BenQ HT3550 True 4K Home Cinema Projector Review
I've had the opportunity to spend the last two weeks checking out a pre-production sample of the new BenQ HT3550 True 4K Home Cinema Projector. Please consider this a preview or 'pre-review' as the firmware on my sample is not the same as the one that will ship with the HT3550 when it goes on sale next month. By the time this review will be posted my sample will be en route to receive a rework and update. Once I receive the projector back I will update this space with any changes necessary.
EDIT 3/11/2019: My HT3550 sample has received a 'rework' the first week of March to bring it's performance and firmware in-line with the final production model. I have updated my review accordingly.
As always, please feel free to post any questions or comments below and thanks for reading!
2. Hardware Tour
3. Features and Performance
5. Viewing Experience
BenQ has long had a reputation for making high performance, high value projectors. A year ago they introduced the HT2550, the first 4K projector to retail for less than $1500. While the HT2550 certainly gets credit for pushing 4K into a new realm of affordability, in many ways, it was representative of the entry level 4K segment it effectively launched-- Lacking many of the features and some of the performance that similarly priced 1080p projectors had been enjoying up to that point. Since then, the market has been flooded with affordable 4K projectors and it is into this competitive market that BenQ is introducing their latest, the HT3550 True 4K Home Cinema Projector. I've spent the last two weeks with a pre-production HT3550, putting it through it's paces and viewing a wide variety of content in various room conditions. Amazingly, BenQ has managed to significantly improve image performance while introducing a host of exciting new features while not raising the price. The HT3550 will cost just $1499.99 when it launches next month-- the same price the HT2550 sold for just one year ago! This is the first projector below $2000 to offer real (95% coverage) DCI-P3 expanded color gamut support and the first in it's class to offer an Active Iris to improve contrast and blacks. BenQ is also introducing it's new HDR-Pro tone mapping technology with the HT3550 and it's the best implementation of HDR I've yet seen on a projector. As if that wasn't enough, BenQ pre-calibrates each HT3550 that leaves the factory. Let's check it out in more detail below.
2. Hardware Tour
The HT3550 is single chip, True 4K DLP projector with an RGBRGB colorwheel rated at 2000 ANSI lumens. By now you probably all know the drill, the HT3550 utilizes Texas Instrument's XPR pixel shifting technology to achieve a True 4K UHD resolution of 3840x2160. What you might be surprised to hear is the HT3550 uses a new version of Texas Instrument's ubiquitous .47" DMD that… wait for it… finally eliminates the grey border that has been a fixture of affordable 4K DLPs for the past year. Hurray! While I was on record saying that some of the outcry over this artifact *may* have been slightly exaggerated, I'll be the first to say that it's a real pleasure to have it gone.
The basic size and shape of the HT3550 should be familiar to anyone who has owned or shopped for a DLP in the past several years. It's a rectangular box-- lens in the front, connections in the back, weighs about 10 lbs. Still, BenQ has added some nice touches both cosmetic and functional that do help to set the HT3550 apart from it's competition. While the external housing is a matte white that resists reflections and finger prints, the face plate is a handsome dark taupe with a brushed metal look that I was surprised to find is actual metal! The lens sits in a recessed aperture cut into the front face plate. BenQ includes a lens cap that attaches to the projector with a string and snaps into place with very little effort. In front of the lens sits a black plastic lens guard that is a functional element to block light from leaking onto the ceiling when mounted (BenQ added this element in response to complaints about the prior HT2550). The lens shift and focus/zoom dials sit beneath a sliding plastic door on the top of the projector. Both sides of the projector have large vents cut into them and I can count three fans drawing air through the chassis (more on that later). In operation, these vents do reveal a fair amount of light from within the projector but, again, BenQ has been careful to ensure that no light is leaking forward. Around back, you'll find possibly the finest looking derriere in all of projector-dom. The entire rear face plate is dominated by a perforated metal speaker grill that matches the color of the front faceplate. BenQ clearly designed the back of the HT3550 with the assumption that it might be used on a coffee table and therefore be visible. The grill hides two 5 watt chamber speakers that do a surprisingly good job of filling a room with sound. All of the HT3550's connections are arranged neatly in a thin strip cut into the center of the grill. https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/201...dc78a33260.jpg
Speaking of connections, the HT3550 comes well equipped with two HDMI 2.0a / HDCP 2.2 ports both of which are capable of accepting 4K @ 60Hz. You'll find a pair of full size USB connections, one for the included media player and firmware updates and the other strictly for power. Another mini USB is included for firmware updates. You get both SPDIF optical and 3.5mm audio out ports. Finally, the HT3550 includes both an RS-232 port and a 12V trigger for those that utilize a home automation system or motorized drop down screen.
The included remote is backlit with a soft orange glow that is perfect for use in a dark room. I have one complaint about the remote and it concerns a button I feel is missing from it but I'll discuss that more in the performance section. In the meantime, I want to thank BenQ for acquiescing to my OCD by finally including a button for 'test pattern' on the remote. And featured prominently in the upper right corner no less!
Lens and Placement
Fans of the W1070 and later HT2050/HT3050 will be happy to hear that BenQ has equipped the HT3550 with a 'shorter' throw of 1.13 - 1.47. This will allow the HT3550 to target a 120" screen in just under 10 feet. Zoom ratio is 1.3X and the projector features a small amount of vertical lens shift. Overall, I had little issue getting the projector aligned and focused but the focus ring is a bit touchier than I'd prefer. I also ran into an issue where the lens shift wheel on my sample had an unusual dead spot in the middle of it’s travel. Again, this didn't impact my ability to align with my screen but was a minor annoyance. As I mentioned above in the introduction my review sample is a very early, pre-production, 'engineering' unit and as such it’s fair to expect some flaws. Still, I contacted BenQ about the problem and they confirmed to me that it was an issue with the batch my sample came from and would be fixed before the HT3550 begins first production.
The lens is a new 10 element all glass design that BenQ says helps contribute to improved contrast and black level performance. The lens on my sample is very good but not at all perfect. Focus is sharp showing only an ever so slight softening at the extreme left/right edges of the screen-- nothing that I would consider objectionable. However, the lens did exhibit what I would consider a higher than expected amount of chromatic aberration. To be fair, I had a very difficult time seeing any evidence of this from my seat and it didn't impact any of my testing.
BenQ has seen fit to include the same auto leveling, vertical keystone feature from the HT2550/TK800. As always, I recommend taking the time to square your projector with the screen to avoid using keystone when possible but's a nice feature in a pinch.
If you've been following any of the 4K DLPs released over this past year you'll know that complaints about noise stemming from the optical actuator have permeated the conversation about these models. I'm happy to report that, just like the elimination of the grey light border, BenQ has eliminated the actuator buzz in the HT3550! Switching the projector between it's default 4K and silent modes-- silent mode disables the pixel shift and thus the optical actuator--and with my ear up close to the projector I could barely detect any audible difference. Very impressive indeed!
Now, none of this is to say that the HT3550 is a silent projector. This is, after all, a very compact DLP. I mentioned earlier that the HT3550 has three fans that draw air through the chassis. My apartment usually hovers around 37dB of ambient noise. Running in Eco lamp power the HT3550 only raised that to 40dB. In normal lamp operation, the volume of fan noise increases significantly and I now measure 44dB of ambient noise in my room. That's not quite loud enough to be distracting but it is loud enough to be noticeable over a quiet movie soundtrack.
Lastly, I received a few questions about iris noise. While the iris does make noise the sound is a quiet crackling that is barely audible. It didn't bother me.
3. Features and Performance
Motion Enhancer (MEMC)
A lot of people are fond of this feature and it's one that has been requested for some time. For the record I've never been a fan of motion interpolation (also referred to as motion estimation/motion compensation) but for this review I did test the function and it works surprisingly well. On the two lower settings I found the smoothing effect to work well enough without introducing noticeable artifacts. I could see myself actually using it for streaming content or TV sports-- From me that's high praise. At the higher settings you get the 'soap opera' effect that some people enjoy but I do not.
3D is all but dead but there continues to be a lot of enthusiasm for the format especially among the projector community. Happily, BenQ is still supporting the format with the HT3550. Some readers will remember that I had some difficulty with 3D on BenQ's two prior 4K projectors, the HT2550 and TK800. I had no such issues this time. The HT3550 detects when a 3D source is present and automatically switches into it's 3D picture preset. 3D is displayed in 1080p only. The image is satisfyingly sharp with no hint of crosstalk. All four of my various brand 3D glasses worked without problems. As will any RGBRGB DLP the image brightness in 3D is definitely more suitable for dark room use.
Built in Speakers
I always suggest pairing your projector with a proper surround sound system but if you're in a pinch or maybe using the HT3550 in another room, BenQ has you covered. The HT3550 contains a pair of rear facing 5 watt chamber speakers. While they won't shake your foundation with deep bass they do a surprisingly good job filling a room with sound and dialogue intelligibility is high. Because they face rearward this obviously works better if you have the projector sitting on a table in front of you as opposed to mounted above or behind your seating.
Input Lag and Gaming
Input lag is 63/64ms. To achieve this measurement you have to make sure all extraneous image processing is turned off. That includes the Active Iris, Motion Enhancer, and setting the 4K pixel enhancer to 0. The HT3550 does not feature any game mode or fast mode to improve performance here further. This is a bit disappointing as this is a full frame slower than last years HT2550 (for the record I clocked that projector using the same Bodnar tester at 45/46ms). Although not totally unexpected-- DLPs equipped with the MEMC Motion Enhancer always seem to score slower here than DLPs without even when the feature is turned off. As such, gaming performance is a bit lackluster which is a shame considering the outstanding visuals. Casual gamers might find the input lag here acceptable but competitive gamers will want to look elsewhere.
I was happy to see the HT3550 has improved on it's predecessors when it comes to handling 24fps film content. The HT3550 is the first 4K DLP I'm aware of to not require a 3:2 pull down meaning it can display movies in the correct cadence with no judder. It does this in a rather clever way: by slowing down the color wheel from 120Hz to 96Hz. It is important to mention here that I noticed no ill effects from this process such as increased rainbow effect or image instability. When compared against my reference for 24fps content, the BenQ HT2050a (yes, really), the Ht3550 largely matches it's performance with only scrolling text appearing a hair smoother on the older projector.
I did throw a wide variety of HD (1080p) content at the HT3550 and my takeaway is the up scaling to 4K is superb. The HT3550 displays HD material beautifully and without the addition of unwanted noise reduction that might obscure detail. In truth, I found myself watching a lot more HD material than I had planned simply because it looked so good.
The HT3550 is a bit like a modern sports car… bear with me here. If you've driven a modern performance car you know there is a setting for everything. You can adjust steering feel, suspension firmness, throttle response, etc. all to get the right performance for the road you're on or the mood you happen to be in at that time. While each of the controls, individually, is not that complex the trick is in just how many different combinations you can achieve simply by adjusting one of two features. See where I'm going here?
The HT3550 offers a LOT of picture controls. And just like my analogous sports car each of the controls by themselves are not difficult to understand what effect they will have on the picture. In fact, you may even wish for slightly more granularity when it comes to certain controls— like the Active Iris, for example (it's on or off, by the way). What is amazing is just how many combinations you can achieve by subtly tweaking different features.
Now, if this sounds daunting to you, don't worry. I understand it's not everyone's idea of a good time to tweak menu settings or to customize picture presets. The good news is BenQ has setup the HT3550 very well to work great out-of-the-box without having to touch a thing besides maybe selecting the right picture mode or maybe the right lamp power for your room/ambient light situation. I'm going to spend the next few paragraphs attempting to explain, as simply as I can, the different options that are available to you. If your eyes have already glassed over I suggest you skip forward to the Viewing Experience section.
The HT3550 comes with 5 selectable SDR picture presets and one HDR preset. The SDR presets are Bright, Vivid, Cinema, D Cinema and User. The HDR10 preset only becomes accessible when feeding the display an HDR10 source. Unlike some projectors the HT3550 will auto-detect HDR content and automatically switch to the HDR mode.
You can break down the different SDR presets by the kind of viewing environment they are intended for. Bright is the requisite high ambient light mode that should only be used as a last resort due to it's strong green tint. Vivid and Cinema are both appropriate for less than ideal rooms or rooms where some ambient light might be present. Both have very good color with Cinema offering a more natural image while Vivid is brighter with enhanced color saturation. D Cinema and User are both appropriate for dark room or theater room viewing. The D Cinema preset is the one that is calibrated from the factory and it's here you'll find the best black levels and color accuracy for SDR content in an appropriately dark cinema environment. All of the modes allow access to adjust basic picture controls such as contrast, brightness, sharpness, etc. as well as access advanced color/gamma controls and customization of the Iris, Brilliant Color setting and lamp power. In addition, BenQ provides a host of other picture enhancements as part of their 'CinemaMaster' suite such color and flesh tone enhancers, 4K pixel enhancer and the motion smoother (MEMC/CFI) feature. There is only one function that is greyed out in the picture menu and that is the Wide Color feature. In Cinema and Vivid is I locked in the off position and in D Cinema and User it is locked in the On position.
As I mentioned, when you feed the HT3550 an HDR10 source it will automatically switch to it's HDR10 picture preset. Out of the box, the HDR10 picture mode is bright and punchy with a more natural image akin to the Cinema setting. There is more than enough output to compete with some ambient light. It should be mentioned here that in this default state, all wide color gamut content will be displayed as Rec. 709. There is only one HDR10 mode so you can't select from different presets like you can with SDR content although you can tailor just about every aspect of the picture as you can with the various SDR modes including the one that was not accessible before: Wide Color.
The Wide Color feature engages and disengages a color filer inside the projector. This filter allows the HT3550 to natively display the DCI-P3 expanded color gamut for richer, truer to life color. I'll get into the effects the filter has more in the Viewing Experience section but in my personal opinion this is a game changer at this price point. However, using the filter does make a significant impact on the HT3550's lumen output. Using a crude lux meter and some calculation it appears the filter costs around 30% of the HT3550's light output. For this reason, use of the filter is recommended only for dark room or theater use.
A quick note about the lamp power settings. There are three settings: Normal, Eco and SmartEco. SmartEco is BenQ's lamp dimming feature but it's important to mention here that turning SmartEco on will disable the Active Iris. You get the choice of lamp dimming or the action of the iris. I love that BenQ gives you a choice here but my guess is the vast majority of users will stick with the iris as it offers the greater benefit to picture quality.
5. Viewing Experience
I started my viewing with the Kingsmen 2: The Golden Circle. This is a fun movie even it misses the mark set by the first film. The UHD Blu-ray is upconverted from a DCI 2K source and yet I wanted to start here for one reason: color. This is a vibrant and colorful movie that I thought should be a good test for the HT3550's DCI-P3 capabilities. Immediately I was struck with just how much better the HT3550 is able to render contrast and blacks than it's predecessor. Early in the film Eggsy confronts Merlin in the bombed out shell of the former Kingsman headquarters. Shadow detail here is excellent and the HT3550 is able to produce a black that actually looks black. Later in the film we're treated to a fly over of the jungle and a pull in on our villain, Julianne Moore's Poppy. Here the advantages of the increased color gamut become obvious. The green of the jungle is lush and much more realistic while the red paint of Poppy's diner gleans in a rich hue simply not possible in Rec 709.
Next I threw on Thor: Ragnarok. I'm going to be honest, at this point I was less interested in viewing serious reference material and more interested in just seeing all the pretty colors the HT3550 is capable of producing. Thor is far from a reference disc but I'm happy I threw it in because it cued me into one of the more massive improvements BenQ has made with this new model. There is a moment early in the film when Thor and Loki attempt to flee their sister Hela by summoning the Bifrost (if you haven't seen the movie the bifrost is a rainbow road in ancient Norse Mythology…anyways) and a fight ensues knocking Thor and Loki into space. While certainly beautiful thanks to the great contrast and color volume, my biggest takeaway was the HT3550's vastly improved motion performance. With all the debris and colors flying past in the background it’s hard for some displays to adequately translate the punching and kicking happening in the foreground. The last time I saw motion clarity like this I was reviewing the HT2050A. With the HT3550, BenQ has reclaimed one of DLPs biggest advantages over competing tech.
At this point it was time to get serious and so I decided to watch the massively underappreciated Bladerunner 2049. Both of the prior discs I watched were upconverted from a DCI 2K source but not this one. Filmed on ARRI Alexa cameras at 3.4K and displaying some of the finest cinematography and lighting in recent memory, this pristine UHD Blu-ray transfer is one of my all time favorite reference discs. My two favorite scenes to reference are the scene where K and Joi are flying over the wasteland in the driving rain and the moment when K and Decker have a drink. The former for the display's ability to render fine detail and the latter to check for proper tone mapping. The TH3550 aced both tests. In the first scene, you can see individual streaks of rain in the sky and water droplets on K's windshield are rendered in precise clarity. In the second, the oppressive orange glow of the irradiated skyline reflects on the actors faces without them appearing too dark while the deep red fabric of the barstools retain their color. This is a testament to BenQ's revised HDR PRO tone mapping. Throughout, contrast and black levels looked great. Even the black bars of the letterbox managed to remain black during scenes of high APL. I should mention here that I had still not seen any pumping artifacts or evidence of the iris in action besides the occasional distant crackle overhead to prove that the iris was indeed working. Really impressive performance here.
Next up was the UHD Blu-ray release of the Dark Crystal. One of my favorite films growing up the Dark Crystal has recently received a brand new digital 4K scan from the original film stock. A lot of people might challenge my assertion that this is reference material simply owing to the fact that this is not always the prettiest movie. In addition the noise present in the original 35mm comes through loud and clear in the transfer. But this is one of the reasons I love 4K. With the extra resolution 4K provides, film can actually look like film. Every detail of the Skeksis puppets, the complexity of Aughra's lab (and her nipples— I never realized she had nipples before— I wish I could go back to a time I didn’t know that) and the texture of Kira's cloak all come through in resounding clarity.
I finished my 4K/HDR testing with the amazing Planet Earth 2 and Blue Planet 2 UHD Blu-ray discs. And, yes, I re-watched all of the episodes. There's not much else I can say about this series that hasn't already been said. The HT3550 handled it with aplomb. I was paying special attention to scenes that had given the prior HT2550 trouble such as the flyover of the icebergs and the scene with the massive waves. These scenes caused the HT2550 to clip detail, washing out the snowy surfaces of the floating ice and obscuring details in the crests of the waves. But the HT3550 never lost track and BenQ's HDR PRO tone mapping proved itself again and again. About mid-way through the Blue Planet series I witnessed my first example of the BenQ struggling with black levels. There is a scene where a mini sub prowls the artic ocean floor with a singular bright spotlight shining in a sea of black. This is a very tough scene and here the HT3550's blacks appeared a bit hazy although they were far from the mushy grey it's predecessor displayed in this same scene.
4K may be all the rage these days but let’s be honest: HD content is ubiquitous and many owners will likely spend just as much time watching 1080p as they will 4K. The HD Blu-ray copy of Oblivion is most certainly reference material and one of the few movies where the HD disc is superior to the UHD disc. Giving the HT3550's calibrated D Cinema mode a spin I can honestly say this is one of the finest experiences I've had watching this film. The HT3550 handles HD up conversion exceedingly well and at several points during the film I was gob smacked by just how much detail I was picking up in 'only' a 1080p release. Color looked spot on and viewed back to back with my THX plasma the HT3550's colors, especially green, appeared a bit more realistic. Contrast sparkled and the black levels were back to looking solidly black.
Next up I checked out the HD Blu-ray release of Avengers: Infinity War. And, yes, before you ask I do own this in UHD but, well, who cares? This offered another great chance to check out the HT3550's up conversion abilities and let's not all pretend that Avengers wasn't one of the most disappointing UHD releases last year (did you know this movie has IMAX scenes? Yeah you wouldn't if you bought the disc). It was here that I ran into the first and only real issue with the Ht3550's iris performance. During several scenes in the movie I would notice the iris seemingly over-reacting briefly resulting in split second of pumping back and forth. I say over reacting because there was really nothing for the iris to be doing during these scenes. They were bright scenes and largely static which is what made the iris' activity all the more unusual. This unfortunately wouldn't be the last time I saw the issue as it popped up again in my viewing of Punisher season 2 on Netflix. It was at this point that I decided to reach out to my contact at BenQ and he informed me that they were aware of it and had already developed a new firmware to tweak the algorithm that manages the iris. I’ll update this space when I receive the revised firmware.
Edit: Since receiving my updated HT3550 the performance of the iris has been markedly improved with the iris action much less invisible in these brighter scenes. Still, my continued testing has shown that the only time I really ever notice the iris is on brighter content that, seemingly, would require less intervention from the iris. Content like sitcoms and cartoons. It was rare enough that I didn't find it distracting but it would have been nice had BenQ included an option to adjust the iris' level of intervention or 'strength' as opposed to a simple on/off. Still, BenQ did include the option to enable lamp dimming which is a viable alternative to the iris for higher APL content. I found myself using the iris for Cinema mode and the SmartEco lamp dimming for Vivid mode.
Razer sharp picture and motion clarity
Excellent color with both Rec. 709 and DCI-P3
Superb HDR tone mapping
Good contrast and solid black levels
What Could Be Better
Fan noise in normal lamp mode
The BenQ HT3550 True 4K Home Cinema Projector packs a dizzying amount of performance and value into a projector costing just $1499.
It's difficult for me to describe just how much I've enjoyed my time with the BenQ HT3550. If you've been on the fence about upgrading to 4K the HT3550 makes a very strong case. It might just be the model you've been waiting for. The HT3550 represents a comprehensive improvement over last years 4K lineup and offers a level of picture quality and refinement that was simply absent before. The inclusion of DCI-P3 color gives the HT3550 legitimate home cinema cred while it's solid contrast and impressive handling of HDR content makes this a benchmark in the segment. It earns my highest recommendation.
BenQ HT3550 True 4K Home Cinema Projector Review
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.
BenQ HT3550 True 4K Home Cinema Projector Review
Wow, seems like a solid unit and the improvements over the predecessor are welcome indeed. I might have to pick one of these up for my multipurpose basement. Thanks for the thorough review!
Great job Sage.... no need to cancel my order then!:D
Could you let us know which 3D discs you used/tested as well? Particularly curious if you see the same issues with Infinity War 3D as you found with the 2D.
BenQ HT3550 True 4K Home Cinema Projector Review
You know I just didn’t spend as much time with 3D. Maybe watched an hour or more of content just to make sure the feature worked.
Here are the movies I demoed:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Honestly I didn’t even know Avengers came out in 3D... you can still buy 3D movies? :)
The issue I experienced with Avengers is strictly a firmware bug NOT a hardware issue. Keep in mind this is a VERY early pre-production sample so issues like that are expected. I have every confidence in BenQ to fix the issue. Clearly, the iris worked well the majority of the time. I’ll update everyone when I can.
Where!? I need photo evidence of this. :)
I can’t remember the last time I saw a new release 3D Blu-Ray for sale. It was probably Moana and I had to order it. Haven’t seen one since.
It's still breathing in the UK at least!
Will get 4K's on/ near release from now on & pick up the 3D disks to compliment when cheap/2nd hand (Do love my 3d!:) )
Hi Sage, did you manage to find out what changes have been made to quieten down the XPR noise? Thanks!
Thanks for your effort. Very detail review.
By the way are you going to post the calibration result by Calman or HCFR?
Especially the contract in SDR and HDR mode. Wish to know which mode for the best result of contrast for a dedicated / well-light control room. Thanks
Many, many thanks, a very graphic and concise review and special thanks that you did test the CFI motion enhancer, even though you don't like the feature that much.
Written like a true AV journalist (the discussions I had with 'professional' AV reviewers that either felt compelled to cast verdict on CFI or chose to give the CFI function a wide berth could fill a book...)! :)
Just two questions:
Do I asume correctly that the CFI of the BenQ will equally work on FullHD, UHD and FullHD 3D program content?
And how many CFI settings does the HT3550 feature, your review sounded as if there were 4?
Now I have to hope to read a similar review for the big brother, the HT5550 aka W5700, once it's released... ;)
I purchased a pre-order unit and sold my HT2050 based on your early feedback. Looking forward to April when I get my unit.
Regarding 24Hz and 3:2 pulldown ... no native 24Hz? It has to do 3:2 pulldown? If correct, what is better. Setting output on the video player to 60Hz or 24Hz.
Thank you Sage for the great review! Can't wait to get mine. First movie I will watch will be my uhd Japan import Sony version of BR2049. Can't wait :)
The exact quote: “new hardware design of the video processing board.”
BenQ HT3550 True 4K Home Cinema Projector Review
No calibration performed. I’m not a professional calibrator and I doubt anybody in this price range is springing for that. Lots and lots and lots of test patterns. Unless you mean the factory calibration report but, honestly, it’s not much to look at.
Chris Eberle over at Secrets is about the last reviewer still calibrating and posting full calibration results for projectors in this price range. (For free. Art will but you gotta pay him). I know he has an HT3550 but last I read he was still reviewing the BenQ HT9060. I’d say keep an eye out for his review but it might a couple weeks. But, hey, the projector isn’t out yet! :)
You did remind me— I forgot to upload the 10bit color pattern media. I’ll get that up tonight.
Definitely D Cinema/HDR wide color on. But you’re going to want a good room. In my less that perfect space I had to run the mode on normal lamp power to get sufficient brightness (you can see my walls are taupe— I live in an apartment this is the best I can do at the moment). Everything in that mode is graded towards a dark environment including gamma and shadow detail.
And it’s time for me to go 4K gerneration. Now HT3550 and HT5550 are already in my pocket choice. The only concern still in the contrast in HDR mode. If the native contrast goes up to 2000:1 , that would be great. Ok, will wait for Chris review, thanks.
6 and one half dozen the other. I did. It notice a difference when outputting 60Hz on my Sony X800 vs. just letting the projector handle it.
While the DLP47 operates at 240Hz it is not capable of displaying 24Hz content natively because the DMD needs the sub frames to produce the 4K image. Everything has to fit within that pixel shifting framework. It’s a little complicated, I know, but the end result is the HT3550 runs everything at 60Hz.
So motion with 24Hz content won’t be quite as buttery smooth as on the HT2050 but it’s close and miles better than last years models. You’re trading native 24 for 3:2 with a BIG upgrade to 4K/HDR. :)
The HT3550’s default state is 4K. Unlike competing pixel shifters where the 4K is an enhancement you turn on and off the HT3550 runs in 4K all the time so, yes, the 4K Motion Smoother works for 4K content and works for HD content as well since the projector up converts everything to 4K. CFI is not available in 3D.
This is a big addition for BenQ and something a lot of people really want in a projector I’m just not a fan. :)
You know, I forgot now. More than is necessary, haha—for some reason I want to say 5 but I think that was including the off position. I’ll check my notes once I get home.
Excellent review, this is intriguing to me to replace my HT2050. The input lag is a little lacking but I'm not a serious gamer so I consider <70ms still somewhat acceptable. You did a great review and this seems like a noteworthy upgrade over the HT2550 from last year. 3d is important to me and glad to see Benq not abandon it.
Thanks for your early review. Reading between the lines here doesn't make sense to upgrade yet to this 4k, but certainly this is a good sign that tech is slowly improving.
Thanks for the review. What screen did you use and size? Any thoughts on the approx lumen output of the different modes? Looking forward to the 2050A comparison.
:( Thank you for the clarification. For me that's not too hard as I intend to continue using my Optoma DLP projector with 3D RF glasses and for 3D + CFI, but it would be nice if the HT5550 would come with this feature, although I consider it unlikely.
Thank you for the review and look forward to seeing any follow-up. This projector is on my shortlist when I make the 4K upgrade later this year (need everything: disc player, streamers, receiver, cables, as everything was set up for 1080 8 years ago).
It can do [email protected], but can it do it in 3D SBS/TAB? It seems the Optoma UHD50 can https://www.avsforum.com/forum/68-di...l#post56145744
3D is not totally dead:D
What's the input lag like with the image enhancers on except for the CFI? I would think that's how most people would want to play for the best picture if they are sending a 4k signal from something like an Xbox One X.
Sent from my SM-G965U using Tapatalk
Thanks for this amazing review Sage.
I'm still waiting for a laser version of a projector like this, but after this review the HT3550 is tempting me to stop waiting.
That’s awesome! I’m not there yet— haha! Especially now that HDR10 is the standard. Which is why I put SO much emphasis on HDR tone mapping in my review.
It’s not going to be that high. My eyeball guesstimate when comparing head to head with an HT2050A is native contrast will fall just behind the best 1080p models but the addition of HDR, the Dynamic Black with iris, and the awesome color volume of the HT3550 pushes it’s dynamic contrast or perceived contrast well beyond what that model is capable of.
Everyone needs to remember that the Epson 4010, a projector praised for it’s contrast/blacks, measures the same native contrast as an HT2050A. An iris, the smart application of contrast algorithms and quality HDR tone mapping can make all the difference.
Out of the box with CFI off the projector scores in the low 70s. The iris makes a small difference (because it’s use is attached to the Dynamic Black tech) and the 4K pixel enhancer took me the rest of the way.
BenQ claims his thing should be able to target 55ms but I’m not able to replicate that. Again, I’m using the same Leo Bodnar tester I’ve scored other projectors with so I’m confident in the measurement. My only questing is this: the Bodnar outputs 1080p so it is absolutely possible the extra half frame I’m getting is due to the projector upconverting 1080p to 4K. If that’s the case, a reduction of 8ms would bring the projector in line with BenQ’s estimate— assuming you feed it a 4K signal. But I can’t prove that so I gotta stick with what I see.
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