Written by Evan Powell, October 30, 2015
The BenQ HT3050 is one of three new full HD 1080p resolution home theater projectors being released by BenQ this fall. Priced at $999, it is the middle option, being a step up from the HT2050 at $799, and flanked on the high side by the HT4050 at $1,399. Since the HT3050 and HT2050 are the same basic projector with some noteworthy variances, this review will focus on the HT3050 and note where the HT2050 diverges. We will address the HT4050, which is a different projector altogether, in a different review.
HT3050 vs. HT2050: The Differences
The HT3050 is the same basic projector as the HT2050 with the following differences:
1. The HT3050 Cinema mode is more carefully calibrated to target Rec 709 standards while the HT2050’s Cinema mode is not.
2. On the HT3050, one of the HDMI ports is MHL enabled. This does not exist on the HT2050.
3. The 3050 has dual 10W speakers for much more robust onboard stereo audio; the 2050 has only one mono 10W speaker.
4. The 3050 has horizontal and vertical digital keystone adjustments, the 2050 has vertical keystone only.
5. The 3050 is a bit heavier at 8.1 lbs vs. 7.3 lbs for the 2050.
6. The 3050 has a brushed gold front bezel, and the 2050 is brushed silver.
7. The HT2050 is rated at 2200 lumens vs. the HT3050’s 2000 lumens, a difference of no practical consequence.
8. We measure 50 ms input lag on the HT3050 and 33 ms on the HT2050.
As you consider this list of differences, you may see reasons to spend the extra $200, or you may not. These are both solid and attractive projectors for the money.
The big question of course is what differences there may be in image quality? When both projectors are put into the factory default settings in Cinema mode, theHT3050 produces a more refined picture with much closer to accurate color tones, simply because it has been more carefully calibrated at the factory. The differences are not huge, and the HT2050 puts out a very attractive image on its own if you had nothing to compare it to. But if prospective buyers were shown these two units side by side (in their factory default calibrations) without being told anything about them, they would invariably choose the HT3050 as having the preferred image. We suspect most viewers would say that the incremental image quality is worth the additional $200.
Having said that, it should be noted that once the HT2050 is professionally calibrated it is capable of producing a picture that exceeds that of the HT3050’s factory Rec 709 calibration. That is because there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” factory calibration that perfectly optimizes every unit coming off the production line. So if you have the ability to calibrate a projector or you plan to hire a technician, you might want to go with the HT2050 instead.
Since the HT3050 is the more substantial of the two models, we’ll focus on the 3050 in the following comments. You can assume they apply also to the HT2050 except where noted.
When you light up the HT3050 and open the menu, you will find four preset operating modes — Bright, Vivid, Cinema, and Game. A few words on each of these…
Many who buy this projector will be opting for Cinema mode. Though it is the least bright of the four, it puts out 1160 lumens in its brightest configuration which is more than ample for most dark room home theater needs. The factory programmed color balance is reasonably close to accurate Rec 709. It is certainly watchable out of the box without any need for calibration. However, after some viewing we became a bit frustrated with closed-off mid-tones, so several minor adjustments helped solve the problem: Brightness was increased from 50 to 51, Contrast was boosted from 50 to 53, and the default gamma setting of 2.2 was reduced to 2.1. On our test sample this produce a more open and satisfying gray scale.
We also made some minor adjustments to color. However, a professional calibration of the HT3050’s Cinema mode is not going to yield significant improvements in image quality (on the HT2050 a pro calibration would yield more noticeable improvements). Results will vary from unit to unit, but in general the adjustments needed to dial in a balanced and satisfying picture were minor. For all but the most fastidious of videophiles, the HT3050’s Cinema mode is quite satisfactory out of the box with little or no tweaking.
Game mode is a bit brighter and slightly cooler in temperature than Cinema mode, but it is also perfectly 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 toward a slightly cooler bias. 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. The picture is overall quite pleasant. Some users will prefer Game mode over Cinema for most of their movie viewing, not just gaming. It isn’t precisely accurate, but it is attractive.
Vivid mode is incrementally brighter than Game mode. It exaggerates color saturation and contrast somewhat. Color balance is still within the general ballpark of reasonable, but saturation and contrast are boosted to the point where it looks, well, artificially Vivid. However, this can be a good thing. If you are one of those that likes to boost color saturation of your pictures in photo editing to make them look extra rich, you may enjoy the Vivid mode of the HT3050. At the recent CEDIA trade show, LG was demonstrating OLED TVs that pushed contrast and saturation to outrageous extremes, so that the picture is dazzling, eye-catching, mesmerizing, and utterly fake. Many folks like this effect. The Vivid mode on the BenQ projectors tends in this same direction but it is nowhere near as extreme. As far as Vivid calibrations go, this one is nicely done.
Bright mode is the only one of the four that is radically 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 it follows the long-established industry tradition of including a bright green operating mode to show that the projector is capable of getting within shouting distance of its lumen spec.
In general, the HT3050 delivers solid black levels and high dynamic range, consistent with what we’ve come to expect from DLP. The picture is reasonably sharp 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 only flaw we continued to notice on both of our test units was related to brightness uniformity. The image on the HT3050 fades noticeably to the right side, where brightness falls off as much as 30% from its levels in the rest of the picture. Essentially this produces a subtle vignetting effect on the right edge of the picture. This becomes noticeable in scenes that contain continuous tones that should be even across the screen (like skies and seascapes). On our HT2050, brightness uniformity is also mediocre, but in a different way. The picture is brightest in the lower center and it fades most to the upper left instead of the right. On this unit the fading is incrementally progressive across the image, so it does not produce a vignetting effect, but the upper left corner is 40% less bright than the lower center. The substantial difference in uniformity patterns between our two samples suggests manufacturing variances in the alignment of the light engines, so what we see on these units many not coincide with what users may see on theirs.
Brightness uniformity is not something most users would notice while viewing video. It is most obvious when viewing a solid white test pattern. Flaws in uniformity usually get lost in the complexity of a video/film image. Unlike excessive digital noise, rainbow artifacts, or dull black levels, you can watch a whole movie without being distracted by this particular flaw. So as flaws go, it is easier to live with than most.
Ideal brightness for home theater. Rated at 2000 lumens, our test sample comes in around 1160 lumens in Cinema (Rec 709) mode. 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 virtually eliminating rainbow artifacts.
Zoom lens and lens shift. Traditionally inexpensive DLP projectors have minimal zoom range and no lens shift. The HT3050 has a 1.3x manual zoom and some limited vertical lens shift as opposed to none.
Terrific sound. The HT3050 has great audio. The dual 10W speakers produce the loudest and clearest we’ve ever heard on a projector of this size. Of course it still lacks the bass, dynamic range, and spatial surround features you’d like to have for movies, but this is the best on-board substitute for a surround sound system we’ve ever encountered on an inexpensive portable projector.
The HT2050 eliminates one of the two 10 W speakers, so it does not have nearly the audio performance of the HT3050. However, if you have an external surround system, you won’t want to use the audio on either of these models.
Color Temp and Color Management. Both models provide the ability to fine tune color temperature with Red, Green, and Blue gain and offset controls. Both have the ability to adjust Hue, Saturation and Gain on RGBCMY.
Connections. You get two standard HDMI ports, (one of which is MHL enabled on the 3050, but not on the 2050). You also get one VGA port, one 3-RCA component, one composite, one USB, one mini-USB, one RS-232, one audio in, and one audio out. The connection panel is on the rear of the unit, set between the speakers which are on the rear corners.
You also get a 12-volt trigger, which is a feature beginning to show up on more sub-$1000 home theater models these days.
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.
Full HD 3D. Both projectors are full HD 3D compatible, and automatically recognize a 3D source. The DLP-link glasses synch instantly.
White casework and white remote. Many with white ceilings prefer a white projector because it does not stand out as obviously in the room. White remotes are easier to find in the dark. The remote is nicely backlit, tactile response is excellent, and the common sense layout makes it easy to use once you are familiar with it.
H+V keystone. If you need to use keystone adjustments, you’ve got both horizontal and vertical on the HT3050 (vertical only on the 2050). 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 HT3050 is rated at 2000 lumens. It has four factory preset operating modes. With the lamp on full power and the zoom lens set to its widest angle position, our test unit measured as follows:
Bright — 1760
Vivid — 1550
Game — 1420
Cinema – 1160
The HT3050 has a 1.3x zoom lens that will curtail light output by up to 27% as you move from its brightest, most wide angle position, to its most telephoto (longest throw for a given image size). You can also reduce the projector’s brightness 32% by putting it into Eco mode.
Therefore, if the Cinema mode’s 1160 lumens is too bright for your dark room set up, you can cut it to about 800 lumens by switching to Eco mode, or you can reduce light output anywhere from 1% to 27% by moving the projector back and using a longer throw portion the zoom lens.
Brightness Uniformity. Based on the nine quadrant ANSI lumen meter readings, our HT3050 measures 73% uniformity and theHT2050 measures 67%. (See comments regarding uniformity in the Picture Quality section of this review.)
Sharpness. The HT3050 is what we’d call reasonably sharp and competitive in its price class. It is never noticeably soft and, standing alone, it looks perfectly well defined. We have seen marginally sharper projectors, but the difference would be visible only if they are displayed side by side. The Sharpness control has a rather subtle effect on image sharpness. We found the optimal setting to be 9 on a scale of 1 to 15. This is the point at which the image appears it sharpest without introducing unwanted artifacts.
Color brightness is outstanding compared to many DLP projectors. In Bright and Vivid modes it measures 77% of white, in Game mode it measures 85% of white, and in Cinema it is the full 100% of white.
Input lag. We get difference readings on the two models. On the HT3050 the Bodnar meter registers 50 ms lag in all operating modes, including Game mode. On the HT2050 it reads 33 ms.
Fan noise Audible noise in full power mode is relatively low in both pitch and sound pressure. This is one of the quieter HT projectors under $1000, but it is not as stone quiet as more expensive models can be. The vast majority of users will have no problem with it, but those who want a close to silent projector may want to opt for a more expensive unit.
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. This is a good option if you live in Denver, you don’t want to spend more than $1000, and you want to keep fan noise to a minimum.
Lamp life. BenQ estimates lamp life at full power to be 3500 hours. There are two eco modes — Eco and Smart Eco — that boost lamp life up to an estimated 5000 hours and 6000 hours respectively. Replacement lamps cost $249.
The HT3050 will thrown a 120″ diagonal 16:9 image from a distance of between 10 and 13 feet. With this size screen, if you choose to place it at 10 feet, image brightness is maximized, if you put it at 11.5 feet, brightness is reduced by 14%, and if you set it back to 13 feet, image brightness is reduced by 27%. 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 projector 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 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.
Furthermore, if the projector is very much behind you, it is likely that the screen size at that throw distance will be too large for your viewing distance (unless you are among those who prefer front rows in a movie theater).
If you prefer to sit at a distance of about 1.3x the screen width, which is a common preference, the ceiling mounted projector will be pretty much directly over your head. This is the best way to install the unit for optimal screen illumination, as it will project slightly downward to the screen, and the screen will reflect back downward again to the position of the viewers (angle of incidence = angle of reflection).
The projector has a built in upward throw angle that puts the bottom edge of the image slightly higher than the centerline of the lens (or lower than the centerline of the lens if inverted and ceiling mounted). The offset is approximately 10% of the image height. From that point you can elevate the image up to another 10% of the image height using the Lens Shift control.
Input lag. The 50 ms input lag on the HT3050 may be enough to make serious gamers think twice since many DLP projectors (including the HT2050) have a lag of 33 ms, and occasionally we find one that is faster. 50 ms is also enough of a delay that it will create minor lip synch issues, so an audio delay would be nice.
A little bit o’ lens shift. This is both an advantage and a limitation. It is an advantage because most projectors in this price category 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 higher priced models offer much more extensive lens shift range than just 10% of the picture height. But the fact that the HT3050 has it at all is progress, so we must keep that in perspective.
Brightness uniformity. As noted in the Picture Quality section, the 3050 and 2050 test units we have are both below average on this metric but in different ways. If you must settle for at least one flaw in a projector, this is probably the one you’d want, but many competitors are doing better than this these days.
Slow synch on new signals. These projectors take their own sweet time figuring out new signals. Once they lock onto a steady signal they are fine, but when you fire up a Blu-ray disc, they are initially confused by the changing formats in the start up sequences. You may or may not see the FBI alert screen, as during the time the player is outputting that image the projector is fumbling around trying to determine what the signal format is. When the Blu-ray player starts outputting, say, the Universal Studios logo splash screen, you might see only the last few seconds of it on the HT3050, as it can take that long for it to identify and lock onto the new video signal–you hear the audio long before you see the picture. In general, you see a lot of “searching for signal” messages and intermittent snow screens during the start up phase for any new source or when switching movie discs. This is more pronounced on the HT3050 than on the HT2050, which is a bit faster in figuring it out. Once they lock onto the movie signal it is fine, but this is a messy way to start a film presentation.
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.
BenQ has developed a solid reputation for producing inexpensive home theater projectors that deliver impressive quality for the money. The HT3050 and HT2050 will enhance that reputation even further. The BenQ HT3050 is ready to go, out of the box, with a reasonably well calibrated Cinema mode that approximates Rec 709 standards. It has an attractive trio of usable preset color modes and a 1.3x zoom with a touch of lens shift that provides a little extra installation latitude. The HT3050’s most apparent flaws (brightness uniformity and ability to quickly synch on new signals) are unfortunate but for the most part easy to live with compared to weaknesses in other projectors. The HT3050 also has outstanding onboard stereo sound for those who need it in portable applications or occasional use in a backyard theater. So it will be an easy decision for many buyers.
The BenQ HT2050 will be a better choice than the HT3050 in a couple of situations. Gamers for whom the reduced input lag is meaningful may find it more attractive. And for those who can tune up their own projectors, or for anyone planning to retain a technician for a pro calibration, the HT2050 is the better bet, since you save $200 and it is highly likely that a professional calibration of the HT2050 will yield a picture that exceeds the precision of the HT3050’s factory programmed Cinema Rec 709 calibration.