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Best Projectors: A Buyers Guide

We’ve found five TV projectors to bring the immersive big-screen experience to your home theater or gaming setup—for the same price as a good smart TV.

Best overall

Optoma Cinemax P2 Smart 4K Laser Projector

Price: $3,299.00
Brightness: 3,000 lumens
Screen size: 120"
Resolution: 4K w/ HDR
Speaker: Built-in 40W soundbar

Best for streaming

Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 Smart Streaming Laser Projector

Price: $899.00
Brightness: 1,000 lumens
Screen size: 30–150"
Resolution: 4K w/ HDR
Speaker: Yamaha audio (2x5W)

Best for gaming

BENQ TK850 True 4K HDR-PRO Projector

Price: $1,499.00
Brightness: 3,000 lumens
Screen size: 60"–120"
Resolution: True 4K w/ HDR-PRO
Speaker: 10W

Best mini projector

Anker Nebula Capsule Max

Price: $469.99
Brightness: 260–480 lumens
Screen size: up to 100"
Resolution: 720p
Speaker: 8W

Best under $100

DBPOWER RD-820 Mini Projector

Price: $84.98
Brightness: 5,500 lumens
Screen size: 40"–200"
Resolution: 720p native (1080p supported)
Speaker: 3W

* Amazon.com Prices (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

Have you heard about the giant screen sizes and near-TV image quality you can get with projection TV? We’ve been researching and testing projectors just so we can tell you about the good ones.

Our five recommendations include the best overall and the best for streaming, gaming, and portability. And, for our peeps on a budget, we even tested an entry-level projector that costs less than 100 bucks.

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Compare top TV projectors

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ProjectorPrice*BrightnessScreen sizeResolutionContrast ratio
Best overall
Optoma Cinemax P2 Smart 4K Laser Projector
$3,299.003,000 lumens120"4K w/ HDR2,000,000:1
Best for streaming
Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 Smart Streaming Laser Projector
$899.991,000 lumens30”–150”4K w/ HDR200,000:1
Best for gaming
BENQ TK850 True 4K HDR-PRO Projector
$1,499.993,000 lumens60”–120”True 4K w/ HDR-PRO30,000:1
Best mini projector
Anker Nebula Capsule Max
$469.99260–480 lumens40”–100“720p (1080p support)600:1
Best under $100
DBPOWER RD-820 Mini Projector
$84.985,500 lumens40”–200”1080p4,000:1

* Amazon.com Prices (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

TV projectors come in a spectrum of sizes and specifications. You can go all out with a top-notch unit like the pricey but loaded Optoma Cinemax P2 or start at the bottom with the affordable but basic DBPOWER RD-820.

Or you can go for something in the middle. The Epson EpiqVision offers tons of streaming functionality for less than $1,000. Gamers will find lots to love with the BENQ TK850, which is also feature-rich. And the nomadic TV lover will enjoy the portability of the Anker Nebula Capsule Max.

Let’s zoom in for more detail on our projector picks.

Best overall: Optoma Cinemax P2 Smart 4K Laser Projector

Type: DLP (laser)
Price: $3,299.00*
Brightness: 3,000 lumens
Screen size: 120”
Resolution: 4K w/ HDR10
Speaker: Built-in 40W soundbar

* Amazon.com Price; $3,299.00 (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

Pros

  • Ultra short throw distance
  • Autofocus
  • Built-in soundbar w/ Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Smart home compatibility

Cons

  • High price
  • Large size and weight (15 x 22.1 x 5.1 inches, 24 lbs.)

Everything about the Optoma Cinemax P2 screams lux. Image-wise, it has 4K HDR resolution, a mind-boggling 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, a 120-inch screen with an ultra short throw distance of 14.5 inches (usually we’re talking 10–16 feet), autofocus, and a bright, reliable laser light source.

The audio is just as good, with a built-in, 40-watt soundbar with Dolby Digital 2.0 for awesome home theater sound.

Of course, there’s more to the Cinemax P2. It has smart-home compatibility (Alexa, Google, IFTTT), a gaming mode, and super easy setup.

And if you do decide to throw $3,299.00 at this fantasy projector, it has a 2-year parts-and-labor warranty and a 5-year/12,000-hour light source warranty. So you can buy with confidence. We’re drooling here.

View Optoma Cinemax P2

Best for streaming: Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 Smart Streaming Laser Projector

Type: 3LCD (Laser)
Price: $899.00*
Brightness: 1,000 lumens
Screen size: 30″–150”
Resolution: 1080p w/ HDR
Speaker: Yamaha audio (2x5W)

* Amazon.com Price; $899.00 (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

Pros

  • Built-in Android TV for streaming and Chromecast for casting
  • Bluetooth (use as standalone speaker)
  • Autofocus w/ auto keystone correction (horizontal and vertical)
  • Small size (6.9 x 6.9 x 5.0 inches)
  • Dual HDMI ports, USB-A

Cons

  • Low brightness
  • Long throw distance
  • No 4K
  • Lagging issue

With built-in Android TV, Chromecast compatibility, and Bluetooth, the EpiqVision is ready to stream and/or cast anything you fancy—just not in 4K. The best resolution you can expect from this unit is 1080p with HDR and a 200,000:1 contrast ratio—but that’s gonna look pretty crisp and clear to most people.

If you want the full 150-inch picture, the projector should be at least 12.5 feet away from the screen, which probably means mounting it on the ceiling (hassle alert!). But you could put the EpiqVision on your coffee table and still get a nice, big 75-inch image at half the distance.

Audio-wise, the EpiqVision is no slouch. Epson partnered with Yamaha for the unit’s two built-in, audiophile-quality, 5-watt speakers with Dolby Audio. And with Bluetooth, you can even use your projector as a standalone speaker.

A drawback, though, is the EpiqVision’s low brightness (1,000 lumens), which requires a fairly dark room—or you won’t be able to see the picture too well. But if you already have a dark home theater room, it shouldn’t be a problem.

View EpiqVision Mini EF12

Pro tip: Many projectors have unsatisfying built-in speakers, but they provide 3.5mm audio jacks so you can use external audio like soundbars and surround sound systems. Check out our guide to the Best TV Sound Systems for more information.

Best for gaming: BENQ TK850 True 4K HDR-PRO Projector

Type: DLP (lamp)
Price: $1,499.00*
Brightness: 3,000 lumens
Screen size: 40″–200”
Resolution: True 4K w/ HDR-PRO
Speaker: 10W

* Amazon.com Price; $1,499.00 (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

Pros

  • Autofocus
  • Immersive sound modes for gaming, music, sports, cinema
  • 8ms response
  • 120 Hz refresh rate
  • Many ports: HDMI, USB-A, USB mini, audio out, and more

Cons

  • Potential for harsh brightness in darker rooms
  • Long throw distance

The TK850 from BENQ is a solid deal at $1,499.99, with all the features gamers want: 4K with HDR PRO, a respectable 30,000:1 contrast ratio, and up to a 200-inch screen for gorgeous definition—plus an 8ms response and 120 Hz refresh rate to thwart motion blur and lag while you’re capping enemies in Call of Duty: Warzone.

And, for even more immersion, the TK850 has immersive audio modes for gaming (and cinema, and sports, and music) with a decent 10-watt speaker.

The 3,000 lumens brightness might be a little too much for really dark rooms, but we don’t see that being a huge problem for most gamers.

Throw distance, however, might be a pain. For the full 200-inch image, the TK850 has to be about 16 feet away from the screen. That means you might run into space problems and have to compromise on screen size—but there’s a lot of wiggle room between 100 inches and 200 inches.

Overall, we think most gamers will be thrilled with this one.

View BENQ TK850

Best mini projector: Anker Nebula Capsule Max

Type: DLP
Price: $469.99*
Brightness: 260–480 lumens
Screen size: 40″–100”
Resolution: 720p
Speaker: 8W

* Amazon.com Price; $469.99 (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

Pros

  • Small size
  • Android 8.1 (integrated streaming apps)
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
  • 1-second autofocus w/ auto keystone correction
  • HDMI and USB-A ports

Cons

  • Low brightness
  • Internet requirement for streaming
  • No Chromecast support
  • Short battery life

The Anker Nebula Capsule Max is small (about the size of a Bluetooth speaker) and fits on a tripod. That means you can put it almost anywhere in your living room or home theater without worrying about mounting it to a ceiling or wall. And you can easily take it to your buddy’s house.

However, the Capsule Max does require an internet connection for streaming (via Android 8.1) and, most importantly, a very dark room due to its exceptionally low brightness rating (200 ANSI lumens, or 260–480 lumens).

Those two requirements do affect the Capsule Max’s portability, but you can probably still use it outdoors if it’s dark enough—like in the deep, dark woods where there’s no internet (shriiiiiiiek!). You’ll just need to extinguish your campfire. And, of course, come prepared with a USB flash drive loaded with movies and shows.

Don’t expect a super stunning picture, though. The Capsule Max is only 720p HD—which is actually pretty great for a mini projector—and has only a 600:1 contrast ratio1. But fine detail isn’t necessarily the point with the Capsule Max, which is about versatility and easy setup.

View Anker Nebula Capsule Max

Best under $100: DBPOWER RD-820 Mini Projector

Type: LCD (LED)
Price: $84.98*
Brightness: 5,500 lumens
Screen size: 40″–200”
Resolution: 720p (support for 1080p)
Speaker: 3W

* Amazon.com Price; $84.98 (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

Pros

  • Low price
  • Portability
  • TV stick and Chromecast compatibility
  • 120 Hz refresh rate
  • 2x USB 2.0, HDMI, VGA, AV, audio out

Cons

  • Long throw distance
  • Weak speaker
  • High brightness (bad for dark rooms)

If a projector that costs less than $100 seems too good to be true, it might be. But so far, the DBPOWER RD-820 is kind of awesome for the money.

The RD-820 is compact, lightweight, bright, projects up to a 200-inch image (albeit from a fairly long distance) with a decent 3800:1 contrast ratio. The speaker kinda sucks, though—so we recommend using headphones or external speakers.

It’s also really easy to set up the RD-820. Even with manual focus and keystone correction (a means to tilt the lens up or down), it took only a few minutes to plug in, focus, and start watching videos on YouTube.

If you’re new to projection TV, this is a good training-wheels unit. At least until you can afford something bigger, like that sweet, sweet Optoma Cinemax P2.

View DBPOWER RD-820

What to look for in a projector

If, after peeping our picks, you still want to shop for a projector yourself, we get it. You’ve gotta find the right one for you.

Here are some key things to remember when you’re shopping for a projector.

Setup

Projectors aren’t TVs—you can’t expect a perfect picture just by powering them on. You’ll have to find the perfect spot that gives you the best image and viewing angle, which may require ceiling or wall mounting. And if your unit lacks autofocus, you’ll spend some time fiddling with manual settings before you can settle onto the couch.

Audio

Most projectors come with internal speakers. Some even have a built-in soundbar. If you’re looking for big sound to match that big screen, choose a projector with a robust internal speaker. Or splurge on a soundbar or surround-sound system you can hook up to it.

Image quality

A number of factors affect image quality. There’s a lot of info coming up—but don’t be intimidated; it’s technical, but it’s also not rocket science.

Projector type

Digital Light Processing (DLP): DLP projectors combine a DLP chip made up of tiny mirrors with a spinning color wheel that applies color to the images from the chip. The image produced is then fed through a lens and onto the screen.

DLP projectors require less maintenance than other projector types because the DLP chips are sealed against dust and debris that can ruin the image. However, they can be prone to giving off a rainbow effect, where bright flashes of color appear across the screen under certain circumstances.

Liquid Crystal Processing (LCD): LCD projectors use tiny LCD screens similar to what you would find on other electronic devices that produce images. These images are then fed through a lens and projected onto the screen.

LCD projectors may require a bit more maintenance than DLP, since the LCD screens can burn out, requiring replacement. However, these projectors tend to be less expensive.

There are also three different light sources commonly used to power projectors:

  • Lamps are basic, reasonably bright, inexpensive light bulbs. They last thousands of hours—but not as long as LEDs and lasers.
  • LEDs last much longer, pull less power, and require less maintenance than lamps—but they’re not as bright as lamps or lasers.
  • Lasers produce a very bright, high-contrast image, never burn out, and are very energy efficient—but they’re more expensive.

Screen size and throw distance

A TV projector lets you adjust your image from relatively small (32 inches) to something truly spectacular (300 inches). But the size of your image depends on throw distance, which depends on how much space you have where you’re using your projector.

Some projectors have to be 15–30 feet away from the screen to get those awesome screen sizes. That means you’ll need to buy a ceiling mount and long cables to run inside your ceiling and walls.

But nowadays, short-throw and ultra-short throw projectors can sit only inches from the projection surface. These are expensive but worth it.

Screens vs. walls

While you can project onto a wall, a screen’s materials (white blackout cloth, polyester, plastic, PVC, etc.) and colors (white for dark rooms, gray for brighter rooms) are meant to give you the best possible image. Screens also have a property called gain, which makes your picture brighter. A screen with a gain rating of 2.0 nearly doubles the brightness of a projected image.

Walls can work, but if they’re not white or gray, it’ll affect your picture (Avatar’s beautiful blues would look barfy green projected onto a beige wall). Also, walls aren’t perfectly smooth—even small blemishes can cause image distortion.

So screens are superior. They’re also surprisingly affordable and diverse. Dig these options.

CableTV.com uses paid Amazon links.

Brightness

Brightness is measured in lumens. The lower a lumen rating, the more darkness you’ll need to see the picture, so you’ll want to use the projector in a room with very little ambient light, like a basement or home theater.

That said, brighter is not necessarily better when it comes to projectors. In a dark room, too much brightness can be harsh. It can also wash out the shadows and fine details of scenes. So use projectors with higher lumen ratings in brighter rooms.

Resolution

Just like with TVs, projectors project at a certain resolution. You’ll find standard-definition (720p SD), high-definition (1080p HD), and 4K ultrahigh definition projectors. We recommend 4K for the serious home theater buff, HD for the average user, and SD for people who aren’t into detail.

Contrast ratio

Contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of a picture. A higher contrast ratio is always better—it makes the image look more vibrant and dynamic. Shoot for a ratio of at least 3,000:1.

Intended use

There are three general categories of projectors:

  • Home entertainment projectors tend to be dimmer with higher contrast ratios and resolution—and best for home use.
  • Business projectors are usually brighter and more portable to suit a variety of environments.
  • Pico projectors are basically pocket-sized projectors. These are great for off-site meetings, traveling, and even camping.

Connectivity

An HDMI cable is generally the way to go with projectors. It delivers a digital signal, so it should eliminate a lot of issues, like audio/video synchronization, that can plague analog connections. Some even connect wirelessly.

Most newer projectors come with one to two HDMI ports, a USB port, and an audio out jack. If you have devices that connect via component video, composite video, VGA, or other cables, make sure the projector you buy has the ports you need.

Maintenance

Projectors require regular maintenance to function properly. Dust can creep into the internals and, depending on the type of projector, can cause issues with the image. Lamps can burn out over time, with standard bulbs lasting 3,000–5,000 hours. LEDs can last up to 20,000 hours, and lasers never burn out.

Other maintenance includes cleaning air vents, filters, lenses, and mirrors so they stay shiny. It’s nothing too major, but it does tend to be more than a TV would require, so remember that.

Final take

Yes, that was a lot of information to take in—but there’s a lot to learn when it comes to projectors. It’s worth it, though, since projector technology is quickly catching up to TV tech. And when projectors can match TV image quality at such massive screen sizes, you may never watch TV on a TV again.

Our methodology

CableTV.com spent dozens upon dozens of hours researching and testing TV projectors in order to bring you this guide. We’ll spend even more time digging into projector tech in order to keep you updated on the latest developments and products.

Best TV projectors FAQ

What is a good lumens rating for a projector?

In dark rooms you should be fine with a lumens rating under 2,000. If your home theater is on an upper floor where daylight sneaks in around your window coverings, go for 3,000–5,500 lumens.

What is the best projector for home use?

The Optoma Cinemax P2 is our best overall projector. It’s expensive ($3,299.99*), but check these specs to see why it’s worth the money.

  • 4K resolution with HDR10
  • 3,000 lumens
  • Laser light source
  • 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio
  • Ultra short throw distance
  • 120″ screen size
  • Autofocus and keystone correction
  • Built-in 40-watt soundbar
  • Smart home compatibility
  • Bluetooth

* Amazon.com Price; $3,299.00 (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

What is a good projector cable?

An HDMI cable is what you want to use with your projector. If your unit didn’t come with one (it should’ve), or you need a longer one, you can pick one up on Amazon.

CableTV.com uses paid Amazon links.

What is a good contrast ratio for a projector?

The higher the contrast ratio on your projector, the better—but we recommend at least 3,000:1.

What is the best budget projector?

It depends on how much you have to spend and how you intend to use the projector. If you’re a projection TV noob, the DBPOWER RD-820 ($84.98* on Amazon) is a low-risk, basic introduction. But if you know enough about projectors, you can get the Anker Nebula Capsule Max ($469.99* on Amazon).

* Amazon.com Prices (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

What is the best projector for Apple TV 4K?

Any projector that supports 4K resolution will work. Try the BENQ TK850 True 4K HDR-PRO Projector ($899.99*). It has true 4K with HDR-PRO and a 30,000:1 contrast ratio so you can watch The Mosquito Coast in rich detail.

* Amazon.com Price; $1,499.00 (as of 5/20/21 12:10 MST). Read full disclaimer.

ENDNOTE

ProjectorCentral.com, “Projector Throw Distance Calculator,” Accessed April 30, 2021.

DISCLAIMER

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. CableTV.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

CERTAIN CONTENT THAT APPEARS ON THIS SITE COMES FROM AMAZON. THIS CONTENT IS PROVIDED ‘AS IS’ AND IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE OR REMOVAL AT ANY TIME.

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