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The experience of seeing a movie in a theater is singular, but moviegoing is not exactly an option for the time being for many people. In lieu of that theatrical experience, there’s a next-best alternative: Investing in your home theater.
More specifically, ditching your old flatscreen TV for a brand new home projector. “Home theater” doesn’t necessarily mean an entire room with recliners and a popcorn machine, it’s simply the place where you plan to consume your entertainment. That Criterion Blu-ray will look great on a projector, and to set the movie theater mood you can pop some fresh popcorn and douse it with butter without even paying $10.
While projectors can range from $50 to $5000, for every price range and every purpose — portable projectors you can bring to watch in a friend’s yard, or high-end ones to set up with the surround sound speaker system in your rec room — we’ve stuck to the more budget-friendly ones under $1,000 for this roundup.
There are a few home projector basics to know: Brightness is the key factor, and what brightness you need all depends on the lighting conditions of where you plan to place your projector. If you’re putting it in a dark room, you don’t necessarily need to pay attention to the brightness as much as you will if you’re placing it in a family room with lots of windows, or if you’re even hoping to use it outside in your backyard. The more light in your room, the more important the brightness is.
Then there’s your image resolution, which varies depending on the technology your projector uses to produce the image. DLP, or digital light processing, projectors use Texas Instruments’ technology involving micro mirrors on chips — the basic takeaway is that it produces crisper images in brighter conditions, but occasionally produces a “rainbow effect” where red, blue, and green shadows can appear during high-contrast scenes. Most movie theater projectors use DLP technology.
LCD projectors use the same liquid crystal display technology as most TVs, and their higher contrast means sharper images (and no rainbow effect). They tend to be smaller than DLP projectors, so they’re more portable and well-suited to outdoor use. Finally, LCoS, or liquid crystal on silicon, projectors are essentially a hybrid of the two technologies (small reflective crystals rather than mirrors).
The majority of projectors on the market use DLP or LCD technology, and the cheapest (and most portable) ones are more likely to be LCD. Since they come in such a wide variety of price ranges, we’ve compiled some of the highest-rated budget projectors on Amazon.
This mini projector is one of many budget-friendly options that are perfect for kids’ playrooms. Its sunny two-tone color scheme is aesthetically pleasing, but more importantly it’s tiny — not much bigger than your smartphone or tablet — and lightweight, which makes it perfect for hiking or camping. It doesn’t have its own battery, but can easily be plugged into a power bank. It has a built-in speaker along with USB, AV, and SD slots so it’s compatible with many different devices, though it does require HDMI adapter cords to connect with many smartphones.
User Stacie S. praised its portability, though warned that it does require some degree of darkness: “Great little projector. Now when I say little I do mean it. It fits in my son’s palm of his hand. Now that being said this little thing packs a punch. You can get about a 32 inch tv out of this and have a good clear picture bigger then that it gets a little blurry. Now do not buy this expecting a living room quality projector then come bash this. For what this is it exceeded all my expectations.”
Amazon’s choice for best mini projector supports up to 1080p, and is compatible with PCs, tablets, Blu-ray or DVD players, streaming sticks, gaming systems, and more; the LED projector also has SD and USB slots. It projects up to 200″ and has built-in speakers, but is compatible with home speaker systems. It comes with an HDMI cord, AV cable, power cable, remote control, and an adjustable foot.
User Oasisguy wrote, “I found this to be very impressive for the cost. I payed 60$ for it. The relatively low resolution wasn’t all that bad in actual usage and I could blow this up to a 80″ screen before it started getting questionably grainy. The internal speakers were surprisingly good, not going to blow your mind obviously but for a quick casual setup they are adequate and much better than what I expected at this price point. The image is also bright, BUT overall color saturation left a lot to be desired. Overall for the money, it is impressive. I really like that it can mount on a standard camera tripod, its small size and quiet fan.”
Amazon’s choice for best overhead projector is so suited for portability that it comes with a carrying case. This LED projector supports up to 1080p resolution and is compatible with smartphones (via HDMI adapters), PS3, PS4, X-Box ONE, and Wii and projects up to 170″ with a cooling system that cuts down on fan noise.
User M wrote, “The projector does have speakers built in, but I’ve found that the audio quality is slightly tinny and can be overpowered by the projector’s fan. Overall though, the fan is quiet compared to others, but it is definitely noticeable and can be annoying to some. To get around that issue, I connected my speaker via an AUX cord to the headphone jack on the projector. We don’t have a projector screen, but we haven’t noticed any discrepancies or image issues with projecting onto a light beige wall. I really appreciate the fact that we can also focus the image with projector itself, adjust the vertical tilt of the image, and decrease the size of the screen rather than awkward trying to find that perfect distance between the wall and the projector. Those features are especially great for those using the projector in areas where there isn’t much space between the projector and the wall. Overall, this is a choice for those on a budget! I absolutely would recommend this projector to others.”
If you’re interested in a small, portable projector but are looking to invest a bit more for slightly higher quality, this smart android device comes with a built-in rechargeable battery and speakers. It supports 4K on its 200 Ansi Lumens brightness LED lamp, and will project native 1080p videos in full HD depending on your connection. It also comes with onboard Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, mobile-to-screen mirroring, and USB and HDMI hookups.
User Nikki wrote, “I have a huge living room wall and I can fill the wall all the way to the ceiling and the picture quality is still excellent. The built in speakers are actually pretty decent for how small the projector is but purchased the smart WiFi/ Bluetooth capability one so I could use my Bluetooth Samsung soundbar which ended up connecting easily. Phone mirror option is great and it has everything for entertainment packed into this very small 4×4 device.”
This Android DLP device has its own autofocus technology to create 720p, 200 Ansi lumen images up to 100” in size, making it perfect for low-light environments. It has built-in speakers and battery, plus Android TV. It comes with a remote, PD charger, and a Type-C cable, and is about the size of a soda can so it is also portable.
While many users noted that it requires wifi to work best (and particularly that Netflix compatibility requires a few workarounds), Shawn wrote, “The Nebula Capsule was everything that was promised. The picture is plenty bright if you are in a reasonably dim room and the sound quality was excellent. The battery lasted long enough for a long movie. My favorite part is the portability. Mounted to my camera tripod and playing content off my phone it was a pretty slick setup.”
Great for both movies and gaming, this DLP projector has 2,200 lumens brightness in its 1080p, up to 300″ projection. Like its competitors, it supports most media players, gaming consoles, PCs, Macs, and mobile devices; has Bluetooth capability; supports 3D content; and includes a built-in 10-watt speaker, though is compatible with external speakers. It’s not portable, but it can be mounted on a ceiling or used on a table.
Wrote user Aaron Hansen, “I upgraded from an old Benq DLP that still had a great picture at only 768p. I really didn’t expect such an amazing improvement. The colors, contrasts, and brightness seem nearly perfect out of the box. I am projecting on a white wall with no special screen and it still blows me away as well as very much impressing our guests. The image is currently 120 inches diagonal and sitting 8 to 12 feet back it looks incredibly sharp and vivid.”
This 2,500 lumens projector with high contrast ratio is ideal for a variety of lighting conditions, and can project 1080p resolution up to 132″ inches. It features wireless screen mirroring as well as compatibility with most major streaming devices, and comes with power cord and remote.
Wrote user 7Wonders, “Epson 2150 is not only the best projector in this price range but when compared to 4k projectors which are almost twice in price, the picture quality difference as perceived with naked eye is very marginal.”