Earlier this year, BenQ released the HT3550 projector as a replacement for last year's HT2550. Those familiar with BenQ's product lineup will notice the price of this year's model has increased $250, bringing the MSRP to $1,499. For the extra dough, BenQ says they've stepped up performance and introduced new features. The light engine has been completely redesigned, bringing improvements in both color saturation and contrast. The latter is, in part, thanks to the new dynamic iris, which boosts contrast performance threefold over last year's model, up to a claimed 30,000:1.
The light engine also now includes an optical light filter to increase color saturation performance up to a claimed 95 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut. This is a welcome upgrade for those who plan to watch a lot of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, as most have color saturation well beyond REC709. Rounding out the upgrades is an additional fully compliant 18Gbps HDCP 2.2 HDMI 2.0b port and a pair of five-watt stereo speakers. All in all, the HT3550 seems to offer a comprehensive set of features and performance that would have been unheard of just a few years ago at its asking price.
The HT3550 employs Texas Instruments' new 1080p 0.47-inch DLP DMD with XPR technology to achieve perceptual on-screen resolution of 3,840 by 2,160. For those unfamiliar with this technology, XPR is a form of pixel-shifting similar to what JVC and Epson have used in the past. But unlike the implementations used on those projectors, TI is able to achieve even greater perceived on-screen resolution with this 1080p DMD. They do this by flashing four optically shifted 1080p frames on screen, compared to just two from competing pixel-shift implementations. This, in effect, creates a single native 4K image on screen. This can be more easily achieved with a DLP DMD due to the mirrors having extremely fast response time and a unique ability to optically tilt light, something LCD-based technologies can't do. This offers far more possibilities in how pixels can be shifted, especially when combined with the specialized optical glass actuator that all pixel-shift implementations use. Until TI decides they want a true native 4K DMD in the consumer space, companies like BenQ, who rely on TI for designing and manufacturing display devices for their projectors, must hold fast and use pixel-shifting as a stop-gap technology.
As far as home theater projectors go, the HT3550 is compact and light. The chassis measures in at just 5.0 inches by 14.96 inches by 10.35 inches and weighs only 9.3 pounds. It's flexible enough to allow for table-top, ceiling, and rear-screen installation, build quality is excellent for its price, and the matte white finish should look good in most rooms. BenQ claims the HT3550 allows up to 2,000 lumens of image brightness with the included 240-watt lamp. The lamp is rated for 4,000 hours in Normal lamp mode and 15,000 hours in SmartEco mode. The supplied remote control is ergonomic, well laid out, and backlit for convenience.
Connections on the back of the projector are the two aforementioned full bandwidth HDMI 2.0b ports, an RS-232C port, a 12-volt trigger port, two USB ports, an S/PDIF optical digital audio port, and an analog 3.5-millimeter analog audio port. The USB ports differ in their functionality, with one of them meant to power a streaming device like a Roku or Chromecast, while the other is meant to be used for local media playback from either a hard drive or flash drive.
The HT3550 is one of the first XPR-based DLP projectors I've come across that supports 3D, and all major consumer 3D formats are supported. Just remember that you'll need DLP Link 3D glasses to properly sync to the projector if you plan on watching 3D content.
As this is a single-chip DLP projector, color needs to be provided sequentially to the DMD. To facilitate this, the HT3550 is using a six-segment RGB-RGB color wheel. Unlike some of the other color wheel configurations typically found near this price point, an RGB-RGB color wheel boosts color saturation performance and helps to cut down on the dreaded rainbow color breakup artifact common to most budget-oriented DLP projectors. In my testing, I found this to be true. BenQ claims the color wheel included inside the HT3550 is able to cover the entire REC709 color gamut natively, something the HT2550 couldn't do. As mentioned above, for Ultra HD/HDR video, a color filter can be placed within the light engine to boost color saturation up to a claimed 95 percent of the DCI-P3 color gamut.
The HT3550 includes support for HDR10 and Hybrid Log-Gamma HDR formats. The projector can also automatically detect an HDR image and change picture modes to correctly display this content. Furthermore, the projector allows you to adjust the HDR image within the menu system via a tone map adjustment slider.
The HT3550 has both a SmartEco lamp dimming mode and a physical iris in the lens that can be enabled to boost contrast performance, though only one can be enabled at a time. Both of these options work in a similar way by modulating how much light either enters or leaves the light engine, which helps boost on/off contrast performance past what the projector can do natively. So, when a movie scene gets dark, these systems will dynamically adjust light output to aid contrast and black level.
Due to the way the pixel-shifting XPR system works, there is an inherent high-pitched noise when the optical glass actuator is moving. For those sensitive to this noise, BenQ have given owners the option to manually disable XPR by choosing Silence mode in the Display submenu. When this mode is engaged, all content will be scaled to 1080p. In my testing, I didn't find the noise coming from the projector to be particularly annoying, but your mileage may vary. I would imagine an annoyance to this noise will depend on how close you sit to the projector.
Setting up the HT3550 can be very tricky, especially for those unfamiliar with projectors. Several factors inherent to the HT3550 need to be taken into consideration for potential buyers. The projector has a relatively short throw range at only 1.13 to 1.47:1. For context, I own a ten-foot wide screen, which means placement of this projector can only be 11.3 to 14.7 feet away from my screen. A second factor potential buyers need to take into consideration is the image offset and lens shift capabilities this projector has. The HT3550 has 100 percent image offset, which means the projected image will be 100 percent below the center of the lens in image height. However, with the included manual vertical lens shift, you can adjust this offset by ten percent. This means the HT3550 must be placed at least level with the top of your screen, but not more than ten percent higher than your screen's height. No horizontal lens shift is included, so the lens will have to be dead center with your screen in order to properly fill it with an image.
Out of the box, Auto-Keystone mode is enabled. In general, keystone software manipulates the image in a detrimental way. For best image quality, I would advise owners to disable this feature and physically adjust the projector to achieve correct geometry on your screen. BrilliantColor is also enabled by default. While BrilliantColor is an easy way for owners to achieve more lumen output, it comes at the expense of color and greyscale accuracy. Like keystone, I would advise owners to disable this feature unless you absolutely need the extra brightness.
You'll find useful settings in the menu system, such as the basic Brightness, Contrast, Color, and Sharpness adjustments, as well as smooth motion creative frame interpolation (called Motion Enhancer 4K), a smart image sharpening tool (called Pixel Enhancer 4K), several preset gamma modes, and access to the built-in media player should you have a flash drive plugged into the back of the projector. The HT3550 also offers two-point greyscale adjustment, as well as a full color management system should you want to calibrate the projector yourself. Additionally, the HT3550 is ISF certified, which allows a calibrator to access the ISF submenu. This type of calibration can lock in picture settings, ensuring that accidental changes to a calibration can't occur.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...