The 9 Best Cheap Projectors of 2021

Turn your home into a movie theatre on a budget!

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown
This is a compact and extremely portable projector that comes with a carrying case.
The Philips NeoPix Easy projector is a great budget option if you're looking to have some nice family movie nights.
Best for Presentations:
Epson VS355 at Amazon
Designed for professional use, the VS355 provides 3,300 lumens of light to create crystal-clear images.
It's a projector with 1080p resolution, a Bluetooth speaker with 12 Watts, and a 12,000 mAh power bank for your mobile devices.
Best Short Throw:
ViewSonic PS501X at Amazon
The minimum throw distance is 2.1 feet, so you'd be hard-pressed to find a space that won't accommodate that.
Best for Phones:
TopVision T21 at Amazon
Projecting your favorite game onto a large screen gives you a new perspective and makes gaming that much more immersive.
Best Portable:
Kodak Luma 150 at Amazon
The Kodak Luma 150 is a pocket-sized projector that you can carry with you anywhere.
Even in a room with a fair amount of light, the actual projection was bright and easy to see.
Best Outdoor Projector:
Anker Nebula Capsule Max at Amazon
Outdoor movie night and camping trips couldn't be more fun with the Anker Nebula Capsule Max.

If you want to set up a movie theatre in your home, but you don't want to spend a ton of money doing it, you need the best cheap projector you can find. That's what we have for you here. Our experts spent countless hours gathering and testing projectors to put together our picks for you. These projectors work great inside your home and outside and give you a sharp, clear picture so you can enjoy your movies in the best way possible. 

Some of these projectors even travel well, with batteries and wireless options while others are meant to be mounted and remain fixed. Projectors can be useful for showing movies and shows to a larger audience at home, or they can be handy showing presentations in boardrooms. 

Some things to take into consideration when shopping for a projector include brightness, portability, and sharpness. If you're watching DVD quality movies, anything at 720p is going to be fine. Blu-ray or higher quality will demand a projector at 1080p or higher. It's also important to consider the space where you plan to use this. If you're going to be in a space with ambient light, brighter is better. If you can dedicate a dark room as your viewing space, you can get away with less.

Whatever your needs, we've got a projector for you on this list. Plus, most of them come in at under $500 which makes them budget-friendly as well. Check out our list and you'll find one for you below.

Best Overall: Vankyo Leisure 3

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

  • Carrying case

  • Quiet fan

What We Don't Like
  • Vertical adjustment isn't very high

  • No feet adjustment for leveling

  • Terrible speaker

Our best overall projector pick has to go to the Vankyo Leisure 3. It has a great combination of hardware and value for the dollar.  This is a compact and extremely portable projector that comes with a carrying case. Benjamin Zeman enjoyed the carrying case, writing "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 up the projector is easy; just put it on a table and you're set. We did not like the lack of feet adjustment to level the projector; when you set this down, make sure it's on a level surface. The height adjustment is a single foot in the front that doesn't adjust the projector as much as we'd like. 

On the software side, Benjamin writes, "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."

Overall, this projector offers a quiet fan and decent brightness and contrast ratio at 2400 lumens and 2000:1 respectively. The speaker is not good at all, so plan on having an external speaker along for the ride. Otherwise, for the price, and considering its portability, this is a good value.

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
  • Easily accessible HDMI connection

  • Built-in media player

  • 20,000 hour bulb

What We Don't Like
  • Low resolution

  • Dim

The Philips NeoPix Easy projector is a great budget option if you're looking to have some nice family movie nights with a projector. Its primary input is with HDMI which is easy to access on the side of the projector, but the built-in media player allows you to display media from a USB thumb drive and microSD card. You get good sound from the built-in speakers and there's a 3.5mm headphone jack. That's handy not only for headphones, but it can also serve as an auxiliary sound output jack to connect to an external speaker or stereo system.

The projector can cast up to an 80-inch image, albeit at only 480p resolution and with a somewhat dim bulb. It's also pretty portable at just under 4 pounds. This is also a very versatile line of projectors ranging from the Neopix Start all the way up to the NeoPix Ultra. We chose to showcase the Easy model because of its nice balance of price and features. But if you're looking for something more, or a little less, Philips has you covered.

The bulb in the projector will last 20,000 hours, with a very respectable 3000:1 contrast ratio. Even though the bulb isn't the brightest, this projector will work very well in bedrooms and other smaller rooms where it will be able to stand out.

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

Best for Presentations: Epson VS355 WXGA

What We Like
  • Great visibility

  • Easy setup

  • Great color reproduction

  • Numerous inputs

What We Don't Like
  • Loud fan

  • Not portable

If you are looking for a projector for the office, this Epson VS355 is a great option. The bright 3,300-lumen projector works in bright rooms and the 15,000:1 contrast ratio ensures that your pictures are crystal clear. It's easy to set it up, with numerous input options. You can connect to the projector using HDMI, VGA, and the not-often-seen USB Type-B.  You can also plug in a thumb drive to the USB Type-A port on the back.

This projector will project a screen size of 33 up to 320 inches, so it has no problem filling out space. The remote and controls near the back of the unit are easy to use and control. In terms of color, Gannon our tester tested everything. "Speaking of color rendition, I used a Datacolor SpyderX Elite calibration tool to run a complete color gamut test on the VS355. It concluded the VS355 covered 92 percent of RGB, 68 percent of NTSC, 71 percent of Adobe RGB, and 74 percent of P3 color gamuts."

At just over 5.5 pounds, this projector isn't really made to be portable. It's designed for office spaces, and you'll want to set it up away from where people will be sitting due to the loud fan. Some might balk at the 1080p resolution, but Gannon writes, " the 1280x800 pixel resolution was limiting in terms of resolution, but unless you’re comparing it side-by-side with the latest 4K projector, it’s highly unlikely you’ll notice, especially if you’re playing a video game or watching a sporting event where text isn’t consistently on the screen."

We like this projector for the office because of its clarity and high contrast ratio in well-lit rooms. Office projectors need to be able to show their image in rooms where others can maneuver around, take notes, etc. This projector is bright enough to do that.

Resolution: 1280x800 | Brightness: 3300 lumens | Contrast ratio: 15000:1 | Projection size: 320 inches

"The Epson VS355 WXGA Projector is a wonderful, utilitarian projector that works as well outside the office as inside. It’s relatively compact and although its resolution isn’t the most impressive, the overall picture quality holds up against other projectors with much higher resolutions."Gannon Burgett, Product Tester

Epson VS355 WXGA Projector

Lifewire / Gannon Burgett

Best Compact: AAXA BP1 DLP Projector

The AAXA BP1 is a portable projector that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker.
What We Like
  • Large, rechargeable battery

  • Power bank

  • Bluetooth speaker

  • Numerous inputs

What We Don't Like
  • Takes a long time to charge

  • No remote

One of the most versatile projectors you can buy today has to be the AAXA BP1. The ultraportable speaker weighs in at just 1.1 pounds. By versatile, we mean this projector pulls triple duty. It's a projector with 1080p resolution up to 60", a Bluetooth speaker with 12 Watts, and a 12000mAh power bank for your mobile devices. 

One of the best parts about the power bank functionality is the long-lasting battery you get to power the projector and speaker. You'll get six hours of projection or up to 24 hours of speaker playback. It takes a long time to recharge that battery, for sure, but it's worth it. A great part about the Bluetooth speaker functionality is it works with the projector as well. Quality audio on a projector is never a given, but quality audio from a speaker is a pretty good bet.

As to the projector quality, you get 1080p resolution, with a not very bright 100 lumens. You'll want to make sure you're in a dark environment for this projector. The projector doesn't have a remote which can be inconvenient at times. The back of the projector carries HDMI, USB Type-C, and a microSD card reader, so you can playback a lot of formats. If you're looking for a projector under $150 that checks a lot of boxes, this is it

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

Best Short Throw: ViewSonic PS501X

Viewsonic PS501X
What We Like
  • Very short throw

  • Bright

  • Great contrast ratio

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Short-throw projectors are great for when you don't have a lot of space to place your projector. Smaller apartments of conference rooms are good candidates for short throw projectors. The Viewsonic PS501X can project a 120 inches screen from just 4-feet 1-inches away. The minimum throw distance is 2.1 feet, so you'd be hard-pressed to find a space that won't accommodate that.

Not only that, but this projector has an impressive 3,500 lumens of brightness and a 22,000:1 contrast ratio, meaning not only are pictures bright but they're sharp. The contrast ratio is the difference in color from the brightest color to the darkest, so a higher ratio is good. 22,000:1 is the highest on this list. That means the picture won't be washed out nor will it be too dark. This projector is expensive, but being a bright, short-throw projector with a high contrast ratio will do that.

As an added bonus, you can pair this projector up with Viewsonic's Interactive Whiteboard module for teaching and more engaging presentations. If you're a teacher or someone who lives and dies by PowerPoint, this is a great pick for you.

Resolution: 1024x768 | Brightness: 3400 lumens | Contrast ratio: 22000:1 | Projection size: 120 inches

Best for Phones: TopVision T21

The Topvision 4000LUX projector is a great portable projector.
What We Like
  • iOS and Android support

  • Portable

  • Bright

What We Don't Like
  • Will not stream Netflix/Hulu/Amazon video while screen mirroring

One great use of a projector is to use it to view media on a screen larger than your phone. That's what the TopVision T21 is designed to do, but there are limitations, so please read on. For less than $100, you can grab this highly portable projector. It weighs just 2.5 pounds and projects a screen size from 50 inches all the way up to 176 inches. It's bright at 4000 lux with a 1080p resolution.

Simply plug in your smartphone using your charging cable into the USB Type-A input. From there you can project anything that is on your phone screen, with the exception of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Unfortunately, copyright restrictions won't allow you to project those from your smartphone, but you can project them from your laptop. Some get around that by connecting a streaming device to play that kind of media.

For phone games though, this is a pretty neat setup. The bright bulb can handle video even in rooms with ambient light. Projecting your favorite game onto a large screen gives you a new perspective and makes gaming that much more immersive. Taking what is normally confined to a 6-inch screen and blowing it up to 176 inches is pretty powerful.

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
  • Multiple input options

  • Rechargeable battery

  • Ultraportable

  • Touch sensitive controls

  • Tripod mount

What We Don't Like
  • Low resolution

  • Low contrast ratio

The Kodak Luma 150 is a pocket-sized projector that you can carry with you anywhere. It easily slips into a bag or backpack, and its rechargeable battery lasts for about two hours. It supports input from HDMI, USB Type-A, and microSD cards. The projector has a custom operating system that you navigate with the touch-sensitive buttons on the top of the projector.  That's a double-edged sword because those buttons are hard to navigate by feel, which is something you'd like to do in the dark.

The projector has a tripod mount but curiously does not come with a tripod. The nice thing about the tripod mount is it allows you to place the projector on surfaces that are not flat or level. Considering the size of the projector, it's not surprising that it doesn't get very bright, nor does it have a good contrast ratio. This projector is intended for dark rooms, and that's it. The 60 ANSI lumens will not be able to compete with even a little ambient light.

But it's the most portable projector on the list, but a lot. 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 to keep the price down and have a projector you can almost keep in a back pocket, this is the choice for you.

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 for Work: Epson VS250 SVGA Projector

Epson VS250 SVGA
What We Like
  • Automatic vertical keystone

  • Very bright

  • Quiet fan

  • Portable

What We Don't Like
  • Low resolution

  • Quiet mono speaker

The Epson VS250 is a projector designed for business with some neat features that make it suited to that purpose. Benjamin, our reviewer tested the projector for several days to see what it was all about. According to Benjamin, "We tested the VS250 with several business presentations, using different devices, at different distances, and in different levels of light. Even in a room with a fair amount of light, the actual projection was bright and easy to see."

This projector has excellent color reproduction, brightness with 3,200 lumens, and contrast ratio at 15,000:1. One failing that our reviewer found was the low resolution of the projector. Despite the fact that this projector accepts input via HDMI, the output at 800x600 is very suboptimal. It's almost enough to erase all the good.

One really neat thing about this projector though is the keystone adjustment. Ben writes, "One of our favorite features is that the projector automatically adjusts its vertical keystone when you extend the kickstand...In place of the vertical keystone adjustment you would find on most other projectors, there is a horizontal keystone right behind the focus dial. This is amazing because you don’t have to point the projector straight at your projection surface. You can put the projector off to the side and adjust the distortion with the keystone, making this projector much more versatile."

This is a projector that could work in a boardroom because of its brightness and keystone versatility. There are some neat design elements here as well like the sliding shutter that automatically mutes audio and trunks off the projector. As our reviewer says, "No more missing lens caps!"

Resolution: 800x600 | Brightness: 3200 lumens | Contrast ratio: 15000:1 | Projection size: 350 inches

"One of our favorite features is that the projector automatically adjusts its vertical keystone when you extend the kickstand. The stand is a little wobbly and made from plastic, but it can do the job." — Benjamin Zeman, Product Tester

Epson VS250 SVGA Projector

Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman

Best Outdoor Projector: Anker Nebula Capsule Max

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

  • Android 8.1

What We Don't Like
  • Low resolution

One of the most compact portable projectors on the market today comes from Anker. It's the size of a soda can so it can join you on pretty much all of your adventures, from the campground to the backyard. Our experts took the Anker Nebula Capsule for a spin and came away impressed. Eric writes, "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." Since so many backpacks and bags have places specifically designed for soda cans and water bottles, it's easy to tote this projector around.

One of the coolest parts about the projector is that it has Android on board, meaning you can download apps and use them if you don't have an input device. "Setup is quick and easy, as the Capsule comes loaded with the Android 8.1 operating system, organized into large, intuitive tiles," says Eric, "The Android ecosystem, along with the optional Bluetooth connected smartphone app for remote control, helps make the Nebula feel like a truly modern device."

The resolution at 720p is not the best, but it should be good enough for apps like Netflix or Hulu. The 200 ANSI lumens of brightness will work very well at night outside. We'd like to see a better contrast ratio, but when you consider the size and portability, that's not too great a sacrifice. Overall, if you need a projector to toss into your bag and go, this one will do the job better than most.

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 (view at Amazon) takes our top spot because of its size, portability, and value for your dollar. Coming in at under $100, this is a 1080P projector you can use for movies or gaming. The compromises that are made are the right ones to keep costs down and give you a great deal. It even comes with its own case.

But if you want something even more portable and multi-talented besides, we really like the alphabet soup that is the AAXA BP1 projector/speaker/battery pack (view at Amazon).  The 12,000 mAh battery pack keeps the projector going for hours and hours, and the Bluetooth speaker connects to your phone for great audio. It's a three-in-one win.

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.

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.

FAQs

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.

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.

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