BenQ HT5550 4K UHD Home Theater Projector – A First Look Review

Scott managed to get his hands on –the new BenQ HT5550, even before I could.  That’s a bit unusual, that one of my reviewers gets a crack at a home theater projector before I do.  -art

angle shot of HT5550
Along with impressive performance, the HT5550 looks good with the lights on!

We will be publishing our full HT5550 review in the upcoming two weeks or so.  In the meantime, I asked for Scott’s feedback since he’s been playing for his for a bit.  I’ll let Scott tell you his impressions with me throwing in my two cents, to add a second perspective – not from reviewing the HT5550, but from having seen it previously.  Take it away, Scott:

A little background: I recently reviewed the BenQ HT3550 and I gave that model very high marks on its ability to create a bright and vibrant HDR image. While I enjoyed 4K HDR on last year’s TK800 (among other models) because of it’s brute force handling of HDR with high brightness, the HT3550’s handling of HDR actually made me turn into a 4K HDR snob. I called it the “among the best projectors I’ve seen at handling 4K HDR material”. This was due in large part to it’s auto-tone-mapping, or in other words, “making HDR look good on any scene”. As a result, I’ve spent hundreds since then on updating my libraries to 4K HDR. After taking delivery of all that 4K content, then spending a fair amount of time with the HT5550, I’m sad to report that the future is bleak on my wallet as it relates to the money I spend on movies… simply because HDR is even better on the BenQ HT5550.

Compared to its little brother, the HT3550, the HT5550 offers a larger and more refined black chassis (handsome), an upgraded 11-element 6-group lens (focus uniformity!), and an upgraded RGBRGB color wheel that sports their ‘Precision Pure-Color Coating’.

The main benefit of this color coating is its ability to help the projector reach up to a claimed 95% coverage of the very good DCI-P3 color space WITHOUT the need for a filter! Sure, folks will enjoy the 100% P3 color coverage the ‘Wide Color Gamut’ filter provides, but that extra 5% of color performance comes at the cost of 40% of the light output. The true feat of this projector is its PHENOMENAL factory calibrated color right out of the box, no filter required. 

Skin tones and bright colors
The HT5550 definitely has a bright look to its images.

The BenQ HT5550’s placement flexibility is very good. It has a generous 1.36 ~ 2.18 throw ratio, which works out to a 1.6x zoom, and a near-best-in-DLP-class 60% +/- vertical and +/- 23% horizontal lens shift. There won’t be many setups the HT5550 won’t be able to accommodate.  

Art’s note:  There are some limitations in terms of placement, despite offering far more flexibility than any other 4K capable DLP projector near the price.  Consider:  The 1.6:1 manual zoom lens provides a lot of placement range, but, it is very unlikely that you will be able to place the BenQ far enough back to sit high on a rear shelf, a feat many 3LCD and LCoS projectors have no trouble doing because o 2.0:1 or greater zoom lenses.  A couple of those do cost less than the HT5550, but most cost from a little to a lot more expensive.  

The other limitation is that the lens and shift are manual, not zoom.  That means no Lens Memory.  This is a projector likely to be ceiling mounted, and that means no option to own/use a  Cinemascope “widescreen” (like I have in my theater). To switch back and forth from Cinemascope to HDTV’s 16:9, you would have to get up, manually adjust the zoom, manually adjust the vertical lens shift (and maybe refocus).  Now that might work if you are 6 foot 6 inches and have this projector mounted to an 8-foot ceiling, but, at 5 foot 8 inches tall, I need a step ladder to reach the controls of my ceiling mounted projectors (8-foot ceiling).  Definitely not practical to go widescreen. 

The HT5550 sports TI’s newer .47″ 4K DLP chip. This eliminates the dreaded gray border of last year’s .47″ DLP crop. This chip has a native 1920×1080 micromirror array that uses a 1080×4 ‘wobulation’ to put a 4K image with 8.3 million uniquely represented pixels on the screen. The result is impressive and among the sharpest, I’ve seen from these 1080p ‘shifters’. It also carries on the HT3550 tradition of natively handling 24hz content. No 3:2 pulldown here through a bit of ingenuity on BenQ’s engineering team. Motion is very smooth. 

Good brightness and better than most contrast are key abilities. I was pleasantly surprised to get 1,400 lumens in a mode you can leave it in 100% of the time. Contrast is also decent for a DLP with help from the onboard dynamic Iris. While not inky blacks like a JVC or even the recently launched Epson 5050UB, contrast, and black levels are well above average for the 4K DLP crop

Other bits you should know the HT5550 include full 3D support, USB firmware upgradability, CFI capability in both 1080p and 4K and HLG support for streaming HDR online. (Art’s note:  Epson’s major competition, the HC5050UB does CFI on 1080 content but not 4K content)

cityscape image
The HT5550 tackles a cityscape. The dynamic iris helps.

Gamers will also be pleased to know that the HDMI 2.0 chipset supports a fun 18gbps bitrate for 4K HDR gaming at 60 frames per second.  However, although the 58ms input lag will be fine for many casual gamers, it may deter the more discerning FPS gamer from this unit. We would have liked to see input lag of half of that, which would have made the HT5550 a serious gaming projector that would have satisfied most hardcore players.  Under 30ms is very good.  Under 18 is great.  At 58ms, that’s borderline for many serious players.  For perspective, 58ms was about the speed of older Epson UB projectors but Epson’s latest models are hitting the market with under 30ms times.   BenQ will no doubt lose some potential buyers who hardcore gamers, but the average gamer should be satisfied, even if they notice it is a touch slow.   This is unlike projectors pushing 80+ ms or higher, (BenQ has some slower projectors) which most gamers should avoid.

Scott’s Bottom Line:  Priced at $2,499 at launch, BenQ’s new HT5550 is a bold entry into the $2k-$3.5k projector market. It is a niche that BenQ has not had an entry for a very long time.  That itself is interesting.  Projector Reviews has long been impressed with BenQ’s HT projectors.  The true predecessors to the HT5550 included the W6000, W7000 and W7500, three projectors that we have always liked.  Most of them have received one of our Best In Class awards in the $2000 – $3500 range over the years.   That thanks to very good color, placement flexibility, and respectable black levels – with the black level performance thanks to a good dynamic iris.

Parrot
Vibrant!

I love the fact that we have another player in the ‘affordable luxury space for 4K projection. BenQ is claiming 1,800 lumens from this projector, and in a DLP first; 100% DCI-P3 color space coverage. Impressive, if they can fully reach P3 without a “cinema” filter 

We are looking forward to properly put this projector through its paces. So far, it seems to be a strong performer, especially when it comes to color and HDR reproduction.  

Art’s bottom line:  BenQ, welcome back to the “serious, but affordable” home theater space.  True BenQ has HT projectors up near $10,000 list, but the HT5550 will be their volume projector for those looking for a serious projector with good black level performance.  The HT5550 does have some real competition, and some of it looks like this:  For a little more, you can choose an LG HU80KA.  That LG is a laser projector, but it is strictly home entertainment, it cannot match the BenQ in terms of color and its black levels are pure entry level.  Then there are the Epson HC4010 and PC4050 – costly less, more flexibility, just as 4K capable but a 1080p pixel shifter with 3LCD, so not quite as sharp (but excellent image processing might fool you).   I am very curious to see of the HT5550 bests the HC4010 in black level performance.

Then, up at $3000, find that Epson H5050UB, which still should prove to be a step up in black level performance, and have all that placement flexibility advantage (using widescreens, or placing in the back of your room, but the HT5550 should be a bit brighter with 4K HDR content, be a touch sharper, and save you some money.  Optoma, Viewsonic and others have 4K UHD DLPs around or below this price point, but none offer a lamp based projector really designed to rival the HT5550.

Thor movie
Thor and Loki 4K/HDR/P3 - BenQ HT5550

In many past year’s Best Home Theater Projector Reports, the Epson UB model of the day, and the older BenQ W6000/W7000/W7500 of the time have slugged it out for the top award in the Class.  I typically favored the Epsons for the extra price for the better black levels, but have always liked the BenQ’s “look and feel” to the picture as well.

We are really looking forward t the full HT5550 review, to put it through all the paces.  The addition of the HT5550 to the market should really give folks shopping in the $2000 – $3500 range another really solid choice to consider.  Stay tuned for our full review!  -art