Projector Reviews

BenQ HT9050 Home Theater Projector Review – Special Features 2

BenQ HT9050 Home Theater Projector Review – Special Features 2: Great Optics, No HDR, Light Engine Dimming

BenQ Lens – Great Optics

Impressive!  BenQ goes to the trouble of having a fairly (optically) fast zoom lens that maintains very good sharpness from center to the corners of the image. There is a slight softness in the corners if you focus dead center, but that is to be expected even with very good optics. I found the overall image of the BenQ to appear a touch sharper than either the lower cost lamp based Optoma UHD65 or Vivitek HK2299.

I did find one flaw, however. The BenQ does seem to defocus slightly over the first 20-30 minutes as the overall projector warms up. Now, keep in mind, this is a pre-production unit, so that defocusing issue could be resolved on the production units, perhaps by running the fan a little faster, or in some minor modifications elsewhere. Certainly, this projector is quiet enough that they could up the fan speed slightly without anyone really caring. Note that, in the past, we’ve seen manufacturers have some defocusing issues in samples and pre-production models that they corrected during production.

My recommendation based on this pre-production unit: Let the projector run for about 20 minutes, then refocus. Leave the focus alone after that. Also, I’d recommend going for the sharpest focus about 25% out from the center, which will keep the dead center really sharp, and eliminate most of the potential softness in the corners and sides. These kinds of recommendations are typical for most projectors.

No HDR

Time to deal with the elephant in the room. Honestly, I don’t get it. When lower cost 4K UHD single chip DLP projectors are offering both HDR and P3 / BT.2020, why a more expensive, and theoretically more capable projector, lacks HDR, completely eludes me.

Perhaps this will be addressed before first shipments, but I don’t expect it to be. Update: BenQ is shipping the HT9050, and no HDR! Looks like we’ll end up having to wait for the next generation from BenQ.

Without HDR, it is interesting trying to compare the HT9050 with other 4K capable projectors. All the others to pass through here, including those from Epson, JVC, Optoma, Sony, and Vivitek, support HDR. OK, the Vivitek is sort of the opposite of the BenQ. It supports HDR, but not P3 / BT.2020.

So, the tendency with HDR is to have overall darker images since HT projectors aren’t exceptionally bright. Hey, only the brightest of the 4K LCD TVs have enough brightness to implement HDR fully and properly. (Go check out Costco, where you might find a 65” Samsung 4K for under $1000, and another for $3000+. The biggest difference will be that the more expensive one is roughly 3 times as bright so it can do HDR well.

But, I digress. The idea behind HDR is so that the brightest content on the screen is significantly brighter compared to the mid and low brightness areas of an image, than with non HDR. That is, putting back in a good chunk of the “pop” – the dynamic range lost going from real life to video. Without enough sheer “horsepower,” HDR tends to deliver those brightest areas beautifully, but mid and low brightness areas come through a bit darker than expected.

In a more perfect world, you likely want about 5000 lumens to do HDR fully on a 100” diagonal screen, compared to roughly 500 lumens for non HDR! Go figure.

Still, HDR provides more pop and more wow factor, even when underpowered as is the case with most projectors and LCDTVs.

Here’s a single example of an HDR scene photographed using the BenQ, and also an HDR projector, right below it. Very different. The BenQ picture is overall much brighter, and you may well prefer that to “slightly dim,” but you do get less pop to those images.  They look more like traditional 1080p imagery, but sharper and with improved color, but the same bright-medium-dark balance. Here, you can see that the HDR image has more pop, but looks darker overall.

Passengers image - no HDR

Non-HDR image from Passengers shot from HT9050
Scene from Passengers: Lack of HDR creates a less dynamic looking image than other projectors with HDR but brighter overall.

Passengers Image - Sony 4K projector with HDR

Epson HC4000 low cost, 4K capable 1080p pixel shifter with HDR, etc.  dark image but vivid!
Epson HC4000 low cost, 4K capable 1080p pixel shifter with HDR, etc. dark image but vivid!

I spent time comparing the HT9050 primarily with the Epson HC5040UB and the Optoma UHD65, but also with Sony’s new #2 4K projector, the $25K VW885ES. I’ll discuss this further in the picture quality section. But, I’ve explained here, the “big picture” differences between having and not having HDR.

Oh – and just to annoy owners.  Whenever I pop in a 4K UHD disc into one of my 4K UHD players while using the BenQ, up on the screen comes a message advising that the display doesn’t support HDR, and basically “suggests” that we should get a display that does, to take proper advantage of HDR.

Light Engine Dimming

The BenQ’s “iris action” – no, there’s no dynamic iris, but, instead, its LED dimming is reasonably good.

It’s not the least detectable out there, but rarely offends. I tend to notice this kind of behavior more than others because I’m a black level fanatic. Whether by mechanical iris, or as in this case, using the light engine to lower overall brightness on non-bright scenes, that calls for some serious “iris action.”

I do spot some slowness in mid-brightness scenes, for example, where the movie is cutting back and forth between two people talking with the same background, but one in a nice bright white shirt and the other in one less bright. You can catch the slight darkening of the overall scene when the camera is on the person with the darker shirt.  But, it’s never jerky, so most folks won’t notice anything, or will simply assume that’s the way the movie was shot.

On the downside, BenQ isn’t dramatically lowering brightness levels on really dark scenes, so that the overall black level performance is only “good” and not close to, say, the Epson UB projectors, or even remotely close to any of the JVCs. It should be about comparable to the new Sony 4K VW385ES, a true 4K projector, although lamp based, that list prices for slightly less. More comments on the black level performance, of course, in the Picture Quality section.

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