After getting back late Friday night and spending some time with the family, I have finally come up for air to provide some thoughts on the HT5550 from my experience at BenQ’s launch event in NYC.
To preface, I have been reviewing the HT3550 on my 160” screen in my dedicated theater for the last 6 weeks. It is phenomenal piece of kit and the HDR is the best I've seen from a projector. However, many of you have heard about the approx 50% hit on lumen output for the HT3550 to hit 95% DCI-P3 coverage. While the HT3550's wide color mode has a nice picture with good color, it is just too dim for my liking on a 160” screen. It is more suited for screens 100" or smaller in a dark room. However, the HDR implementation is simply amazing on the HT3550 even when it is not in P3 mode. With that context about 95% DCI-P3 = dim picture in mind, I was skeptical about the HT5550 being a fit for people like me who want a bright image on a big screen.
Sage11x and I walked over to the event together and the venue was pretty cool, not gonna lie. The venue was buttoned up as it was, but then the ushers directed us to the cellar of the building. It felt like I was going to some prohibition-era meet up... in a good way! The cellar area was surprisingly bright and airy. The event was a casual affair with two separate screening rooms fro the HT5550 and HT3550. Guests were open to move to either room and enjoy some light fare and drinks in the social room. The HT5550 screening room was a proper screening room with a 170" screen that held about 40-50. The HT3550's room was more of a conference room off to the side with poor lighting.
I walked into the screening room and the HT5550 was playing Avengers Infinity War on a 170” screen. After seeing the bright image on a 170" screen I was encouraged that this HT5550 might have light cannon chops after all. The HDR presentation was smooth, bright, and had balanced color. This was impressive especially given the light situation and the large screen. Even in this proper screening room, the light control wasn’t great. However, I was impressed that the image was still good and bright. It was being projected onto a Stewart white screen. I would say the gain was neutral at 1.0, but did not confirm. Surely this image was too bright to be in wide-color mode, so I went to a BenQ rep and asked if he could put it into DCI-P3 mode. “It already is”, he said. My jaw commenced in hitting the floor.
This was the moment that I realized this projector was not a simple high-end repackaging of the HT3550. This was a different projector. How in the world did BenQ get a 170" image so bright with a 100% DCI-P3 filter in the light path? The answer, I was told, has to do with the all-new color wheel of the HT5550. And for what it's worth, I was told that every setting was in default except for HDR Brightness was set to +1.
I settled in and watched about 30 minutes combined of Avengers and La La Land. I waited for crowds to die down so I got to play with and have hands on time with the HT5550. I noted that with the wide color filter removed, the image is even brighter. To accomplish this, BenQ has engineered a new “Pure Coating” process for the color wheel. The end result is better color at a higher brightness. In fact, BenQ claims it can still achieve 95% P3 Color Space coverage with the new color wheel alone. No filter. This 95% coverage is a feat that the HT3550 can only accomplish at the cost of 50% lumen output. When the HT5550 filter is slid into place, BenQ claims 100% DCI-P3 coverage, without a huge loss to lumen output. The net-net of it is that the HT5550's 100% DCI-P3 mode is brighter than the HT3550's 95% DCI-P3 mode. More color. Higher brightness. That's good, right?
Without measurement equipment handy, my ESTIMATE is that the HT5550 is achieving 95% coverage (no filter) at 1400-1500 lumens and 100% coverage at 1000-1100 lumens. Don’t quote me on that but I am betting that will be close to accurate. For comparison, the HT3550’s 95% P3 mode is approximtately 700 lumens on the sample unit I am testing. To be fair, BenQ has a 1.0.1 firmware update prepared for HT3550 production units that will boost lumens on the wide color mode setting. A rematch might be necessary to compare apples to apples.
The HDR implementation on the HT5550 seemed similar to what I saw on the HT3550. This is a good thing. Adding in the improved color brightness, I think the HT5550 HDR implementation could be even better. Several clips of La La Land highlighted the dynamic pops of color against a black background. This is really where the P3 filter shined with better handling of hues in the green range. Additionally, there was no over-saturation or hot-spotting of colors. I watched a scene early in the film where Emma Stone returns home and the bathroom is flush with red undertones. The entire image is bathed in soft red light, and yet the flesh tones and her blue dress are still very balanced. In addition, and the gradation of the dark red shadows as well as shadow detail were very good. This was a very difficult HDR scene to handle and the dynamic tone mapping in concert with the Iris and P3 filter did an admirable job faithfully reproducing the scene.
Black levels were hard to get a good feel for with the poor light control of the room. You aren’t getting a DLP for fantastic blacks but they seemed very good considering the setting. I tried to snap a video of the Dynamic Iris actuation expecting the Iris was in the same location as the HT3550. However, I couldn’t see it on the front of the lens array. I was told the Iris implementation is different than the HT3550 and is closer to the light engine. The Iris, I’m told is superior to that of the HT3550 and can close to 100% for infinite FOFO contrast levels. I believe that is where the increased dynamic contrast spec is coming from relative to the HT3550. I did not see a scene to confirm this. I didn’t notice any excessive pumping or aggressiveness of the Iris. I was also told there will be a setting exclusive to the HT5550 that will allow for adjust the Iris speed. All told, I have a sneaking suspicion that the black floor will be similar to the HT3550 with content on screen, but will hold out judgement until measured by the pros.
On the hardware side, the unit’s build quality and design is beautiful. It’s the perfect size for a home theater projector, in my opinion. It’s right between the size of the HT3550 and the recent crop of humungo Epsons. The design's ratios feel very balanced. The lens is near flush with the front of the display. The textured lens ring is very elegant and BenQ is claiming that is to help disperse reflections. I don't really buy that since the front 90% of the projector is a already covered in a light-absorbing/dispersing matte black. 1% of the front facing display is that textured ring so I'd rather they just call it an aesthetic touch, and a nice one at that. The flush lens should allow for A-lenses. The lens adjustments also feel incredibly solid. Zoom and focus adjustments seemed heavy and smooth. As far as on-screen benefits from the lens, the sharpness and focus uniformity seemed good on screen but I did not get to test with text or patterns on the screen. I also put my nose to the screen and tried to find fuzzy areas and/or aberration. I couldn’t find any.
The horizontal and vertical lens shift range is good. Not Epson good, but very good for the DLP crop. Vertical shift is buttery smooth, similar to the adjustments of zoom and focus. Horizontal shift felt like the vertical shift of my HT3550 sample unit; kinda meh. Some hesitant dead spots, but it allowed you to get where you need to go horizontally. I tested various combinations of horizontal and vertical lens shift and the unit seems happy to have the image in any combination of horizontal and vertical shifts.
In my limited time with the menu, I wasn’t able to find settings for blanking and 21:9 stretching. I don’t imagine blanking will be possible since that is hardware. However if there is enough demand for a 21:9 stretch mode, that could be addressed in a USB firmware update. The menu is the look and feel of the HT3550 which is a slightly smoothed out and snappier version of last year's models. I hope BenQ updates their menu UI soon. A designer can spend 3-4 days on the UX design and take a design queue from LG. The menu layout on LG's projector is beautiful.
Someone here requested testing CFI artifacts. I wasn’t able to test CFI artifacts. Sorry.
Motion handling was VERY good. As Sage confirmed, the new BenQ 4K shifters can achieve native 4k 24hz without a pull down by throttling the color wheel to 96hz. This is done without introduction of RBE, but then again, I'm not sensitive to it in the first place so YMMV.
The HT5550 is an interesting projector because I cannot recall the last home theater projector BenQ launched in the $2,000- $3,000 space, if ever. They’ve never had anything to directly compete with the $2,500 Epsons. BenQ has always had a $1,500 ceiling for their consumer retail lines and $7,000+ in their pro-channel lines. At $2,499, the HT5550 represents their first entry into the affordable pro/installer setups. I am not sure I will have a review unit to test yet but if I so, I’ll be sure to field questions and test this in as many ways as I can.
All in all, my skepticism going into the event about the HT5550 being too dim of a projector relative to color accuracy was debunked, at least for now. As far as critical viewing / reference level color projectors go, from my limited viewing it seemed to me that this will have plenty of light output for the dedicated theater rooms this will be targeted for.
Price will be $2,499. Launching next month. Exclusive channel/installer vendor will be SnapAV (love them). Also available on BenQDirect.com. Fantastic news for those looking to get this direct to to consumer.
Last edited by scottyroo; 03-24-2019 at 01:34 PM.