BenQ was kind enough to loan us the X12000 LED projector for demo and I took the opportunity to bring it home to compare it against the Sony VPL-760ES laser projector that I am currently using.
First impressions out of the box are good. The unit is hefty, well built and designed for good cooling in mind. The same chassis is used from the UHP powered W11000 to the LK970 5000 lumens laser powered projector.
The amount of lens shift on this is phenomenal - making it incredibly flexible for placement. I could put it alongside the Sony projector on the same shelf and it managed to get the 2 projectors to cast an image of the same size overlapping each other.
Powering it up - the LED projector shows its immediate advantage. Virtually instant power on (and off). And then by a whisper quiet fan.
FauxK or 4K?
We often get this question when we talk about DLP projectors and in part, this is because of the "marchitecture" from Epson and JVC projectors which both claim "4K" performance from 1080p chips. In those cases, the Epson and JVC use a slight "wobulation" of the 1080p panels diagonally to create a slightly higher resolution image - almost a doubling of resolution. The problem is that true 4K has four times the pixels of a 1080p panel. So if you send a 4K single pixel checkerboard pattern, you get a blurry psychedelic image instead of a uniformly grey pattern. While the 4K-effect you get from the Epson and JVC does look good with UHD material, it is not really delivering 8.3 million pixels that you would get with a true 4K panel.
BenQ uses a totally different technology that uses mirrors to reflect light on and off so quickly that your brain sees them as 8.3 million pixels effectively. And the 4K single pixel checkerboard pattern looks perfectly uniform on the BenQ. So in my book - the BenQ is a true 4K projector.
Watching UHD BluRay
The X12000 was designed in a different era - much like the Sony VPL-1100ES in that the color standards for UHD BluRay had not yet been finalized. So both the 1100ES and the X12000 used the highest available standard of the commercial digital cinema standard - DCI-P3. This is richer than the format used in regular FullHD BluRays called Rec.709. I know - engineers and their incessant need for acronyms. Both the BenQ and Sony 1100ES claim about 90% coverage of the Digital Cinema color gamut.
When the UHD format was standardized, they too stuck with the DCI-P3 color space but used a container designed to handle the wider BT.2020 color space. That said - the current UHD discs only use up to the DCI-P3 color space.
Cheat sheet: BT2020 > DCI P3 > Rec 709
Many entry-level projectors, including the Optoma's newest laser UHZ65 do not even have the color coverage of DCI-P3 but they "cheat" by converting down to the Rec.709 standard.
The BenQ X12000 doesn't do this but if you try to send a UHD movie formatted for BT2020, the colors will look washed out and under-saturated. Thankfully there is an easy fix - use the Oppo UDP-203/205 players and their incredible image processing to convert the BT2020 color to Rec709.
To be honest, once converted to Rec.709 with the Oppo, the colors on the BenQ are surprisingly pleasant and very close to the image projected on the Sony 760ES which does support the BT2020 container. The Oppo UDP-203/205 also has another benefit - make the BenQ compatible with HDR.
HDR is another benefit of UHD BluRay discs, in addition to higher resolution and larger color space. HDR on displays is analogous to what your phone camera does in HDR mode. It captures bright highlights and dark shadow information on a particular scene. UHD BluRay discs can be mastered to a maximum brightness of 1000 nits, 2000 nits, 4000 units or 8000 units and higher.
The problem is that most displays can't really handle that level of brightness. The best OLEDs have under 900 nits brightness and the best consumer grade LED TVs have about 1800-2000 nits. To get around the brightness limitation, all displays implement a technology called "tone mapping" which re-scales the 1000-8000 nits image down to the range the display can accomodate. There are many algorithms to do this, with some emphasizing darker scenes, some for brighter scenes etc.
A projector can maybe muster about 500 nits so tone mapping is even more critical. To be fair, at 500 nits on a large screen, it would be already very bright.
The BenQ X12000 does not recognize HDR information so it does not handle tone mapping. But the Oppo UDP-203 does and is thus a perfect match for the BenQ. The Oppo also gives you 4 different tone mapping modes to choose from so you are not stuck with just one mode. I have found Mode 2 on the Oppo gives me the best compromise between dark and bright scenes.
Once the BenQ X12000H is released later this year, it would handle HDR tone mapping and the BT2020 color space correctly - but I would still use the Oppo to handle HDR and tone mapping like I do with the HDR/BT2020 compatible Sony VPL-760ES. With the run out deals on the X12000 now, it makes the projector all the more attractive. Just use the savings on an Oppo 203.
How Does It Look?
The answer is very good. Thor: Ragnarok is presented in superb definition. And the image is bright and punchy - with the typical high ANSI contrast of DLP. The LED light system gives enough brightness for HDR material to shine, catching the glare of the sun on Mars in the Martian and in Star Trek 2009, the lens flare a la Abrams is beautifully captured in HDR.
The lens system used on the BenQ X12000 is also very very good. It is sharp and resolves the 4K image incredibly well. One of the biggest criticisms of Sony's entry level 4K projectors of previous years was how bad the lens was. The sharpness of Sony's native 4K panel was lost by the use of less than stellar lenses. As a result, many potential buyers saw very little difference between the Sony's 4K projector and Epson/JVC's faux-K solutions.
I would say the X12000 lens does not have such a drawback. It does however require manual adjustments. No electronic controls via the remote. It does make focussing the image a bit harder than I would have liked. But once dialled in, it is razor sharp. It makes the 4K look like 4K. And you can easily appreciate the upgrade from a FullHD projector.
The only criticism I could level at the BenQ is that the black levels are noticeably higher than on the Sony 760ES, which is itself higher than the one on my older JVC X9500. So blacks look a little milky grey and not inky black. I would probably partner the BenQ with a grey screen to offset this elevated black levels.
Overall I do prefer the Sony 760ES to the BenQ but there is a $12,000 price difference between the two. That buys a lot of movies. And the laser and the LED both have rated 20000 hours lifespan. Both have near instantaneous power on (and off cycles). And I believe that once you get a grey screen, the black levels would stop being an issue on the BenQ.
What I am looking forward to testing next is BenQ's LK970 laser UHD projector. That has 5000 lumens and retails for under $13,000 and includes a free Oppo UDP-203 player. That would make HDR much closer to the real thing on my 120" screen vs the (puny in comparison) 2000 lumens Sony VPL-760ES.
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