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The best home theater projectors produce a sharp image with strong contrast and bright, vibrant colors. They fit into your life, both literally (producing the right size image for your room) and figuratively (price and ease of use). In short, the best projectors for watching movies and programs at home deliver the entertainment you expect from a standard TV, only much, much larger.
The best part about owning a projector is watching your shows with all the immersive fun of sitting in a movie theater. That 50-inch flatscreen is great, but nothing compares to sitting in the cinema and watching that giant Star Destroyer flying overhead in the opening shot of Star Wars. Home projectors bring that experience to your living room, den, or, if you’re lucky, a dedicated movie room.
Home projectors also provide the flexibility you don’t often find with TVs, especially large ones. They take up much less space in a room, and aren’t an unsightly decorating “dead zone.” With a home projector, you can even take the show outside. Set one up on the deck for a romantic night of movie-watching under the stars. (Again, that Star Destroyer under the night sky would be pretty sweet!)
Not all of the best home theater projectors are the same, though, and it’s important to match the right device with your viewing habits, space, and overall needs. With that in mind, we’ve, well, screened the options, and here are our selections and considerations.
- Best HD home theater projector: BenQ HT2050A
- Best 4K home theater projector: Epson Home Cinema 5050UB
- Best home theater projector for gaming: Optoma UHD38
- Best value home theater projector: Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12
- Best outdoor home theater projector: BenQ TH685
How we picked the best home theater projectors
When selecting the best home theater projectors, we looked at a selection of 14 different units. We read reviews, both from industry insiders and owners, and scoured manufacturers’ technical specs. Projectors were evaluated based on brightness, picture quality (particularly in terms of sharpness, color, and contrast), resolution, chip type, and refresh rate. We wanted to know how a projector performed not only in specially designed movie rooms, but also rooms with ambient light or outdoors. For gaming, we compared lag times among units to see which could keep up with players’ reflexes. While not a primary concern, extra features, like lens shift and motorized lenses, or audio capabilities, were noted and considered as well.
Things to consider before buying the best home theater projectors
Of all a projector’s specs, none shine like the number of lumens. Lumens describes how much light a projector can create, which translates into how bright and large your image can be. Often, units with higher lumens cost more, so you’ll have to balance price and performance when making your selection. While this all might seem straightforward, no company measures lumens in exactly the same way. In broad strokes, if one projector is described as being 2,000 lumens and the other is 1,000, you can say for certain the first one is brighter. But if one is 2,000 and another is 2,200, it’s hard to know if the latter is really brighter, or if the manufacturers are using different scales. On the other hand, in most cases, your eyes probably can’t tell the difference between 2,000 and 2,200 anyway.
Let there be light
To play your movie on the big screen, a projector’s light source creates the light which is then focused on a chip that generates an image. Light sources come in three varieties: Lasers, LEDs, and Ultra High Pressure (UHP) lamps. The UHP lamps, which are basically high-powered light bulbs, cost the least and generate the most light. The downside is that, over time, they can wear down and need replacing. However, it can take years before that happens and the replacement bulbs usually cost less than $300. LEDs and lasers are more efficient than UHP lamps but cost much more for the same performance. For the time being, UHP lamps still give the most bulb for the buck.
Projectors use one of three types of imaging chips: DLP, LCD, and LCoS. DLP chips are found in products at many price points and deliver average contrast and decent color. LCD chips can be found on budget to mid-range projectors and often have better color than DLP projectors, but the contrast ratios can sometimes suffer. Finally, LCoS chips can be found on mid- to high-end projectors, have the best contrast ratios, and good color. In the end, LCoS projectors usually beat the others in terms of overall picture quality, which is why they tend to cost more.
Room with a view
Before deciding on a projector, know where you want to use it and how you want to set it up. Will the projector sit far from the wall? If so, you’ll want a projector with a long throw. Some projectors are meant to sit on furniture while others are mounted to the ceiling. If your projector doesn’t have built-in lens shifting, you’ll need to place the unit on something that can be adjusted up or down. It’s better to sort out these details ahead of time than to get home with your new projector and discover it won’t work well in your movie room.
The best home theater projectors: Reviews & Recommendations
Best HD home theater projector: BenQ HT2050A
Why it made the cut: Darker blacks, bright whites, and realistic colors all help the BenQ HT2050A punch above its price point.
- Product Dimensions (HWD): 5 by 15 by 11 inches
- Lumens: 2,200
- Chip Type: DLP
- Excellent color and contrast
- Lens shift
- 3D compatible
- No support for HDR
- Can’t play 4K video
If the BenQ HT2050A only delivered a great picture at a lower price point, it would be enough to make this the best HD home theater projector. But projecting a 100-inch screen from just 8 feet away (with the ability to project up to 300 inches) combined with having lens shift (rarely found on DLP chip projectors) really makes the unit stand out among its peers.
The high contrast ratio and natural colors deliver a strong, cinema-like picture at up to 1080p resolution. While the company claims the bulb outputs 2,200 lumens, some review tests show it coming in around 1,600. But that’s still bright enough to deliver a large image even in rooms without blackout curtains.
The HT2050A accepts video from two HDMI inputs, as well as a USB connection that has a 1.5-amp output to drive a streaming stick without external power. You’ll also find older, analog audio and video inputs, including both component and composite—just what you need if you’re still rocking the old VHS player. (We won’t judge.)
The 96-percent Rec. 709 color accuracy calibration contributes to picture quality, though the BenQ does suffer from rainbows—multicolored trails left by bright objects on the screen. It’s a problem found with all projectors with single DLP chips, though many people either don’t notice them or simply aren’t bothered by them. For some, however, they’re deal-breakers so make sure you know how you feel about them before considering a single-DLP player.
Best 4K home theater projector: Epson Home Cinema 5050UB
Why it made the cut: This best 4K home theater projector is designed for home-theater enthusiasts, with bold colors and contrast that deliver inky shadows and razor-sharp highlights.
- Product Dimensions (HWD): 7.6 by 20.5 by 17.7 inches
- Lumens: 2,600
- Chip Type: 3LCD
- Excellent picture quality
- High contrast ratio
- Horizontal and vertical lens shift
- Motorized zoom
- Full DCI-P3 color
- Bulkier than many high-end units
The light engine under the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB’s hood uses “4K enhancement” technology and pixel-shifting to create a high-resolution image out of its three HD LCD chips. The jury’s out on whether this delivers a sharper picture than a true 4K DLP chip, but that doesn’t change the fact that movies look absolutely gorgeous with 100 percent of the RGB color signal displayed for every frame.
The 5050UB owes much of its success to the 2,600-lumen bulb, one of the brightest in its class. Even more so, UltraBlack 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio and full 10-bit HDR processing results in dark, silky blacks and punchy highlights that make movies pop.
Epson’s projector lacks audio outputs, but that’s typical for this class of unit; the company assumes users will run audio through a receiver and speakers for optimal sound. Additional features like a motorized lens with both horizontal and vertical shift, plus motorized zoom, make setting up the Epson 5050UB simple and fast.
Best home theater projector for gaming: Optoma UHD38
Why it made the cut: An extremely short lag time combined with an excellent 4K and HD picture makes the Optoma UHD38 projector a gamer’s best friend.
- Product Dimensions (HWD): 4.65 by 12.4 by 10.63 inches
- Lumens: 4000
- Chip Type: DLP
- 240 Hz refresh rate creates lag as low as 4.2 ms
- Supports 4K and HD gaming
- High contrast ratio for a crisp-looking picture
- Minimum throw distance of six feet
- Minimal zoom and lens shift makes it hard to position
Quick reactions win video games so a TV or projector’s blur-free visuals and unparalleled smoothness are a must. The Optoma UHD38’s 240 Hz refresh rate keeps lag time down to as low as 4.2 ms in Enhanced Gaming mode. The bright, 4,000-lumen bulb, a high contrast ratio, and jewel-like colors create a picture that captures all the dynamic energy of both games and movies. The 4K UHD 60 Hz or 1080p 120 Hz resolutions, plus HDR10 and HLG content compatibility, makes all your content look great and blur-free, making this projector our choice for the best home theater projector for gaming.
Set-up is a little tricky. The UHD38’s lens isn’t motorized and it has minimal lens shift or physical zoom. You’ll have to position it right in the middle of your screen in order to get the best image and, with its relatively long throw, the closest it can focus is 6 feet.
Best value home theater projector: Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12
Why it made the cut: The Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 includes a built-in Android TV and Google Play Store apps, making it as much a smart TV as a high-quality HD projector.
- Product Dimensions (HWD): 5.3 by 6.9 by 6.9 inches
- Lumens: 1,000 lumens
- Chip Type: LCD
- Laser light source lasts longer than a bulb
- Three-chip LCD imaging for higher contrast ratios
- Integrated Smart TV components
- Supports 4K content (downconverted to 1080p)
- Only 1,000 lumens
- No true 4K resolution
If you want the best value home theater projector, the Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 Smart Streaming Laser projector delivers, enabling streaming video services with built-in Android TV and Google Play Store apps. The projector uses a laser-illuminated, three-chip LCD to create a picture with sharp contrast and natural colors.
While the laser-phosphor light source isn’t the brightest at only 1,000 lumens, in a dark room it still provides a large, immersive show at up to 150 inches. Besides all the built-in content channels and the ability to project connected device content wirelessly via Chromecast, the EF12 has two HDMI ports for HD or downconverted 4K video sources.
Built-in, dual 5-watt speakers provide robust sound and the projector connects to an external sound source via 3.5mm output jacks, HDMI ARC, or even Bluetooth. All this versatility makes for a great choice from the gaming pod to the classroom.
Best outdoor home theater projector: BenQ TH685
Why it made the cut: Even in ambient light, the BenQ TH685’s 3,500-lumen lamp delivers a sharp picture with nice contrast and accurate color, making this ideal for an evening of outdoor movie watching.
- Product Dimensions (HWD): 12.28 by 8.86 by 4.33 inches
- Lumens: 3,500
- Chip Type: DLP
- Color and contrast good at this price point
- Bright 3,500 lumen lamp
- Supports HDR programming
- Accept 4K input, downconverted to 1080p
- Can’t read files from USB memory sticks
The BenQ TH685 makes hosting an outdoor movie night easy, with a bright, 3,500-lumen lamp that cuts through ambient light spilling from your living room, the neighbor’s home, or a full moon. It’s adjustable to throw distances of 80 inches to 150 inches. And the onboard, 5-watt mono speaker has a chamber design that delivers more muscular sound than you’d expect; you still might want to bring some speakers out to the patio (it has an audio output on the back), but this saves you that hassle if you’re keeping your set-up simple.
Two HDMI 2.0 ports accept both 1080p and 4K signals, though the 4K gets downconverted to HD. Nonetheless, the resulting image remains sharp, with 95-percent Rec. 709 color. Unfortunately, you can’t feed content from a USB device, so you’ll need to have a Blu-ray player or a computer with an HDMI output as part of your theater setup. The TH685 supports HDR10 and 3D programming. An added bonus: At 120 Hz in 1080p, the BenQ has a lag time of 8.3 ms, making this a useful projector for gamers in addition to being the best outdoor home theater projector.
Q: Is it worth getting a 4K projector?
It’s worth getting a 4K projector if you enjoy watching 4K content on screens big enough to feel immersive. At, say, 100 inches, the smaller pixels of a 4K projection will remain crisper than those of a 1080p unit. But this comes at a cost and, if you’re on a budget, you can still have a great viewing experience using a 1080p projector in your home theater.
Q: Do more lumens mean a better projector?
More lumens do not, on their own, mean a better projector. Brightness plays a role in delivering a great picture, especially in rooms with ambient light, but it’s not the whole story. Chip design is important, too. Resolution, lens construction, playback formats, refresh rate, and lag time—these all work together to determine which is the projector that best suits your needs.
Q: Can you watch Netflix on a projector?
You can watch Netflix on a projector, along with any other streaming service. You’ll need some sort of streaming box, like a Roku, with an HDMI output. Plug that into the HDMI port on the back of your projector and you’re good to go.
Final thoughts on the best home theater projectors
If you’re a movie fan, the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB is a hard projector to beat. With great color and contrast, plus a bright light source, it delivers a 4K picture that looks great on a big screen and captures the experience of sitting in a real cinema. The motorized lens with horizontal and vertical shift makes it easy to set up, so you’ll be enjoying blockbusters in no time. But no matter what model you opt for, don’t forget the popcorn!