After researching more than 35 home theater projectors online, we’re proud to report that the Optoma HD29Darbee Projector is the best home theater projector of the bunch. Its superb picture quality, low response times and excellent price make it a no-brainer for home theater enthusiasts and casual movie lovers alike.
To determine the top projectors available today, we purchased the top 19. We then went through a rigorous cycle of testing all of these projectors by watching our favorite movies and playing our top video games on each different model. During our tests, we specifically measured metrics like overall picture quality, total display size/range, and throw distance. We also measured more subtle features like color accuracy, mounting position and fan noise to ensure we recommended only projectors that are top of the line.
- 1 Top 5 Best Home Theater Projector Compared
- 1.1 #1 Optoma HD29Darbee 1080P Projector – Top Pick/Best Projector
- 1.2 #2 BenQ TK800 4K UHD Projector – Honorable Mention/Best Projector for Movies
- 1.3 #3 Optoma HD143X Full HD Projectors – Best Budget Projector
- 1.4 #4 BenQ HT2150ST 1080p Projector – Best Projector for Gaming
- 1.5 #5 Anker Nebula Capsule – Best Portable Projector
- 1.6 Why You Should Buy a New Home Theater Projector
- 1.7 Shopping Guide for Best Home Theater Projectors
- 1.8 Why You Should Trust Me
- 1.9 How We Choose the Best Home Theater Projectors
- 1.10 Key Features to a Good Projector
- 1.11 Three Factors to Look For When Buying a Projector
- 1.12 Common Mistakes to Avoid
Top 5 Best Home Theater Projector Compared
#1 Optoma HD29Darbee 1080P Projector – Top Pick/Best ProjectorWHY WE LIKE IT: The HD29Darbee offers the best picture quality for the price. Moreover, despite its brightness capabilities, it operates at an almost whisper quiet level. And despite that it’s a formidable projector for those that enjoy a video game or two.
Pound for pound, the Optoma HD28DSE simply outclasses all comers with its superior picture quality, respectable response time, and bevy of extra features which make it a must have for veteran projector owners and newbies alike.
Optoma is already known as one of – if not the – premier projector manufacturers working in the business today, and with entries like the HD29Darbee into the market it’s not hard to see why.
Thanks in part to the inclusion of a DARBEEVision color spec option, images, during my testing, almost quite literally pop off the screen with levels of detail and vibrancy that most other projectors could only hope to achieve on their best day out.
Certain videophiles may be turned off by the almost rainbow-like quality this features gives everything though, so even though we personally think it looks great when watching intentionally color-heavy material (think the BBC’s Utopia or later seasons of Breaking Bad), others may only want to keep it activated during gaming sessions to give themselves that extra edge.
But that’s not all. When you mount a projector in any space, one of the most precarious parts of the project can be actually lifting the unit into its eventual destination. Luckily, the Optoma HD29Darbee weighs just 5.7lbs, making it one of the lightest projectors on this list and in turn a perfect pick for anyone who wants to mount their projector to the ceiling, a shelf, or on a bookcase.
Add to that a top-tier lumen rating of 3,000, full-HD capability, and a contrast ratio of 30,000:1 and you’ve got a winning combination that’s flexible enough for any home theater setup you can imagine.
#2 BenQ TK800 4K UHD Projector – Honorable Mention/Best Projector for MoviesWHY WE LIKE IT: The BenQ TK800’s color representation and picture quality goes above the call of duty, all thanks to the Rec. 709 Cinematic spec which gives the BenQ TK800 unmatched color vibrancy on screen.
While some projectors are exceptionally bright and others are great for gaming with lightning quick response times – there are some that just look so good that they become impossible to ignore.
The BenQ TK800 is one of those projectors, and so much more. Thanks to the inclusion of the Rec. 709 Cinematic Color palette, the TK800 reproduces movies and TV shows exactly how directors intended them to look, with no guesswork thrown in to try and correct for washed out skin tones or greyed black levels.
Because of its 4K capabilities, the BenQ TK800 is one of the pricier home theater projectors on our list; but all that cost is backed up with an equally impressive picture quality that really has to be seen to be believed.
If there’s one area we had to unfortunately fault the BenQ, it would be the inclusion of the non-essential speaker onboard. Sometimes we had trouble with our inputs defaulting to the onboard audio rather than our stereo system, resulting in a blast of treble to our eardrums that was jarring, to say the least.
That aside, the inclusion of Rec. 709 is really what sells this projector beyond anything else. Films look exactly how they would in your local theater, and whether it’s The Godfather or the latest Michael Bay “boom-a-thon”, every movie and TV show is given the exact color treatment it deserves to shine at its absolute best.
Throw in Keystone correction, HDR10 and whisper-quiet fan operation, and you’ve got an easy contender for one of the best projectors for 2020.
#3 Optoma HD143X Full HD Projectors – Best Budget ProjectorWHY WE LIKE IT: The Optoma HD143X displays outstanding performance for a projector under $600. If you’re looking for an excellent projector for a budget price, look no further. The Optoma HD143X is a worthy successor to the HD line of projectors from the company, and while it doesn’t do anything revolutionary, its minor improvements and longer lamp life should be enough to justify its budget-level cost of entry.
If you don’t have a fortune to spend upfront, it can be hard to find a projector that combines all the features you need into a package that doesn’t break the bank. Enter the budget option: the Optoma HD143X, another in a long line the company’s cost-conscious projectors that deliver serious performance for a price that the average consumer can justify.
With 3,000 ANSI lumens of brightness to work with, the HD143X is perfect for anyone who wants to set up their home theater in a less-than-ideal space, like a living room with lots of open windows or near a screen-glass door. At those lumen levels, the HD143X is still able to show off a crisp, clear picture that won’t be muddled out by ambient light during the day, and looks even better when you’re watching it during the dead of night.
It’s never going to match up to the pristine image quality of the BenQ HT3050 or the overall utility of its bigger brother, the HD28DSE, but that’s not what (or who) it’s made for. The HD143X is the upstart home theater projector, for the consumer who may not be ready to go all in on their first setup but still wants the kind of quality and consistency that can be expected from such well-respected brands like Optoma.
#4 BenQ HT2150ST 1080p Projector – Best Projector for GamingWHY WE LIKE IT: he BenQ HT2150ST is a gaming workhorse, offering an excellent contrast rate and plenty of brightness for home gaming setups. To top it off, the projector offers super low input lag, offering gaming performance even the most hardcore players will be satisfied with.
As anyone who’s owned a projector can tell you; trying to play video games on any kind of home theater projector can be a practice in monk-like patience. Whether the input lag is too high or the display is too dark with not enough contrast, there always seems to be some kind of limiting feature.
Fortunately for gamers who want to up their display size without buying a huge TV, the BenQ HT2150ST is to the rescue. With a surprisingly low input lag and excellent contrast rate of 15,000:1, this projector is perfect for movies and games alike.
Add to this to the projector’s ability to create a 100-inch display at a super short throw distance of only 5 feet, and you’ve got a project that’s fit for duty no matter what game you’re playing today.
The BenQ HT2150ST also features some of the sharpest, crispiest images I’ve seen on a projector to date. Its brightness and color vibrancy are enough to make this model the obvious pick for anyone who’s installing their home theater with the idea of playing games as well as watching movies. Whether I was getting in a few rounds of Destiny or just trying to watch a day game, the BenQ was the best choice.
#5 Anker Nebula Capsule – Best Portable ProjectorWHY WE LIKE IT: The Anker Nebule Capsule is a unique choice on our lineup. It isn’t as bright as other projectors here, but its ultra portability and built in speaker makes up for it. If you want to take a projector with you on the go, this soda can-sized projector is a game changer.
If you’re looking for a home theater projector capable of travelling with you, whether out to the backyard or to your hotel, then the Anker Nebula Capsule is the projector for you. At its maximum setting, you can get a 100-inch screen size, which is perfect for larger audiences. Unfortunately, it’s not as bright as other projectors on this list, but still performs well in dim light.
If you’re looking for a projector that will work anywhere, you can’t go wrong with the Nebula Capsule. With a built-in battery and 360-degree speaker, all you need to get up and running is a phone with your movies on it.
Why You Should Buy a New Home Theater Projector
Like any technology, the chips and lenses that make projector technology are always changing, evolving, and getting cheaper to manufacture with each product cycle that turns over. Home theater setups that would easily cost you over $3,000 just a few years ago can be had for $800 (or even less in the case of the Optoma HD28DSE). Best Home Theater Projector
Projectors are also becoming smaller and easier to place. You no longer need to devote an entire bookshelf in the back of your living room to keeping one of these things mounted properly, and exceedingly compact options like the Optoma HD143X are just as at home on your coffee table as they would be hanging from your ceiling.
Projectors released in the past few years are also coming with a long list of additional features that make them easier to use, are more flexible when it comes to mounting positions (with the help of four-corner keystoning systems), and are equipped with additional bonuses like 3D capability and USB media server options.
Another smaller consideration we made when choosing the best home theater projectors was the rated bulb life of any given model. Though it wouldn’t be possible for us to actually run the number of projectors we’ve tested for the 1,000 – 2,000 hours that some of these bulbs can last, if you’ve been running your own projector for about that long or longer, you have a choice to make: either buy another bulb for anywhere between $80 – $350 in some cases, or cut your losses and take a chance on upgrading your whole system to the latest and greatest in home theater technology.
Shopping Guide for Best Home Theater Projectors
When we went on the hunt for the best home theater projector in 2020, we measured dozens of different features, stats, and metrics against one another to come up with a list of the top five you’ll find on shelves today.
When shopping for a new projector, you’ll want to keep an eye on a couple of key factors, including the resolution of the projector (most of those listed here are 1080p but 4K is rapidly dropping in price), the lumen output (for how much brightness you can expect to battle any ambient light in the room), and the weight of the unit itself (as many people use external mounts for their projectors to keep them out of the way).
Seriously, that’s it. Shop on these factors and we all but guarantee you’ll be happy with your purchase.
Why You Should Trust Me
As Gadget Review’s resident home theater expert, I’ve spent nearly 400 hours personally testing and reviewing over 20+ projectors from every major manufacturer in the business, including Acer, Optoma, and Epson.
I have a unique perspective on what makes a projector worth the money, as well as pages of spreadsheets packed with hard data that evaluate everything from how hot a projector gets under the collar to how much light output you can actually expect to get out of it vs. how much the company advertises on their press copy.
How We Choose the Best Home Theater Projectors
To make our list, each projector had to not only perform in real world testing, but had to achieve a set of features and match that with a price that was commensurate in value.
Collectively, the team at Gadget Review has spent well over 350 hours setting up, tweaking, and toying around with the 19+ projectors featured on our site. Of those run through the proverbial ringer, we’ve whittled down the results to the five best performers in their respective categories: whether it’s the best looking, the best performing, or the best for buyers on a budget.
- Real World Testing That Matters
With so many factors that can affect the final picture quality you get out of a projector, it was important that during our testing we made sure to run each model through a series of real-world scenarios that the average user would encounter in their own living room.These included running the projector for more than eight hours at a time to see if there was any risk of picture degradation or overheating (perfect for a lazy-Sunday Battlefield Galactica marathon), upping the color and saturation points to try and push out as many rainbow artifacts as possible, as well as running a LX1330B Digital Illuminance lumen meter around the edges and center of the picture to test for brightness hotspots on our 100″ EliteScreens Manual B projector screen.
- Testing With Video Games, TV, Movies and More
Next, we run the projectors through three of the general use cases that consumers are looking for: computer use, TV/movies, and games. Whether it’s using your projector as a massive computer monitor or trying to get the best response times possible during a match of Halo 5: Guardians online, different projectors do better than others in certain situations, which is why it’s important to keep an eye on the specs so you know you’re getting the best possible pick for how you plan on using your projector the most.
- How Easy Is It to Mount
After that, we evaluate the actual physical characteristics of the projector itself: how big it is, how heavy, and where it could be most optimally mounted given the fan placement. One mistake some upstart home theater geeks can get wrong is mounting the projector directly behind the heads of people sitting on the couch, not realizing that when a projector turns on it pumps out a whole lot of noise and heat as it tries to keep its big bulb cool.
- Measuring Fan Loudness
Speaking of noise, there’s no getting around the fact that even the quietest projectors we’ve tested still need a substantial stereo system to drown out their constant whirr. We use a specialized decibel meter during testing, and will run the projector over the course of an hour before taking the reading to ensure that the fan is working at full capacity.
Key Features to a Good Projector
Before (and after) you buy your next projector, educate yourself to some of the top features and terms associated with a home theater projector.
- DISPLAY RESOLUTION
The four different display technologies to look for on your projector are LED, LCD, DLP, and LCoS. LED is one of the most common lighting solutions you’ll find on this list, which uses three separate diodes (red, green, and blue) to project a complete image. LED is preferred for its clarity, as well as contrast ratios which provide deeper blacks unlike anything else out there.Liquid crystal on silicon, or LCoS for short, combines both mirrors and an RGB color wheel display element to create the final picture. LCoS is commonly considered to be the superior display technology of them all, but that first-class picture quality comes with a corresponding price.Last, there’s DLP, which is the most ancient of the bunch. DLP uses standard mirrors and light to reflect the image through the lens, which makes it far and away the cheapest option, but also the one that suffers the most when there is ambient light or the room is naturally lit during the day.
- DISPLAY TECH
When it comes to achieving the best wireless routers range, both the type of channel you settle on (2.4GHz vs. 5Ghz) and the spectrum your wireless device uses to connect (b/g/n) to will be the primary indicators of what the router can push out at any given point.This in mind, the size of the antenna on the back of the device can also play a huge part in what kind of distance or power you can achieve with any given model. The larger the antenna, the longer the signal will transmit before eventually petering out.If you’re worried about interference from surrounding technology or other routers in your apartment building, it’s better to use the 5GHz spectrum, which is often less crowded than 2.4GHz.
- COLOR ACC
Color accuracy is another factor to consider when discussing the level of image quality that a projector is capable of putting out. Many lower-end projectors can suffer from an issue known as “rainbow artifacting”, which happens when the color wheel lets a little too much of one primary color bleed into another. Color accuracy on projectors in the cost tiers listed above will probably never be able to match up to what you’d get out of an equally-priced LED TV, but you also won’t be able to buy a 150″ LED TV anytime soon so many still think the tradeoff is worth it!
- USE CASES
Earlier in this article, I mentioned the three major user experiences where you find projector manufacturers focusing most of their resources trying to perfect: data, video, and gaming. Each type of content demands different features and refinements from the projector, and no one model fulfills all three perfectly.This is why it’s crucial to carefully comb through the specs to ensure that your prospective projector has exactly what you want to give you the best picture for the content you plan to watch most. Response times for gaming, Rec.709 or DARBEEVision for movie watching, etc.
- THROW DISTANCE
Always, always, always measure your throw distance before buying a projector. For example: a standard HD projector without a “short-throw” lens will need about 6 feet of distance at least to display a picture larger than 80″ wide, although how these numbers match up will inevitably depend on the model of projector you go with.Even at their largest, almost all consumer projectors can only reach a max screen distance of about 300″ before things start to get too blurry to see; short throw lens or otherwise. Make sure to use a calculator like the one found here before deciding which throw distance is right for you.
- MOUNTING POSITION
In almost all seating scenarios, whether it be your living room or the garage, you’re going to want to be sure you have a space to mount the projector in a way that the light isn’t obstructed when people get up to grab a drink or answer the door.The best possible configuration for this is to mount the projector somewhere high up, either from the ceiling or on the wall behind your couch. This way, the light from the projector won’t shine in anyone’s face when they’re passing through, and the view of the content won’t be ruined in case someone has to walk in front of the picture.Most projectors come with the option to do what’s called “keystoning”, where the picture can be pinched up or down to account for the angling of your projector’s mounting scheme. This way the projector always fills up your screen completely, with no black edges left on the side.
- FAN NOISE
One thing that not many potential projector buyers think about before making their final decision is the amount of noise you can expect the unit’s fan to make.The bulbs in projectors run very hot, which means they need a hefty cooling system to keep them from frying out. The fan noise on any projector is measured in decibels (dB), and you should always make sure to find out if the db rating is quiet enough that your stereo system will be able to effectively drown it out.
- BUSINESS VS. HOME THEATER
Although all the projectors I’ve listed here are made for home theater applications through and through, some people can get confused on the differences between projectors made for regular media content, and those made to display presentations from your laptop down at the office. Whenever you buy a projector, always remember to check whether or not it’s rated for home theater or business use first.
Three Factors to Look For When Buying a Projector
When you’re in the market for your first projector, you’re going to want to keep an eye on three key features: bulb longevity, the different resolutions the projector is capable of displaying, and a high lumen rating.
The first is measured in what’s known as “bulb hours”. These are important because bulbs will only last a certain amount of time before they eventually start to lose some of their luster, and the longer a bulb is rated to last, the longer you’ll be able to enjoy your content while it’s looking its very best. On average, a good bulb hour length is anywhere from 1 – 10,000 hours, depending on the type of technology your projector uses to display an image. Replacing a bulb can cost anywhere from $60 up to $250 depending on the model of the projector you eventually choose.Enter your text here…
Next, there’s the lumen rating. Lumen ratings measure the absolute maximum brightness you can expect out of the projector, a key component for anyone who plans to do the majority of their watching during the day when it may be harder to see darker movies or all the details you need to in your games. Even 1000 lumens should be just enough to handle the job during night-watching, you’ll want something a little closer to 4000 lumens if your projector screen is near a window or experiences a lot of glare while the sun is still in the sky.
Resolution – Full HD (nothing less)
Last, always make sure your projector is capable of handling at least 1080p resolution, as 720p doesn’t scale well with the types of image sizes that standard projectors are capable of putting out. 4K projectors have begun making a splash on the scene as of late, but they’re priced so far beyond what you’d pay for a 1080p that it’s already obvious which one is the best pick for 95% of home theater consumers shopping today.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
There are a few mistakes you should try to avoid when you’re shopping for your next projector. Read on to find out what they are.
Don’t Buy for Day-Watching: Even though I’ve listed a number of projectors here that still look somewhat decent in ambient day lighting, the fact remains that if you don’t have your projector set up in a room with blackout curtains, you and your guests will be straining your eyes to see all the detail of your favorite movies, television shows, and games no matter what the lumen rating is.
Don’t Get Sticker Shocked: If you can, do your best not to think about price as the end-all be-all factor in which projector you ultimately decide to go with. Projectors are a hefty investment upfront, but their utility, portability, and longevity is simply unmatched by any other display technology on the market today.
Measure Twice, Mount Once: Last, always remember to carefully measure out the space you plan to project in before buying your next projector. If you need to project in a space that’s less than six-feet from where the projector will be mounted to where the screen sits, you’ll have to invest in a short-throw model over a regular long-throw. Calculating the exact distance you’ll need to get the picture size you want out of your projector is easy if you use the tool provided here.
What Else You Should Think About
Even though we’ve covered just about everything you need to know related to projectors and associated home theater projects, here’s a few more things you should keep in mind before you take the final plunge to make your purchase.
Whether you’re setting up your first home theater or your fifteenth, there are always a number of extra things you should check off the list before you call the project finished. Because the speakers you’ll find on a projector are almost always for show (they lack any sort of distinct bass and should only be turned on in emergency situations), you might want to head on over and take a look at our list of the Best Soundbars for 2020 to make sure you always get the best movie watching or gaming experience possible for all your senses, instead of just sight alone.
Next there’s the projector screen. Sure, technically you can display your projected image on almost any surface imaginable (including pure-white walls), but why waste all that money on a new projector if you’re going to cut corners when it comes to what you’re watching it on, right? Projector screens are printed on special materials that can help add subtle amounts of brightness and vibrancy to your images that plain white walls can’t match, which is why I went through the trouble of testing them all for you to come up with our list of the Best Projector Screens for this year.
If you’re a stickler for 4K resolution and can’t accept anything less, you have two options: spend upwards of the same amount as you would on a small car to get a 4K projector, or simply bite the bullet and go with a standard 4K TV instead. We will always recommend this route over a projector if you don’t have a dedicated home theater space, because even when you’re strictly looking for as much brightness as you can get for the best day-watching experience, the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1440’s lumen rating still may not be enough to counter the ambient light if your projector screen is facing any kind of open window.
If a 70″ flatscreen still isn’t big enough for your next big Super Bowl party or you just want to be blown away every time you watch a new movie though, the best projectors for 2020 are sure to make anyone feel like they’re getting the full movie theater experience right from the comfort of their own home.