Best Projectors of 2017
Which projector is the best? We purchased nine of the most highly regarded models available and pitted them against one another in meticulous, side by side comparisons. Our testers conducted 11 different tests that altogether comprised over 100 hours of testing. Whether you want to turn your basement into a home cinema, need a presentation machine that will impress potential clients, or just want a relatively inexpensive way to make movie night a bit more epic, we've got you covered. Read on to find out which of these light cannons will blast your wall with vibrant colors, and which are better left on the shelf.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
New Optoma Models
The Optoma HD26 and the Optoma HD141X have recently been succeeded by the new Optoma HD27 and the Optoma HD142X, respectively. All indications are that these new models are simply cosmetic upgrades with very little change in functionality. Check out the HD26 and HD141X individual reviews for more info.
Best Overall Projector
The BenQ HT2050 3D Home Theater made all of our testers want to go home and turn their basements into home cinemas. With a sharp resolution, brilliant, accurate colors, and a barely noticeable fan, the HT2050 truly brings the cinema experience into the home. It features our testers' favorite suite of pre programmed color modes, making it easy to find the ideal picture settings in any environment. The red backlight on the user friendly remote makes it easy to find the volume button without straining your eyes. Its vertical lens shift, a rare feature in this price range, simplifies home installation. If you want to make your home the default location for movie night, look no further, the HT2050 has you covered. Despite having a dimmer lamp that is optimized for movie watching, the HT2050 was able to hold its own projecting powerpoint slides in bright rooms. It would also be a top pick for business presentations if you don't mind a sacrifice in brightness, and thus white areas looking just slightly blue.
Great image quality
Not ideal for well lit rooms
Read full review: BenQ HT2050 3D Home Theater
Best Bang for Your Buck
BenQ dominated our review, picking up both the Editors' Choice and Best Buy Awards. The BenQ MS524A DLP 3D is our pick for the best value. It is one of the brightest models we tested, giving it enough horsepower to cut through ambient light and throw brilliant colors onto the screen. Given its relatively low SVGA resolution, the MS524A is able to render surprisingly lifelike images and video. It is also the lightest model we tested, weighing in at 4.2 pounds. This, combined with its small size and low profile shape, make it eminently portable. If you're looking for a big screen on a budget, or something you can easily tote around from place to place, the MS524A is a great choice. It would also be a top choice for business presentations if you don't mind the text looking just a little fuzzy when projected at larger sizes.
Not HD resolution
Fuzzy text (but best of SVGA models)
Read full review: BenQ MS524A DLP 3D
Best Projector for Business Applications
The Epson EX9200 takes the cake for displaying any sort of presentation that is heavy on text or graphs. It produced far and away the clearest text characters in our testing, and was the only model able to make large projections of spreadsheets look good and readable. The lamp has plenty of firepower to keep images looking bright, even in a well lit room. These attributes make the EX9200 at home in any board, conference, or meeting room, and earned it our Top Pick for Business Applications award. It is also small, light, and comes with a carrying case, meaning it can easily be moved around if your presentations take you to different building or even different cities. It projects movies at a decent quality, but if want a home theater machine at this price range you'd be much better off with the BenQ HT2050.
Crystal clear text
Not the best cinematic image quality
Read full review: Epson EX9200
Analysis and Test Results
How we Selected the Models we Tested
Projectors are available in a wide range of specifications and abilities. You can spend thousands on a 4K ultra high definition behemoth that will rival the quality of most cinema projectors, or get a pocket sized battery powered model that can turn just about anywhere into an outdoor movie theater. A review that covered the full range of projectors would rival War and Peace in length and, frankly, not be all that useful. So, to make things more simple, we narrowed down the selection of models we tested based on three stipulations:
This selection left us with models that were both bright enough for business presentations and crisp and agile enough to satisfy cinephiles and gamers. The table below displays the selection we ended up with, and how each model performed overall in our testing.
Thes overall scores are based on 11 different test that we conducted in our lab. We projected images from all the models we tested onto the same screen, sometimes two at a time, sometimes four at a time, in varying light conditions to determine which ones were the brightest, had the best image quality, were the easiest to use, and had the quietest fans. The following sections provide the nitty gritty details of those test results.
Image quality is mostly the domain of cinephiles. While powerpoint presentations will see some improvement with better image quality, especially if they contain high resolution images, the cinematic experience is where you'll really notice sharper resolution and more vibrant colors. Before we began our testing we watched a number of movies and scrolled through numerous HD photos to determine where different models struggled to produce stellar images. The biggest problem areas we discovered were movies that looked washed out, color accuracy in high resolution photos, overall resolution, and odd skin tones (we can confirm that Matt Damon is much less attractive when it looks like he has a full body sunburn).
We compared all the models' performance in these areas side by side. We used a dark room for movies, but viewed images both in dark and well lit rooms in order to simulate a photo slideshow or a business presentation with photos. Most of the models have endless options to adjust colors and contrast and brightness. In our testing we focused on the preset viewing modes (ie cinema, bright, vividů) that most people are more likely to use.
We wouldn't say that any of the models we tested has particularly poor image quality, but there is a very noticeable difference between the top scorers and the low scorers. The Editors' Choice Award winning BenQ HT2050 picked up the top score of 8 out of 10. It had the darkest, most true blacks, which made all of the other colors pop. Even in lighter scenes colors looked rich and vibrant, and skin tones always looked accurate and natural. It was also able to provide the best definition in bright scenes without washing out any details. Ambient light did tend to wash out colors a bit, but the BenQ HT2050 is definitely our favorite model for viewing in a dark room. Also earning the top score of 8 was the Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 2040. In our testing it matched the BenQ HT2050 in terms of color vibrancy, but tended to wash out dark scenes just a bit more. It is much brighter than the BenQ HT2050 and fared much better when projecting in bright rooms, but still wouldn't be our top pick for presentations.
Just behind the top scorers were the ViewSonic PJD7720HD and the Epson EX9200. The ViewSonic PJD7720HD was able to match the BenQ 2050 in terms of color vibrancy, but its blacks were just not quite as true. This took just a bit of punch out of darker scenes, particularly those with a galactic backdrop. Also, in lighter scenes looked just a tad more washed out and a bit less vivid. While these slight drawbacks are apparent in a side by side comparison, in isolation the ViewSonic PJD7720HD produced impressive images, and we doubt any home theater owner would be disappointed with its image quality. The Epson EX9200 performed similarly to the ViewSonic PJD7720HD, but its colors were a bit less vibrant. Both of these models are plenty bright enough to project high quality images in a well lit room, but the EX9200 projects much clearer text and would be our hands down recommendation if you're looking for a powerpoint presentation machine.
Outside of the top three scorers in our image quality test we began to see some small issues that were not only noticeable in side by side comparisons, but in isolation as well. Both of the Optoma models that we tested fell into the middle of the image quality pack. The Optoma HD26, which scored a 6 out of 10, had good contrast and sharp resolution, and did well keeping bright scenes looking vivid and not washed out. However, it often lent an overly reddish hue to scenes. Many landscapes had a red tint to them, and skin tones took on a blushing quality. This was more apparent with lighter skin tones, but was noticeable in darker skin tones as well. The Optoma HD141X picked up a score of 5 in our image quality test. It had similar skin tone issues to its sibling, making everyone look a bit rosy cheeked. It was able to avoid this red hue in landscape scenes, rendering them with fairly accurate color. It received a lower score than the HD26 because its colors just weren't as vibrant. Scenes that seemed to pop on the HD26 looked comparatively dull with the HD141X. Both of these models would certainly be serviceable as home theater options, but you can get a bit better performance out of one of our top scorers.
The low scorers in our image quality test were the three more inexpensive models we tested. All of these models use the SVGA resolution of 800 x 600. While this resolution produces decent images, it just can't compare to high definition. Additionally, the 4:3 aspect ration means that widescreen movies can't take advantage of the full projected area. While this lack of resolution took these models out of the running for the top spot, they did perform well in other areas. The BenQ MS524A and the ViewSonic PJD5155, both of which scored a 4, were able to render more accurate skin tones than the Optoma models. The ViewSonic in particular had very accurate skin tones. The Best Buy Award winning BenQ MS524A had an impressive contrast ratio that made colors pop, but those colors were somewhat less accurate than the more expensive models. It also handled bright scenes better than the other models in this range. Bright, indoor scenes looked crisp and accurate on the BenQ while the other two models lent a bluish tint to the same scenes. The Epson VS240 received the low score of 3. It performed similarly to the other models in this range, but had slightly more reddish skin tones and somewhat duller colors. If you want a big screen and are on a budget, one of these SVGA models can provide an acceptable image. However, if you really want to bring the cinema experience to your home, you're going to have to spend a bit more for a 1080p model.
Ease of Use
If you're planning to use a projector solely for home theater purposes you'll probably set it up once and then never touch it again. In this case ease of use really boils down to the quality of the remote control interface.
If you'll constantly be bringing it to different houses for the big game, or moving it from conference room to conference room, then ease of setup becomes significant. Setup consists of aiming, usually by adjusting the length of the legs at the front of the unit, zooming and focusing the image, and adjusting for keystoning. Keystoning is the common phenomenon of images appearing trapezoidal due to the lens not being perfectly parallel to the screen. All of the models we tested could perform vertical keystoning correction, and some could correct for horizontal keystoning as well. Our testing procedure involved setting up and breaking down each model a multitude of times, so we're very familiar with the each model's various setup attributes and annoyances.
All the models we tested provide a similar user experience in regards to setup and control interface, with some subtle differences that make some slightly more preferable than others. Accordingly all of our ease of use scores were tightly packed together, ranging only from 5 to 7 out of 10. The top scorer was the Editors' Choice Award winning BenQ HT2050. Its remote had far and away the most intuitive interface. It was easy to switch between color modes and inputs. The buttons also have a red backlight that makes it easy to find the button in a dark room, but doesn't make you feel like a coal miner suddenly emerging into bright sunshine. The included vertical keystone correction and large zoom are both easy to use and make getting the image square and the correct size a breeze. It is the only model we tested that included vertical lens shift, which is a huge plus when installing a permanent mount in a home theater. The only downside of the HT2050 is its size. It is relatively bulky and heavy, and is the least portable
Six of the models we tested picked up the average score of 6 in our ease of use testing. These models had varying drawbacks that made them slightly more difficult to use than the top scorer. The shared remote of the Optoma HD141X and the Optoma HD26 was fairly easy to use, but its buttons were back lit so brightly that it lent a deer in the headlights feeling when used in a dark room. The Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 2040 and the Epson VS240 also share the same remote. This was our least favorite remote. We felt its button layout was counterintuitive, and the buttons were fairly small and hard to press. Both models somewhat made up for this by offering both horizontal keystone correction, and an automatic vertical keystone correction. The BenQ MS524A couldn't quite live up to its bigger sibling. Its remote lacked the friendly red backlight and had very small, hard to read text. The Epson EX9200 is very portable, but also has small buttoned, slightly frustrating remote. We also found it hard to use its wireless connectivity, but we didn't knock it too much for that because it is the only model we tested to offer such a feature.
Both of the ViewSonic models we tested, the PJD7720HD and the PJD5155, received the low score of 5. Both shared the same remote that was relatively straightforward and easy to use. Both also had easy to use vertical keystone adjustments. Where they lost points was in the leg design. All the models we tested have three legs, one in the front center and two in the back corners. The front leg is always adjustable to control the tilt of the unit. The two ViewSonics are the only models we tested that had non-adjustable back legs. This may seem like an unimportant detail, but adjustable rear legs can be quite useful. They allow you to make corrections if the unit is sitting on a surface that is not perfectly level, and can get you just a little extra height if you need to bump the image up a tad. This lack of adjustability is what dropped the ViewSonics to the bottom score in our ease of use testing. The BenQ MS524A also lacks adjustable rear feet, but scored slightly higher due to its portable size and shape.
In the world of projectors brighter is generally better. You can always make an overly bright image softer, but if a lamp's full capacity produces an image that is too pale it can't be made brighter. Top end brightness usually isn't an issue in a dark home cinema setting. In fact, most models have a cinema mode that dims the lamp in order to provide truer blacks and thus more vivid colors. Top end brightness becomes significant when projecting in well lit rooms, the most common scenario being a business presentation in a conference room. In this situation you want to be sure text and graphs are crisp, easy to read, and not washed out. To do this the lamp must be bright enough to ward off the miscreant photons of ambient light that like to bounce around rooms at random, fading colors and washing out text. Accordingly, most of our brightness testing involved viewing excel sheet and powerpoint presentations in a bright room. We also measured brightness using a lux meter, and compared our measurements to the manufacturer claims. Across the board the brightness we measured was lower than the manufacturer claim, particularly in the Optoma models. For the exact brightnesses we measured see the specifications table at the top of this page.
Brightness is one metric where the more inexpensive SVGA models reigned supreme. Of the four models that received high scores in our brightness test, three of them were SVGA. The two top scorers, the ViewSonic PJD7720HD and the BenQ MS524A, both received a score of 9, and both were measured at around 2700 lumens in our testing. Both projected graphs and spreadsheets with bright white backgrounds and clearly delineated text and colors. They Were also able to project photos that did not appear washed out from the ambient light in the room. One step down were the Epson VS240 and the ViewSonic PJD5155, both of which scored an 8. These models were just slightly dimmer than the top scorers, measuring in the 2500 lumen range. However, they were able to project sharp, bright graphs and text in our well lit testing room. The only reason they didn't both receive 9's as well was their programming. Most of the time slides with white backgrounds were rendered as bright and white, But, on occasion, a slide would pop up that was rendered as oddly red or green, and then the next slide would be fine. This inconsistency in rendering white dropped them out of the top spot. All of these models are bright enough to make colors look sharp and accurate in a lit room, though the lower resolution of the SVGA models can make text look a bit fuzzy. If you want to project high quality images in a bright room the increased resolution of the 1080p ViewSonic PJD7720HD is a noticeable improvement.
The **Epson EX9200 was the only model that scored a 7 out of 10 in our brightness testing. We measured its lamp brightness at around 2200 lumens, a good bit dimmer than both the top scoring models and its claim of 3200 lumens. However, we gave it a relatively high score due to its real world performance. In our experience it consistently produced bright white backgrounds for text heavy slides, even in well lit rooms.
After the top scorers there is a steep dropoff to the bottom group in this metric, all of which scored 4 or 5 in our brightness testing. We measured all of these models to be in the 1500 to 2000 lumen range. This makes them great for home theater use, but less than ideal for using in a room with a lot of ambient light. Both the Optoma HD26 and the Optoma HD141X scored a 5 in this metric. We also measured both of their brightnesses at just about 2000 lumens, which was well below the manufacturer claims of 3200 and 3000 lumens, respectively. Ambient light exacerbated the red tint the Optoma's lend to images, leaving most skin tones looking unnaturally red. They also struggled to overcome ambient light during normal powerpoint presentations, lending a blue tint to white areas and making text and graphs look dull and washed out. The two models that received the low score of 4 in this metric, the BenQ HT2050 and the Epson Powerlite Home Cinema 2040 had similar issues, but to a greater degree. These products left white areas looking very blue, and text and graphs looking quite faded. While these dimmer models have some noticeable color distortion when used in a bright room, none of them look terrible. We've used the dimmest model, the BenQ HT2050, in our office meetings and found it passable.
The bulbs required to create such vivid images produce heat. A lot of heat. Borderline cook an egg heat. A cooling fan is essential to keep this heat at bay, but it can also become a metaphorical buzzing mosquito that won't go away. If the whir of the fan is noticeable every time a movie gets quiet it can pull you out of the immersive experience you're looking to create. Perhaps more importantly, an audible drone can pull clients out of the flow of your presentation, meaning you won't close the deal and will never be able to afford that Ferrari. To test this we let all of the projectors get really hot and then assigned scores based on the most annoying volume achieved, and how often they reached that volume.
The fan noise test produced the widest spread of scores in any metric, ranging from 2 to 9. The Editors' Choice Award winning BenQ HT2050 was the clear winner, picking up the top score of 9. Its fan quietly purred along like an inconspicuous cat. Even when we pushed the lamp to get as hot as possible the fan noise remained docile. The next highest scoring model was the other BenQ we tested, the BenQ MS524A, which scored a 7. Its basal level of fan noise was as quiet as its older brother's, but it did get noticeably louder a couple of times when the bulb got really hot.
Most models fell into the mid range of our fan noise testing, scoring between 4 and 6. While these models had subtle differences in fan noise, in general they were all loud enough to be noticed occasionally, but not loud enough to be particularly grating. Most people won't be bothered by the fans on these models. However, if you're especially sensitive to noise and refuse to sleep at your grandparents' place because the ticking of the grandfather clock keeps you up all night, you'll want to opt for one of the higher scoring models. The Epson 2040 led this middle pack with a score of 6. Its normal noise level was just a bit louder than that of the BenQs, and it occasionally got noisier with increasing lamp temperatures. The Optoma HD26's fan was slightly more noticeable when the lamp got hot, earning it a score of 5. The Epson EX9200 also scored a 5. It was generally quiet, but you could hear the fan ramp up after it had been projecting bright images for 20-30 minutes. The Epson VS240 was a little noisier on average than the Optoma HD26. Accordingly it received a score of 4.
The worst performers in our fan noise testing were the two ViewSonic models. Both of these products have fans that are actually quite quiet when you first turn them on. However, if you project a bright image for more than a few minutes the fans ramp up to high speed, producing a very noticeable and distracting whir. The ViewSonic PJD7720HD was slightly worse than the ViewSonic PJD5155 in this regard. This is why we awarded them scores of 2 and 3, respectively. Both models would certainly be distracting during a presentation, which is a shame because both have high brightness levels that would be perfect for such an application. They also tended to pull us out of our movie induced stupor whenever the scenes became bright and/or quiet. Watching Boba Fett fall into the sarlacc pit is much less satisfying when it's accompanied by an incessant hum.
A Note on Input Lag
Input lag is the amount of time between a signal being generated and the result being projected on the screen. This doesn't matter for movie viewing, but can be critical for video games. If Mario doesn't jump when you tell him to, then Princess Peach will never be rescued. We measured input lag using a dedicated meter and found very small differences between models. To determine if these differences were functionally significant we brought a bunch of avid gamers into our testing room and had them play their favorite games. Nobody was able to notice a difference between any of the models we tested. So those interested in gaming don't need to worry about input lag.
A Note on 3D Quality
Although home theater 3D technology has not taken off in the way the industry originally anticipated, all but one of the models we tested, the Epson VS240, are 3D capable. We went into our testing expecting to see big differences in 3D quality, mostly because 3D modes don't allow you to adjust settings to get the best color quality. However, instead of producing a wide spread of color qualities, that limitation almost completely equalized them. Additionally, each model handled 3D images almost identically. We didn't see any appreciable difference between 3D scenes on the various models we tested.
Projectors are complex products with long lists of specifications and thick user manuals. However, by boiling their essence down to a few key performance attributes, it is possible to make clear, side by side comparisons. We hope our testing results have guided you to your ideal model. If you're still on the fence check out our buying advice article, which gives more tips on figuring out which product will work best for you.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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