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.
This is a huge upgrade to the already-phenomenal 5030UB that was on the top of our list for most of last year - and despite challengers, it’s still here, still at the very top. 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 keystoning and usability - 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 5040UBe
Range: 8ft/82”, 12ft/122”
Contrast Ratio: 120,000:1
What We Like: Quiet operation.
What We Don’t: Value-for-money.
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, and don’t want a whirring fan slicing over the top of everything. That would be double plus uncool.
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 too expensive for what you get. At the time of our last update, new models weren't available on Amazon, although it should be back in stock soon.
See the Sony VPLHW55ES
Contrast Ratio: Unknown
What We Like: Incredible picture with over a billion colors.
What We Don’t: Expensive, overkill for most people.
So yeah: we know projectors can be expensive. You only need to take a look at the model the very bottom of this list, in its own special section, to figure that one out. So while we think the Epson Powerlite Pro Cinema LS10000 is an excellent projector, we think that you get far better value for money out of the 5040UBe and the Sony VPLHW55ES.
Not to say this is brilliant. After all, it’s a 3LCD projector that offers over a billion colours, should you ever need that many, as well as reflective laser projection, and 1500 lumens that mean your picture will never go unnoticed - although its fewer lumens than others on our list, which is worth noting. This is the kind of projector you get for very large home cinemas or media rooms, when you really want to make a statement. For most people, it’s way, way off the edge of the map, but if you have the funds, then you will be rewarded with an absolutely astounding projector. If it undergoes a price adjustment, expect it to climb this list sharpish.
See the Epson Powerlite Pro Cinema LS10000
Contrast Ratio: 40,000:1
What We Like: 4K is fantastic.
What We Don’t: Specs are confusing.
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.
There are other goodies too, like fully motorised lens controls that are very handy to have around. Despite a couple of tiny glitches in the picture, this is a system with very few downsides. We don’t think it does quite enough to distinguish it from other models higher than it in this list, hence its low position, it’s still a top five pick, and one you should absolutely look at if you’re buying. 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.
Look, we know. OK? We know. It’s always a risk having three of your top five picks from the same company, but there’s no question that Epson absolutely dominates the projector marketplace, and makes some of the best models available. That’s just the reality of the situation, and although we had plenty of internal debates about it, we couldn’t justify leaving the 3020e out of the top five.
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. We highly recommend it, especially if your budget is at or around $2,000. Prices fluctuate on Amazon, too, so watch for bargains.
See the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e
Range: 60”-180” (Distance not given)
Contrast Ratio: 15,000:1
What We Like: Bright, clear picture at a good price.
What We Don’t: Reported issues with 3D mode.
Projectors can be hugely expensive, but the good news is that even if you spend less than $1,000, you can still get an excellent model that will provide you a good picture a reasonable price – for home projection, anyway. With the HT3050, BenQ have improved on the 1075 – which, after much discussion, we included below as well, as they are both good options. We don’t think they quite make it into the top five, which is still the territory of Epson and others, but they are excellent alternatives.
Despite it being hard to track down distances for the given range of 60”-180”, this DLP projector still impresses. It offers a solid picture that is bright enough to satisfy, with 2,000 lumens and a good if unspectacular contrast ratio, as well as keystoning. Although some users have reported issues getting this projector to work with 3D images, they are very much in the minority – this is a hugely popular projector that has satisfied almost everyone who has bought it. If you’re in this particular price range, it will no doubt satisfy you, too.
See the BenQ HT3050
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.
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. And if you want something more hefty, the 3050 is just above.
See the BenQ HT1075
Range: 8ft/96”, 12ft/144”
Contrast Ratio: 15,000:1
What We Like: Great brightness.
What We Don’t: Speakers aren't all that good.
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. It also looks great, with an all-black finish that has a bit more style than most comparable projectors, and it has good usability and a friendly setup that make it clear that beginners and experts alike are welcome. There’s even a cable-management hood. 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/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.
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. We do, however, dislike the bulging looks, which sometimes remind us of an industrial blender in other times of an alien warship that has come to destroy us all. Still, if you can hide it away somewhere, this won’t bother you.
By the way, we know we are in the minority by ranking this particular projector this low on the list. It’s got a lot of fans, and has won several awards. But we think other projectors provide more value for money, and a better picture, although you are welcome to fight with us in the comments! Think of this as a good, relatively-budget-friendly model with at least one killer feature. And heads up: we've seen the price for new models fluctuate, so watch out and snatch it up if you see it for the price we've listed above.
See the Optoma HD 28DSE
Range: 8ft/66”, 12ft/107”
Contrast Ratio: 23,000:1
What We Like: Still a great projector.
What We Don’t: Doesn’t do enough to improve on the 141X.
Another Optoma, and the HD142X is one heck a home projector, with great value for money. It’s an improvement on the original 141X, and on reflection, we decided to swap out the two on this list. Although it’s good, we don’t think it’s topping the other models just yet. It doesn’t do quite enough to enhance on its predecessor, and while it’s still very good, we would have liked to have seen a little more innovation.=
For under $550 - less if you wait for a sale - you get full HD 1080p resolution (the Viewsonic, below, does not have 1080p) and a solid contrast ratio of 23,000 to 1. It's MHL-compatible for controlling what’s playing on the screen via your smartphone. The HD142X 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 HD142X
11. EUG 88 ($342)
Contrast Ratio: 3200:1
What We Like: Good value-for-money.
What We Don’t: Difficult to set up.
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. No projector is truly cheap – something we’d like to see change in the future – but this is about as good as it gets on that front. It’s not going to trouble the big dogs, but we think it’s worth including.
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.
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 5040UBe||$3,000||LCD||8ft/82”, 12ft/122”||2,500||Yes||1,000,000:1|
|Sony VPLHW55ES||$3,998||SXRD||8ft/82”, 12ft/122”||1,700||N/A||120,000:1|
|Epson Cinema LS10000||$7,999||3LCD||9.3ft/100”||1,500||Yes||Unknown|
|JVC DLA-X550R D-ILA||$3,500||LCoS||Unknown||1,700||N/A||40:000:1|
|Epson PowerLite 3020e||$1,959||LCD||Unknown||2,300||Yes||43,000:1|
|BenQ HT1075||$680||DLP||4ft/40”, 22.5ft/235”||2,200||Yes||10,000:1|
|ViewSonic PJD7720HD||$550||DLP||8ft/96”, 12ft/144”||3,000||Yes||15,000:1|
|Optoma HD 28DSE||$674||DLP||8ft/71”, 12ft/107”||3,000||Yes||30,000:1|
|Optoma HD142X||$531||DLP||8ft/66”, 12ft/107”||3,000||Yes||21,000:1|
|Sony VPLVW1100ES 4K||$27,998||SXRD||8ft/88”, 12ft/130”||2,000||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.