Projector Reviews

BenQ HT5550 Projector Review – Summary

BenQ HT5550 Projector Review – Summary:  The Big Picture, The Competition, The Bottom Line, Pros and Cons

HT5550: The Big Picture

Finally! By my take, for the first time in several years we have a DLP projector under $2500 (or even under $5000), with really good black level performance, some pretty great color, and a good feature set.

This HT5550 projector is definitely a home theater projector – one which calls for a dedicated theater/cave, or a good room that can be really well darkened (ie. Many family rooms and dens, at night, or with good window coverings. Unlike most less expensive BenQs, such as the also 4K UHD resolution TK800M, it doesn’t have a lot of extra lumens for tackling ambient light, in less than good rooms. 1800 lumens claimed (almost 1500 measured).

Calibrated for non HDR content (SDR) Cinema mode managed a healthy 885 lumens, which is enough to go a couple of sizes larger than my 124” screen is terms of screen size when watching typical HDTV, sports, and 1080p movies.

HDR is surprisingly bright, whether choosing REC709 color (no cinema filter – 1225 lumens calibrated), or 665 lumens calibrated for wide color – aka P3.

Florence and the Machine
Florence and the Machine - Glastonbury. 1080i HDTV image

That is both a strength and a weakness. With BenQ’s tone mapping providing moderately and fully bright scenes, with extra brightness, they definitely lose some of the pop that HDR brings to the table compared to SDR. For this reason I consider BenQ’s HDR implementation less than ideal, but very watchable. Most folks will just enjoy the brightness. And having that brightness, does beat the dimness associated with a lot of the first generation HDR capable projectors. For example, Epson, on their first HDR projector – the 5040UB, provided users with two firmware upgrades at different times, both of them focusing on brighter “tone mapping.” Even their last version for the 5040UB still was slightly dimmer than its replacement the 5050UB.

Passengers image
4K HDR P3 - Passengers
A favorite scene of mine. Just a touch bright, but stunning!

This is an area of challenge, as in general projectors don’t get close to the overall brightness that HDR demands (and neither do most of the LCD TVs out there, btw, but many get closer).

OK, enough about that. Skin tones – look great – While the HT5550 did not achieve full P3 (fairly good attempt), the skin tones were still strong, saturated, and pretty natural looking. With HDR content, the skin tones are a little different between standard color (REC709) and wide color (P3), but always at least good looking skin tones. For me skin tones are one of the key tests of picture quality. If the red of a balloon is just a little off – who’s going to know. If someone’s skin is picking up a touch of extra yellow or green (I often use the expression “green around the gills” for some projectors that pick up that yellow green tint in the darker areas of necks when faces are well lit.) A well calibrated projector will not suffer that. This BenQ is well calibrated and does not suffer that! I only noticed some of that in the Vivid TV mode (forget Bright mode – it’s green – mostly), but even there, other than punchy and oversaturated a bit. Vivid TV still had some pretty good skin tone handling. D Cinema with HDR and P3, was especially impressive. HDR with REC709 was not as accurate, but still in a reasonable calibration range, and still looked rather good.

Feature-wise, the BenQ has a good 1.6:1 manual lens to put out some very nicely sharp looking 4K content on the screen from its 1920×1080 x 4 pixel shifting DLP chip. There is some very minor defocusing on this HT5550 – not enough to be an issue (consider – some hard core enthisasts/perfectionists will intentionally, very slightly defocus the sharpness of a projector for a smoother more natural seeming image. (I don’t do that, btw, I like sharp, even a touch of over sharp on some content.)

And there’s a good amount of lens shift. Still because the lens is not motorized, going wide screen ie. 2.40:1 Cinemascope, like most movies, is not going to be a viable option for most folks. I’ll circle back to that in the competition section that follows.

With a 1.6:1 and good lens shift, a few folks may be able to rear shelf mount the BenQ HT5550 up high, instead of using a ceiling mount. That said, if your room is deep, that’s not going to happen without a massive sized screen. Since the lens of the projector has to be no more than 15 feet and change from a 100” screen (some competition can be placed 20 to 21 feet back from the same sized screen), and the projector is almost two feet deep, for that 100” screen your back wall can’t be more than 18 feet from the screen. (That won’t happen typically if your room is deeper than wide.) Easy for you to figure that out though.) 10-15 years ago, I had a 720p BenQ with a 1.6:1 zoom, ceiling mounted. A couple of years later – same room I switched to a 1080p JVC with more range, and rear shelf mounted, because I could. Nice if you can, but nothing wrong with ceiling mounting – hey, even “tabletop” works!

Warranty is excellent – I know most people don’t care about the warranty – until something breaks, but who wants to have a one year warranty and, perhaps a $500 repair bill if a projector breaks 15 months after you get it? BenQ provides three years of parts and labor warranty.

Gaming Projector? Not really! It’s 58.8 ms best input lag that we found when viewing in normal modes is marginal – we say 55ms is just acceptable – but serious gamers want faster. Ideally under 18ms, but most are satisfied with the mid 30ms range. Falling behind one more frame than that, becomes noticeable on fast action games.

Here’s a gamer’s trick: The BenQ HT5550 has a Silence mode (another TI feature) which allows the projector to turn off pixel shifting – turning it into essentially a standard 1080p projector. Not only does the HT5550 get slightly quieter, but my Leo Bodner input lag measurement device comes up with 51ms. It’s only a slight improvement, but if you are playing 1080p games, why not turn it off for about a 15% reduction of lag?

The Competition

What we have here, is a $2499 MSRP projector now shipping for about two months.  So far, the online price of the HT5550 is staying very close to the list price, but I imagine we’ll see some price erosion as we get into the holiday season.

So, who is the competition?

Here we will consider how these projectors stack up:
BenQ’s own lower-cost HT3550 and TK800M
Other low-cost 4K UHD DLPs
Epson Home Cinema 4010 and 4050Ube
Epson Home Cinema 5050UB
LG HU80KA (a laser projector)

There are some older 4K UHD projectors still around that we could have considered, but as noted, most had various issues with HDR. Let’s just say, “rougher around the edges”

BenQ HT3550 and TK800M vs HT5550

The BenQ HT3550! Better than typical performance, and a very good value.

Let’s start with BenQ’s lower-cost alternatives.  There’s the 2200 lumen HT3550 an under $1500 4K UHD that also has a dynamic iris, and the same size DLP chip. And, there’s the similar TK800M, with 3000 claimed lumens, but more “home entertainment” oriented – not quite as good a picture (very similar though to the HT3550) but brighter, for brighter rooms. Neither is a match at all for their big brother, consider:

  • Black levels are definitely deeper on the HT5550
    • The others are only one step above entry-level blacks
  • No lens shift on the HT3550 (or TK800M)
  • 1.6:1 zoom – good placement range vs a modest 1.2:1
  • RBE – the HT5550 has minimal, the others have a more frequent rainbow effect
    • Just affects the small number of us that are RBE sensitive (5%? – a guess)

There are other feature differences, but as competition goes, The TK800M is home entertainment and should be headed for a brighter room than the HT5550 can handle well. The HT3550 goes mostly where the HT5550 goes, it’s a nice projector but the HT5550 is a good step up in many areas. (And by my take, the better value, but $1000 more expensive.

Other low-cost 4K UHD projectors

There are plenty out there, from Viewsonic, Optoma, Vivitek, and others. But mostly they compete against each other and the lower cost BenQs just discussed. As the BenQs typically have the best color of those and the best blacks, no real need to compare each of them to the HT5550, except to point out that some, like the Optoma’s, are much better gamers thanks to less input lag, or that some are smart projectors (ie the Optoma UHD51A). BTW, at the time of this publication, I think of the HT3550 as the most “home theater” of those under $1500 4K UHD projectors.

Epson HC4010 vs HT5550

Epson Home Cinema 4010 offers lens memory

At $1999 street price, the HC4010 which started shipping fall of 2018, is one of the best selling projectors around. Like the HT5550 it is 4K capable, supporting HDR10, but it does not support HLG for broadcast (and some streaming). The Home Cinema 4010, by comparison, is a better gamer than the BenQ, but only to a point. Its input lag is half that of the HT5550, making it very good in that regard. But the 4010 doesn’t support HDMI all the way up to 18 GHz, as a result, it can do a great job of gaming with 4K content, but only with HDR turned off. Nikki our most serious gamer, says her 4K games look great even without HDR, but one reader pointed out to her, true, but if she had 4K with HDR on her games, they would look even better. BTW for $1000 more list price, the HC5050UB (does not have those limitations).

Out of the box color and picture on the Epson and the BenQ are roughly comparable, both have to be considered having very good such color, much better than many competitors, especially some of the entry-level 4K UHD DLPs.  I won’t mention names.

Black levels – both the BenQ and the Epson  have dynamic irises, but the inherent native contrast of the BenQ is superior to that of Epson’s non-UB 3LCD panels. The BenQ definitely wins the black level battle, with the 4010 more suited for doing black levels battle with the lower cost HT3550!

Feature sets – Other than the HDMI caused limitations of the HC4010, the Epson rules when it comes to features. There’s the 2.1:1 motorized zoom lens, with far more range, and more lens shift than even the BenQ’s respectable abilities. For many of us movie fanatics, though, that all combine to give the HC4010 Lens Memory, which in turn lets you go with a Cinemascope shaped wide screen. That will be a huge difference to some of us, and the proverbial “nothing burger” to a lot of others. (Going widescreen should be a key decision factor between these two. Both have CFI for smooth motion, plenty of inputs, a 12-volt trigger (for motorized screens).

Memory – Epson offers 10 memory settings for your color. As I noted (complained) the BenQ is limited. You a spare User mode, for non-HDR, but with HDR, the BenQ can’t have two modes set up at the same time: A brighter HDR mode with standard color, or one half as bright with the wider P3 color. (When I’m using one of these Epson’s or the 5050UB – next – I typically have 4 separate modes set-up for just my 4K HDR content, with 1 for my best HDR/P3, and 3 for HDR with Rec709 (no cinema filter), for different ambient light levels. (Of course, I am a bit over the top…)

Bottom line here – two really good projectors. I’ll give the Epson the big win on brightness overall. The Epson produces about the same lumens using 4K/3P color as the BenQ doing 4K/REC709 color). Mind you, the BenQ’s inherently bright ranges in HDR make it seem not a whole less bright, when both doing HDR/P3. For non-HDR 4K the Epson seems a lot brighter (it measures over twice as bright).  See the HC5050UB vs HT5550 images below.
Overall, both have very good color in best modes.

The Epson will cost you less – and has 2 years of warranty with a replacement program for both years, vs the BenQ’s standard 3 years parts and labor. (A fair trade-off!) BTW, if you want to buy from a local dealer or some big box houses (ie Best Buy), there’s the PC4050, for the same price as the HT5550, no real performance differences to the HC4010, but your extra $500 compared to the 4010, you also get an extra year warranty, and replacement, a spare lamp and ceiling mount. (But the BenQ still wins on black levels!)

BenQ HT5550 vs HC5050UB – and HC5050Ube:

There is so much to write here – as we’re talking about what are now my two favorite under $3000 home theater projectors! The HC5050Ub is $2999,  There’s also Epson’s HC5050UBe version with wireless HDMI but the HC5050Ube is $3299!

But I won’t spend too much time here, because I will be publishing a much bigger comparison article including more than a dozen side by side image comparisons.

So, here’s the important stuff:

The HT5550 has “ultra-high contrast” black level performance, that makes it really “serious” HT in my mind. The Epson UB projectors do that even better. As good as the BenQ does, the Epsons are still a stop better – at least on non-HDR content.

On HDR content, the handling of the HDR and tone mapping it makes a difference. While I describe the mid and brighter scenes as a bit too bright and less HDR-like than they should be with the BenQ, by comparison, the Epson seems to have the HDR brightness nailed. (But I do favor the BenQ HDR’s brightness more than the older Epson HC5040UB’s dimness. The Epson also does the best job of hitting P3 color of any lamp-based projector we’ve reviewed to date, per BTW the Epson’s HDR, well, it looks very, very similar to the $10K JVC NX7 and a $40K Sony, the BenQ comes across brighter even in dark scenes.

HDR comparison
Epson on the left - with HDR differences obvious, but both projectors have HDR controls

There’s a “but” to this story. On some dark scenes like this one, the BenQ pops. The blacks look a bit darker than the Epson UB, although that’s not because the BenQ has deeper black level abilities, but because of the HDR. The Epson (and others) sacrifice a bit on the bottom end black levels for more pop across the range. Let’s say the difference is more by the design.

BenQ on the right, Epson on the left, projecting an extremely dark scene from MockingJay Part 1. Take a close look!

Features – If you read the previous comparison of the BenQ vs the HC4010, things are a bit different here, vs the HC5050UB! These Epson’s have the longer range, motorized zoom and lens memory features of the 4010, and are at home on my 124” widescreen for that reason.

Other than the HDMI, the inputs of this Epson are the same as the 4010, and comparable to the BenQ.

The 5050UB and 5050Ube (unlike the 4010) have the full 18Ghz HDMIs, so now also support full 4K HDR gaming (with barely half the lag). That makes it a very good gamer, and definitely superior to the BenQ for that. The Epson UBS also add support for HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) for broadcast HDR content).

BTW the Epson is about one size larger physically, and these 5050UBs and the 4010’s come in white vs the BenQ’s black/gray finish. (The more expensive Epson Pro Cinema versions – come in black and with a 3 year warranty, plus extras, but are not sold online).

Bottom line for now. To me, the Epson is the preferred projector – all else being equal. I like the black level advantage and the lens memory that I need.

But, as most don’t need the lens memory capabilities, and the BenQ’s placement abilities are still very good, I do consider that for many folks that the HT5550 is just the better value for a serious home theater projector thanks to its significantly lower cost. Factor in the price and I’d say these two projectors’ price/performance are comparable, but with different strengths.

All that makes this BenQ HT5550 and the Epson HC5050UB my two fav projectors under $3K!!!

Next: A laser projector:

BenQ HT5550 vs LG HU80KA

Now, this is interesting on several levels. First, the LG is more expensive in theory, but currently online it street pricing is right around the BenQ’s $2499, sometimes slightly less.

The LG HU80KA, however, is a genuine laser projector – so no lamp replacements… The thing is, the HU80KA is really a unique home entertainment projector, but one we could never really get great color out of.  Also, it’s black levels are not even in the ballpark of the BenQ, as the LG’s black levels are basically “entry-level 4K UHD.”

The LG HU80KA - a unique home entertainment projector - 4K UHD.

The two projectors are massively different physically, the BenQ traditional, and the LG rather unique, right down to its mirror to adjust where the image goes (haven’t seen too many mirrors on projectors doing that since about 1997! Novel today. The LG can project onto the ceiling, the BenQ can’t.

LG projector
The LG HU80KA laser projector

But the picture quality is all BenQ! Because the LG HU80KA is a 4K UHD DLP (also a 1920×1080 x 4 DLP), and laser and priced about the same, it definitely is a competitior, but because their design purposes are so different, it’s like comparing two good cars: let’s say my Mazda Miata, with a Toyota RAV4. They both might be great at a lot of things, but are not direct competitors – if you need storage of 4 seats, forget the Miata. If you want a car that’s a blast do drive on city streets, back alleys, tracks and freeways, the Miata crushes the Toyota.

But two similarly priced cars, that share the basics, just as these are two similarly priced projectors that share the basics, but will appeal differently to the very different needs of their users. Got it? Good!

That’s it. Let’s do a quick Bottom Line, and finish with the Pros and Cons!

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for a good HT projector under $3000 like the DLP look and feel, have excellent color, and have a good room where you can appreciate how much better dark scenes look when a projector has really good black level performance, I think you have just found the best game in town. The HDR I keep discussing may not be mapped the way we think it should be (too bright, too “less HDR-like”, but the end result is still a most enjoyable picture, (and no fears of being dim).

As you have just read, there are other choices, lower cost, lower performance (including two BenQ models), those lower cost, with a lot more features, but not as good black levels, and at least one projector that costs more that wins on black levels, many features (but are they ones you need?) and HDR accuracy, but costs more.

No question about it, as this review publishes it is being added to our Top 15 Home Theater Projectors list found on our home page. That list covers projectors from $500 to $50K, and considers picture, performance, capabilities and value proposition.

The very bottom line: Serious about home theater and have a good room? Overall, this HT5550 is the lowest cost excellent projector on the market. You can find better, but it will cost you more. That’s fair!

No, that’s Excellent! Kudos to BenQ for resurrecting their great mid-priced series of home theater projectors. They did a great job for just about everyone except hard core gamers.