This is a comparison of the BenQ HT3550 UHD projector and the BenQ HT2050A HD projector. This is meant as a supplement to my HT3550 review so if you haven't read that yet I would start there.
Why this comparison?
This comparison is intended as a roadmap for current BenQ owners that are considering an upgrade to 4K with the HT3550. For those not familiar with BenQ's lineage of 'shorter' throw HD projectors, it started with the W1070 back in 2013 and continued on through the HT1075, HT2050, HT3050 and the most recent HT2050A. Each model in the series has stood out for occupying an intersection of performance, features and price that have made them exceptionally popular with consumers and critics alike. BenQ has aimed the HT3550 squarely at recapturing the same enthusiasm those models enjoyed. Besides sharing a similar form factor and a nearly identical 'shorter' throw ratio and zoom range (which makes the HT3550 a slide in replacement for any one of the models I mentioned above), the HT3550 represents the same excellent value with class leading performance and features at it's price point.
Why should you listen to me?
I'm very familiar with BenQ's projector lineup having owned an HT2050 that was my main theater display for more than two years. I've also lived with the HT3550 for the past month and have written detailed reviews of both the HT3550 and HT2050A.
How did I test?
For my testing I had both the HT3550 and HT2050A in the same room pointed at the same screen playing the exact same content. For most of my picture quality comparisons I used HD Blu-rays played through a Panasonic BDT230 and duplicated through my Onkyo AVR. I also briefly compared UHD and HD content by attempting to match up time codes between the Panasonic BDT230 and my Sony X800 playing a UHD Blu-ray copy of the same movie on the HT3550.
A quick word about 4K.
This is not meant as a comparison between 4K and 1080p. To put it simply: the HT3550, when fed a quality UHD source, is in a different league from the HT2050A. As you would expect considering it retails for twice the price. I've been very vocal about my enthusiasm for projector 4K and the HT3550 is a truly excellent way to enjoy UHD content. Again, see my full review above for my opinions of the HT3550. Now, let's get into the comparison.
Operation and Hardware
The same basic menu powers both projectors and if you're familiar with any of BenQ's older models you'll feel right at home here. Everything is laid out logically and is easy to find. The remotes are similar although the HT3550 has a few useful direct access buttons like a handy one touch test pattern. The HT3550 is significantly quicker than the HT2050A when it comes to switching between inputs or locking onto a new source.
Physically the chassis are similar in shape and size with the HT3550 being a bit heavier with it's lens slightly further to the outside. Both models have similar zoom and lens shift. The HT3550 benefits from improved attention paid to light leakage. Honestly, I did not remember how much light leakage the HT2050A suffered particularly around the lens. The HT3550 has almost zero light leakage around it's lens and even features a handy shield to keep light from reflecting up on to your ceiling.
One area the HT3550 was not able to improve on the HT2050A is fan noise. While the HT3550's ECO lamp mode falls somewhere between the HT2050A's ECO and Normal/SmarEco modes, it's Normal lamp mode is significantly louder. Whereas the HT2050A mostly disappears once a movie begins the HT3550's fans can be heard during quiet passages.
The HT2050A is ridiculously bright for an RGBRGB DLP projector and when placing them side by side you can see the HT2050A has an edge in lumen output. That said, the HT3550 is far from dim and, like the HT2050A should have little trouble standing up to some ambient light. One thing to note is that the HT2050A doesn't have very many ways to throttle it's light output. In my dark room on my 100" 1.1 gain screen the HT2050A is almost uncomfortably bright in it's SmartEco lamp mode-- the lamp mode that affords the best contrast. I'll talk about this more later on but if you have a dark, light controlled room the HT3550 is the more flexible projector.
Equipped with a wide color filter and an out-of-the-box factory calibration the HT3550 is the more accurate of the two when it comes to color reproduction. BenQ claims the HT3550 produces 100% coverage of rec.709 and, of course, is capable of displaying significant coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut with HDR content. It's here that the HT3550 really leaps ahead and is capable of producing color that more accurately reflects that of film with richer greens and more pronounced reds. To be fair to the HT2050A the use of the Ht3550's wide color filter does adversely effect lumen output. Therefore I spent a good deal of time running the HT3550 in what will likely be it's more popular mode, 'Cinema', to see how the HT2050A compared. All in all the HT2050A still has very accurate color and despite a tendency towards a slightly cooler color temperature I was impressed with how well the HD model kept up here.
This is probably the biggest area of concern for those considering an upgrade to 4K. It's no secret that the first generation of 4K DLP projectors were a bit disappointing when it came to contrast/blacks with performance falling well below what the best 1080p DLPs can produce. I'm happy to say that BenQ has addressed this head on with the HT3550. I spent more time comparing this single area of performance between the two models than any other metric. I threw a variety of reference material and test patterns at the projectors to try and determine how well each performed in a variety of scenarios.
A couple of disclaimers first.
Right off the bat we need to acknowledge that iris situation. The HT3550 employs an active iris that can dynamically adjust the projectors light output depending on the scene. This gives the HT3550 an advantage over the HT2050A which is only equipped with BenQ's SmartEco lamp dimming. The HT3550 has SmartEco lamp dimming as well but the iris is more effective in improving contrast/blacks although it comes at the cost of occasional visible pumping. My guess is the majority of users won't find this objectionable. The HT2050A's lamp dimming is probably the least noticeable in action of any projector I've reviewed from them.
Second, we need to address the additional modes offered by the HT3550 that have no equivalent on the HT2050A. The HT3550 includes two modes that enable a special color filter to improve color reproduction: D.Cinema and HDR10 with wide color ON. These modes also reduce lumen output to a significant degree-- and this has a knock on effect on blacks and contrast. If you have a dark, light controlled room and your screen is not too large (I'd probably stick with 120" or below for these modes) then the 'filtered' modes offer a reduction in black floor and a commensurate increase in overall contrast. Ironically, this is one area where more lumens doesn't actually equal a better picture. The HT2050A has no way to reduce it's lumen output besides placing it's lamp in ECO which actually reduces it's overall contrast. While these filtered modes will only be usable by a certain percentage of the HT3550's owner base they do represent an advantage for those that have a dedicated space.
So what did I find? Well, my initial impressions were that the HT3550 produces better contrast with deeper blacks than the HT2050A. But that's why it was so important to get these projectors next to one another on the same screen. You see, the HT2050A with it's larger 1080p chip still has a slight edge in native contrast. This is the contrast that is not reliant on any lamp dimming or iris intervention. With certain test patterns or scenes that included a bright image surrounded by shadow you could bring out this advantage in the HT2020A. Still, the HT3550's dynamic contrast just gave it a leg up and I found my eye drawn to the punchier image offered by the 4K projector.
So what about without the iris? Well, disabling the iris did not in any way cripple the HT3550 although I found it's lamp dimming to not be as effective or as enjoyable as the iris. When both projectors were run with lamp dimming enabled I think the edge in contrast/blacks went back to the HT2050A but I have to stress that the advantage was slight and you would really need to have them side by side to notice a difference. One big note: this was while comparing HD content. When switching over to HDR the HT3550 reclaims it's contrast advantage thanks to the higher quality content.
Finally, the D.Cinema and HDR10 wide color modes on the HT3550 produced visibly deeper blacks and better contrast. Again, this is almost unfair to the HT2050A as it has no equivalent mode. In addition, as I pointed out before, you'll need a dedicated room to take full advantage of these modes as they have reduced lumen output. Still, for those that do this is a fantastic way to watch movies.
I've included some shots below that I hope will illustrate the differences I saw with my eye. I'll describe what settings were in play in each shot.
All shots are of the HT2050A on the left and the HT3550 on the right. Which looks better to you?
On mostly black scenes the iris can assist.
Finally, the HT3550 shows the advantage of lower lumens. These shots are with the wide color filter engaged.
Let me start by saying that the HT2050A is an amazingly sharp projector. Single chip DLP has always retained a sharpness advantage over competing projector tech and the HT2050A is a fine example of how good a 1080p display can look. With that said… the HT3550 is simply on another level. Even with HD content the Ht3550's vast resolution advantage is felt. The XPR pixel shifting tech employed here produces an image that all but eliminates pixel gap. The result being an amazingly clean and detailed image that just looks sharper regardless of your source. Rest assured, while feeding your 4K projector quality 4K content should be a priority, you'll still see gains with regular old HD content.
Video Processing and Motion Handling
One thing that I absolutely fell in love with on my original HT2050 is it's handling of 24fps film content. You see, I was coming from a Panasonic plasma that, while it could display 24fps natively, it didn't do a very good job of it. So I've long been accustomed to 3:2 pulldown judder. That HT2050 and it's successor HT2050A can display film natively without introducing judder. Great news, the HT3550 is the first 4K DLP that can accurately display 24fps film content in it's correct cadence without the need to perform a 3:2 pulldown. When run side by side both projectors displayed film content with aplomb and I noticed no artifacts or judder.
This is probably a good time to mention another area where the HT3550 has made significant strides: motion handling. The BenQ HT2050A has long been my reference for quality motion handling. What is motion handling? It's the ability for a display to accurately depict motion without loss of resolution or the introduction of artifacts or blur. Happily, the HT3550 has improved on it's 4K predecessor the HT2550 and now displays motion with the same crisp clarity as the best DLPs.
If there is one area where I cannot heap praise on the HT3550 it would be it's gaming prowess. Even before plugging in my PS4 the difference in input latency was apparent between the two. The HT3550 was always a split second behind the HT2050A when navigating Blu-Ray menus and loading scenes. I measured 63ms of lag with the HT3550 while our friend Scott got a slightly lower number: 58ms. Unfortunately, I was unable to replicate his score and, in truth, the 63ms measurement itself requires some careful adjustment of the HT3550's various picture settings. If you just go with the out-of-the-box settings the HT3550 measures in the mid 70s.
Ironically, the HT2050A is the one projector I have not been able to measure myself. Try as I might I can never get it to recognize the Leo Bodnar lag tester I use. Still, the HT2050A's input lag has been well chronicled by other testers: 16ms with "fast mode" enabled. I don't need the Bodnar to confirm how snappy the HT2050A feels in action. It is not just one of my favorite gaming projectors it is one of my favorite gaming displays: full stop. The combination of DLP's blur-free motion handling and the ultra low input latency makes this projector a joy to game on. My ultimate torture test for any display is not Call of Duty or Gears of War-- it’s Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES Classic. Just a few levels in and it was clear the HT2050A had a healthy advantage here.
Now, to be clear, you can game on the HT3550. Many of today's games feature a fair amount of controller input latency built-in and the typically luxurious animations of a modern triple A release do a good job of masking lag. It should also be mentioned here that sensitivity to lag varies greatly between gamers. A couple of years ago I was a lot more black and white on this issue but I've learned to relax as I've come across more and more gamers happily playing on displays with lag I would consider a deal breaker.
If you do decide to game on the HT3550 it is a sight to behold. The latest God of War, Spider-Man and the glorious Shadow of the Colossus remake all look stunning in 4K HDR. If you're a gamer looking more for an immersive visual experience than racking up a high score or posting the best K/D then you might find a lot to like here. But, for me, the snappy response of the HT2050A is well worth it's lack of resolution or ability to display HDR.
With the HT3550, BenQ has crafted a worthy successor to it's vaulted HD projector lineup. The HT3550 is packed to the gills with performance and features that bely it's low price of entry. Like the HT2050A before it, it has a real chance to become the defacto recommendation for enthusiasts shopping for a 4K projector near this price point. If you're an owner of a BenQ HD projector and you are looking to upgrade to 4K I can make a full-throated recommendation for the HT3550.