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BenQ HT3550i 4K projector review: Sharp and colorful, needs more pop
There are excellent details and colors in the 3550i, but its overall picture quality is limited by its poor brightness and contrast. The BenQ HT3550i 4K projector is unlike many other projectors emphasizes on quality and features that are hardly found in other projectors. Read more on Optoma GT1090HDR Short-Throw Gaming Projector
On a 100-inch screen, I could see individual hairs, specific weaves in fabric, and wrinkles galore, thanks to the 4K resolution and DLP inherent sharpness of the BenQ HT3550i home theater projector. In addition to having rich, vibrant reds, greens, blues and everything in between, it is also one of the most color-accurate projectors I have reviewed recently. These two features combine to produce a pleasingly realistic image.
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The detail is excellent
Colors that are vibrant and accurate
Noiseless video with a clean image
Stream Android TV through the built-in player
A little dim
Contrast ratio is moderate
HT3550i, however, does not compare well to competitors in other ways. Despite having a good contrast ratio and a brighter image than many similar projectors, such as the Optoma UHD30 and BenQ HT2050A, its brightness and contrast ratio are low. HT3550i doesn’t look bad in any specific way, but its strengths — including Android TV streaming — can’t compensate for its weaknesses.
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Basic specs~BenQ HT3550i 4K projector
3840×2160 is the native resolution
HDR is compatible
it is compatible with 4K
it is 3D compatible
The lumen specification is 2,000 (ANSI).
Manual zoom (1.3x)
Manual shift of the lens
Life expectancy of the lamp (Normal mode) is 4,000 hours
With the HT3550i projector, you c
an see every bit of that resolution; HDR compatibility is also included, but it’s not the best projector out there.
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More on specs
The HT355i has a big disadvantage with its lumen rating. Although 2,000 lumens is certainly not dim, it would have been sufficient just a few years ago. But in the age of ultrabright projectors, it falls behind in brightness. We will dive more into why that matters in
a moment if it had a better contrast ratio. This would not be an issue if it had a better contrast ratio.
As with our Editor’s Choice HT2050A, the 3550i has lens shift. It’s not much, but enough to make placement a bit easier. There is 1.3x more zoom compared to 1.1x on the like-priced Optoma UHD30, but it is shorter in the throw. This means you need to be around eight feet away if you want to fill a 100-inch screen, whereas most projectors in this price range require 10 feet. My case is that it must be placed on the sofa, not behind it. BenQ seems to prefer projectors that have shorter throws, as the HT2050A was the same, but most of the others we’ve reviewed did not need that close a distance. Although this isn’t a big deal, you should keep it in mind if you already have a projector mount.
This generation of projectors comes with an average lamp life of 4,000 hours in Normal mode and 10,000 hours in Eco mode. SmartEco mode, which varies lamp level based on content brightness, extends this even further, to 15,000 hours in total.
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Connectivity and convenience~BenQ HT3550i 4K projector
There are two HDMI 2.0b inputs (both HDMI 2.0a)
No PC input
A USB 3.0 port and a USB 2.5A port are available.
3.5mm output and input for audio
(1) Optical digital audio output
There is no LAN port
The trigger is 12 volts
The remote port is RS-232
There is no MHL
Backlit remote control
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More on connectivity
You can connect two 4K HDR sources with the HT3550i, since both HDMI inputs are HDMI 2.0. Usually, when buying a projector like this, you connect everything to an AV receiver first, and then use one HDMI cable to connect to the projector, but having two connections is nice. There are two USB ports, which is a rare feature. The USB 3.0 connection lets you connect and stream content from a hard drive easily. Streaming sticks won’t need this much power, typically 1.5A is fine, but the option of running at 2.5 amps is nice. Most streaming sticks won’t need this amount of power to run, again 1.5A is usually fine.
3.5mm analog and optical outputs are available for audio. The optical output is only stereo, not 5.1. There are two 5W speakers on the HT3550i. Technically, you don’t need a streaming stick because it already comes with one. The Android TV dongle installs inside the case via the otherwise hidden USB and HDMI connections, so all back-end connections are still accessible. The downside is that you can’t hear surround sound with it. Streaming sticks are so inexpensive, however, and they can be connected just as easily to a receiver or soundbar, which often provide surround sound options, that I don’t think built-in streaming is particularly important in a nonportable projector like this one.
There is an RS-232 port and a 12v trigger on the remote for home automation purposes. The remote has a dim amber backlight that is much more pleasant to use in a dark theater than Optoma’s UHD30, which could double as a tanning bed for naked rats.
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Picture quality comparisons
Comparison models~BenQ CineHome HT2050A
Although it doesn’t support 4K, and is half the price of the 3550i, the HT2050A is our current favorite projector. Because it performed well against the UHD30, we’re recommending it again. Speaking of the UHD30, it is a direct competitor for price and resolution. HT2050A gets its own source because it has a lower resolution, so I used a Monoprice 1×4 4K HDR distribution amplifier to connect the two 4K projectors.
We might as well start with the biggest issue: brightness.
There are two projectors I have measured that are much brighter than the HT3550i, although those two are some of the brightest projectors I have ever seen. However, the HT3550i isn’t a light cannon even when compared to far dimmer projectors. In Cinema mode, I measured 677 lumens, while BenQ and Optoma were around 1,600.
The projector usually sacrifices light output to provide home theater enthusiasts with a better color level and black level. On the color front, the 3550i is excellent, one of the best DLP projectors I’ve ever seen. That’s how BenQ markets the projector as a “Premium Home Theater Projector.” The color of the UHD30 and HT2050A, however, is nearly as good.
The 3550i’s black level is good, but that’s misleading. I measured a better black level than the UHD30, and about the same as the HT2050A, but it lacks the contrast ratio to make it matter. In this situation, the HT3550i appears dim, while the UHD30 and HT2050A both have good black levels. As a whole, it doesn’t look dim. Although 677 lumens on a 100-inch screen is fine, it is already losing out to far more light for only a little bit of color. Although far behind the HT2050A’s excellent contrast ratio, the UHD30 has virtually the same result.
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HT3550i fares far better with, well, picture quality in general. As stated, the color is excellent. The subtle shades and in-between colors are far more accurate and natural than most other projectors. Although the HT3550i has great color, it is just just a little better than the HT2050A and UHD30, two projectors with great color. It isn’t quite enough to offset the contrast ratio, but it is closer than you would think.
Just as with the UHD30 4K, the HT2050A’s extra pixels are immediately noticeable on a large screen. This is what 4K is designed for. Motion blur is also completely absent. It is the only modern display technology that has no traces of motion blur, and it does this without the assistance of black frames or motion interpolation.
During my initial setup of the 3550i, I noticed some mild smoothing, aka the soap opera effect, going on. This option is available for people who like it, but I don’t and wanted to turn it off. However, it was off. Disconcerting. The issue seems to have been resolved after turning on and off the motion smoothing, after trying everything else.
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HT3550i’s speed is another oddity. There aren’t any projectors in this class that are particularly fast. All of them take a moment to switch between resolutions or frame rates, for example. The HT3550i, however, takes a considerable time to switch from one resolution to another. Generally, this isn’t a problem. It might take a few seconds to change from a menu to a show, but watching YouTube tested my patience. Often, YouTube ads take a different frame rate from the video, which means every few minutes or so (or whenever there’s an advertisement), the screen goes black, and then it resumes. In order to avoid missing anything on screen, you learn to pause at the end of every ad break if you’re into whatever you’re watching.
The last aspect is the lack of noise. Not in the fans, as they are noticeable in any projector this size, but in the image. The UHD30, for instance, is extremely noisy. On the HT3550i, there is no apparent banding in bright highlights (clouds, for example), and no extra grain in shadows. The image is noticeably cleaner. Getting this right and looking far more natural is a win for BenQ rather than an Optoma issue, but BenQ deserves some points for getting this right.
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Final thoughts on BenQ HT3550i 4K projector review
In contrast to the HT3550i, which is superior in detail and slightly better in color, I was not surprised by the HT3550i’s quality. I thought it would be just like the HT2050A, but in 4K.
In addition, the 4K resolution UHD30 is the same price, has nearly the same color and detail as the UHD30, but is 2.5x brighter. In addition to the longer throw, that projector has slightly worse color, and is easier to place for many people. It has more noise, but I doubt most people will notice that. My recommendation is for most people to buy the BenQ HT2050A. For those who crave 4K detail and are willing to sacrifice contrast ratio (which you really shouldn’t) and tolerate image noise and banding, the UHD30 is a good choice.
To put it another way, I’ve had these projectors for months in my theater/lab. The UHD30 has been in my room since I finished testing the 3550i, and I’ll probably be watching it until I send it back to Optoma. I would, however, buy the HT2050A if I had the money to do so.