After our 4K projector roundup last fall, we received a BenQ HT3550 and a BenQ TK850 to see if they could challenge the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB in real-world 4K performance for a much cheaper price. The HT3550 did not disappoint. But the TK850 also makes a great argument to be your preferred 4K home theater projector!
Meet the BenQ TK850
With the TK850, BenQ continues its tradition of setting a high bar when it comes to bang for the buck in the world of consumer-grade projectors. Having just completed the review of the BenQ HT3550, it was interesting to compare the TK850 to its HT3550 big brother. It turns out that the TK850 is extremely similar to the HT3550 in many ways. Menu systems, feature configuration, and general operation are virtually identical. Even the projector case and remote control are basically the same between the models.
Similar to the HT3550, the TK850 projector displays a 4K UHD 3840 x 2160 (2160p) picture consisting of 8.3M pixels and 1.07 billion colors using a Texas Instruments .47-inch DLP chip. BenQ calls this true 4K but that’s a bit of a slippery word, as the TK850 is not a native 4K projector. Instead, like many lower-cost 4K projectors (including the BenQ HT3550), it achieves the 2160p resolution by pixel-shifting a native 1080p image 4-times per cycle. These cycles happen so fast that the human eye sees the higher 4K resolution. The TK850 also supports enhanced color optimizations such as HDR10 and HLG via BenQ HDR-PRO technology.
While many of the specifications of the TK850 are very similar to the HT3550, there is a substantial difference in the projected image due to two very unique approaches to the DLP color wheel arrangement. While the HT3550 has an RBGRBG 6-segment color wheel, the TK850 employs an RBGW 4-segment color wheel.
The RBGRBG color wheel in the HT3550 is essentially always filtering white lamp light through one color or another. The result is more precise color control but a slightly darker picture. In contrast, the RBGW color wheel in the TK850 passes the white lamp light through a clear filter segment 25% of the time. From a specification standpoint, this means that the HT3550 produces a more color-accurate picture, while the TK850 produces a brighter picture. This is represented in the selling points of each projector. The HT3550 boasts a factory calibrated 100% Rec.709 color accuracy and 2,000 ANSI lumens versus 98% Rec.709 color accuracy and 3,000 lumens for the TK850.
With the on-paper differences out of the way, what is the impact on real-world performance? Actually, it is substantial in a couple of different ways. With more candlepower, the TK850 looks stunning when videos are bright and colorful. Primary colors pop when watching sports of any kind. Standard TV programming, often a bright content source, is handled well by this projector. Where it falls down a bit is with contrast and color accuracy. With so much brightness, the subtle details and color in a dark scene can be easily washed out by any light in that scene.
Dynamic Iris goes a long way to helping out here though. Take a look at the screenshot from Aladdin above. While the overall scene is darker, the projector closes the iris substantially so that the screen is not flooded with available light from the brighter area of the screen. This allows many of the details in the darker area to come through. Fortunately, the iris opens and closes fast enough that the human eye can’t detect the change. Also, while the color accuracy of the TK850 is inferior to the HT3550, that extra 2% Rec.709 color gamut coverage is difficult to perceive for all but the most demanding videophiles.
Connection Options are Abundant
The TK850 connection options are identical to the HT3550. This includes an HDMI-1 port that supports Audio Return Channel (ARC). ARC allows the user to plug a 4K 60Hz HDR video source directly into HDMI-2, while sending digital audio data to a surround sound receiver or soundbar through the HDMI cable connected to HDMI-1, as long as the receiver or soundbar also supports ARC.
In addition to the two HDMI ports, the TK850 also includes a 2.5A USB port for powering 5v streaming devices such as the Amazon Fire Stick 4K, Roku Streaming Stick+ 4K, and Google Chromecast. A USB 3.0 media reader port allows video playback support for a number of audio and video file types. Digital audio output is possible via coaxial and optical SPDIF ports and analog output is available via a 3.5mm headphone style jack.
Setting up the TK850
Since the TK850 has identical ports to the HT3550 that was recently tested, the same testing configuration was implemented. A Roku Streaming Stick+ 4K was plugged into HDMI-2 while HDMI-1 was used to send digital audio to a Denon surround sound receiver. With the 4K, HDR-capable video source connected directly to the HDMI-2, any HDMI cable signal issues are eliminated. Other video sources such as Blu-Ray for 3D video testing and an Xbox for gaming were connected to the TK850 via the Denon receiver connected to the HDMI-1 port.
With the projector powered up, screen geometry becomes the next task. The vertical lens shift allows for complete control over vertical keystone. Unfortunately, like the HT3550, there is no horizontal lens shift. Since my installed mount location results in a lens position that is about 6-inches off-center, the projected image includes a horizontal keystone that is slightly taller on the right side of the screen. To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you, be sure to factor in the lens location on the projector when choosing the exact projector mount location. As long as the projector is mounted such that the actual lens is positioned dead center of the screen, the projected image will not have an issue with horizontal keystone.
Overall, the screen geometry is very good and the minor inaccuracy introduced by the horizontal keystone issue is quickly forgotten unless you are watching news-style video content with vertical and horizontal lines that draw your eye to the issue.
Synchronizing Issues Again
With screen geometry worked out, I quickly noticed the same video source synchronization issue that was encountered on the HT3550 as I started working with different signal sources. A specific approach to component power-up was required to increase the odds of getting a picture properly. I needed to turn on the Denon surround sound system first followed by hitting the home button a couple of times on the Roku remote to ensure that it wasn’t in some sort of sleep mode. With the Roku delivering video signal and the Denon ready to receive ARC data, I would then proceed to turn on the projector. This resulted in success every time. However, if I forgot to employ this regimented approach to powering up devices, I would only get a picture from the TK850 about 50% of the time.
I was able to work out a process to get the picture when the synchronization issue occurred. On the TK850 remote control, I would press SOURCE => [Down Arrow] => OK. This would move the input from HDMI-2 to Media Reader and cause the screen to display a user interface for playing local video via a USB storage device. From here, I could change the source back to HDMI-2 and get it to synchronize with the Roku. It’s absolutely convoluted, but at least it’s not a difficult fix.
With the initial projector setup complete, it was time to work through the different picture modes and various video content to put the TK850 through its paces.
Daily Driver for Sports and TV
There is nothing worse than trying to watch a football game, the PGA Championship, or a racing event on a dim projector. With almost 20 years of projector experiences under my belt, I remember the days where video was plagued with washed-out colors and poor detail. Those days are gone with the TK850 and its dedicated Sports picture mode. Robust reds, gorgeous greens, and beautiful blues pop in a bouquet of color for every sporting event I could find. The TK850 is truly in its element when it comes to presenting sports content. It was made for this! I turned up the Color Enhancer just a bit but that was personal preference. Sports mode is ideal for lazy Sunday afternoons watching NASCAR, football, or golf.
The same goes for most episodic based TV shows. While cinematography seems to be getting more sophisticated for regular TV programming with some sci-fi shows shooting subtle and darker content, most sitcoms, dramas, and reality shows that we watch these days are usually very bright. This makes the TK850 an excellent option as a projector that you can use as your primary viewing device every day. BenQ includes a Living Room picture mode for just this purpose. Out of the box, daily Youtube TV, Disney+, and Netflix viewing sessions are excellent. Requiring zero adjustments, this turns out to be the go-to picture mode for evening TV shows. It’s easy to forget that you’re even watching a projector.
Movies Look Really Good Too
Movie watching on the HT3550 is superior to the experience on the TK850. But it is an unfair comparison that is only obvious when the HT3550 and TK850 are viewed side by side or in quick succession. The HT3550 was built from the ground up to excel at presenting home movies. The lower lumen output of the HT3550 and the 6-segment color wheel work together to provide better color accuracy and contrast. Still, the TK850 does an excellent job of presenting movies, just not quite as good as the HT3550.
Watching 1080p or standard 4K content in Cinema Mode on the TK850 is very nice. HDR mode is beautiful with rich detail and beautiful colors, even in dark scenes. With the Dynamic Iris set to High and a number of other configurations that emphasize contrast and color accuracy, movies look very good. The historical war movie Midway looked amazing on the TK850. For whatever reason, most of the air battles were shot in daylight. This made for detailed images of bullets whizzing by, blossoming explosions, and general metal carnage look really great.
Gaming Works Just Fine
Like the HT3550, the TK850 lacks a dedicated gaming mode that minimizes latency. But it doesn’t appear to be an issue. I used the User picture mode for gaming. In user mode, I turned off Pixel Enhancer 4K and Motion Enhancer 4K to ensure the DLP chip was doing very little work. This works out well because you don’t need to do much post-processing on gaming video anyway. This ensures that latency is reduced as much as possible. Even with some of the complicated jumps and moves, there were no issues playing Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It even seemed that No Man’s Sky looked better on the TK850 than on the HT3550. This game has some really strange color schemes that looked more natural on the TK850. The contrast management seemed to line up more with what the NMS programmers intended.
Bright Enough to Make 3D Very Enjoyable
Those 3,000 lumens really help out the viewer in 3D mode. Avatar really shows beautifully on this projector. With plenty of light and dark scenes to observe, the extra lumens easily offset the darkening of the screen when wearing 3D glasses. This allows the user to fully experience the movie in 3D as opposed to straining for light.
Since I only had one pair of 3D glasses, I switched over to 2D mode to finish out the movie with my family. This ended up highlighting another benefit of this projector: it really does an excellent job with 1080p content as well. The lower video compression of Blu-ray really added to the viewing experience. Conversely, 4K streaming content is much more compressed which reduces image fidelity. As my family and I watched the rest of Avatar, I found myself amazed at the overall image quality of this 1080p video!
The Rainbow Effect
Another side effect of the 4-segment color wheel in this DLP projector is that the rainbow effect (RBE) can be strong for those who are sensitive. It is actually difficult to take pictures of the projected image from a DLP projector because the color wheel must be just right for the shot to be good. In some ways, pictures don’t do the real experience justice because the color wheel must be moving to see the overall picture quality.
Take a look at the screenshot above. You can see that the picture was taken precisely when the color wheel was transitioning from red to green to blue. It is this color wheel movement process that causes the rainbow effect. It is important to note that the color wheel greatly enhances perceived color reproduction and spins fast enough that most people will never even know that this is happening.
I am somewhat sensitive to RBE. This means that I can see the red, green, and blue ghosting in some fast-paced action or if I move my eyes to different locations on the projection screen. That said, it doesn’t bother me and I don’t notice it unless I am looking for it. But if you have experienced issues with RBE in the past, you may prefer the 6-segment RBGRBG color wheel in the HT3550 as it will produce a smoother picture with less RBE. To eliminate RBE entirely, you will need to purchase a 3-chip solution such as a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) or Liquid Crystal On Silicone (LCOS) based projection rig.
The BenQ TK850 4K projector simply produces an excellent picture. If you find yourself looking for a great daily-driver projector and you don’t suffer from the rainbow effect, look no further. The TK850 excels at presenting sports and binge-worthy episodic programming, even if you have limited (or no) control over ambient light.
If you are looking for videophile quality color accuracy and you have a dialed-in home theater, the HT3550 does present a more accurate picture at the cost of some brightness. Personally, I like the TK850 just a little bit more than the HT3550, but they are both excellent alternatives to the much more expensive Epson Home Cinema 5050UB. Projectors like the TK850 continue to have significant screen-size advantages over LED flat panels. Now that they also present a beautiful and accurate picture, similar to LEDs, they are finding their way into more and more homes!
Here’s What We Like
- Amazing for sports
- Excels as a daily driver
- Bright projection overcomes ambient light
- Excellent projector for 3D content
And What We Don't
- Sometimes has an issue with video source synchronization
- Color can be a bit washed out due to brightness
- Color is less accurate than the HT3550