Projector Reviews

BenQ HT3050 Home Theater Projector Review – Special Features

BENQ HT3050 PROJECTOR – SPECIAL FEATURES:  Placement flexibility, Gaming/Input Lag, ISF certification, REC 709,  3D, Wireless options, Speakers, SmartEco / Lamp Dimming

 

BenQ HT3050 Placement Flexibility

The BenQ HT3050 has some pretty reasonable placement flexibility for a sub-$1000 projector (just barely as MSRP is $999).

Unlike most low cost home entertainment projectors, the HT3050 has vertical lens shift.  It’s only a small amount – 10% range, so no match for those 3LCD projectors that have lens shift (more like 60% or more range), but if you can “square up” your image with lens shift instead of keystone correction, that’s a definite plus.  Most sub $1000 projectors offer only keystone correction.  BTW two of the exceptions would be the HT3050’s predecessors – the HT1075 and W1070 both having similar amounts of vertical lens shift.

The lens shift dial is located in the recess area with lens controls on the top of the projector, just back from the lens in the front.  With it you can raise or lower the projected image slightly, while maintaining a properly rectangular image.

There’s not enough lens shift to mount the projector high up on a shelf, without inverting the projector as one would do if ceiling mounting.

Guess what?  That doesn’t really matter, since the lens of the HT3050 is short throw.  It’s unlikely anyone has a room where the back wall would be close enough to the screen wall, to place this projector.

The 1.3:1 manual zoom lens is fairly typical for this price range.  Most of the competition has anywhere from 1.1:1 to 1.3:1 zoom range.  There are some exceptions though, so you can find other projectors with more zoom range, and those would typically be normal lens throw, so they would also sit further back from the same sized screen.

I should note that for those people who buy the HT3050 but aren’t planning to permanently mount it, the short throw lens is probably going to be very desirable, as it allows most people to sit behind the projector, rather than in front of it.

Gamers in particular seem to prefer short throw, and very short throw projectors, so we’ll consider the HT3050 gaming abilities next. 

HT3050 As A Gaming Projector - Input Lag

Having a short throw lens, as I just mentioned is favored by many gamers. For serious gaming though, perhaps most important is to find a projector with minimum input lag.

For most gamers playing fast games – (if you are playing Monopoly, or Words with Friends, you don’t care) something in the 50ms range is considered acceptable, down in the 33-36ms range is good, 16-18 is excellent, and anything right around 0 ms is ideal (but rare in projectors).  Those folks who demand virtually 0 input lag are the same folks that go out and buy very expensive gaming computers (with blazing fast – and expensive -graphics cards), and very fast gaming monitors.

Consider this, if not familiar.  Most games play at 60fps.  an input lag of 33-36ms works out to a two frame delay (1 frame on a 30fps game).  50ms would be three frames behind.  For non-gamers, here’s a number for perspective.  They say it takes close to 500 ms – 10X longer, in reaction time for most people to move their foot from accelerator to the brake… (How’s that for trivia?)

The HT3050 serves up a measured input lag time of 49.7ms.  

The HT3050 will work as a gamer for most folks, but like many other projectors that are in the 50ms range on input lag, some hard core camera will not be real happy.  Interestingly DLP projectors as a group tend to serve up better input lag times than 3LCD, but not this time.  Most of the 3LCD projectors also come in around 50ms, but we’re seeing more around that 33-36ms mark.

Some first person shooter type folks, especially those that are big time gamers playing in teams with headsets on, however, will demand less input lag. If you are one of those, you’ll need to find a faster projector.

ISF Certification

The Imaging Science Foundation – the ISF, is an organization that trains and certifies professional calibrators.  I expect that most of the projector calibrators out there who can calibrate this, or other projectors for you are ISF certified.  Mike, our own independent calibrator for the last decade is one who is THX certified, rather than ISF.  Ron, who also reviews for us, doesn’t hold any calibration certifications, but has the gear and is fully competent as well.

ISF Certification logo
The logo of the Imaging Science Foundation – ISF

Being ISF certified doesn’t guarantee great color or other aspects of the picture being in proper balance, right out of the box.  Still, it should translate into great color, etc., once a professional calibrator gets their hands on one of these HT3050 BenQ projectors.

The real question is, will anyone buying a sub-$1000 projector pay to have it calibrated. Certainly most won’t.

When it comes to an ISF certification of a projector, that means several things:

  • First, the projector must have the controls to allow for a proper, accurate calibration to today’s standards.
  • Second, the projector must have at least two modes – generally called ISF Day and ISF Night, that the calibrator can access and save their calibration settings in.
  • Those two ISF modes have password protection so that end users can’t get in there and screw things up.  A projector may have way more than two savable modes, but those two password protected modes are the requirements for ISF.

For those of you with your own gear to calibrate, but aren’t ISF certified, you won’t be able to get the ISF passwords to get in to those modes (unless you know someone).  Fortunately you can adjust any of the modes of this projector and have it end up in the User mode.

REC 709 Color

REC 709 is a color standard that has been around since the early 1990s.  It’s best known as being the color standard for HDTV.  For those of you familiar, it is essentially identical to the sRGB color space (which BenQ touts in their business projectors).

The HT3050 (and HT4050) have a color preset mode called REC 709, which of course means they have a mode optimized to deliver the correct color balance when watching.

HT3050_red_chinatown
A scene in Chinatown (NYC) from the movie Red, projected by the HT3050

If the projector delivers dead on the money REC 709 color, you have a perfectly calibrated (color wise) projector.  Don’t expect any projector to serve up perfect color right out of the box.  Even if a manufacturer has done a particularly good job of pre-calibrating the projector (iffy at best, is our experience, whether REC 709, “THX” or sRGB modes), there’s enough variation in lamp output so that no two “out of the box” projectors would sport exactly the same color balance.  Remember also, that the color balance of a lamp also shifts over time, and by whether you run it at full power or eco mode.

Despite all of that, the point of having a REC 709 mode is to point out that there’s a definable goal, that the mode is trying to achieve.  Some other company’s Cinema, or Theater, or Movie, or HDTV mode may be similar, and have exactly the same goals, but by calling it a REC 709 mode we can judge just how well it delivers on the promise, by seeing how close it really comes.  The HT3050’s out of the box color isn’t perfect, but it is extremely good.  I found the HT3050 to be close enough that it didn’t make sense to get Mike to calibrate it.  BTW I tried the HT4050’s calibrated settings, to see if they would work with the HT3050 – they did not.  Turns out that the color “right out of the box” for REC 709 mode is very close, but the default settings numbers start at different points.  Oh well.  Still the color’s so good without adjustment that I wonder if anyone will care.

HT3050 Projector - Lacks CFI

I do like to point out not only what great special features projectors have, but also at least mention when they lack a good feature found on some of the direct competition.

CFI – Creative Frame Interpolation – often generically referred to as smooth motion, is not available on the HT3050.  If you like CFI to smooth out your sports viewing (that’s what it’s best at), you would have to move up to the HT4050 projector.   BTW, BenQ calls their CFI “Motion Enhancer.”

Generally I like finding CFI in home entertainment projectors, especially since lower cost home entertainment projectors are typically used at least as much for TV viewing (including sports) as movie viewing.  A lot of folks dropping $3K or $10K on a projector are really “focused” on obtaining the highest quality experience when viewing movies.   Many “home entertainment projector” folks are sports fanatics.  While most sub-$1000 projectors lack CFI, there are some that do offer it.  I wish more did.  It would have been nice if the HT3050 did.

HT3050 - Has 3D

The HT3050 offers up all the usual 3D formats.  It uses DLP-Link to work with DLP-Link compatible glasses.  By comparison, so does the HT4050, but that higher end projector has a jack for an RF 3D emitter, which I consider superior, and is what is used on most more expensive projectors.

3D viewing was overall, an excellent experience, which is exactly what I said about the HT4050.

3D brightness is reasonably good, (always a challenge), but the HT4050 which is inherently brighter was better.  Keep in mind that with 3D, you are eating up about 2/3 of total brightness.  A 100″ diagonal 3D movie was a little on the dim side, but still very watchable for me.  I know some folks that wouldn’t be happy, in fact rarely will try watching 3D on any of the projectors I review, because they expect them all to be dim on 3D.

As the BenQ product manager pointed out to me, the HT4050 also has 2D to 3D conversion.  OK, that’s hardly unusual, but not high on my list of things, perhaps fun for the kids, especially on those video clips you shoot with your phone.

As a side note, the HT3050 does not offer 2D to 3D conversion (the HT4050 does).  I’m not a fan anyway, as generally it’s not near as clean as when you buy a 3D movie.  But it can be fun for the kids, or for viewing your own “home movies” from your iPhone, etc.

BenQ HT3050 - Optional Wireless HDMI

As is the case with the HT4050, the BenQ HT3050 offers an optional wireless HDMI solution.  That’s nice, but it’s not built in.  So, ultimately, what it comes down to for any projector with standard HDMI, there are plenty of 3rd party wireless solutions.  As a result, the bottom line is that it’s good that BenQ offers their own packaged wireless HDMI, but if they didn’t there would be plenty of other brands’ wireless HDMI to choose from.

Click Image to Enlarge

HT3050 Speakers

The HT3050 has a two 10 watt speaker system.  That’s about as beefy as you will find in a projector, with plenty of volume.  Being more home entertainment than the HT4050, it’s got the two speakers instead of one.  While built in sound is suitable for HDTV and movie viewing, and you’ve got some basic equalizer choices in the menus.  Still, no internal speaker setup i a match for even a $199 HTIB – home theater in a box.  The speakers though will do just fine for gaming, or that outdoor movie night, and will be just fine for those who just don’t care about having great, no – make that high fidelity – sound quality.  The HT3050 like most projectors these days with a speaker (or two) built in, has a stereo audio out.

Sadly, like all those others, BenQ wasn’t clever enough to allow the internal speakers play when you are outputting the signal through the audio out.  If they had been that clever, one could buy an inexpensive powered subw0ofer that could provide the bass needed to really make action flicks, and music videos (etc) rock!

BTW, I’ve been yelling at these manufacturers about this for a couple/three years, with no success, but I’ll keep trying.  Best of course, is to have an awesome AV surround sound system.

SmartEco and Lamp Dimming

The HT3050 has a full power mode, an Eco mode, and Smart Eco.

Full power and Eco modes are as expected.  The difference in brightness between them is reported on the first Performance page of the review.

Smart Eco is a bit different.  First of all, when in Smart Eco, the projector can be as bright as running at full power.  When, however, the projector encounters darker scenes, it can lower the overall brightness much as a dynamic iris does.

Don’t go thinking of this projector as really using lamp dimming as a dynamic iris.  I did some quick measurements comparing a near black screen with one filled with white credits.  I measured the brightness of the white pause marker in the lower left corner.  With the credits running, the projector measured that white as about 50% brighter, which matches up pretty nicely in that full power is roughly 50% brighter than Eco.

I really couldn’t spot the transition, so I believe it to be pretty slow.  The amount of difference is modest – as I said, about 50% increase, consider that a dynamic iris transitioning from a dark scene to a bright one like the credits, can increase brightness by up to 300% (a good guess on my part).

As a result, while there might be a very modest improvement on darker scenes, the SmartEco mode is more about saving energy.  The other key aspect of SmartEco is that it will observe the input source.  If the source is off, or even frozen – such as using pause, after a period of time the projector will lower brightness by up to 70%, your modest contribution toward energy efficiency.  After a longer period, the projector will shut down.  Many DLP projectors are offering similar eco features, so I suspect the bulk of it is built into the chipset TI provides to its DLP projector manufacturers.