There are many reasons you might want a projector over a TV: you may want a bigger image than a TV can offer, or you don’t like the look of a TV in your living room, or you want to have casual movie nights with your friends or family. Since movie theaters aren’t an option for most people right now, a lot of friends have been asking me what projector to get for their living room. So to give them the best answer, I tested nine different projectors in my apartment. After three months and way too many movies, I’ve found the projector best suited for most situations.
First, there are a lot of specs and choices to make when it comes to projectors: lumens, laser or lamp-based, DLP or LCD, 1080 or 4K, short-throw, zoom lenses, projection size… there’s a lot. But basically, the important things are: how easy it is to set up, audio, image quality, and price.
Currently, there are five kinds of projectors you can get for your home: DLP, LCD, LED, LCOS, and laser. For this test, I looked at DLP and LCD types, which are common for home projectors and also one DLP projector that utilizes a laser light source instead of a bulb, ranging in price from $530 to $2,800. You can spend a lot more on high-end, dedicated home theater projectors. But for this test, we kept the budget as reasonable as possible. Most of the models I tested max out at 1080p resolution, but we do have a couple of 4K picks as well.
Home Theater or Home Entertainment?
Home theater projectors are designed to be used under theater-dark conditions in a movie room. This can be anything from an elaborate, professionally designed home theater to a mixed-use room that can be set up for viewing movies. Such projectors usually eschew built-in speakers, as their owners prefer to yoke them to high-fidelity audio systems. Image quality, features, and resolution are important—most are 1080p or 4K, and many include 3D capabilities. Because you’ll be viewing the content in a dark room free of ambient light, a home theater projector needn’t be especially bright; you won’t want to go much above 2,000 lumens.
Home entertainment projectors, on the other hand, are more versatile than home theater models, and are generally used in places such as family rooms, where there may be considerable ambient light. They’ve become viable substitutes for TVs, and can project fairly large images without degradation. Thus, they tend to be brighter than home theater models. They also have built-in sound systems. As home entertainment projectors are geared to casual viewing, their image quality—though generally good—is seldom a match for that of home theater models.
What You Need To Know
If this is your first foray into the premium world of cinema projectors there are a couple of things you need to look out for.
The most important thing about getting a new projector is getting a clear image – you want to be able to see as much detail as possible. This is measured in the number of pixels it can show off. The most basic on this list has a 720-pixel image, which is a bit outdated for our tastes but good enough if you’re on a budget.
Full HD (1080p) projectors are the most common, but the modern standard is 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) which all movie aficionados should hunt for. You might find some models capable of 8K reproduction which is a future trend that “quadruples the visual quality”, though it isn’t quite ready for general consumption yet.
This is how well your projector can distinguish between blacks and whites, and will ultimately give you better clarity when watching darker content like that pitch-black episode of Game of Thrones: The Long Night. The bigger the ratio, the better the performance – at 500,000:1 and more, blacks will be inky and colours will pop; at 2,000:1, the image will look a little blurry and colours may bleed into each other; you have been warned.
If you’re a sports fan this won’t matter too much, as most stadiums are so bright that Jeff Bezos could see them from space, so you won’t need much contrast, but film buffs and gamers will want to see the deep shadows in distinction to lighter scenes.
Projectors need the perfect setting to get the most out of them, and that often means closing the curtains and watching in near-complete darkness. However, some can cope with brighter environments and even work in the garden if you’re throwing a watch party.
Brightness is measured in lumens, with a higher number offering a brighter image – around 2,500 is the sweet spot. Though you only really need to pay attention to this if you plan on keeping the curtains open or taking it outside.
The screen size will depend on how close you put the projector to the wall or screen, so have a think about where you could put one in your setup. A lot of our favourites can be wall mounted or suspended from the ceiling, while others have a “short throw” meaning you can pop it just a few inches away from the wall and still get a big display.
TVs are getting wider, but they can’t compete with the width of some of the more advanced projectors, which can stretch to more than 500 inches if you happen to own the world’s biggest living room wall. Most projectors will be around 100 inches though, and can go as small as 30 inches if you’re tight on space.
Many on this list are smart enough to be able to link up to your wifi to allow you to watch Netflix or Disney+ over the internet, but some will also have plenty of ports to connect games consoles, streaming sticks or a laptop.
The models on our list will all have at least a USB port or HDMI cable so you can add another device to your set-up, though the more expensive options will have more ports for more gear.
You might also find built-in speakers for better audio, smart features like Alexa-compatibility, or headphone jacks for a more personal viewing experience.
Our Top Picks:
It’s a shade pricey for an entry-level device but, make no mistake, this is the king of affordable 4K projectors. It’s easy to set up and install, and produces a picture that’s reminiscent of what you’ll get at the cinema.
You’ll get a great image right out of the box without needing to be any kind of expert at tinkering with the settings. All the preset modes are very well judged and it gives an excellent level of black depth and dark detail for a projector at this price. Colours are balanced and motion is naturally smooth.
That said, it’s as much the convenience of this machine that makes it so good. Bluetooth allows for direct connection with a wireless speaker or soundbar, and the high luminance means that it’s usable in moderately lit rooms. In other words, an AVR, speaker package and home cinema room are not entirely necessary. How’s that for a superb family projector?
2. Optoma UHD65
This is a sophisticated, 4K-capable, HDR projector is competitively priced. Considering there are more expensive models on the market that are neither 4K nor HDR-compatible, those looking for a top-notch home cinema projector should give the Optoma UHD65 serious consideration.
It may not have all the bells and whistles of a high-end 4K projector, and, indeed, it may not be native 4K, but the picture is superb with brilliant motion handling, colour production and excellent upscaling abilities.
It’s also future-proofed enough to keep you happy for years. At this price, the Optoma is the one to beat, and if you find it at a discount, then you’d better not blink.
3. XGIMI Halo
The XGIMI Halo is a great shout for anyone after a portable projector that doesn’t give up on quality pictures entirely. This stylish, compact, and capable projector is easy to take with you on the go, with built-in 5W speakers and 1080p / Full HD resolution to offer both sight and sound.
You’re getting 800 lumens max brightness while plugged in, though this does drop to 600 lumens when running on battery – fine for dark, outdoor settings, though you’ll undoubtedly fare better with the former setting. Regardless, the battery life is long enough to watch an average-length movie. There’s no native Netflix support, sadly – something that also plagues the XGIMI Horizon Pro – but complaints are few and far between for the Halo.
It’s worth noting that theater enthusiasts may not be satisfied with the brightness and picture of the Halo, especially because of somewhat distracting video noise in dark scenes – but for anyone who needs flexibility and wants the best projector that can fit that need, the XGIMI Halo will prove a worthy choice.
If you’re looking to lay a big load of cash on a projector, you can’t go wrong with the BenQ TK700STi. If you’re buying it for gaming, then that endorsement is even stronger.
This unit supports 4K at 60Hz with an unsurpassed 16ms response time at that resolution, which is as low as response times get in a native 4K projector. If you want up to 120 inches of bright, crystal-clear game on your wall or screen, this sets a new benchmark. You can also push to 120Hz if you’re happy settling for HD output.
5. Epson 6050UB
If you want a home cinema projector that looks good enough, the Epson 6050UB isn’t for you. If you want a 4K projector for home that looks AMAZING, then get the Epson 6050UB. This UHD projector far exceeds expectations with fantastic black levels, breathtaking sharpness and a dazzling color gamut.
Epson does a fantastic job of balancing the picture quality to price on this home theater projector.
This 5 star Epson home cinema projector easily pays for itself when you stop going out to the movies and not just watch, but experience films on your own cinema screen in your comfiest chair. If you’re thinking about buying the Epson 6050UB projector for your home, stop overthinking and get it.
The Optoma UHZ65LV is a state-of-the-art 4K laser projector for home cinema viewing capable of delivering an incredibly sharp image with a high level of detail and breathtaking color.
This impressive home theater beamer is built around a 4K UHD 0.66″ DLP chip and Optoma DuraCore laser technology to give you an extra bright, super detailed and long lasting video source for the movie room in your house.
The UHZ65LV offers 99% coverage of the Rec.709 gamut as well as support for Rec.2020 and DCI-P3 color gamuts. This impressive optical device also supports HDR10, and delivers an outstanding 3,000,000:1 contrast ratio with its Dynamic Black setting.
Weighing in at just over 2 pounds, the ViewSonic M2e is equally portable to the XGIMI Elfin above, with a similarly slim profile. It’s just as easy to set up, too. Just turn it on and the built-in sensor will automatically adjust the focus and keystone correction, no need for manual fiddling. Along with an Aptoid streaming interface, it does have a mix of wired and wireless input options, as well as a memory card slot so you can play content you’ve downloaded.
Unfortunately, the ViewSonic M2e also shares the Elfin’s main weakness: its lamp is weak and prone to washout from even small amounts of ambient light. This is the main reason we don’t recommend it as a presentation projector, though it can still be a fine choice for backyard movie nights, camping trips, and other on-the-go uses.
On the plus side, the picture quality of the ViewSonic M2e exceeds most options in the price range. It has a high dynamic contrast and SuperColor+ technology for a color gamut about 25% wider than the Rec.709 spectrum. The result is a realistic and immersive picture—provided you’re able to use it in a completely dark viewing area.
Do you need a screen for a better projector experience?
You can use a white wall to project your picture. However, don’t expect it to be the best surface for a projector. If your wall has tiny bumps, they would refract light — creating small shadows. As a result, the image loses quality and brightness.
The latest home theater projectors can deliver wonderful home cinema experiences in various lighting conditions. However, if you want the best image quality from your projector you’re better off getting a projector screen, especially if you’ll be watching a lot of content in a bright environment. This is because projector screens tend to brighten the image noticeably.
How to set up a projector
Projectors can be placed on a table or shelf, or permanently mounted to the ceiling depending on the throw ratio of the models. If you mount your projector on the ceiling it will be in a fixed position and distance from your screen or wall. Some mounting brackets even let you recess the projector into the ceiling when not in use but this may require professional installation.
The best part of a ceiling mounted solution is you won’t have to deal with people walking in front of the projector, which can be irritating. If you decide on a ceiling mounted model, look out for a trigger port as this feature allows you to integrate a motorised tray that lowers the projector when you turn it on.
If you put your projector on a table or shelf, it can be packed away when not being used but you’ll have to make basic set-up adjustments each time it’s brought out. This process only takes a few minutes, but it can be tricky to put the projector in just the right spot, even if you’ve done it a thousand times before.
In either case, take the time to make sure the projector’s position matches the throw ratio so you can get the screen size you want with the best quality image. Though you can adjust the focus, and zoom in some cases, most models have a limited margin of error when it comes to placement.