Projector Reviews

BenQ HT3550 – A 4K UHD Home Theater Projector With Dynamic Iris – Summary

BenQ HT3550 4K UHD Home Theater Projector: The Big Picture, The Competition, The Bottom Line/Recommendations, Pros, Cons

The Big Picture

HT3550
The BenQ HT3550! Better than typical performance, and a very good value, $1699 list price!

The HT3550 could aptly be described as a “great little projector.”  It is particularly strong on overall picture quality.

At $1499 MSRP, the most obvious advantage of this BenQ projector is the addition of a dynamic iris, compared to the HT2550 (or most of the competition).  At this time, to the best of my knowledge, it is the lowest cost 4K Capable, or for that matter, 4K UHD projector to sport a dynamic iris to improve black levels.

That makes this the primary “step up” (aka non-entry level) 4K UHD projector in terms of performance. There are “smarter” projectors. There are certainly brighter projectors, as most 4K UHD projectors that are lamp based claim between 2200 and 3000 lumens, compared to the HT3550’s mere 2000 lumens.

True, the ones pushing out around 3000 lumens are typically using “business” color wheels (RGBW), as opposed to “home theater” color wheels such as this BenQ’s RGBRGB color wheel.

You may get less white lumens, but the HT3500 should be very close to a lamp based3000 lumen 4K UHD in terms color lumens, and that translates into richer, more accurate very bright and pure colors, such as a rich bright balloon red, usually a much bigger challenge for projectors with RGBW color wheels.

But the HT3550 is far more than better black levels (which, I have noted, make a visible improvement), even if not up to some more expensive projectors, which I’ll address in the competition section.

The out of the box color on the production unit proved very good, as in better than most projectors. Fan noise at full power was a bit noisy (no surprise, that’s the rule, rather than the exception) but slightly quieter, by comparison, than the Epson 5040UB at full power.

1080 picture quality (SDR) is generally very good without adjustment and it should calibrate to be excellent (the pre-production HT3550 did just that on 1080 SDR REC709 content – aka “the usual stuff.”)

When considering 4K with HDR and the HT3550 shines.  Unlike earlier models supporting HDR, the BenQ generally looks nice and bright – its “auto” tone mapping, doing a really good job.  In addition, there are five steps of control (0, +/- 2), which allow you to brighten or dim the overall HDR look.

In the photo player above, the outer space scene is shown three times with the same exposure, but with three different HDR settings:  0, -1, and -2.  Most folks I think will find 0, or lower to be most to their liking. I find +1 and +2 to appear too bright in the middle/middle dark areas, leaving some images with less “pop” to them.

Understand, In general, when you use controls to brighten up those mid and mid-dark areas, you are diminishing some of the “High” in High Dynamic Range.  But, it is definitely worth it, compared to the slight additional “punch” you get if overall darker.

I really like the addition of the cinema filter (as I call it), to allow P3 color. It engages in D. Cinema mode.  It has a cost in brightness, but creates two 4K HDR choices for owners:

  1. Best P3 color with less brightness, using D Cinema mode (which changes to read HDR10 or HLG, with appropriate 4K content. Or,
  2. REC709 color with HDR when using Cinema mode and HDR. You get almost 40% more brightness, but only slightly lower quality color.  (HDR vs SDR is much greater a visible difference than P3 color vs. REC709 color.

The important thing is – you get to choose which ever you like better.  Fine with P3, etc. on most content, great, but find a movie that is too dark for the filter and P3, switch to your brighter mode without the filter.

I am unaware of any other non-laser 4K UHD projector anywhere near the price that even makes a serious attempt at P3 color!

The HT3550 is well endowed with inputs and other connectors, although this projector does not have wired, or wireless networking.  (Neither really required in a home theater setup, but in some cases advantageous.)

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The sound, despite multiple modes, provides more than adequate volume, but – let’s face it, a pair of 5-watt speakers in a small box (one packed with other stuff), is no match for a real home surround sound system. Still, it will do the job in a pinch – especially if you move the projector around or take outside occasionally. None-the-less, I strongly encourage you, since you have just bought a pretty great little projector, to make sure your audio is up to your video quality.

The remote control is fine. It’s white, easy to spot in a theater like darkened room, and it has a good backlight that is orangish but looks yellow in my photo.

One shortcoming of the BenQ HT3550 is input lag.  This is not a great gaming projector, offering only acceptable speed.  Hardcore gamers demanding fast response times will look elsewhere.  We consider anything around 50ms lag to be acceptable, but look for upper 20ms to mid 30’s as good, and anything around 16ms or less is excellent and should be fine for the most highly competitive gaming fanatics.

I am most grateful that BenQ has put a modest amount of lens shift into the HT3550, something missing from the less expensive HT2550.  That really simplifies (takes seconds) both ceiling, and tabletop setups, especially if you want the best quality picture.

BenQ’s handling of HDR is very good.  Most impressive.  It handles HDR far better than say, Epson’s HC5040UB, but the new HC5050UB I’m reviewing next does have much improved HDR handling compared to its predecessor.

The BenQ HT3550 Competition

There are basically three groups of competing projectors – Other 4K UHD DLP projectors that cost the same or less, 4K capable projectors using 3LCD technology, and more expensive 4K UHD DLP projectors.

Keeping in mind from the above summary, let’s start with the first group.

For the most part there are probably at least nine or ten 4K UHD projectors now street pricing between $1000 and $1500. All but one are lamp based, that exception is the Optoma UHL55, a solid state home entertainment 1500 lumen projector, using an LED light source.  (The UHL55 is currently being reviewed).  Of the others, right off the top, I count two other BenQ models (the TK800 and the HT2550), two Viewsonic projectors, two additional Optomas and there are other players, including Vivitek (Delta)…

While most of those are slightly brighter, they break down into mostly two groups.  Home entertainment color wheels, like the BenQ TK800, The Viewsonic PX747-4K, etc., and those with more HT color wheels: BenQ HT3550, Viewsonic PX727-4K.

None of them have a dynamic iris, and that’s what really makes the HT3550 special.  It’s not up to the “ultra high contrast” definition I apply to Epson UBs, JVC LCoS projectors, and higher end Sonys, but the BenQ HT3550 is capable of doing a visibly better job on very dark scenes, than any of these others (I’ve reviewed most of the others).

I should mention Optoma’s UHD51A, which is also $1499.  Now I favor the BenQ for both its black levels and potentially slightly superior color (and definitely a bit better HDR handling), but the Optoma is way smarter. You can power up, down, change sources, etc. using Alexa or Google Home, using voice commands.  Nice touch, but you still rely heavily on the remote, so I count the HD51A as being pretty cool, but I favor the HT3550 for the black levels/overall picture.

Remember, we’re talking differences, but not huge differences in overall color.  (I say that even if I found the HT3550 to do the best/brightest HDR so far of the models with HT color wheels.)

South Pacific image of boat docking
First BenQ HT3550 in 4K HDR/P3 mode, Journey to the South Pacific, boat docking - (over the top color/saturation?)

If you would like to get into more details as to how the BenQ HT3550 compares with the variety of Viewsonic’s, Vivitek’s, Optoma’s, other BenQ models, etc., let me suggest that most of them are compared against each other in our Best Home Theater Projectors Report published late last year…  The less expensive BenQ HT2550 is in that report too, so it should be easy for you to position this HT3550 in that field of projectors!