BENQ X12000 DELIVERS STUNNING DETAIL
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.