The 8 Best Cheap Projectors of 2020

Turn your home into a top-notch movie theater with these projectors

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The Rundown
"This projector uses an LED lamp that is up to 60 percent brighter than traditional lamps."
Best Outdoor Projector:
Anker Nebula Capsule Max at Amazon
"Designed with outdoor movie nights with friends in mind."
Best for Presentations:
Epson V355 at Amazon
"You can adjust the projected image size from 80 to up to 120 inches so your presentation can be seen easily."
Best for Gaming:
Optoma HD146X at Best Buy
"Boasts a native 1080p HD resolution and a 23,000:1 contrast ratio for truly sublime image quality."
Best Short Throw:
ViewSonic PS501X at Amazon
"Perfect for most living rooms, meeting spaces, and even classrooms."
Best for Phones:
TopVision T21 at Amazon
"Play movies and display photos directly from your smartphone or mobile device."
Best Portable:
Kodak Luma 150 at Amazon
"This portable pocket projector can project an image onto a 150-inch screen and supports a variety of connectivity options."
"This projector is a great option for office work and everyday presentations."

The best cheap projectors should be able to give you a bright image with good visibility. Most of the more affordable projectors also tend to be more portable, making them short-throw projectors that don't require much distance in order to project a large image. Short-throw projectors are particularly versatile options because they can connect to the vast majority of devices and have wireless connectivity options so you can cast content to them from smartphones or even hook them up to soundbars via Bluetooth.

Our top pick in terms of price and features is the Vakyo Leisure 3 at Amazon. It's one of the best all-around projectors you can get with its bright LED lamp, the ability to adjust an image from 32 inches to 170 inches, and rich, saturated colors. It works great for movies and games, can connect to gaming consoles, and has a pair of crisp stereo speakers and even supports USB-C and HDMI.

If you're in the market for a wider range of projector options and aren't as limited by price, take a look at our overall list of the best projectors. There you'll find options for projectors of every class, including 4K and 1080p projectors. Read on below for our list of the best cheap projectors.

Best Overall: Vankyo Leisure 3

What We Like
  • LED lamp

  • Plug-and-play functionality

  • Fan noise suppression

What We Don't Like
  • Reports of failing units

  • Reports of DOA units

  • Short power cord

For hardcore movie buffs, the Vankyo Leisure 3 delivers a superior viewing experience. This projector uses an LED lamp that is up to 60 percent brighter than traditional lamps and is rated for up to 40,000 hours of use. You can adjust the picture size from 32 inches to 170 inches for quality perspective in almost any size home theater.

The Leisure 3 uses Vankyo's proprietary MStar Advanced Color engine for rich colors and saturation in movies, sporting events, and even video games. You can connect your TV, computer, game console, or mobile device via an HDMI or USB Type-C cable. The two built-in speakers deliver clear stereo sound, and the projector's noise suppression capabilities help cut fan noise for even better audio. The Leisure 3 comes packaged with a custom carrying bag so you can take it with you to movie nights with family and friends or even on vacation.

Best Outdoor Projector: Anker Nebula Capsule Max

What We Like
  • Download streaming apps directly to the projector

  • Autofocus

  • Wired and wireless play

What We Don't Like
  • Lag when screen mirroring

  • Limited streaming app support

  • Poor app interface

The Anker Nebula Capsule Max mini projector is designed with outdoor movie nights with friends in mind. The sleek, compact design makes it easy to tuck this projector in a backpack or travel bag without fear of damaging it. The built-in battery provides up to four hours of watch time at once and reaches a full charge in as little as 2.5 hours. The lamp is rated for 30,000 hours of use and projects 720p HD pictures for great picture clarity. 

The Capsule Max runs on the Android 8.1 operating system, meaning you can download your favorite streaming apps directly to the projector. You can also connect your computer, game console, or mobile device via HDMI or USB ports or wirelessly via AirPlay, Miracast, and Bluetooth connections. The built-in 8-watt speaker delivers crisp, clear sound without distortion so you don't miss a beat of music or a line of dialogue.

Best for Presentations: Epson V355

What We Like
  • Clear image in bright rooms

  • Easy set up

  • Up to 120-inch image

What We Don't Like
  • Loud fan

  • Runs hot

  • HDMI splitter needed to play audio from projector

If you're looking for a projector to give presentations during business meetings, check out the Epson V355. This projector's lamp provides 3,300 lumens of brightness for both color and white light projection, giving you a clear image, even in brightly lit rooms. The V355 uses WXGA resolution for HD video support, plus it even supports widescreen image and video formats

You can adjust the projected image size from 80 to up to 120 inches so your presentation can be seen easily in all but the largest of meeting rooms or lecture halls. The sleek and lightweight design makes this projector easy to move between rooms or travel with on business trips. You can connect almost any computer, mobile device, or gaming console with either an HDMI cable or the included VGA cable. This projector also comes packaged with a remote for easy setup and use.

Best for Gaming: Optoma HD146X

What We Like
  • Native 1080p HD

  • Full 3D support

  • Low latency

What We Don't Like
  • Reports of bad remotes

  • Reports of DOA units

  • Reports of failing lamps

Whether you're looking to upgrade your game room or you're just tired of crowding around a small TV to play games with your friends, the Optoma HD146X projector may be the right choice for you. This projector is designed with gaming mind: with a low latency input, you can play all your favorite games with virtually no lag. The HD146X boasts a native 1080p HD resolution and a 23,000:1 contrast ratio for truly sublime image quality.

The projector also offers full 3D support for a more immersive media experience. The dual HDMI inputs mean you can connect your favorite consoles and other devices simultaneously. The lamp delivers 3000 lumens of brightness so you can enjoy your games in even the brightest environments, and it is rated for 12,000 hours of use. Set-up for this projector is fast and easy with the manual zoom and focus wheel so you can adjust picture size and quality to suit your space.

Best Short Throw: ViewSonic PS501X

What We Like
  • 3D support

  • Whiteboard compatible

  • Large viewing area at short throw distance

What We Don't Like
  • No 4K support

  • Confusing on/off buttons on remote

The ViewSonic PS501X projector is designed with average spaces in mind. Its short-throw lens gives you up to 120 inches of viewable images at a maximum throw distance of 4.8 feet, making it perfect for most living rooms, meeting spaces, and even classrooms. Rated for up to 15,000 hours of use, the lamp provides 3,500 lumens of brightness so you can get clear images even in bright environments.

In addition to full 3D support, the PS501X exhibits ViewSonic's proprietary SuperColor technology, which uses a six-segment color wheel and dynamic lamp controls so you can adjust the color saturation and contrast to your preferences. You can pair this projector with ViewSonic's Interactive Whiteboard module for hands-on classroom learning and more engaging presentations.

Best for Phones: TopVision T21

What We Like
  • iOS and Android support

  • Good warranty

  • Long lamp life

What We Don't Like
  • Connection issues with Samsung Galaxy S9/S10 phones

  • Reports of failing units

  • Will not stream Netflix/Hulu/Amazon video while screen mirroring

The TopVision T21 projector lets you play movies and display photos directly from your smartphone or mobile device, eliminating the need to lug a laptop or game console with you wherever you want to watch movies. The T21 is compatible with both iOS and Android devices and connects to your smartphone with a USB cord so you can stream your favorite movies and shows without the need for an internet connection. 

The LED lamp is rated for 50,000 hours of use and gives you a viewing area up to 176 inches. The built-in Hi-Fi speakers and fan noise suppression system give you clear sound so you can stream media without distractions. The projector has manual distortion and focus wheels so you can adjust the image to suit your space. The T21 is backed by a three-month return/refund policy and a two-year warranty that covers parts and manufacturing defects.

Best Portable: Kodak Luma 150 Pocket Projector

What We Like
  • Affordable price

  • Ultra short-throw

  • Supports numerous connectivity options

What We Don't Like
  • Short battery life

The Kodak Luma 150 is a pocket projector from an old and reputable brand name in the camera and projector space. The projector boasts a 60-lumen brightness LED lamp and it has an 854x480 resolution that it can project onto a 150-inch screen or surface. It's a short-throw projector, meaning it doesn't need much space in order to project an image, so you can use it for just about everything from office presentations to a living room setup. It's portable enough to slip into a back pocket or backpack easily, and the stylish two-tone design features a built-in speaker and illuminated onboard controls.

The Luma 150 is also packed with connectivity options. It supports HDMI and micro USB cables to connect to cameras, storage drives, laptops, PCs, and other devices. You can also cast content to it wirelessly from your smartphone through Airplay and Miracast. Finally, it supports Bluetooth and can hook up to a soundbar, which is advisable if you want to use it to watch a movie or play games. It's additionally compatible with HD video and 4K content, though it's not a 4K projector so you won't see the content in 4K. That said, for the price, it's one of the best compact and affordable projectors you can get.

Best for Work: Epson VS250 SVGA Projector

What We Like
  • Good for office environments

  • High brightness

  • Wireless connectivity

What We Don't Like
  • Not as portable as other options

The Epson VS250 SVGA projector is a capable projector for office, home office, and work presentations. It's capable of SVGA resolution (800x600), which is enough to handle displaying graphics, images, videos, and other content. It supports 3,200 lumens of color and white brightness, allowing it to maintain clarity even in brightly lit rooms. It's not a short-throw, so it requires a projection distance of 30 inches in order to project an image on a 350-inch screen. That's not the best option for portability or compact spaces, but it's still fairly reasonable, especially for a conference room.

The VS250 also supports all manner of devices and connectivity options. It works with laptops, media players, PC, and Macs with standard HDMI connectivity for both digital video and audio. On top of that, it has wireless projection options for smartphones and tablets, letting you cast content wirelessly.

Final Verdict

The best cheap projector to get is the Vankyo Leisure 3 (view on Amazon). It strikes the best balance between price and performance, supporting native 1080p resolution, a powerful image processing engine for great color, and support for screens up to 170 inches. It's a great option for both work and play. Another projector we like is the Anker Nebula Capsule (view on Amazon). This uniquely shaped projector is made for outdoor movie watching, it's designed to travel in the great outdoors, and has a long-lasting lamp and battery along with a full Android OS.

FAQs

How much does 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, that price goes up even more.


How many lumens do I 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 closer to 2,000 lumens.


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.

The Ultimate Projector Buying Guide

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 if you're looking to cut the cord. 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.

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.

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.