Updated review dated 8/11/2018
BenQ HT2550 Firmware revision 1.0.3
It's been 6 months since my review of the HT2550. In that time, a lot has changed. Back in February, the HT2550 represented the first entry in an entirely new segment of the projector market and was the first to debut Texas Instrument's .47" DMD utilizing XPR pixel-shifting technology. Since then, the list of affordable 4K DLP projectors equipped with the .47" DMD has grown dramatically. In just under half a year, 4K projection has gone from being an expensive luxury to an expectation in models retailing north of $1000.
Since it's release, BenQ has quietly updated the HT2550 with a new firmware revision. Addressed in the firmware are fixes to 3D playback and projector functionality as well as improvements to the HT2550's projector optimized HDR support. BenQ graciously offered to send me a review sample equipped with the most current firmware revision: version 1.0.3. So how do these changes shake out? Read on to find out.
NOTE: Due to the unique nature of my original review being the first post of a forum thread I have decided to leave the entirety of my initial review intact below without modification. I feel that changing anything in the original review might effect the context of the discussion that follows. Thanks again for reading and please add to the conversation by posting any thoughts, questions or feedback you might have for me!
I won't waste time talking about the HT2550's chassis and connections as you can read all that in my prior review. Suffice to say it was great to have the HT2550 back in my theater. It really is amazing how compact these 4K DLP projectors are considering the larger than life image they are capable of creating. I still bemoan the lack of vertical lens shift but overall I had few issues getting the projector mounted and aligned on my 100" fixed screen. The HT2550 features automatic keystone correction which is meant to compensate for the lack of lens shift but using it will reduce resolution. Despite my installation being perfectly square with my screen (and thus the auto keystone feature reporting zero) I chose to disable the feature just-in-case to avoid any possible loss of resolution.
The list of picture presets is unchanged. As before, the most accurate picture preset is the Cinema default although Vivid and Sport are both more than acceptable if you need a little brighter picture. Bright is, obviously, the brightest preset but it's best avoided as it has a strong green tint. Speaking of which, while the HT2550 is not quite as bright as it's sister TK800 it is still more than bright enough to compete with some ambient light. Regardless of room conditions I recommend use of the SmartEco lamp mode-- BenQ's version of lamp dimming. While the action of the lamp dimming is noticeable in some content, more a quick flicker than the pump you'd associate with an iris, I recommend using it as it makes a visible contribution to the HT2550's contrast performance.
It should be mentioned here that each picture preset now has two effective 'modes'. One for standard dynamic range (SDR) content and one for high dynamic range (HDR) content. Each has it’s own settings for brightness, contrast, etc., and in 'HDR mode' the gamma setting is replaced with an HDR Brightness setting. This is important to note as changes to one picture preset 'mode' do not effect the settings in the other 'mode'. So, for example, if you make a change while viewing SDR content (like reducing contrast or changing the color temperature) that change will not be reflected in the HDR 'mode'. The HT2550 is capable of correctly identifying whether SDR or HDR content is being input and will switch to the appropriate mode automatically. This is a feature that even far more expensive projectors lack so it is appreciated here.
Speaking of features, I was happy to see the return of BenQ's CinemaMaster menu. While I generally find proprietary picture enhancements superfluous I rather like the effect that a few of them make here when used in moderation-- particularly the 'Pixel Enhancer 4K'. I also had a chance to try a feature I rarely use or report on in these reviews: the internal speaker! While I obviously recommend an external sound system I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the HT2550's internal speaker. It was easily capable of filling my room with sound and had especially cleat dialogue. This gives the HT2550 some added flexibility for someone who might want to move the HT2550 from room to room or take it outside for the occasional movie under the stars.
As I stated the best picture mode for color accuracy is the Cinema picture preset. I used it for the majority of my testing. BenQ claims 96% coverage of the Rec.709 color gamut with DeltaE errors of less than 3 out-of-the-box. True to that claim I found little need for adjustment in SDR although I did prefer the slightly deeper 2.3 gamma in my darkened room. Adjusting HDR is a little more tricky as adjustments can throw off the manufacturers proprietary tone and gamut tracking. My only significant change to the HDR image was to back off the contrast a bit as the HT2550 has a tendency to crush white by default.
Now, let's get right into it. I've decided to modify my review format a little bit and focus on specific areas of image performance as it relates to the type of content being displayed.
UHD (4K/HDR) Picture Quality
One of the bullet point features of the new 1.0.3 firmware revision is the promise of improvements made to the HT2550's HDR picture quality. In my previous review I remarked that the HDR performance of the HT2550 was, well, fairly unremarkable. While I generally found the HT2550's prior HDR tone/gamut mapping to work well enough once you turned down the HDR Brightness setting a bit, you could argue (and many did) that it was better to send the BenQ 4K content in SDR due to the HT2550's better handling of rec.709 content. Well, I'm happy to report that BenQ has come through as promised and the HT2550's HDR image is now vastly improved. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the improvements they've made here are transformative!
The HT2550 is still a native Rec.709 device and while the HT2550 is obviously able to accept DCI-P3/BT.2020 as part of the HDR standard, BenQ does not purport that the HT2550 offers significant coverage of expanded color gamut. So how did BenQ manage to improve the HT2550's HDR image? HDR not only allows for more colors it also allows for brighter colors. BenQ seems to have doubled down on the latter for the HT2550's revised HDR presentation. Colors in HDR leap off the screen with a vibrancy and richness that was simply absent before and the HT2550's picture, in turn, benefits with improved contrast and depth. In fact, I cannot overstate how much the HT2550's performance has improved in this area. While no one will mistake the HT2550 for an LCoS display, it's contrast is no longer a hindrance to it's picture performance.
While I have already heaped praise on the HT2550 for it's resolution and clarity I feel it warrants another reminder. Simply put, televisions are not large enough to take advantage of the resolution gains of 4K over 1080p. Even a 70" television is half the size of a 100" projector screen. Many commenters have downplayed the role 4K resolution plays in the UHD standard and I'm here to say it matters a LOT on the size screens a projector can push.
UHD (4K/HDR) Test Material
To test out this new HDR performance I went straight to one of my favorite UHD Blu-ray discs: Bladerunner 2049. The beginning of chapter 12 is a good test of a display's tone mapping. The HT2550 does well here depicting the orange glow of the irradiated Las Vegas skyline being reflected against Deckard's skin with out making him too dark. Meanwhile, the red fabric of the bar stool cushions and the blood on K's face easily standing out and don't get lost. Chapter 7, earlier in the film, is a great test of a displays ability to render fine detail. As K and Joi fly over the ruins of San Diego in the driving rain, individual droplets can be seen streaking across the sky giving the scene a 3D-like depth. This level of detail is simply not possible on a 1080p display.
Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II are must-owns for anyone with a 4K display. Here, the HT2550's impossibly sharp image and the utilization of a full 16:9 aspect ratio work together to completely engross you in the drama unfolding onscreen. Every tuft of fur, every blade of grass and every sunset is rendered here in stunning clarity. While the darkest scenes reveal that the HT2550's black is more a dark shade of gray, the presence of any bright highlight-- like the spotlight of a passing submarine-- would return the image's pop and depth. If you haven't already, I highly recommend you pick up the UHD Blu-ray release of these two. This is one series that streaming cannot do justice.
Interstellar is a fascinating movie not just for it's plot but for the way it was made. Christopher Nolan is one of the last directors still shooting on film and Interstellar is a showcase for what 4K can bring to an 'analog' feature. While Interstellar won’t blow you away with bright, comic book colors or blinding specular highlights what it will do is transport you into it's world in a way that is unique to it’s medium. Shot in alternating aspect ratios on 35mm and 70mm the HT2550's extra resolution and complete lack of pixel gap lends authenticity to the presentation. The HT2550 is uniquely suited to displaying high quality film transfers and at no point during my viewing did I ever feel like I was watching mere video streamed from a disc-- and that is high praise.
HD (SDR) Picture Quality
I didn't expect to find much improvement here as HD image quality was not on BenQ's list of improvements with the 1.0.3 firmware release. The HT2550 was already an above average performer thanks to it's accurate out-of-the-box Rec.709 color and quality upscaling of HD content to 4K. The issue, previously, was that the HT2550 did not have the contrast of it's lower priced siblings. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I discovered that the HT2550's newfound contrast improvements extend to it's HD picture quality as well! Compared side by side with BenQ's own HT2050A 1080p DLP the HT2550's ultimate black appears a shade or two lighter by comparison. Still, I found my eye drawn to the HT2550 as it's sequential contrast is excellent and the added sharpness of the 4K upscaling often made it the more dynamic of the two. I actually found myself testing more HD Blu-ray discs than I originally planned just to see how good they would look with the HT2550's upscaling.
3D was at the top of the list of items addressed by the 1.0.3 firmware update-- and for good reason. 3D did not function properly on the HT2550 when I reviewed it back in February due to a sync issue that would constantly invert the 3D image. Making it effectively unwatchable. Well, BenQ has fixed the issue but in a way you might not expect.
You see I ran into a problem with 3D playback where, randomly, the screen would split in half with one half being just a frame or two behind the other half. While this didn't happen all the time it happened with enough frequency that I was ready to simply recommend giving up on the HT2550's 3D capability. And then, for some reason I don't recall now, I decided to test the HDMI 2 port… [edit: So let me interject here to offer a quick explanation of the HT2550's input options. The HT2550 has two HDMI ports. HDMI input 1 which is the 2.0 / HDCP 2.2 input you need to use for 4K/UHD sources and HDMI input 2 which is a 1.4a / HDCP 1.4 input that is only compatible with HD sources. Got it? Good.]
…To my surprise, not only did HDMI input 2 work with every 3D movie I threw at it I no longer needed to manually select 3D in the BenQ's menu as I did on HDMI input 1. The HT2550 simply detected the 3D signal and switched itself into the appropriate mode like I have been used to for years on BenQ's 1080p line of projectors. Here, on HDMI input 2, the 3D is functioning up to my high expectations for a DLP projector with a sharp, crosstalk free image.
Now I'm not going to pretend this is an ideal solution. If you are planning to run only one HDMI cable to your HT2550 you undoubtedly are going to be running it to HDMI input 1. Which is why I'm still working with BenQ to see if maybe there is a fix or a trouble shooting step I haven't tried yet. In the meantime, if you want to view 3D my best suggestion is to run a second HDMI cable to the projector. If you have an AVR with a second HDMI video output this might make managing the connections a bit easier.
I'm not going to expand much on my original review here as the improvements I've listed above to the 4K/HDR image quality carry over and make the HT2550 an even more stunning display to game on. Whether it's a tentpole release like God of War or an indie classic like Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, the picture quality of the HT2550 takes the sense of immersion and ramps it up to 11. While the HT2550 is among the fastest 4K DLP projectors at 48ms of lag, I would still love if BenQ could find a way to reduce that lag-- even a little bit-- as it would allow me to recommend the HT2550 as a companion to your PRO or X without caveat. As it is, the HT2550 is best suited for casual gamers looking to upgrade their experience to large format 4K/HDR gaming. Competitive gamers will want to stick with a quicker, 1080p alternative like BenQ's own HT2050A or TH671ST.
I am, first and foremost, a movie lover. The best compliment I can give the HT2550 is it makes me excited to watch movies in the same way I was when I bought my first 720p projector and realized I could replicate the theater experience at home. In the months since my first review, quality UHD content has become ubiquitous. The HT2550 offers an affordable and high quality way to enjoy that content without breaking the bank. It will also bring new excitement to your existing HD library and even allows you to get some use out of those dusty 3D goggles.
To say that I am impressed by the changes BenQ have made here would be an understatement. These are tangible improvements that make an already pretty good projector an excellent one. This combination of brighter color, better contrast and true 4K resolution gives the HT2550's picture quality a level of realism and immersion that belies it's budget price.
Original review dated 2/22/2018
Thanks to BenQ for sending me a review sample of their brand new HT2550 4K HDR Home Cinema Projector. Here is my review.
Affordable 4K projection comes home.
I'm going to be honest with you, I didn't see this coming. Had you told me even 6 months ago that we would be seeing a 4K projector from a respected name brand for less than $1500 this soon I would have told you were dreaming. Consider this review my official resignation from the prediction business. The recently released BenQ HT2550 brings 4K UHD projection home for the previously unheard of price of $1499. In this case the HT2550 isn't just a new model it represents an entirely new segment as it is the most affordable way to enjoy 4K UHD content in a large format at home. To say that I was excited to receive and begin reviewing this latest projector would be an understatement. I've spent more time with the HT2550 testing a wider variety of content than any previous product I've had the good fortune to review. I hope you find this review useful and informative.
Basics and Setup
The HT2550 is advertised as having a True 4K native resolution of 3840x2160 (more on that in a bit). It has support for HDR10 that BenQ says has been projector-optimized, as well as BenQ's CinematicColor technology which promises over 96% coverage of the Rec. 709 color gamut and delta E errors of less than 3 for a color accurate image right out of the box. The HT2550 does not support an expanded color gamut. Other features are a 2200 ANSI lumen rating, a 1.2x zoom lens and an RGBRGB color wheel-- the latter prized among enthusiasts. BenQ continues to improve on their lamp life and now claims a whopping 10,000 hours in Eco and a still impressive 8000 hours in the popular SmartEco lamp mode. The HT2550 comes standard with an industry leading 3 year warranty.
The HT2550 has a handsome white chassis that, at only 14" wide and less than 11" deep, is by far the most compact of any projector packing 4K resolution. While small for a 4K projector, BenQ's latest is heavier than your average DLP with similar dimensions-- weighing 9.3lbs the HT2550 is 2lbs heavier than my own, comparatively larger, 1080p projector. This weight lends the HT2550 a solid feel and the dark grey faceplate with gold 4K logo completes the look. Around back you'll find two HDMI ports, the first being HDCP 2.2 capable of a full 18Gbps for 4K HDR @ 60 fps, along with a VGA input, RS 232 port, a USB A, USB B and a pair of audio 3.5mm in/out jacks. Picture presets included are Cinema, Vivid, Sport, Bright and a pair of ISF day/night modes.
The HT2550 has a rather conventional throw ratio of 1.47-1.76. To target a 100" screen you'll need around 11 feet of distance lens to screen. The HT2550 lacks any sort of lens shift which means if you are mounting the projector you'll need to use extra care to make sure your projector and screen are aligned. BenQ has equipped the HT2550 with an automatic vertical keystone correction which will automatically square the image if tilting is required but I recommend to avoid this when possible as keystone correction lowers resolution. There is no horizontal correction available. For my review the projector was mounted to my back wall and auto keystone correction was disabled.
For my testing the projector was connected directly to a Sony X800 UHD bluray player for playback of a variety of UHD discs and some limited streaming. I also swapped in a PS4 at one point for some gaming. My screen is a fixed frame 100" Silver Ticket White.
A quick word on True 4K vs Native 4K
The HT2550 debuts a brand new DLP light engine featuring the new .47 DMD utilizing Texas Instruments XPR pixel shifting technology. Pixel shifting has been on the market for a couple of years now in high end 3LCD and LCoS projectors but it so far has been limited to providing an 'enhanced' resolution that essentially doubles those projector's native 1080p resolutions to around 4 million distinct pixels. While the DMD at the core of the HT2550 also has a resolution of 1920x1080p the XPR technology then quadruples it to produce the 8.3 million distinct pixels required to classify it as 'True' 4K UHD. So, essentially, each pixel on the chip is responsible for displaying 4 pixels on the screen. This is distinct from a 'native' solution where each pixel on the chip would be responsible for displaying 1 pixel on the screen. There is a great bit of debate around the internet and especially on this forum as to how shifting solutions stack up to native solutions. Currently, the least expensive native 4K projector on the market is the Sony VPL-VW285ES which retails for $4,999.99-- more than three times the price of the model we are looking at here.
It's becoming almost cliché to start this section of my review of any BenQ product by reminding my reader of BenQ's penchant for delivering projectors that have excellent color quality right out-of-the-box. Nevertheless, here we are with another BenQ projector that, despite spending a great deal of time fussing over the various picture settings and consuming slide after slide of test patterns, is damn near perfect without having to touch a picture setting. In my darkened room I needed only to change the picture mode to Cinema and move the brightness setting up a single notch to achieve a beautiful image. Besides a tendency of whites to look a little cool, color is accurate without adjustment. Mid tones in particular really shine on this projector with skin tones that look natural and color that is well saturated. Contrast performance is a bit of a mixed bag as the HT2550 suffers from less than stellar black levels. In mixed scenes with a lot of bright highlights the high ANSI contrast of DLP produces an image with a lot of pop but in darker scenes blacks tend more towards grey and the image loses much of it's punch. Despite this, shadow detail remains excellent.
Of course, the party piece of the HT2550 is the 4K resolution and here the projector does not disappoint. The image is impossibly sharp and in my many hours of viewing I noticed no artifacts or instability in the image-- a credit to the XPR design. Similar credit goes to BenQ for equipping the HT2550 with a high quality lens that can render this resolution without issue-- the optics here are excellent. Edges look crisp and there's a fluidity to the image that makes you forget you are watching a fixed pixel display. Honestly, this is THE way to enjoy ultra high resolution content. On smaller screens the resolution advantages of UHD are subtle to non existent as the size of the screen and the average viewing distance eradicate the extra detail the 4K resolution provides. But at the sizes you can achieve with a projector all that extra resolution becomes intoxicating. As I stated my screen is 100" and this is as large as I can make the picture without knocking out a wall (my room is quite narrow) but if you're considering this projector for yourself I would advise a larger screen. While 100" is ideal for 1080p at my seating distance, with 4K that goes out the window. At one point while watching The Martian I just dragged my chair up to be front and center with screen so I could soak up all the extra details evident in the picture. After two weeks with the HT2550, going back to my own 1080p projector, I was surprised at just how accustomed to the extra detail I had become. While I'll stop short of saying 1080p looks soft to me now the extra degree of sharpness and clarity the 4K provides is a tangible advantage in the sizes you can push with a projector.
UHD isn't all about resolution, however, and I took the time to test out it's HDR capabilities. First, let me say that projectors are somewhat limited in their ability to display HDR content and I went in with my expectations in check. Projectors typically cannot reach the nit output required to display HDR properly and don't have the contrast performance of an OLED or FALD LCD. BenQ has implemented their own HDR mapping and in my testing the feature worked well. Now, to be clear, when viewing HDR and SDR material back to back the differences were quite subtle and not nearly as dramatic as what you'd find on the average OLED. But at no point did the implementation create any issues like I've seen on some other projectors. With HDR engaged you get a few brighter highlights and colors seem to have an even greater degree of saturation. Being that the HT2550 does not support an expanded color gamut you're not going to get any advantages there either although the color performance remains accurate to Rec 709.
The Light Border
It's time to talk about it. Anyone who has been following this projector since it's announcement or have read other reviews will have no doubt read about the dreaded 'light border' which appears as a thick strip of grey light that runs around the border of the actual display area. The border is, unfortunately, large enough that my 2.5 inches of felt border that runs around my screen is not large enough to soak it up and I end up with 1-1.5 inches of 'overshoot' that hits my wall. According to BenQ this is a side effect of the .47 DMD design and is caused by a several rows of unused micro mirrors surrounding the active area of the DMD.
First, let me say that the fact that this made it through to the final design of the DMD is surprising to me. That being said: after a couple of days with the projector I all but forgot it was there. Now, It should be said that my front wall is a medium 'mocha' color and that likely has a great deal to do with it not being as distracting as some other reviewers have pointed out. If you are running a thin or zero border screen or your front wall is a white or off white color you may find the issue unacceptable. In either case it's important to plan for this if you are interested in this projector. Additional masking or a dark painted front wall would go a long way towards mitigating the issue.
On a lighter note (pun intended), one unintended consequence of the light border: a recent visitor to my home thought I had installed a subtle back lighting around my screen.
3D is slowly disappearing from consumer displays so when BenQ announced that the HT2550 would support the format 3D fans rejoiced. Unfortunately the first two shipments of HT2550s to the states suffer a bug that causes a sync issue with compatible DLP link glasses making 3D content unwatchable. At the time of this writing BenQ has acknowledged the error and have prepared an updated firmware to address the issue. Unfortunately again this fix will require a full projector replacement. For their part BenQ has promised to "hot swap" by shipping working replacements to customers first so that they will not need to be without their projector for any period of time. In the past I've found BenQ projectors to have excellent 3D performance so I'm looking forward to seeing how well the updated units stack up but at this time I have nothing to report.
With an input lag of 47ms the HT2550 is not in the same class as some of BenQ's more recent 1080p offerings such as the TH671ST, HT2050A and HT2150ST which all feature a 'fast mode' that reduces input lag to a blazing 16ms. While competitive gamers or those sensitive to input latency will probably want to stick to one of those 1080p offerings, those looking to experience their PS4 PRO or Xbox One X with the highest resolution possible will not be disappointed. The recently remade Shadow of the Colossus by BluePoint Games is an absolute master work and on PS4 PRO running in it's 'Cinematic' mode is one of the most breath taking experiences I've had as a gamer. Running in a native 1440p the HT2550 renders the vast plains and enormous Colossi of this world with a clarity I could only imagine when I first played the original on my PS2 over 10 years ago. Here again, the sheer size of the image brings out details one can only squint at with a traditional display. And DLP's inherently excellent motion resolution means no blur or other motion artifacts. While controller inputs are not as right-now-snappy as what you'd experience with a lower latency display I never felt the input lag as an obstacle to my enjoyment. The responsiveness here will likely be sufficient for the vast majority of gamers.
Value and Final Thoughts
It's hard to judge value of a completely new product in a completely new segment and, really, that's what the HT2550 is. On one end this is absolutely the most economical way to experience 4K in a large format at home and I feel BenQ has done a good job equipping the HT2550 with the image quality performance and features necessary to make this a very complete product and a worthy addition to anyone's home theater. That being said, while $1500 is a new threshold for affordability in 4K projection it's still, well, $1500. While it's difficult to compare this new projector to 1080p projectors as they inhabit two distinct segments of the market I feel it's necessary to mention as I've found many people start with a budget first and then see how far that budget will take them. $1500 dollars will buy you quite a bit of projector these days, albeit in 1080p only. 1080p projectors in the $1500 range will typically have greater placement flexibility thanks to generous amounts of lens shift, better contrast performance, even more features and larger, more refined chassis designs. In fact, BenQ will sell you their HT2050A (a model I'm also reviewing) with similarly excellent color performance, better contrast and black levels, and more features including vertical lens shift and 16ms of input lag-- for exactly half the price. But none of these models will accept a 4K source and none of them will render that source with such breath taking detail and sharpness as the HT2550.
So do I recommend the HT2550? Yes I do. Obviously, if you have absolutely no interest in 4K than your money will go further with a 1080p projector. But 4K is here NOW and for many, many people who are looking for the best way to enjoy that content today and don't want to break the bank to do it the BenQ HT2550 represents an amazing value.
Incredibly sharp 4K image
Color accuracy out-of-the-box
No lens shift limits placement flexibility
Light border could be an issue for some