Home theater projectors have come a long way in the past few years. No longer the clunky, dim models of the past, the latest machines are brighter, sharper, more compact and easier than ever to install. Most importantly, though, they have much improved image quality than previous versions, and they provide picture sizes that you can’t get from standard TVs. Today, you can get 4K HDR models that can project an image size up to 150-inches for as little as $1,000 — roughly the same prices as a comparable TV, but with double the picture size. If you want a true, big-screen viewing experience, a good home theater projector is the best way to get that.
But there are a lot of different types of projectors, ranging from ultra-short-throw to portable to long-throw. There are also a lot of terms to understand, like lens shift, LCD vs. DLP, laser vs. lamp illumination and more. We'll help you understand everything you need to know before purchasing the best projector for your needs within your budget, and detail out topic picks across all of the different types of projectors available today.
LG CineBeam UHD 4K Projector HU715QW - DLP Ultra Short Throw Laser Smart Home Theater Projector, White
Best ultra-short-throw projector under $3,500
Samsung SP-LSP9T 130" The Premiere 4K Smart Laser Short-Throw Projector
Best ultra-short-throw projector under $7,000
ViewSonic PX701-4K 4K UHD 3200 Lumens 240Hz 4.2ms Home Theater Projector with HDR, Auto Keystone, Dual HDMI, Sports and Netflix Streaming with Dongle on up to 300" Screen
Best projector under $1,000
BenQ HT3550 4K Home Theater Projector
Best projector under $2,000
Epson Home Cinema LS11000 Projector
Best projector under $6,000
XGIMI MoGo Pro Portable Projector
Best budget portable projector
The technology: LCD and DLP projectors
Here are the basics: Projectors generally use two types of technology, LCD and DLP. They’re fundamentally different systems, with their own advantages and drawbacks.
The rise of ultra-short-throw projectors and brighter long-throw models, meanwhile, has been powered by falling prices in laser illumination technology. Lasers are a far better solution than lamps, because they’re brighter and last far longer — up to 30,000 hours instead of 6,000. That’s essentially a lifetime of use (about 10 years).
Most projector manufacturers now use DLPs, or digital light processing units, manufactured nearly exclusively by Texas Instruments (TI). The heart of the tech is an optical semiconductor called a digital micromirror device (DMD) that contains millions of aluminum mirrors. Those tilt either toward the light source (on) or away from it (off) at up to 5,000 times per second.
Budget projectors like BenQ’s HT3550i use TI’s 0.47-inch DMD, while higher end models, like the Samsung Premium LSP9T use the 0.66-inch chip. Both use mirrors that tilt by +12 and -12 degrees for white and black, but TI recently unveiled a new 0.47-inch 4K-capable DMD with +/-17 degrees of tilt, which should enhance both brightness and contrast.
DLP projector makers include LG, Optoma, LG, BenQ and Panasonic. The benefits of the tech are portability, high contrast, less fringing and cheaper projectors, especially 4K and ultra-short-throw models. The biggest drawback is the rainbow effect, or bright red/blue/green artifacts that affect some viewers more than others.
LCD tech, meanwhile, uses a prism to split a light source into red, green and blue beams. Those then pass through LCD displays containing the image and converge via another prism before passing through the projector’s lens.
Epson is the primary user of LCD tech, along with Sony, Sanyo and others. LCD projectors tend to be sharper, more efficient and more color accurate, but have lower contrast ratios and can experience image degradation over time. In general, they’re also more expensive.
What to look for in a projector
Since the last time we updated our guide, ultra-short-throw projectors have become the hot new category, offering several benefits. You can mount them close to the wall like a TV, with no need to run wires through the walls and ceiling, but still get an immersive image as large as 120 inches — something that’s impossible with a TV unless you’re very rich. They use brighter lasers that never need to be replaced — and because laser light is collimated, focusing is eliminated.
They’re also physically less awkward to install than a ceiling-mounted projector, though that doesn’t mean installation is super easy. To get the perfect screen fit and alignment, you must place them an exact height and distance from your wall or screen. This can be quite a pain, as I’ve discovered.
You also need a perfectly flat wall or projector screen, because ultra-short-throw projectors beam up at an acute angle, so any imperfections will show as shadows. For that reason, you can’t use a roll-down screen because they have slight ripples.
For the best results, particularly with a lot of ambient light, you should use an ambient light-rejecting (ALR) screen. Those have small ridges that reflect light from below back to your eyes, but absorb any light (ie ambient light) that comes from above. For one of those, you’ll need to budget at least $450 and way up. Some projectors, including models from Epson and HiSense, come with ALR screens.
Brightness and contrast
Home theater projectors generally range in brightness between 2,000 to 4,000 lumens, but you'll need to take those figures with a grain of salt. Some models might actually hit 3,000 lumens or more, but cranking the lamp to that level will hurt the image quality and lifespan of your bulb. Also, some manufacturers tend to exaggerate maximum brightness.
As a point of reference, many 4K flat panel TVs nowadays can hit 1,000 nits of brightness, but the brightest consumer projectors only display between 100 and 150 nits from the screen. That’s not as big a deal as it might seem, because projector images are much larger and meant to be used in dark rooms, where your eyes will automatically adjust to the light and “brighten” the image.
Contrast is also substantially different on home theater projectors. Unlike OLED TVs, projectors don’t allow for zero black levels because of ambient light, reflections and other reasons. You also can’t have local dimming zones found on LED TVs for true blacks. Some projectors do have a dynamic iris to improve the contrast scene-by-scene, but those can often produce a “pumping” effect, with the image dimming or brightening in mid-scene.
Mounting and fan noise
A big advantage of regular long throw projectors is that you can mount the projector and screen on the ceiling, using zero space in your room. If you plan to do that, don’t forget to budget for a mounting bracket and any necessary long cables, including extra power for Google's finicky Chromecast. Also, keep in mind that it's easier to mount a lightweight home theater projector, and DLP models are usually lighter than those with LCD tech.
Some projectors are noisier than others, and usually the more you spend, the less noise you get. Many of the new 4K DLP projectors, when operating in 4K mode, are particularly noisy. There's one other (cool) thing: if you have a portable projector or even one that is relatively easy to take down and put up, you can take it outside for magical night screenings under the stars.
HDR and resolution
On the resolution front, only expensive projectors have native 4K resolution; indeed, most movie theaters still use 2K projectors for various reasons. However, there are many relatively inexpensive DLP projectors that use pixel-shifting to attain 4K resolution. That system emits each pixel four times while moving it to the correct position for a 4K image, all in less than 1/60th of a second. As such, it puts as many pixels on the screen in the same amount of time as a 4K native projector — and visually, it performs nearly as well.
On the other hand, Epson's LCD “4K enhanced” projectors also have 1080p native resolution, but the image is just shifted twice, not four times. So, those projectors are not 4K natively or otherwise, but do produce double the pixel count of a 1080p projector. If you really want a 4K native projector, you’ll have to pay: two of the cheapest ones are Sony's VPL-VW295ES ($5,000) and JVC's DLA-NX5 ($5,000).
HDR is a very different animal on projectors compared to TVs. As mentioned, projectors can’t produce anywhere close to the amount of light required (1,000 nits) to qualify as true HDR. Rather, they use a technique called tone-mapping to fit the entire HDR gamut into a lower brightness range.
For that reason, among others, almost all projectors only support HDR10. Only one uses Dolby Vision (the Xiaomi Laser Cinema 2, only available officially in China), and just a couple of models work with Samsung’s HDR10+ — and those are Samsung’s own Premiere 4K models. However, most support a wider 10-bit color gamut that allows for superior color reproduction.
If you're mounting a short- or long-throw projector between five and 25 feet, you might need to consider the zoom range and whether the projector has a lens shift option. A decent zoom range will make it easier to mount the projector where you want with the screen size that you want.
Lens shift, meanwhile, is used if the projector is mounted higher or lower relative to the screen than recommended by the manufacturer (or any horizontal distance off center). That creates a trapezoidal shaped image, but by dialing in some lens shift, you can optically square it up. Otherwise, you might have to use a "keystone correction," which digitally stretches or shrinks part of the image, resulting in noticeable distortion or pixel artifacts. Digital correction might not work in gaming modes either, for some projector models.
If you’re interested in a gaming projector, you’ll want to look up the refresh rate and input lag figures. Some new projectors from Viewsonic, Optoma and others offer up to 240 Hz 1080p refresh rates and input lag settings down to 4 or 5 milliseconds. However, some projectors designed more for home entertainment have very poor input lag and refresh rates at just 60 Hz.
Finally, portable projectors have become popular enough to merit discussion this year. They’re relatively cheap, compact and portable and can run on batteries – making them ideal for entertainment outside or while camping. These outdoor projectors are not nearly as bright as others, of course, but are more designed for a fun night of entertainment under the stars.
As with previous updates, I’m dividing projectors into ultra-short-throw and long-throw categories. As mentioned, ultra-short-throw models have rapidly established themselves in the market due to the extra performance and convenience, and all manufacturers sell at least a couple of models. Within the ultra-short-throw category, We’ll compare two price categories: under $7,000 and $3,500, with three projectors each. In the long-throw category, we’re again looking at projectors under $1,000, $2,000 and $6,000, with three products in each range. Finally, we’ll take a look at the best portable projectors.
Best ultra-short-throw projector under $3,500: LG CineBeam HU715Q
More ultra-short-throw projectors under $3,500
Optoma CinemaX P2
Optoma’s CinemaX P2 made our list last year, but it’s one of the best projectors now because the price has dropped considerably. It delivers 3,000 lumen brightness, impressive contrast ratio and accurate colors with 80 percent DCI-P3 coverage. It’s not quite as sharp as the pricier projectors, as it uses TI’s 0.47-inch rather than 0.66-inch DLP tech, though you’ll still get a near-4K image.
The CinemaX P2 may also better match your living room decor, as it comes in white rather than dark grey like the P1. The 40-watt NuForce Dolby Digital 2.0 soundbar is one of the best on any ultra-short-throw projector, as well. On the downside, it does offer apps but they’re not as good as you’ll find on, say, Google’s Chromecast.
BenQ’s first UST laser projector is at the top end of the price scale at $3,500, but it offers some impressive capabilities. Light output is a bright 2,500 ANSI lumens and it delivers a full 98 percent DCI-P3 coverage for as good an HDR experience as you can get on a projector. You also get a Filmmaker Mode to see colors as the directors intended. It’s powered by Android TV so you get all the streaming services and apps you want, along with apps, games and more. The downside is the lack of decent speakers, as it only offers dual 5-watt speakers with clear sound but limited bass.
Epson EpiqVision Ultra LS300W
If you’re okay with 1080p projection, Epson’s EpiqVision Ultra LS300W is a very interesting option because of the design, excellent sound, built-in Android TV and extreme 3,600 ANSI lumen brightness. That allows for a wide color gamut with no rainbow effect, excellent connectivity and very good sound without the need to buy a soundbar or surround sound system. Best of all, it’s priced at just $2,000, making it one of the cheaper short-throw projectors out there.
Best ultra-short-throw projector under $7,000: Samsung Premium LSP9T
More ultra-short-throw projectors under $7,000
Epson EpiqVision Ultra LS500
If you need the brightest possible image, Epson’s LCD-powered EpiqVision Ultra LS500 ($3,899) delivers. It’s rated at up to 4,000 lumens, making it one of the brightest ultra-short-throw projectors in any price range. It also supports HDR modes in HDR10 and HLG and is sold with both 100-inch and 120-inch ALR screens, making the price effectively lower. The main drawback is that it only offers double the pixels of 1080p, rather than four times like competing DLP tech. It also offers a relatively weak 10-watt built-in speaker system.
This is HiSense’s new $4,300 flagship UST that uses a tricolor laser to achieve high brightness (3,000 ANSI lumens) and an incredible 107 percent BT.2020 HDR coverage, topping even Samsung’s formidable LSP9T. It has a powerful 40W Dolby Atmos sound system and built-in Android TV with Google Assistant and Alexa. Best of all, that price includes a 100-inch ALR Daylight screen, or for an extra $500, you can get it with a 120-inch ALR cinema screen.
Best projector under $1,000: Viewsonic PX701-4K
More projectors under $1,000
For around $700, the BenQ HT2050A is still one of the best budget 1080p projectors. It delivers where it counts with the best contrast (ANSI 1,574:1) and color accuracy in its class, and is reasonably bright as well, with 2,200 lumens in "vivid" mode. On top of that, it comes with a 1.3x zoom and vertical lens shift option for maximum installation flexibility. The drawbacks include slightly excessive fan noise, rainbow effect and red-tinted 3D.
If you’re looking to spend a little less on a budget projector, the Optoma HD146X is your best option. Using DLP tech, it delivers 1080p at up to 3,600 lumens with excellent brightness, color accuracy, contrast and black levels. You also get decent (16.4-millisecond) input lag for gaming. The drawbacks are a single HDMI port, 1.1x optical zoom and poor built-in audio.
Best projector under $2,000: BenQ HT3550i
More projectors under $2,000
For extra brightness and speed for gaming, the answer is Optoma’s all-new, $1,600 4K-capable UHD38. It cranks the lumens up to 4,000 and like the Viewsonic PX701-4K, offers 240Hz gaming at 1080p with one of the lowest latency figures we’ve seen yet in a projector at 4.2 milliseconds. Otherwise, you can do 4K 60 Hz gaming with 16.7 milliseconds of lag, which is very quick for 4K. It’s optimized more for gaming than entertainment unlike BenQ’s HT3550i, but it can still handle HDR10 and HLG. It supports both zoom (albeit just 1.1x), but also vertical and horizontal lens shift.
Epson Home Cinema 4010 4K Pro
Epson’s $2,000 Home Cinema 4010 4K Pro is the Cadillac of under-$2K home projectors thanks to features like 2,400 lumen brightness, dynamic iris, and motorized zoom (2.1x), focus and lens shift. This Epson projector delivers in picture quality too, covering 100 percent of the DCI-P3 color space in cinema mode with both HDR10 and HLG. It also offers near-4K quality using 1,920 x 1,080 LCD image chips with pixel shifting. The drawbacks are lack of support for 60Hz 4K due to the HDMI 1.4 ports.
If you need that, want to pay a bit less and don’t care about the motorized focus, Epson’s $1,700 Home Cinema 3080 4K Pro is the way to go. It offers similar features like HDR10 and HLG, but supports 4K 60p thanks to the HDMI 2.0b ports. There’s no motorization and the zoom drops to 1.6x, but it supports generous tilt, shift and zoom ranges.
Best projector under $6,000: Epson Home Cinema LS11000 laser
More projectors under $6,000
Optoma’s $6,000 UHZ65LV also uses a long-lasting laser light source to deliver a 5,000 lumen image, much brighter than any lamp-powered projector. It also delivers true 4K resolution up to 60p, thanks to the TI 0.66-inch DLP chip. The extra brightness and contrast make it ideal for HDR10 or HLG content. It also comes with desirable features for a long-throw laser projector, like a 1.6x zoom and vertical lens shift.
LG CineBeam HU810PW 4K
Speaking of long-throw laser projectors, LG’s $3,000 CineBeam HU810PW is another excellent pick at a much lower price point. There are some compromises, as the laser light pushes out a lower 2,700 lumens (that’s still a lot), and it has a smaller 0.47-inch DLP chip that delivers slightly lower perceived resolution. However, it has dual blue and green lasers which help it deliver accurate HDR colors with an excellent 97 percent DCI-P3 coverage. It also offers a 1.6x zoom with lens shift and an HDMI 2.1 port that allows for 4K at 60p with up to 12-bit color depth. It comes with LG’s webOS, so it supports Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services without the need for a dongle.
If you’re looking for a true, native 4K projector, Sony’s $4,500 VPL-VW295ES is the least costly option out there. It’s by far the sharpest 4K projector in this roundup, thanks to Sony’s proprietary 4K SXRD native DCI 4K (4,096 x 2,160) panels. It also delivers extremely accurate colors, with 100 percent DCI-P3 coverage and HDR10/HLG support. You also get niceties like a 2.06 zoom lens with powered zoom, lens shift and focus. The main drawback is a relatively dim 1,500 lumen brightness, but it’s a top pick if picture quality is paramount above all.
Best budget portable projector: Xgimi MoGo Pro
More budget portable projectors
This $470 model is designed specifically for outdoor entertainment, so it’s battery-powered and splash and shock resistant – making it your best bet for backyard movie nights or for watching sports events, camping and more. It’s also one of the brightest portable projectors out there and has a battery life of up to three hours. This outdoor projector only delivers 720p resolution, but it does come with a streaming app in the form of Aptoide TV.
Anker Nebula Solar HD
This 1080p projector has a pretty rich feature set considering the $600 price including a battery. This portable projector delivers 400 lumens for reasonably bright outdoor use, has a reasonably powerful 2x3W speaker system with Dolby Digital Plus, comes with Android TV and has a built-in stand for easy adjustment.
Are 4K projectors better?
Yes, because higher resolution is more noticeable on larger screens, so 4K is particularly useful with projectors since they beam images up to 200 inches in size. That being said, brightness and contrast are more important.
Is a projector better than a TV?
Projectors can provide a more immersive experience thanks to the large screen, but they’re not necessarily “better.” Since you usually have to dim the lights with a projector, TVs are superior for everyday use.
Is 2000 lumens bright enough for a projector?
Yes, 2000 lumens is easily bright enough, even with some ambient light in the room. However, the image will still be hard to see with the windows open on a bright day.
Should I get a 4K or 1080p projector?
That depends on your budget and needs. If your budget is below $1,000, look for a 1080p projector with the best brightness and contrast. Between $1,000-$2,000, you’ll need to weigh whether brightness or 4K resolution is most important. Above that, choose the brightest 4K projector you can afford.
What are the best projectors in daylight?
The best projectors in daylight are ultra short throw (UST) models, as they have the brightest and sharpest image. However, they generally cost more than $2,000.