BenQ has been on a roll as of late, with the company now offering a large selection of 4K-capable, single-chip DLP projectors. Models available span nearly an order of magnitude in pricing, with the higher-end models adding in niceties such as upgraded optics and solid-state light sources. BenQ’s latest model, the HT5550 (available at Amazon), sits towards the middle of the company’s lineup, with an asking price of $2,699, and as its model name suggests, the projector is intended for use in dedicated home theaters.
At its heart, the HT5550 utilizes Texas Instruments’ latest .47-inch DLP DMD. Technically, this DMD is a 1080p-native display device. However, BenQ is taking advantage of this DMD’s proprietary e-shift implementation, which boosts on-screen resolution to Ultra HD. This is achieved by flashing four individual sub-frames on screen, each optically shifted, to create four times the native resolution of the DMD. Like other e-shift implementations, this process happens so quickly that the human eye perceives this as a single higher-resolution image. Even if you’re pixel-peeping up close to your screen, the image really does appear to be native Ultra HD.
BenQ specifies the HT5550’s output at up to 1,800 lumens thanks to the projector’s 245-watt UHP lamp and optimized light engine. BenQ rates the life of the lamp for up to 10,000 hours depending on which mode you choose to run the lamp in. The company also claims 100 percent coverage of both the REC709 and DCI-P3 color gamut. This is no doubt thanks to the projector’s six-segment RGBRGB color wheel and yellow-notch color filter. The latter is used to help boost color saturation past REC709. Native contrast performance isn’t specified, although BenQ does say the projector achieves up to 100,000:1 dynamic contrast through the use of a dynamic iris.
As one would expect from any display selling in 2020, the HT5550 supports HDR10 and HLG HDR formats. This is also one of the first 4K-capable DLP projectors that I’ve come across that supports all major 3D formats. Potential buyers should be aware that DLP-Link glasses are the only ones compatible with the projector. No glasses are included in the box; however, BenQ does offer its compatible DGD5 DLP-Link glasses as an optional accessory.
The HT5550 is what I’d consider to be a medium-sized home theater projector. It measures in at 19.4-inches by 6.6-inches by 13.7-inches and weighs 14.3 pounds. The size and weight make it relatively easy for a lone individual to ceiling mount the projector. The chassis is composed almost entirely of matte-black plastic. Despite this, it still looks and feels at home inside a dedicated theater. Those looking to shelf mount the projector will be happy to find a pair of adjustable feet, which makes it much easier to get proper image geometry on your screen.
One of the complaints I had last year reviewing BenQ’s more affordable HT3550 projector, was with that projector’s lens. Specifically, I thought the amount of lens shift, zoom, and throw was extremely limited, making placement options within a room narrow. That’s not the case here, as the HT5550’s all-glass lens features a much wider 1.63 to 2.18 throw ratio. You also get better lens shift capabilities as well, with the HT5550 offering up to ± 60 percent vertical and ± 23 percent horizontal shift.
Be aware that all lens controls are manual. But other than setting the projector’s focus, this doesn’t really pose any major problems during the setup process. For that, I typically recommend getting help from a friend or family member. You can pull up the projector’s focus test pattern in the menu system and, as you rotate focus adjustment on the lens, they can tell you when pixels look the most resolved. If you’re flying solo, you can try and eyeball it at the projector or even use a pair of binoculars. On my review unit, pixels were nicely resolved, though I did notice some minor chromatic aberration; however, these artifacts were not visible from a normal seating distance.
For connections, the HT5550 is fairly competitive, with a pair of HDCP 2.2 compliant HDMI 2.0b ports for video input; RS-232, IR, and network IP via the RJ45 port for system control; and four USB ports, one dedicated to system updates, while the others are meant to power devices such as a Google Chromecast or Roku Stick, or even as a means to playback media locally via the projector’s built-in media player. Additionally, the projector can control other devices via 12-volt trigger port and send audio to devices through the included analog 3.5 millimeter and optical SPDIF ports.
As with the included remote control, the HT5550’s menu system is intuitively laid out, with most items logically named to avoid confusion as to what does what. You’ll find global Brightness, Contrast, Tint, Color, and Sharpness options available, as well as a two-point greyscale and six-axis color management system. You’ll also find numerous picture modes available, each suited to meet a particular need, such as high brightness, REC709 or DCI-P3 color compatibility, and even a pair of ISF modes that certified calibrators can use to lock in picture settings.
Going a little deeper into the menu system, you’ll find access to useful settings such as CFI motion smoothing, DLP BrilliantColor, dynamic iris control, lamp settings, and a number of post-processing features that can reduce noise, sharpen the image, and enhance flesh tones if you feel the image needs help.
During its time here, the HT5550 was set up in a well-treated dedicated home theater and was projecting onto a 130-inch 2.35:1 EluneVision Reference Studio 4K fixed frame screen. Calibration and objective measurements were taken with an X-Rite i1Pro2 photospectrometer and Minolta CL-200 illuminance meter.
If you read the marketing for the HT5550, BenQ wants you to know the projector is factory calibrated to meet both DCI-P3 and REC709 color standards. This means that the projector meets the standards necessary to faithfully reproduce 1080p SDR content, as well as most of the Ultra HD HDR content currently available, as color saturation rarely exceeds DCI-P3 within the REC2020 gamut the content is encoded for. They even provide a print-out of the calibration report inside the box showing how your specific projector measures. Knowing this, I was curious to see how my review unit would measure using my own equipment and I’m happy to report mostly good things.
Taking a look at REC709 performance first, I found that the projector’s Cinema mode offered the best out-of-the-box performance. My review unit exceeded expectations by covering 103 percent of REC709, with red going beyond what’s needed in saturation to fully represent the gamut. Ironically, however, as you can see in the graph, measured points below full saturation did show some issues with under saturation. No worries, though, as the included color management system quickly fixed these problems. Average delta errors prior to calibration averaged just 2.1; after calibration, errors averaged an impressive 0.9, giving the projector reference color performance.
If you switch over to D.Cinema mode, you can take advantage of the projector’s wide gamut filter, which improves color saturation performance. Just be aware that using this filter costs the projector 25 percent of its light output. I found results were similar to REC709, with average delta errors at 2.8 prior to calibration and 1.8 after. Once calibrated, I measured the HT5550 to cover 97.8 percent of the DCI-P3 gamut. This is excellent performance, besting several projectors costing thousands of dollars more.
Choosing the projector’s 2.2 gamma setting averaged a little low at just 2.13 across all IREs. Choosing the projector’s 2.3 gamma preset helped a little to increase gamma to the reference 2.2 that the vast majority of 1080p video content is mastered for. The bottom end of the projector’s image does have some issues coming out of black dark enough, which is no doubt an issue due to the projector’s limited native contrast.
The only out-of-the-box area that I found lacking was with the projector’s white balance. As you can see in the provided graph, there is too much blue and green across all IREs, which gives the image a slightly aqua cast overall. But, like with the color errors I experienced, the two-point white balance controls found in the menu system easily fixed these problems.
Light output will vary depending on which image mode you place the projector in. Cinema mode is best used for an accurate REC709 SDR image and, after calibration, I measured a maximum peak white luminance of 830 lumens. D.Cinema mode is best used for DCI-P3 content, but because the color filter is used in this mode, you’ll only have a little over 600 lumens to work with. If this isn’t enough brightness for HDR10 content, BenQ gives you the option to disable the filter in favor of more brightness. Alternatively, if you’re willing to live with some image inaccuracy, you can opt to enable BrilliantColor, which boosts light output by 21 percent.
If you’re in need of even more lumens, the HT5550 does offer its VividTV and Bright modes, which is how this projector gets close to the advertised brightness specification of 1,800 lumens. Just be aware that Bright mode has a significant green cast over the image and is this projector’s least-accurate image mode overall. VividTV mode is quite watchable, and gives you up to 1,100 lumens to work with.
One of the major complaints I had with BenQ’s more affordable HT3550 was with its native contrast performance, so I was curious to see if the HT5550 would fare better at its higher asking price. Placing the projector’s lens at minimum zoom and placing the lamp setting to High seemed to offer the most native contrast. Set up like this, I measured a peak on/off contrast ratio of 1,038:1. This is about double what I measured from the HT3550, but still quite a bit behind what DLP projectors using older DMD technology can achieve.
Thankfully, the HT5550 has two dynamic contrast systems to help boost contrast performance. The first is SmartEco, which is a lamp dimming technology and, with it enabled, I measured an on/off contrast ratio of 2,532:1. Alternatively, you can use the physical dynamic iris instead, which, on a fundamental level, works the same as SmartEco by dynamically adjusting how much light enters the light engine. The iris has three settings available, with High mode being the most helpful, boosting on/off contrast to 5,509:1.
As you can see, the dynamic iris is quite a bit more aggressive than the SmartEco, so expect to see more dynamic contrast artifacts. Especially when using High mode, you may notice some pumping or flickering if a movie cuts back and forth between brighter and darker content. For instance, in a scene towards the beginning of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Aunt May and her new boyfriend, Happy, have a conversation. As the scene cuts back and forth between actors, you can see the iris struggling to find a happy medium between the two shots, and you end up with some image flicker because the iris is moving so rapidly. It can be a little distracting. But because native contrast isn’t particularly high, I’d say the improvement to contrast and black level that the iris brings outweighs such concerns. With that said, I do hope BenQ can tweak the software to make the iris a little less visible.
Overall, the HT5550 offers subjective image quality competitive with its asking price, especially against other 4K-capable DLP projectors. Once you dial in the picture settings as I have, you’re left with an impressively sharp and color-accurate image. Flesh tones look realistic and the high on-screen resolution, closely matching some of the native 4K projectors I’ve tested, easily shows off fine detail present on well-mastered 4K video content. Taking a look at the opening sequence of The Mummy on Ultra HD Blu-ray, we get to see a few wide shots of the fictitious city of Hamunaptra. The HT5550 rendered an impressive amount of fine detail on the façade of many of the buildings off in the distance, something I’ve seen other e-shift projectors struggle with.
Despite the relatively low native contrast available to the HT5550, the dynamic iris provides enough assistance that only very dark sequences overall show off the limitation. I often use Avengers: Infinity War on Ultra HD Blu-ray to test how a projector handles darker video content. The opening shot of space, which is extremely dark overall, did look more grey than black; however, once the scene transitions into our heroes’ space ship, the HT5550 did a much better job portraying the required dynamic range required to show off both the dark and light elements of the image.
Native motion performance is excellent on the HT5550, adding no noticeable blur to the image thanks to the DLP mirror’s extremely fast response time. However, as this is a single chip DLP projector, color breakup artifacts (aka rainbows) do occur on occasion. Thankfully, the six-segment RGBRGB color wheel minimizes such artifacts, except when particularly bright and dark content appeared onscreen at the same time.
Unfortunately, BenQ didn’t send me a pair of their DLP-Link 3D glasses, so I wasn’t able to test 3D performance. However, DLP is known for its presentation of 3D, so owners shouldn’t expect issues with ghosting artifacts, and because the projector is using an RGBRGB color wheel, there shouldn’t be contrast loss while presenting 3D.
For all the gamers out there, I measured 61 milliseconds of lag with my Leo Bodnar input lag tester. While this number isn’t low enough for competitive gaming, the number is still low enough for casual gaming on the big screen. Just be aware that if you enable the projector’s motion smoothing frame interpolation software, input lag goes up dramatically to 125 milliseconds.
As with most projectors near the HT5550’s price point, it relies on static tone mapping to display HDR10 video content, which means you’ll need to play around with the Brightness and Contrast settings, as well as the HDR Brightness setting, on a movie-by-movie basis in order to achieve best results. I wish this weren’t the case, but it’s rare to find two movies mastered in HDR the exact same way, as the peak and average nit level of HDR content varies quite a bit.
I found the default settings clipped white too low and raise the level of black too high with a lot of the HDR10 content, which limits potential dynamic range available to the projector. Luckily, adjusting these settings is straightforward and easy, so I don’t think owners will run into too many problems as long as they’re willing to go into the menu and play around.
While I’m happy to report better on/off contrast performance compared to the BenQ HT3550 I reviewed last year, the HT5550 still falls behind some of the competition near its price point and is this projector’s weakest image quality trait.
With that said, just like with the HT3550, the issue isn’t entirely BenQ’s fault. This new .47-inch DMD, while offering more on-screen resolution compared to TI’s older DMDs, doesn’t seem to have as much potential contrast performance that manufacturers can take advantage of when designing a light engine around it. It’s a tradeoff that potential buyers will need to reconcile with. At the end of the day, you’ll need to decide which is more important to you: contrast or resolution?
Comparisons and Competition
The HT5550’s closest competitor in terms of pricing would be Epson’s 5050UB (reviewed here). The Epson is a 1080p native, 4K e-shift, 3LCD projector. Unlike the HT5550, Epson is only flashing it’s optically shifted 1080p displays twice per frame, so the BenQ will have better on-screen resolution. However, the 5050UB is going to have about as much native contrast as the BenQ does dynamically and it’s considerably brighter, especially when each is placed in a color mode with equal saturation performance. It’s also worth pointing out that Epson includes a nicer, fully motorized lens. Because of all this, if you’re a strict movie-viewer, I do think the Epson has the HT5550 beat.
If you’re looking for a DLP alternative to consider instead, I’d advise shoppers to look into an older .67-inch DMD-based projector instead. Keep an eye out for the Optoma UHD60 or UHD65. These projectors will offer a noticeable bump in native contrast, which helps dark movie content look subjectively better and, from what I’ve personally seen, have a slightly sharper lens. You will lose a bit of fine image detail going this route, as this DMD doesn’t have quite the same on-screen resolution as the one found inside the HT5550, but the contrast advantage easily makes up for this.
BenQ’s HT5550 fixes most of the complaints I had with the company’s more affordable HT3550. With far better placement flexibility and a bump in contrast performance, stepping up to this model for these improvements is well worth the extra money if you can afford it. Even still, I do wish native contrast performance were just a bit better. However, I found that the projector’s dynamic iris makes up for this deficiency most of the time.
Out of the box, the HT5550 offers excellent image accuracy, and with just a few minor touch ups, the image it throws on screen is near-reference. Add this to the BenQ’s high on-screen resolution and you’re left with some of the best image quality one can get from a projector under $3,000.
• Visit the BenQ website for more product information.
• BenQ HT3550 Projector Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
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