Best Projector of 2021
$989.99 at Amazon
$849.99 at Amazon
$799.00 at Amazon
$579.99 at Amazon
|Pros||Crisp image quality, accurate color depiction, intuitive interface, WiFi connectivity, streaming services on device||Great image quality, perfect for a business setting, carry bag, impressive brightness, assortment of input types||Great image quality, vibrant colors, full HD||Portable, easy to use, WiFi connectivity, 3.5-hour-long battery life, streaming capabilities||Bright image, relatively cheap, WXGA resolution|
|Cons||No remote button backlight, not very portable, loud fan||Confusing interface, no Bluetooth audio capabilities, small buttons, buttons are not backlit||Dim lamp, not ideal for well lit rooms||Subpar brightness, lacking in image quality, no backlit buttons on remote, pricey||Poor adjustability, unimpressive colors|
|Bottom Line||A projector fit for most scenarios, with amazingly crisp image quality, stellar color accuracy, an intuitive interface and streaming service capability via WiFi||A projector built for the office with amazing image quality, brightness, and a plethora of input options||Offering excellent image quality and a whisper-quiet fan, this is a fantastic home theater option||With a small footprint and an easy to use interface, this projector is a great option for those who are always on-the-go||A bright projector at a decent price that is great for presentations but not movies|
|Rating Categories||Epson Home Cinema 2250||Epson Pro EX9240||BenQ HT2150ST||Anker Nebula Capsul...||ViewSonic PA503W|
|Image Quality (45%)|
|Ease Of Use (25%)|
|Fan Noise (15%)|
|Specs||Epson Home Cinema 2250||Epson Pro EX9240||BenQ HT2150ST||Anker Nebula Capsul...||ViewSonic PA503W|
|Specification Brightness||2700 lumens||4000 lumens||2200 lumens||200 lumens||3600 lumens|
|Measured Brightness||3166 lumens||7400 lumens||1548 lumens||168 lumens||2588 lumens|
|Maximum Resolution||1080p||1080p||1080p||1280 x 720||1280 x 800|
|Apect Ratio||Native 16:9||Native 16:9||Native 16:9||Native 16:9||Native 16:10|
|Zoom Ratio||1.0 - 1.6||1.0 - 1.6||1 - 1.2||n/a||1.0- 1.1|
|Throw Ratio (Wide to Zoom)||1.33 to 2.17||1.32 to 2.14||0.69 to 0.83||1.3||1.55 to 1.70|
|Vertical Keystoning Correction?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Horizontal Keystoning Correction?||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Dimensions||12.2" x 12.4" x 4.8"||12.2" x 11.2" x 4.1"||15" x 4.8" x 11"||3.15" x 3.15" x 5.9"||11.6" x 4.3" x 8.6"|
|Weight||8.4 lbs||6.8 lbs||7.3 lbs||1.5 lbs||4.9 lbs|
Best Overall Projector
Epson Home Cinema 2250
If you are looking for an all-around quality projector and don't mind dropping the extra cash, then the Epson Home Cinema 2250 is a great choice. The WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity options make the 2250 the ultimate entertainment device. You can easily utilize most streaming services, such as Netflix, right off the device when connected to WiFi, and if you want some sweet surround sound, simply connect your projector to your favorite Bluetooth speakers. All this is made very simple through an intuitive interface and remote control. Whether you are projecting charts and graphs or your kids' favorite movies, the 70,000 to 1 contrast ratio and 1080 pixel resolution provides the viewer with a crisp and clear picture. The image adjustments allow for a distortion-free experience, and the color accuracy is amazing.
While we have almost nothing negative to report about the Home Cinema, there is a little room for improvement. It was not designed with portability in mind, but some of Epson's other projectors that are a similar shape and size come with a carry bag. We know this is nit-picky, but we would have loved to have received some sort of storage or carrying option. Two more minor improvements Epson could make to this amazing device are backlit remote buttons and a quieter fan. The fan emits a low hum, which is pretty easy to ignore, but it's still rather loud. Still, overall, this top-notch device is a great option for someone looking for a versatile, high-end projector.
Read review: Epson Home Cinema 2250
Best Bang for Your Buck
The ViewSonic PA503W performed slightly above average across all our testing at a budget-friendly price. One metric where this projector stands out is in its brightness. We measured 2588 lumens during our brightness testing, rendering it a great option for the office since visibility isn't compromised by ambient light. The WXGA resolution and 16:10 aspect ratio are also far superior to what most inexpensive models offer, also helping to provide a large and clear image.
Making a device budget-friendly often involves leaving out certain attributes, and the PA503W is no exception. While it shines brightly in the office, its movie projecting is far from impressive. The colors are misrepresented, and the fan noise can be hard to ignore. Only the front feet are adjustable, and the menus are not very intuitive. Those things aside, we still feel this is a great option for those looking for a budget-friendly office projector.
Read review: ViewSonic PA503W
Best Projector for Business Applications
Epson Pro EX9240
The Epson Pro EX9240 is the best option for those searching for an advanced projector for business settings. The impressive brightness, high contrast ratio, color accuracy, and high resolution allow for a clear picture even in the presence of bright conference room lights. The plethora of input types allow for all different kinds of device syncing, and the stellar image quality ensures that small text and complicated graphs can be read with ease. The EX9240 is not a small projector, which could make carrying it from home to the office cumbersome, but the protective carry bag helps make commuting with this device much easier.
While the EX940 is a great addition to any office, it is a bit of an investment. The projected interface is also not particularly intuitive, and the small buttons are hard to see in the dark as they are not backlit. It is also worth noting that smaller font appears ever so slightly fuzzy, although this didn't affect overall legibility much. If you or your office are looking for one powerful projector to share, this is a great option. But if you're less worried about image quality and more concerned about the company budget, you may want to take a look at some of the less expensive models in our test suite. Just keep in mind, they simply will not perform as well.
Read review: Epson Pro EX9240
Best Home Cinema Projector
It's hard to do much better than the BenQ HT2150ST when you're looking for a high-quality home theater centerpiece that stays out of quadruple-digit price tag territory. In our testing, it treated us to impeccable clarity and consistently vibrant colors, whether watching fast-paced action scenes or tranquil panoramic shots. Its fan is one of the quietest we've ever encountered, remaining barely noticeable 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 to achieve the same picture size.
The relative dimness of the lamp is the only real downside to this model. 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 presentations and movies, the HT2150ST isn't for you. However, this is our top recommendation if you're looking for a dedicated home theater machine.
Read review: BenQ HT2150ST
Best Portable Option
Anker Nebula Capsule II
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 only slightly larger than a soda can, is very 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's HDMI, USB, and USB-C ports to ensure connectivity to your laptop, phone, or tablet. Being such a portable device, battery life is also key — the Capsule II advertises 2.5 hours of battery life, but we were easily able to 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 plenty for a dark room or moonless night, but simply not enough if there's any ambient light. While the image quality is bearable, the 1280 by 720 resolution and 600 to 1 contrast ratio doesn't make for the most detailed scenes. Still, the Capsule is a great option for those who value portability and ease of use over pristine image quality.
Read review: Anker Nebula Capsule II
Why You Should Trust Us
Max Mutter, Steven Tata, Michelle Powell and Hayley Thomas have been leading projector testing for three 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.
Related: How We Tested Projectors
Our testing process involved 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 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 really heats up.
Analysis and Test Results
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 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.
Related: Buying Advice for Projectors
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, like the BenQ HT2150ST or Epson Home Cinema 2250, offer superior home theater and presentation quality, respectively. However, some outliers offer better image quality than any other comparable model, like the reasonably priced Epson VS250, which provides adequate performance at a much lower price. Depending on your needs and planned usage, you may not require spending the big bucks to get something perfectly adequate.
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 more vibrant colors and sharper resolution. 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 pictures. 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).
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 has the darkest, truest blacks, making all of the other colors pop. Even in lighter scenes, colors looked rich and vibrant, and skin tones always looked natural and accurate. This projector 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.
Following are two of our Epson models, the Home Cinema 2250 and the Pro EX9240 . The Home Cinema offers a whopping 70,000 to 1 contrast ratio, while the Pro EX9240 offers 16,000 to 1, which is still pretty dang good. They both provide healthy-looking skin tones and a resolution that delivers a crisp image, even when significantly zoomed in.
The ViewSonic PA503W provides a slightly above average performance in image quality, but nowhere near our top performers. It did a bit better in terms of color accuracy 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.
Most of the portable pico models we tested scored rather low in this metric. These relatively low scores are to be expected because the limitations of battery power necessitate a reduction in brightness that, compared to wired models, contributes to inferior image quality. The Nebula Capsule II came out on top as far as portable device image quality goes (though it's also considerably more expensive), with the Optoma LV130 and the ViewSonic M1 Portable following closely behind. All three models keep things looking clear despite less-than-HD resolutions and produce fairly vivid colors when used in very dark environments.
Ease of Use
The hardest part of using a projector is getting its picture square on the screen and focused. 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 likely only have to go through this process once, which means the remote control interface 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. We also took into account the portability of each device.
The Epson Home Cinema 2250 has a highly intuitive interface and verticle lens shift, and automatic keystoning and focusing make this device extremely easy to use. We wish this model came with a bag for better portability and that the buttons on the remote were backlight, but this projector is still among our favorites for usability.
We also 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.
Another leading scorer in this metric is another portable pico model, the Viewsonic M1 Portable. This device offers automatic keystone correction and a built-in stand that makes 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. Considering its lightning-fast setup, this feels like only a minor annoyance.
Just behind our top performers are the Epson Pro EX9240 and BenQ HT2150ST. The Epson Pro is a little more complicated and less intuitive than the aforementioned top performers. The horizontal and vertical keystone correction is great, and it comes with a good zoom range; however, the projected interface is extremely confusing. That said, this device gains back some points for portability, not because of its size, but because of the nifty carry bag that it comes with.
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 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, the brightness we measured was lower than the manufacturers' claim.
The Epson Pro EX9240 comes in hot with a measured brightness of 7400 lumens. This almost seems over the top, but if you are pitching an idea to important executives, you'll be happy that they can see the data you've put together to back up your pitch — even in a well-lit conference room. This projector is by far our brightest model as it exceeded the advertised brightness of 4000 lumens by almost double.
The Epson models really take the cake in the brightness contest as the Home Cinema 2250 and the VS250 coming in as the next brightest models. The Home Cinema offers a measured brightness of 3166 lumens, which again exceeds its advertised brightness, while the VS250 produced a measured 2847 lumens. 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. The VS250 offers 2701 lumens which is closely matched by some of its competitors but the image offered is noticeably crisper by those with a higher maximum resolution.
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 makes its text look much less fuzzy than that of the Epson VS250.
After the top scorers, there is a steep dropoff for this metric. We measured all of the remaining 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.
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. Bottom line is that all of these models are only suited for use in dark rooms or possibly outside on a dark night.
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 actually 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 fan noise test produced a wide spread of scores. The BenQ HT2150ST was the clear winner with a fan that quietly purred along like an inconspicuous cat. The noise remained docile throughout our testing, even when we pushed the lamp to get as hot as possible.
The Nebula Capsule II is another top performer. While these small devices often emit a higher frequency noise, the Capsule remained 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 simply doesn't have to work as hard.
While we had some outliers, the other models generally fell into the mid-range of our fan noise testing. They each have subtle differences, but in general, were not loud enough to be particularly grating. All were loud enough to be noticed occasionally, but most people won't be bothered by the fans. 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 Optoma LV130 has a fan that is generally not noticeable except during extended use or exceptionally bright scenes. The Epson Pro EX9240 and the Epson Home Cinema 2250 are somewhat loud but emit a low hum that is not too irritating.
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 projectors we tested.
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. 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.
— Michelle Powell, Max Mutter, Hayley Thomas, and Steven Tata