BENQ X12000 DE­LIV­ERS STUN­NING DE­TAIL

SoundMag - - Benq - By John Archer (Trusted Re­views)

It might have taken far longer to get here than it was sup­posed to, but we’ve fi­nally got our hands on the first 4K con­sumer DLP pro­jec­tor: the BenQ X12000.

This is a big deal for fans of DLP’s typ­i­cal con­trast and colour ad­van­tages, so al­though the tech­nol­ogy the X12000 uses to de­liver its 4K res­o­lu­tion re­mains en­tirely baf­fling, it works. It’s just a shame then that its killer 4K is un­der­mined by is­sues else­where.

DE­SIGN AND BUILD

As we’ve come to ex­pect from BenQ’s na­tive 4K SXRD pro­jec­tors, the X12000 is a big old chunk of kit: W471 x H225 x D565mm to be pre­cise. It hangs some dis­tance over the edges of my pro­jec­tion stand, and its 18.5kg weight makes it a two-man lift – un­less you’re a more reg­u­lar gym vis­i­tor than I am.

The size and weight bode well for both the qual­ity of the pro­jec­tor’s in­nards and its abil­ity to dis­perse the heat gen­er­ated by its un­usual Philips ColorS­park LED lamp sys­tem. More on this later.

De­spite its size and heft, the X12000 is an at­trac­tive pro­jec­tor thanks to its curved sides and the wide grey stripe run­ning down its cen­tre and around the promis­ingly large lens.

This lens is likely re­spon­si­ble for a fair bit of the X12000’s weight, given that it’s just the front-end of a 14-el­e­ment, six-group ar­ray that’s been spe­cially and un­com­pro­mis­ingly de­signed to han­dle the de­mands of 4K’s 8.3 mil­lion pix­els.

The large vents to ei­ther side of the lens may not be to every­one’s tastes, but I per­son­ally quite like their in­dus­trial feel. Vent­ing the pro­jec­tor’s heat for­wards might prove un­com­fort­able, though, if the pro­jec­tor is sited be­hind your seat­ing po­si­tion.

The X12000 ships with a large, back­lit re­mote that gets the job done well enough, even if it doesn’t quite feel as ‘pre­mium’ as the pro­jec­tor it ac­com­pa­nies.

SETUP

Con­sid­er­ing how cut­ting-edge it is, the X12000 is sur­pris­ingly easy to set up. Its large lens fea­tures a smooth, well-cal­i­brated zoom ring around it that de­liv­ers up to 1.5x op­ti­cal im­age en­large­ment, while you sim­ply twist the frame of the lens it­self to adjust fo­cus. Shift­ing the im­age up, down, left or right is no more com­pli­cated than turn­ing two knobs on the pro­jec­tor’s up­per edge, and BenQ’s menus are clear, no-non­sense and re­spon­sive.

The pro­jec­tor sports a num­ber of pic­ture pre­sets to get you started – in­clud­ing Cin­ema and an in­trigu­ing DCI-P3 op­tion – as well as a wide range of gamma pre­sets. Full colour and white bal­ance man­age­ment is avail­able for finer cal­i­bra­tion, which can be tack­led by your­self or an Imag­ing Sci­ence Foun­da­tion ex­pert.

My main setup tips would be that you use the Cin­ema pre­set; turn off all the pro­cess­ing op­tions avail­able in the ‘Cine­maMaster’ area of the on­screen menus; and that you set the lamp to its Low power mode if you’re view­ing in a dark room.

Note, though, that the X12000’s Nor­mal lamp mode with its 2200 lu­mens max­i­mum out­put does adapt bet­ter than most pro­jec­tors to rooms with some am­bi­ent light. In fact, the X12000’s pic­tures are ar­guably bet­ter suited to rooms with a lit­tle light – or re­ally huge screens – than typ­i­cal home­cin­ema bat caves.

FEA­TURES

Some­how – and I don’t mind ad­mit­ting that I still don’t fully un­der­stand the tech­nol­ogy – the X12000 man­ages to de­liver a 4K pic­ture of 8.3 mil­lion pix­els, de­spite its DLP mir­ror de­vice sport­ing only 4.15 mil­lion mir­rors. It achieves this us­ing a Texas In­stru­ments (TI) tech­nol­ogy called XPR (eX­panded Pixel Res­o­lu­tion), which de­ploys an op­ti­cal ac­tu­a­tor to dis­play each phys­i­cal pixel twice per frame, with each dis­play shifted slightly di­ag­o­nally.

At this point, DLP’s ap­proach to 4K sounds sus­pi­ciously like the pseudo-4K sys­tems used by JVC and Ep­son in some of their re­cent high-end pro­jec­tors. How­ever, TI claims that the speed with which DLP’s mir­rors can switch re­ally does re­sult in a gen­uine 4K ex­pe­ri­ence. And on the ev­i­dence of the X12000, TI isn’t wrong: sub­jec­tive and ob­jec­tive test­ing shows that you re­ally are see­ing 4K.

Given the X12000’s 4K tal­ents, you’re prob­a­bly ex­pect­ing me to talk next about its high dy­namic

range sup­port. But I can’t, be­cause there isn’t any.

With Sony and JVC both pro­vid­ing HDR sup­port on their ri­val 4K and pseudo-4K pro­jec­tors, some AV fans may feel dis­mayed at the lack of HDR on the X12000. In BenQ’s de­fence, though, HDR is prov­ing mighty dif­fi­cult for any half-way af­ford­able pro­jec­tor to do ef­fec­tively, chiefly be­cause they just can’t get bright enough.

As a re­sult, I can un­der­stand BenQ sim­ply de­cid­ing to fo­cus on get­ting 4K SDR right rather than strug­gling to de­liver a likely very com­pro­mised ver­sion of HDR.

Just to con­fuse mat­ters, though, the X12000 car­ries a DCI-P3 mode that claims to de­liver around 95% of the ex­panded colour range you nor­mally only see in com­mer­cial digital cin­e­mas (or with HDR-ca­pa­ble pro­jec­tors). This is achieved through a com­bi­na­tion of BenQ’s pro­pri­etary Cine­mat­icColor pro­cess­ing and a Philips ColorS­park LED lamp ar­ray.

This lamp drives green light four times as brightly as con­ven­tional lamps. Along­side, it uses high­bright­ness red and blue LEDs from a high lu­mens den­sity phos­phor mod­ule to de­liver a wider colour gamut and greater bright­ness. The X12000 claims a promis­ing light out­put of 2200 lu­mens.

To be clear, since the pro­jec­tor can han­dle only SDR video in­puts, the DCI-P3 colour ef­fect is cre­ated by the pro­jec­tor; it isn’t na­tive play­back of DCI-P3 from any of your sources – even Ul­tra HD Blu-ray drives.

Since the ColorS­park lamp uses LED tech­nol­ogy, it should be good for a huge 20,000-hour life­span (essen­tially the life of the pro­jec­tor). It also means the pro­jec­tor can be switched on and off with­out the warm-up/cool down wait usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with home-theater pro­jec­tors.

Other high-end fea­tures of the X12000 in­clude a black paint light seal to pre­vent ac­ci­den­tal light spillage, a pre­cise gamma con­trol sys­tem to de­liver bet­ter de­tail­ing and shad­ing in dark ar­eas, BenQ’s To­tal In­ner Re­flec­tion op­ti­cal sys­tem to im­prove im­age uni­for­mity, and BenQ’s Cine­maMaster video-pro­cess­ing en­gine.

My per­sonal pref­er­ence was to not use any of the Cine­maMaster’s edge sharp­en­ing and nois­ere­duc­ing fea­tures, since all ei­ther didn’t ap­pear to do much, or else tended to cause at least as many sec­ondary prob­lems as they solved.

Iron­i­cally, the X12000’s pro­cess­ing op­tions weirdly fail to in­clude two things I’d have liked to have used: mo­tion pro­cess­ing for re­duc­ing jud­der and a dy­namic con­trast ad­just­ment. You don’t even get the usu­ally very ef­fec­tive Smart Eco lamp set­ting found on other BenQ pro­jec­tors.

The X12000’s con­nec­tions in­clude two HDMIs (al­though only one is equipped with 4K-friendly HDCP 2.2 sup­port), two 12V trig­ger out­puts, a D-SUB PC port, plus RS232 and LAN ports for in­te­grat­ing the pro­jec­tor into a home con­trol net­work.

PIC­TURE QUAL­ITY

Any doubts over whether the X12000 can re­ally de­liver a 4K pic­ture evap­o­rate on set­ting eyes on its sump­tu­ously de­tailed and crisp re­pro­duc­tion of Ul­tra HD Blu-rays such as Lucy and The Revenant. Even Sony’s ex­cel­lent na­tive 4K pro­jec­tors don’t do such a pris­tine job of han­dling Ul­tra HD Blu­rays – so it goes with­out say­ing that there’s just no com­par­i­son be­tween the 4K per­for­mance of the X12000 and ri­val ‘pseudo’ 4K pro­jec­tors.

As well as look­ing spec­tac­u­lar, the X12000’s gor­geous res­o­lu­tion means that you can push its images much larger than nor­mal, with­out them start­ing to look rough or soft. In ad­di­tion, the im­age’s res­o­lu­tion and clar­ity is en­hanced by the X12000’s im­pres­sive free­dom from the fizzing noise that usu­ally ac­com­pa­nies sin­glechip DLP pro­jec­tion. Even dark scenes look clean and smooth, with the only noise on show gen­er­ally be­ing nat­u­ral grain.

Also im­pres­sive is the X12000’s out­stand­ing colour han­dling. In Cin­ema mode colours look es­pe­cially ex­quis­ite, com­bin­ing con­sis­tently nat­u­ral, bal­anced tones with sel­dom-seen lev­els of tonal sub­tlety. They de­liver flaw­less blends and stun­ningly cred­i­ble skin tones that are free of block­ing or ‘patch­ing’ arte­facts. I’m not sure if the ex­treme res­o­lu­tion is help­ing to un­lock the colour fi­nesse or vice versa, but the two tal­ents to­gether are a match made in heaven. Switch­ing to the DCI-P3 set­ting ac­tu­ally sees the colour per­for­mance be­come bet­ter for some se­quences; there’s more rich­ness and a gen­uine sense of ex­tra colour range. How­ever, the re­sults are in­con­sis­tent, leav­ing some se­quences look­ing too yel­low, and some skin tones a lit­tle peaky. In the end, this scene-by-scene in­con­sis­tency was enough to per­suade me to stick with the straight Cin­ema mode.

The X12000 makes its pre­mium na­ture felt with its bright­ness, too. In Nor­mal lamp mode pic­tures look far more dy­namic and bold than even the 2200 lu­mens of claimed light out­put would have led me to ex­pect. Highlights in­clude di­rect sun­light sear­ing off your screen with lev­els of in­ten­sity that look al­most HDR-like at times.

The bright­ness – in con­junc­tion, I sus­pect, with the X12000’s ad­vanced gamma con­trols – also en­ables it to re­pro­duce ex­cep­tional amounts of shadow de­tail in dark scenes. Once again, this helps to keep the sense of 4K clar­ity con­sis­tent; it isn’t only some­thing you ap­pre­ci­ate dur­ing bright mo­ments.

The X12000’s bright­ness helps it de­liver a bet­ter pic­ture in rooms con­tain­ing am­bi­ent light than most home cin­ema pro­jec­tors, and joins with the ex­cep­tional res­o­lu­tion in mak­ing it more able than ri­vals to drive a re­ally big screen.

In fact, the bright­ness is so ef­fec­tive that I couldn’t help but think the X12000 might have been bet­ter placed than, say, JVC’s darker D-ILA pro­jec­tors, to de­liv­er­ing a con­vinc­ing pro­jected HDR ex­pe­ri­ence.

While the X12000 has def­i­nitely con­vinced me that 4K DLP pro­jec­tion is some­thing home cin­ema fans should be ex­cited about, the sheen is taken off a bit by a few non-4K prob­lems.

First, black level per­for­mance isn’t that great. Yes, it’s good at re­pro­duc­ing de­tails in dark ar­eas, but the over­all tone of those ar­eas is rather grey and ‘milky’ – more so than on some of BenQ’s far cheaper Full HD pro­jec­tors. There are no op­tions avail­able in the pro­jec­tor’s con­trols that solve this is­sue, mak­ing the lack of any ad­justable dy­namic con­trast/iris con­trols feel puz­zling. I can only as­sume that BenQ couldn’t get them to work prop­erly with some as­pect of the X12000’s light en­gine.

Another big is­sue with the X12000 is the rain­bow ef­fect. This sin­gle-chip DLP is­sue sees stripes of pure red, green and blue flit­ting over stand-out

bright parts of the pic­ture, es­pe­cially if you move your eyes around the im­age. Even though I don’t con­sider my­self par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble to see­ing rain­bow­ing, I found it a fairly rou­tine dis­trac­tion on the X12000. Es­pe­cially since the strip­ing ap­pears even over bright scenes, rather than be­ing lim­ited to bright el­e­ments of oth­er­wise dark scenes, as is usu­ally the case.

Us­ing the pro­jec­tor’s low lamp out­put re­duces the im­pact of rain­bow­ing to some ex­tent, but it doesn’t fully solve the prob­lem.

The X12000 also strug­gles a lit­tle with mo­tion. There’s enough jud­der with 24p sources to cause cam­era pans to look quite dis­tract­ing and low on de­tail, es­pe­cially in the con­text of the 4K glo­ries so ev­i­dent with rel­a­tively static footage.

Mean­while, while watch­ing 50/60Hz 4K con­tent such as the Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk Ul­tra HD Blu-ray, the pic­ture suf­fers with fairly stark im­age strip­ing and fizzing over pro­nounced de­tails such as strong fa­cial fea­tures or the edges of sharply con­trast­ing ob­jects. This noise crops up both dur­ing cam­era pans and over fast-mov­ing ob­jects within the frame.

Mak­ing sure the res­o­lu­tion booster cir­cuit in the Cine­maMaster pro­cess­ing sys­tem is turned off im­proves jud­der some­what, but the ‘CTI’ and ‘LTI’ fea­tures had no ob­vi­ous im­pact. As men­tioned ear­lier, while I’m not usu­ally a fan of mo­tion pro­cess­ing on pro­jec­tors, this is one in­stance when I found my­self wish­ing BenQ had pro­vided some­thing for me to at least ex­per­i­ment.

While the X12000 de­liv­ers a spec­tac­u­larly de­tailed pic­ture with 4K footage, it isn’t a par­tic­u­larly bril­liant up­scaler of HD sources. On the up­side, it sup­presses source noise quite ef­fec­tively while adding four times as many pix­els to the im­age. How­ever, the re­sult­ing pic­tures look much softer than both the X12000’s na­tive 4K images and up­scaled HD images on most other good 4K dis­plays. The soft­ness is such, in fact, that some large-scale shots al­most look out of fo­cus in the mid- and far dis­tance.

One last is­sue with the X12000 is that at around 60ms with all the video pro­cess­ing turned off, its in­put lag (the time it takes to ren­der im­age data) is a lit­tle high for gam­ing. It’s a pity, too, that BenQ hasn’t in­cluded a Game pic­ture pre­set.

SHOULD YOU BUY A BENQ X12000?

If you want to see the clean­est, most de­tailed 4K pic­tures yet de­liv­ered by a pro­jec­tor then the X12000 is the pro­jec­tor for you. Its bright­ness also makes it an ex­cel­lent choice for cin­ema rooms you can’t com­pletely black-out, or for keep­ing images bright on big screens.

How­ever, it’s a pity that the X12000 doesn’t sup­port Ul­tra HD Blu-ray’s HDR ca­pa­bil­i­ties. And it’s cer­tainly a shame that the joy of see­ing 4K used so ef­fec­tively is un­der­mined by a mix­ture of rain­bow ef­fect, mo­tion and black level con­cerns that you don’t get with Sony’s 4K pro­jec­tors.

In fact, given the na­ture of some of its is­sues, I can’t help but won­der is BenQ’s cheaper W11000 4K pro­jec­tor, with its more con­ven­tional lamp sys­tem, might ac­tu­ally turn out to be a stronger per­former over­all. I’ll try to get hold of a model in the com­ing weeks.

VER­DICT

As a first demon­stra­tion of the 4K po­ten­tial of DLP pro­jec­tion tech­nol­ogy, the X12000 is a re­sound­ing suc­cess. How­ever, in other ar­eas there are re­minders that the X12000 is sim­ply a start­ing point for 4K DLP – and, as such, may have taken its spirit of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion a step too far.

Price: $9999

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