Best in Class – $1000 - $2000 Performance 4K Capable Home Theater Runner-Up: BenQ HT3550

August 30, 2019 / By Jennifer Stringfellow
HT3550

The BenQ HT3550 is certainly very worthy of your consideration if you are shopping in the under $2,000 range and want both 4K capability and a really impressive picture. 4K capable, using the lower resolution 1920 x 1080 x 4 pixel shifting DLP chip set, the BenQ HT3550 claims 2,000 lumens. Count it as being one of the two or three of that type with really good picture quality. Feature wise, it is a step up from BenQ’s entry-level 4K UHD projector, the HT2550, and one below their also-excellent HT5550 projector, which is roughly $1,000 more.

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BenQ HT3550 Overview

The HT3550 combines very good color, full calibration controls, and a Dynamic Iris to make it a cut above the other DLP projectors in this price “Class.” This is a really good first home theater projector, and also a good one as a step up from older projectors that don’t support 4K content. I’ll run through the key points, and quickly add a comment or two about the “Performance – Runner-Up” HT3550, and the more expensive Epson Home Cinema 4010, which took the Performance Award.

Let me say now, both are projectors I can and do highly recommend. But, let’s focus on the BenQ HT3550. This projector is reasonably bright, so it can escape the theater/cave type of room into something more normal, but BenQ offers two versions in the lower price ranges (HT2550 and TK800M), with the latter being brighter for living room type use. So far (August 2019), there is no “bright room” version of the HT3550.

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If you take it out of the theater environment, be sure to pair it with an ALR screen that can absorb stray ambient light, to maintain high contrast. In a dedicated theater or equivalent, though, a good matte screen or maybe even a high contrast gray one – to lower black levels – is the way to go. Speaking of black levels, let’s focus briefly on the Dynamic Iris. It doesn’t  push too hard – that is, it says smooth, but doesn’t lower black levels as much on the really dark scenes as their more expensive HT5550 or Epson’s HC5050UB (which is almost 2x the price). Both of those do visibly darker blacks.

Important to note, I don’t think there is currently another under $2K list projector that can do better on those dark scenes, with the Epson HC4010 being very competitive in this area. The BenQ seems to be a little deeper in blacks on 4K content, but the Epson may have a slight edge on 1080p. The point: they are pretty much the two best in this regard, and therefore the two most “home theater” of the $1K - $2K projectors we’ve reviewed in the past year plus. Yes, perhaps the BenQ’s biggest strength is picture quality – especially color. BenQ has often been mentioned here as the DLP company that tends to be most focused on the picture. That’s not to slam the others, but, for example, Optoma – is strong, by my take, in the under $1K range, where their gaming projectors are highly acclaimed.

Since I opened that can of worms: The HT3550 is not a great gaming projector – its input lag is up around 60ms on 1080p content. Word is, it is only a tad faster on 4K content (which we do not measure yet). That makes it, at best, just acceptable for serious gamers, with a lot of them unhappy with that level of lag. That Epson is a better choice for gamers, as I also noted in the HC4010’s summary. I do favor the BenQ HT3550 slightly over the Epson 4010 in terms of typical picture, color-wise, in the sense that in lower brightness scenes (not necessarily very dark ones) I think the DLP BenQ produces slightly richer colors without seeming over the top.

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Brightness – we had two HT3550s here. First, a pre-production one (which had several issues – documented in our full review) and a full production model when they started to ship. Brightness was one area that had been very disappointing on the pre-production one. The second HT3550 measured a max of 1,811 lumens – almost 10% below BenQ’s claim, but being short 10% is better than most projectors do when we measure them. Of course, the brightest mode on many projectors is so far off on color as to be used only when ambient light is out of control and you need every last lumen.

For your serious dark room viewing in the best color mode, the BenQ first pre-production unit we had, still had a healthy 994 measured lumens calibrated handling non HDR content, which is just about enough for a typical 150” screen in a proper theater! We also calibrated two more modes for 4K with HDR. One stayed with good old REC709 color gamut that we’ve all been using for “decades,” while the other was calibrated for HDR with P3 color, which the BenQ tries to accomplish – but like every lamp based DLP, came up rather short. Still, what you get is a touch better color with the P3 attempt.

Most of you, I believe will favor sticking with non-P3 for the extra brightness. Please note, the measurements I’m talking about here are from the pre-production unit. The full production model measured over 15% brighter. Sorry, we did not provide our calibration settings because it was obvious that the color tables had changed by full production, so dropping in our settings did not result in better color. No worries though, the production unit’s color was very good compared to most of the competition, without any adjustment.

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The Bottom Line

If you like DLPs, the BenQ HT3550 is the best choice in this Class. It has excellent color, right out the box, an impressive 4K picture, and a healthy amount of brightness for a home theater environment. It and the Epson are about tied, as they are in black levels. The Epson is loaded with features for the extra hundreds, but other than that, two comparable projectors that are more different, than “better/worse.” The BenQ HT3550 is my top choice in an under $2,000 DLP projector with 4K capabilities.

Get the BenQ HT3550 on Amazon!

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BenQ HT3550 Review

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