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Review Contents
Best Home Theater Projector
Performance
4
Features
Ease of Use
Value
Intended Use:
DIY Home Theater
BenQ HT3550 Projector BenQ HT3550
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30000:1 Contrast Ratio
2000 Lumens
Full HD 3D
$1,499 Street Price

BenQ HT3550 4K DLP Projector Review

M. David Stone, June 26, 2019

BenQ HT3550 Performance

Color Modes. The HT3550 offers 10 color preset modes plus one User mode. Five show on the Picture Menu by default—Bright, Vivid TV, D. Cinema (short for Dark Cinema), Cinema, and User mode—but the projector will automatically switch to 3D mode when it sees a 1080p 3D input signal, and it will also switch to HDR10 or HLG modes when it sees appropriate HDR input. In addition, it supports ISF Day and Night modes with lockable settings for those who pay for professional calibration, though this is less likely for a projector at this price point. For those who are particularly bothered by noise, there's a Silence mode which we only first encountered in the HT5550. It turns off pixel shifting for quieter operation, but also drops resolution from the pixel-shifted 2160p to the DLP chip's native 1080p. It made some difference in noise level in our test, but not much.

As with most projectors, the brightest preset color mode has a noticeable green bias and is best avoided. The next brightest mode, Cinema, delivers good color accuracy out of the box. I measured it at 785 ANSI lumens, making it bright enough to light up a 90-inch 1.3 gain screen in moderate ambient light.

For 1080p content on the HT3550, BenQ touts a low color error straight from the factory for both Cinema and D. Cinema modes, thanks to calibration of each projector before shipping. The company recommends using D. Cinema mode for a dark room and Cinema mode in a room with ambient light, a recommendation I agree with.

My measurements using CalMan Ultimate software, an X-Rite i1Pro2 , and a Murideo Six-G signal generator showed D. Cinema was closest to D65 color temperature, and it didn't take much to adjust Gamma and RGB Gain settings to bring it to a near perfect result. The measurements showed a slight blue bias for Cinema mode and slight green bias for D. Cinema, both of which I could see in a side-by-side comparison with the calibrated Epson HC 5040UB I use for reference. However, neither was off by enough to notice without a measurement or having a reference image to compare to, which makes it a reasonable choice to use the projector without any adjustments.

BenQ-HT3550-Front-Right2

The CalMan results also showed that Cinema mode's Delta E errors (the measurement of how close each display color is to the target color) were a touch lower overall with default settings than the D. Cinema mode errors. Some minor tweaking of the Color Management settings solved that, bringing all of the Delta E errors for D. Cinema below 3, where they become essentially indistinguishable from an exact color match.

Note that D. Cinema has the Wide Color Gamut (WCG) mode locked on. The color volume was 89.7% of Rec.709 with default settings, and it jumped to 121.5% with Brilliant Color off. After calibration, color volume increased to 97.9% of Rec.709 with Brilliant Color on and 131.4% with it off. However, turning it off also dropped brightness by so much—about 30%—that I preferred leaving it on.

BenQ-HT3550-remote

After all the adjustments, including tweaking brightness and contrast, the grayscale and color accuracy were both excellent, especially for a projector at this low price. Leaving the lamp in Normal power mode, I measured D. Cinema mode at 467 lumens, giving me a touch over 19 foot-Lamberts with a 90-inch diagonal image on my 1.0-gain white screen.

The HT3550 automatically switched to its HDR10 mode in my tests whenever it saw HDR input. As shipped, the HDR10 mode comes with Brilliant Color turned on and Wide Color Gamut off. Toggling either one to the opposite setting will increase DCI-P3 coverage at the cost of lower brightness. With Brilliant Color on and WCG off, I measured the color volume at only 59.2% of DCI-P3. Turning on WCG brought it up to 76.4%. Turning Brilliant Color off at the same time brought it up to 105.6%.

After measuring brightness and color volume for each combination of Brilliant Color and Wide Color Gamut settings, I settled on leaving both on as a good starting point, which is also what BenQ recommends. I then adjusted RGB gain and offset to improve grayscale, and Color Management settings to improve color accuracy, with CalMan measurements confirming the improvement. However, they also showed a loss of color volume.

Since the HT3550 has two HDMI 2.0b ports, and changing settings for one doesn't affect the other, I was able to switch back and forth between the pre- and post-calibration settings to do an A-B comparison. Each had some advantages. In addition to a higher measured brightness, the default settings delivered brighter-looking dark scenes with more shadow detail and slightly more saturated color in scenes that were primarily midtones. In brighter scenes, however, the color was a little washed out compared with the post calibration settings. And although changing HDR brightness settings in both cases helped minimize these differences, it didn't erase them.

My very slight preference was for my calibrated version, which I used for my viewing tests. But the two are close enough that others might prefer the out-of-box settings, depending on which compromises they prefer to make. In both cases, with Wide Color Gamut and Brilliant Color both on, the HT3550 gave me 70.7 nits, or 20.6 ftL for the 90-inch image on my 1.0 gain screen. Turning Wide Color Gamut off boosted the brightness to 119.9 nits, or 34.9 ftL. Overall, BenQ gets high marks here for having a well-tuned out-of-box image.

1080p/SDR Viewing. With 1080p SDR Blu-ray discs, the HT3550 compared well with the calibrated Epson Home Cinema 5040UB I use as a reference projector, but even after calibration I saw some minor color differences, such as with slightly bluer and darker skys in the opening shot of La La Land. The HT3550 also showed the bright yellow dress of one of the film's dancers in this scene as a tad darker and with a slightly different hue, though again, this wasn't easily called out without direct comparison. On the plus side, the BenQ's particular gamma tuning brought out more shadow detail in her face.

In another instance, as the camera stops to show the backlit and fairly dark interior of a car, the HT3550 image showed excellent contrast, with good sense of depth and shadow detail that allowed me to clearly see the ribbing on the passenger seat upholstery. It was only in some of the more challenging night scenes later on in the movie that I could better spot the HT3550's contrast limitations. In one of those, where the lead characters Mia and Sebastian are walking along in the dark in the light of street lamps, the HT3550 couldn't be adjusted to pull out the shadow details in the woods alongside the street without also starting to wash out the image, while my reference projector, with its deeper native black level, was able to do so.

Still, though it came at the cost of some shadow detail, the calibrated image on the HT3550 delivered a good, satisfying black. And, as with the car seat, even just slightly brighter details than those in the woods were discernible. That combination of the HT3550's dark black and good contrast with slightly lighter tones gave this scene a good sense of three dimensionality.

In my go-to black-and-white test clip for checking rainbow artifacts, I saw more than I usually see with current-day projectors, and I also saw them more often than is typical in other scenes. If you're particularly sensitive to rainbow artifacts, or don't know if you are, be sure to buy the projector from a source that makes returns easy, so you can test it out for yourself.

LaLaLand-4
The many streetlamp-lit scenes and vibrant costumes of La La Land helped show off the BenQ's prowess with dark tones and bright, punchy colors. (Photo: Lionsgate)

UHD/HDR viewing. Swapping out the 1080p La La Land disc for the UHD HDR version made an immediate strong case for the HT3550's 4K HDR capabilities. The improvement at 4K HDR is impossible to miss, thanks to obviously crisper images, as you would expect; more vivid color; and better handling of dark tones. In the scene of the dark interior of the backlit car, for example, the tone-mapping is such that the ribbing on the passenger side clearly stands out even with the HDR Brightness control setting that produces the darkest overall brightness.

The HDR Brightness control offers five settings, from +2 (the brightest overall picture) to -2 (the darkest). Because the HDR Brightness, Brilliant Color, and Wide Color Gamut interact with each other, you'll need to experiment with various combinations to decide which one gives you the mix of overall brightness, contrast, and color saturation that works best for your setup and taste.

With Brilliant Color and Wide Color Gamut both on (because that gave me an appropriate peak white at the default HDR Brightness setting of 0) the higher HDR Brightness levels tended to wash out colors, reaching an unacceptable level at the +2 setting. The lower settings, at -1 and -2, tended to merge shadow detail into areas of solid black in the darker scenes. In the scene in La La Land where Mia and Sebastian come out of the Lighthouse Cafe at night and walk in different directions, for example, even some parts of their faces merged with the dark background at the -1 setting, and a dark red door looked black. Going to higher levels, more details as well as the door color became more obvious at each step from 0 to +2. For my taste, the best compromise overall was a toss up between the default 0 setting for better contrast, and +1 for a brighter image. On this and most HDR content, the HT3550 provided enough range to find a happy medium.

Note that the HT3550 is limited to a maximum 8-bit color depth at 3840 x 2160 60Hz, but accepted signals with as much as 16-bit color depth from the Murideo Six-G generator at 24Hz and 30 Hz. I didn't see banding artifacts in any of the discs I tested with, but there were some subtle hints of banding in the darker area of the downloadable ProjectorCentral 10-bit HDR Grayscale test animation, which verifies 10-bit processing from input to image.

The HT3550's Frame Interpolation feature, which has three settings in addition to Off, adds less obvious smoothing and less obvious digital video effect at each level than the equivalent settings in most projectors, but it seemed a little more obvious at each step than the Frame Interpolation function on the BenQ HT5550. At the low setting it smoothed motion only a little, while adding little to no digital video effect. At the highest settings it smoothed motion significantly, and added an obvious digital video effect.

With its original 1.0 firmware, the HT3550's dynamic iris showed obvious pumping (a flickering or near flickering effect) when content switched between dark and light scenes. The unit I tested included a firmware upgrade to address that problem. At no point did I see any flickering, including in scenes where I saw this on the HT5550, which shared the same problem when I reviewed it. The HT5550 will be getting a firmware upgrade of its own, according to BenQ.

That said, you might want to avoid the High and Middle settings for the dynamic iris. When I was watching a scene between two protagonists in conversation, one backlit by a bright window and the other in front of a darker wall, the dynamic iris kicked in within one second to change brightness with every switch back and forth between the two. Even without pumping issues, this can quickly get annoying if the point of view changes repeatedly every few seconds. At the Low setting—which BenQ says refers to the dynamic iris speed—the dynamic iris often didn't activate at all with repeated fast cuts back and forth.

3D Viewing. Add the HT3550 to the growing list of 4K projectors that supports 3D at 1080p using DLP-Link glasses. The image isn't as bright as it is with any 2D mode, as is typical for 3D modes, but I found it bright enough for comfortable viewing in the dark with a 90-inch image on my 1.0 gain screen, and watchable, if a little dim, even in moderate ambient light with an 80-inch inch 1.0 gain screen. I didn't see any crosstalk in my tests, and saw only the level of 3D-related motion artifacts that's typical for current-generation projectors.

BenQ-HT3550-Front

Conclusion

As a 4K UHD projector with HDR10 and HLG support, the BenQ HT3550 offers a lot for $1,499. Most people will consider its Cinema, D. Cinema, and HDR10 modes easily good enough to use right out of the box, and those who want to tweak the picture quality will find all the menu settings they need.

The test unit also delivered on brightness, despite being at the low end of what BenQ says it requires for release from the factory, and a bit lower than what it measured before shipping. The D. Cinema mode's 467-lumen brightness measurement after calibration is enough to light up a 110-inch, 1.3-gain screen in a dark room, while the Cinema mode's 785 lumens with default settings can fill a 90-inch 1.3-gain screen in moderate ambient light.

Contrast, shadow detail, and sense of three dimensionality for the HT3550 at 1080p also compared surprisingly well to my much more expensive Epson 5040UB reference projector. Although the Epson showed more shadow detail at the darkest levels, the tone mapping in the HT3550 gave it a bit of an advantage at what you might think of as middle-dark levels. That's pretty good for a projector that costs half as much as the current iteration of the Epson model.

The 1.3x zoom and modest vertical lens shift on the HT3550 are welcome conveniences that help make installation a little easier, as are details like the housing designed to block light from spilling over on a table or ceiling, and the much smaller dark frame around the image than was standard in projectors with earlier generation .47-inch DLP chips.

This all adds up to the BenQ HT3550 being an exceptional value at its $1,499 price, and a deserving recipient of our Highly Recommended designation.

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Comments (16) Post a Comment
David Gurney Posted Jun 27, 2019 2:32 AM PST
Can we please stop calling pixel-shifting HD-to-4K projectors "4K?"

Come on, guys. This site should do better and its readers should expect better.
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Jun 27, 2019 2:42 AM PST
David, I understand the distinction between this and a true "native" 4K projector that delivers all the pixels of a UHD or 4K signal to the screen simultaneously, but it's a mischaracterization to not call it a 4K projector when it's delivering all the pixels in the signal in the timeframe required, and when it does so with excellent results that (short of a huge leap in the quality of optics) performs about as well as a native 4K projector. We are very careful not to refer to these projectors as "native 4K" and reserve that for projectors whose imagers have full UHD or 4K resolution. That said, discussion of the Epsons as 4K is a bit misleading--what they call 4K or 4K enhanced is really 1080p pixel shifted just twice rather than the 4 times required in the 0.47-inch DLP chips or twice in the 0.66-inch DLP chips. But we use Epson's (clearly marketing driven) product designation and explain clearly in the reviews what's going on inside the projector.
Chris Posted Jun 27, 2019 11:47 AM PST
I tried the calculator to see if this would work in my room, but it said to reduce picture size as it'll be too dim at any throw distance. My Epson 8345, rated at 1800 ANSI lumens shows fine. What's the difference? The calculator works nice & cleanly I must say. One thing that's missing is the screen gain though. I have an Elunevision Elara with 2.4 gain, so it would be good to see the difference different gains make.
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Jun 27, 2019 11:50 AM PST
Chris, I'll refer you here to my response to David below regarding how we arrive at estimates for the calculator and why the reading may be coming up low. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have the juice to light up your screen, only that the mode we're using for the estimate might not have the reserves needed.

And our calculator does have a field to punch in your screen gain...

Joe N Tell Posted Jun 27, 2019 12:23 PM PST
I just wanted to say that this is an excellent and thorough review. Thank you for everything you do.
Brandon M. Posted Jun 27, 2019 1:21 PM PST
Thanks for the review! I most appreciate that you include 3D in your reviews, as that is one of my most important consideration along with many others. I am happy enough with my 1500-hour HT3050 for now, but am looking forward to some of the upcoming bright laser projectors with both 4K and 3D. The HT3550 is just going to be too dim for me. Take care!
David Posted Jun 27, 2019 4:47 PM PST
Just checked your calculator..this projected has limited brightness(12) for. a 120” screen at 1.1 gain? am I reading this right?
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Jun 28, 2019 1:54 PM PST
Well, yes David, you read it right, but this estimate needs to be taken with just a bit of salt and some understanding of context.

For most home theater projectors, our new calculator offers two choices to arrive at a brightness estimate for a given screen size and gain. There is a button to select the ProjectorCentral estimate for calibrated dark-room settings, or to use the manufacturer's full rated brightness specification (in Lumens) as the basis. The ProjectorCentral estimate, if available, is based on one of two things. If we haven't reviewed this particular projector, we apply a reduction in light output based on our experience with the brand to make a rough call on what it will put out in the preferred dark-room color mode with the most accurate color. As you probably know from looking at our reviews, the calibrated image for dark room viewing rarely comes close to the full output of the projector in its brightest mode...which is most often unusable due to excessive green bias meant to pump up the lumen spec.

If we have reviewed the projector, we report the calibrated peak white light output from the review to Bobette, our database maven, and that becomes the basis for the ProjectorCentral brightness estimate in the calculator. For example, here's a pertinent excerpt from David's review of the HT3550:

"After all the adjustments, including tweaking brightness and contrast, the grayscale and color accuracy were both excellent, especially for a projector at this low price. Leaving the lamp in Normal power mode, I measured D. Cinema mode at 467 lumens, giving me a touch over 19 foot-Lamberts with a 90-inch diagonal image on my 1.0-gain white screen."

If you go to the calculator, plug in 90 inches for the screen size and 1.0 for the gain, you'll get a result of 19 ft-L at mid-zoom, and a range of 18 to 20 ft-L across the full available range of the zoom. If you bump the image size up to 120-inch diagonal and the gain up to 1.1, then you end up with a range from 11 to 12 ft-L within the available zoom range.

So what does that mean? It means that this projector, which let's face it, isn't exactly a powerhouse, may not deliver enough punch to a larger 120-inch screen WHEN USED AT OUR SETTINGS FOR A 90-INCH SCREEN. Does that mean you can't get it to light up a larger screen? No, but it will be dimmer and you may not love the result if you use the D.Cinema mode we used for the review. The Cinema mode, which was an excellent alternative, was considerably brighter according to our measurements and would likely deliver the desired punch.

Keep in mind, too, that David's sample of the HT3550 showed considerably less output than the 2,000 lumen spec for this projector in its brightest mode. It's possible that a different sample might have more brightness to spare in the D.Cinema mode. That doesn't mean our calibrated brightness would have been any different -- 19 ft-L is a nice punchy image for SDR and David would not likely have tuned to the projector any brighter. However, a different sample hitting something closer to the factory spec in the brightest mode would have delivered more lumens in every color mode, which means that it might be possible to use the contrast (peak white) control to get a more favorable result in the Dark Cinema mode on the larger 120-inch screen without needing to switch to the Cinema mode for its extra reserves.

Of course, you can always just use the calculator option for the manufacturer's spec, but assume that you'll be in a different, more color-accurate mode that will considerably reduce the light output from the full spec to something that might be 1/2 or less, maybe much less. This varies by manufacturer and model, but ultimately you can see that we ended up on our 90-inch, 1.0 screen using about 1/4 (give or take) of the full manufacturer's rated output.

Gerardo Delgadillo Posted Jun 28, 2019 2:40 PM PST
I'm planning to replace my three-year-old, 4000-hour HT2550 with the HT3550. The HT2550 in eco-mode projects to a 170" screen in my dark room. And I love it. My concern with the HT3550 is the 200-lumen drop. Should I be extremely worried about this or not? I also watch the occasional 3D movie.
Gerardo Delgadillo Posted Jun 28, 2019 2:42 PM PST
Correction: I meant to say HT2050! (Not HT2550)
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Jun 28, 2019 2:55 PM PST
Gerardo, that's a pretty big screen for this projector, especially if it performs like our sample, which actually came up a bit short on measured lumen output compared with the manufacturer's spec. But even if we assume an extra 20% output to account for that, you'd end up with approximately 950 lumens or so in the Cinema mode based on our measurements, which is the brightest of the two preferred color-accurate modes on the projector. That's a bit less than half of the projector's full specified output and I think would net you about 11-12 ft-L on your 170-inch screen at the widest (closest) zoom setting. It'll be a lot dimmer in 3D, obviously. You could get more light from it in bright mode, but with a noticeable green bias.

Not sure what you're getting now from your 2050, or what settings or screen gain you're using, but your concern about having enough firepower here to take full advantage of UHD HDR content for such a large screen is legit. You do sacrifice some brightness in these 4K projectors to get better color fidelity and gamut.
SimonBG Posted Jun 30, 2019 6:09 AM PST
Another disappointment from BenQ (I own one). Marketing it at 2000 lumens when it can barely hit 800 usable should be punishable. In this case, the punishing system is my wallet (I was hoping to upgrade to this one). Shame.
mike Posted Jul 2, 2019 12:06 PM PST
I have a BENQ 3550, i purchased a 175" screen, will the projector still handle this large screen size ?
kzh Posted Jul 3, 2019 2:16 PM PST
Thank you for the review, but I do have a question: I know it's possible to measure black level- shouldn't be that hard, even so, only hometheaterhifi include black level measurements in their reviews. Why does't Projctorcentral include black level measurements? Even if it were inaccurate, as long as your methodology is consistent, it would still be very helpful when comparing projectors you review.
Rob Sabin, Editor Posted Jul 3, 2019 3:10 PM PST
KZH,I agree that black level and contrast are critically important performance parameters for home theater projectors and we continue to struggle with both arriving at the best methodology to use for measurement and how we can consistently measure across all of our reviewers who work in different environments and on different screens, etc. It's better delved into in a longer missive at some point, but suffice to say that I continue to have this top of mind and hope we can start sharing a more formal indicator on this. In the meantime, I believe the best service is done for readers when we compare the black levels of a new projector against known reference projectors that we've previously reviewed.
Kevin Posted Jul 10, 2019 9:38 AM PST
If input lag with gaming is a concern, what should an alternative to this unit be? I like that it does well with a shorter distance, I may have to use the short length of my new house, but I can't sacrifice gaming performance because input lag on FPS shooters is monstrously aggravating.

I don't know if dropping to a 1080p projector is the right choice, or if 2000 and under is not a high enough price point.

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