The BenQ TH690ST Projector is a super versatile compact short-throw display that is equally adept at gaming, movies, presentations or just about anything where a large image is desired. It accepts 120Hz signals with low input lag. It has excellent color accuracy and contrast for movies and TV. And it’s portable with a decent pair of internal speakers. The best part is it only costs $999.
BenQ TH690ST Projector
- Compact short-throw single-chip DLP with native 1080p resolution
- HDR10 and HLG capable with wide color gamut
- Supports all 3D formats
- Built in speakers with Trevolo tuning
- Fills a 100” screen from less than five feet away
- Accepts 120Hz signals with low input lag for gaming
What does a projector need to be good for all kinds of entertainment including gaming? The list of required features is surprisingly short but it’s also surprising how few projectors manage to tick all the boxes.
For movies and TV, you need good contrast and accurate color. For gaming, you need those things plus support for refresh rates above 60Hz. In today’s market, 120Hz should be considered a minimum given the capabilities of the latest consoles and flat panels.
BenQ’s TH690ST delivers those features in a compact DLP projector with an LED light engine for just $999. That’s extraordinary. With 1080p resolution, one might be initially put off but look closer. It accepts Ultra HD signals, it supports HDR10, HLG and 3D. It has a wide color gamut. And it runs with low input lag up to 120Hz. A compact chassis packs a short-throw lens that displays a 100-inch image from just 4.9 feet away. Built in speakers by Trevolo, BenQ’s subsidiary audio brand, play at high volumes without distortion and sports a surprising level of bass. There is a lot to see here so without further delay, let’s take a look.
1920×1080 (accepts up to 3840×2160 @ 60Hz)
HDR10, HLG, 84% DCI-P3
Frame-pack, side-by-side, top/bottom
20,000-30,000 hours (LED mode dependent)
Light output (mfr):
2,300 ANSI lumens
0.69-0.83:1 (zoom range 1.2x)
2x 5w Trevolo tuned and chambered
2x HDMI 2.0
1x optical out (multi-channel), 1x 3.5mm out, 1x 3.5mm in
4.6″ x 14.4″ x 9.6″ (H x W x D)
BenQ TH690ST Projector Price:
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The TH690ST starts with a single-chip DLP and four-LED light engine. There’s plenty of brightness available for HDR and if you want to have some room lights turned on. BenQ even includes a feature called LumiExpert that automatically adjusts the projector’s brightness to compensate for ambient light.
Native resolution is 1080p, but you can connect an Ultra HD source and the projector will accept a full bandwidth 3840 x 2160-pixel image up to 60Hz. At 1080p, you can run up to 120Hz which makes the TH690ST a great match for the latest Playstation and Xbox consoles which also run at 120Hz. VRR is not supported but it should be noted that when you’re running at 1080p, it doesn’t take much processing power from your console or PC to keep the game pegged at 120fps. Input lag is also gaming monitor low at just 8.3ms if you input a 1080p/120Hz signal.
Lest you think the TH690ST is just for gaming, it also includes everything needed for a premium movie experience. Like every BenQ display, it includes a color accurate Cinema picture mode that can be enjoyed without calibration. And there are a full set of image adjustments that can be used to take accuracy to the reference level. It also has an extended color gamut that covers over 84% of DCI-P3 without using the light-robbing filter of previous models. And it correctly employs Rec.709 for SDR automatically.
The best news here is contrast. I’ve reviewed a lot of DLP projectors and the area they are always weak in is native contrast. I’m usually seeing around 1,000:1 which is equivalent to the average IPS computer monitor. The TH690ST has raised the bar with over 1,700:1 native and nearly 3,000:1 in the LED’s SmartEco mode. This is superior to most DLP projectors, regardless of price. It makes a significant difference in image depth, saturation and texture. HDR contrast is over 3,100:1 which makes that a truly viable image enhancement. These numbers are from my tests which you can read about in greater detail below.
Physically, the TH690ST is small and light with a white case and textured gray front panel. The lens is offset to one side and trimmed in an orange frame. There is no shift but smooth barrel adjusters on the top precisely tweak focus and zoom. The throw ratio is 0.69-0.83 which equates to a 100-inch image from 4.9 feet. Offset is 102.5% so you’ll have to place the projector just below the bottom of your screen. Three feet on the bottom can be independently adjusted to level the picture. You can also employ keystone correction, but I don’t recommend this because it reduces resolution.
Top controls include menu navigation, power, source, and picture mode. You can also use the small remote which is unfortunately not backlit. It’s simple enough to feel your way around as it only has a few keys. A set of transport buttons can be used with compatible sources.
BenQ always runs ahead of the pack in sound quality. Where most projector speakers are an afterthought, the Trevolo units in the TH690ST are engineered and built to deliver good audio over a wide frequency range with decent volume and no audible distortion. Internal chambers add a surprising amount of bass and the sound stage is quite wide. It’s enough to fill a small to medium rooms.
If you’d rather use an external sound system, an optical audio output supports multi-channel streams. Or you can get stereo sound from the 3.5mm jack. Two HDMI 2.0 inputs accept 1080p/120 or 2160p/60. A USB port is there for firmware updates, and you can integrate the TH690ST into a control system using an RS-232 port.
After connecting my pattern generator for the initial tests and calibration, I immediately noticed BenQ’s new menu system. It’s arranged logically with all image controls grouped in one place except for LumiExpert which I found in the Installation menu. LumiExpert uses a sensor on the TH690ST to adjust image brightness and gamma according to ambient light. Since I do all testing and viewing in the dark, I left it off after trying it out.
The HDMI ports accept Ultra HD signals but if you plan to game at 120Hz, the lowest input lag comes from a 1080p signal and the Game mode. You’ll need to set your source component to output 1080p because by default, the TH690ST’s EDID reports that it’s an Ultra HD display.
The default picture mode is Living Room, but I went for Cinema before starting my tests. It measures well enough to not require calibration, but I made the adjustments anyway and was rewarded with accuracy rivaling that of a professional monitor. The TH690ST correctly selects the Rec.709 color gamut for SDR and its full native gamut (84.98% of DCI-P3) for HDR. As mentioned earlier, there’s no internal filter this time. Light output a tad higher in HDR mode and contrast gets a bump too.
There are three LED modes, Eco, Normal and SmartEco. Normal is the brightest and is a good choice when you have the lights on. Eco has enough output for a dark room, but you’ll see better contrast on the SmartEco setting. This option varies light output according to content and is invisible in its operation. I used it for all my viewing once I had calibrated the projector.
Calibration controls are extensive and include gamma presets, color temp presets, a two-point grayscale adjustment and full color management system. For HDR signals, you get the same options plus an HDR Brightness slider that moves the luminance curve (EOTF) higher or lower. I found the best quality on its lowest setting of -2. With my color adjustments in place (details near the end of this review), it was time for some entertainment.
I was dying to try out the TH690ST’s 120Hz mode, so I hooked up an Alienware gaming PC to one of the HDMI ports. It uses a GeForce RTX 3090 video card and is capable of seriously fast performance. It routinely runs Ultra HD games with HDR at 120fps. I expected 1080p/120 to be no problem. A visit to Nvidia control panel proved that to be true. 120Hz was in the dropdown selection and the projector complied, neat and clean.
After turning HDR on in Windows Control Panel, I played a few hours of Call of Duty WWII. The TH690ST did a good job with deep shadow detail in the SOE Train mission which involves a lot of sneaking around in the dark. Objects lit by campfires had a realistic glow with deep warm tones and excellent contrast. The Stronghold mission, which takes place on a bright sunny day, had a lot of punch from highlights and richly saturated greens and blues.
Throughout all my gaming sessions, I had no reason to doubt BenQ’s input lag claims. As long as I selected 1920×1080 as the resolution, I could run reliably at 120Hz with no visible lag or stutter. Since my PC is more than quick enough to lock the frame rate at 120, I didn’t miss VRR. There were no frame tears. I was able to see a few when I ran the Nvidia pendulum demo below 100fps. But they were few and far between. I also saw very smooth motion with no blur when running through BlurBusters motion tests (www.blurbusters.com). The TH690ST is a very capable gaming display that rivals many of the dedicated gaming monitors I’ve tested.
Make no mistake, the TH690ST is a very capable HDR projector. I was frankly blown away at its contrast and ability to render dark shadow detail against ultra-bright backgrounds and vice versa. I was never in doubt that I was watching HDR, it looked significantly better than SDR. The latest iteration of Dune is loaded with scenes that make the most of the format. Only the Dolby Vision version shown on an OLED TV looks any better than this. Color was well saturated when necessary and stark at the appropriate times.
I was also impressed at the sharpness and detail in No Time To Die. Bright material such as the car chase early in the film (RIP Aston Martin DB5) glistened with fine detail like the car’s chrome highlights or the sweat glistening on Daniel Craig’s forehead. His very pores were on full display in closeup shots. I could easily see the extra color saturation. BenQ has pumped the gamut where it counts.
I turned next to my Blu-ray copy of The Blues Brothers. This movie is shot on film and has varying amounts of grain depending on the display and its video processing. The TH690ST kept it from looking dithered while preserving the film look and feel. Though an SDR transfer, color was rich and bold in both flesh tones and manmade objects. Dark things like the Bluesmobile showed all the texture present in the transfer while still maintaining a deep black. At no time did I see the LED change levels. I used the SmartEco mode for all viewing.
I was blown away again when I watched the 3D version of Avatar. When I see a presentation this good, I lament the death of that format. There was no crosstalk visible, and the picture depth was tremendous. The TH690ST’s contrast and high motion resolution created many “reach out and touch” moments. If you’re still a fan of 3D, this is a great display that truly does it justice.
To test the TH690ST’s compatibility with different frame rates and signal formats, I connected an Apple TV 4K. This streamer supports 24p to 60p and everything in between. It also outputs YCbCr or RGB and can render HDR10 and Dolby Vision. By setting the default to 4K SDR and turning on frame rate and dynamic range matching, I could see if the projector had trouble with any of the vast variety of content available.
Formula 1 Drive to Survive covers Ultra HD, HDR and 50p. The TH690ST rendered them correctly. Though it is a 1080p display, it accepts Ultra HD without issue. The only thing I noticed was a long hesitation when locking onto different formats. Each change took about 15 seconds. The HDR rendering was superb with rich color and deep contrast. Black levels were superb and retained all detail while looking truly black. Bright highlights popped from the screen. I especially enjoyed the red Ferraris as they flashed past.
Locke & Key is another showcase for HDR and high quality. The fine details of the Victorian-style Key House created a true texture on the screen with deep woodgrain, fuzzy fabric and carpet, and realistic skin colors from the different actors. Action scenes rendered smoothly with the high motion resolution endemic to DLP displays.
Watching FHD content on Discovery Plus was also a treat. The TH690ST had no trouble switching between 60 and 24p formats and older footage was deinterlaced without artifacts. The color was as good as any flat panel could boast and so was the sharp and contrasty image.
In all my viewing, I marveled at the TH690ST’s audio quality. It’s possible to turn the volume up to maximum without distortion. The frequency range is quite wide with nicely detailed highs and surprising bass. The sound stage goes well beyond the confines of the projector and even dialog seems to come from the screen. Voices are clear without chestiness. Music has good channel separation and a real sense of depth that immerses the viewer.
To test the TH690ST, I set up my usual suite of benchmarks using the latest version of Calman from Portrait Displays. To measure color, I used an X-Rite i1 Pro Spectrophotometer and for luminance, an X-Rite i1 Display Pro tri-stimulus colorimeter. Signals were generated by an Accupel DVG-5000. HDR signals were generated by the same unit with an HD Fury Integral in the signal path.
Starting with SDR tests and calibration, the TH690ST ships in its Living Room mode but I went straight for Cinema. BenQ always offers an accurate picture mode with all their displays and Cinema is usually the one. It makes all calibration options available including gamma presets, two-point grayscale control and full color management.
The initial grayscale/gamma run looks pretty good with only minor white balance errors and very good gamma tracking. Brightness steps above 40% are a tad warm but this error is hard to spot in actual content. The TH690ST could be used in its Cinema mode without calibration, and it would satisfy.
With a few changes to the gain sliders, the TH690ST renders visually perfect grayscale tracking. All errors are now under 1dE which is at the reference level. I had to lower the Contrast control a bit to correct 100% brightness, and this had the additional benefit of improved gamma tracking that’s just a shade darker, which is a good thing. The picture now has greater depth and texture and measurably higher contrast. This is exceptional performance for a $999 projector.
The first color gamut run in the TH690ST’s Cinema mode shows that it correctly selects the Rec.709 gamut for SDR signals. Fear not, the wide gamut will appear in the HDR tests. The slight grayscale errors pull the cyan secondary off hue and affect the red primary the same way. But saturation points are on or close to their targets and progress linearly. This means there is no clipping of detail anywhere in the brightness range. The average error of 2.17dE is an invisible one.
Calibration takes color gamut accuracy to the reference level. With an average error of just 1.06dE, the TH690ST is more accurate than many professional displays I’ve tested. This is very impressive. Again, there are no visible errors anywhere in the gamut chart. It doesn’t get
much better than this, folks.
The TH690ST automatically detects and switches modes when an HDR10 signal is input. There, you get two picture modes, HDR10 and HDR Game. HDR10 is the right choice for the best image. You can calibrate this mode for grayscale and color and choose an HDR Brightness level with access to brightness and contrast sliders to control the black and white thresholds. Very few displays at any price give the user this much control over HDR calibration.
HDR grayscale measures well until the tone-map transition point at 75% where blue is clipped. This is something BenQ could fix with a firmware update. But the error only shows up in the smallest and brightest highlights. Nearly all HDR content will render below 75% brightness unless you’re watching something mastered at 4,000 nits or higher. What I really want to fix is the EOTF which rides quite high. This means black levels are grayer and more washed out than they should be.
By turning the HDR Brightness slider all the way down to -2, the EOTF tracks much closer to the reference line. Luckily, dynamic range is not reduced, it is in fact enhanced by the adjustment. The peak white level doesn’t change when you move the slider. You can also lower the brightness slider to improve blacks further which I did by two clicks. Mid tones are still a bit too light, but these minor changes make a significant difference in HDR dynamic range and picture depth.
In the HDR gamut test, I’m gratified to see that the TH690ST can cover a goodly portion of DCI-P3 without the light-robbing filter of previous generation DLP projectors. Red gets the full treatment while green tops out at around 80% saturation and blue is about 93% covered. I calculated a total coverage of 84.98%. This is excellent performance.
The TH690ST is bright for its size and price. You’ll get the best performance with the lights off but if you want them on, there is enough output to compete, especially if you use an ambient light-rejecting (ALR) screen.
After calibration of the Cinema mode (SDR), with the LED on Eco, I measured 126.8639 nits peak, .0719 nit black and a contrast ratio of 1,765.5:1. This is the projector’s native value and is significantly higher than other compact DLPs I’ve tested.
Setting the LED to SmartEco which varies the light output on a frame-by-frame basis, the peak white is 122.8349 nits, black is .0421 not and the contrast ratio is 2,917.5:1. This is visually better than either the Eco or Normal LED modes. There is no downside here as I never saw any light pumping or clipping when watching content.
If you want more light in the TH690ST’s calibrated Cinema mode, the LED can be set to Normal. This results in a peak white of 152.4104 nits, a black level of .0858 nit and a contrast ratio of 1,775.3:1. It’s a better choice if you plan to turn the room lights on.
HDR contrast is equally impressive. After calibration, I measured a white level of 136.3712 nits, black level of .0428 nit and a contrast ratio of 3,188.2:1. If you turn the LED mode to Normal, the white level is 167.7288, black is .0861 nit and the contrast ratio is 1,947.3:1. Again, this is the right choice if you turn on the lights.
For 3D signals, the TH690ST supports frame-pack, side-by-side and top/bottom formats. I measured light output in frame-pack mode and got 31.5431 nits white. Black was too dark to measure so I could not calculate 3D contrast. Crosstalk was a very low 0.04%, invisible in content.
The BenQ TH690ST PROJECTOR raises the bar for compact DLP projectors with premium performance, versatility, and a low price. For $999, it’s unmatched for any kind of gaming or entertainment.
- Bright image with high contrast
- Accurate and saturated color
- Superb video processing
- On par with any high-performance gaming monitor
- Backlit remote
I have no complaints about the BenQ TH690ST. The addition of a backlight to the remote would be nice but it’s hardly significant when compared to the fantastic performance and image quality I experienced. That this projector costs only $999 is astounding. It delivers reference level color accuracy and gaming performance equivalent to a dedicated gaming monitor. It’s well suited for any kind of entertainment from gaming to movies and everything in between. You can even enjoy good sound from its internal speakers. And it’s truly portable with a short throw setup, flexible zoom and installation features like keystone correction and room light compensation.
If you’re looking for a complete entertainment projector that is easy on the wallet, the BenQ TH690ST is a great choice you should definitely check out. It gets my highest recommendation.