Although televisions remain the standard for home entertainment, projectors offer phenomenal value. Using a projector brings the wonder of the cinema into the home. Plus, projectors are useful for a variety of activities, from movies, television, and gaming to business presentations.
But picking the right projector can be a challenge. Check out the best projectors for your smartphone, tablet, or laptop!
Why Buy a Projector?
The price of televisions has dropped substantially. Even 4K TV panels plummeted in price. However, snagging a decent 4K television will still set you back quite a bit of cash. Projectors provide several advantages over traditional TVs. Primarily, there’s the massive image size. A 60-inch television may retail for the same price, or more, than a projector which can support a 100-inch or larger picture.
Projectors are more portable than TVs. Moreover, they can be less intrusive. If you hang up a pull-down screen, as opposed to a fixed screen, you don’t have what’s obviously a television at the center of your media room. Still, projectors require thought and planning. You can’t simply plop one on a media center, or hang it on the wall. Instead, you’ll need to calculate the distance for the image size you need, potentially hang a screen, and figure out cable management. Despite the challenge of figuring out these details, you’ll benefit from an IMAX experience in the comfort of your home.
- Box office experience at home
- Better price for the landscape when compared to TVs
- More work involved in set up and installation
- Can be pricey
What to Look for in a Projector
Picking the best projector to meet your needs can be tricky. That’s because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Here’s what to think about when selecting a projector.
When selecting a projector, the first criteria to consider is what you plan to show: video, games, pictures, or data like spreadsheets. Although most projectors are capable of showing any information, the specific type of content you plan to view most often dictates which projector is best. The majority of projectors are branded either business or home theater.
If portability is a necessary feature, you’ll want a battery-powered projector. Additionally, size and weight factor in. Luckily, even heftier projectors are still easier to transport than the average television.
Like any viewing device, screen resolution is key. I wouldn’t recommend dipping below 720p unless you plan to use your projector infrequently. Especially blown up to 100 or more inches, the lower quality will really stand out. Nevertheless, for a business projector, SVGA (800 x 600) is more than sufficient and comes with price savings over higher resolution projectors. Along with resolution, think about aspect ratio. Because widescreen is the industry standard, you’ll probably want to opt for 16:9. For those seeking a projector suitable for viewing their VHS collection, a 4:3 aspect ratio might be preferable. Brightness, measured in lumens, is a crucial element in picking a projector. Higher is often better so that the image stands out even in a moderately well-lit room. For use in a dark room, lower lumens is usually fine.
When browsing projectors, you’ll notice different imaging technologies. These are digital light processing (DLP), liquid crystal display (LCD), laser raster, and liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS). Many DLP and LCOS projectors project primary colors not simultaneously, but sequentially. Therefore, you may notice a rainbow effect. LCD projectors, on the other hand, avoid the rainbow effect at the expense of size and weight. LCOS projectors provide better image quality, though they’re large, heavy, and pricey. DLP and LCD are typically more affordable. Laser raster projectors exist but are pretty rare.
As with any video device, you’ll want to think about connectivity options. First, consider what you plan to hook up, and the necessary cables. Likely, you’ll use HDMI cables, but you may require DisplayPort, VGA, component, S-Video, or RCA jacks. Some projectors offer wireless functionality to avoid stringing cables through the walls or around the room. If you want to watch 3D content, you’ll need a 3D-capable projector.
Many projectors include built-in speakers, though not all feature audio capabilities. Even projectors with a decent set of speakers lack the oomph to fill a medium-sized room. So you’ll definitely want a dedicated audio set up like a home theater system or soundbar to provide sound big enough to match the image from your projector.
One of the most important factors in picking a projector is where you plan to use your projector. There’s the issue of what you’re projecting on: a wall, ceiling, or screen. Depending on your needs, you can use a fixed screen or pull-down screen. Additionally, distance plays a major role. If you want a large image in a small room, you’ll want a short throw projector which can broadcast a massive screen in closer to the screen.
Many projectors include keystone correction. This compensates for an angled projection and ensures a flat image regardless of its tilt. It’s an essential inclusion on projectors. While many have manual keystone correction, I’d highly recommend picking up a projector with automatic keystone correction.
- Image technology: DLP, LCD, LCOS, Laser raster
- 3D vs non-3D
- Content type
Best Budget Projectors
With these considerations in mind, check out the best projectors you can buy for your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
The AAXA P2-A is a nifty little projector. It’s portable and ultra-compact, but includes a bevy of connectivity options including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Plus, it’s battery-powered and runs Android. PC Mag praised its affordability and feature set.
However, colors appear over-saturated and text is fuzzy. This means it’s not ideal for business or multimedia. Although the AAXA P2-A does include built-in speakers, audio is tinny. The Doogee P1 is an adorable, albeit somewhat unreliable, alternative that’s portable and stylish. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent, moderately-priced projector.
- Android onboard
- Touchscreen built-in
- Small footprint
- Video over-saturated
- Unclear text
The OCDAY is a solid performer for just over $200. A 2800 lumens projector, it delivers decent brightness and awesome connectivity with HDMI, VGA, component, composite, and USB inputs. You won’t find full 1080p, but its native 720p resolution is respectable. The 15000:1 contrast ratio is superb.
Don’t expect a top of the line projector. There’s no full high definition, and the onboard speakers are lacking. Yet for around $200, this OCDAY projector definitely provides the best bang for the buck.
- 2800 lumens
- Excellent connectivity
- Not full HD
Although the ZTE Spro 2 debuted in 2014, it remains a top projector you can buy. At less than $400, the Spro 2 yields a portable projector complete with Android onboard, a touchscreen, and excellent image quality. Since the ZTE Spro 2 includes a touchscreen, it’s possible to use this projector as a tablet. However, the touchscreen isn’t amazing, so don’t plan on using this as a daily driver tablet. The native resolution clocks in at 720p, and the Spro 2 can handle screen sizes up to 120 inches. You can view content from Android apps, external storage using its USB port, or from HDMI sources. Further, its JBL speakers offer respectable sound for the size.
Unfortunately, its default brightness is a bit low. At 200 lumens, it’s perfectly suitable for dark rooms and performs well even in a well-lit room. But to take advantage of the full 200 lumens, you’ll need to have the unit plugged in. On battery, the Spro 2 is capped at 100 lumens. Additionally, its version of Android is outdated. While ZTE includes JBL speakers, they’re not suitable for moderately-sized rooms. As an alternative, you might consider the iDea Pico portable wireless projector. Nevertheless, the ZTE Spro 2 packs quite a punch in value and image quality, making it one of the best projectors available.
- HDMI input
- USB port
- microSD card slot
- 5-inch LCD touchscreen
- Android onboard
- Up to 120-inch image
- DLP projector
- 200 lumens
- Battery powered
- JBL speakers
- Only 100 lumens on battery
- Outdated Android operating system
- Underwhelming speakers
- Not 1080p
Best Mid-Range Projectors
As the name suggests, the LG Minibeam PH550 is a compact projector. PC Mag praised its wonderful image quality for both video and data content. Connectivity is plentiful, it’s rocking Bluetooth, and there’s a built-in TV tuner. Additionally, as you’ll find on many small, portable projectors, the Minibeam PH550 includes a rechargeable battery.
However, it’s limited to 720p. Especially for video, that’s on the lower side. Plus, there’s no zoom and brightness is slightly lacking. However, for the price and features, including its TV tuner, the Minibeam Ph550 is a top choice among projectors.
- Small footprint
- Great connectivity
- TV tuner standard
- Not full HD
- Lacking brightness
- No zoom
- Poor audio
For Full HD video, the Optoma HD142X balances price to performance miraculously. It’s a 1080p projector with solid image quality, color reproduction, and contrast. Plus, it strikes a sweet spot between performance and price, at slightly over $500.
However, CNET discovered that the Optoma HD142X lacks in its black levels. While colors are reasonably accurate, they are not fantastic. Ultimately, it’s the best full 1080p projector for the price.
- Good colors reproduction
- Solid image quality
- Excellent contrast
- Uneven color reproduction compared to more expensive models
- Black levels lacking
Despite the benefits of projectors, these devices aren’t without their challenges. Primarily video management is a hassle. The Epson EX7240 Pro is a wonderful projector which alleviates that with its wireless functionality. The convenience of a wire-free set up makes the Epson EX7240 a top pick.
However, the audio is poor, and it’s not a full HD projector. For around the same price you can snag the Optoma HD142X which adds 1080p though doesn’t include wireless capabilities. But using an HDMI wireless transmitter kit alleviates this challenge. Consumers seeking a business projector should select the EX7240, though for home theater and gaming purposes it’s not the strongest projector.
- Crisp audio
- Good video quality
- Not full 1080p
Best High-End Projectors
In our review, we dubbed the Nebula Mars the new standard in portable projectors. It’s a 500 lumens projector that features a built-in battery. There’s Android onboard, fantastic JBL speakers that’s incredibly loud.
However, the bass isn’t excellent and brightness is low compared to the average home cinema projector. If you need a portable projector, the Nebula Mars is one of the best projectors you can find. Plus, while there is Android, it’s limited to 4.4 which is pretty old. Although, for the price, you can pay slightly more for a non-portable 1080p set.
- 500 lumens
- Built-in lens cap
- Excellent JBL speakers
- Included remote control
- Android on-board
- Old version of Android
- No Google Play access
A pain point in projector use is often placement. Ceiling mounts are common, though short throw projectors solve this issue by allowing for closer placement to the screen. As such, it’s possible to place a projector on a coffee table or even closer. That’s where the LG Minibeam PF1000U shines. It’s a full 1080p projector that, like the Minibeam PH550, packs in a TV tuner. There are wireless support and even a LAN port. LG’s Smart TV menu includes apps for Netflix, YouTube, and loads of other streaming options. Plus, there’s 3D support.
However, the price is over $1,000. Unfortunately, as PC Mag reveals, the PF1000U does suffer from rainbow artifacts. At the price, you’d expect superb brightness, but it’s a bit low for moderately to well-lit rooms. Nevertheless, this is the best ultra-throw projector for the price and jams in a bevy of premium features.
- Ultra short throw
- Wireless and LAN
- Rainbow artifacts
- Low brightness
4K is a major trend, and 4K televisions are dropping in price. However, at the screen size, 4K TVs just don’t present the same experience. Enter the Sony VPL-VW350ES. CNET lauds the VPL-VW350ES as the best 4K projector on the market. You’ll notice wonderful light output and black levels, as well as awe-inspiring color accuracy and video processing.
But there’s a major catch. The VPL-VW350ES will set you back $10,000. You can snag a decent car for that price. Or the Asus Predator 21x. Black levels are a bit washed out, and while it’s less than many competing 4K projectors, it’s still pricey. Nevertheless, for a 4K projector, this is the best available for the cost.
- Good light output
- Solid black levels
- Excellent color accuracy
- Great video processing
- Not as robust as other 4K projectors
Project or Not to Project
Overall, a projector is a superb investment. Thankfully, you don’t need to break the bank for a decent projector. In fact, NY Mag suggests a cheap set up will do fine. Since the image is much larger than an average television screen, I’d suggest opting for a minimum 720p projector. At the budget end, OCDAY makes an amazing machine for the money. If you need something portable, I’ve used the ZTE Spro 2 and been quite impressed with the performance such a small device packs.
The Optoma HD142X slides in with the best price to performance ratio, while the Nebula Mars is the best portable projector you can find. As is, it’s tough to recommend a 4K projector simply because of cost. For those willing to shell out $10,000 or more, it’s certainly the best picture available. But if you can wait, you’ll eventually find 4K sets for a more reasonable price. Want to take a do-it-yourself approach? Try building a smartphone projector from an old shoebox.
Which projectors do you recommend?