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BenQ HT3550 vs BenQ TK850: Choose the Best Home Projector for Your Room and Viewing Preferences!

Posted on March 5, 2020 by Art Feierman

Greetings home projector enthusiasts, big screen fanatics, and people just tired of a boring “TV” experience. If you want to up your viewing game – whether a movie addict, sports nut, or a binge TV watcher, BenQ continues with their strategy of offering additional pairs of 4K capable home theater projectors different price points.

In this case, we have two “step-up” models, with a dynamic iris for better dark scenes, and other improvements. Both of these support 4K content, including support for both HDR10 and HLG – the two primary HDR standards. (Dolby offers a third HDR method, but so far rarely seen in a projector, and then, much higher end.)

The BenQ HT3550! Better than typical performance, and a very good value, $1699 list price!
BenQ TK850 Product Shot

I’ve previously discussed choosing between BenQ’s less expensive 4K UHD pair of projectors – the HT2550 and the TK800. Note, since we reviewed those models and wrote about the differences, there have been updates. The TK800 is now the TK800M ($1299).

But with the TK850 and HT3550 – both $1699 we move up the price scale, and even more so, the picture quality scale.

BenQ HT3550 vs TK850

ModelBrightnessColor WheelMSRP
HT35502000 lmRGBRGB (HT)$1699
TK8503000 lmRGBW (HE)$1699

These two, are just a few hundred dollars more than BenQ’s more entry-level 4K UHD models. For the difference, there are a number of advantages to spending the extra few hundreds of dollars. Things like better color, and deeper black level performance – the latter makes a significant difference on really dark scenes!

reds look good

Once again, BenQ, instead of offering one projector at each price point, offers two. The difference: First, the HT3550 is geared for serious folks who care about picture quality, and are willing to optimize a room for the best picture. Typically, we refer to a projector with the HT3550’s focus, as a home theater projector, one that works best in rooms with little or no ambient light, and, ideally, dark surfaces.

TK colors - weaker reds
Same image, not great reds. TK800 (not TK850). Primary difference between TKs is the iris, so expect same colors on TK850/TK800.

Note that the bright reds found on the sign with the HT3550, are darkish, wine colored type reds on the TK. That, folks is the typical difference between using a home theater color wheel on the HT3550 and the business one on the TK850!

Remember though, at the same time, the overall TK800 image here would have appeared a good bit brighter than the HT5550, side by side.

good skin tones

By comparison, the TK850 is about more brightness. It’s built for your den, living room, spare bedroom, outdoor backyard party (at night), and more. Officially it’s 50% brighter, thanks to a “business” type RGBW color wheel geared for maximum white lumens.

The HT3550 uses instead, a classic DLP style RGBRGB color wheel (with no white slice that boosts white brightness at the cost of color performance.) BTW, this is a good time to mention color lumens. Because of the different color wheels, the home theater HT3550 will have significantly more color lumens compared to the measured white lumens, than the TK850, which will have proportionally a lot less color lumens relative to white lumens.

No surprises here, that is BenQ’s design goal. So, while we have measured color lumens in the past, we don’t anymore (a lot of work), as we know what to expect, based on technology, color wheels (when used), etc.

Thanks to an additional “cinema filter,” the HT3550 goes a step further in terms of optimizing the picture quality. Its cinema filter, which they refer to as a P3 color wheel, costs lumens – aka brightness, but expands the color gamut – the color space, so that the HT3550 can project some colors that the TK850 and other merely REC709, projectors, simply cannot. The wider color space makes a visible, if slight difference. The ability use the cinema filter costs mostly white lumens, which should bring the color lumen count closer to the white lumen count.

inputs and connectors
The HT3550 and the TK850 have identical input panels

From a practical standpoint, the HT3550 will lose less lumens (it starts with less though), in switching to a mode with really good color, than the TK850 would.

But the TK850 will have all those white lumens (50% more to begin with), to really cut through ambient light. For example, if dealing with a fair amount of ambient light, you would watch a sporting event, and still have some bright whites, and pop to the image, but the reds and yellows of uniforms would tend to be a bit muted, but overall watching the game would be better, than with a lot less white lumens, and a bit better color, because, a lot of ambient light would result in a much duller image (lacking any pop), with the HT3550. That folks is the major trade-off.

Note, the expanded color space is something you can see and appreciate, but very difficult to capture and show in a review, because we have to heavily compress images, which crushes color space, dynamic range and more. And because most people’s monitors can’t even show those colors, even if I could properly capture them with my professional Canon DSLR.

Journey to the South Pacific
HT3550 - Stunning colors - but some "over-the-top" on reds, magentas -first HT3550 projector. Material: IMAX 4K Blu-ray: Journey to the South Pacific

Also of note, while the improved color space is visible, please keep in mind that getting part way to P3 color is relatively minor compared to the effect of HDR vs SDR on the same content.

You’ll find a huge difference in the picture, (besides sharpness) going from 1080p SDR, to 4K content with HDR.

The HT3550 is going to come in more like 80-85% of P3 (REC 709 is roughly 70% of P3 color space). Still, that’s a great number for a low-cost DLP. The TK850, by comparison, should just make it to REC709, which is as good as most single-chip DLPs being launched these days, manage.

Brightness, on the other hand, of the TK850 will stand out when dealing with ambient light. Think sports or general HDTV, your favorite Marvel, or Maisel, or Mad Men streaming, etc.

OK, I’m repeating myself, but I want to be clear, since one of these two is the better choice for you, your room, and what you watch.

Again, the big difference is the whites, which can be dramatically brighter on the TK850 than the HT3550 (50% brighter).Color lumens will probably be only slightly brighter however. This tends to translate into a bright picture, easy to watch, but where colors are a bit muted.That works when fighting ambient light.

In a World with Good Lighting Control

If you are, instead in a room with good lighting control, and plan to make use of that lighting control all the time, I would recommend sticking with the HT3550, for its picture quality advantages. Note, that both models do have a dynamic iris, and that means slightly deeper black level performance for both models, compared to the less expensive TK800 and HT2550.

sports on HT3550 BenQ
HT3550 - 1080 sports: Good color, good brightness, Although there are few reds

But if you really do have a healthy amount of ambient light, and let’s say you watch a lot during the daytime, including sports, where you can’t get your room reasonably dark, then the TK850 comes into its own! No question.

Truth is, a lot more folks buying projectors in this price point, do not have “caves” or dedicated theaters, but many are willing to adjust their viewing to achieve the best mix. That might be going with the HT3550, but only watching the highest quality content – ie movies, at night when lighting control is usually far better.

TK800 (not the TK850), Lots of brightness overall, with plenty of pop to the image, although the reds are a bit on the dark side.
TK800 (not the TK850), Lots of brightness overall, with plenty of pop to the image, although the reds are a bit on the dark side.

On the other hand, if your number 1 thing is sports – day or night – then unless you have that cave, the TK850 is your go-to choice.

The best part of this, is that BenQ really does give you a choice. Two similar enough projectors – they work the same, have almost identical menus, and the same inputs, but you get to choose that best matches your viewing goals and your room’s advantages or limitations.

Although this is a comparison article between these two BenQ projectors, we’ve already mentioned the lower cost dynamic duo – the HT2550 and TK800M.

BTW, Should You Have a Bigger Budget…

There’s one more BenQ that should be considered if you are looking at the HT3550 – and have some extra bucks. In that case, definitely consider the $2499 HT5550 projector, which is the next step up, adding lens shift, and deeper black level performance, creating a more serious home theater projector. I really liked the HT5550 projector when I reviewed it. That BenQ is my 2nd favorite home theater projector under $3500 (and it sells for almost $500 below my favorite, the Epson HC5050UB.)

Of course, the HT3550 and TK850 sell for barely half of the Epson, and about 1/3 less than the HT5550, so, we’re definitely not talking about direct competition. If you have the bigger budget, though, the Epson and the BenQ HT5550 are two excellent choices, without pushing up to $4000 or more.

BenQ has better still, but their next go-to projector is their HT9060 who’s review I just published two weeks before this article. It uses a solid state LED light engine, for long life and (as mentioned, 97% of P3 color). Better optics, and a higher resolution DLP chip as well. Keep the HT9060 in mind if you are feeling rich.

The Bottom Line: TK850 vs HT3550: Hard core movie watcher – have a good room, respectable lighting control, and go HT3550. Not such a good room, but not terrible, probably still stick with the HT3550.

Same “not such a good room”, but you are more a casual viewer, or sports fan first, then I’d say go for the additional pop that comes with all those extra white lumens – that is, the TK850!

Remember, the differences between these “non-identical twins” aren’t great, but those differences are there, so you can choose the one that best meets your requirements for a pleasurable viewing experience!

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