At $1,499, the BenQ HT3550 is the top of the line for BenQ's low-cost 4K UHD projectors, a step up from last year's HT2550, and one step down from the $2,499 HT5550, BenQ's single mid-tier model that I recently reviewed. Compared to the HT5550, the HT3550 has a smaller zoom range, much smaller vertical lens shift, and no horizontal lens shift, all of which help keep the cost down. It also offers a somewhat lower claimed DCI-P3 coverage, at 95% instead of 100%, and lower dynamic contrast ratio, at 30,000:1 instead of 100,000:1. However, it includes essentially the same video processing and color management capability, and it delivers an impressively gorgeous picture. So while it's well below the HT5550 in features as well as price, it easily matches it in bang per buck.
Key features for the HT3550 include its .47-inch DLP chip for full 3840 x 2160 resolution with assistance by four-phase pixel shifting; a six-segment RGBRGB color wheel; 30,000:1 contrast ratio with the Dynamic Iris on; and a Wide Color Gamut (WCG) setting. The DCI-P3 coverage is rated at 95%, and I measured it a little higher than that in my tests, but not with settings that BenQ (or I) would recommend for the best viewing experience. More on that later.
According to BenQ, the HT3550—along with the HT5550—is among the first projectors to use a new generation .47-inch DLP XPR chip that minimizes the dark frame around the image. This dark band has been inherent in all models using Texas Instrument's first-generation .47-inch UHD chip. It's usually not visible on screens with a wide black light-absorbing bezel, but might be noticed in the area surrounding the image on a screen with a narrow bezel. With the new chip, the dark frame measures a little less than 1-inch wide on each side for a 44-inch high image, or a bit under 2% of the image height, which is more easily hidden.
The 1.3x zoom offers some flexibility for how far to place the projector from the screen. For a 100-inch diagonal image, for example, the throw distance ranges from roughly 8.25 to 10.75 feet. (Check the ProjectorCentral BenQ HT3550 projection calculator for the throw distance range for your screen size.)
The HT3550 is designed to work best on a low table just below the screen or in a ceiling mount above it. The mask in front of the lens with a "4K HDR" logo, in addition to being a style point, blocks stray light from spilling onto a ceiling or table top but in no way blocks the image—BenQ's simple solution to a problem that that cropped up in the HT2550.
The small vertical lens shift is enough to let you correct for a minor vertical misplacement and match the image position to the screen without having to tilt the projector and resort to keystone correction. With the projector sitting on a table, the shift range allows the bottom of the image to be anywhere from the centerline of the lens to 10% of the image height above the centerline.
Also worth mention is that the HT3550 includes a pair of highly usable onboard stereo speakers, so if you want to take the projector to the backyard for a movie night—it weighs only 9.2 pounds—you don't have to lug a separate sound system as well. For home theater use, where you'll want external high-quality audio, the rear panel offers both analog and optical audio output jacks.
Here's a more complete list of the BenQ HT3550's key features:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
• (2) HDMI 2.0b (both with HDCP 2.2)
• (1) USB Type A 3.0 (media reader and firmware upgrades)
• (1) USB Type A (power only)
• (1) USB Type Mini B (service only)
• (1) DC 12v trigger (3.5mm mini jack)
• (2) IR Receiver (Front/Top)
• (2) Audio out (3.5mm stereo mini Jack, S/PDIF optical)
• (1) RS-232 (D-sub 9 pin, male; for control)
Brightness. The HT3550's brightest mode came in at 1,575 ANSI lumens, which is not quite 80% of the 2,000-lumen rating. BenQ says that's about 150 lumens lower brightness than it measured before shipping, which suggests it may have been subjected to some rough handling. (It doesn't take much misalignment from a physical shock to lower the brightness a few percent.) However, the more important measurements are for Vivid TV, Cinema, and D. Cinema modes—the three modes you're most likely to use. With the 1.3x zoom lens set to its widest angle setting, the measured ANSI lumens for Normal (full power) and Economic modes in each color mode was as follows:
|Cinema (REC. 709)||785||599|
Straight out of the box, Bright mode had a noticeable green shift, as with the brightest mode for most projectors. All the other modes were close enough to neutral that most people will find them quite usable as is. That makes Cinema the brightest mode without an obvious color shift. At 785 lumens, it's bright enough to light up a 90-inch 1.3 gain screen in moderate ambient light.
Zoom Lens Light Loss: 8%
Brightness Uniformity (Wide Zoom): 63%
Brightness Uniformity (Full Telephoto Zoom): 67%
Lowest Measured Input Lag (4K): 47-51 ms, all modes, frame interpolation off
Lowest Measured Input Lag (1080p): 60-61 ms, all modes, frame interpolation off
Fan Noise. BenQ rates Normal mode at 30 dB and Economic 28 dB. Both are loud enough to hear the whoosh of air from anywhere in a small room during quiet moments. It's the kind of steady sound that I don't find annoying, but those who are particularly bothered by noise may feel otherwise. Silence mode didn't lower volume by enough to make much difference with either setting. High Altitude mode, which BenQ recommends at 4,921 feet and above, is loud enough that most people will want to consider some form of acoustic isolation.
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