I posted in the TK800M channel but I: know there are several here who are eager for the comparison of the new TK800M. For clarity's sake, the TK800M is NOT the yet-to-be-named bright version of the HT3550. The TK800M is the slightly improved replacement model for last year's TK800.
First off - press release. Price is $1,299.
Last night I took delivery and spent approx 3-4 hours with the TK800M. I played Halo and Forza Horizon 4 on my Xbox One X in glorious 4K HDR. I watched 45 minutes of Avatar in 3D. I watched 30-45 minutes of Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War.
Here are my first impressions of the TK800M compared to the HT3550 and the TK800. Full disclosure: this is a bit of apples to oranges comparison since the TK800M doesn't belong to the same family of projectors as the HT3550. However, since people will undoubtedly be comparing these two in their buying decision, I'll oblige and humor the comparisons...
Full review to come later on.
What's new vs the TK800?
The TK800M is using the same chassis as the TK800. The main differences is a new lens for better sharpness and the new TI DMD chip which eliminates the gray border.
BenQ's post-launch firmware support of the TK800 was very good so the TK800M also benefits from what BenQ learned from the TK800 in that regard. Several improvements I noticed on the TK800M include better HDR tone mapping algorithms, better 3D support, and auto selecting HDR mode when detecting HDR content were all new to me compared to the TK800 unit I had in my theater for 8 months.
Focus and Sharpness
Focus was a mixed bag for me with the TK800. My pre-production unit had obvious focus uniformity issues, however those were fixed in the production unit I tested shortly thereafter.
Dialing in the focus on the TK800M was a pleasure last night. This is the sharpest and most uniformly focused 4K projector I've seen yet from BenQ. With my nose to the screen I could make out individual pixels in moving images.
The HT3550 I am testing is a pre-production unit and I am told the focus uniformity on that will improve in production. But as of today, the BenQ 4K focus and sharpness crown goes to this unit, the TK800M, that I am testing right now.
Runner Up: HT3550
Tone mapping is marginally improved on the TK800M compared to the TK800. Soooo... I really liked the TK800. I like it because of what the extra brightness allowed it to do with my larger 160" screen. I enjoyed HDR on the TK800 more than the HT2550 simply because of the extra oomph the TK800 provided with its brightness. After I turned on HDR content I was reminded just how damn spoiled I have been with the HT3550's HDR image. This was interesting for me to experience because over the last week I have gotten 'content' with the HT3550. The HT3550's 'HDR-Pro' implementation has better brightness, contrast, and tone mapping compared to its baby brother's the TK800 and TK800M. However, the TK800M does hold its own in HDR. It's actually pretty good, especially in gaming. Each HDR game on the Xbox One X has its own HDR image adjustments within the game menu. I played both Forza Horizon 4 and Halo: MCC on both the HT3550 and TK800M last night in 4K HDR. They were both beautiful to play on but with the extra brightness of the TK800M, the slightly sharper image (lots of text in gaming), and the slightly lower input lag... I prefered the TK800M for GAMING only.
Overall HDR Winner: HT3550... by a landslide
BUT... Gaming HDR Winner: TK800M... by a hair.
A respectful showing, but 3rd in both: TK800
This one's kind of interesting. The dynamic iris in the HT3550 gives it a HUGE advantage in dark scene contrast and black levels, ESPECIALLY in HDR. The TK800M got rid of the gray border and to my eye, contrast has improved, but it still has a high grey point in dark or completely black screens. For example, the HT3550's letterboxes in a dark HDR scene like the first one with Thor in the cave actually look very close to black. The TK800M's are gray, along with a high gray point in other parts of the image. HOWEVER.... in regular bright scenes, the TK800M closes the gap considerably. The extra brightness is put to very good use and concerns of contrast don't exist in these types of scenes. Which brings me to my point... if you don't have a completely darkened viewing room, you will not be able to fully appreciate the very good contrast and black levels of the HT3550. That is why the TK800M is marketed as a "Living Room Entertainment" projector... because it does better than its siblings at cutting through ambient light with its high lumen output.
Overall Contrast/Blacks Winner: HT3550... especially in HDR, dark scenes, and dark rooms
BUT... Living Rooms and High Ambient Light Contrast/Blacks Winner: ... It depends... but probably the TK800M
The TK800M shares the same brightness as the TK800. When I fired up the TK800M, I was reminded why I had the TK800 up as my primary driver for 8 months. I thought to myself "Oh wow. I've missed this." The HT3550's brightness is very good. And there is a reason why a lot of $10k projectors only have 1500 lumens of brightness. More brightness does not mean a better image or better image quality. The image quality of the HT3550 is better in every appreciable way in a controlled environment, but the TK800M has a case to be considered for ambient light environments or large screens. It follows up and continues what the TK800 did very well, especially in Football Mode; a very very good BRIGHT image that doesn't compromise much on color accuracy.
With that said, the HDR brightness of the HT3550 walks all over the TK800M for film content. In-game adjustments, as previously mentioned, brings these levels more or less the same on 4K HDR gaming.
Overall Brightness Winner: TK800M
HDR Film Brightness Winner: HT3550
HDR Gaming Brightness Winner: Tie
The TK800M is no skimp with color, especially considering the brightness. That white slice in the color wheel is not creating a washed out image and I've always been impressed with the balance that BenQ engineers struck with brightness and color on the TK800. The TK800M's Rec709 coverage increases from 92% on the TK800 to 96% on the TK800M. Considering the very color accurate HT2550 was 96% but 1000 lumens less, this seems like the TK800M is eating its cake and having it too.
But the HT3550's color is the DLP king right now. 100% Rec 709 and 95% DCI-P3. The HDR color and auto tone mapping just blow most everything else out of the water. Enough said.
Color Winner: HT3550
The TK800M's zoom shrunk from 1.2x on the TK800 to 1.1x, further limiting what was already worse than average placement flexibility on the TK800. I was able to mount the TK800M in the same spot as the TK800 with no issue. If you have the space for it and can get the TK800M mounted where it needs to be, then no harm no foul. The tradeoff with the decreased zoom is the new lens with much better focus and sharpness. I like the tradeoff and will take it all day. I just hoped to see the same improvement without sacrificing anything on a projector that is launching 1 year after the original.
The HT3550 has a 1.3x zoom and 10% vertical lens shift, so for most people the HT3550 is the better option for placement flexibility with the shorter throw, bigger zoom, and lens shift. However, this is slightly subjective for people with big theaters like mine where we want the projector mounted slightly behind our heads like the TK800/M can do. So I'm going to say in 9 cases out of 10, people will prefer the HT3550 but some may be ok with the TK800M's placement setup.
Placement Winner: HT3550
I've mentioned this a few times already. The HT3550 and TK800M trade blows here, but overall the TK800M should prove the better gaming projector for most IF, and that's a big IF, the gamer has the space requirements for the longer throw of the TK800M. Most gaming oriented projectors are shorter throw meant to place on a coffee table and grab and play at a LAN in a pinch. The TK800M requires almost 11 feet of lens to screen room for just a 100" image. If that works for you, then the extra brightness and input lag improvement (albeit small) will benefit most gamers. However, the HT3550 is no slouch for casual gaming and the HDR-Pro is very good for an "Image Quality" focused setup. The input lag of the HT3550 will range between 50-63ms (per BenQ and Sage11x), the TK800M's will be the same as the TK800; 40-44ms. For hardcore games, remember image quality isn't everything. There is a reason why CS players still play on 1999 640x480 monitors and Smash tournaments are played on CRT televisions. Zero lag.
Gaming Winner: TK800M with the caveat of placement flexibility
Well this ended up being longer than I intended and I still plan on doing a full standalone review of the TK800M. I will be putting this TK800M through its paces over the next month or so. I already know I'm going to miss the HT3550's HDR performance while I test. However, I welcome back the brightness of the TK series in my theater and being able to keep my rear theater lights on without much performance drop.
In conclusion, my first impression of this TK800M projector is a good one. It is improved in almost every way compared to the TK800 with the exception fo a smaller zoom. My opinion is that for dark theater aficionados who care about overall image quality, the HT3550 has more than the $200 worth of value in it than the $200 price difference between the TK800M and HT3550. However, if you have a huge screen (160"+), don't have the extra $200, have the placement requirements, watch in ambient light, or care about the 15-20ms improvement in input lag... then you should add this projector to your list of consideration.
When push comes to shove, as much I enjoy the brightness, sharpness, and slightly better lag of the TK800Ms so far, the HT3550 is the overall winner by a good margin owing to its phenomenal HDR image, black levels, and feature-set. However, the TK800M trades blows when it comes to input lag and a better high brightness image.