While its price, response time, 120Hz support and brightness tick most of the key gaming boxes, its lack of 4K support and difficulties with dark scenes ultimately limit its appeal.
- Bright, colourful pictures
- Low input lag for gaming
- Decent value
- Below par black levels
- Some rainbow effect
- Full HD playback only
- Native Full HD resolutionHas a native pixel count of 1920×1080.
- Single-chip DLP projectorDLP technology uses an array of tiny mirrors on a chip to make their pictures, and in affordable single-chip DLP solutions this chip is accompanied by a fast-spinning colour wheel.
- 3500 lumens of peak brightnessThis is an impressively high light output for such an affordable projector
- 120Hz HDR gaming supportThe latest Xbox and PlayStation consoles plus some PC graphics cards can now output games in 120Hz frame rates.
- 8.3ms input lagIn its fastest reacting picture mode, the TH685 only takes 8.3ms to produce 120Hz images once it receives them at its input. Or around 16ms with 60Hz games.
Home entertainment projectors are no longer just for serious movie fans or people with an over-inflated sense of how much their friends and family want to see their holiday photos on a big screen. Gamers are increasingly embracing projectors too, unable to resist the lure of immersing themselves in life-sized versions of the life-like graphics now being delivered by the latest games consoles and PCs.
Not surprisingly, projector brands have been quick to jump on this new market with models specifically designed to improve the gaming experience. One such model is BenQ’s TH685, which seeks to attract gamers with an exceptionally fast response time, enough brightness to support use in regular living rooms rather than blacked out home cinema rooms, and support for 120Hz frame rates.
Also likely to catch the eye of gamers now faced with dropping £70 for a top tier new game is the BenQ TH685’s lowly £659 price. Though this does, before anyone gets too carried away, reflect the fact that this is a full HD projector, at a time when the majority of home entertainment projectors are starting to offer real or at least pseudo 4K playback.
To give the TH685’s price some context, Optoma’s UHD38 gaming-friendly projector, with its ‘pseudo 4K’ support but otherwise broadly similar specifications, costs £900.
The TH685 is widely available across both Europe and the US.
- Dimensions: 312(w) x 110(h) x 225(d)mm
- Manual lens adjustments
- Desktop or ceiling mount capability
The TH685 copies the increasingly formulaic look of affordable ‘coffee table’ projectors with its small rectangular footprint, glossy white finish, large grilled side section for venting heat from its lamp, offset lens, and window cut into the top for accessing the lens’s zoom and focus rings.
While it might not be particularly original, though, the TH685 is not unattractive. And it certainly doesn’t dominate your décor.
The zoom and focus adjustments are easy to access and reasonably responsive, and the 1.3x optical zoom is pretty expansive for such a cheap projector, making it easier to adapt it to different room sizes (which could be important if you want to take it around to friends’ houses for group game nights).
As usual for the TH685’s level of the market, there’s no optical image shifting to help you get the projector’s pictures into the right place on your wall or, ideally, screen. But that’s only to be expected with a sub-£700 projector, and there is at least a digital image shift option if you’re really desperate.
- Native full HD resolution
- Single-chip DLP projector
- HDR support
The TH685 is clearly positioned by BenQ as a gaming projector, so let’s first explore its console and PC credentials.
Its input lag (the time it takes to render received image data) in its Game mode is just 16ms with 60Hz games and 8.3ms with 120Hz games. Not surprisingly with lag this low, gaming feels as immediate and responsive on the TH685 as it does on even the best high-end TV.
The TH685’s Game Mode isn’t just about reducing input lag, though. It’s also claimed to deliver an image profile especially suited to game graphics. In particular, it boost sharpness and shadow detail in dark areas, so that you can spot lurking enemies or hidden secrets more easily.
The TH685’s 3500 lumens of claimed peak brightness is a big deal, too. It means, after all, that you will likely be able to game in a fairly casual environment – a living room, bedroom, study etc – where there’s a bit of ambient light around, rather than having to try and get your room completely blacked out (something that’s actually very hard to achieve).
There’s also support for the awesome 120Hz refresh rates now provided by decently-specced PCs and the latest generation of Xbox and PlayStation consoles. More surprisingly, the TH685 can also handle high dynamic range video – something that again has become almost universally supported on the latest PS5/Xbox Series X video games.
Projectors typically struggle with HDR (a technology designed with TVs in mind), but the TH685’s high brightness and claimed coverage of 95% of the Rec 709 colour palette give it a chance of getting some value from HDR’s expanded light range.
The TH685 even boasts a Game Sound mode. Despite the projector only having a mono 5W sound system built in, this mode claims to have been calibrated to accentuate subtle details and detail placement, making gaming worlds sound more ‘alive’ and helping you better figure out, say, where an enemy might be attacking from.
When it comes to other less game-specific features, the TH685 carries an auto vertical keystone adjustment for straightening the image’s edges, and a digital lens shift. Note, though, that these digital features are no replacement for physical, optical adjustments, since they essentially distort the picture away from the pixel for pixel accuracy you ideally want.
The TH685’s intriguing audio system also offers Cinema, Sports and Music modes, all bolstered by CinemaMaster Audio+2 technology that BenQ claims combines an aluminium driver with a resonance chamber and heat-resistant neodymium magnets to boost vocal clarity, detail reproduction and bass while reducing distortions.
There are movie and TV-related picture presets, too, making the point that on paper, at least, the TH685 is not JUST a gaming projector.
The TH685 uses a single chip DLP projection system with a 1920×1080 resolution. It doesn’t use the double-flashing technology many DLP projectors do now to deliver a 4K effect. It can actually take in 4K HDR signals, recognising them as such in its source information screen. But they’re downscaled to full HD for playback.
Connections, finally, include two HDMI ports, a powered USB, 3.5mm audio input and outputs, a D-Sub PC input, a monitor output, and an RS-232 control port.
Note that there are no smart features built into this projector.
- Decent audio quality
- Impressive brightness levels
- Average black levels, especially with HDR content
Thanks to its manual zoom and focus sliders, trio of simple screw down feet and auto keystone correction, the TH685 is exceptionally easy to set up. Helpful if it’s likely to be going back into a cupboard when you’re not using it.
It also sounds pretty good, making its 5W of audio power go a surprisingly long way. For starters, it manages to throw the sound nicely clear of the projector’s bodywork, avoiding that ‘locked in’ sensation you get with most projector sound systems.
Voices are delivered particularly well, always sounding clear and pronounced, and there’s lots of audio detail, too. A bit more maximum volume and deeper bass would have been appreciated, and a stereo rather than mono speaker output would likely have given the sound even more largesse. But the TH685 is certainly more satisfying – if, inevitably, no replacement at all for a half-decent soundbar or external sound system – than most budget projector sound systems are.
Picture quality is a more mixed bag – and one that only really suits quite specific situations.
Its biggest strength without question is its brightness. Few if any of those 3,500 claimed nits of brightness seems to go AWOL en-route to the screen, resulting in pictures that erupt off even a neutral projector screen with far more punch than the vast majority of projectors can manage – including many models costing way more than the TH685 does.
This impressive brightness has three benefits. First, it means the projector can sell the brightness advantage of HDR playback (in terms both of higher average brightness levels and more intense brightness peaks) more effectively than any other projector in its class.
The brightness also chimes nicely with the latest HDR gaming graphics. Games don’t typically have quite as much dynamic range or such ‘natural’ dark spaces as movies, either, meaning they’re less likely to fall prey to the dark scene problems I’ll be describing later.
The third big plus of the TH685’s brightness is that, as hoped, it means you can watch its pictures in rooms that still have a bit of light in them. Which is really handy given the relatively casual usage situations the TH685 is likely to find itself in.
The brightness is surprisingly controlled for such an affordable projector too. There’s no extra noise in extremely light areas, and no sign of instability or flickering during dark scenes.
Also impressive is how well the TH685 holds on to its colours when playing HDR content. Extreme brightness can cause colours to wash out on displays that don’t support a wide enough colour range, but there’s nothing bleached about the TH685’s palette. In fact, with so much brightness feeding into them, its colours actually look engagingly vibrant and rich. Especially, again, with gaming sources.
Despite the projector’s evident gaming focus, though, the TH685 also typically delivers very credible, natural and consistent colours when watching HDR or SDR video from 4K/HD Blu-rays and streaming services.
The TH685 impresses, too, with its sharpness – despite not being a native 4K model. While you don’t get that sense of pixel density and extra texture and depth that 4K can provide, pictures look exceptionally clean and crisp for a full HD model. Even when – actually, especially when – the projector is handling a source that originated in 4K. Ultimately I felt much less bothered by the lack of 4K playback than expected.
This is especially true when gaming in 120Hz, where the extra fluidity of the images actually makes the projector’s sharpness more impressive, rather than exposing the lack of 4K playback as I’d thought it might.
On top of all its other strengths, the TH685 runs unexpectedly quietly. Even when watching HDR, with the lamp running at full tilt, fan noise is low enough and constant enough to be relatively easy to tune out.
While the TH685’s brightness is its biggest strength, it also creates the biggest problems. In particular, black levels – especially with HDR sources – are pretty average. Any part of an image that’s supposed to look black or very dark instead looks milky and grey. Enough to hide shadow detail and depth, too, ensuring that dark scenes look far less convincing than bright ones.
You can use an HDR Brightness feature to improve black levels a bit – but this adjustment doesn’t really have enough finesse to help much, since each black level-improving step down causes a significant reduction in black detail ‘crush’.
Some very bright parts of the picture with HDR sources, such as sunlight reflections on skin, can bleach to near-white more than they should. The projector’s high brightness also contributes to some fairly noticeable rainbow effect (stripes of pure colour that flit over stand-out bright objects) from the DLP optics.
It’s worth stressing that both the grey dark scenes and rainbow issues are less of a problem if you retain some ambient light in the room. So while the issues may count as significant for people who like watching movies in a really dark room as much as they like playing games, they may not be a deal breaker for more casual users.
Should you buy it?
You’re a fan of fast response games and want to play in relatively ‘normal’ room conditions. Features such as the 120Hz refresh rate support, 8.3ms input lag and high brightness make the TH685 a strong gaming option.
You want a projector that’s serious about films too. The TH685’s inability to deliver good black levels and contrast limits its potential as a movie projector – or a projector a fully blacked out room.
The TH685 does what it sets out to do pretty well, serving up an enjoyable gaming performance that’s particularly at home in rooms with a little ambient light in them.
Some may find the lack of any 4K playback tough to swallow, though, given how many games uses 4K graphics now. And if you’re looking for a projector capable of functioning well in properly dark room conditions, the TH685 isn’t it.
Optoma’s UHD38 is an interesting alternative to the TH685. It supports ‘pseudo’ 4K playback and manages to be even brighter (by 500 nits) than the TH685 – though it costs quite a bit more at £999, and like the BenQ model it doesn’t have good enough black levels to support dark room home cinema sessions particularly well.
If you want a projector that’s more of a home cinema projector first and a decent gaming display second, you could consider the full HD with HDR Optoma HD29 (£700) or, if you can push your spend all the way up to £1,999, the excellently cinematic, 4K/HDR-capable, LCD-based Epson EH-TW7400.
How we test
We test every projectors we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Tested for more than a week
Tested using gaming consoles with real world use
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While the TH685 can take 4K video in via HDMI, it downscales it to full HD resolution. There’s no 4K playback.
It uses a single-chip DLP system.
Yes, in the HDR10 and HLG formats.