Deciding on a new projector for your home, school, or office? Our team has evaluated over 60 models since 2019, landing on the top 6 in this review. We use each projector for movie night in our home theaters, presentations in the office, and slideshows in our living rooms. We evaluate them side-by-side in different lighting conditions, determining which models have the best image quality, broken down into contrast ratio, color accuracy, resolution, and brightness. We also pay attention to how easy each model is to set up and adjust as well as how user-friendly the interface and remotes are. Whether you're looking for something with a nuanced color palette for your home theater, or a light cannon that can create clear images while presenting in a bright room, this review can help you find the right projector for your unique situation.
The Epson Home Cinema 2250 is a great projector with well-rounded scores, crisp resolution, fabulous contrast ratio, an intuitive user interface, and streaming service capabilities. It has an impressive 1920 x 1080p resolution and 70000:1 contrast ratio. We didn't have any qualms with the crystal clear picture, whether it be a high-contrast film or detailed charts and graphs. Thanks to its intuitive user interface, our testers were able to set it up, connect to WiFi & Bluetooth, and stream via service providers with ease.
One drawback to the 2250 was the color accuracy. Under its out-of-the-box settings, there was a noticeable red shift and distortion of skin tones. During testing, our team discovered that by changing some of the advanced image settings, they were able to compensate for this. Though it is not an inexpensive projector, it outperforms others in its price range and is well suited for a home cinema or office space.
It's hard to do much better than the BenQ HT2150ST when you're looking for a decent-quality home theater centerpiece that stays out of quadruple-digit price tag territory. It offers stellar resolution and consistently vibrant colors, whether watching fast-paced action scenes or tranquil panoramic shots. Aside from the high-resolution performance, its best attribute is its relatively short throw ratio. This allows you to project an absolutely massive 150-inch image with the projector just over eight feet from the screen. Most comparable models would need to be placed at least 14 feet from the screen to achieve the same picture size.
The relative dimness of the lamp is one of the few downsides to this model. We measured it at 1449 lumens, which is okay in a darkened home theater but can feel very weak if you turn the lights on. Unfortunately, many details are lost due to the narrow contrast ratio. Mid-tones and whites lack contrast which makes the overall image quality somewhat flat. Nevertheless, the BenQ HT2150ST is our top recommendation if you're looking for an affordable home theater device.
Resolution: 1920 x 1080 with 4K Enhancement Technology | Aspect Ratio: 16:9
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent color accuracy
Digital lens shift
Digital lens focus
REASONS TO AVOID
Not true 4K
White contrast bleaches out surrounding colors
If ultra-accurate colors are most important to your projector experience, the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB 4K PRO-UHD is the best option. Its performance led the pack across a majority of our testing metrics. We were particularly pleased with its 4K Enhancement technologies that simulated a 4K viewing experience, as well as its digital lens focus buttons that made dialing in the perfect focus a breeze.
Although the Epson 5050 is a high performer, it comes at a cost in both size and price. It has a large footprint that is only suitable for a fixed location and comes at a hefty price tag that is far above its competitors. If you're looking for the best you can buy or care a lot about color performance, this is a great model for you.
The Anker Nebula Capsule II packs a lot of power into a small package. This portable device may not offer high-definition image quality or impeccable brightness, but the level of power it does hold in a container that is only slightly larger than a soda can is impressive. Features like auto-focus and auto-keystoning make setting up the Capsule II a breeze. It offers WiFi connectivity and on-device streaming service capabilities, meaning you can watch Netflix right off the device, similar to an Android TV. If you do not have WiFi or would prefer to connect a device, there are HDMI, USB, and USB-C ports to ensure connectivity to your laptop, phone, or tablet. For a portable device, battery life is also vital — the Capsule II advertises 2.5 hours of battery life, but we could easily stretch it to 3.5, which bodes well for most movies.
The Capsule II claims to offer a brightness of 200 lumens, but we only measured 168 lumens during our testing. This is enough for a very dark room, but simply not enough if there's any ambient light. While the image quality is bearable, the 1280 x 720p resolution and 600 to 1 contrast ratio does not make for the most detailed scenes. Skin tones appear washed out, lacking saturation across the board. Still, the Capsule is a great option for those who value portability and ease of use over pristine image quality.
Why You Should Trust Us
We've purchased and hands-on tested more than 60 projectors in the last five years. Our testing process puts each model through a multi-point performance analysis. Each projector is subjected to more than 24 individual tests to analyze its performance across each metric.
Image quality is broken down into three metrics: Contrast Ratio, Color Accuracy, and Resolution. Our reviews utilize extensive research and observations from multiple testers. Our testing process involves spending hundreds of hours projecting everything from movies to text-heavy PowerPoint presentations with every one of our projectors. We projected the same thing on multiple devices in all of our image tests, side-by-side in the same room. This design ensures that both lighting and projection conditions are entirely controlled. We also pushed them to the max by forcing them to project a bright white screen for extended periods, allowing us to take accurate brightness measurements and see how loud the fans get after each machine heats up.
Our projector test scores are split across six rating metrics:
Projectors range from inexpensive pocket models that can run off a battery to multi-thousand dollar 4K behemoths that can rival the image quality you get in a real cinema. For this review, we primarily focused on models that cost one to two times what most people spend on a large-screen television since that is where most people looking to build a home theater will start.
There is a close relationship between price and quality within the price range of the models we tested. The Epson 2250 is a quality projector that is on the high end of most rating metrics; however, it is in line with most models on cost. The other Epson in the lineup, the Epson 5050, offers superior home theater and presentation quality but comes with a price tag to match. The BenQ HT2150ST is great on a budget but falls short in contrast ratio and brightness, so it is best used in a very dark room. Depending on your needs and planned usage, you may not require spending the big bucks on getting something perfectly adequate.
The contrast ratio is far and away the most important contributing factor to a detailed image. The highest highs, lowest lows, and a proper set of mid-tones offer contrast in bright skies and dark shadows, providing a truly dynamic image. To visually test the contrast ratio, we use a calculated collection of slides. The first one exhibits dynamic contrast by displaying the darkest blacks and lightest whites. Slides two through five are used to showcase the spectrum of contrast the projector can achieve, with each slide providing more information through a wider range of colors. We also observe the contrast ratio through text and video, taking into account how the image appears while moving and when paused.
With a ratio of 70000:1, the Epson Home Cinema 2250 is also impressively clear. Six-point font is slightly hazy but still very easy to read. It performs exceptionally well in whites but struggles a little in the black spectrum but overall offers a clear image.
The Epson Home Cinema 5050UB 4K PRO-UHD was a close second in the contrast tests. It projected incredibly crisp and bright whites. We did note in our high-contrast test images, the whites tended to wash out surrounding colors. Dark black colors were also phenomenal; our viewers felt like we were looking into a black hole, though there was some loss in the transition from dark greys to blacks.
It's hard to focus on a movie when all the actors are orange, which is why color accuracy is next in our testing. We take note of any discrepancies between what we see on the computer and what each device projects. Our first slide consists of a number of different faces, including Oprah, Rihanna, and Emma Stone. We also watch The Martian with Matt Damon, stopping at different points to access cool and warm light on the skin. Lastly, we view various slides filled with primary and secondary colors, taking special note of those whose projections do not match what we see on the computer. All told, if you plan to use your projector to display slides consisting of pie charts and text, color accuracy may not matter as much.
The Epson 5050 is the clear winner for color accuracy. Where other projectors favor a certain color, the Epson was consistent from color to color. It was particularly good at yellows that popped and excelled in purples that others seemed to lack.
The BenQ HT2150ST displays significantly warmer skin tones than the UHD35, but it's far from Oompa Loompa status like some of the cheaper projectors. Yellows are a little off and trend slightly green, but otherwise, the BenQ is pretty on point.
Most people think the resolution is the most important factor of clarity, and while it's not, there is no doubt that it's a contributor. Our resolution testing consists of HD images, the Siemen's Star, and a video viewing. We zoom into the HD images and Siemen's Star to ensure tiny details like eyelashes are clear. We also take note of how motion affects the overall images by watching videos.
The Epson 5050 again leads the pack in our resolution test. Though it is not a true 4K, the 5050's 4K Enhancement technology makes us excited for 4K viewing. The Epson 5050 stands out, with smoothness in viewing curvatures such as the beak of a bird and the crispness of minute details like eyelashes. Although there was a slight blurring at the bottom of the screen, this is likely a focusing problem, but since it impacts clarity we included a note of it in our resolution test.
Both the Epson Home Cinema 2250 and BenQ HT2150ST offer 1080 pixels and use a high resolution to improve clarity and image quality.
The Home Cinema 2250 shows nearly perfect detail when viewing HD images. Even when zooming in on details as small as eyelashes, this projector provides a crystal-clear image. When zooming in to 400% on the Siemen's Star, we are still able to tell the lines apart nearest the center. The Cinema 2250 has a small amount of cross-hatching near the center, but overall its performance is impressive. The video resolution for the Epson 2250 is just as impressive, easily showing details as small as the hairs on an ant.
The BenQ HT2150ST is also pretty impressive across the board but falls slightly behind the UHD35 and Cinema 2250. Small details like eyelashes have a slight haze to them, and the Siemen's Star has slight steps near the center, but neither of them is very noticeable and therefore does not ruin the viewing experience. The video resolution is also very clear. For a more budget-friendly option, the BenQ has some pretty high-quality resolution.
Ease of Use
The hardest part of using a projector is getting its picture square on the screen and focused. This either involves fine adjustments of a few moving parts or some digital sorcery. Initial positioning like this is a major concern if you want a projector that can easily move from room to room. Suppose you're looking for a dedicated home cinema machine. In that case, you'll likely have to go through this process once, which means the remote control interface is more important than the initial setup process. We test the user-friendliness of both of these aspects by setting up and breaking down each model multiple times and navigating through all of their menu options with their associated remote controls. We also take into account the portability of each device.
One term you should be familiar with is keystoning. This refers to the trapezoidal shape a projected image takes on when the lens isn't perfectly square to the screen. We're referring to fixing this issue when we mention 'keystone correction' below.
Both the Epson Home Cinema 2250 and the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB have a highly intuitive interface and verticle lens shift. Automatic keystoning and focusing make this device extremely easy to use.
The Epson 5050 had powered lens shift on both the vertical and horizontal axis, which made adjustments a breeze. The lens focus is also digital, which is a feature we felt deserved extra credit; no more manual twisting or over-correcting the focus. Now, with the touch of a button, you have precise and minute control over focus adjustments. The 5050 is a monster of a projector though, and manual adjustments of the front feet are not the easiest task. This is a projector meant to be set up once and stay put.
We wish the Epson 2250 model came with a bag for better portability and that the buttons on the remote were backlit, but this projector is still among our favorites for usability.
We love how easy the portable Nebula Capsule II is to use. First and foremost, this projector is only slightly larger than a soda can, so it's easy to throw in your bag for a movie night by the campfire or over to a friend's place for a backyard screening. Secondly, connecting to WiFi and using streaming services right off the device makes it easy for people of all ages and technological abilities to navigate. Its projected interface is very similar to an Android TV.
The BenQ HT2150ST has the most intuitive remote interface by far, and it is simple to switch between inputs and color modes. The buttons also have a red backlight that renders them easy to find in a dark room without making you feel like you are suddenly emerging into bright sunshine. The included vertical keystone correction and large zoom are easy to use and make it a breeze to get the image square and the correct size. The vertical lens shift is also a huge plus when installing a permanent mount in a home theater. Finally, its throw ratio of 0.69 to 0.83 is shorter than most other comparable models, allowing you to create a huge 150-inch image with the projector just about eight feet from the screen, whereas most models would need to be at least 14 feet away to do the same. This allows for more versatile mounting options in smaller rooms without sacrificing screen size.
Brighter is generally better in the world of projectors. You can always make an overly bright image softer, but if a lamp's full capacity produces an image that's too pale, it can't be made any 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 to provide more vivid colors and truer blacks. Top-end brightness becomes a bigger issue 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 miscreant photons from ambient light that like to bounce around rooms at random, fading colors and washing out text. Accordingly, most of our brightness testing involves viewing Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations in a bright room. We also measure brightness using a lux meter and compare our measurements to the manufacturers' claims. Across the board, the brightness we measured is roughly 30% lower than the manufacturers' claim.
The Optoma models offer decent brightness. The CinemaX P2 comes in at an average of 2112 lumens, and the measured brightness of the UHD35 is 2306.
Producing a respectable 2245 lumens, the ViewSonic PA503W offers a comparable brightness to the Optoma models. It can handle very bright rooms without its picture fading out. The WXGA resolution also renders clearer text than some of the other models.
Projectors and, in particular, their bulbs are often referred to as "light cannons," and like this moniker's namesake, those bulbs produce a lot of heat. This necessitates some sort of cooling system to keep the projector from frying itself — usually a fan. In turn, that fan will produce some noise, possibly even enough noise to ruin the dramatic weight of a long moment of silence in a film. Similarly, during an important presentation, an incessant hum can annoy clients, which isn't going to help you make your point. To assess fan noise, we conducted a real-world test of watching a film at a normal volume to see how often we noticed the fan's whir. We also put the projectors through a heat torture test that involved projecting a bright white screen for half an hour and precisely measuring each fan's maximum volume.
The Nebula Capsule II is among the quietest. While these small devices often emit a higher frequency noise, the Capsule remains soft and easy to ignore. Since this pico model isn't among the brightest of our test suite, the lightbulb only gets so hot, so the fan doesn't have to work as hard.
The Epson 5050 was described by our testers as a "stealth projector" — despite its large size, it has a low sound output and a low pitch. Aside from the sheer level of sound a projector emits, the pitch is the other contributing factor. The Home Cinema 2250 is pretty loud but smooth and lower-pitched, which is easy to ignore.
A Note on Input Lag
Input lag, or the amount of time that lapses between pressing a button on a controller and seeing the result on the screen, is an important factor for video game aficionados, as even a millisecond of hesitation can mean digital life or death. We first tested input lag objectively using a dedicated input lag meter. Those measurements showed minor differences between models, so we moved on to a real-world test, bringing a cadre of avid gamers into our testing theater. Those gamers didn't notice a difference in input lag between models, and none believed any model supplied enough input lag to detriment their game playing. Therefore, gamers need not worry about input lag when looking at the tested projectors.
A Note on 3D Quality
Today, most projectors on the market are compatible with 3D media players, allowing you to bring 3D cinema into your home theater. However, 3D images force projectors into a specified image mode, somewhat dampening the individual image quality of different models and lessening their differences. We confirmed this in our testing, finding little if any 3D image quality differences across many models. Therefore, we did not consider 3D image quality in our final rankings.
Home theaters are becoming more and more affordable and thus more common. Despite becoming more accessible, projectors are still rife with arcane specifications and confusing marketing claims, making for a confusing purchasing process. We hope that our objective side-by-side tests have helped you cut through all the noise and find the perfect projector to enhance your home or office environment.
Michelle Powell, Jessica Riconscente, and Hale Milano
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.