We just cannot get enough of our big screens around here. Why be limited to a 40-inch plasma when for the same price you can go over 100 inches (or even up to 300!) with modern, cutting-edge projectors? There are pros and cons, obviously, to owning a projector. They’re fabulous for filling a once-empty wall—or perhaps the side of the house. Short throw projectors offer an incredibly immersive entertainment experience and are surprisingly affordable. But they also demand semi- (sometimes total) darkness, and they do take time to warm up. But newer projectors are also lighter, easier to set up, and longer lasting than ever. Many come with Bluetooth, built-in speakers, and even rechargeable batteries. And these days, technology has gotten so advanced and affordable that anyone can have the big-screen experience that used to be reserved for only the audiovisual elite among us. Welcome to the club. Here are our top 10 picks for under $500—right at that sweet spot where features and performance meet cost effectiveness. Bang, meet buck.
1. ViewSonic PJD5155
Best for Outdoor Movies
This is an excellent projector for anyone ready to get a little more serious about movie nights. At only $299, it’s pretty easy on the wallet, but it boasts some impressive features. The picture is super bright at 3,300 lumens, the dynamic contrast ratio is crisp at 20,000:1, and the screen size gets up to 207 inches without losing any image quality (you can even go quite a bit bigger if you don’t mind a bit of a quality dip). We’re not bowled over by the SVGA native resolution of only 800×600, but for the price it’s hard to get any better than this awesome projector. We ought to mention it comes with the standard ports you’d expect, plus a mini-USB input. And of course, you can use this baby with streaming gear like Roku and AppleTV. Did we mention the built-in speaker? Awesome for indoor movie watching, though with larger spaces it might be worth investing in a separate speaker. Conclusion: can’t go wrong, especially if you’re on a shoestring.
2. LG PH450UG Short Throw Projector
Best for Apartments
Big guns here, guys. This is an ultra-short throw projector, meaning from only a foot away the screen size reaches a whopping 80 inches. Even more impressive, a 40-inch screen can be projected from only 3 INCHES away. You read that right! A built-in battery means hassle-free mobility for up to 2.5 hours. Bluetooth sound out means easy connectivity to your favorite Bluetooth speakers (and fewer cords, hallelujah!). The fan is silent, which we really appreciate. The native resolution is HD 1280×720, all you Blu-ray addicts, and it even comes with a handy remote control. We like that it connects wirelessly for screen casting if you’ve got DNLA or Miracast, but it also has all the hookups you need to connect directly to your device and works well with streamers like Amazon Fire TV or Roku. And the lamp life is 30,000 hours—at an average of four hours a day, that’s over 20 years!
3. BenQ DLP Video Projector
Best for Daytime Entertainment
BenQ advertises this as an office projector, but it’s so much more than that. The display is bright enough to keep the lights on at an impressive 3,300 ANSI lumens, and the projector has been outfitted with eco-friendly power saving technology. Double VGA inputs and HDMI make it easy to connect to your computer or streaming device. The contrast is great with a 13,000:1 ratio. Because of the excellent brightness and contrast, the screen can get as large as 100” and still look awesome. Our favorite little perk of this projector is that it supports 3D as well. An optional ceiling mount kit can be purchased for the unit, which is easy to set up and takes a media room from amateur to pro-level.
4. DBPOWER T20 Mini Projector
Best for First-Timers
It’s rare to find a projector this tiny that uses LCD technology. LCD means excellent color saturation and vibrancy, and a picture that’s easier on the eyes than standard screens. And it also means that, even though its native resolution is only 800×480, this itty-bitty projector can support HDMI 1920×1080 resolution. It’s also nice and bright at 1,500 lumens and boasts a screen size of up to 176 sharp and crisp inches. With one of the longest lamp lives we’ve seen, the bulb lasts a remarkable 50,000 hours! An included remote control is nice to have, and it even comes with a couple cables to get you connected via AVI or HDMI (perfect for Roku or AppleTV). We love it for newbies—it’s small, it’s easy to use and set up, and it’s inexpensive.
5. BenQ W1070 3D Home Theater Projector
Best for Color Accuracy
Get your game face on. Here’s a device that projects a huge 200-inch full HD 1080p screen, with movie theater-quality picture. At 2,000 lumens, the screen is perfect for home theater rooms and outdoor movie nights alike. We especially love it for how vivid and accurate the colors are—it’s even been ISF certified for color fidelity. It’s not grainy, it’s not faded, it’s not yellowy. It doesn’t look like a projector image at all. Cutting-edge 144hz tech delivers the smoothest 3D experience, and Blu-ray looks EXCELLENT. Side note, it includes a 12v trigger, which can be set up to signal your screen to come down when the projector turns on. Think your TV was smart before?
6. Optoma GT760A 3D Gaming Projector (Editors Pick)
Best for Immersive Gaming
Technology is pretty amazing, and Optoma is taking full advantage. The GT760A supports 2D to 3D conversion, and this 720p DLP projector delivers an exceptional gaming experience that blows us away. Not only does the picture look bright and vivid, but also it boasts zero lag—perfect for casual or more serious gamers. The 20,000:1 contrast ratio and 3,200-lumens make for realistic textures and true blacks (as long as your room isn’t too bright, of course). All this, and it’s highly portable and about the size of a book. This is a projector best used by those with a little tech know-how (or Googling skills) who can really get the most out of its awesome features.
7. RIF6 CUBE Pico Projector
Best for Creative Types
Did you know that a 2-inch cube could create a 120-inch screen? Neither did we, but here we are in the future. For its size, we’re impressed with how bright the screen can get, with vivid colors and great textures. Connects with HDMI/MHL, and also has an SD card slot. We love the included tripod stand with flexible legs—your imagination is the limit with how and where you can enjoy this projector. Take it camping, hiking, to your yoga class, or just out to the backyard. We also love the 90-minute battery life and the fact that you can continue using it while charging, virtually extending the life of the battery and paving the way for movie marathons galore! This teeny projector is user-friendly and easy to set up. So throw it in your purse (or heck, even your pocket), and you’ve got a big-screen waiting for your viewing pleasure.
8. ASUS S1 Short Throw LED Pocket Projector
Best for Adventurers
The first thing we noticed about this projector (besides its tiny size) was its incredible battery life! It lasts for a good three hours, and you can even use the projector to charge other devices. The S1 weighs less than a pound but it projects images of up to 100 inches and does it all from a short distance—a 41-inch screen can be projected from only a meter away. We like the rugged aluminum housing and sleek design of this well-built projector. Two carrying cases and an assortment of cables are included in the package, making this the perfect projector for grab-and-go movie nights or gaming marathons, without needing to scour the internet for the right converter or adapter. This is not an overly bright projector (200 lumens), but is perfect for dark rooms or nighttime viewing. And what it lacks in brightness it makes up for in brilliant colors and ultimate portability.
9. Epson Home Cinema 640 LCD Projector
Best for Big Screen Believers
Epson lives up to its name with this bright and vivid projector that creates massive screens of up to 300 inches! And 3,200 lumens of both color brightness and white brightness makes for brilliant colors and a clear picture, even in rooms (or backyards) with ambient lighting. We like that this projector comes with a built-in speaker and four special color modes, to adjust for different conditions and types of media. Family movie night just went up a notch. Maybe it’s time to invite the whole neighborhood?
10. ViewSonic PJD5153
Best for Business in the Front….
All projectors are not made equal, and many will struggle to put good text on a page. If you’ve ever tried using a projected screen when writing a paper or even just reading a little, you’ll appreciate that the ViewSonic PJD5153 boasts a sharp, clear image that is perfect for text-heavy usages and charts. Add to that a durable construction and an impressive variety of connectivity options, and it’s easy to see why ViewSonic has cornered the market on educational and business projectors. But it’s not all work and no play around here. The PJD5153 also boasts 3D support, rich colors, and an ultra-bright mode for daytime viewing, so movies and games look better than ever, too…. Party in the back, brah.