We've conducted hands-on, side-by-side testing of more than 20 projectors in the past 4 years. In this 2020 update we focus on the 10 best available today. We used all of these projectors in completely dark home theaters, in living rooms with some ambient light, and in bright conference rooms. Throughout it all we projected one model right alongside the other so that we could make direct comparisons of picture quality. We also paid attention to how easy it is to set up, adjust, and generally use each model. Whether you're looking for something with a nuanced color palette for your home theater, or need a light cannon that can create clear images while presenting in a bright room, we can help you find the right model.
The Best Projectors of 2020
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 consumer-level 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 EX9220.
Read review: BenQ HT2050
Best Bang for the Buck: Home Theater
Unfortunately, good home theater projectors just 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 more reasonably priced centerpiece for your home theater.
While the HT1070A's image quality closely rivals that of higher priced models, we did notice that some brighter areas of the image were slightly more washed out. The difference is minor, but those looking for the best picture quality possible will likely be happier spending a bit more on something like the HT2050A. Also, 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.
Best Buy for Slideshow Presentations
The bad news is that you're going to 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 really require 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, 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
Epson Pro EX9220
The Epson Pro EX9220 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 EX9220 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 EX9220.
Read review: Epson Pro EX9220
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 about good as a picture as one can expect from a sub-2-pound package, easy setup thanks to a built-in stand and automatic keystone correction, and a speaker that is more than worthy of watching movies in an epic location. Top that off with 8GB of internal storage, a multitude of input options, and a top-notch battery life of up to 6 hours, and you have a portable projector that can turn anyplace with a flat surface into a theater.
The most salient shortcoming of the M1 is its lack of any sort of built-in wireless capability. However, this absence can be rectified by plugging something like a FireStick or Roku into its USB port. Also, the only pico model on the more affordable end of the price spectrum with native Wi-Fi connectivity is the Anker Nebula Capsule, which produces an inferior picture. Apart from this and the relative dimness inherent in pretty much all battery-powered models, the M1's only other annoyance is a remote that is tricky at best. Luckily this is usually a non-issue thanks to intuitive on-body controls and the fact that you'll generally be doing most of the button pressing on whatever device you're using to play your media.
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 have had their hands on over 50 models. In order to fine-tune their testing process they have consulted with media professionals on such topics as contrast ratio, color accuracy, and resolution. The team also brings their own audio-visual expertise to the review, as they have spent multiple years testing camera drones, home security cameras, and now instant cameras.
Our testing process involves spending (to date) 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 project the same thing on multiple projectors, side-by-side in the same room. This ensures that both lighting and projection conditions are perfectly controlled. We also push them to the max, projecting a bright white screen for extended periods of time. This allows up to both take accurate brightness measurements, and to see how loud the fans are as each machine begins to really heat 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 will 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 would spend on a large-screen TV, as that is where most people looking to build a home theater will start.
Within the price range of the models we tested, there is a fairly linear relationship between price and quality. Models close at the top of the price range like the BenQ HT2050A and the Epson EX9220 offer superior home theater and presentation quality, respectively. However, there are some outliers, like the reasonably priced BenQ HT1070A that offers better image quality than any other model near that price, and the Epson VS250, which provides decent performance at a very low price.
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.
Four different models fell just behind the top models with scores of 7 out of 10. The most notable is the BenQ HT1070A, which provides all of the color quality of the top models with just some minor issues with washing out brighter areas. We feel this model is the least expensive way to get a truly good home theater projector.
Also in the 7 out of 10 club were 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 presentation, we were actually quite impressed with how well it could perform as a home theater machine. If you want a model that can pull double duty, this one is it. The HD27 lacks a bit of color vibrancy compared to the top scorers, and had particular trouble projecting in lit rooms.
The ViewSonic PA503W scored a 6 out of 10. It did a bit better in terms of color accuracy than other models in its price range, but it had noticeable issues with washing images out. even dark scenes had an overly bright look to them. This did translate into relatively good performance when used in a well-lit room, however.
One of the worst performers 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.
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, as the required reduction in brightness for battery-powered models is, almost by necessity, going to produce an inferior image when compared to wired models. That being said, the ViewSonic M1 Portable and the Optoma LV130 came out towards the top of this range. Both of these models produce fairly vivid colors when used in very dark environments, and keep things looking quite clear despite less-than-HD resolutions. The Anker Nebula Capsule fell just behind its portable siblings. Its picture is just a tad dimmer, and some focus issues mean that at least a portion of the screen tends to look a bit blurry.
Ease of Use
The hardest part of using a projector is getting its picture both 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 the major concern if you want a projector that you can easily move from room to room. If you're looking for a home cinema machine, you'll likely only have to go through this process once, meaning the interface on the remote control is more important than the initial setup process. We tested both of these user-friendliness 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.
The leading scorer in this metric, with a score of 8 out of 10, is one of the portable pico models we tested. The Viewsonic M1 Portable offers a built-in stand and automatic keystone correction, making setup a breeze. The only reason it didn't earn a higher score is because the remote doesn't seem to work at certain angles, but this feels like a minor annoyance considering its lightning fast setup.
The top-performing home theater model in our user friendliness testing 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 10. 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.
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 of 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 EX9220 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 BenQ HT1070A is very easy to adjust, but it is a bit large and clunky, so you definitely won't want to use it as a portable model. The remote is also very small, making it easy to press the wrong button.
The Anker Nebula Capsule, the only portable model we tested that earned a 6 out of 10 in this metric, offers built-in streaming capability. This makes it much easier to access media with it than with other pico models. However, its quite hard to get the entire picture in focus, which lost it 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 the 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, earning a 4 out of 10, is the Optoma LV130. This portable model has automatic keystone correction, but the lack of an easy way to tilt and reposition the projector, and the additional lack of a remote control, make the setup more challenging.
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.
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.
Though 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 is noticeably crisper. If you're looking to project relatively small text in a well lit room, this model will be a great choice.
Just behind the top scorers in our brightness tests was the ViewSonic PA503W, which produced a respectable 2588 lumens. We foudn that it could handle even very bright rooms without fading out its picture. The WXGA resolution also made its text look much less fuxzzy than that of the Epson VS250, but it still couldn't match the clarity of the Epson Pro EX9220.
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 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'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.
It comes as no surprise that portable pico models fared the worst in our brightness testing. Powering a lamp with a reasonably sized battery severely 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. In turn, that fan 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 both conducted the real world test of watching a film at a normal volume to see how often we actually noticed the whir of the fan, and put the projectors through a heat torture test of projecting a birght white screen for a half an hour to ascertain 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 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. Its smaller sibling, the BenQ HT1070A also has quite a quiet fan, earning a score of 8 out of 10. Its fan is just slightly more noticeable than the HT2050A'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 noticeable except during exceptionally bright scenes or during 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 interrupt a presentation, but it would most likely be at least noticeable at points.
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 the small size makes them a bit higher pitched. We were generally able to forget about teh 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 presentation that gneerally 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 laspes 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 virtual life and death. We first tested input lag objectively using a dedicated input lag meter. Those measurements showed very minor differences between models, so we then moved to a real-world test, bringing a cadre of avid gamers into our testing theater. Those gamers neither noticed a difference in input lag between models, nor thought any of them presented 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 modern projectors offer 3D capabilities, assuming you have a compatible 3D media player and the requisite glasses. After testing the 3D prowess of many different models, we found the images to be quite similar. This is likely because 3D media requires a specific image mode, which vastly cuts down on the projectors' ability to do any sort of image adjustment in order to improve the overall picture. Because of this we didn't consider 3D capabilities in our final scoring scheme.
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.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata