The $749 (msrp) HT2050A is Benq's latest offering in the 1080P entry-level projector world. Actually, it is a step above entry-level in that it includes glass lenses, vertical lens shift, anamorphic stretch, quiet operation, and high color brightness with a fast RGBRGB color wheel. It also fits in smaller rooms than most other projectors due to its relatively short minimum throw of 1.15 and zoom lens of 1.3. That means a 100" image from as little as 8'4" or as far as 10'11".
First impression of the HT2050A tells you this is no road warrior's business projector trying to do double-duty for home use. It is three inches wider than my W1070, as well as an inch taller and and inch deeper. All that extra space has a beneficial effect on operating noise and heat output. Sitting just 12" away from the exhaust vents during testing, I was never bothered by either noise or heat when I had just the HT2050A running. During my side-by-side comparisons with both the W1070 and HT2050A running the heat became an issue.
Some nice physical features include all three feet being adjustable when table-mounting, and the vertical lens shift has a knob rather than requiring a screwdriver. There is also a dust shield covering the lens zoom lever and knurled focus ring. As light otherwise escapes this opening, you have incentive to keep it closed.
My second impression was a mixed bag -- the remote.
Although the new remote is generally an improvement, it trades some functions I prized on the W1070 for some new functions that seem less useful. Specifically, the "Test", "Freeze", and "Aspect" buttons have disappeared and "Gamma", "Keystone" and "Mode" were added. Having direct remote access to bring up the test grid to verify alignment and focus was useful, and having to navigate the menu to get the test grid less so. Being able to freeze the image on screen regardless of source was also useful, especially since some sources like Roku dim the image and clutter it with status displays while paused -- the W1070 Freeze gave a clean clutter free image. Not only is this no longer a function from the remote, but I did not find it anywhere in menu system either. Sigh. Being able to change the aspect ratio from the remote is handy for users of anamorphic lenses, and this now requires menu navigation. The new button to change Gamma settings is surprisingly useful -- brightening up a dark scene to see what is hiding in the shadows is great. The Keystone button makes those adjustments consistent with adjusting brightness or contrast -- choose what to modify, then adjust. The Mode button changes the projector display mode -- from User 1 to Cinema, Game, Vivid TV, etc.
The new remote, however, is less cluttered which is better for most everyday functions. Its backlit buttons stay lit for 30 seconds instead of the 15 seconds of yore. The circular wobble pad for adjustments is easier to use than the individual tiny buttons of the W1070 remote. Having separate buttons for volume control means fewer mistakes there. There is also a pair of button bars to control the "Play", "Fast Forward" etc. functions of an HDMI-CEC connected device.
Initial setup had the picture mode set to "Vivid TV" which looks surprisingly good -- not over saturated, not particularly green, and just a bit under saturated in red. Too bright with gamma set to 2.1, but fine out of the box for a bright room. Switching picture mode to "Cinema" cut brightness by at least a third and raised gamma to 2.2, blue and green appeared more muted than the Vivid mode. The "Bright" mode is the only one to use "native lamp" for Color Temperature as well as gamma down at 1.8, and is the only mode with a really objectionable green cast to it, as well as red being more wine than fire engine. "Game" mode is, surprisingly, almost identical to "Vivid TV" rather than "Bright" mode.
These out of the box impressions were based on about an hour of switching between Netflix (via Roku), DirecTV, and BluRay. Rewinding, pausing, and replaying the same clips in each picture mode.
Basic adjustments time:
Starting from Cinema mode, with gamma 2.2 and "Normal" lamp color temperature with Brilliant Color "On", I used the bluray disc of WOW from Disney for test patterns. I bumped Brightness to 51 and Contrast to 55. The HT2050A had no trouble at all adjusting to show only those patterns above and below ideal black and ideal white as it should. Using "Color Temperature Fine Tuning" I adjusted the R/G/B "Gains" to 114/95/120 as the most natural looking and left "Offsets" at 256. Under the "Color Management" menu, I left the settings as Cinema defaulted -- which was at their midpoints (200) except for Red Hue at 184 and Magenta Hue at 268. A range of 400 on these controls for Hue, Saturation and Gain under this menu is tough to use by eye -- large changes have barely discernible effect. I left Benq's settings as-is.
Then I watched some movies and TV. For a week. Some of that time was spent running both the HT2050A and my W1070 at the same time with precision instruments (ie, blocks of wood) hiding half the image from each projector so I could see the relative differences that five years has made. To the naked eye, those differences are obvious, although tough for my limited camera/skills to capture.
Flesh tones look good in these DirecTV shots from "Marvel: Agents of Shield", "Fox News", and the bluray of "X-Men:Apocalypse":
Black and white films stayed black and white, without any color tint.
Certainly colors pop as we expect from DLP, looking vibrant alongside natural skin tones in these shots from "X-Men:Apocalypse" and "Lucy" bluray, with colors in "Toy Story" appearing downright cartoonish:
Color accuracy on my W1070 was always a strong suit, but the HT2050A is Benq's first projector in this price class to include their CinematicColor which means the color wheel "high pure color coatings" are chosen and tested to produce 96% of the Rec 709 color gamut as well as producing the proper gray scale and white temperature close to 6500K. Previously, only their CinePro and CinePrime series projectors included this feature.
The bottom line, though, is whether colors look as they did when we saw the film in the theater or, barring that, whether they look natural. The only way to assess this without instruments is to view a variety of material as below.
Now, I have to admit that except for the ease of setting the test patterns without clipping whites or crushing blacks, I had a hard time telling the HT2050A apart from my W1070 in AB comparisons. My eyes adjusted too quickly with even a few minutes break between swapping the two projectors -- they both looked great. Then I started to run them both in a stacked configuration where I could hide half of each image and see the composite image on screen -- it is worth noting that the vertical lens shift makes this possible where it would not be with some competitors in this price class. I purchased a powered HDMI splitter to send the signal to both projectors at the same time.
In the images below, the W1070 is on the left and the HT2050A on the right. Sometimes there is a noticeable darker column running down the middle of the screen due to imprecise placement of the blocks and other times there is a double image instead.
Here is the focus test pattern, mostly for the obvious difference in brightness it shows:
I got light meter readings off this image that I frankly don't believe -- 50% brighter on the HT2050A side of the image than on the W1070 side. As far as sharpness itself goes, the glass lens vs. plastic lens does not show a dramatic improvement. Even expanding this shot to full size does not show an obvious advantage in reading the text or patterns above.
This image below is terribly out of focus but does show the improved blacks on the HT2050A. Look at the difference in the "black bar" areas above and below this opening sequence of the bluray "Passengers", and keep in mind the brightness difference in the test pattern above where the left-hand side should be dimmer overall than the right:
and here I've changed the W1070 "Projector Position" menu setting to "Rear" on the left hand side of the screen to show the mirror image of the right hand side shown by the HT2050A: Notice how much blacker space is between the stars. You can actually pick out individual stars on the right side that are missing on the left. Except where the dummy taking the picture is casting a shadow.
The white room scene in the bluray of "Lucy". The W1070 on the left looks almost a dingy white compared to the HT2050A on the right.
I was not really happy with my attempts to capture the difference in lens quality between the two projectors. There is one. And it is subtle. But I think these two images of Scarlet in "Lucy" show more detail in the skin pores and in the eye on the right-hand HT2050A side. The iris, lashes, and eyebrows are all more distinct on the HT2050A side.
While I have not used the internal speakers much in any projector I've owned, clearly Benq has put some effort into this. They call it "CinemaMaster Audio+2" and tout the clarity and "sensual sound quality" -- marketing department working overtime, I guess. What I can tell you is that the volume is sufficient to be heard without distortion from 20 feet away. There are several sound modes including Cinema, Game, Sports, Standard, Music, and User. That seems like a lot to ask of a single speaker, even if it does use magnesium and rubidium exotic materials. There are minor differences between preset modes and they cannot be changed. Only User mode allows access to the"EQ" menu where ten steps of boost or damping is available at five levels (100hz,300,1k,3k,10k). And it actually works, although nobody should expect much bass out of a small speaker driver.
Connectivity on the HT2050A includes two HDMI inputs, a powered USB port to provide power to a streaming stick like Roku or Chromecast, or in my case an HDMI splitter. There is also a PC (D-Sub) connection, component video inputs, composite video input, audio input, and an RS232 port for firmware updates. There is also an audio output and a 12V trigger to control a retractable screen.
It has been a bit over five years now since Benq set a new bar for entry level projector enthusiasts with its $999(msrp) W1070. Features included a fast RGBRGB color wheel which eliminated the dreaded "rainbow effect" for all but the most sensitive viewer, the color accuracy and ISF color controls, the brightness, the excellent motion handling, and some features arguably aimed squarely at HT use like vertical lens shift and digital vertical stretch for use with an anamorphic lens. Other features were arguably aimed at more casual users, like the built-in speaker scoffed at by more serious HT users. All in all, the W1070 was a compact package that seemed to hit a happy medium for use in modest dedicated movie rooms as well as living room TV and Sports use with the occasional lawn party thrown in.
Yes, yes, but ... the question is always "What have you done for me lately ?"
This brings me to the HT2050A. What we expect in the world of consumer electronics is for new models to bring us (a) better performance than our last purchase for the same money, or preferably (b) better performance for even less money. I am happy to report that the HT2050A is solidly in the (b) category. The kicker is that the warranty is THREE YEARS compared to the ONE YEAR warranty the W1070 came with.
Some may quibble that my still capable W1070 is hardly the "direct" predecessor to the HT2050A, but I would argue that most people are like me and do not replace their equipment every year or two. A cycle of five years seems like a more common interval for the upgrade itch to strike.
The HT2050A has managed to improve serious HT use in several ways:
1) Black levels are notably better than the W1070, making dark room use more satisfying
2) Brightness is improved, allowing for larger screens
3) The case size is larger with more open airflow, making it a bit quieter
4) Glass lens improves crispness compared to the plastic lens of the W1070
5) Field uniformity is much better than my W1070, whether due to the glass lens or some other factor
There is something for everyone, though, in that non-dedicated HT rooms get these improvements:
1) Lower input lag for games, including a "Fast" mode that brings lag down to 16.67ms
2) Horizontal as well as vertical keystone correction and all three feet adjustable make temporary setups easier
3) Much better internal speaker with several sound processing modes and "EQ"
Based on my head to head comparison, those looking for an upgrade to their W1070 will be quite happy with the HT2050A. It still offers the only vertical lens shift at this price point of DLP projectors, and now it offers horizontal as well as vertical keystone correction. It has a shorter than average 1.15 throw distance for smaller rooms, and a 1.3 zoom lens making it a direct replacement for a W1070 at the same mounting place. When every aspect of image quality is as good or better, price is lower, and the warranty is tripled ... it is pretty easy to conclude that the HT2050A value proposition is even better than it was five years ago when the W1070 was released.
Correction 4/21/2018: While the "Letterbox" Display Aspect Ratio does a vertical-only stretch of the image, it is not appropriate for use with anamorphic lenses and scope 2.35 screens. Although some anamorphic lenses allow a variable horizontal expansion ratio, most do not -- it is a fixed 1.33 ratio. The "Letterbox" Aspect Ratio only performs a 1.28 vertical stretch, which is not enough to eliminate horizontal black bars on scope films viewed on a scope screen with the most common anamorphic lenses. An e-mail to Benq about this issue received no reply after ten days. Ideally, Benq would correct the vertical stretch to 1.33x in a simple firmware update to make the HT2050A fully anamorphic ready.