BenQ HT5550 vs. Epson Home Cinema 5050UB Comparison Review

BenQ HT5550 vs. Epson HC5050UB

Comparing Benq’s HT5550 with Epson’s Home Cinema 5050UB is a project I have long been looking forward to. For the first time in years, we have a reasonably priced DLP projector in the $2,000+ range that is a worthy challenger to the latest of Epson’s UB, AKA “ultra black,” projectors. A little background to get us started here: There are many differences between the BenQ HT5550 and Epson Home Cinema 5050UB, but also a lot of core similarities. Let’s start with the similarities.

Overview

The two projectors are similarly priced, although you can probably expect the BenQ to be a few hundred dollars less. The BenQ HT5550 has a $2,499 list price, while the Epson HC5050UB is priced at $2,999. The HT5550 claims 1,800 lumens and the Epson claims 2,600 lumens – we’ll talk about actual measurements later in this comparison review.

Both projectors come with fantastic warranties – the BenQ comes with a 3-year warranty, and the Epson comes with a 2 year, including a rapid replacement program for both years. So it’s an extra year warranty versus the two years of replacement program. Rapid replacement programs are awesome if you have a warranty problem – you are normally back up and running in 48-72 hours, not waiting potentially a couple of weeks for repair.

Perhaps most importantly, both projectors are 4K capable. Both support HDR (High Dynamic Range), and both attempt to achieve P3 color. HDR and P3 color represent the best performance available today. The P3 color translates into better color – more colors, and a wider color range. Movie theaters use P3 color, so if a home projector can achieve P3, then it has color parity with those great digital movie theaters we all visit.

A scene from Passengers, projected by the BenQ HT5550.
A scene from Passengers, projected by the BenQ HT5550.

The BenQ HT5550 is what is known officially as a 4K UHD projector – that means it is capable of achieving the standard of 4K by putting 8 million pixels on the screen (8 million represents 4K). The BenQ is not native 4K, like Sony’s entry-level VPL-VW295ES, which is also in this price class in this year’s Best Home Theater Projectors Report, and is a fine projector in its own right. But, it is not price competitive with these two.

By comparison, the Epson only produces 4 million pixels on the screen, but also works with 4K content. As it turns out, both use chips that are inherently 1920 x1080 resolution – the difference is the pixel shifting. To increase detail, Epson fires each 1080p pixel twice, shifting its position. The BenQ does the same thing, but it hits the screen four times.

All things considered, just remember that in both cases, they are using the same sized pixel. The extra benefits of firing four times instead of two provides only the most minor potential benefits. Other factors are more important. That Sony I mentioned uses pixels that are one fourth the size of either of these two projectors, because it is native 4K. I know what you’re thinking – that Sony must be sharper than these two. The truth is, and this is very important: which projector (including the Sony) appears sharper is more tied to image processing than the three different ways they manage to get 4K up on the screen.

Passengers photo - Epson 5050UB
A scene from Passengers, projected by the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB.

I’ve pointed out in a number of reviews that the Epson UBs tend to seem sharper than many of these 4K UHD projectors, or even the Sony. The UBs dodo not necessarily have more detail, but their image processing make the details stand out a little better. There’s always, of course, the risk of over-processing, but the choice is yours, using basic controls for fine-tuning the picture.

Based on that understanding, I would recommend not worrying whether one projector’s DLP, the other  3LCD, 4K UHD (the BenQ), or UHD-PRO (Epson’s trademarked name for their 4K handling and pixel shifting). Focusing on those things is more about concerning ourselves with naming rather than performance.

When it comes to DLP vs 3LCD, there are other fundamental differences, but ultimately, we care about the picture on the screen. Both the BenQ HT5550 and the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB projectors are at their best in a nice home theater, or a very darkened room, preferably with darker surfaces. The Epson, however, is far superior and better-suited for brighter rooms than the BenQ. I will discuss this below.

Hardware Differences

The BenQ HT5550 offers pretty good placement flexibility, sporting a 1.60:1 manual zoom lens and a reasonable amount of lens shift. Its throw range for a 100” screen is from just under 10 feet to almost 16 feet back – which means that you most likely won’t be able to rear shelf mount – but otherwise, it is typical for table top or ceiling mounting.

By comparison, the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB, is virtually unmatched in terms of flexible placement, only exceeded by projectors that offer a selection of expensive optional lenses. The zoom ratio is 2.10:1, and the amount of lens shift is massive, both vertically and horizontally. In most rooms, shelf mounting the Epson on a high shelf works great.

The biggest difference, however, relates to the Epson’s ability to work with widescreens, thanks to all its lens functions being motorized, which, in turn, allows for Lens Memory. As you are probably aware, most movies are created in a Cinemascope type format, called a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which is wider than normal HDTV’s 16:9 aspect ratio. This is why many enthusiasts go widescreen, so that their biggest picture is when watching those movies.

If going widescreen is important to you, then the Epson is definitely the way to go. If it is of no interest you, then all my talk about Lens Memory should have almost no influence on your decision. Not familiar with Lens Memory? With the Epson, you can easily set up different aspect ratios and save them. You can toggle through your two favorite (HDTV and widescreen) at the touch of a single button, but you have to buy a widescreen for that to work.

Picture Quality Differences

Out of the Box Color

Both projectors offer multiple modes with some pretty good color, without any adjustment. In terms of “Best Modes,” the BenQ is often a little closer to the ideal color temperature for movies (6500K), while the Epson runs just a touch cooler, so that its whites have a little more blue and a little less red. That said, both projectors are already leaning a touch blue, with the Epson more so.

I, like many others, do prefer a slightly cooler white when watching things like sports and video games. An added bonus – the cooler color temperature tends to cut through ambient light better. Both have some very good modes and some very cool ones. There’s plenty of more info on the different modes in each projector’s full review, which we will link up at the end of this comparison review.

Calibrated Color

There is very little difference between these two projectors, once both calibrated. The BenQ HT5550 and Epson HC5050UB calibrate really well – both look great. There are differences in terms of HDR, though, which is discussed below.

HDR

Perhaps the area of greatest differences between these two projectors is they way in which they handle HDR. The first generation of Epson’s UB projectors doing HDR – I am talking about the HC5040UB – had very dark mid-range on HDR content when it first shipped. That was a problem with most early HDR projectors. Epson even did two end-user firmware upgrades to further improve the HDR performance before the model was discontinued.

Their final upgrade produces some very satisfactory HDR, that was no longer overall on the dim side. The brand new HC5050UB, on the other hand, starts off with some great HDR handling. I find it normally just a touch brighter in those lower-mid-ranges, than even the last version of the earlier model. The end result: Some excellent HDR performance, neither seeming on the dim side, nor on the bright/washed-out side. Nice.

If the Epson’s earlier UB projector was on the dim side, the BenQ HT5550 projector goes in the opposite direction. Everything looks normal, to being a bit too bright in the mid-ranges. What is happening here is this: When you are working with limited lumens, as these projectors are, there has to be some compromise. HDR wants to wow you when something really bright happens, and to get that extra wow, you need a greater difference between the brightest, and the mid and lower areas in terms of brightness.

The more you brighten up the lower-mids and mid-ranges, the less HDR-like the picture will look, and the more it will look like SDR. I prefer the extra pop the Epson has in HDR mode – part of that is thanks to the extra luminance, which gives it more range. But, the BenQ manages to produce a bright-looking image, where we would expect something on the dim side. I do not see this as a bad thing. I have friends who have seen both, who initially (they have no patience) were more impressed with the BenQ, because the overall image looks slightly brighter on medium and dark scenes.

The bottom line on HDR handling: I believe the Epson to be doing HDR better, providing more of the ”High” in HDR. The BenQ manages to produce a very nice, bright image that still pops – if not quite as much, despite having less brightness to work with. Overall, for HDR content, whether running with REC709 or P3 color, I do favor the Epson, but note that this BenQ HT5550 received the Runner-Up Award, because it still has an overall excellent picture for the price.

SDR

Both projectors handle Standard Dynamic Range content exceedingly well. I see no real differences here when the gamma controls are similarly set. That is, expect the pictures to be quite similar, with the major differences being brightness and color balance, depending on the Color Mode used. Both projectors have plenty of lumens for SDR in a dedicated theater, using a pretty large screen.

Black Level Performance

Hooray! It has been a long time since we’ve seen a DLP projector in this general price range that has some pretty good black level performance. So, congratulations to BenQ, for deciding to once again put in a Dynamic Iris in this class of projector to lower those black levels. On the other hand, for almost 10 years Epson’s UB series has been producing the deepest black level performance at or below their price point, with only a JVC projector with LCoS technology doing better blacks, at a significantly higher price.

Overall, Epson’s Dynamic Iris has excellent success in providing deeper blacks than the BenQ. But, there is an important exception in this case. It really surprised me when I started noticing it. When viewing HDR content, on a dark scene, the BenQ produces deeper blacks on some of those scenes than the Epson. Still, overall, the ability to produce really dark scenes with good detail and pop to the image, favors the Epson.

Check out the comparison images in the photo player!

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