why I tend to think of most of these projectors as “home entertainment” in that they will appreciate being in a really dark room – even near pitch dark, but the projector doesn’t produce those deep blacks, instead rather medium dark greys, on very dark scenes.

For all of my “complaining” most of my friends don’t notice. Friends over for Game of Thrones thought the picture was pretty great, overall.

The photo player has the usual collection of Casino Royale night train photos from different projectors, all changed to grayscale and overexposed, to give you some idea.  Generally, the whiter the whites and near whites, and darker the blacks and letter boxes are, the better. Keep in mind though:

  1. Exposures vary a bit
  2. An overly contrasty looking projector may also look somewhat like the projectors with great blacks (I’ll let you know when it’s not the black levels, but the contrast – based on my viewing, not these shots)

Don’t get me wrong, the HT2550 handles the really dark scenes a bit better than entry level lower res projectors and some of the other 4K UHDs.  Still short of what any serious home theater person would be looking for.

4K HDR and Color

I have yet to really find an under-$7,500 projector that really rocks, and has impressive black levels, but where I don’t have some complaint due to the compromises with HDR.

This BenQ has a bit less than 1,000 lumens calibrated – in fact, measures about the same as an Epson 5040UB in its best mode for 4K with HDR. The Epson, by the way, is $1,200 list price more expensive. Both suffer from lack of brightness in HDR, since ideally, we’d like to see 5,000 lumens.

The BenQ is a bit brighter than the Epson 5040UB in those mid and lower-mid ranges, but also has a bit less pop in that same area on some images I did compare from Valerian and Passengers. Again, I’m not really pleased with many of the photos I took (especially from Valerian), but watching Valerian looked drastically better.  The alien was pale bluish, not what you see in that image here.

Regular visitors would know, but for the rest of you: I always have a number of projectors here, but I like to borrow one (from a manufacturer) for at least a year, that I can use as a reference, against each projector I review. That helps me position all of the projectors to each other, to determine which are better or worse. I’ve been using the 5040UB ceiling (mounted in my theater) for about a year now.

Overall, the end result in 4K with HDR is a very good picture, a little dark in those lower-mid ranges, but still serving up a more dynamic look than the same content in 1080p without HDR. Could it be better, sure – BenQ’s own HT9050 is, as noted before, is a step up.

Again, the color in 4K HDR does seem to have a slight muddy yellow caste visible at times, but I’m optimistic that Eric can improve on that by adjusting his calibration.

Speaking of which, of course we’ll be publishing our calibration settings, with the first calibration page having most of the settings, except for the CMS. The CMS is for tuning the individual primary and secondary colors. Those settings are found on the Advanced Calibration page (subscribers only – sign up here).

All considered, the HT2550’s current setup for 4K HDR is most impressive, considering that at least for the moment, it’s the least expensive 4K UHD projector on the market!

After extensive viewing of 4K movies in my dark theater, I can safely say compared to the near entry level black performance, count the handling of HDR as a real strength. As covered on the Special Features page, projectors and most LCD TV projectors aren’t near bright enough to properly do HDR, so there are compromises, and for that reason some projector’s implementations are more watchable than others.  Considering the low lumens in best mode, the HT2550 looks surprisingly good, which isn’t easy with HDR.

Bottom Line on Picture Quality

Despite the blacks, the HT2550, even for its low price, behaves more like a true home theater projector than it does home entertainment one. Okay, it’s got a speaker, another site of home entertainment, but I’m talking that it performs like a good entry level home theater projector – well balanced color, and a respectable implementation of HDR.

It’s the first of these lower cost DLPs to come in for review, but others will be following – with an Acer, I’m promised, arriving sometime in April. But, that said, I’ve generally found the entry level BenQs – including the old legendary W1070 and its decedents – to be more “theater,” by sporting a serious picture, that typically looks more “just right” than most of the other competing projectors from half a dozen assorted well known brands.

My personal two cents – if you can live without superior black level performance, and a few advanced features like Lens Memory, but are wanting 4K capability, then the HT2550 looks like a great choice, from a picture quality standpoint.

Sharpness really is part of “Picture Quality,” however, I will address sharpness on the Performance page, which is next, including some comparisons with other projectors.