BenQ HT5550 Projector Review – Special Features 1

BenQ HT5550 Projector Review – Special Features 1: Dynamic Iris, HDR – supports HDR10 and HLG standards, HDR Auto Tone Mapping

HT5550 Dynamic Iris

The HT5550 ups its game with a good dynamic iris. This makes a real difference in very dark scenes, even if it has no effect at all on bright scenes. There are plenty of very dark scenes in most movies (ok dark scenes are rare when watching sports). BenQ offered dynamic irises back in their top home theater projectors going back almost 15 years (with their 720p HT projectors first, the PE8700, 8720, and 7700 ). I was always a fan of their W6000 and the models that followed, as mentioned in the last page.

The HT5550 is the logical successor to those old PE models and the somewhat newer W6000 series.

BTW one big improvement, the old W6000, etc. had especially short lamp life at full power, 2500 lumens when most competitors were pushing 4000 or more hours.  This BenQ, however, does claim 4000 hours (and up to 10,000 in eco-mode). That gives this new BenQ lamp life claims more in line with the competition!

very dark scene - black levels
A really dark scene like this one from Mockingjay part 1, let's the iris significantly lower the overall black levels.

That series mostly seemed to drop off the radar here in the US, but it is back – with a vengeance as they say, in the form of the HT5550.

Overall, this BenQ does well enough on black level performance for me to count it as an “ultra high contrast” projector – aka, a serious projector with very good black levels/handling of dark scenes.

Here’s the interesting part  – the HT5550 performs much as expected on non-HDR content: Some pretty good blacks, not as good as our favorite projector near the price – the Epson 5050UB, but I learned some interesting things. While that Epson definitely offers blacker blacks on standard content – ie a 1080p movie, when you switch to 4K with HDR content, the BenQ picks up a lot of pop to the image, enough so, that on some dark scenes, you’ll immediately think it is doing better than that Epson. We’ll explore more later, and in the upcoming direct comparison review.

Bottom line on the Dynamic Iris – It makes the HT5550 a serious home theater projector worth considering. The HDR processing however is a wild card, in terms of black levels, and in this case, mostly good. I’ll spend lots of time on this in the direct HT5550 vs HC5050UB comparsion that will follow this review by a couple of weeks.

The iris combining with the native abilities of the HT5550 is just what BenQ needed in its home line-up to help re-establish it as a leader in serious (but affordable) home theater projectors!

HDR – Supports Both HDR10 and HLG Standards

The HT5550 supports both the usual HDR10 that’s been around for a few years – 4K UHD Blu-ray, some streaming – and the slightly newer HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) HDR, which is primarily for broadcast (and streaming too). It’s good to have both as we start seeing more streaming of 4K with HDR from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney… Some may adapt HDR10, but some may choose HLG.

The HDR implementation is interesting, picture wise. Those following 4K capable projectors (on our site), know that most of the early 4K with HDR projectors tended to produce a picture that tended to be in the dim side. It took about a generation (or for some projectors, a couple of firmware updates) to get away from that tendency. (No time here, to go into the why that was.)

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

I say interesting because the BenQ handling HDR is anything but dim. If I have a complaint, I think it is a little too bright. This required me to do most viewing on the -2 setting for HDR – the lowest – and the dimmest looking. And it still appears brighter than other projectors.

HDR implementations on projectors are always a challenge. Like with most LCD TV displays projectors aren’t as bright as the specs for HDR call for, so there is always some inherent compromise.

One thing to take note of: That compromise tends to play out like this: The brighter the HDR looks the less HDR, and more like good old SDR it looks. Those brighter scenes (and darker ones), will seem more similar to SDR, if comparing 4K with HDR to the same scene in 1080p (which would be SDR – Standard Dynamic Range).

I’ve concluded (by comparisons) that the BenQ’s HDR isn’t all that accurate – too bright in several areas – I’ve compared it directly or indirectly with not only the Epson UB (direct), but three native 4K projectors: The $10K and $40K Sony models and a native $10K JVC (the JVC directly too). All those others tend to reproduce very dark scenes similarly, and also bright ones. The BenQ looks brighter in all cases.

Here’s the thing. It may not be as accurate in this regard, but it does look really good!

How Can That Be?

No matter, consider this similar situation with audio gear.  Most people like speakers that sound great on the music they like. Most don’t care if the speaker is highly accurate, just that it sounds good.

Well, that’s the BenQ’s HDR characteristics as I see it. It may not be as “on the money” as the others, but darn if it doesn’t make for a great picture!

There are definitely darker scenes in Passengers, and other movies where I prefer the HT5550’s picture with HDR over how the Epson 5050UB handles the same scene, despite the Epson probably being the more “perfect” at HDR, and in general having the better black levels.

One difference between being a hardcore enthusiast (like me) vs a perfectionist. The perfectionist demands accuracy, and faithfulness to the original, and will give up other things to achieve that (including brightness, fancy features, etc.)

BenQ’s HDR: Overall, well done. Extremely watchable if not the most accurate HDR.

HDR – Auto Tone Mapping

Without getting into the technical side, auto tone mapping adjusts the effect of HDR dynamically. That is, it adapts to scenes as brightness changes… Auto Tone Mapping is becoming pretty standard these days on the more expensive home theater projectors and is a very good thing.

Here’s a very bright scene comparing the BenQ (right side) to the Epson – 4K with HDR. There are dark scene comparisons on the next page.

Epson vs BenQ - Antares - the star
A brighter HDR scene: There's some additional "pop" to the Epson.

The auto tone mapping, of course relates to the previous section. The extra brightness I mention for the HT5550’s HDR, is likely the direct result of how the HT5550 has mapped out how it will adjust different scenes, in terms of HDR.

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