Movies to Multimedia: 9 Projectors to Brighten Any Room
From computer monitors to televisions, we can all agree that a bigger display is better. Perks like 4K resolution or "smart" connectivity sweeten the deal, but who wouldn't enjoy the cinematic feel of a 100 inch screen?
Whether you want a TV upgrade, dynamic presentations, or an immersive gaming experience, there's a projector out there for you.
We did the legwork, cross-referencing ideal technical specs and expert reviews, to find the best projectors for a wide range of uses and budgets. All you have to do is dim the lights, pop some popcorn, and discover your new projector.
With a great contrast ratio and 2,000 lumens of brightness, BenQ's HT3050 gives you crisp pictures from virtually any source. We recommend this projector for most people for its image quality, ease of use, and connectivity options.
- Easy to set up
- Calibrated picture settings for optimal viewing
- Great speaker quality
- Limited vertical lens shift
- Emits some heat over long periods of time
We recommend this Sony projector as an upgrade for people who want to take their home theater to the next level. If you're the kind of person who'll paint their walls darker and buy a high quality screen, the VPL-HW45ES is perfect for you.
Sony's superior contrast and calibration settings yield best-in-class images that will satisfy the most demanding home theater aficionado.
- Easy to use
- No distracting on-screen rainbow effect
- Low input lag (22ms)
- Replacement lamp cost
- Fan noise
Okay, this projector is cool, plain and simple. With high contrast ratio, strong color accuracy, and an ultra-short throw display, the Optoma GT5500+ is ready to take its place on your TV stand. We recommend this projector because of its combination of image quality, throw distance, and gamer-friendly features.
- Creates a 100 inch screen from 13 inches away
- Low input lag (33 ms Normal mode, ~17 ms Game mode)
- Ethernet port
- Hard to set up
- Maximum recommended screen size is 100 inches
Don't want to spend too much, but still want a full HD projector? We're recommending the Optoma's HD142X projector for budget conscious buyers because of its ease of use, affordability, and picture quality.
- Great, full HD picture
- Bright (3000 lumens)
- Easy to set up
- Few ports
- Color accuracy and contrast not as good as more expensive projectors
LG enters our list of recommendations based on their ability to get the best images out of LEDs and create elegant projectors. The PH550 Minibeam Projector provides clear images in a portable package with enough battery life to watch most movies or give long presentations.
- Portable, small size
- Creates a 60 foot screen from 6.1 feet away
- 2.5 hour battery life
- Poor internal speakers
- Bulky power cord
Seeing rainbows is generally a celebrated event, but when it comes to projectors, the rainbow effect can be distracting nuisance to some viewers. The Epson Home Cinema 2040 projector offers great color accuracy, a decent contrast ratio, and connectivity options without annoying some members of your audience.
- No rainbow effect
- Great picture
- Replacement lamp cost
- Noisy fan
- Long throw distance; not great for small rooms
When it comes to true 4K projectors, not HDR or UHD, the only real name in the conversation is Sony. The VPL-VW285ES projector offers rich images, native 4K resolution, and great upscaling of non-4K content. We recommend this projector for anyone who is interested in the highest resolution possible and future-proofing their viewing experiences.
- Native 4K resolution
- HDR image upscaling
- Great picture
- Not great for gaming
- Doesn't save zoom and lens shift settings
If you need a business projector that can stand up to significant light, the Optoma X600 projector is a great choice. We recommend this projector because it offers bright, clear images with enough connections to satisfy a variety of needs. It's the best, relatively affordable projector we found that could be used in large rooms.
- Projects clearly with lit rooms
- Connection options
- The native resolution isn't HD
- Limited keystone correction and no lens shift
Do you want make a down-payment on a condo or buy a projector with every premium spec imaginable? This projector boasts Sony's enviable contrast ratios with 4K quality, 3D capabilities, a laser light source you won't have to replace for years, and can project less than a foot away from a screen (at this price point, don't even think about projecting onto a wall).
- Native 4K resolution
- Projects 120 inch screen from 8 inches away
- Laser light source lasts longer than UHPs
- Average performance with ambient light
What We Know and What You Need to Know About Projectors
Anyone in the market for a projector knows that a basic search returns an onslaught of options. Beyond brands, how you plan to use your projector impacts the value of the different features available. We know you're up to your eyeballs in confusing specs, so we've highlighted what you should look for.
This is where the magic happens. The display source is the beating (sometimes spinning) heart of a projector. The technology used in a projector affects its image quality, but keep in mind that top-tier components have top-tier price tags.
More often than not, you'll see projectors with DLP (digital light processing) or LCD (liquid crystal graphics) display technology.
Your local movie theater probably uses a DLP projector. These projectors use hundreds of thousands of tiny mirrors to reflect images via a spinning color wheel. This process can create rainbow-like artifacts on the screen, which some people are more sensitive to than others. Most high-end DLP projectors use three chips, one red, green, and blue, and don't produce these subtle rainbows.
LCD projectors also use three chips with liquid crystal panels. Each is assigned to a red, blue, or green image and project simultaneously. An LCD projector is an affordable option for people who can see the rainbow effect.
An LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) projector combines the best aspects of LCD and DLP projectors. These chips are reflective, but also block light and achieve better contrast ratios than other display sources.
Based on this information, you're probably gravitating towards an LCoS or 3-chip DLP projector, but these are very expensive machines with limitations of their own.
The type of light source will primarily affect the brightness and temperature of your projector and its cost over time. When discussing the lifespan of bulb-based light sources, that's the point of the bulb's half-life (when it gets too dim to produce a clear image). We recommend always buying replacement light sources directly from the manufacturer.
Lamps: Sometimes projectors use metal halide lamps, but you'll usually see a UHP (ultra high performance) bulb. This light source tends to be the hottest option which can affect the fan noise and even the temperature of the room. These lamps usually last 3,000–4,000 hours before they need to be replaced. Additionally, since these lamps contain mercury, they require a cool down period when they're turned off.
LEDs: Projectors that use LEDs typically run cooler than lamps or hybrid light sources. They also have much longer life with up to 50,000 hours of usable light. Though you'll have to change the bulb less often, LEDs can't get as bright as the other light sources. If you have a lot of light control over where you'll be installing your projector, this can be a great option, but otherwise LEDs are mostly useful in portable projectors.
Lasers: Projectors with a laser light source sometimes use a red, blue, and green laser to produce vibrant, bright images. More (relatively) affordable options use a blue laser to excite a phosphorous component to create a wide spectrum of colors. These projectors usually produce images brighter than LEDs and they maintain their brightness over time while bulbs dim. Replacing and repairing these light sources is expensive, but they last for about 20,000 hours.
Contrast ratio compares the brightest white to the darkest black the projector is capable of producing. While you want the white to be considerably better, contrast doesn't exist in vacuum. Dark blacks and bright whites mean less if you don't have picture customization option to see the differences of the various shades of grey, especially if you're dealing with an environment where the lighting changes often.
Contrast ratio is more important in business projectors or for people using home theater projectors to watch 3D video content. Contrast provides more detail to graphs and charts in presentations and adds more depth to video.
Lumens are a unit of measurement that describes brightness. While you might automatically assume more lumens are better, this spec is only as good as the environment your projector is in. How much control you have over the light in the room, the color of the room's walls, and the screen you use (or lack thereof) can all affect your perceived brightness of the projector.
Under most conditions, pico/portable projectors should be at least 100 lumens, home theater projectors should be 1,000–2,500 lumens, and business projectors need at least 4,000 lumens. Home theater projectors can be brighter, but once you enter the 3,000–4,000 lumen range, a highly reflective projector screen could make video hard to watch for extended periods of time.
All projectors need a fan to keep their internal components cool, regardless of their light source. Most modern projector fans stay under 30 db, which isn't a distracting volume to the average person. Eco modes can make fans quieter, but this can also result in a dimmer image.
Additionally, DLP projectors will emit some noise from their color wheel in addition to the fan noise. Projectors with irises which expand and contract to improve contrast are occasionally audible, but are a rare complaint point among projector owners.
Keystone correction: If a projector isn't placed dead center in front of a screen or wall, the image will display something known as a trapezoid effect. Digital keystone correction can adjust the image, but at the cost of quality. This can be a great feature for business and/or portable projectors where you have less control over projector placement.
Lens shift: The ability to move the projector's lens vertically or horizontally gives you more flexibility in where you can place your projector. Keep in mind that just having this feature isn't enough; how much the lens moves is where the value lies.
Inputs and outputs: Depending on what you need to project, you should consider what kind of ports you value. Media minimalists can be satisfied with a couple of HDMI ports and a USB port, but people who want to connect PCs, Blu-ray/DVD players, set top boxes, etc. should be on the lookout for VGA/SVGA ports and component ports. People who streaming sticks or want to stream content from their phone might enjoy MHL-compatible HDMI port. This allows you to stream content while supplying power to the device, freeing up an outlet.
Most projectors' internal speakers aren't anything to write home about, so you should make sure you can connect your setup to a sound system of your choice. Keep in mind that most projectors under $1,500 will only have an analog sound port.
Another port you might be interested in is a 12V trigger. This can connect your projector to a motorized screen or certain speakers, so they turn on simultaneously.
Throw ratio: This spec describes the distance from a screen you projector needs to be to get an image of a certain size. Short throw projectors can be less than 7 feet away from a screen while ultra-short throw projectors can be less than 3 feet away.
Input lag: Though this spec is mostly tossed around with gaming projectors, it affects home theater projectors as well. As input lag climbs above 50ms, this signal delay can leave gamers behind their opponents and cause some audio-video sync issues in videos. Ideally, casual gamers should look for a lag of 33ms or less, while serious gamers will need their input lag to be less than 25 ms. For movie and TV watching, an input lag between 40–50 ms won't be noticeable to the average person, but a lower number is always better.
Battery life: For the best quality, you'll want your projector plugged in while you use it, but people looking for portable projectors should pay attention to battery life. Portable projectors can usually only last 1–2 hours on a full charge, so they're not the best option for watching feature films.
Note: All of the chosen projectors can be mounted in front of and behind a screen (rear projection), and they can be ceiling mounted in either direction. You will need a special screen for rear projection.
How We Chose Our Picks
After devouring information about technical specifications from projector reviewers at CNET, Projector People, and Projector Central, we narrowed down the ideal features for the categories we've outlined. We consulted the media director of Dream City Church, a megachurch in Phoenix, Arizona, who has 10 years of lighting and sound design experience in large venues throughout the greater Los Angeles area. We also consulted recommendations made by CNET and Wirecutter. We then cross-referenced reviews on Amazon, Best Buy, and B&H to choose the best projectors.