From portable projectors to affordable 1080p models to light cannons built for gaming or 4K HDR, these are the best projectors for the money.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer for CNET, Forbes, and The New York Times. He also the Editor-at-large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor in Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and as an ebook on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com.
If you want to take your entertainment room to the next level, amight be what you need — even if you already have a good . Home theater projectors are available with good picture quality, high brightness in ambient light, excellent color and a top-notch contrast ratio for $1,000 or less. With a projector, you can get a huge screen for a fraction of the price of a , which may be the best part. And when you want to take movie night outside, there are portable and outdoor projector options to consider.
Whether you’re looking to buy a, want something that’ll make HD sources look great or need something you can , you’re going to find the best home theater projectors on this list.
The Epson Home Cinema 5050UB is the best all-around home projector we’ve reviewed. Take an excellent contrast ratio, paired with impressive brightness and accurate color, all with better detail than what’s possible with a 1080p native resolution projector, and you’ve got all the pieces for a fantastic image. This home entertainment projector is not cheap, but it offers a significant step up in image quality over other projectors on this list (aside from the Sony, which is nearly double the price). It comes with HDMI 2.0 which allows you to do 4k60p. Extensive lens shift and a motorized zoom are the icing on the cake.
We wouldn’t put this in the “cheap projector” bucket, but the BenQ HT2050A is definitely the best video projector you can get for the money. This modern projector produces a bright picture with great contrast and lifelike color accuracy. It’s also one of the only comparable models with vertical lens shift, which makes setup a little easier. It supports most media players, gaming consoles, PCs, Macs, and mobile devices with input options such as HDMI, USB, and more. Plus, the projector offers a low input lag of 16ms for immersive gaming.
The Epson Home Cinema LS11000 is similar to the Epson 5050 but instead of a lamp it uses a laser and phosphor combo to create light. This means even better color, no lamp replacements, faster turn on/off and a more usable dynamic contrast ratio. A more advanced different pixel shifter means better resolution than the 5050 as well. It’s more expensive to start, but over the life of the projector they should be about the same. So better picture quality for roughly the same total cost of ownership makes this well worth considering over the 5050.
The Optoma UHD35 is a modern projector that packs a lot into its tiny case and low price. This budget projector can throw a ton of light, its color wheel produces accurate colors and has great detail. The contrast ratio isn’t great, but it’s pretty average among 4K resolution projectors in this price range. And that price really is the UHD35’s biggest selling point. This 4K UHD projector offers great picture quality for only a few hundred dollars over the best 1080p projectors. It doesn’t offer lens shift or much in the way of a zoom, but if it fits in your room it’s a great way to get a 4K projector on a budget.
It’s smaller than a six-pack of Coke and equipped with Wi-Fi streaming, a surprisingly loud Bluetooth speaker and even a handle. It offers auto vertical and manual horizontal keystone correction. This portable mini projector powerhouse also has one thing many compact projectors lack: a built-in battery. This budget projector is an all-in-one entertainment machine that’s darn cute, too.
The Optoma UHZ50 uses a blue laser and a yellow phosphor to create some incredibly bright, ultracolorful images. It’s bright and has the second-best contrast ratio we’ve measured from a DLP projector. Also, because it’s DLP, it has excellent detail. The zoom range and lens shift are fairly limited, so it won’t fit in as many rooms as the Epson 5050 or LS11000, but otherwise it’s very good.
The Sony VPL-VW325ES is a thoroughbred among ponies, a Porsche among Volkswagens, an absolute stunner with a price tag to match. The contrast ratio, easily the most important aspect of overall picture quality, is better than the Epson 5050 and significantly better than any projector that doesn’t cost significantly more. And that’s saying something, since the Sony itself costs significantly more than any other projector on this list. It checks the box for gaming with the input lag reduction feature. And with brightness that can go up to 1,500 Lumens, it works well in a bright room as well. If price is no object, the picture quality is incredible.
The BenQ HT2050A above is a superior-all around performer, but if you’re a gamer looking for a specialized tool for the job, the TH685 gaming projector is worth a look. If you don’t mind sacrificing color accuracy, it can get a lot brighter than the HT2050A, the ideal ambient light of brighter rooms, and gaming input lag is comparable.
The BenQ GS50 is a lunchbox-size 1080p projector with a 2.5-hour battery, surprisingly powerful speakers and the ability to charge via a portable power bank. You can even use it as a Bluetooth speaker. It performs well for a portable projector, but costs about the same as BenQ’s own HT2050A, which performs far better. But for regular movie nights far from an outlet, it works great.
The EF-12 is a small, highly portable projector that looks a lot like the Anker Nebula Pro and the BenQ GS50, but it fits a slightly different niche. It’s easy to tote and doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, but unlike those two it can’t run off of a battery — it requires AC power. The EF-12’s light is created by Epson’s “MicroLaser Array Projection Technology.” Yep, laser beams, which deliver a brighter picture than LED-based models like the Nebula and GS50.
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LCD and Digital Light Processing projectors are the most common technologies. Higher-end projectors often use LCOS, or liquid crystal on silicon, designs. These are marketed as SXRD and DILA. LCOS is superior to LCD and DLP in almost every way, but is significantly more expensive.
LCD (used almost exclusively by Epson) and DLP both have their strengths and weaknesses. DLP is typically sharper, LCD often brighter. However, both technologies offer bright, sharp images. It’s more down to the specific model of projector than specific technologies.
You can use any flat surface to project your image. However, don’t expect it to be the best surface for a projector. Any and all tiny bumps in a wall, for example, will be visible as extra “noise” in the image. This can be distracting. If you want the best image quality from your projector, even an inexpensive screen is a far better option. This is because projector screens tend to brighten the image noticeably and create a smooth surface that just shows your TV, movie or game.
Portable models are expensive for their performance, but can work where there’s no outlet. If you don’t plan on ever using the projector away from your house, a traditional projector will be far brighter and can be used outside. Just remember to bring it in when you’re done.
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