For a long time, only two types of people would have cared about what makes the best home theater projector: A/V nerds (waves) with home theater setups that comprised an unhealthy percentage of their incomes, and college guys who want something for $500 that’ll turn an entire wall into a FIFA game (waves again from the past). For most people, it’s hard to beat how good televisions have gotten in the past few years; there are $1,000 televisions that are 65” inches large and look pretty damn good. How much bigger of a screen do you really need, anyway?
The answer: there is no limit. (Okay, the limit is the size of your wall.) Projectors have always had one crucial advantage—size—and now, thanks to some nice technological developments and 4K streaming, that size is now even better utilized. If you can’t always tell the difference between 1080p and 4K on a 50” television, you definitely will on a 100” screen. For those having trouble picturing it, that’s about as wide as Shaquille O’Neal is tall. It’s huge. And it’s glorious. Another big advantage: if you buy a pulldown screen, you don’t need to have a gigantic black box in your living room at all times. Now, you get the best of both worlds: a massive screen when you’re hunkered down to watch a movie, and one of those cool living rooms that inexplicably has no television when you’re not. (Side note: don’t trust anyone with a living room that doesn’t have a screen in it.)
Below, our favorite projectors to ramp your paltry “movie night” up a notch, whether you’ve got a dedicated viewing room or an undecorated white wall.
Best Overall Home Theater Projector: BenQ HT2050A
For under $1,000, you’d be hard-pressed to find a home theater projector as impressive as the BenQ HT2050A. The image resolution only goes so far as 1080p, and while that’s not the crispest, it’s still on par with some pretty solid TV picks. With this dual HDMI-input projector, you’ll get excellent contrast and sharp images in an easy-to-set-up package. The HT2050A has vertical lens shift assist, which in basic terms, means you can adjust the lens up and down without compromising image quality—this helps with setting up because you won’t be forced to project your image on top of anything that’s not the wall. For longevity, the micromirrors of DLP chip combined with the almost fully sealed DLP engine ensure the projector performs at its peak year after year without loss of picture quality. Its built-in speakers can be dialed in for whatever media you’re consuming whether you want to feel like you’re in the middle of a sports arena or amid the action of a blockbuster film.
Best Upgrade Home Theater Projector: Optoma CinemaX P2
At a quick glance, the Optoma CinemaX P2 doesn’t look like your typical projector. First off, there’s no bulging lens, and that makes this one of the sleekest home projectors on the market. Looks aside, though, the picture that the CinemaX P2 projects is some of the best around. Vivid 4K UHD pictures are just that: vivid. For those tight on space but still in need of maximum viewing pleasure, this is also an ultra-short throw projector, which means you don’t need to be far from the screen to get the full picture. Its contrast ratio—2,000,000-to-one—is impressive for its ability to make colors feel more dynamic: darks are darker and lights seem lighter. The CinemaX P2 has two inputs for HDMI 2.0, and there’s also the option for Bluetooth connectivity. HDR, or high dynamic range, is important for picture quality, so the CinemaX P2’s HDR10 compatibility means the color gamut looks as good as possible. Ambient light is no match for the projector because it has an ambient light rejection screen, which blocks reflections. Aside from the image quality, the CinemaX P2 boasts a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundbar, which is a far cry from Dolby Atmos, but still some of the best audio quality packed into a home theater projector.
Best Portable Home Theater Projector: Anker Nebula Capsule
The Nebula Capsule will not blow your mind with brightness, blacks, or image quality, which is less than 720p. But it will blow your mind with how damn fun and portable it is. This portable projector has a four-hour battery life, which will last you the entire Return of the King extended edition, a built-in speaker, and it’s about the size of a Coke can. What it lacks in detail and color rendition, it makes up in how easy it is to set up wherever you are (though we’d suggest using an aux cord and connecting it with a portable speaker). Also, you control the Nebula through an app so there’s no need to fumble with a remote—we know you always have your phone on you anyway. Let’s face it: projectors are a lot of fun because they turn anything into a watching experience. You could host a movie night outside on a bed sheet and thrill a crowd. You could project it against the wall in front of your bed and instantly upgrade your laptop streaming of Friends (or whatever your favorite TV show is). You could get stoned and watch Moana on it, which is what another editor did when I gave it to them to check out. The Capsule makes all these things happen without costing a fortune and without a single wire.
Best 4K Home Theater Projector: Epson Home Cinema 5050UB
If you’re down to drop some serious dough on a home theater projector, this is the one to get. It’s like taking a movie-theater quality projector and setting it up at home, so the big screen becomes the at-home screen. For its price range, the 5050UB’s 2,600 lumens are top notch, providing an impressive brightness you’d find in even pricier options. Its 4K resolution far exceeds the crisp quality of a projector that taps out at 1080p, and it’s something that any cinephile or aspiring cinephile will drool over. To combat dreaded rainbowing, in which flashes of color will appear around an image, the 5050UB uses 3LCD technology for a better picture. The 5050UB’s motorized lens will automatically adjust the projection to fit your screen size, making setup a breeze even for someone who’s just getting into the home theater projection game.
Best Home Theater Projector for Gaming: Optoma UHD38
When it comes to a good home theater projector for gaming, two things are important: picture quality and speed. Then again, those are pretty much important for any good home theater projector. This gaming projector from Optoma features 4,000-lumens brightness that makes your video game pop off the screen. Crystal-clear images make for the best scenario to get a new high score or see enemies far in the distance. Games run with practically no blur thanks to this projector’s ultra-low input lag of 4.2 milliseconds. If you’re hoping to play like a professional esports gamer, kick the 4K projector down to a lower resolution for a 240Hz refresh rate. And as much as we’ll hype this projector up for being exceptionally good for gaming, it’s also excellent for streaming your favorite films.
Best Home Theater Projector on Amazon: Auking Mini Projector
With nearly 13,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, this budget home theater projector is far from the worst thing you could buy on the e-tailer. Auking’s mini projector has a 2,000-to-1 contrast ratio and supports 1080p resolution, whether you’re screen sharing from your phone or using it to play a game. Its LED lamp has a life span of 55,000 hours, and it can project an image size between 32 inches and 170 inches. Your favorite auteur might not think this is the best way to view their films, but it’s a great little gadget to have for the occasional family movie night.
Best Affordable Home Theater Projector: YABER Y30 Native projector
This shockingly affordable home projector supports 4K picture quality. Yes, you can get 4K picture quality for a little over $200. The Y30 is impressively bright, and many reviewers note that the picture quality, which is solid, is still viewable on a sunny day. It has horizontal and vertical keystone correction, and it’s easy to get this thing set up in any home or outdoor space. The budget projector features some impressive specs like 9,500 lumens of brightness and a contrast ratio of 10,000-to-one. Home entertainment has never been more approachable (or affordable).