Projector Reviews

BenQ HT3550- The 4K Home Theater Projector- Picture Quality 2

HT3550 4K UHD Projector Review – Picture Quality 2: Skin Tones, Black Levels, Shadow Detail, Overall Picture Quality

Skin Tones

I am rather pleased with how good the skin tones look, considering that no calibration was applied to this projector (at least not yet).  I find that on HDR content sunlit faces, tend to have a very slight orange, orange-red caste. 

It’s most noticeable in images taken late in the day when the sun is doing the same thing.  That tends to amplify the BenQ’s shift.  That, however, is slight, overall. Certainly, as I mentioned previously, Eric calibrated the first one, which behaved well enough on non-4K HDR content.  That first unit, after Eric calibrated it, probably ended up a touch cooler than this one, but overall, most pleasing skin tones.  The production unit is doing a fine job as well, without calibration.

On 4K HDR content, oranges and reds on the first unit were definitely oversaturated.  The second unit, uncalibrated may also be over saturated on reds, but if so, by a relatively small amount and easily adjusted away.

For all that talk, the full set of skin tone images of the Victoria Secret model, look pretty darn good, and those were taken with the first unit.  What I’m saying is that while I considered that more than a minimal problem, it’s my job to quibble, and amplify.  Many folks will not notice, or perhaps not care.  I see lots of friends’ TVs with a far less than perfect picture than even the first BenQ.

At the end of the player are images from 1080p SDR Casino Royale, with four views of Bond (Daniel Craig) compared.  The point is that the “director’s intent” rules!  Each of the four images has totally different looking skin tones, to look properly in the lighting of the scene:  Sunshine, Fluorescents (airport), filtered daylight (bar), and night.  Huge differences!

So, in reality, the first unit really wasn’t all that bad, but Eric couldn’t fully calibrate it to a proper level of accuracy. After all, it is an ISF certified projector and Eric is an ISF certified calibrator.  If the 1st unit was working ideally, Eric should have been able to provide a better final result on 4K…

HT3550 skin tones Jennifer Lawrence
The first HT3550, despite its issues and my complaints about HDR/P3, does a very good job on this Passengers scene with Jennifer Lawrence (Aurora)

Bottom Line:  Skin tones – even right out of the box, are really very good in the best modes, even unadjusted!  Calibrated, they should be right on the money!  That’s not a surprise, as BenQ has always focused heavily on color – including in most of their marketing.  Note, Brilliant Color was on for almost all viewing.  Use it. BenQ offers their version of Brilliant Color with just an on/off choices.  Other manufacturers may offer a number of steps.  BenQ’s normally are at their viewing best with Brilliant Color on, and we calibrate with it on, I believe on just about every BenQ.

HT3550 Black Level Performance

BenQ puts a dynamic iris in the HT3550.  Thank you, BenQ! Here’s our player, and it is loaded with a 4K UHD image in space of outside the Avalon spacecraft in Passengers, and also my favorite black level image – the overexposed “bond night train” from Casino Royale.  A very nice level of contrast. Compare against first a couple of other 4K UHD DLP projectors.  The contrast is better, the HT3550 is most definitely a real step up when it comes to handling dark scenes.

You will also find the Epson HC5050UB to compare.  The BenQ does not really come close to the Epson, but, for a black level fanatic like me, I’ll definitely say – if you can’t spend a good bit more for the 5050UB at twice the price, this seems to be the next best thing for a an enthusiast in a good room, and at a significantly lower price point.  You might want to set your sights on one of these, rather than a competing 4K UHD DLP, with inferior black level performance.  I think it is definitely worth the extra couple/few hundred dollars, to get a much better image on very dark scenes – of which there are plenty out there!

Also here are a few additional images good for observing dark shadow detail including the very dark 4K UHD images from Mockingjay Part 1.

Bottom line – of the lower cost 4K UHD DLPs, so far this has the best black levels.  Finally a step up choice for 4K UHD DLP fans.

Dark Shadow Detail

No problems of note with dark shadow detail.  I observed a few favorite very dark images, (1080p) that I use, such as (again) the bond night train scene, but am now also using images (4K HDR) from Mockingjay Part 1, which has some magnificently dark images (with no bright areas), and even a good bit of color in those dark areas.  There’s plenty of dark detail on a scene that can look extremely flat and detail-less on projectors that don’t do as well on detail. The dynamic iris, is a plus with such scenes – lowering them well down, without affecting, (or losing) color, or losing detail from too much contrast, etc.

On the bond train image look for definition in the tracks and the shrubs behind them on the lower right.  And peer deeply into the middle of the forest in the upper right center.  You should be able to make out a little detail in that large dark area.  That’s definitely better than some, but, isn’t revealing quite as much as the best. 

The bottom line on dark shadow detail:  I’m quibbling.  The HT3550 is typical of a projector doing a very good job on dark shadow detail.

The important truth is that on all but, perhaps, the most extremely dark images, of ( I’m thinking of images like the people marching in the very dark Mockingjay part 1 scene), the HT3550 is going to reveal all the detail you are likely to notice.  It is only in an extremely dark image that you might find another projector where you conclude there is a touch more detail.  Truth is, though, in most scenes, the “action” isn’t where the darkest detail is, it’s in brighter areas. So more often than not – the hunt for dark detail takes you into areas of a scene that you normally won’t notice when viewing casually.

HT3550 Overall Picture Quality

I’ll keep this short.  The color – right out of the box, (in the best modes) is reasonably accurate and looks very good.  Combine that with Black Level performance that is better than anything else near the price (other than the current close out of a more expensive Epson).  To best the HT3550 with the current product, when it comes to black levels, you are looking at the new Epson 5050UB – which is officially twice the price of the HT3550!

HDR is handled extremely well.  Interestingly, it seems that each new generation of HDR capable projectors is brighter, as the manufacturers have gotten a much better handle on tone mapping the “gamma” (or EOTF) of HDR.  Understand, on projectors since they aren’t officially bright enough (true of must LCD TVs as well), to “brighten” those lower and mid brightness parts of an image, we are technically reducing a bit of the High – in High Dynamic Range.  True. But the same is also true, I believe when watching the same movie down at your local Cineplex.

The Bottom Line on Picture Quality:  Overall, very pleased, other than wishing for slightly better black levels – but then, at the moment, the HT3550 offers the best black levels in its class – which I will define as under $2500 4K UHD projectors.

That includes some 4K UHD projectors using the higher resolution 2716x1528x2 pixel shifting DLP chipset.  Interestingly, those tend to be older and not even as good on black levels, as some of the newer, lower cost 1920×1080 pixel shifters like this HT3550, or even some without a dynamic iris.

Epson’s HC4010 is $500 more, and has many more features, but is not as good as this BenQ at black levels – despite also having a dynamic iris.) None of the other 4K UHD DLPs is competitive in this area, except the Acer laser projector VL7860 which is roughly 3X the price!

My biggest legit complaint – is minor, certainly relative to this BenQ projector’s picture quality strengths.  I believe BenQ could have served up even better black levels, if they “pushed” their dynamic iris harder, in terms of range more.  (I believe Epson – who puts dynamic irises on almost every home, business, and education projector they sell, does just that. 

I would have liked to see the HT3550 get a bit closer to the Epson 5050UB in black levels (that’s the twice the price projector). This is important – considering the color, the black levels, and the price point, when it comes to picture quality, this HT3550 is now my favorite $1500 or less 4K, capable projector!