BenQ's flagship home theater projector brings some exciting technology with its long-life LED light engine and delivers crisp, color-accurate pictures through its superb lens, but its high cost and limited contrast make it a tough sell.
The last few years have seen an incredible number of technological advancements and image quality improvements appear in projectors destined for home theaters and other high-end display scenarios. The BenQ CinePro HT9060 ($9,999), like the HT9050 from the year 2017 that it replaces, features several of these advancements, including full 4K UHD (3840 x 2160 pixel) resolution from a Texas Instrument 0.67-inch DLP chip with XPR pixel-shifting technology, the ability to reproduce up to 98% of the DCI-P3 wide gamut color space, and— perhaps most notably—a long-lasting (20,000 hour) Philips HLD ColorSpark LED light engine.
Compared with its predecessor, the HT9060 now sports both HDR10 and HLG support, along with BenQ's recently introduced HDR-PRO technology, which describes a package of advancements and tone-map improvements that BenQ applies in its new HDR projectors. The HT9060 also adds full HD 3D compatibility (1980 x 1020 pixels per right and left channel). Otherwise, the HT9060 and HT9050 are physically identical, with both featuring the same tack-sharp, 14-element, 1.5x zoom lens with both vertical and horizontal shift; an advanced remote control; dual HDMI inputs; a heavy and well-built chassis; a fairly quiet fan; support for an optional anamorphic lens for maintaining constant image height on a wide screen with 2.4:1 ratio movie content; and ISF Day and Night picture modes.
At this writing, HDR10/HLG capabilities and wide color gamut coverage can be found in a variety of 4K UHD and WUXGA projectors costing one-third to even two-thirds as much as the HT9060. Nearly all of those are lamp-based, however, so that leaves a crucial question for potential buyers of the HT9060: Is the combined value of its long-life ColorSpark HLD LED light source, lumen output, pro-level lens, 3D support, and HDR/HLG performance worth its premium price over these lamp-based models? Or might one of the growing crop of 4K UHD laser projectors be a better choice?
Like its predecessor, the new HT9060 is a fairly large projector, and at 40.8 lbs is about 7 pounds heavier than its current lamp-based counterpart, the Benq HT8060 ($8,999). As noted, the HT9060 chassis is extremely solid and well built, and has nearly all of the video and PC inputs that you'd expect from a pro-level projector in this class—except that only one of its HDMI ports is version 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 copyright management as required for most 4K UHD content. Its other HDMI input is version HDMI 1.4a with HDCP 1.4, and accepts signals only up to 1080p/60 Hz.
The high-quality, 14-element, 1.5X zoom lens is one of the HT9060's best features and includes several low-dispersion, glass elements that minimize lens distortions. Manual lens focus and zoom rings are located on the outer rings of the lens, while lens shift control knobs are located on top of the projector. In combination with the ColorSpark HLD LED engine's low entendue (which indicates its tight dispersion of light), this well-designed lens helps to produce a super-sharp image from edge to edge, with a very high 97% tested uniformity (no hotspots). While I didn't detect any of the color aberrations and distortions often found in cheaper lenses, I was a bit surprised that a projector in this price range lacked electronic focus or zoom controls, and offered no lens memory settings. Motorized features make it much easier to set up the projector and attain sharp focus by allowing that adjustment to be made close to the screen, while lens memories allow the option of using the zoom method to maintain constant image height on a 2.4:1 screen. As mentioned, BenQ does provide picture modes to accommodate an optional Panamorph Paladin anamorphic lens. This achieves the same objective, though it's a costly option that will set you back almost as much as the projector.
The zoom on the HT9060 allows it to throw a 100-inch diagonal, 16:9 image (for example) from approximately 10 to 15 feet, and features a generous +/-65% vertical and +/-27% horizontal lens shift that allows for some positioning flexibility. However, as with some other projectors, using the horizontal lens shift reduces the range of vertical shift—something to be wary of if you need to mount the projector off-axis from the screen. There's no digital keystone correction, but it's generally recommended to avoid that anyway with a projector of this caliber to retain the best image quality. You can use ProjectorCentral's BenQ HT9060 projection calculator to determine the range of throw distances for your intended screen size.
Along with its superb lens, the HT9060's most distinctive feature is its Philips ColorSpark HLD LED light engine. When it was first shown in a prototype BenQ projector at the 2017 ISE Trade Show in Amsterdam, the ColorSpark light engine held great promise for projection enthusiasts. First and foremost was its long-life (20,000 hour) "bulb-free" lifespan at a promised price point that was to be far below laser-based models offering similar longevity. But it also promised to solve many of the optical entendue and speckle issues that plagued early laser-light engines.
Inside the ColorSpark HLD (High Lumens Density) engine are three banks of LEDs: one containing red LEDs, one containing blue LEDs, and one containing blue LEDs plus phosphors in an unusual cannon-style light tunnel. Those phosphors emit 560-nanometer green light when struck by the blue light from the LEDs, and that light is optically channeled to an output window that's close in size to the 4.1-megapixel, micro-mirror DLP chip used by the projector.
It is the brightness of this green primary (in combination with the blue and red LED output) that allows the ColorSpark engine to greatly exceed the light output of typical LED engines. In the HT9060, the white light formed by combining the R, G, and B lights from all three banks is then bounced off the DLP chip's mirrors, and passed through a spinning color filter wheel to form a full color image. This approach is similar to how most two-color (red and blue) laser-phosphor light engines operate in single-chip DLP projectors.
The inclusion of a sequential color wheel in this and some other LED light engines may come as a surprise. There was early speculation that the HLD LED engine might eliminate the need for a color wheel and therefore eliminate the rainbow artifacts found in lamp-based, single-chip DLP projectors. That effect, for those who are sensitive to it, has been reduced over the years in single-chip DLP models mainly by using higher-speed (2x to 3x) color wheels. But removing the color wheel altogether was never the goal of the HLD LED engine, which was designed primarily to provide a longer-lasting light source that also produced a better color spectrum than the typical lamp. That wider color gamut may have reduced the need for some of the secondary colors typically found in color wheels, including cyan and magenta. However, Benq's initial published specs for the HT9060 showed that it includes a 1x speed (120 Hz) color wheel, and I saw rainbows clearly in test videos prone to reveal them. I further found that these increased slightly in the projector's HDR mode. Ultimately, our usual advice about rainbows applies: If you're sensitive to them or don't know if you are, work with a retailer/integrator who will work with you in the event you find them bothersome.
Here's a list of the BenQ HT9060's key specs and features:
The HT9060 offers four preset picture modes including Bright, Vivid, Cinema, and Silence. There are also two customizable User modes, plus a HDR10/HLG mode and a 3D mode. The four presets and two user modes can be accessed quickly by pressing the Pic Mode button on the remote, while the HDR10/HLG and 3D modes can be accessed by the HDR and 3D buttons.
Following is a review of the measured performance and subjective viewing comments for each picture mode.
Bright Mode. ANSI lumens measurements showed that the default settings for the Bright mode produced slightly higher than the advertised 2,200 lumens, coming in with 2,310 ANSI lumens (see the https://www.projectorcentral.com/BenQ-HT9060-LED-4K-Projector-Review.htm?page=Measurements,-Connections section at the end of the review). It also reproduced just over 100% of the Rec.709 color gamut, though only 69% of DCI-P3 in this mode, which is obviously not the mode on which the projector's wide gamut claim is based. Its full screen white balance had a slight blue-green tint which coincided with its measured color temperature of 6640K, slightly cooler than the ideal D65 target (6500K) temperature but better than most "Bright" modes I've tested on competitive lamp-based projectors.
Unfortunately, measurements made using CalMan 5 software, a Murideo Six-G signal generator, and an X-Rite i1Pro spectrophotometer showed that overall grayscale accuracy and color point accuracy were both fairly low in the Bright mode, with an average delta E of 10.5 (delta E around 5 is acceptable, while under 3 is ideal). And measured color brightness in the Bright mode (1470 lumens) was 33% lower than the claimed ANSI lumens, a not unexpected drop for a single-chip DLP projector in its brightest viewing mode, but significant.
I also performed a series of full on/full off and ANSI contrast ratio measurements to determine which of the color modes delivered the highest contrast in my fully-darkened lab and how they varied (see the Measurements appendix). The full on/full off measurements included readings at both the Normal light setting and the SmartEco light setting, which works like a dynamic iris, using power modulation to dim the LEDs when full black is projected during full on/full off contrast tests—or in low-brightness scenes. The SmartEco mode is quieter than a mechanical iris, and depending on the color mode it improved measured contrast ratio by a factor of about 4 to 4.5. But in real world content I found that it tended to reduce details that exist in highlight areas and in many dark scenes.
As is often found with published contrast ratio specifications for projectors and televisions, the measured full on/full off results didn't reflect the claimed specs and are most helpful in allowing comparisons between the projector's different viewing modes. (See our article, "Ignore Misleading Contrast Specs"). The ANSI measurements in Bright mode came in at 212:1 in Normal, the highest of any color mode. This might not seem that high when compared to numbers touted by flat panel displays, but according to a paper publised by Infocomm/Avixa, an 80:1 ANSI contrast ratio is the minimum required for watching SDR movies in a darkened theater without loss of details across the tonal range. So an ANSI contrast rating of 212:1 for a projector in a darkened theater is actually much better than it sounds.
Based on the color and gamut findings, however, the Bright Mode would be a poor choice for watching colorful standard dynamic range (SDR) movies or slide shows in a home theater environment. Its 212:1 ANSI contrast and 2310 ANSI lumens, combined with the projector's sharp lens and UHD resolution, would make it a better choice for use in a classroom or boardroom with higher ambient light levels. But it obviously competes in that application with dozens of more affordable and smaller 4K UHD and WUXGA models.
Cinema Mode. As the measurement charts indicate, the best preset for displaying the majority of 4K UHD and 1080p SDR content appears to be the Cinema mode. Despite its lower brightness at 1440 ANSI lumens, lower ANSI contrast rating (140:1), and slightly warmer out-of-box 6230k color temperature, (which some viewers actually prefer for movies), the Cinema mode achieves a color brightness rating (1350 lumens) that's only 7% lower than its ANSI white brightness rating. It also has acceptable out-of-box color accuracy (average Delta E 5.0), with a fairly neutral grayscale, and reproduces up to 96% of the Rec.709 color gamut right out of the box. With only a few tweaks to the Color Temperature settings and a couple of clicks down on the Brightness (black level) control, I was able to raise the color temperature much closer to the desired 6500K/D65 color point—and dramatically improve grayscale and color accuracy to an average delta E of 1.8 while expanding color gamut to 102% of Rec.709! Those stellar results were achieved without diving into the advanced Color Management settings for the color points, which appeared in my sample to have been pre-calibrated for all modes at the factory. In addition, my adjustments only lowered the light output by less than 200 lumens, a price most owners would be willing to pay for the improved image quality. Post calibration, the peak white/center screen measurement for Cinema mode was 1280 lumens.
Vivid Mode. The published specs for the HT9060 list a preset DCI-P3 mode previously found in the HT9050. However, it appears to have been integrated into the HT9060's Vivid mode, making it your best choice for viewing SDR movies that were recorded or edited using the DCI-P3 or AdobeRGB 1998 wide gamut color space (typically produced by modern camcorders and DSLRs). The Vivid mode delivers nearly identical brightness (1450 ANSI Lumens), ANSI contrast (142:1), and color temperature (6230K) to the Cinema mode, and reproduces up to 113% of the DCI-P3 color gamut with a fairly neutral grayscale and acceptable color accuracy (average Delta E 5.5). Color brightness measurements (1520 lumens) for this mode were notably higher than in the Cinema mode and even 5% higher than the Vivid mode's ANSI lumens white brightness rating, likely due to the wider color gamut it achieves. Similar tweaks to the default color temperature and Brightness settings helped improve grayscale and color accuracy to an average Delta E of 2.8, while slightly improving wide color gamut coverage to 114% of DCI-P3.
Silence Mode. The HT9060 has a Silence mode that does exactly what you'd expect—make it quieter. At Normal light mode, the projector is already fairly quiet—Benq specs cite 32 dB of noise for Normal, and 23 dB for the Silence mode. To achieve this quieter operation, however, the Silence mode turns off the XPR pixel-shifting mechanism inside the projector, which limits output resolution to Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) and also drops ANSI lumen output to 1240 Lumens. Color and grayscale accuracy also fall off to an average Delta E of 8.3. In addition to being quieter, the Silence mode uses less power at 160 watts compared to 280 watts for the Vivid, Cinema, and HDR modes, or 350 watts for the Bright mode. Instead of using the Silence mode, I'd recommend switching the Bright, Vivid, HDR, or Cinema modes to the Eco bulb setting if you want a quieter projector and better color performance while maintaining 4K UHD resolution (and can tolerate the hit on brightness).
HDR10 and HLG Modes. There are two ways to activate the HDR10 and HLG modes on the HT9060. The projector will automatically activate the HDR10 mode when it receives an HDR10 signal containing the required metadata from a 4K UHD Blu-ray player, media center, or streaming service. This automatically enables the wide color gamut mode and applies a reverse ST.2084 HDR PQ transfer curve. In the same fashion, when the HT9060 receives HLG content containing appropriate metadata tags, the projector should apply an HLG reverse transfer curve. (Unfortunately, our pattern generator lacks HLG target or metadata support to test this feature).
Though I'm not sure why you'd want to activate the HDR or HLG modes in the absence of HDR/HLG metadata tags, you can still turn them on manually via the remote's HDR button, or by digging down into the second page of the menu (these modes do not appear among the other color modes in the first-level menu). Once activated, users then gain access to four HDR brightness settings, as well as dedicated HDR Color Gamut settings in the Advanced menus. Keep in mind that only the HDMI 1 input can be used for display of 4K/UHD resolution SDR, HDR10, and HLG content. The HDMI 2 port only supports up to Full HD 1080p at 60Hz resolution and does not recognize HDR or HLG metadata in 1080p content.
According to CalMan test results, the default HDR mode appears to use a reverse transfer curve that's a close match to content mastered on 540-nit reference monitors. (Currently, many OLED reference monitors are in that class). The EOTF charts also revealed a few flaws in the HT9060's reverse curve, including brighter shadow tones, slightly brighter mid-tones, and a gradual rolloff below the targeted highlight clipping point. The curve can be adjusted globally using the four HDR brightness settings available, with higher settings lifting the curve and creating brighter tonalities across the full grayscale on screen, and lower settings darkening just the mid- and highlights tones (with little effect on the low black level.)
The HDR10 mode's grayscale and color accuracy was noticeably higher than found in either the Vivid or Cinema modes, measuring an average Delta E of 4 out of the box, while Color Volume tests confirmed claims that Benq's HDR-PRO factory-tuned settings can actually deliver 98% of the DCI-P3 wide color gamut. In fact, our unit tested at 100% of DCI-P3.
Unfortunately, since the HDR mode's max white measurement only achieves an ANSI rating of 1450 lumens, and the low blacks achieved are the same as found in both the Cinema and Vivid modes, its ANSI contrast rating was just 145:1—not what you'd expect given the claims for higher contrast that are associated with the HDR mode. This lower contrast, plus the slightly-bright mid-tone flaws mentioned earlier, tend to produce brighter than ideal skin tones and mid-tone colors for HDR movies, while the early roll-off of highlights before the clipping point tends to lower details in very bright colors and white areas such as clouds. The brighter deep blacks and the loss of highlight details could be seen (and was photographed), for example, in the scene shown below from Avengers: Infinity War, which was likely mastered using 1000-nit or higher reference monitors. A similar result is seen in a capture from Dr. Strange.
Despite its failings, the HDR mode on the HT9060 still does a much better job right out of the box than most lower-cost, 1-chip DLP models claiming HDR10 compatibility—mainly by achieving the full DCI-P3 color gamut and decent color accuracy. For most HDR movies that I watched, the HT9060 was able to produce a compelling HDR experience, although its mediocre contrast resulted in deep shadows looking slightly washed out. That's the same effect that you'd experience in a theater room with exit lights or other dim room lights that spilled onto the screen, so only those with a very dark theater room would benefit from additional contrast if it were achievable.
As with the Vivid and Cinema modes, additional tweaks to the Color Temperature controls to bring the peak white in the HDR mode closer to 6500K helped improve both grayscale accuracy (average Delta E of 2.2) and gamut volume (102% of DCI-P3)—albeit at a slightly greater loss of brightness (210 lumens in this case). Color Management controls are locked in the HDR mode, and unfortunately there's no 9- or 10-point gamma adjustments that could be used to improve the HDR reverse curve as found on several lower-priced projectors from JVC and Epson.
3D Mode. The HT9060 includes a 3D mode that can be activated via the menus and works with active DLP Link glasses; the projector does not automatically recognize 3D content. And when done watching 3D, you have to remember to turn off the 3D mode to go back to 2D viewing. Both the right and left channels are displayed in 1080p resolution—a huge improvement over older projectors that displayed each channel in 720p resolution or used passive 3D glasses. The controls include several 3D-specific settings, but in my test movies the default Auto settings worked fine.
I've never been a big fan of 3D movies in theaters since most have left me with sore eyes, a headache, and less money in my pocket. However, after watching The Walk on the HT9060, the docu-drama about Philippe Petit's walk on a wire between the two World Trade Center towers, I became a projected-3D fan. While I expected some emotional and depth-perception effects due to the movie's content and 3D additions, I didn't expect to experience true feelings of vertigo every time the movie panned down from the top of the World Trade Center's roof. Some of that was no doubt due to the movie's incredibly accurate reproduction of the entire city below the Towers and the skyline around them, and some of it might have been due to the memories I have of the real vertigo I experienced on a number of occasions that I visited the old World Trade Center's observation deck.
To the HT9060's credit, from the minute the movie started, I forgot I was watching it in 3D and sat spellbound till the end. At no point in time did I notice any 3D artifacts, feel eye fatigue, or notice any lack of detail in shadow areas or unreal colors. No headache either, just a heartache at the end of the movie. Brightness, perhaps the most critical performance characteristic for any 3D home theater projector, was obviously limited by the HT9060's overall lumen output and not as bright as on some less expensive projectors that produce more light, but it was more than bright enough for full engagement with the content. Before I sent the HT9060 back, I insisted that all three of my sons watch this movie in 3D to experience a bit of what was once there in downtown Manhattan.
The HT9060 home theater projector is a well built projector with a great lens, long-lasting HLD LED light engine, bright SDR and HDR output, good color, and great Rec.709 and DCI-P3 wide gamut coverage in the picture modes that matter. Its 3D performance is also excellent, and now leaves me waiting for the day when 8K projectors deliver each channel in 4K.
While the unit I tested appeared to be factory pre-calibrated in Vivid, Cinema, and HDR modes, there was still room for improvement using the Color Temperature and other easily tweaked controls—which might be necessary based on the color or gain of your screen or ambient lighting. The good news? Any adjustments you make or pay a calibrator to make could hold solid for several years due to the stability and 20,000-hour life span of the Philips ColorSpark HLD LED light engine—and the money you'd otherwise spend on bulbs or follow-up calibrations might be better spent on the optional anamorphic lens or a better theater sound system.
However, there's a lot to consider when spending $9,999 for a home theater projector, and the HT9060 would be a much better value if it offered better contrast in its Vivid, Cinema, and especially the HDR modes—as well as a lens with electronic zoom, focus, and lens memory. Although its price may be competitive against some premium laser projectors that offer the same benefits of long-life with no lamp replacements, its overall performance should ideally fully meet or eclipse those models. The HT9060 is an impressive, high-tech projector that excels in some key performance areas and will save money over its lifetime, but may not be the home run most enthusiasts will need to justify its initial high price.
Michael J. McNamara is the former Executive Technology Editor of Popular Photography magazine and a renowned expert on digital capture, storage, and display technologies. He is also an award-winning photographer and videographer, and the owner of In-Depth Focus Labs in Hopewell Junction, NY. He is the author of The Projectionist blog on ProjectorCentral, where he shares his field experiences, insights into current products, and tips and tricks for improving projected image quality for SDR and HDR content.
Author's Note: To determine color accuracy and gamut volumes for all the picture modes I used CalMan 5 software and an X-Rite i1 Pro spectrophotometer. The results from these tests can be used as relative comparisons between projector display modes, but since CalMan's algorithms for color volume measurement are not based on the latest industry standards, they may not match the manufacturer's published specs.
Brightness. The following chart shows white brightness in ANSI lumens for each color and light power mode. Color brightness, as measured using multi-color RGB test targets (following the ICDM CLO Standard 15.4) is also provided for each color mode using the Normal power mode.
Contrast Ratio. Below are measured contrast ratios for the different modes and power settings taken as full on/full off and as ANSI contrast. There is no industry standard for full on/full off contrast ratio measurements; as noted in the text these are provided primarily for comparing various display modes.
|Full On/Full Off
Color Temperature/White Point. Color temperatures for the 100% (100 IRE) brightness level for each mode were measured using i1Share software and the Xrite i1 Pro, with the projector in Normal (full power) light mode.
Color Accuracy and Gamut Volume. Following are the out of box measured Delta E errors for each color mode and the measured percentage of the Rec.709, DCI-P3, and Rec.2020 color spaces. Measurements were made with default settings in the Normal power mode. Bright, Cinema, and Silence modes were tested against Rec.709 color targets. Vivid and HDR modes were tested against DCI-P3 color targets within a Rec.2020 envelope.
(Avg. Delta E)
Input Lag. The HT9060's fastest tested lag time with a full-resolution UHD signal, using a Bodnar 4K lag meter, was 58.5 ms as measured in the Bright picture mode. This is too slow for most serious gamers but is not much slower than the lag time found in many UHD TVs and should be acceptable for casual gaming. We were not able to measure lag for 1080p signals.
In the Advanced menu the HT9060 includes Color Enhancer, Flesh Tone, and Pixel Enhancer 4K controls, plus both digital color transient improvement (DCTI) and digital luminance transient improvement (DLTI) controls. I recommend keeping both of these last two settings turned ON to improve color gradations and details in high-action movies and games, and for most movies, setting the Pixel Enhancer 4K control to 3 or below to minimize sharpening artifacts.
Standing behind the projector set on a table, all connectors and the power cord input are on the left side panel. All air intakes are on the back, with air vents located in the front on both sides of the centered zoom lens. Horizontal and vertical lens shift knobs are on the top, while zoom and focus controls are on the lens. The Kensington lock slot is located to the bottom right of the input panel, and there's no security bar.
• (1) VGA IN: D-Sub 15-pin (female)
• (1) HDMI 2.0b/HDCP 2.2
• (1) HDMI 1.4a/HDCP 1.1
• (1) USB Mini-B (firmware and diagnostic)
• (1) Ethernet RJ-45 (network)
• (2) 12V trigger out (0.5A)
• (1) RS-232C serial (9 pin)
• (2) IR receiver (3.5 mm)
You support ProjectorCentral when you buy
the BenQ HT9060 from these