Prepping for your next Marvel movie marathon? We bought 7 of the most highly regarded projectors for some side-by-side testing so that you can start building your home theater. Projectors have been getting cheaper and cheaper, which makes having a 100" screen in your home more and more accessible. However, projectors also carry heaps of confusing jargon and marketing claims. We tested all of our projectors in every situation, from perfectly dark home theaters to brightly lit conference ones, to cut through the confusion and find the best model for every use and budget.
The Best Projectors of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
This month we tested two new models from Epson, the VS250 and the Home Cinema 2150. The VS250 is inexpensive, bright enough for powerpoint presentattions, and small enough to be carried around. This earned it a Best Buy Award. The Home Cinema 2150 is a very capable home theater model. However, it is both not quite as good and slightly more expensive than the Editors' Choice winning BenQ HT2050A.
Best Overall Home Cinema Projector
If you're looking for a theater experience at home, the BenQ HT2050A should be at the top of your list. This projector produced vibrant colors and a crystal clear picture in our testing, handling both brightly lit and dark scenes with aplomb. It also has the quietest fan of all the models we tested, so it won't ruin the building tension in those quiet moments right before the killer jumps out of the shadows. The vertical lens shift, a feature seldom seen on sub-$1000 models, adds some helpful room for error during installation.
The only downside of the HT2050A is its lack of brightness. This isn't an issue for a darkened home theater, but it leaves everything looking dim once you turn the lights back on. If you're looking for HD quality that can handle bright lights, we'd suggest the Epson EX9200.
Read review: BenQ HT2050
Best Buy for Slideshow Presentations
The bad news is that you're going to have to spend at least $600 on a projector to get high-definition resolution. The good news is that most powerpoint style presentations have large text and graphics that don't really require great resolution. That is where the Epson VS250 shines. For less than $400 you get a model with more than enough brightness to handle a well lit conference room, enough resolution to get your point across, and a body that is small and light enough to easily move from meeting to meeting as you make your pitch.
Outside of slideshow presentations the VS250 is somewhat lackluster. Its resolution makes smaller text look fuzzy, so it's not great for Excel tutorials or displaying long lines of code. The colors also lack some vibrancy and accuracy, which can make movie watching a little less enjoyable. But as an inexpensive machine for taking your presentations on the road, it's hard to beat.
Read review: Epson VS250
Best Projector for Business Applications
The Epson EX9200 provides full HD resolution, has a powerful lamp that can easily cut through ambient light, and has a fan that doesn't get too loud or annoying. This makes it perfect for presentations that require crystal clear photos or small yet legible text. It even comes with a carrying case, so you can take you top-notch presenting capabilities with you wherever you go. To boot, its color quality is good enough that it can even pull double duty as a home theater projector.
Really the only downside of the EX9200 is that, while its colors are fairly accurate and vibrant, they aren't quite as good as those of some of the dedicated home theater models. If you're only going to use your projector in a home theater setting, there are better ways to spend our money. However, if you want the best model for presentations that can also spruce up movie night on occasion, you can't go wrong with the EX9200.
Read 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:
- Greater than 1000 lumens brightness
- Includes an HDMI input and compatible with 1080p input sources (for more on what this means see our buying advice article)
- Readily available online for less than $1000 (list price and 'street' price often differ greatly)
This left us with a selection that both satisfies the needs for most home theaters, and that offers some products that are great for business presentations.
Our 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, vivid…) 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 9 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 HT2050A is definitely our favorite model for viewing in a dark room.
The Epson Home Cinema 2150 was just behind the BenQ, picking up an 8 out of 10 in our image quality scoring. It was able to match the top scorers in almost all aspect, color quality, resolution, and contrast, but fell just short when it came to projecting bright scenes. It tended to make these sorts of scenes looked just slightly washed out, with some detail being lost in white areas.
Just behind the top scorers were the ViewSonic PJD7720HD, the Epson EX9200, and the Optoma HD27. 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. The Optoma HD27 was about even with the ViewSonic PJD7720HD in terms of color quality, but struggled with producing legible text in bright rooms.
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. The Optoma HD142X, 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 worst performer in our image quality testing was the Epson VS250, which earned a 4 out of 10. Its SVGA (800x600) resolution is great for simple powerpoint slides, but for movie watching it is decidedly less than high definition. The colors were also slightly off, with many scenes taking on an overly blue tint.
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 keystone 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 HT2050A. 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 HT2050A is its size. It is relatively bulky and heavy, and is the least portable
The Epson Home Cinema 2150 was even with the BenQ in this metric earning a score of 7 out of 8. It makes setup easy with both horizontal and vertical keystone correction, and even offers vertical lens shift. However, its remote has very small buttons that can be a bit frustrating sometimes.
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 HD142X and the Optoma HD27 was fairly easy to use, but its buttons were backlit so brightly that it lent a deer in the headlights feeling when used in a dark room. The Epson VS250 is easy to set up but its remote can sometimes be frustratingly unintuitive. 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.
The ViewSonic model we tested, the PJD7720HD, received the low score of 5. The remote is relatively straightforward and easy to use, and feature like the vertical keystone adjustment works quite well. It lost points because of its leg design. Most models use either a button you can press to relesae the leg whil you adjust teh heig, or use screw on legs with very large threads. The ViewSonic opts for a screw on leg with a very small thread. This does let you make minute adjustments rather easily, but making larger height adjustments takes a lot of screwing or unscrewing, often to a borderline frustrating degree.
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, 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 top scoring ViewSonic PJD7720HD received a score of 9, and was measured at around 2700 lumens in our testing. It projected graphs and spreadsheets with bright white backgrounds and clearly delineated text and colors. It was also able to project photos that did not appear washed out from the ambient light in the room. The Epson VS250 also earned a top score of 9 out of 10, producing 2847 lumens in our testing. This was more than enough power to project bright text and graphics in a room full of ambient light, though its clarity sometimes left something to be desired.
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.
the Epson Home Cinema 2150 produced 1943 lumens in our testing, earning it a score of 6 out of 10. It performance in our well lit conference room was mediocre. Text and graphs were legible, but everything looked noticeably dim.
After the top scorers there is a steep dropoff to the bottom group in this metric, all of which scored 4 out of 10 in our brightness testing. We measured all of these models to be in the 1100 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. We measured both the Optoma HD142X and the Optoma HD27 at just about 1300 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 BenQ HT2050 had similar issues, but to a greater degree. It 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 HT2050A, 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 HT2050A 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.
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. Both Optoma models scored 6 out of 10, with fans that generally weren't noticeable except during exceptionally bright scenes or during extended use.
The Epson EX9200 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 VS250 performed similarly. Its fan was quiet enough that it wouldn't interrupt a presentation, but it would most likely be at least noticeable at points.
The Worst performer in our fan noise testing was the ViewSonic PJD7720HD, earning a score of 2 out of 10. After being on for a few minutes, its fan emitted a high pitched, shrill noise that none of our testers could block out. It didn't completely ruin the movie we were watching, but during quiet dialogue scenes we found ourselves instinctively swatting at non-existant mosquitoes.
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 of the models we tested 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 widespread 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.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.