The BenQ HT4050 is one of three new full HD 1080p resolution home theater projectors released by BenQ this fall. Priced at $1,399, it is the high end of the three, being a step up from both the HT2050 at $799, and the HT3050 at $999. While the HT3050 and HT2050 are built on the same basic platform with some noteworthy variations in features, the HT4050 is an entirely different model altogether. Not only does it look physically different, it has a more extensive feature set that includes frame interpolation, 2D to 3D conversion, and more lens flexibility.
The BenQ HT4050 is intended to be the more elegant of the three new models, and it definitely is. The picture has a refined quality compared to its two lower priced siblings. The more expensive glass lens used in the HT4050 eliminates chromatic aberration. This contributes to a smoother, silkier, more film-like image than you get from either the HT2050 or HT3050. Having said that, we must also note that contrast (and consequently image depth) is somewhat better on two lower priced models. Casual observers examining them side by side would be more likely to notice the difference in contrast before they would see the difference in image smoothness, which is a characteristic that an experienced videophile would be more sensitive to.
Many who buy this projector will be opting for Cinema mode, which is represented as calibrated to Rec 709, same as it is on the HT3050. However, the factory programmed Cinema mode color balance on the 4050 is closer to accurate Rec 709 than it is on our test sample of the HT3050. Moreover, the general tonal balance is superior, with colors looking more natural with low saturation elements looking precisely tuned and in balance with more vibrant higher saturation elements. This is a beautiful picture, perfectly watchable out of the box without any need for calibration.
There are three other preset operating modes besides Cinema -- Bright, Vivid, and Game. A few words on each of these...
Vivid mode is incrementally brighter than Cinema and about the same as Game mode. This mode boosts color saturation and contrast somewhat but it is not overdone to the point that it looks fake. It is actually a very engaging picture. Color balance is still within the general ballpark of reasonable. As far as Vivid calibrations go, this one is extremely well done, and we would expect a lot of HT4050 users to opt for the Vivid setting for their normal movie viewing.
Game mode is a bit brighter and slightly cooler in temperature than Cinema mode, but it is also serviceable for video/film. It activates the "Brilliant Color" feature, whereas the Cinema mode does not. Adding Brilliant Color to the image boosts brightness, and shifts color temperature. White objects appear brighter than they should, but the effect is not nearly as heavy-handed as we've seen on other Brilliant Color implementations. Much of the non-blue lower saturation colors are reduced in saturation somewhat. The picture is overall quite pleasant.
Bright mode is the only one of the four that is way off in color temperature, producing a picture that is tinted an obvious green. This makes grass look brilliantly green, blue skies look cyan, while anything red or magenta becomes dull and brownish. We cannot think of a good use for Bright mode, but if you want a bright greenish picture, there it is.
In general, the HT4050 delivers solid black levels and high dynamic range, consistent with what we've come to expect from DLP. The picture is sharp and clean with no excessive noise. Colors are (or can be) naturally saturated and well balanced due to high color brightness (see Performance section for details).
The HT4050 has an impressive frame interpolation (FI) system which BenQ calls Motion Enhancer. You can activate it or not as you wish, but when set to Low it removes a substantial amount of panning judder without imparting any hint of undesirable digital video effect (or soap opera hyper-reality). At Medium and High, it virtually eliminates judder without introducing very much soap opera effect at all, which is quite remarkable. But in these modes it does introduce some intermittent ghosting artifacts that you may not be crazy about. Typically they occur when a subject in the foreground is moving sideways across the screen against a stationary background. This artifact is common in FI implementations, so it is nothing out of the ordinary on this one. Overall, the FI system works very well and is particularly noteworthy for its lack of soap opera effect.
Rainbow artifacts are infrequent on the HT4050. Although the HT4050 has the same RGBRGB 6x speed wheel as its two lower priced siblings, rainbows do pop up a bit more than they do on the HT3050 and HT2050 (possibly due to some Pixelworks processing that exists only on the HT4050). When they do occur they are smaller and dimmer than typical rainbows on competing units. Overall, we would guess very few users would find the level of rainbow activity to be problematic.
As with the HT3050 and HT2050, brightness uniformity is not terrific, measuring 75%, with the image tending to be less bright toward the upper left and brightest in the lower center. However, we see no obvious vignetting on this unit, and the relatively average uniformity is not visible in normal movie or video viewing.
Precalibration to HD Rec 709. The calibration on our test sample is exceptionally good, and would help most users decide to forego the expense of a custom calibration.
All glass zoom lens. Eliminates chromatic aberration that is present on the HT3050 and HT2050, contributes to a more seamless, elegant picture.
Frame interpolation system. Called "Motion Enhancer," the system inserts created interstitial frames to smooth the judder that happens in camera panning. The implementation is excellent, showing very little if any digital video effect
Ideal brightness for home theater. Rated at 2000 lumens, our test sample comes in at 1011 lumens in Cinema (Rec 709) mode with the lens at wide angle and the lamp on full. This is good for rooms that are not entirely blacked out, or for a very large screen installation. If you want to cut lumens, you can do that either by using the zoom lens or putting it into Eco mode. This flexibility lets you hit the sweetspot of brightness for most dark room home theater needs.
6x, RGBRGB color wheel. This color wheel configuration maximizes DLP performance potential for video by optimizing color brightness and bringing rainbow artifacts to a very low and inconsequential level for most users.
Zoom lens and lens shift. Traditionally inexpensive DLP projectors have minimal zoom range and no lens shift. The HT4050 has a 1.6x manual zoom and some limited vertical and horizontal lens shift as opposed to none.
Full HD 3D. Both projectors are full HD 3D compatible, and automatically recognize a 3D source. The DLP-link glasses synch instantly.
2D to 3D Conversion. Opens up picture depth and imparts a quasi-3D effect to 2D source material. It is not as pronounced an effect as with genuine 3D source material, but it works quite well.
Good onboard sound. The HT4050 eliminates one of the two 10W speakers found on the HT3050, so it does not have nearly the audio performance of the HT3050. But it is very good audio for a portable projector. Most home theater projectors in this class have no audio at all, as the assumption is they will be used with a surround sound system.
Color Temp and Color Management. The HT4050 has controls to fine tune color temperature with Red, Green, and Blue gain and offset controls, and the ability to adjust Hue, Saturation and Gain on RGBCMY.
Connections. You get two standard HDMI ports, (one of which is MHL enabled. You also get one VGA port, one 3-RCA component, one composite, one USB, one mini-USB, one RS-232, one 3D synch port, two audio inputs, and one audio out. The connection panel is on the rear of the unit.
Projection options. For those new to projectors, virtually all projectors are made with the ability to project upright from a coffee table, inverted in a ceiling mount, or placed behind a screen for either table/shelf mounted or ceiling mounted rear projection. All BenQ projectors have these options as standard features.
H+V keystone. If you need to use keystone adjustments, you've got both horizontal and vertical. This function is accessible only via a function button on the remote; it is not available in the on-screen menu. As always, on all native 1080p projectors we recommend avoiding the use of this feature if you can, simply because it adds scaling to the 1080p image, and it will reduce image brightness by turning off a portion of the chip.
Anamorphic lens compatibility. If you have an A-lens and want to use it with this projector, the vertical stretch required to accommodate it is an option in the aspect ratio selections.
Security. Password protection is an option if you want to use it, and the projector comes with a Kensington lock.
Brightness. The HT4050 is rated at 2000 lumens. It has four factory preset operating modes and two user programmable modes. With the lamp on full power and the zoom lens set to its widest angle position, our test unit produced ANSI lumens readings as follows:
The HT4050 has a 1.6x zoom lens that will curtail light output by up to 23% as you move from its brightest, most wide angle position, to its most telephoto (longest throw for a given image size). This is less light loss than is typical for zoom lenses of this range. By comparison, the shorter 1.3x zooms on the HT2050 and HT3050 curtail light by up to 27%. As you see in the table above, you can also reduce the projector's brightness 30% by putting it into Eco mode.
Brightness Uniformity. Based on the nine quadrant ANSI lumen meter readings, our HT4050 measures 75% uniformity with the least bright area in the upper left and the brightest in the lower center. While this is lower than ideal, our test sample shows no obvious vignetting that is visible in a video/film image.
Color brightness is outstanding compared to many DLP projectors. In Bright and Vivid modes it measures 82% of white, in Game mode it measures 77% of white, and in Cinema it is the ideal 100% of white.
Rainbow artifacts. Infrequent, but they appear a bit more often than they do on the HT3050 and HT2050. When they do occur they are smaller and dimmer than typical rainbows on competing units. We believe most viewers will consider them to be rare and inconsequential.
Input lag. The Bodnar meter reports a lag of 96 ms with frame interpolation off, and 145 ms with it engaged.
Fan noise. Audible noise in full power mode is relatively low in both pitch and sound pressure. It is slightly more audible and somewhat higher in frequency than the HT3050 when the lamp is on full power, but it drops to slightly quieter than the HT3050 when put into eco mode.
High Altitude Mode is required at elevations above 1500 m, or about 5000 feet. In this mode the fan noise is increased, but it is still quite livable and relatively unobtrusive compared to most units in this price class. If you live at high altitudes, all of the BenQ home theater projectors tend to offer comparatively low fan noise in high altitude operation, although if you want to spend more money you can get quieter units for well under $2000.
Lamp life. BenQ estimates lamp life at full power to be 2000 hours in Normal lamp mode and 4000 in eco. Replacement lamps cost $249.
The BenQ HT4050 will thrown a 120" diagonal 16:9 image from a distance of between 10 and 16 feet, give or take a couple inches. With this size screen, if you choose to place it at 10 feet, image brightness is maximized, if you put it at 13 feet (the midpoint of the zoom lens), brightness is reduced by about 12%. If you set it all the way back to 16 feet at the telephoto end of the zoom range, image brightness is reduced by 23%. So choose your throw distance carefully while keeping your desired image brightness in mind. Use the Projection Calculator to determine your actual throw distance options based your desired screen size.
The HT4050 has an upward throw angle, such that when placed upright on a table it throws the entire image above the centerline of the lens. The bottom edge of the image is just slightly above the centerline by about three inches on a 120" screen. The vertical lens shift will let you move the image up another 6" or so, to help you target the image to a pre-installed screen. There is also a limited horizontal shift which lets you move the image to the left or right about 10% of the image width.
This lens configuration is designed to be used most efficiently either table mounted or inverted and ceiling mounted. As is typical with this design, placing the projector on a rear shelf and projecting over the heads of the audience will be problematic. You would probably need to tilt the projector downward to position the image properly. This will require keystone adjustment, and depending on the height of the shelf relative to the screen it may require more than the maximum allowable tilt, which is 15 degrees. Also keep in mind that the manual stipulates a clearance of 20 inches between the rear of the projector and the wall. So this is not a "bookshelf" projector.
Ideal throw distance. The big question is this -- where is the ideal placement when you've got a 1.6x zoom and you can choose to ceiling mount it anywhere between 10 and 16 feet to hit a 120" screen? The trade-offs are these:
1. If you place it at 10 feet, you get the maximum light output from the projector which is good if you need it. The downside is that in this position it throws the widest angle cone of projected light, and light striking the screen toward the sides of the image will tend to bounce off away from the center viewing position. So it is a bit less than ideal for even screen illumination.
2. If you place it at 16 feet, you get the minimum light from the projector, but if that is already enough it doesn't matter. The advantage is that you narrow the cone of projected light, providing a more even illumination of the screen since light hitting the sides of the screen does not bounce off at as much of an oblique angle.
3. If you place it at 13 feet, you get equal trade-offs of the above. Also, in theory the midpoint of the zoom lens is its optical sweet spot, but it is doubtful that a 1080p resolution image is going to tax the optical resolution of the lens enough for you to notice.
Plan for lamp degradation. In planning your installation, keep in mind that a good rule of thumb is to anticipate that high pressure lamps will lose 25% of their brightness in the first 500 hours of operation, then degrade more slowly after that. With this in mind, many people choose their screen size and screen gain assuming they will use the projector's eco-mode for the first 500-750 hours, then switch to full lamp mode for the remainder of the lamp's life. By following this strategy you can even out the average light levels on the screen over the lamp's entire life.
3D Brightness. The HT4050 produces a reasonably solid and watchable 3D image, but it is among the least bright we've seen. The HT3050 is noticeably brighter, and it was the least bright of the five we tested in last week's shootout of home theater models under $1000. If you watch 3D just occasionally, this is not a big issue and you'll get sufficient performance from the 4050. But if you are an avid 3D fan and among those who complain about 3D images not being bright enough, this one is not likely to satisfy you.
Extended Input lag. The 96 ms input lag on the HT4050 makes it unsuitable for any type of serous gaming. It also means that using an audio delay to fix the inherent lip-synch problem is mandatory. This is enough lag to make the viewing experience distracting unless an audio delay is used. Now, all projectors have some lag, and they all benefit from the use of an audio delay. So the fact that you'd need to set the delay for 96 ms on this unit, while needing to set it for 49 ms on the HT3050, makes no difference. Once it is set, the problem is fixed and you don't worry about it anymore.
A little bit o' lens shift. This is both an advantage and a limitation. It is an advantage because many projectors in this price niche or lower don't offer lens shift at all. So to that extent it is a genuine benefit. The only reason it is a limitation is because there are home theater models that don't cost much more that have much more extensive vertical and horizontal lens shift range.
Slow synch on new signals. The HT4050 takes its own sweet time figuring out new signals. Once it locks onto a steady signal it is fine, but when you fire up a Blu-ray disc, it is initially confused by the changing formats in the start up sequences. You may or may not see the MPAA Rating screen, the FBI alert screen, the Interpol screen, and you may miss some or all of the movie studio splash screen -- you'll hear the fanfare on your audio system but the screen will be dark. Once it locks onto the movie signal it is fine, but this not a good way to start a film presentation if you are using Blu-ray or any other source that has some variant signal formats as it starts up.
NOTE: BenQ indicates that engineers are working on a firmware update to resolve this. We will update this review with any new developments.)
UPDATE 12/21/15: BenQ reports today that a new firmware version will reduce input lag and improve time to synch on new signals. Please contact BenQ Tech Support for information on how to get your projector upgraded to the latest firmware. [EP]
One-year warranty. Several vendors in this market niche offer two or three year warranties, but some offer just the conventional minimum one-year. BenQ is one of them.
The BenQ HT4050 is a mixed bag. It has an elegant, smooth picture that will appeal to videophiles. The more sophisticated home theater aficionado will appreciate the incremental picture quality and gladly pay the extra price. The HT4050 also has some desirable performance features that do not exist on the lower priced BenQ models, most notably very nice implementations of frame interpolation and 2D to 3D conversion. Our sample came with a factory default Cinema mode that requires no calibration to enjoy right out the box. And its brighter and richer Vivid mode also has a refined quality that a lot of users will find extremely appealing. In our view, the 1.6x zoom that lets you position the projector farther from the screen is also a noteworthy and attractive asset.
However, most consumers just getting into entry level home theater are not likely to view the nuanced seamlessness of the HT4050's image as a major advantage. They will instead be more attracted to the somewhat better contrast and three-dimensionality offered by the HT2050 or HT3050. And gamers are more likely to go for the much lower priced HT2050 for its 33 ms input lag rather than the 96 ms of the HT4050.
In the end there is no such thing as a projector that meets everyone's needs for all uses. The HT4050 will be perfect for some users and not right for others. But it will certainly contribute to BenQ's growing reputation for producing cost-effective home theater projectors that deliver excellent picture quality.
(See current BenQ HT4050 prices.)
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