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First Look Review: BenQ HT8050 - A DLP, 4K UHD Home Theater Projector

The BenQ HT8050 is a $7999 home theater projector, that uses TI's new 4K UHD DLP chip.  It claims 2200 lumens.  It's on the large size - for those of you familiar, not to different than the JVC projectors, or some of the Sonys.  It will primarily be sold through local installing dealers here in the US.

The BenQ HT8050 is a pixel shifting home theater projector with 2516x1528 x2 native resolution, which allows it to claim 4K UHD status.

The BenQ is a lamp based projector.  There's a companion solid state projector - the HT9050 coming out shortly, I'm not certain about the price of that one, but I'm pretty certain, under $10,000.  I'll update this when I confirm. BTW I just shot my first batch of photos of the HT8050 in action.  As you can see, I dropped a few in here. I'll get into some more details but first I must address resolution. To paraphrase Shakespeare:  4K or Faux-K, that is the question. Here's a link to another blog I just wrote discussing the credibility of treating 4K UHD the same as true 4K, without clarifying.  I think the oft used term of Faux-K is the term that applies.  Oh, and while I'm at it, Ron, our most technical reviewer, just put up another blog, relating to 4K viewing, this one on HDR, which he's blogged about before.
So, short version, I don't count the BenQ HT8050 or other new 4K UHD projectors to be any more true 4K than those 1080p pixel shifting projectors from Epson and JVC.  Higher resolution than those others, absolutely: 2716x1528 is higher res than 1920x1080.  Period.  And it's lower than 3840x2160.  Explanation points!!! Hmm, perhaps I should call these new DLPs Faux-K, and the lower resolution 1080p pixel shifters Faux-K Lite?  I like that. So, bottom line on that is this:  The BenQ HT8050 is an extremely sharp projector, one of the sharpest I've ever seen.   BenQ, which going way back, typically have put high quality lenses on the higher end projectors.  The good optics, but more so, the nature of single chip DLPs, and the overall resolution yields an extremely sharp projector.  I'm talking about accomplishing extremely sharp, without a lot of advanced processing that creates what I've always called perceived sharpness and perceived detail.  The HT8050 does just that. It's not just the higher res DLP chip, but also that it's a single chip device, not a 3 chipper, so there's no panel mis-alignment (aka 3 chip LCD, 3 chip DLP, or 3 chip LCoS projectors) to have to compensate for with fancy processing.
The native resolution may not be as high as the 4K Sony I had here for the last month, the VZ1000ES, but the impression is that the BenQ is that sharp.  (Technically, I'd say that pixel shifting is in part, advanced processing).

The HT8050 is very sharp looking while showing Ghostbusters in 4K - here's a highly detailed scene in the lab during the credits

I would immediately state that I found the BenQ to be sharper than either the Epson 5040UB or the Epson LS10500 I have here at the moment.  It's not only sharper, but you will perceive it to be so, I expect the exact same if compared to the JVC projectors (which I have always found a touch softer than the Epsons, at least with 4K content).

Zooming in on the same frame as above. This close-up of the HT8050 is saved at 2000 wide, and reveals the projector's really excellent sharpness.

It's sort of off season for me in terms of my sports viewing.  March Madness is a memory, and college and NFL football are still (so sad!) almost three months away.  I'm primarily used to watching my football, especially GameMix with 8 games on screen at once, on an Epson UB, or whatever the best projector sitting here to review is.  I would love to see the BenQ's sharpness on GameMix.  Of course I have 8 game, and 4 game broadcasts on my DVR, so I'll get to viewing them soon enough, and report back in the full review!
If that were the only criteria for a home theater projector the BenQ would be a truly great projector, but, of course, that's just one - although important - aspect of the HT8050. How the HT8050 handles 4K content in terms of Picture Quality I think of sharpness as a performance feature, a bit separate from picture quality in our reviews, although obviously it impacts the picture quality. Now let's move to the first real issue: The HT8050 does not support HDR, and they do not support the expanded color space of BT2020..  Instead, with the BenQ you still end up using the same old REC709 spec that goes back to the beginning of HDTV - you know - when your parents were only slightly older than you are now. If you were to buy a Blu-ray UHD disc, one of the things you will notice is that just about all of the Blu-ray UHD movies and other content being released provide the 4K content, with the  wider color gamut - BT2020, and the more dynamic HDR - High Dynamic Range.  The combination should give any content more pop, punch, more wow, more life - whatever you want to call it!  That's due  to really bright objects being significantly brighter than mid brightness objects, would be the case without HDR. The reds, yellows, teals and the rest of the color spectrum will all lack the intensity and range of BT2020 (or as close as those projectors supporting it, can currently achieve..

Here's a look at how some very dynamic content from the credits in the last Ghostbusters movie, looks on the HT8050, which lacks HDR and BT2020 support.

In the image directly above, look at the richness and dynamics between the colors, and also the background.  We'll be using this image (and others) for comparisons, including competition that does support HDR and BT2020 color space.  (Expect the reds to be richer, more color in the wide plasma beam, and probably a more intense blue as well.
I'll discuss all this in detail, with some images for demonstration, but, let's put it this way:  In theory, from a Blu-ray UHD disc, the highest quality picture offered will have both BT2020 and HDR.  Oh, the BenQ will have no problem with playing the material, but it will end up no HDR, and no BT2020.  That said, post calibration, the color looks really good, including skin tones. A quick note about BT2020.  Most projectors can't fully achieve BT2020 (not sure any can), but some come a lot closer than others.  For example, Between Optoma and BenQ both launching projectors with this 4K UHD chip, one company says so far, their designs gets them to just over 70% of the full BT2020 range, an the other said 82%.  I have no idea what the Epsons, JVCs or Sonys, achieve in this area, but I suspect they are a lot closer to achieving full BT2020 color space.)
HT8050 projector showing James Bond

BenQ HT8050 projector handling skin tones: Bond, from Casino Royale, using 1080p resolution Blu-ray.

Black levels:  With the dynamic iris on, the HT8050 produces some very respectable black levels.  Overall, I’d say similar, but just not quite as good as Epson’s UB projectors (better than the Epson 4040, the lowest cost pixel shifter).  More to the point, it's definitely a step down from the Epson LS10500, and even more so compared to the JVCs.  That's how it stacks up against the pixel shifters we’ve reviewed over the past five or six years.  Wait for the pictures in the full review. That brings us to the dynamic iris.  Folks it clicks or clacks.  Definitely noticeable when it does, on very quiet scenes, or with no sound.  That makes me think of the Epson UBs (except the BenQ is definitely more noticeable!)  The older Epsons had rumbly dynamic iris, while the newest ones still do, but those are a good step quieter due to the larger cabinet.
There have always been people who are what I refer to as "noise adverse."  Many won't use high power on the lamps, if the resulting noise is over 30 db (give or take), and some of those noise adverse, have complained about those older Epsons iris rumble. In this case, I fear a good number of people (but not the majority) might find the BenQ's dynamic iris noise to be annoying at times, and choose not to use it.  Unfortunately, not using it really downgrades the projector's overall picture quality on dark scenes, as you will see in photos  It definitely doesn't help.  There are some scenes where the iris pumps a bit, including a lot of normal type scenes.  Only on occasion is the pumping a noticeable issue (no dynamic iris is perfect), but the clack, or clack, clack, clack, clack.. it makes, will definitely be audible if things are quiet.  (It makes a short racket when switching sources, etc., as do many irises as they reset, as players switch to menus (at a different resolution), etc., but I don't count that as an issue, because there's no content on the screen.) The Optoma UHD65 - with the same 2718x1528 chip - is in house, but I haven’t played with it but for a few minutes, so not prepared to compare them in terms of blacks.  I will have logged significant time on the Optoma by the time the HT8050 full online review goes live, so I'll have more info comparing the two. In the BenQ's full review, or in a separate article or blog, I'm planning to serve up  a few scenes from movies (probably 1 or 2 1080p, and 2 or 3 4K scenes), with this BenQ HT8050, the Optoma UHD65, the Epson 5040UB, and the Epson LS10500.  Sadly, the big Sony is gone, but I do have similar scenes for a couple of them that I'll also include.  All of that should be revealing.  When the next true 4K projector shows up, I'll try again.  BTW, the two scenes above, from Ghostbusters will be part of that series.
Re: Calibration Eric calibrated the HT8050.  The result is really good color.  From the calibration standpoint, Eric has some mild complaints - he can't get it as dead on the money as some, but from watching it, I'd certainly say it calibrates nicely, and produces, very impressive skin tones, as well as rich colors in its best modes.  He'll explain in our calibration section of our full length review when it goes live (along with the settings he came up with). Observations:
  • The new remote control from BenQ.  Love it.  Oh, the layout is very good, typical of BenQ remotes going way back to when I owned BenQ's about a decade ago, but the feel of the BenQ remote control is downright excellent!
  • No 3D!  That's a first class bummer for those, like me, that enjoy/like/ or love 3D, for its great immersion. I think a lot of folks who feel about 3D the way I do -  who probably have already bought 20-30-40+ 3D Blu-ray movies in their collections, will pass on this BenQ for that reason alone.   Even if you aren't into 3D, if you have small children, Disney and others put out great content in 3D for them.
Despite the noisy iris, and the lack of HDR and the expanded color space, the BenQ looks pretty darn good. You certainly will get a visibly sharper image (on 4K content, for sure), than the lower res pixel shifters.  The only true 4K projector, at the price point -the Sony VW365ES - is in the same league in terms of sharpness, but has, by comparison, weaker black level performance, in part due to no dynamic iris..
Casino Royale, HT8050 image

The lake scene from Casino Royale, 1080p content projected by the HT8050

The number of 4K and Faux-K projectors is going to be grow nicely over the next year or two, so the biggest question for those considering the HT8050 is can you live without HDR and BT2020, or whether you should go with something not quite as sharp, that supports both standards, or jump up to about $15K for the next Sony up - the VW665ES which should have comparable black levels, and have all that support. I'll continue to provide my two cents of free advice, as we review more of these projectors and others, on our way to this  year's annual Best Home Theater report, which will come out at the end of the summer.
Bottom line:  The HT8050 is priced to do battle with lower res pixel shifters, and the lowest cost true 4K projectors, but also with other projectors using the same 2516x1528 chipset.  We'll be reviewing the others.  And, expect more models at CEDIA in the US, and IFA in Europe, this September, just to further confuse all of us with more competing projectors to choose from. If this helps, I've spent a good deal of time comparing the BenQ with the Epson 5040UB.  I miss the HDR and BT2020 on the BenQ.  That said, the experience with the BenQ, thanks to sharpness (and that "mystical" look and feel of DLP), I found superior to the lower cost Epson. That's it, a much longer "first look" than I intended.  Hopefully this will tied you over for a couple of weeks until the full review publishes,   thanks!  -art

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