The 8 Best Cheap Projectors of 2021

It's movie time!

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Projectors are one of those devices that seems like it would be a great idea, but you can never really be sure how it'll work in your situation until you actually have one. You can go to the store and buy a TV and know that you can put it on that stand over there and it'll work great. Projectors are a different concept altogether. Will the room be dark enough? Will I have a place to put the projector so the image gets large enough? Those are a lot of questions that can only be answered by actually putting a projector into the room.

Unfortunately, projectors also tend to have a fairly high price barrier for entry. So it's a risk, and a great way to mitigate that risk is to take a look at some of the less expensive examples out there. If everything works well, you can look at larger or more expensive units down the road. But for now, you'll have a nice, cheap option to work with and integrate into your routine.

Some of these options are built for traveling, Others are meant to be semi-permanently installed. Some of them have built-in operating systems that make them self-contained and others require input from an outside device. Some of these are meant for the bedroom, others for the boardroom.

Some things to look for when it comes to projectors include brightness, portability, and resolution. If your space isn't very dark, you'll need a higher brightness. If you're planning on watching DVD quality movies, 720p is fine. Higher quality will require higher resolution. Regardless of your needs, we have a projector for you. These are all fairly inexpensive, so they'll be good for a dipped toe into the water before you take the full plunge with one of the best projectors you can find. Read on for our picks!

The Rundown
The combination of specifications and value really make this projector shine.
The contrast ratio is 3,000:1 and the LED bulb itself is rated for 20,000 hours which are respectable in their categories.
Best for Presentations:
Epson EX3280 at Amazon
This will fit in nicely with your office, but if you want to take it home for a movie night, it'll slide in nicely there as well.
This is a low-cost projector solution that has a lot of additional functionality included.
Best Short Throw:
BenQ HT2150ST at Amazon
Whether you're working in a limited space, like a dorm room, or you want to take your gaming to the big screen, this is the projector for you.
Best for Phones:
TopVision T21 at Amazon
It's a fun way to make your mobile gaming an even more immersive experience.
Best Portable:
Kodak Luma 150 at Amazon
The Kodak Luma 150 is a pocket-sized projector you can fit in your back pocket or a small pocket in a bag.
Best Outdoor Projector:
Anker Nebula Capsule Max at Amazon
This is a projector you can easily toss into your bag and go.

Best Overall: Vankyo Leisure 3

The Vankyo projector is a very portable projector.
What We Like
  • Portable

  • Carrying case included

  • Quiet

What We Don't Like
  • Hard to aim and level

  • Speaker is bad

The combination of hardware and sheer value makes the Vankyo Leisure 3 our top pick. The Vankyo Leisure 3 is easy to set up, and easy to transport. It comes with its own carrying case which our reviewer Benjamin particularly enjoyed. "It fits everything inside including the cables and remote without having to stuff anything in. It has what feels like a strong zipper and a sturdy fabric handle."

Setting the projector up is as simple as setting it down and powering it on. Unfortunately, there are no feet for leveling the projector and the single post in the front used for aiming doesn't give you a whole lot of height. Even with the foot, you may need to prop the projector up on something.

Benjamin quite enjoyed the projector's built-in software. "The Vankyo Leisure 3 runs custom software with all the usual options. It’s easy to understand and navigate via the remote or the hardware buttons on the chassis. It includes adjustment options for things like contrast, brightness, and luminosity—the same types of settings you may be familiar with from your TV or computer monitor."

The projector has solid mid-range specifications at 2400 lumens and a 2,000:1 contrast ratio. The fan is also relatively quiet, and all those combine to give you good value at this price point. There are better projectors out there, for sure, but the combination of specifications and value really make this projector shine.

Resolution: 1920x1080 | Brightness: 2400 lumens | Contrast ratio: 2000:1 | Projection size: 170 inches

“The Vankyo Leisure 3 is an all-round winner, thanks to its versatility and noise suppression—no one enjoys being in a meeting and hearing the groans of a projector.”Katie Dundas, Product Tester

Vankyo Leisure 3

Lifewire / Katie Dundas

Best Budget: Philips NeoPix Easy Projector

Philips NeoPix Easy
What We Like
  • Multiple input options

  • Built in media player

  • Long-lasting LED

What We Don't Like
  • Limited to 480p

  • Not bright at all

Philips has a NeoPix projector for every occasion, starting with the NeoPix Start on the low end, and going all the way up to the Ultra on the high end. We settled on the Easy projector because of its balance of features versus cost. You might notice this is becoming something of a theme for this list of cheap projectors. The Easy projector has multiple inputs on the side of the device including HDMI, SD card, and USB-A. The USB-A drive is nice because it allows you to play media from a USB flash drive. You also get 3.5mm audio outputs for headphones and aux. 

The projector can throw an image up to an 80 inch (200 centimeter) picture but only at 480p resolution. That's really low, even for DVD quality. Also on the low side is the brightness at just 40 ANSI lumens. The contrast ratio is 3,000:1 and the LED bulb itself is rated for 20,000 hours which are respectable in their categories. As long as you're planning on using this projector in a very dark room, you should do ok.

Resolution: 800x480 | Brightness: 40 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: 3000:1 | Projection size: 80 inches

Best for Presentations: Epson EX3280 XGA Projector

What We Like
  • Great brightness

  • Portable

  • XGA Resolution

What We Don't Like
  • Limited inputs

  • Speakers peak easily

If you're looking for a projector that can work well at the office, the Epson EX3280 is a great choice. It weighs just over five pounds and comes with a nifty carrying case that will hold the remote and all the cables you'll need. At 3,600 lumens, you get very good brightness that can show up even in a dimly lit conference room. Add to that the XGA resolution and 15,000:1 contrast ratio and this projector has quite a bit going for it.

As for inputs, you've got HDMI, USB, or VGA. In this case, it's a rarely seen USB-B connection, and the projector comes with all the cables you need, but we'd still like to see more input options here including USB-A or SD Card. HDMI and VGA will definitely fit most business scenarios though. It has a small footprint so you can set it down and get it going quickly without taking up too much space. With all the different connection types, this will fit in nicely with your office, but if you want to take it home for a movie night, it'll slide in nicely there as well.

Resolution: 1024x768 | Brightness: 3,600 lumens | Contrast Ratio: 15000:1 | Projection Size: 300 inches

Best Compact: AAXA BP1 DLP Projector

The AAXA BP1 is a portable projector that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker.
What We Like
  • Long-lasting battery

  • Charges your phone

  • Built-in Bluetooth Speaker

What We Don't Like
  • Slow to charge

  • Remote not available

"Cheap" doesn't necessarily mean "small" but in this case, we're talking about really small. The AAXA BP1 DLP projector fits on the palm of your hand and weighs less than one pound. But it brings a lot to the table in its small frame. It's a 1080p projector, a 12W Bluetooth speaker, and a 12,000 mAh battery you can use to charge your phone.

That large battery also has advantages in powering the projector itself. You can get up to six hours of operation out of that on a single charge. Unfortunately, there's no quick charge built-in so it takes a while to charge back up once depleted. You can't always count on a projector to have good speakers, but since this projector doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, it's pretty good.

Overall, the projector doesn't get very bright, nor does it comes with a remote. Neither is a surprise considering its size. You can plug in your input device via HDMI, USB-C, or using the microSD card reader. Overall, this is a low-cost projector solution that has a lot of additional functionality included.

Resolution: 1920x1080 | Brightness: 100 LED lumens | Contrast ratio: 1000:1 | Projection size: 60 inches

Best Short Throw: BenQ HT2150ST Projector

BenQ
What We Like
  • 1:1.69 foot ratio

  • Image is sharp

  • Multiple inputs

What We Don't Like
  • Brightness not uniform

  • Pricey

When you're working with limited space, a short-throw projector is a great choice. The BenQ HT2150ST has a 1:1.69 foot throw ratio. For every foot away from the screen, you'll get almost two feet of image. Jonno, our reviewer, writes, "The picture is bright and sharp from corner to corner, with excellent color and contrast performance. We were particularly pleased with how great the performance was out of the box. The 2200 ANSI lumens provide plenty of light in dim-to-moderately-lit rooms, but will still suffer indirect light. A 15,000:1 contrast ratio looks beautiful in ideal viewing conditions, and is sure to impress."

Short throw projectors tend to be more expensive than their normal throw counterparts. So in this case, "cheap" is a matter of perspective. On the back, you can plug in with one of two HDMI slots, USB-A, USB-Bor RS232. You get input and output for audio and low latency which is great for gamers. So whether you're working in a limited space, like a dorm room, or you want to take your gaming to the big screen, this is the projector for you.

Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | Brightness: 2,200 ANSI Lumens | Contrast ratio: 15,000:1 | Projection size:up to 300 inches

"The BenQ HT2150ST is a best-in-class gaming projector worth every penny for those that care about image quality and latency above all else."Jonno Hill, Product Tester

BenQ HT2150ST

Best for Phones: TopVision T21

The Topvision 4000LUX projector is a great portable projector.
What We Like
  • Light and portable

  • Great brightness

  • iOS and Android support



What We Don't Like
  • Odd limitations

One great way a projector can enhance your viewing experience is by taking your phone screen and blowing it up to the big screen. The Topvision T21 plugs into your smartphone and mirrors the screen up to 176 inches. It's inexpensive and can typically be found for less than $100. The projector displays an image at 1080p and a surprisingly bright 3,600 lumens. 

Simply plug your phone into the back of the projector using the USB-A cable you use to charge it. There is a pretty big limitation though. You cannot project apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu due to copyright restrictions. You can project those apps from your laptop, but not your phone. Some people bypass that by plugging a streaming device into the HDMI port.

A really cool use case for this comes in the realm of gaming. You can plug your phone into the projector for a large screen mobile gaming experience. Blowing up Call of Duty mobile to a 100-inch screen puts you even more into the game. It's a fun way to make your mobile gaming an even more immersive experience.

Resolution: 1920x1080 | Brightness: 3600 lumens | Contrast ratio: 2000:1 | Projection size: 176 inches

Top Vision T21 Projector

Erika Rawes

Best Portable: Kodak Luma 150 Pocket Projector

The Kodak Luma 150 projector is a highly-portable projector.
What We Like
  • Lots of I/O

  • Big battery

  • Small Lightweight

  • Tripod mountable

What We Don't Like
  • 480p resolution

  • 1,000:1 contrast ratio

  • Not very bright

The Kodak Luma 150 is a pocket-sized projector you can fit in your back pocket or a small pocket in a bag. It has a built-in, rechargeable battery for use on the go. Touch-sensitive controls on the top of the projector help you navigate the custom operating system. You can plug in a device using HDMI, USB Type-A ports, and a microSD card reader, so there are a lot of input options to work with.

The projector has a tripod mount which makes it easy to aim, but it doesn't come with a mini tripod. All that portability and small size have limitations though as the projector tops out at 60 ANSI lumens and a fairly poor 1,000:contrast ratio. You'll want to make sure you're watching in a pitch-black room.

This is one of the smaller projectors on the list though, so we're pretty comfortable recommending it. If this one isn't bright enough for you, the Luma line of projectors also includes the Luma 350 (View on Amazon) which is not only brighter but also has its own built-in Android operating system. But if you want a projector that fits in your back pocket and keeps the price down, the Luma 150 is your best choice.

Resolution: 854x480 | Brightness: 60 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: 1000:1 | Projection size: 150 inches

“This is a fun and stylish projector that would make a great gift for my nieces, and I like that it works both wirelessly and with Bluetooth.”Katie Dundas, Product Tester

Best Outdoor Projector: Anker Nebula Capsule Max

The Anker Nebula Max is an awesome portable projector.
What We Like
  • Very portable

  • Built in Android...

What We Don't Like
  • 480p resolution

  • …but only Android 8.1

The Anker Nebula Max has to be one of our favorite projectors on the list. It's not the cheapest, but it's one of the most portable. It's about the size of a soda can, which means it fits into your hand, your bag, your purse, or just about any other bag. Heck, most bags and backpacks have dedicated pouches for drink containers, and the Nebula fits right in. Our reviewer Eric is quite impressed with this little projector. "Measuring 4.72 inches tall with a diameter of 2.67 inches, the uniquely designed cylinder is literally the same size as a can of soda (or beer), making it easy to stick in a bag, purse, backpack, or almost anywhere you can fit a can or bottle of water." 

Plus, the Nebula comes with Android 8.1 installed, which means it can run on its own operating system, and it has a selection of apps that run along with it. Of course, the downside is that this is Android 8.1 which is woefully outdated. You can install apps for streaming, so you don't even have to connect a device to the projector. Eric writes, "The Android ecosystem, along with the optional Bluetooth-connected smartphone app for remote control, helps make the Nebula feel like a truly modern device."

Resolution is capped at 480p, which isn't awesome, but it should be sufficient for streaming apps. You get 200 ANSI lumens which will require a very dark room for a good picture. The contrast ratio is dismally low at 400:1 but this is a projector you can easily toss into your bag and go.

Resolution: 1280x720 | Brightness: 200 ANSI lumens | Contrast ratio: 400:1 | Projection size: 100 inches

Nebula Capsule Max

Erika Rawes

Final Verdict

The Vankyo Leisure 3 Mini Projector takes our top spot because of its size, portability, and value for your dollar. A 1080p projector for under $100 is already impressive. The case is another bonus. The AAXA BP1 (View on Amazon)has an alphabet soup of a name, but it checks a lot of boxes functioning as a projector, battery pack, and Bluetooth speaker all in one.

About Our Trusted Experts

Katie Dundas is a freelance journalist and contributing writer to Lifewire. She has been covering tech for over two years and loves the look of the Anker Nebula Capsule Max for traveling and camping.

Benjamin Zeman has a background in film, photography, and graphic design. He is an expert in film and video technology, and has reviewed several of the projectors on this list.

Adam Doud has been writing in the technology space for almost a decade. When he's not hosting the Benefit of the Doud podcast, he's playing with the latest phones, tablets, and laptops. When not working, he's a cyclist, geocacher, and spends as much time outside as he can.

Gannon Burgett is a photojournalist and sports photographer. His areas of expertise include computers and their peripherals, and he reviewed the Epson VS355 WXGA on our list.

FAQ
  • How much should a projector cost?

    Projectors can cost anywhere from about $50 to well over $5,000. Based on this wide range, anything around $500 and under is typically considered a "cheap" projector—and if you’re in the market for a 4K projector, you can expect to pay above that.

  • How many lumens do you need in a projector?

    A lumen is a general term that describes light output, but in the case of projectors, it’s the unit of measurement used to describe the brightness. The more lumens, the brighter the projector will be and the more likely you’ll be able to use it in settings that aren’t completely dark. If you’re looking to project in a completely dark room, as few as 1,000 lumens might be fine, but for spaces with more ambient light, you’ll want to look for something with 3,200 lumens or more.

  • What is the throw ratio on a projector?

    The throw distance is how much space you need between the projector and the screen (or wall) to display a certain size image. Standard or long-throw projectors require a minimum of 6 feet between the projector and screen to project images of 80 inches or more. Short-throw projectors, on the other hand, can project a 100-inch image at a distance of only 4 or 5 feet. Check your specific projector’s manual for a chart that lists the distance required to display (or throw) an image onto a specific sized screen. This will help with the entire projector setup process.

What to Look For in a Projector

The humble TV is getting better every year, but there are still plenty of advantages to choosing a projector over a TV for your home theater needs. For starters, you might want a larger screen for those truly immersive experiences, or you might want something that you can easily move or take outside.

Simply deciding to buy a projector over a TV, however, is only step one. There are a ton of projectors to choose from, and they all offer slightly different features. For starters, you’ll want to think about the general type of projector you’re interested in. There are a few types (DLP, LCoS, LCD, and more), and the type can have a significant effect on the quality and price.

Then, you’ll want to consider the scope of various features available on projectors. For example, you’ll need to make sure the projector has the inputs you need or wireless support. Things such as maximum screen size and pixel density are also important considerations, and they’ll directly affect your viewing experience, too.

Because of all these factors, projectors range in price from less than $100 to thousands of dollars. If the price is a major concern, don't worry. When it comes to cheap projectors, there are plenty of options that will provide a quality viewing experience—which is why we put together this guide. So keep reading to get the full scoop on what to look for when shopping for a projector.

Vankyo Leisure 3
Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman 

Product Types

The first thing to consider is the type of projector that’s best for you. There are three main types, and they all display an image slightly differently. For many, this won’t matter—things like price and inputs might be more important. But it's good to know your options before you start your search.

DLP Projectors

DLP, or Digital Light Processing projectors, basically project an image through a series of tiny mirrors that tilt either towards or away from the light source to create light or dark pixels on the screen. There are two main types of DLP projectors: single-chip DLP or three-chip DLP, though most people will probably go for single-chip DLP projectors considering their price.

Single-chip DLP projectors are the most common type of projector and offer the sharpest image you can find on consumer projectors. Single-chip DLP projectors use a color wheel that quickly rotates between primary colors to produce an image. The trade-off of this is that you’ll sometimes see a rainbow effect where an image is broken up into red, green, and blue images, which can be annoying while you’re watching a movie.

Three-chip DLP projectors don’t have this color-wheel issue because they have a dedicated DLP chip for each color. The downside of that is that it’s much harder to properly align each panel, resulting in more complex designs and ultimately much more expensive projectors. For that reason, three-chip DLP projectors are usually only found in high-end situations such as movie theaters, though if you can shell out the cash for a three-chip DLP projector, you might find that it’s worth the money.

In general, DLP projectors offer sharp images with little lag. They’re not, however, the best at projecting deep blacks—you’ll sometimes see somewhat muddy blacks from DLP projectors, something that’s fixed in other types of projectors.

Vankyo V600
Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman

LCoS Projectors

Liquid Crystal on Silicon projectors offer a completely different take on projection. These projectors essentially shine light through a panel to create an image. Light in an LCoS projector is reflected off of three individual panels, and the light from those panels is then combined to produce the image.

Because of the way LCoS projectors reflect light, they produce the deepest blacks with the highest contrast ratio. The trade-off, however, is that the image isn’t as bright as other projectors, making them best in dark environments and with screens up to 130 inches. Any larger and the projector will struggle to produce enough light to create an immersive image. LCoS projectors also tend to have more issues with motion blur than other projectors, though that’s generally only noticeable in fast-motion scenes.

LCD Projectors

LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display projectors, are kind of a middle-ground between DLP and LCoS projectors in terms of advantages and disadvantages. They’re not quite as bright as DLP projectors, but they’re brighter than LCoS projectors. They’re better at producing fast motion than LCoS projectors but not as good as DLP projectors. And, they produce deeper blacks than DLP projectors, but the contrast ratio isn’t as high as LCoS projectors. LCD projectors are also more affordable than LCoS projectors.

Light Sources

While brightness refers to the amount of light being produced, that light can be produced by a number of different sources. A bulb, called a lamp, is the most common light source in consumer projectors, but there are a few other options out there, and they’re likely to become increasingly common as time goes on.

Vankyo V600
 Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman

Lamp Projectors

As mentioned, the lamp is the most common light source for projectors, and there are a few reasons for that. For starters, the lamp is the most affordable option on the list. Projector lamps have been manufactured for some time now and are replaceable, so if and when the lamp eventually fails, it can be replaced. Generally, projector bulbs last between 3,000 and 4,000 hours, although the rated time should be listed on a projector's spec-sheet. Lamps are relatively bright, but not the brightest option. So if brightness is a concern you may want to look into laser projectors instead.

Laser Projectors

Laser projectors are far brighter than lamp projectors. Plus, they don’t require bulb replacements, so despite their higher initial cost, if you plan on using your projector a lot they could ultimately save you money. Laser projectors also offer generally better contrast than lamp projectors, meaning that blacks are a little deeper and darker, and whites are a little brighter—ultimately making for a more realistic image. Finally, laser projectors are more energy-efficient than lamp projectors. The trade-off? Cost. Laser projectors are much more expensive than lamp ones, so the advantages may not be worth it unless you really have the cash to spare.

LED Projectors

Last but not least is the LED projector, which offers a few advantages over lamp projectors. For starters, the bulbs used in LED projectors have a much longer lifespan, often coming in at up to 20,000 hours of use.

Apart from having a longer lifespan, LED projectors also offer better colors and are quieter than lamp projectors because of the fact that they’re much more energy-efficient and thus don’t require a fan for cooling. For these reasons, LED light sources are often found in miniature pico projectors. The main trade-off of LED projectors is that they have a limited brightness.

Other Features and Considerations

In the end, the type of projector you choose may not matter as much as some of the other features on offer. If you're looking for a cheap projector, you may not have much of a choice in the type of projector you choose. You likely will, however, be able to choose a projector based on things like the number of inputs it has or how bright the projector is. Here’s a rundown of those features and what they mean for you.

Brightness

When it comes to projectors and brightness, the brighter a projector is, the better it will be at projecting in environments with more ambient light or from longer distances. If you plan on projecting close to the screen or wall and in dark environments, then brightness may not matter as much, but for those who want an even moderately versatile projector, brightness will be important.

Brightness in a projector is measured in lumens. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the projector is. So what does that mean? Well, for a home projector that will be used in dark environments, you might be able to get away with as little as 1,000 lumens. Brighter projectors, however, will be much more suited to environments with some ambient light. With a larger room or one with more ambient light, you’ll want something closer to the 2,000-lumen range, while really large or bright rooms might need even more than that. For basic use, we recommend something close to the 1,500-lumen range.

Contrast Ratio

The contrast ratio is essentially a measurement of the brightness between black and white. The higher the contrast ratio, the deeper the darks and the brighter the whites. That’s good when it comes to TVs and projectors; it means that there’s more detail in a picture, creating a more immersive viewing experience.

The contrast ratio is especially important for home projectors. In darkened rooms, the contrast will be more noticeable than it would be in rooms with a lot of light, which often mutes contrast.

"The contrast ratio is a key differentiator between home theater projectors and business solutions. Movies and TV shows with dark scenes require a higher contrast ratio for clear distinction when watching these scenes. Thus, most home theater projectors are designed with higher contrast ratios than those used in a business setting." — Carlos Regonesi, Senior Product Manager, Epson America Inc.

It’s important to note that contrast ratio isn’t the be-all and end-all of image quality. A projector with a 5,000:1 contrast ratio isn’t necessarily twice as good as one with a 2,500:1 contrast ratio. After all, the contrast ratio only accounts for extremes—it doesn’t say much about the colors and grays in between the brightest whites and blackest blacks.

There are also different types of contrast ratio to consider. There’s regular old “contrast ratio,” and there’s “ANSI Contrast,” which refers to a special way of measuring contrast in which contrast is determined through a black and white checkerboard pattern. ANSI Contrast is a better indicator of the actual contrast ratio you’ll see while viewing movies, so while projectors with a regular contrast ratio measurement might have a higher value, that doesn’t mean they’re better.

So what’s a good contrast ratio? We recommend a contrast ratio of at least 1,000:1, though many projectors will boast a higher figure. That higher figure normally comes with a higher price.

Resolution

Just like TVs, smartphones, and computer monitors, projectors also display images in pixels—and more pixels is pretty much always better. These days many projectors have an HD resolution, which equates to 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, although you’ll see many with a lower resolution, and a bunch with 4K (4,096 x 2,160 pixels) resolutions. In an era of common 4K content, a projector with a 4K resolution is ideal—but often comes with a hefty price. Because of that, we recommend finding one with the highest resolution possible in your price range.

Lens Zoom

Projectors thankfully aren’t made to sit a set distance from the screen you’re projecting onto. Instead, they can zoom in and out a little to accommodate a range of distances. The lens zoom essentially allows you to adjust the size of the image (within reason), meaning that a great projector can be useful for smaller TV-sized projections, or much larger projections when needed. The bigger the lens zoom, the bigger you can make an image.

Keystone Correction and Lens Shift

Wondering what's the difference between keystone correction and lens shift? For starters, it's rare that you’ll be able to place a projector perpendicular to the projection surface, which is where keystone comes in. Keystone correction basically allows you to manually distort an image so that it appears square on a surface despite being projected on an angle. Images can be shifted up, down, and sideways—so even if you’re projecting on a slight angle, you should still be able to achieve a good image.

Lens shift addresses the same issue, but it does so a little better. It basically adjusts the angle of the lens instead of digitally altering the image, as keystone correction does. The advantage to this is that lens shift retains the full resolution of the image, resulting in a better image than keystone correction. Unfortunately, lens shift is really only found on high-end projectors—so you may just have to deal with keystone correction with your budget projector.

Inputs and Outputs

Regardless of the type of projector you get, you’ll need a way to connect your computer, phone, speakers, and other devices to it—and that’s where inputs and outputs come in. There are a few types of inputs and outputs commonly used on projectors. Here’s a quick rundown of them.

HDMI ports are the most common input for projectors and TVs these days, which are a super high-quality standard that combines both video and multi-channel audio into one. HDMI ports can also be found on computers, and there are plenty of adapters for connecting a phone to an HDMI port, making it easy to connect your devices for playback.

DVI is another popular, though slightly less common, port that exists in a few different versions. There’s the digital DVI-D port, the analog DVI-A, and the hybrid DVI-I port that transfers both digital and analog signals. DVI is used on many computers, though not often on laptops.

Composite is a little less common these days, but can still be found on many projectors. Composite splits up a signal into one video connector, which is yellow, and two audio connectors for left and right channels.

VGA is another common analog connector that has become slightly less popular in recent years. VGA connectors are a little large and unwieldy, but if you’re using a computer that has a VGA connection, another VGA connection on the projector can come in handy.

3.5mm is a connector that’s only used for audio—so if you have a set of speakers or a sound system that you want to use with your projector, a 3.5mm connector could come in handy.

Wi-Fi is very popular when it comes to streaming content to projectors rather than having to use physical cables. Wi-Fi connections are usually used in conjunction with an app, or sometimes smart projectors simply stream content from the internet.

Smart Projectors

Smart projectors do exactly what you think they would do: connect to the internet and stream content directly. Many of them run Android, essentially allowing you to download apps for services such as Netflix and Hulu, and apps to connect to other devices.

There are a few advantages to this. First of all, it means you don’t have to deal with cables, which can be annoying and expensive. Second, it means you don’t have to carry around a computer or other device to use with your projector—simply connect it to a wireless network, and you’re good to go. The main disadvantage is that a smart projector might be more expensive, or it might put wireless connectivity over image quality. Make sure you check on image quality before you buy.

Of course, even if you opt for a smart projector, we still recommend making sure the projector has at least one HDMI port, just for those situations in which the Wi-Fi is down or too slow to work properly.

Size

Projectors come in a range of sizes. Smaller projectors are easy to carry and fit nicely inside a small bag, but the trade-off is that they often sacrifice quality and brightness for their size. That may be a trade-off that you’re willing to make, but even if you are, it’s still worth being aware of the fact that you might be limited in the situations that you can use your projector.

On the other end of the spectrum are super large projectors, which might have all the latest and greatest projecting tech, but probably need to be permanently mounted considering their size. These projectors sacrifice portability—so if you're looking to take one to meetings or on outdoor adventures, you'll probably want to check weight and dimensions.

Thankfully, you don’t have to choose between tiny or gigantic projectors. There are plenty that fall in the middle of the spectrum and offer decent quality and some portability.

"Larger projectors designed for use in permanent installations accommodate more space for components and functions, resulting in superior quality and performance. Smaller projectors on the market offer users the convenience of portability to watch content virtually anywhere in the home." — Carlos Regonesi, Senior Product Manager, Epson America Inc.

3D

These days, just like you can enjoy 3D content in the movies, you can also get it in your home theater. There are a number of projectors that support 3D content, though as you might expect they’re quite a bit more expensive than their non-3D counterparts. Some projectors can even convert 2D content to 3D, so if you’re truly into watching 3D content, it might be worth buying one of those. Otherwise, you’ll be limited to specific 3D content.

Like watching 3D content at the cinema, 3D content on a projector does require you to use special glasses—so that’s something you’ll have to keep in mind if you’re interested in buying a projector with support for 3D content.

Conclusion

As you can see, there's a huge selection and many factors to consider when buying a projector. While you may not care all that much about the technology under the hood, you’ll still want to make sure that the projector you buy is bright enough and has the right ports for your usage. Resolution and contrast ratio can also be important, as they specifically relate to image quality.

For most users, we recommend a DLP projector with at least one HDMI input and a brightness of at least 1,500 lumens. That should make for a projector that’s relatively versatile and can be used in a range of different situations. Of course, you’ll want something that’s brighter and a little more high-tech if you’re truly building a pricey home theater. But for the average person who simply wants to watch movies every now and then, these specs should be more than fine.

As with anything, a cheap projector might not always meet your needs. If you can afford to spend a little extra cash, it’s always worth buying a projector that’s slightly better than what you think you’ll need. After all, there’s nothing worse than squinting your way through a movie because your projector isn’t bright enough to beat out that annoying ambient light.

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