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Lifewire / Emily Ramirez
Amazing display quality
Reasonably affordable for a 4K projector
Solid build quality
Not bright enough in daylight
Doesn’t have many quality-of-life features like Bluetooth
Slow boot and shutdown times
The BenQ HT3550 is not only a phenomenal 4K projector for the price, but a phenomenal 4K projector period. It will change the way you watch 4K content.
BenQ consistently makes phenomenal home theater projectors, but they’ve stepped up their game even further with the HT3550. This entry-level 4K projector has accurate factory-calibrated colors, dark blacks, vivid HDR, and a great Wide Color Gamut. It’s only about $1,500 and performs dramatically better than its entry 4K competition. Better 4K projectors than the HT3550 cost at least $4,000. In 2013, BenQ released the HT1070, a sub-$1000 1080p projector that performed so well that all the other projector manufacturers were scrambling to make a comparably good projector for the same price. The HT3550 has only been on the market for a few months, but it may trigger a cascade of optical innovations by forcing its competitors to improve their budget products. The HT3550 may be to 2019 what the HT1070 was to 2013.
The care and attention to detail BenQ put into this projector are immediately evident. By size and lumen capacity, you can tell this beauty was designed for a dedicated home theater space: it weighs about nine pounds, measures 15x15x10 inches, and can produce up to 2,000 ANSI Lumens. It feels at home on either a ceiling mount in a large basement or on a bookshelf in your bedroom, as it can have a throw ratio as short as 1.13:1. The HT3550 can cast anywhere between a 60” and 180” diagonal image, depending on distance from screen and optical zoom.
When you look at the front of the projector, you’ll notice that there’s a small gate on the bottom of the lens. This gate is a clever, simple way to guard against any light bleed onto ceilings and walls, and we can confirm it works really well!
The rest of the front is covered with a bronze-ish grille, and the body is wrapped in a glossy white plastic. The body also has a nice, boxy form factor with a hint of smoothness that gives the whole ensemble a feeling of luxury. This is more impressive when we consider this is technically a “budget” 4K projector (even if it’s a luxury item overall!).
The care and attention to detail BenQ put into this projector are immediately evident.
Yes, the HT3550 costs $1500, making it one of the cheapest 4K projectors, but that doesn’t mean BenQ skimped on the quality. On the contrary: this is one of the best high end projectors. BenQ’s display offerings are generally well-regarded for their build and image quality, and this projector lives up to that pedigree.
The lens offers a modest vertical shift to avoid keystoning, projects pictures with a contrast ratio of 30,000:1, and comes factory calibrated to ensure accurate color out of the box. Its color gamut is a step up from its predecessor, the HT2550, moving from 96% Rec. 709 to 95% DCI-P3 - 100% Rec. 709. In layman’s terms, these are some of the most accurate colors in a sub-$2,000 projector. The images are vivid and dynamic regardless of HDR or wide color gamut settings. We felt comfortable enough to do light photo editing on this projector.
Should you run the HT3550 on regular mode, you will get 4,000 hours out of this workhorse lens, but you can extend that life to 15,000 hours if you run it in SmartEco mode.
The projector offers a good variety of ports and compatibility. Both of its HDMI ports are HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compliant, enabling them to stream 4K@60Hz content from any HDMI source. There is a powered USB Type A connection that can serve as power for a media device, like a Roku stick, or to stream media directly from a USB drive. It also has a USB mini port, optical S/PDIF port with 2.1 channel support, and two IR receivers, one on the front and one on the top. The S/PDIF outputs are especially awesome, since they enable users to redirect audio into an external speaker system.
We’ve had some better setup experiences than with the HT3550, but it wasn’t too bad. You can install this projector on the ceiling with a ceiling mount, or you can put it on a stand, table, or bookshelf of some sort. We have a dedicated theater, so it made the most sense for us to install the HT3550 on a ceiling mount.
Inserting the projector into our mount was actually a little tricky thanks to the location of the mounting points in the projector— one point was next to a protrusion in the casing, making it difficult to screw the mount to many three-pronged universal projector mounts that rely on the projector having a flush surface. Once we had it mounted, we connected the HT3550 to a power outlet, an HDMI switch, and our speaker system using the appropriate cables.
Now we’ve reached the exciting part of installation: turning on the projector. When you mount a projector to a ceiling, the projector is upside down. Some projectors automatically detect their orientation, but the HT3550 didn’t (its little brother the HT3050 had no problem doing so). Practically this just meant we had to read the set-up menu upside-down until we figured out how to correct its orientation. The auto-keystoning was also a little fidgety, so we turned it off and manually set it. Annoying, but not devastating.
Navigating the menu was a bit complicated. The remote is backlit and simple, which is nice, but the menu design is quite outdated, and we were never quite sure whether we were selecting the menu category or the top item in said menu category when we were configuring anything.
UI design aside, the menu does offer a lot of options to adjust the image. Wide color gamut and HDR can be turned on or off, individual color saturation and addition can be toyed with, and you can save your configurations to presets. We found that having HDR on and wide color gamut off (yes, off) in cinema mode gave the most pleasing picture, as wide color gamut was a little green-tinted. The projector also has a bright room mode, but it’s not actually very helpful given the projector’s low brightness.
The HT3550 is loud, but it has some tweakable settings to reduce its constant buzz. It has a “quiet” mode that disables pixel shifting, so the projector operates at 1080p and the lamp runs twenty degrees cooler at 195 degrees Farhenheit. Having HDR disabled also makes it quieter. However, we didn’t feel that the sound was intrusive enough for us to give up our beautiful 4K HDR playback. Any reasonably-loud speaker will cover up the noise of the projector.
Wow. Talk about vivid. First, let’s chat about this projector in a proper home-theater set up. In a dark room, with black out curtains and almost no light coming in, the colors really pop. The contrast ratio of 30,000:1 makes HDR content life-like, and 1080p content doesn’t look too bad, either. If you’re used to 1080p content, this projector is a real step up in clarity and sharpness. While blacks aren’t as deep as on an OLED screen, the contrast and color balance was so good that we never felt it was washed out.
We used the projector about ten feet away from a 100” projector screen, and it had no trouble filling the space. For those concerned about throw ratios, BenQ officially rates this projector as having a 1.13 - 1.47 ratio. You can have this projector as little as six feet away from the screen and still get a huge picture.
When compared to its competitors and predecessors, the HT3550 offers a great contrast ratio (the HT2550 has a 10,000:1 contrast ratio) and almost perfectly accurate color reproduction. The image on each HT3550 is factory-calibrated with stringent standards, allowing its 30-bit display to really shine. If you’ve ever had another BenQ projector or monitor, you know that this company takes its color accuracy seriously.
The HT3550 offers a great contrast ratio and almost perfectly accurate color reproduction.
The lens focus on the projector is incredibly smooth, allowing us to get a crisp image that we could read small fonts from. Frankly, after using this projector for a few weeks, moving down to a 1080p computer screen feels awful.
No projector is perfect, and sadly, the HT3550 is a poor performer in bright light conditions. With only 2,000 ANSI lumens of illumination, color does feel washed out in a normally-lit room. The whites and colors still look fine, however. It’s the black parts of images that suffer most, making dark scenes unwatchable in daylight. However, this isn’t completely the projector’s fault, as poor bright light condition performance has always been a limitation of projector technology. Besides, you can avoid this pitfall of the HT3550 by investing in curtains or viewing content at night. It’s a small trade-off for its excellent color accuracy and sharpness at its price point.
Competitive gamers may also want to look for a different projector. The HT3550 has about 50ms of input latency, which can be noticeable in fast-paced, competitive games. We didn’t have a problem with the lag, and playing single player games was a blast. For reference, a typical gaming 2k or 4K gaming monitor will have 1ms to 10ms input latency. 50ms is pretty average for a projector—about two frames of lag at 60 FPS, so we doubt it will matter much for anyone that isn’t competing in eSports tournaments.
Audio quality has never been a strength of projectors, but BenQ tried their best to offer acceptable speakers in the HT3550. There’s very little bass, and the treble is far too shrill, but it’s still above average for an onboard speaker. It offers passable midrange that favors dialogue and sound effects (a plus for a movie-oriented projector), and it’s loud enough to comfortably fill an average living room, with five watts per channel in two stereo speakers. For reference, the onboard audio may be as good as a $50-$100 bluetooth speaker. It works well for a movie night in a backyard, or if you need to relocate the projector for a week and you don’t want to haul your audio system with you.
For those that want to connect the HT3550 to an external speaker system, this projector provides a 2.1 channel optical S/PDIF connector. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support Bluetooth, so you’ll have to route your audio through S/PDIF or a 3.5mm jack. It’s a little frustrating that BenQ didn’t include these connections for those that want to have a wireless home theater system, but S/PDIF is one of the most common standards for dedicated home audio and 3.5mm is convenient for simple setups. Connecting audio through S/PDIF is simple—just plug the TOSLINK cable into a receiver, set the audio output for the projector to S/PDIF in the menu, and it’ll flow to rest of your system. However, keep in mind that while the mute button works, the BenQ projector does not otherwise regulate the volume of S/PDIF output.
This is where the “budget” in “budget 4K projector” comes in. The BenQ HT3550 has the essentials: 2 HDMI connections, S/PDIF support, a USB 3.0 media reader, a USB power source, an RS-232 port, and a mini USB port for firmware updates. However, the HT3550 doesn’t have luxuries like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or any other features that would make it anything but a dedicated home-theater projector that displays an image and reproduces sound.
The HT3550 is reinventing the entry-level 4K projector market thanks to its reasonable $1,500 MSRP. Many of the lower-end 4K projectors have had complaints about color accuracy, brightness, and sharpness, while the HT3550 is one of the highest performers, with remarkable image reproduction. It manages to keep its price so low by focusing on the necessities and skipping the costly frills.
BenQ TK800: If you want a 4K projector that was designed to perform in a normally-lit room, consider the TK800. It’s about $1,000 and is based on the same hardware as the HT2550, the HT3550’s predecessor. Its colors are slightly less accurate and it doesn’t offer vertical lens shift, but it’s still a great image, and better suited for brighter rooms.
Optoma UHD60: This one’s about a hundred dollars more expensive than the BenQ HT3550, and it’s a little better suited to bright environments. However, of its two HDMI ports, only one port is HDMI 2.0, meaning that the other HDMI port does not support 4K content. Additionally, the colors and blacks are not as brilliant on the UHD60 as they are on the HT3550.
Sony VPL-VW295ES: Are you looking to spend $5,000? You can get two top tier gaming computers…or this native 4K Sony projector. Currently, Sony is dominating the mid- and high-tier 4K projector market thanks to their vivid blacks, native 4K resolution, superior color reproduction, and overall quality. If you’re looking to get a projector superior to the BenQ HT3550, you’ll probably find yourself considering projectors in this price range, and this VPL is one of the best.
Shaking up the projector market.
If you can afford to set up a dark room, the BenQ HT3550 is the best value 4K projector on the market at $1,500 MSRP. It is a truly innovative product that will force BenQ’s competitors to up the ante when it comes to entry 4K projectors. Currently, getting a projector with better performance than the HT3550 will cost at least three times as much.