Written By
Published Mar. 21, 2022

The best cheap projectors deliver a crisp, bold image without emptying your wallet. With image sizes often topping 100 inches, projectors turn a night home with Netflix into immersive, movie-theater experiences—only without the lines, sticky floors, or terrible sight-lines. They fit into spaces that don’t typically have room for large TVs and many are portable enough to easily take on business trips or vacations. A variety of connectors—including HDMI, USB, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth—make it convenient to pull your programming from set-top streaming boxes, computers, NAS Servers, or your smartphone. The best part? Each of the ones we’ve selected below costs well under $800.

While inexpensive projectors often deliver a great picture, you should expect to make a few sacrifices in regards to features and specs. For instance, drop any notion of watching full, 4K movies. Many inexpensive projectors can’t match the brightness of their higher-end cousins, and that limits the size of the projected image. And in some of the pocket-size models, you might see a drop off in color quality and contrast. 

So how do you separate quality from junk? How do you strike a balance between affordability and quality? We’ve put together a list of five of the best cheap projectors to help you upgrade your entertainment system while leaving money left over for the popcorn and soda. 

How we chose the best cheap projectors

When considering the best cheap projectors to include in our recommendations, we relied on our own experience and also consulted with professionals in the TV and AV worlds to find out which ones they prefer. We read trade journals and websites and looked through user impressions to see what typical real-world experiences were like. We narrowed our selection of projectors down to 10, focusing first and foremost on image quality versus price. Everything had to fall under $800 to constitute “cheap,” which, admittedly, is a relative term in the world of home theater projectors. We looked at important specs including brightness, color, and contrast, and also what kind of technology was used to generate the image. Size and weight played a role, particularly in units meant to be portable.

Things to consider before buying one of the best cheap projectors

Brightness

Projector brightness is measured in lumens, which describe how much light the unit creates. The more light, the bigger and brighter the picture. It also determines how dark your room needs to be to get the best performance out of the projector. High-end projectors might have a brightness of 2,000 lumens or more; budget machines might deliver anywhere from less than 100 to 2,200 lumens. That said, with the exception of some of the mini projectors, even budget picks among the best cheap projectors can deliver a wonderful image that’s more than 100 inches from corner to corner. It’s worth noting that there’s no standard across manufacturing for how lumens are measured, so often a manufacturer’s number won’t match independent testing. However, the numbers do serve to help compare the relative brightness between models. 

Light source

Projectors splash movies on a wall by focusing a light source onto a chip that creates an image. Light sources come in three varieties: Lasers, LEDs, and Ultra High Pressure (UHP) lamps. UHPs are basically high-end light bulbs. They generate a lot of light but, over time, can burn out—and replacements are more expensive than the bulb hanging in your hallway. LEDs and lasers are more efficient than UHPs, but the cost of including them in a unit goes up without a huge change in performance. You’re unlikely to find them in budget-oriented projectors. Don’t worry, though—UHPs can last years before you’ll need a new one.

Chip

As mentioned above, projectors use imaging chips to create a picture, and there are three types of them: DLP, LCD, and LCoS. DLP chips find a home in units at all different price points and deliver average contrast and nice color. LCD chips can be found on budget to mid-range projectors and often have better color than DLP projectors, but contrast ratios sometimes suffer. Lastly, LCoS chips are used in mid-range to high-end projectors; they tend to deliver the best picture quality overall but, not surprisingly, cost more and don’t show up in budget units. 

One last thing to know about chips: Single-DLP projectors, which make up a majority of budget-priced units, sometimes suffer from “the rainbow effect.” This is when bright objects on the screen leave very quick, multicolored pixel trails behind them. With thousands upon thousands of single-DLP projectors sold, it’s obvious that most people don’t even notice them—or simply aren’t bothered. But if you have an opportunity to test out a single-DLP projector at a store, consider doing so in order to gauge how you feel about the rainbow effect. 

Contrast ratio

Part of what makes a projected image look good is its contrast ratio, or the difference between the black and white output. This is usually expressed as a number representing black followed by a number representing white, with each separated by a colon. So, for instance, something like 15,000:1. 

The greater the difference between black and white, the more color variation the projector can display. An image from a projector with an 18,000:1 contrast ratio will, in most cases, look better than one with a 3,500:1 contrast ratio, with bolder, more true-to-life colors and richer blacks. 

Remember, though, contrast isn’t the only factor in determining picture quality, so always look at the number in the context of all the unit’s specs.  

What’s your viewpoint?

Before choosing one of the best cheap projectors, think about where you’ll use it. Is this your main TV? Is it going in a kid’s playroom? Will you take it on vacation with you? Or use it outside? If it’s going into your home, how big is the room that’ll house it—can you set it far enough back from a wall to get the screen size you want, or will you need to focus on a projector designed for short-throws? These are all questions you need to ask and answer before making a purchase or else you could easily end up with a projector that doesn’t deliver the performance specs you need. 

The best cheap projectors: Reviews & Recommendations

Best home theater projector: BenQ HT2050A

Why it made the cut: This HD projector competes against much more expensive units thanks to high contrast and natural-looking colors, striking the perfect balance between price and performance.

Specs

  • Product Dimensions (WxDxH): 15 x 11 x 5 inches
  • Weight: 8 pounds
  • Image Source: Single-DLP
  • Lumens: 2,200

Pros

  • Excellent image quality
  • Lens shift
  • 3D Compatible

Cons

  • No support for HDR video
  • Can’t play 4K movies

The BenQ HT2050A performs above its weight class by delivering a gorgeous picture that’s up to 300 inches diagonally. It also has lens-shift, a feature rarely found on DLP projectors that allows you to adjust the image up or down without moving the projector itself. In addition, there’s a convenient 1.3x zoom.

The 15,000:1 contrast ratio and natural colors create a strong, cinema-like 1080p image, and you only need to set the projector back 8 feet for a 100-inch screen. The excellent color accuracy is achieved by using an RGBRGB (red-green-blue-red-green-blue) color wheel that doesn’t wash out an image and isn’t commonly found on budget projectors. The company claims the bulb outputs 2,200 lumens, but some tests chart it at 1,600. Either way, it’s still bright enough to deliver a bold picture without the need for blackout curtains. 

The HT2050A has inputs for HDMI and USB that can drive a streaming stick without external power. It also sports analog audio and video inputs for anyone using older stereo equipment or—for those who still have them—VHS players.

You won’t be able to get a 4K image out of the HT2050A, and some reviewers have reported seeing the rainbow effect inherent to single-DLP projectors, but this is still one of the best projectors you can buy at this price point.

Best outdoor theater projector: Epson Home Cinema 1080

Why it made the cut: This bright projector delivers an image even in spaces filled with ambient light, making it the best cheap projector for outdoor use no matter how much light pollution is in your neighborhood. 

Specs

  • Product Dimensions (WxDxH): 15 x 15 x 7.9 inches
  • Weight: 8.2 pounds
  • Image Source: LCD
  • Lumens: 3,400

Pros

  • Bright enough for outdoor use
  • Built-in Android TV module
  • 10-watt speaker

Cons

  • Not the cheapest “cheap” projector
  • Blacks could be richer and deeper

Everyone loves outdoor movie night, and Epson’s Home Cinema 2250 is bright enough to deliver even when you can’t avoid ambient light from a street, your home, or a bright, full moon. 

In Natural picture mode, this projector produces a reported 1,600 lumens, with sharp contrast and natural colors. It’s enough to watch movies without having to turn off all the lights. Set to Dynamic Picture mode, the 2250 pumps out nearly 2,400 lumens—bright enough to watch programs during the day. However, there’s a small green shift in the color so this isn’t a recommended setting if you care a lot about a movie’s cinematography. But it’s great for catching a baseball game in the afternoon with friends.

The Epson 2250 has a lens-shift function to accurately position the image on your wall and a nice 1.6x zoom to help find the perfect size screen. Because it generates its image using an LCD chip, it doesn’t suffer from the rainbow effect found on single-DLP projectors.

Best mini projector: Nebula Capsule Max

NEBULA

Check Price

Why it made the cut: The Anker Nebula Capsule Max’s small size and big sound make it our favorite mini, battery-powered projector. 

Specs:

  • Product Dimensions (WxDxH): 3.2 x 3.2 x 5.9 inches
  • Weight: 8 pounds
  • Image Source: Single-DLP
  • Lumens: 200

Pros

  • Small and portable
  • Robust 8W speaker
  • Smartphone remote app

Cons

  • Only 720p
  • No USB charging
  • Short battery life

Mini projectors by necessity trade some functionality and quality for their go-anywhere size, and none of them are perfect entertainment machines. However, the Anker Nebula Capsule Max—at just a bit larger than a soda can—does a good job of delivering a nice picture and strong audio, while still keeping the price tag low.

While the 200-lumen DLP-chip projector doesn’t sound very bright, in a dark room it still produces a 100-inch image with decent color and contrast. However, if you sit close to the screen, the larger pixels of its 720p image might stand out. The projector’s real sweet spot is around 60-80 inches—which is still a nice size for movies. Color is decent, if a little on the cool side. The 8-watt mono speaker sounds loud and clear and does a good job with both dialogue and sound effects. The projector also works as a standalone Bluetooth speaker.

Nebula claims a 4-hour battery life, but it requires switching to a battery-reserve mode that dims the bulb. In standard mode, expect to plug in the unit or else your battery could die in about an hour-and-a-half. It’d be nice if it could be charged via USB from a portable battery pack but as long as you have an outlet nearby—like in a hotel, conference room, or RV—you’ll be fine. 

The Capsule Max has an HDMI input for connecting to a streaming box or other media player, and a USB-A input for a streaming stick. You can download apps to the device via a curated version of the Android app store. One notable exception is Netflix, which can only be accessed after first loading the Nebula Connect app onto your phone (Android or iPhone). There’s also Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. 

Best gaming projector: BenQ TH671ST

Adorama

Check Price

Why it made the cut: With its short, 16.4ms input lag-time, this is a projector that responds to gamers’ commands quickly while also producing an image that’s good enough for movies and TV. 

Specs 

  • Product Dimensions (WxDxH): 15 x 11 x 5 inches
  • Weight: 8 pounds
  • Image Source: Single-DLP
  • Lumens: 2,200

Pros

  • 16.4ms input lag time
  • Short-throw lens for small rooms
  • Up to 2600 lumens
  • 3D compatible

Cons

  • At the higher end of “cheap”

Input delay times can turn even the best gamers into losing gamers, which is why the TH671ST’s zippy, 16.4ms lag (in game mode) should appeal to anyone who likes to rock a controller. What’s more, this single-DLP, HD projector produces a bright image (up to 2,600 lumens) with natural colors and high contrast. So, not only do video games look great but so do your favorite movies. 

The TH671ST supports 3D content using DLP Link glasses and while it’s not a stand-out compared to projectors optimized for 3D, it’s a nice bonus feature if that’s something you enjoy. There are also dual HDMI inputs so you can have two devices—whether they’re game systems, media players, or streaming boxes—plugged in at once. This makes switching between games and movies simple. 

If your game or media set-up doesn’t include an audio system or soundbar, the 5W onboard speaker does a nice job of filling up a room. Sound effects and music from games pack a nice punch. Combine this with the projector’s short-throw design, which can project a large image from as close as four-and-a-half-feet away from a wall, and you’ve got a compact set-up that’s perfect for not just living rooms, but also dorm rooms, bedrooms, or any other place where space is at a premium. 

Best iPhone projector: Kodak Luma 150

Why it made the cut: This ultra-portable HD projector can slip into a bag or large pocket, providing an easy way to watch videos, share photos, or give presentations from your phone. 

Specs

  • Product Dimensions (WxDxH): 3.1 x 3.1 x 0.87 inches
  • Weight: 1 pound
  • Image Source: Single-DLP
  • Lumens: 60

Pros

  • Small and light
  • Full-size HDMI input
  • microSD card slot

Cons

  • Not very bright
  • Not full HD

With its subcompact size and price, Kodak’s Luma 150 is a great way to share content from your iPhone—or any smartphone, for that matter. Send video over a full-size HDMI cable (using an adapter for Apple’s lightning port), or use the integrated Airplay casting to connect devices. The projector also accepts MicroSD cards. 

At first blush, the 60-lumen DLP projector doesn’t seem very bright and, at 854 x 480 resolution, it hardly seems ready to deliver blockbusters. And that’s fair—these aren’t fantastic specs if you’re looking to use this as your main entertainment room TV. But, of course, you’d never do that. The Luma 150 instead makes a convenient, very inexpensive tool for sharing photos at get-togethers, watching movies in the backseat of the car, or delivering presentations at a conference on a screen that’s significantly bigger than the one on your phone.

The battery can last about two hours, and the unit can also be plugged in. It has a small speaker, but you’re better off using headphones or a small, portable speaker if watching videos with other people. 

FAQs

Q: What is the lowest price of a projector?

The lowest price of a projector is hard to pin down and depends a lot on what you want to get out of it. Some projectors can cost less than $200, but their specs don’t always provide the viewing experience you might want. On the other hand, budget-priced projectors with excellent pictures usually fall between $400 and $750. 

Q: How much is a pocket projector?

Pocket projectors often cost less than $250, though some better units with brighter bulbs and higher resolutions can cost almost twice that.

Q: Are mini projectors worth it?

Mini projectors are worth it if you spend a lot of time traveling and want to watch movies. They’re also useful if you give a lot of presentations or conduct lessons. They’re easy to pack and some of them deliver high-quality video. However, they’re never as bright as full-size projectors and you can’t get as large an image out of them without losing some picture quality. If you plan on setting up a projector as part of your home entertainment system, a mini projector shouldn’t be your first choice.

Q: Can you watch Netflix on a mini projector?

You can watch Netflix on a mini projector if it’s plugged into a streaming box, computer, or smart device with a Netflix app. However, it might not be possible to cast content from Netflix—or many of the other streaming services—due to DRM and copyright restrictions.

Q: Is 5,000 lumens good for a projector?

Offering 5,000 lumens is very good for a projector and, depending on how dark the space is and the projector’s distance from the screen, can project a very strong image even in a large auditorium. By way of comparison, most budget home projectors have 1,100- to 2,000-lumen bulbs.

Q: What should I look for in a portable mini projector?

When purchasing a portable projector, always look to see that it’s bright enough for your uses. You’ll also want to make sure it’s at least 1920 x 1080 (HD) resolution and has a wide enough variety of inputs—such as HDMI, USB, and maybe even SD card slots—to accommodate whatever way you plan on connecting your streaming box or movie player. Size and weight are also important in portable projectors since, you know, you want them to be portable! Make sure they’ll be something you’re comfortable carrying around. Finally, I like portable projectors that have built-in speakers with enough volume that the sound fills a room. Eight watts is good, 10 is better. This way I don’t have to worry about plugging the projector into any sort of audio system when I set it up—one less thing to carry!

Final thoughts on the best cheap projectors

“Cheap” is always relative and, in the world of projectors, that usually means near $800 for an enjoyable, home theater experience. With that in mind, you really can’t go wrong with the BenQ HT2050A if you want one of the best cheap projectors. The HD projector falls well below that price ceiling and still delivers a picture up to 300 inches. Thanks to advanced color processing, that giant picture looks fantastic. And if you’re a gamer, or even if you just want a short-throw machine for smaller rooms, BenQ wins again with the TH671ST—though the HT2050A still has the better picture.

MORE TO READ