Best Projector of 2020
Best Overall Home Cinema Projector
If you're looking for a high-quality home theater centerpiece that stays out of quadruple digit price tag territory, it's hard to do much better than the BenQ HT2150ST. In our testing it treated us to consistently vibrant colors and impeccable clarity, whether watching tranquil panoramic shots or fast-paced action scenes. Its fan is one of the quietest we've ever encountered, remaining barely noticable even when the sound effects faded away and yielded to muted scenes of dialogue. Perhaps 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 8 feet from the screen. Most comparable models would need to be placed at least 14 feet from the screen in order to acheive the same picture size.
The only real downside to this model is the relative dimness of the lamp. We measured it at 1548 lumens, which is perfect in a darkened home theater but can feel a bit weak if you turn the lights on. If you're looking for a projector that can pull double duty for both movies and presentations, the HT2150ST isn't for you. However, if you're lookinf for a deicated home theater machine, this is our top reccomendtaiton.
Read review: BenQ HT2150ST
Best Projector for Business Applications
Epson Pro EX9220
The Epson Pro EX9220 offers full HD resolution, a powerful lamp that easily cuts through ambient light, and a fan that doesn't get too loud or annoying. This makes it perfect for presentations that require small yet legible text or crystal clear photos. You can even take its top-notch presenting capabilities wherever you go with its included carrying case. To boot, its color quality is good enough that it can even pull double duty as a home theater projector.
While its colors are fairly accurate and vibrant, the only downside of the EX9220 is that they aren't quite as good as 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 an occasional movie night, you can't go wrong with the EX9220.
Read review: Epson Pro EX9220
Best Bang for the Buck: Home Theater
Unfortunately, good home theater projectors don't come cheap. However, the BenQ HT1070A does get you more for your money than most models. Sporting a fairly average price tag, the HT1070A provides full HD 1080p resolution and good color vibrancy, a rarity in this price range. Combine that with easy adjustments and a whisper-quiet fan, and you've got a reasonably priced centerpiece for your home theater.
Although the HT1070A's image quality closely rivals that of high-priced models, we noticed that brighter areas of the images were slightly more washed out. Though the difference is minor, those looking for the absolute best picture quality will likely be happier spending a bit more on something like the HT2150ST. While we wouldn't recommend any projectors' built-in speakers — even the best are lackluster — the HT1070A's speaker is particularly bad. You'll want to make sure you have an external audio source if you're thinking about getting this projector.
Great Value for Slideshow Presentations
The bad news is that you have to spend a considerable amount 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 demand great resolution. That is where the Epson VS250 shines. For a more attractive price, you get a model with more than enough brightness to handle a well-lit conference room, plenty of resolution to get your point across, and a body that is small and light enough to easily carry from meeting to meeting as you make your pitch.
Beyond 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. It can also make movie watching a little less enjoyable with colors that lack some accuracy and vibrancy. But it's hard to beat as an inexpensive machine for showing your presentations on the road.
Read review: Epson VS250
Best Affordable Portable Pico Projector
ViewSonic M1 Portable
In the world of portable, battery-powered projectors, the ViewSonic M1 offers one of the best balances of quality, portability, and user-friendliness that we've found. It provides decent picture quality for a sub-2-pound package, an easy setup thanks to a built-in stand and automatic keystone correction, and a speaker that's ready for showing movies in an epic location. Top that off with a multitude of input options, top-notch battery life of up to 6 hours, plus 8GB of internal storage, and you have a portable projector that can turn anyplace with a flat surface into a theater.
The most notable shortcoming of the M1 is the lack of built-in wireless capability. However, by plugging something like a FireStick or Roku into its USB port, this deficiency can be rectified. The Anker Nebula Capsule is the only pico-sized model on the more affordable end of the price spectrum that offers native Wi-Fi connectivity, which produces an inferior picture. Apart from this issue and the relative dimness inherent in pretty much all battery-powered models, the M1's only other annoyance is a remote that is tricky to operate. But thanks to intuitive on-body controls, this is usually a non-issue. In most situations, you'll be doing most of the button pressing on whatever device you're using to play the media anyway.
Read review: ViewSonic M1 Portable
Why You Should Trust Us
Steven Tata and Max Mutter have been leading TechGearLab's projector testing for 3 years, and in that time, they've had their hands on over 50 models. To fine-tune their testing process, they consulted with media professionals on such topics as color accuracy, contrast ratio, and resolution. The team also brings their own audio-visual expertise to the review, including multiple years spent testing camera drones, home security cameras, and instant cameras.
Our testing process involved spending 100s of hours projecting everything from movies to text-heavy PowerPoint presentations with every one of our projectors. In all of our image tests, we projected the same thing on multiple projectors, side-by-side in the same room. This ensures that both lighting and projection conditions are entirely controlled. We also pushed them to the max, forcing them to project a bright white screen for extended periods of time. This allows us to take accurate brightness measurements, and to see how loud the fans get after each machine really heats up.
Analysis and Test Results
A Note on the Models We Selected
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 narrowed our focus to models that cost 1 to 2 times what most people spend on a large-screen TV because 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. Models close to the top of the price range, such as the BenQ HT2150ST and the Epson EX9220, offer superior home theater and presentation quality, respectively. However, there are some outliers that offer better image quality than any other comparable model, like the reasonably priced BenQ HT1070A, or the Epson VS250, which provides adequate performance at a very low price.
Image quality is mostly the domain of cinephiles. Although PowerPoint presentations will see mild improvement with better image quality, especially if they contain high-resolution images, a cinematic viewing is where you'll really notice sharper resolution and more vibrant colors. We watched several movies and scrolled through numerous HD photos before we began our testing to determine where different models struggled to produce stellar images. The biggest problem areas we discovered were color accuracy in high-resolution photos, movies that looked washed out, 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 to test movies but chose to view images in both dark and well-lit rooms to simulate a photo slideshow or business presentation with photos. Most of the models offer endless options to adjust color, contrast, and brightness. However, we focused on the preset viewing modes that most people are more likely to use (i.e., cinema, bright, vivid) for our testing.
Although we wouldn't say that any of the models we tested have particularly poor image quality, there is a very noticeable difference between the top scorers and the low performers. The BenQ HT2150ST picked up the top score of 9 out of 10. It had the darkest, most true blacks, which also made all of the other colors pop. Even in lighter scenes, colors looked rich and vibrant, and skin tones always looked natural and accurate. It was also able to provide the best definition in bright scenes without washing out any details. Though ambient light did tend to wash colors out a bit, the BenQ HT2150ST is definitely our favorite model for a dark room.
Picking up an 8 out of 10 in our image quality scoring, the Epson Home Cinema 2150 came in just behind the BenQ. It was able to match the top scorers in almost all aspects — color quality, resolution, and contrast — but fell just short when it came to projecting bright scenes. It tends to make these sorts of scenes look just slightly washed out, with some detail being lost in white areas.
Falling just behind the top contenders are four models with an identical score of 7 out of 10. The most notable is the BenQ HT1070A. While it has some minor issues with washing out brighter areas, it still provides all of the color quality of the top models. We feel this is the least expensive way to get a "good" home theater projector.
Also in the 7 out of 10 club are the Epson EX9220 and the Optoma HD27. The EX9220 produces a very crisp image but lacks a bit of color vibrancy. For a model that is geared for presentations, we were quite impressed with how well it could perform as a home theater machine. If you're looking for a model that can pull double duty, this is our favorite. The HD27 had particular trouble projecting in well-lit rooms and lacks a bit of color vibrancy compared to the top scorers.
The ViewSonic PA503W received a 6 out of 10. In terms of color accuracy, it did a bit better than other models in its price range but displayed noticeable issues with washing out images. Even dark scenes exhibited an overly bright look to them. However, this did translate into relatively good performance when we tried it in a well-lit room.
Earning a 4 out of 10, the Epson VS250 is one of the worst performers in our image quality testing. 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 a bluish tint.
Most of the portable pico models we tested fell into the 3 or 4 out of 10 range in our image quality testing. These relatively low scores are to be expected because the limitations of battery-power necessitate a reduction in brightness that, when compared to wired models, contributes to inferior image quality. That said, the ViewSonic M1 Portable and the Optoma LV130 came out towards the top in this class. Both of these models keep things looking clear despite less-than-HD resolutions and produce fairly vivid colors when used in very dark environments. Falling just behind its portable siblings, the Anker Nebula Capsule's picture is just a tad dimmer, and some focus issues meant that at least a portion of the screen tended to look a bit blurry.
Ease of Use
The hardest part of using a projector is getting its picture focused and square on the screen. This will either involve very 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. If you're looking for a dedicated home cinema machine, you'll only have to go through this process once, which means the interface on the remote control is more important than the initial setup process. We tested the user-friendliness of both of these aspects by setting up and breaking down each model multiple times, as well as navigating through all of their menu options with their associated remote controls.
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. Fixing this issue is what we're referring to when we mention 'keystone correction' below.
With a score of 8 out of 10, the leading scorer in this metric is one of the portable pico models we tested. The Viewsonic M1 Portable offers a built-in stand and automatic keystone correction that make setup a breeze. The only reason it didn't earn a higher score is that the remote doesn't seem to work at certain angles. This feels like a minor annoyance considering its lightning-fast setup.
The top-performing home theater model in our user friendliness testing was the BenQ HT2150ST. Its remote had far and away the most intuitive interface and is simple to switch between color modes and inputs. The buttons also have a red backlight that makes them easy to find in a dark room but doesn't make you feel like a coal miner suddenly emerging into bright sunshine. The large zoom and included vertical keystone correction are both easy to use and make it a breeze to get the image the correct size and square. Its vertical lens shift is a huge plus when installing a permanent mount in a home theater. Finaly, its throw ratio of 0.69 to 0.83 is shorter than that of most other comparable models, allowing you to create a huge 150 inch image with the projector just about 8 feet from the screen, whereas most model would need to be at least 14 feet away to do the same. This allows for more versatile mounting options in smaller rooms without sacraficing screen size.
Earning a score of 7 out of 10, the Epson Home Cinema 2150 was even with the BenQ in this metric. Its horizontal and vertical keystone correction makes setup easy and even offers vertical lens shift. However, its remote has very small buttons that can be a bit frustrating sometimes.
Five 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 remote for the Optoma HD27 is fairly easy to use, but its buttons are backlit so brightly that when used in a dark room, lent a deer in the headlights feeling. The Epson VS250 is easy to set up, but its remote can sometimes be frustratingly unintuitive. The Epson EX9220 is very portable but also has a small-buttoned, slightly frustrating remote. We found that it was hard to use its wireless connectivity, but we didn't knock the score too much for that because it's the only model we tested that offers such a feature. The BenQ HT1070A is very easy to adjust, but you definitely won't want to use it as a portable model, as it's a bit large and clunky. The remote is also very small, making it easy to press the wrong button.
The only portable model we tested that earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric is The Anker Nebula Capsule. Its built-in streaming capability makes it much easier to access media with it than with other pico models. However, it's quite hard to get the entire picture in focus, which caused it to lose some points. It also has no inherent position adjustments, so you have to get a tripod if there isn't a flat surface at the correct height available.
The ViewSonic PA503W received a low score of 5. This model lacks adjustable back feet, which can be very frustrating if the surface you put the projector on doesn't happen to be perfectly level.
The worst scorer in this metric is the Optoma LV130, earning a 4 out of 10. This portable model has automatic keystone correction but lacks an easy way to tilt and reposition the projector. The additional lack of a remote control makes the setup even more challenging.
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 truer blacks and more vivid colors. 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 involved viewing Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations in a bright room. We also measured brightness using a lux meter and compared our measurements to the manufacturers' claims. Across the board, particularly in the Optoma models, the brightness we measured was lower than the manufacturers' claim.
Brightness is one area where an inexpensive model, the Epson VS250, reigned supreme. Producing 2847 lumens in our testing, it was the brightest model by a good margin. This resulted in graphs and PowerPoint slides looking full and not washed out, even when the ambient light level was high.
Although the brightest model we tested was a fairly inexpensive one, we found you still have to pay if you want brightness and clarity. Case in point, the more expensive Epson Pro EX9220 nearly matched the brightness of the VS250 (2701 lumens), but its image is noticeably crisper. This model is an excellent choice if you're looking to project relatively small text in a well-lit room.
Producing a respectable 2588 lumens, the ViewSonic PA503W came in just behind the top scorers in our brightness tests. We found that it could handle even very bright rooms without its picture fading out. The WXGA resolution also made its text look much less fuzzy than that of the Epson VS250, but it still couldn't match the clarity of the Epson Pro EX9220.
Earning a score of 6 out of 10, the Epson Home Cinema 2150 produced 1943 lumens in our testing. Its performance in our well-lit conference room was mediocre, while text and graphs were legible, but 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 the Optoma HD27 at just about 1300 lumens, which was well below the manufacturer claims of 3000 lumens. Ambient light exacerbated the red tint the Optoma lends to images, leaving most skin tones looking unnaturally red. They also struggled to overcome ambient light during normal PowerPoint presentations, giving a blue tint to white areas, and making text and graphs look dull and washed out. The BenQ HT2150ST 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 HT2150ST, in our office meetings and found its performance passable.
It comes as no surprise that portable pico models fared the worst in our brightness testing. Powering a lamp with a sensibly sized battery greatly limits the lumens it will be able to push out. The ViewSonic M1 Portable ended up being the most powerful of this group, producing 124 lumens in our test. The Optoma LV130 is a close second at 120 lumens, and the Anker Nebula Capsule lags a bit at 98 lumens. Bottom line, all of these models are only suited for use in dark rooms, or possibly outside on a dark night.
Projectors in general and their bulbs, in particular, 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, usually a fan, to keep the projector from frying itself. That fan, in turn, is going to produce some noise, possibly even enough noise to ruin the dramatic weight of a long moment of silence. Similarly, an incessant hum can annoy clients during an important presentation, 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 actually noticed the whir of the fan. We also the projectors through a heat torture test that involved projecting a bright white screen for a half an hour and precisely measuring the maximum volume of each fan.
The fan noise test produced the widest spread of scores in any metric, ranging from 2 to 9. The BenQ HT2150ST 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 noise remained docile. Its smaller sibling, the BenQ HT1070A, also has quite a quiet fan, earning it a score of 8 out of 10. Its fan is just slightly more noticeable than the HT2150ST's when the movie hits a quiet scene, but it still wasn't detrimental at all to the movie-watching experience.
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 obtrusive except during exceptionally bright scenes or extended use.
The Epson EX9220 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 disrupt a presentation, but you might notice it at some point.
All of the portable models we tested, the ViewSonic M1 Portable, the Optoma LV130, and the Anker Nebula Capsule, also earned scores of 5 out of 10 in this metric. The fans generally aren't loud, but their small size makes them a bit higher pitched. We were generally able to forget about the fans a few minutes into a movie, but they are certainly audible.
The ViewSonic PA503W earned a 4 out of 10. Its fan is quite noticeable, especially during presentations that use slides with bright white backgrounds. We still feel you can conduct a meeting without the fan disrupting anything, but you're definitely going to notice it.
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 be a detriment to their game playing. Therefore, gamers need not worry about input lag when looking at the projects we tested.
A Note on 3D Quality
Most projectors on the market today 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 the differences between them. 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 and more common. Despite home theaters becoming more accessible, projectors are still rife with arcane specifications and confusing marketing claims. We hope that our objective, side-by-side tests have helped you cut through all of the noise and find the perfect projector to bring movie watching nirvana into your living room.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata