A Budget 4K Beamer
Sound & Vision|February - March 2020
A Budget 4K Beamer
BenQ Cineprime HT3550 4K DLP Projector
By Al Griffin

AS YOU might expect, low-cost projectors are much more common than premium models. Survey the market, and you’ll find loads of options in the under-$3,000 range, while projectors priced above $10,000 are rare birds, indeed. Even so, affordable models are by no means basic: a look at the under- $1,500 range will turn up plenty of projectors with features such as 4K and HDR10 support—BenQ’s $1,499 CinePrime HT3550, for example.

What lies in store for the discriminating home theater-phile when they venture beneath that $1,500 price threshold? You mainly forego projectors with display chips featuring true 3,840 x 2,160 (or higher) resolution like those available from JVC and Sony. DLP models like the HT3550 combine a lower-resolution chip (BenQ uses the latest 0.47-inch DLP XPR offering from Texas Instruments) with a rapid pixel-shifting process that effectively achieves Ultra HD onscreen resolution. And while that might sound like a workaround, it’s hard to argue with the results, since even fussy viewers would be hard-pressed to distinguish a pixel-shifted Ultra HD image from one generated by a discrete 3,840 x 2,160-pixel display chip when watching movies or TV.

Another reality of the under- $1,500 projector range is that models lack many amenities provided by higher-end models that help simplify installation such as a zoom lens with a substantial range, along with powered focus, zoom, and lens shift controls. This essentially means you have to work harder when initially installing the projector, and your placement options are more limited as well.

Installation limitations aside, it’s been my experience that even under-$1,500 models like the HT3550 can deliver an impressive big-screen experience. Along with its 4K/HDR10 display capability, BenQ’s features list includes support for the HLG high dynamic range format and 95 percent coverage of DCI-P3 color space. The projector uses a six-segment (RGBRGB) color wheel and is spec’d for 2,000 lumens brightness, with its 245-watt lamp rated to last 4,000 hours in Normal and 10,000 hours in Eco brightness mode. It also supports 3D viewing, with optional glasses available from BenQ for $59.

The HT3550’s design is a notable step-up from other affordable projectors, the majority of which are basic-looking white boxes. Its sleek, low-profile case sports a silver-toned front panel. Control buttons are located on the top, along with a slide-down door that reveals dials to manually adjust the projector’s 1.3x zoom lens, as well as image focus and vertical lens shift (+10%). Inputs on the rear panel include a pair of HDMI 2.0b ports, one USB type-A port for attaching a drive loaded with media and a second that supplies 5V/2.5A power to a Roku or other streaming stick. An RS-232C port and 12-volt trigger output round out the connectivity options.

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February - March 2020