Aside from supporting 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) HDR content and using pixel shifting with native 1080p chips to get higher resolution on screen, the $1,499 BenQ HT3550 and the Epson Home Cinema 4010—$1,999 list but available at this writing (Aug 2019) for $1,799—have little in common. Most notably, the HT3550 uses a DLP chip, and its four-phase pixel shifting produces a full 3840 x 2160 pixels, while the 4010 is built around 3LCD technology and puts only half as many pixels on screen.
What the 4010 has up its sleeve—along with the essentially identical Epson Pro Cinema 4050 for the commercial integrator market—is that the number of pixels in an image is far from the only factor that determines how much detail you can see or how good the picture looks overall. Lens quality, contrast, and limits on how well the human eye can resolve detail count also. You can read separately our standalone BenQ HT3550 review and Epson HC 4010 review. Here's a look at the key differences between them, starting with specs and features, and followed by observations from a direct comparison of image quality.
Imaging Technology. The most basic difference between the two is that the 4010 is built around 3LCD technology while the HT3550 is built around a single DLP chip—a difference that gives each one a small advantage over the other.
The 4010's three-chip design guarantees that it can't produce rainbow artifacts. The HT3550 can. If you're particularly sensitive to these artifacts, or don't know if you are, be sure to buy the HT3550 from a source that makes returns easy, so you can test it out for yourself.
The advantage for the HT3550 is that creating color using a single chip guarantees it can't misalign primary colors, which is possible for the 3-chip 4010. The 4010 menus address the issue with settings for chip alignment, but that means extra potential setup that you don't have to worry about with the HT3550.
Pixel Shifting. Both projectors are built around native 1080p chips, and both use pixel shifting to boost the effective resolution on screen. But while the HT3550 delivers four sets of pixels for each frame, the 4010 delivers only two sets for each for only half as many pixels.
The difference turns out not to matter much. Not only does the human eye have limits on how much detail it can resolve at a typical seating distance from the screen, but the 4010's high quality lens and Epson's 4K PRO-UHD—a collection of features designed to enhance detail—easily make up for any difference. The actual ability to resolve detail in the image—as opposed to resolution in pixel count—is equal to or better than the detail you'll see with most 4K projectors, including the HT3550 in particular.
Lenses. The HT3550's 10-element, 8-group, all glass lens does its job well enough, but BenQ doesn't claim anything special for it. Epson touts the 15-element, all glass lens in the 4010 as a high quality lens with virtually no hot spots or chromatic aberrations. The difference shows in part in its brightness uniformity measurements, at roughly 81%, compared with 63% to 67% for the HT3550, depending on the zoom setting.
Brightness. The 4010 offers the higher brightness rating of the two: 2,400 lumens compared to the HT3550's 2,000 lumens. It also delivered the larger brightness range in our tests: 588 to 2,621 ANSI lumens, depending on the color preset and power mode, compared with 422 to 1,575 ANSI lumens for the BenQ HT3550. The larger range makes it appropriate for a wider range of screen sizes and ambient light levels.
Keep in mind too that the 4010's 3LCD technology translates to its delivering the same color brightness and white brightness with all color presets. The HT3550's color brightness was 90% or more of its white brightness in Vivid TV and Cinema modes, but other modes were only 70% to 76% as bright, which means color images won't be as bright in those modes as you would expect for an LCD projector with the same brightness.
Contrast Ratio. The 4010 offers the higher rated contrast ratio, at 200,000:1 compared with 30,000:1 for the HT3550 (using the auto-iris in both cases). Keep in mind, though, that there is no industry standard for reporting contrast ratio and these numbers can rarely be counted on for much more than comparing models within the same brand.
Color Gamut. The 4010 is rated at 100% of the DCI-P3 color gamut in the Digital Cinema color mode. The HT3550 is rated at 95% DCI-P3 in the predefined version of the User mode.
Throw Range. The 4010's 2.1x zoom gives it a far larger throw range than the HT3550, with its 1.3x zoom. Potentially more important is that the HT3550 was designed primarily for shorter-throw installations than the 4010 was designed for, and the two ranges don't have much of an overlap. For a 100-inch diagonal image, for example, the throw distance range for the HT3550 is roughly 8.25 to 10.75 feet compared with about 9.8 to 20.75 feet for the 4010. Depending on the screen size you want to use and whether there are any physical limitations on how far you can place the projector from the screen, you may find either one inappropriate for the room. To find the ranges for the screen size you plan to use, check ProjectorCentral's BenQ HT3550 Projection Calculator and Epson Home Cinema 4010 Projection Calculator.
Lens Control: Shift, Offset, and Memory. Assuming neither projectors' throw distance range rules it out for your needs, the 4010 wins hands down for setup flexibility. Its large vertical lens shift (+/-96%) makes it equally suitable for a ceiling mount, a bookshelf in the back of the room, or a table below the bottom of the screen, while the +/-47% horizontal shift will let you place it significantly left or right of the screen's vertical centerline. The HT3550's vertical shift (+10%) is designed for a low table just below the screen or a ceiling mount above it. There is no horizontal shift.
In addition to its much larger zoom and shift ranges, the 4010 also offers powered control for zoom and shift compared with manual control for the HT3550. It also offers 10 memory positions, making it easy to use the 4010 for a constant image height (CIH) setup to switch between 16:9 and 2.4:1 aspect ratios without needing an anamorphic lens.
Maximum input resolution. The maximum input resolution for the 4010 is 4096 x 2160, which covers the full DCI 4K specification. For the HT3550, the maximum is 3840 x 2160, or the UHD specification. This difference is not likely to come into play for most consumers watching today's UHD content.
High Dynamic Range. Both projectors support HDR10. The HT3550 also supports HLG, the emerging standard for broadcast TV and streaming sources.
HDMI bandwidth. The HT3550 includes two HDMI 2.0b ports with a full 18 Gbps bandwidth and support for HDCP 2.2 copyright management, which is required for most 4K content. The 4010 is a little limited on this score. Its two HDMI 1.4 ports deliver only 10.2 Gbps bandwidth, and only one supports HDCP 2.2. The lower bandwidth limits the 4010's playback to a maximum of 4K/24 Hz signals with 10-bit, 4:2:2 color processing for HDR, or 4K/60 Hz with up to 12-bit, 4:4:4 color processing for SDR. Notably, the 4010 does not support 4K/60 Hz with HDR, which is important for some gamers.
Input Lag. The measured input lag at 1080p was roughly 60 ms for the HT3550, which most people would consider a little slow. The 4010 was about 29 ms, which is still too slow for serious gamers, but easily good enough for most casual gaming. For 2160p input, the HT3550 lag is a little better, at about 50 ms. We didn't get a measurement for the 4010 at 4K, because it did not work with the Bodnar 4K lag tester, which requires full-bandwidth 18 Gbps HDMI ports.
Lamp. The HT3550's lamp has both a higher rated life and lower replacement cost than the 4010's lamp. It's rated at 4,000 hours in Normal, 10,000 hours in Economic, and 15,000 hours in SmartEco modes, compared with 3,500 hours in High power, 4,000 hours in Mid, and 5,000 hrs in ECO for the Epson. The replacement cost for HT3550's lamp is $129 compared with $300 for the 4010's lamp.
Audio. One clear, if small, plus for the HT3550 is that it includes onboard audio, which the 4010 lacks. For a home theater you'll want an external sound system in either case. But if you want a projector you can use for a backyard movie night, not only is the 9.2-pound HT3550 significantly smaller and lighter than the 24.7-pound 4010, but the built-in set of stereo 5-watt speakers means you won't have to lug a separate sound system to the backyard to go with it.
The HT3550 may also be easier to set up with an external sound system in a home theater, thanks to its 3.5 mm and S/PDIF optical audio outputs. The 4010 doesn't have any audio outputs.
Warranty. The HT3550's price includes a longer warranty period, at 3 years rather than the 4010's 2 years.
1080p/SDR Viewing. For 1080p SDR content, I calibrated both projectors and compared the two projectors side-by-side using a splitter, viewing the same movies we looked at for the individual reviews. The difference between the two is easy to sum up in two sentences: The HT3550's SDR image looked good. The 4010's SDR image looked better. On almost every criterion of image quality, the 4010 earned the higher score. The most immediately obvious difference was that the 4010 delivered far better contrast and sense of three-dimensionality in both bright and dark scenes. The HT3550 reached a darker black level, but it showed only in totally black backgrounds, like the starfield in some SciFi movies, space documentaries, and the Universal Pictures logo at the start of Oblivion. Even then, the 4010 had the greater visual impact, with higher contrast thanks to the bright whites of the pinpoint stars.
Along with obviously better contrast, the 4010 held shadow detail better. In bright scenes like the opening dance in La La Land, the faces of dancers backlit by a bright background showed more detail as did shots that included car interiors. And in night scenes, including one of a road lit by street lamps, it showed more shadow detail in the dark woods alongside the road.
Color accuracy was also better with the 4010, thanks to colors being both brighter than they were with the HT3550 and closer to what I know they should look like. With the HT3550, it was hard to see the difference between a dark blue t-shirt on one dancer and dark green one on another in the opening scene of La La Land for example. With the 4010, the difference was obvious thanks to the brighter colors.
Adding still more to the 4010's advantage is that it did a better job resolving detail, thanks in large part to Epson's Image Enhancement feature, which works in conjunction with its 1080p pixel-shifting. When appropriately adjusted, it can increase sharpness and apparent resolution in most movies without adding obvious artifacts. (See the 4010 standalone review for more on Image Enhancement.)
Unlike the HT3550, which always has pixel shifting on with 1080p input except in Silence picture mode, the 4010 lets you turn it off. With the Blu-ray player forced to 1080p resolution, the 4010 image showed slightly soft focus with pixel shifting and Image Enhancement turned off, which gave the HT3550 a small but noticeable advantage.
Turning just pixel shifting on erased the difference, so the two projectors were closely matched for sharpness. Setting the Image Enhancement to Preset 1 in addition gave the 4010 a slight edge, and setting it to Preset 5 gave it a far more significant edge, to the point where it was easy to see Tom Cruise's stubble and the detail in his iris in close ups in Oblivion. The HT3550 image was noticeably softer. Keep in mind, though, that setting the 4010's Image Enhancement to Preset 5—its highest setting—can add potentially objectionable artifacts to some content.
In the more likely scenario of letting your Blu-ray player establish a 3840 x 2160 connection, which forces the 4010 to lock pixel shifting on, the 4010 had a small edge in resolving detail even with the Image Enhancement mode off. The advantage with Image Enhancement at Preset 5 was essentially the same as with a 1080p connection.
4K UHD/HDR viewing. With 4K HDR content, my splitter couldn't establish an HDR connection with both projectors at the same time, forcing me to use A-B comparisons. That makes subtle differences harder to spot than with a side-by-side comparison, but there were still clear differences between the two.
As mentioned in the standalone HT3550 review, the HT3550 delivers more vivid—which is to say obviously brighter—color with HDR than SDR content. For example, the dark green and dark blue t-shirts that look almost the same with the La La Land 1080p disc were easy to distinguish as blue and green with the UHD/HDR disc. More important, the improvement is enough that I didn't see any obvious color differences between the two projectors. Both delivered nicely saturated, bright color that matched what I know it should look like in scenes I'm familiar with.
In dark scenes, the HT3550's darker black gave it an advantage with HDR that it didn't have with SDR. It showed more detail in the woods surrounding the street-lamp lit road in La La Land than the 4010 showed, for example, and it give the HDR version of the starfield in the Universal logo in Oblivion more visual impact and higher contrast than the 4010 offered. It also helped give the HT3550 a better sense of three dimensionality than the 4010 with dark scenes.
On the other hand, the 4010 did a better job with highlights. It showed more detail in shots of the sun not quite visible through the complex layers of clouds in the opening scene in Oblivion, for example. In scenes dominated by mid to bright levels, the contrast and sense of three dimensionality was similar enough with both projectors that with A-B comparisons it was hard to tell which one did the better job. A careful look showed that the 4010 was just a bit better on both scores.
The comparison of sharpness and resolution of detail was the same with 4K HDR content as with 1080p SDR content upscaled to 4K by the Blu-ray player. The 4010 did a tad better job with its Image Enhancement mode off, and a noticeably better job with it on, particularly at higher Preset levels.
With its large zoom range and lens shifts; powered zoom, shift, and focus; and memory storage to make CIH setups easy, the Epson Home Cinema 4010 delivers lots more features than the BenQ HT3550 for not much more money. That makes it at least arguably the better value. But it doesn't make it the right choice in all cases, and not just because you might not want to spend more.
If the combination of room size and screen size you want to use limits the potential throw distance range to anything shorter or longer than the small overlap between the 3550 and 4010 throw ranges, your choice is limited to whichever one matches your room requirements. Similarly, if you want a projector you can use for a backyard movie night, the 3550 is the far better choice. It's a lot smaller and lighter than the 4010 and also includes built-in audio.
Assuming neither of these issues controls your choice, the Epson 4010 offers far greater placement flexibility, letting you position the projector in a ceiling mount, low table, or bookshelf in the back of the room, as well as left or right of center screen. The HT3550 is best limited to a ceiling mount or a low table, and placement on the centerline. The 4010's higher brightness and wider range of brightness with various settings also make it appropriate for a larger range of screen sizes and ambient light levels.
The comparison for image quality isn't as definitive. The 4010 delivered the better viewing experience for 1080p SDR content, with more accurate color, better contrast, and more detail. But with 4K HDR content, the two are much more evenly matched. Each has some advantages over the other, and which one you'll like better will depend on which compromises you'd rather make. Keep in mind, too, that the HT3550 includes support that the 4010 lacks for the HLG high dynamic range standard for streaming sources and future broadcast TV.
All this gives the 4010 an overall advantage, particularly if you need its placement flexibility, want a CIH setup, or expect to primarily watch SDR content over the time you expect to own it. But if you don't need those extra features, are more concerned with HDR content than SDR content, want the HLG support for streaming and broadcast sources, and don't want to spend the extra money, the HT3550 is still a terrific choice for the price.
• (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. Both projectors offer full power (Normal or High) and Economic (or ECO) modes. In addition, the 4010 offers a Medium power mode between the two. The measured ANSI lumens for each projector, using the full wide angle setting for the lens in both cases, was as follows for each combination of color mode and power level:
|Cinema (REC. 709)||785||599|
Other key measurements for each projector were as follows:
|Zoom Lens Light Loss||8%||26%|
|Brightness Uniformity (Wide Zoom)||63%||81%|
|Brightness Uniformity (Full Telephoto)||67%||81%|
|Lowered Measured Input Lag (4K)||47-51 ms||Not Available|
|Lowered Measured Input Lag (1080p)||60-61 ms||28.4 ms|
Note that the 4010 did not work with the Bodnar 4K lag tester's signal in our tests due to the limited bandwidth of the projector's HDMI inputs. Also note that the considerably higher zoom lens light loss registered by the Epson is commensurate with its much longer zoom capability.
Fan Noise. BenQ rates the HT3550's Normal mode at 30 dB and Economic at 28 dB. Epson's rating for the HC 4010 is 31 dB in High Power mode and 20 dB in ECO. As the ratings suggest, both of the HT3550's modes as well as the HC 4010's High mode were loud enough to hear from anywhere in a small room in quiet moments. The HC 4010's Mid and Eco modes were barely audible in a quiet room.
BenQ and Epson both recommend using High Altitude mode at roughly 5,000 feet and above (4,921 feet for BenQ). If you need to use the High Altitude mode with either of the HT3550's power settings or with the HC 4010's High setting, you might want to consider some form of acoustic isolation. Alternatively for the HC 4010, the 2.1x zoom lens may let you mount the projector farther away from viewers if the room is large enough.