Getting ready for your next Netflix binge? We bought 9 of the most highly regarded projectors for some side-by-side testing so that you can start building your home theater. Projectors have been getting cheaper and cheaper, which makes having a 100" screen in your home more and more accessible. However, projectors also carry heaps of confusing jargon and marketing claims. We tested all of our projectors in every situation, from perfectly dark home theaters to brightly lit conference rooms, to cut through the confusion and find the best model for every use and budget.
The Best Projectors of 2018
Analysis and Award Winners
Our latest round of testing included the new BenQ HT1070A, the new ViewSonic PA503W, and the updated Epson Pro EX9220. The Epson lived up to its predecessor's reputation, retaining our Top Pick for Business award. The BenQ also impressed with the amount of home cinema tailored performance it offers at a relatively low price.
Best Overall Home Cinema Projector
If you're looking for a theater experience at home, the BenQ HT2050A should be at the top of your list. This projector produced vibrant colors and a crystal clear picture in our testing, handling both brightly lit and dark scenes with aplomb. It also has the quietest fan of all the models we tested, so it won't ruin the building tension in those quiet moments right before the killer jumps out of the shadows. The vertical lens shift, a feature seldom seen on sub-$1000 models, adds some helpful room for error during installation.
The only downside of the HT2050A is its lack of brightness. This isn't an issue for a darkened home theater, but it leaves everything looking dim once you turn the lights back on. If you're looking for HD quality that can handle bright lights, we'd suggest the Epson 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. Listing for $600 and generally selling more in the $500 range, 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 at least $600 on a projector to get high-definition resolution. The good news is that most powerpoint style presentations have large text and graphics that don't really require great resolution. That is where the Epson VS250 shines. For less than $400 you get a model with more than enough brightness to handle a well lit conference room, enough resolution to get your point across, and a body that is small and light enough to easily move from meeting to meeting as you make your pitch.
Outside of slideshow presentations the VS250 is somewhat lackluster. Its resolution makes smaller text look fuzzy, so it's not great for Excel tutorials or displaying long lines of code. The colors also lack some vibrancy and accuracy, which can make movie watching a little less enjoyable. But as an inexpensive machine for taking your presentations on the road, it's hard to beat.
Read review: Epson VS250
Best Projector for Business Applications
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
Analysis and Test Results
A Note on the Models We Selected
Projector range from sub-$100 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 model in the $300-$1000 range, where most people looking to build a home theater or find a projector for their next presentation will likely be shopping.
Within the price range of the models we tested, there is a fairly linear relationship between price and quality. Models close to the $1000 mark like the BenQ HT2050A and the Epson EX9220 offer superior home theater and presentation quality, respectively. However, there are some outliers, like the $600 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. The ViewSonic PJD7720HD also created great colors in our testing, but it's blacks lacked some trueness. this left darker scenes looking a bit too bright, and lost some contrast in more complex lighting situations.
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.
Outside of the top three scorers in our image quality test we began to see some small issues that were not only noticeable in side by side comparisons, but in isolation as well. The Optoma HD142X, which scored a 6 out of 10, had good contrast and sharp resolution and did well keeping bright scenes looking vivid and not washed out. However, it often lent an overly reddish hue to scenes. Many landscapes had a red tint to them, and skin tones took on a blushing quality. This was more apparent with lighter skin tones, but was noticeable in darker skin tones as well.
The ViewSonic PA503W also 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 noticable 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.
The worst performer in our image quality testing was the Epson VS250, which earned a 4 out of 10. Its SVGA (800x600) resolution is great for simple powerpoint slides, but for movie watching it is decidedly less than high definition. The colors were also slightly off, with many scenes taking on an overly blue tint.
Ease of Use
If you're planning to use a projector solely for home theater purposes you'll probably set it up once and then never touch it again. In this case ease of use really boils down to the quality of the remote control interface.
If you'll constantly be bringing it to different houses for the big game, or moving it from conference room to conference room, then ease of setup becomes significant. Setup consists of aiming, usually by adjusting the length of the legs at the front of the unit, zooming and focusing the image, and adjusting for keystoning. Keystoning is the common phenomenon of images appearing trapezoidal due to the lens not being perfectly parallel to the screen. All of the models we tested could perform vertical keystone correction, and some could correct for horizontal keystoning as well. Our testing procedure involved setting up and breaking down each model a multitude of times, so we're very familiar with the each model's various setup attributes and annoyances.
All the models we tested provide a similar user experience in regards to setup and control interface, with some subtle differences that make some slightly more preferable than others. Accordingly all of our ease of use scores were tightly packed together, ranging only from 5 to 7 out of 10. The top scorer was the Editors' Choice Award winning BenQ HT2050A. Its remote had far and away the most intuitive interface. It was easy to switch between color modes and inputs. The buttons also have a red backlight that makes it easy to find the button in a dark room, but doesn't make you feel like a coal miner suddenly emerging into bright sunshine. The included vertical keystone correction and large zoom are both easy to use and make getting the image square and the correct size a breeze. It is the only model we tested that included vertical lens shift, which is a huge plus when installing a permanent mount in a home theater. The only downside of the HT2050A is its size. It is relatively bulky and heavy, and is the least portable
The Epson Home Cinema 2150 was even with the BenQ in this metric earning a score of 7 out of 8. It makes setup easy with both horizontal and vertical keystone correction, and even offers vertical lens shift. However, its remote has very small buttons that can be a bit frustrating sometimes.
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 shared remote of the Optoma HD142X and the Optoma HD27 was fairly easy to use, but its buttons were backlit so brightly that it lent a deer in the headlights feeling when used in a dark room. The Epson VS250 is easy to set up but its remote can sometimes be frustratingly unintuitive. The Epson 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 ViewSonic models we tested, the PJD7720HD and the PA503W, received the low score of 5. Both of these models lack adjustable back feet, which can be very frustrating if the surface you put the projector on doesn't happen to be perfectly level. The front leg of the PJD7720HD adjusts with a finely threaded screw. This is great for making minute adjustments, but larger adjustments require a lot of screwing and unscrewing. The PA503W gets around this issue with a larger screw thread on the front leg, but its relatively tiny remote can be annoying for those with large fingers.
In the world of projectors brighter is generally better. You can always make an overly bright image softer, but if a lamp's full capacity produces an image that is too pale it can't be made brighter. Top end brightness usually isn't an issue in a dark home cinema setting. In fact, most models have a cinema mode that dims the lamp in order to provide truer blacks and thus more vivid colors. Top end brightness becomes significant when projecting in well lit rooms, the most common scenario being a business presentation in a conference room. In this situation you want to be sure text and graphs are crisp, easy to read, and not washed out. To do this the lamp must be bright enough to ward off the miscreant photons of ambient light that like to bounce around rooms at random, fading colors and washing out text. Accordingly, most of our brightness testing involved viewing excel sheet and powerpoint presentations in a bright room. We also measured brightness using a lux meter and compared our measurements to the manufacturer claims. Across the board, the brightness we measured was lower than the manufacturer claim, particularly in the Optoma models. For the exact brightnesses, see the specifications table at the top of this page.
Brightness is one 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 and ViewSonicPJD7720HD nearly matched the brightness of the VS250 (2701 and 2720 lumens, respectively) but are noticeably crisper. If you're looking to project relatively small text in a well lit room, one of these models will be the best 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 both the Optoma HD142X and the Optoma HD27 at just about 1300 lumens, which was well below the manufacturer claims of 3200 and 3000 lumens, respectively. Ambient light exacerbated the red tint the Optoma's lend to images, leaving most skin tones looking unnaturally red. They also struggled to overcome ambient light during normal powerpoint presentations, lending a blue tint to white areas and making text and graphs look dull and washed out. The BenQ HT2050 had similar issues, but to a greater degree. It left white areas looking very blue, and text and graphs looking quite faded. While these dimmer models have some noticeable color distortion when used in a bright room, none of them look terrible. We've used the dimmest model, the BenQ HT2050A, in our office meetings and found it passable.
The bulbs required to create such vivid images produce heat. A lot of heat. Borderline cook an egg heat. A cooling fan is essential to keep this heat at bay, but it can also become a metaphorical buzzing mosquito that won't go away. If the whir of the fan is noticeable every time a movie gets quiet it can pull you out of the immersive experience you're looking to create. Perhaps more importantly, an audible drone can pull clients out of the flow of your presentation, meaning you won't close the deal and will never be able to afford that Ferrari. To test this we let all of the lamps get really hot and then assigned scores based on the most annoying volume achieved, and how often they reached that volume.
The fan noise test produced the widest spread of scores in any metric, ranging from 2 to 9. The Editors' Choice award-winning BenQ HT2050A was the clear winner, picking up the top score of 9. Its fan quietly purred along like an inconspicuous cat. Even when we pushed the lamp to get as hot as possible the fan noise remained docile. 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.
The ViewSonic PA503W earned a 4 out of 10. Its fan is quite noticable, especally during presentation that gneerally use slides with bright white backgrounds. We still feel you can conduct a meeting without the fan disruoting anything, but you're definitely going to notice it.
The Worst performer in our fan noise testing was the ViewSonic PJD7720HD, earning a score of 2 out of 10. After being on for a few minutes, its fan emitted a high pitched, shrill noise that none of our testers could block out. It didn't completely ruin the movie we were watching, but during quiet dialogue scenes we found ourselves instinctively swatting at non-existant mosquitoes.
A Note on Input Lag
Input lag is the amount of time between a signal being generated and the result being projected on the screen. This doesn't matter for movie viewing, but can be critical for video games. If Mario doesn't jump when you tell him to, then Princess Peach will never be rescued. We measured input lag using a dedicated meter and found very small differences between models. To determine if these differences were functionally significant we brought a bunch of avid gamers into our testing room and had them play their favorite games. Nobody was able to notice a difference between any of the models we tested. So those interested in gaming don't need to worry about input lag.
A Note on 3D Quality
Though watching 3D movies at home hasn't taken off the way many people thought it would, most modern projectors are capable of producing 3D images (with the requisite input sources and glasses). We tested all of our modes's 3D capabilites, and they all produced very similar images. This is largely because 3D requires a specific image mode, preventing any color adjustments to aget a better picture. Therefore we didn't include 3D quality in our overall scoring of these machines.
Projectors are complex products with long lists of specifications and thick user manuals. However, by boiling their essence down to a few key performance attributes, it is possible to make clear, side by side comparisons. We hope our testing results have guided you to your ideal model.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.