BenQ HT3550 Home Theater Projector – A First Look Review

The brand new BenQ HT3550 was sitting in my theater, being run through its paces, two weekends ago.  The HT3550 I have here is a late pre-production model, with finished color tables.  BenQ advises that final production units will have a couple of features not finished here, but we’ll deal with that when we do the full review which should publish in a few weeks after this “first look”

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BenQ HT3550 Specs
Price$1,499
TechnologyDLP
Native Resolution1920x1080x4
Brightness (Manufacturer Claim)2000
Contrast30,000:1
Zoom Lens Ratio1.3
Lens ShiftYes
Lamp Life4,000 hours
Weight9.3
WarrantyN/A

Overview

I put 14 hours on the HT3550 (so far), including about an hour with the BenQ team in attendance. 

Normally I have a projector hooked up nearby when writing these reviews, but in this case, I’ll work from memory, as I shipped the HT3550 to Eric for calibration.  It will return here in a week, when I’ll start my full review.  We will be publishing calibration settings for the HT3550.

Disclosure: I’m a bit of a BenQ fan – back in the old 720p days – around 2005 or so, I owned three successive BenQ HT projectors their PE8700, PE8720, and PE7700.

Back then, and today, it seems we can count on BenQ for emphasizing color accuracy.  More so than any of the other DLP projectors, it seems BenQ still offers about the best color, right out of the box, without adjustment.  This HT3550 fully met expectations.

HT3550 skin tones
Post calibration, the HT3550 offers impressive skin tones on 4K HDR content, with P3 color.

This projector is not a replacement for the HT2550 (Hot Product Award winner), rather, it is a step up projector in terms of performance, but starts out at only $1499!  

Some basics, and then my preliminary findings about the picture quality.

Highlights

  • The HT3550 claims 2000 lumens
  • It has improved contrast, thanks to the addition of a Dynamic Iris
  • It has a color filter in addition to the usual DLP color wheel. The filter operates in HDR10 mode, allowing the HT3550 to approach full P3 color (they claim 95% of P3).
  • BenQ claims more dark details, thanks to Dynamic Black (found on most DLP projectors), additional processing, and especially auto Tone Mapping  on HDR content.  (A very good thing!)
  • New front has lens further recessed – to dramatically reduce light leakage (i.e. on your ceiling, if ceiling mounted).  They basically told me that they were tired of me complaining about the amount of light spillage on some older models.
  • Two 5 Watt speakers, provide basic sound (I didn’t play them at all – I will during the review.
  • Support for both popular HDR types the original HDR10 (Blu-ray UHD disk), and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG – for broadcast, streaming).
  • Shorter Throw, all glass lens.  The 1.3X zoom projector will sit as close as 8.2 feet from a 100” diagonal screen – most projectors sit at least 10 feet from a 100” screen. 
  • Supports 3D (1080p – there is no 4K standard for 3D)
  • 9.3 pounds

I think I’ve covered the key points above, although I’ll come up with more items to discuss in the full review.   Before you ask, no, there is a modest amount of vertical lens shift on this model. 

Let’s talk about the picture!  Speaking of which, I took no photos before shipping the projector out to Eric.  I will add a couple/few photos to this First Look Review, when I shoot the usual dozens of pics for our full review.  Meantime I’ve “borrowed” a few images from BenQ.

Special Features

Journey to the South Pacific
Stunning colors - HT3550 projecting the IMAX 4K Blu-ray, Journey to the South Pacific

I started with 4K Content with HDR – specifically the IMAX Journey To The South Pacfic.  I’ve watched that new release recently on several projectors includijng the $40K Sony VW995ES to the Epson 5040UB.  The content is stunning, and colorful.

I started with 4K Content with HDR – specifically the IMAX Journey To The South Pacfic.  I’ve watched that new release recently on several projectors includijng the $40K Sony VW995ES to the Epson 5040UB.  The content is stunning, and colorful.

Without adjustment, I found the HT3550 to be a bit oversaturated on most colors on that content, which is vivid to begin with. The HT3550 was definitely a bit over the top compared to the Sony and Epson (the Epson was calibrated, but not the Sony because it was so gorgeous I didn’t feel it needed calibration).

Upon watching other 4K movies, the oversaturation was still there but definitely less noticeable.  I fully expect that with Eric’s adjustments, the 4K content with HDR will be great looking, and not still be over the top.

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HT3550 Color Handling, Hardware, and...

BenQ as mentioned is claiming 95% of DCI-P3 color, and that’s about as good as it gets, except for laser projectors.  Eric’s measurements will tell us if it achieves that lofty target.  Epson by comparsion claimed 100% of P3 on their new HC4010 and PC4050 projectors but Eric found the individual colors all coming in between 92% and 100% (still very good).  If the BenQ does that well, or close, that’s really good.  Mind you, P3 color is a subtle improvement, whereas having content with HDR, is anything but subtle, it’s markedly different.

Switching to 1080p and 1080i content, the picture was overall more on the money.  Saturation seemed about right – if anything, on The Hunger Games, and on Casino Royale, I thought that the skin tones were undersaturated a little, but then, the projector might be a little cooler on color temp than right on target.  Overall, 1080p picture quality was really good.

Hardware wise, the HT3550 is pretty typical of other under $2000 DLP projectors – Dual HDMI, stereo speakers, USBs, even a 12 volt screen trigger, and more.  We’ll get into the nitty gritty in the full review.

I played with the dynamic iris (hooray).  It works, but it is not as aggressive as some.   BenQ is delivering blacker blacks with it than the HT2550 (based on on, off, comparisons (no iris on the HT2550).

BenQ is not pushing that iris as hard as Epson does theirs, as a result the amount of lowering of the blacks is  more modest. bit still a real improvement over similar DLP projectors without a dynamic iris.  I want to spend more time watching, but I can say that at the minimum, the HT3550’s black levels are not the same old “entry level” blacks levels that I have described for almost all of the 4K UHD DLPs (at least the non-laser models), and even some of those.  This is a very good thing.  

I have yet to put the HT3550 up “side by side” with the Epson 5040UB I have mounted.  I will do that, and have comparison photos in the full review, so stay tuned.

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line on the new BenQ HT3550.  This projector supports 4K content, is a pixel shifting DLP projector (4K UHD), using the 1920x1080x4 DLP chip.  At $1499 this is one of the few DLPs to sport a dynamic iris for better blacks, and the lowest cost DLP HT projector to offer one. 

Expect improved black levels.  The 2000 lumens provides reasonable brightness for 4K HDR content, and plenty for everything else, on typical screens.  I viewed it filling my full 124” diagonal 2.35:1 screen when watching 4K movies with HDR.  It could have used more lumens at that full size, but so have most projectors doing HDR. The auto tone mapping seems to be very good.  

Let’s see what else I learn when the projector comes back after calibration.  

Meantime, I can’t think of another 4K UHD projector around the HT3550’s price, that I would expect to best this projector in terms of overall picture.  Yes there will be brighter ones, but, based on my first look, BenQ should prove excellent again at color, and have improved black levels.  

My first impression, is that this will likely be my top choice for 4K home theater enthusiasts with $1500 or less budgets!  We shall see! -art