TVs are great and all, but if you want a real cinema-like experience in your home, a projector is the way to go. The size of your viewing experience is only limited to the size of your wall. All you need is a dark room and a screen and you’re able to watch crystal clear movies just like you’re at the theater. We've got a bunch of great picks here, all of which consider brightness, contrast ratio, input and output support, and optional extras. We've also included a complete primer on home projection at the end of this roundup, so jump on down there if you have no idea what the hell we're talking about.
Projectors are expensive, and we want to help you pick the best ones. So we look at how easy they are to use, their value-for-money, and their feature set. We take a close look at their stats, and how they perform under varying circumstances and in different home theater setups. They can also be daunting, especially if you've never messed around with them outside of that clunky model in your office conference room, so we've tried to keep jargon to a minimum… And when we have to use it, we make sure to explain it, with more in-depth explanations at the bottom of this piece.
Range: 8ft/82”, 12ft/122”
Contrast Ratio: 1,000,000:1
What We Like: Great darks, daytime viewing not a problem
What We Don’t: Expensive
Best For: Daytime watching
This is a huge upgrade to the already-phenomenal 5030UB that was on the top of our list for most of last year. The new model showcases Epson’s prowess in the high-end realm. Proof is in the picture quality, and this one handles extremely large screens like a champ. And unlike most LCD units, it has superb renditions of darks (check out that 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio - the original model was already 600,000:1, so this is a massive leap forward) Daytime viewing, or viewing in a room with ambient lighting, is not a problem — you’ll still get excellent brightness levels no matter the conditions. The unit features manual horizontal and vertical lens shift as well as a manual zoom. At this price level, you get solid range, an increased number of lumens, and great keystonining and useability - as well as 3D functionality. The projector can be ceiling or floor mounted and delivers a bright, crisp picture in almost any room. Without question, this is the best model for most people.
See the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB
Range: 8ft/82”, 12ft/122”
Contrast Ratio: 120,000:1
What We Like: Quiet operation
What We Don’t: Value-for-money
Best For: When audio matters
There's a lot to like about the LCD VPL-HW55ES from Sony. It doesn't have 4K capabilities, so it's cheaper than some of its top-of-the-line rivals, but it does produce an excellent full HD 1080p projection with whatever type of content you're working with. It's also very quiet - something that's important when you're trying to catch key bits of dialog in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. The VPL-HW55ES is large but stylish, and you get two HDMI ports as well as component video and D-Sub inputs. The quoted contrast ratio of 120,000:1 is achieved with some proprietary Sony software rather than being a native figure, but you can't quibble with the results, and 3D playback capabilities are included as well. The unit offers excellent black and light levels, and if you don't want to make the jump to 4K at the moment, then this is the next best thing - even if we think it’s way too expensive for what you get.
See the Sony VPLHW55ES
Contrast Ratio: 40,000:1
What We Like: 4K is fantastic
What We Don’t: Specs are confusing
Best For: 4K viewers
Although we find it frustrating that the JVC model is light on specs, including letting you know the range, that still doesn't make this unworthy of an almost-top spot. For one thing, it delivers some of the best 4K footage we've ever seen, with colors and blacks that are vivid and distinctive. This is an unusual type in that it relies on Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS), that uses chips of liquid-crystal with mirrored surfaces. It's as amazing as it sounds. Don't, by the way, be confused with the D-ILA. That's just a JVC brand name for this type of projection.
See the JVC DLA-X550R D-ILA
Contrast Ratio: 43,000:1
What We Like: 3D/2D switching
What We Don’t: Older model
Best For: 3D/2D switching!
One of the kings of the mid-range market, the PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e is Epson's entry into the high-end line up. There are Full HD 1080p resolution capabilities here, as well as 3D and 2D modes, 2,300 lumens of brightness, and a contrast ratio of 40,000:1. The LCD display means naturally bright color levels in your images, while the motorized iris improves black and shadow levels. There's a more expensive variant of the 3020 available if you want wireless HD capabilities, but even the wired version is a great deal if you're looking to set up a home cinema room. The 3020e is an older model, but it earns rave reviews and still performs as well, or better than, the current competition.
See the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e
Range: 3.85ft/40”, 22.5ft/235”
Contrast Ratio: 10,000:1
What We Like: Good price, color calibration
What We Don’t: Bad speakers, lamp leakage
Best For: Smaller rooms
With the BenQ HT1075 coming in at well under $1000, it's one of the best mid-range models on the market. You get vivid colors and a solid viewing experience, in all kinds of lighting. This DLP option features a sensor for automatic color calibration to suit any room you may place it in from bright living rooms to the basement. With vertical and horizontal keystones, you can put the unit just about anywhere. At 8 feet, the HT1075 can throw up a 100-inch image. If you have a smaller room, check out BenQ's HT1075ST, a more-expensive model for tighter spaces. The HT1075 does come with a remote and built-in audio, but you’ll need to buy the 3D glasses separately and the 10W speakers disappoint (then again, if you buy a projector for its audio, you must be out of your mind). Just like its predecessor, the forward-facing exhaust grill allows for slight lamp leakage, but that’s a small issue for such a great little device.
See the BenQ HT1075
Range: 8ft/96”, 12ft/144”
Contrast Ratio: 15,000:1
What We Like: Great brightness
What We Don’t: Speakers
Best For: When you need lots of features
In many ways, you get what you pay for when it comes to home projection. However, there are some in the middle of the market that offer a lot, including the PJD-7820HD from Viewsonic. With 3,000 lumens of brightness, a 15,000:1 contrast ratio, and 3D capabilities, this model is no slouch (and it costs considerably less than many of its rivals). Featuring DLP technology, the PJD-7720HD is light, compact and capable of Full HD 1080p. You also get HDMI, D-Sub, PC and component inputs, and brightness levels are first-class thanks to that lumens rating. On the downside, the speakers are not much to write home about, but you can't have everything at this price point.
See the ViewSonic PJD7820HD
Range: 8ft/96”, 12ft/144”
Contrast Ratio: 10,000:1
What We Like: 3D quality
What We Don’t: Overpriced
Best For: Smaller rooms
If you have a small room, but you want to up your visual game and have the money to do so, then the BenQ W1080ST is the unit you should go for. Not only does it deliver phenomenal, bright visuals in small spaces, but it also sets its store by its 3D reproduction, which is nothing short of outstanding. Although we think the price is slightly too high for what you get, and that the unit doesn't look like much, it does a genuinely great job, and deserves a spot on the list.
See the BenQ W1080ST
Range: 8ft/71”, 12ft/107”
Contrast Ratio: 30,000:1
What We Like: High contrast for the price
What We Don’t: 3D not as good as others
Best For: Those who love really deep blacks
Optoma know what they're about when it comes to this particular product category, and their HD 28DSE is a real stunner. For the price, you get an incredibly high contrast ratio of 30,000:1, resulting in a truly amazing picture for a sub-$1000 unit. Although we think the 3D projection isn't as good as other models, this shouldn't bother to many people, as 3D entertainment at home is limited. Think of this as a good, relatively-budget-friendly model with at least one killer feature.
See the Optoma HD 28DSE
Range: 8ft/66”, 12ft/107”
Contrast Ratio: 23,000:1
What We Like: Project from your smartphone
What We Don’t: Audio, price
Best For: Versatility
Another Optoma, and the HD141X is one heck a home projector, with great value for money. For a hair under $600, you get full HD 1080p resolution (the Viewsonic, below, does not have 1080p) and a solid contrast ratio of 20,000 to 1. It's MHL-compatible for controlling what’s playing on the screen via your smartphone. The HD141X certainly isn’t huge but it is a bit bigger and clunkier than some of the high-end LED and LCD versions on this list. It’s also a little weak in the audio department, but this is to be expected, and especially those at the cheaper end of the market. Considering the lower price point, there's a strong argument for picking it over either the Viewsonic PJD-7820HD or BenQ W1070.
See the Optoma HD141X
10. EUG 88 ($342)
Contrast Ratio: 3200:1
What We Like: Good value-for-money
What We Don’t: Difficult to set up
Best For: The boardroom
If all you need is to play the latest ad to the boardroom, or show some YouTube videos to your class, the EUG 88 can’t really be beat. While it doesn’t have standard HD resolution, it’s 1200x800 display (which sits between 720p and 1080p) is great for displaying computer screens. With two built-in 5W speakers, you don’t need to have everyone huddle around your laptop to hear narration. Some reviewers had trouble setting this up and there’s no support offered with this machine, so if you think you’ll need technical help, you might want to spring for a name-brand like Epson or Sony. If you’re looking to save some money and don’t mind fiddling with controls, the EUG 88 can handle most needs for an office. If you don't mind the drop in quality, it'll do nicely at home, too.
See the EUG 88
And for when you've sold the rights to your life story:
Range: 8ft/88”, 12ft/130”
Contrast Ratio: 1,000,000:1
What We Like: Incredible picture
What We Don’t: Incredible price
Best For: When money is no object
No, that price isn’t a typo. There always seems to be one outrageously-priced product that blazes the trail for a new technology (in this case, 4K models), and while its staggering price keeps it off our list, this model is incredible. It boasts stunning 4K resolution and upscaling other content (such as Full HD 1080p) nicely as well. With 2,000 lumens of brightness and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, the sheet of specifications are impressive (they should be at this price!). 3D playback is an option on the VPL-VW1000ES, and thanks to the unit's large throw distance and powerful calibration features, it can cope with screens up to a whopping 200 inches. You'll have to fork out a serious amount of cash for the privilege, but this is just about the closest you can get to a true cinema setup without actually shelling out for a ticket and some popcorn. SXRD, by the way, is Sony technology, a new type of projection relying on Silicon X-tal Reflective Display - hence the acronym.
See the Sony VPLVW1100ES 4K
|Epson Home Cinema 5040UBe||$3300||LCD||8ft/82”, 12ft/122”||2500||Yes||1,000,000:1|
|Sony VPLHW55ES||$3998||SXRD||8ft/82”, 12ft/122”||1700||N/A||120,000:1|
|JVC DLA-X550R D-ILA||$3407||LCoS||Unknown||1700||N/A||40:000:1|
|Epson PowerLite 3020e||$1959||LCD||Unknown||2300||Yes||43,000:1|
|BenQ HT1075||$675||DLP||4ft/40”, 22.5ft/235”||2200||Yes||10,000:1|
|ViewSonic PJD7720HD||$548||DLP||8ft/96”, 12ft/144”||3000||Yes||15,000:1|
|BenQ W1080ST||$1299||DLP||8ft/96”, 12ft/144”||2000||Yes||10,000:1|
|Optoma HD 28DSE||$674||DLP||8ft/71”, 12ft/107”||3000||Yes||30,000:1|
|Optoma HD141X||$880||DLP||8ft/66”, 12ft/107”||3000||Yes||21,000:1|
|Sony VPLVW1100ES 4K||$27998||SXRD||8ft/88”, 12ft/130”||2000||N/A||1,000,000:1|
- Why Are Projectors So Expensive?
- What Do DLP, LED And LCD Mean?
- How Do I Set One Up?
- Lumens And Contrast Explained
- Can They Handle 4K Content?
Even the cheapest one will cost you hundreds of dollars, which might not make a lot of sense when you can get very decent TV for about the same cost. The reason is that they sell far less than TVs, and so their individual unit cost is higher. Sadly, until everyone on the planet is investing in serious home theater, it's likely to stay that way. We still recommend getting one, because they can give fantastic results, but you do have to be prepared for the cost.
You might see some great deals — $300 and less for example — but steer clear of those unless you’re just practicing your monthly all-staff weekly PowerPoint meeting. This is because projectors come in two distinct flavors: data, or home theater. Stick with the home theater kind if you plan on doing any serious movie watching.
Projectors allow for the most accurate recreation of the picture the director intends the audience to see, but they aren't for everyone (you can get a good-sized TV for less than some of the options above).
While they are a larger cost upfront, they also have recurring costs throughout their lifetime. The bulbs last between 2,000 and 5,000 hours and can cost hundreds of dollars to replace. If you plan on using one as your everyday TV, that could mean replacing the bulbs every two or three years, but if you’re only watching it for weekend movies and games, you should get five years or more.
There are three main types of home projector: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), LED (Light Emitting Diode) and DLP (Digital Light Processing). LCD offer excellent brightness, contrast and black levels. LED units are more energy efficient and produce particularly vibrant colors. DLPs are similar to full-scale cinema models, require the least maintenance, and range considerably in price.
Sony also has its own proprietary tech, Silicon X-tal Reflective Display, or SXRD. It’s a hybrid of DLP and LCD, and it rocks. There's also LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicone) which uses tiny chips of reflective liquid-crystal. Confusingly, this is often branded by JVC as D-ILA and...
Sorry. Even we are drowning in acronyms here. We'll stop now.
You’ll obviously need space, and a room long enough to project a big image. If you’re short on distance, look for models with “short throw” lenses. Another restraint is the brightness of your room—it’s certainly not optimal to watch the big game on Sunday in your sunny living room. You want somewhere with minimal light, like a basement, or you’ll need to invest in some blackout curtains. There are different degrees of brightness, rated in lumens, and you’ll want more lumens for brighter rooms. You also should consider installation. If you’re mounting your purchase on the ceiling, make sure you are able to get the wires up there, including AC power and the audio/visual cables.
There are two basic options when placing your projector: you can mount it to the ceiling or you can stow it away and pull it out on movie night. If you’re mounting it, you are best served by getting a professional installer or contractor to place all the wiring and making sure everything is up to code. You also want to place it where the lens is slightly above the top of the picture and directly centered. If that’s not possible, make sure to get one with lens shift—this allows you to move the picture without moving the entire unit. Keystone correction is a software feature that alters the shape of the image to match the wall, but this often degrades the quality of the image.
Lumens are a measure of how much light intensity a projector can produce. If you plan to use yours in a dark room like as a basement, any model on our list will provide a bright enough image. If your pick will be battling more ambient light, you should consider one with a higher lumen count. In terms of contrast, if you want your blacks to look black and your colors to really pop, you’ll want a high contrast ratio. You should also make sure to balance your contrast and brightness once you get into your room for optimal quality.
More expensive models will have larger contrast ratios. This means a cleaner, clearer picture. Lumen counts tend to vary, however, and aren't always a good indicator of how cheap or expensive the model is going to be. What is certain is that more expensive ones will have options for 3D projection, as well as a longer throw distance.
You may also want to know about aspect ratio: This is the shape of the projected image. Obviously it's a rectangle, but it usually comes in two distinct sizes: 16:9 and 4:3. 16:9 is most common, as it's higher quality and is used for movies. 4:3 is less common, used for TV and presentations.
If you have a library of 3D or 4K media, or if you just want to future-proof yourself, you can find models to suit those needs as well. While many can handle 3D just fine, 4K is going to cost you. For TVs, 4K isn’t much harder than making a small 1080p TV. Think of it like making a sheet of fabric: if you can get 1080 strands of fabric across in a 20-inch-wide piece of fabric, you can get more than 4,000 in an 80-inch-wide fabric. However, with projectors it’s not so easy. There is no smaller-sized unit that can be combined to make a 4K image. Ultra HD models are still expensive, but Sony and others are working on that.