3 Best Budget Projector for a Home Theater 2020

If you want that big-screen front projector experience in your home but need to spend less than the cost of a refrigerator, we think the BenQ HT2050A is the best Budget Projector for less than $1,000. Its best-in-class contrast ratio, bright output, and impressive color accuracy help it compete against projectors costing twice the maximum amount.

Our pick

BenQ HT2050A

The best projector under $1,000

$750*
The BenQ HT2050A has the best contrast ratio in its class and more realistic color than the competition, and it’s brighter than some projectors that cost a lot more.

The BenQ HT2050A Budget Projector uses an RGBRGB color wheel that produces richer, more vibrant colors than many budget DLP projectors.1 This 1080p projector is also much easier to set up than other sub-$1,000 projectors, thanks to a flexible lens that has both zoom and vertical shift. The 1.3x zoom gives some wiggle room in terms of how close to the screen you can place the unit, while the vertical lens shift allows you to avoid the keystone effect. The speakers during this BenQ model aren’t amazing, but they’re better than what most budget projectors offer. The HT2050A’s biggest drawback is that its single-DLP-chip design can produce a visible rainbow effect for some viewers,2 but most people either can’t see it or won’t be bothered by it.

the BenQ HT2050 Our pick for best $1,000 budget projector
Photo: Chris Heinonen

The BenQ HT2050A Budget Projector creates a picture that’s more realistic and lifelike than that of other projectors at an equivalent price. It offers accurate colors, and it produces a bright picture with great motion detail and an excellent contrast ratio that’s about double that of similarly priced competitors. Overall, the image is nearly as good as (if not better than) what you’ll get from many projectors costing hundreds more.

The HT2050A has ample light output to illuminate even the most important screens. Measuring the sunshine output with a lux meter, we found that this projector produced 1,130 lumens when calibrated within the eco bulb mode and 1,665 lumens when calibrated within the normal bulb mode. Switching to the vivid picture mode gave us a huge 2,200-plus lumens but a less-accurate image.

To put that in context, a movie screen should be around 15 foot-lamberts in brightness, and therefore the HT2050A’s 1,665 lumens is enough for twenty-four foot-lamberts on the 150-inch version of our favorite projector screen. For a totally dark room, 14 to 16 foot-lamberts is taken into account the perfect luminosity, and therefore the BenQ HT2050A goes well past that. Most projectors didn’t compare to the present light output a couple of years ago.

The HT2050A creates a picture that’s more realistic and lifelike than that of other models at an equivalent price.

The HT2050A’s contrast ratio may be a very nice 1,574:1. this is often exceptional considering the very fact that the majority of other projectors that fall under this price category are available around 800:1. The difference in the black level is extremely noticeable once you set this model side by side with the competition. most of those projectors are bright enough for any reasonably sized screen, therefore the contrast-ratio difference is typically from the improved black level.

A close up of the ports on the back side of our pick for best $1,000 budget projector.
The BenQ HT2050A has plenty of inputs for most situations. Photo: Chris Heinonen

Colors on the BenQ HT2050A are superior to those of other projectors during this price range because it uses an RGBRGB color circle rather than the Brilliant color circle from Texas Instruments. As a result, you get colors that are accurate to all or any HDTV standards, but with slightly less brightness. you’ll still enable the Brilliant Color function within the HT2050A if you would like extra brightness and are willing to affect less-accurate colors, but this projector is quite bright enough for many rooms without using Brilliant Color.

The BenQ HT2050A features a throw ratio of 1 to 1.3x, which suggests that, if you would like to use a 100-inch screen, you’ll place the projector between 100 and 130 inches from the screen. Many of the opposite projectors we checked out got to be even farther away, which could limit your screen-size options.

A close up of the lens shift controls on our pick for best $1,000.
The lens-shift, zoom, and focus adjustments on the BenQ HT2050A are handled via dials around the lens. Photo: Chris Heinonen

We also appreciated this model’s built-in vertical lens shift (meager because it is at just 10 percent) because it gives you some flexibility in terms of where you’ll place the projector while maintaining an undistorted image. you’ll shift the lens only a touch , but that’s better than nothing, which is what you get with most projectors during this price range. Lens shift is way preferable to digital keystone correction, which robs you of actual screen space by reducing the amount of active pixels contributing to the image (it also adds artifacts like jagged edges and potentially other sorts of visual noise).

The HT2050A uses a UHP lamp to make the sunshine you see on screen. These lamps gradually dim and wish to get replaced. BenQ estimates the lamp life as lasting between 3,500 and 6,000 hours, counting on the mode. the present replacement cost is around $250. These numbers are beat line with those of other projectors. If you watch the HT2050A for five hours an evening within the SmartEco mode, the lamp will last quite three years. When it’s time to shop for a lamp, you ought to always do so directly from the corporate when possible, as third-party lamps are often of dubious quality—and if they damage your projector, the warranty won’t cover it.

The BenQ HT2050A has two HDMI ports, a component input, a composite input, and a typical USB Type-A port. A USB port is usually missing from projectors within the under-$1,000 range, but it’s useful for providing power to a streaming stick. Combined with the HT2050A’s built-in speaker, this projector’s USB port gives you the power to possess impromptu outdoor family movie nights employing a single cord . For models without USB ports, you’ve got to run yet one more power line to attach your streamer.

If you would like to use a drop-down screen, the BenQ HT2050A is that the most affordable projector we’ve seen with a 12-volt trigger output. When connected to the present BenQ projector with a standard 3.5-millimeter cable, the screen will sink when the projector is on then return up when the projector is off, simplifying setup.


Runner-up
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Epson Home Cinema 2100

An LCD projector for bright rooms

$721*
If you’re bothered by rainbows when viewing a DLP projector, the Epson 2100 LCD projector is very bright, but its contrast ratio is only average.

The Epson Home Cinema 2100 Budget Projector is brighter than the BenQ HT2050A, making it a far better choice for family rooms and other spaces where you can’t control the ambient light. This 1080p projector offers a limited vertical lens shift and a rather higher zoom than the HT2050A (1.6x). As an LCD projector, the Epson 2100 won’t create the rainbow artifacts visible to some people with DLP projectors; however, the BenQ model looks sharper and offers double the contrast ratio of this Epson projector.

The Epson Home Cinema 2100 Our runner-up pick for best $1,000.
Photo: Chris Heinonen

The Epson Home Cinema 2100 Budget Projector offers a lower contrast ratio than the BenQ, but it’s a brighter model and thus a far better choice for an area with many ambient lights. Because it’s an LCD projector, it doesn’t suffer from the rainbow effect. Newer DLP projectors, such as the BenQ HT2050A, are less prone to rainbows because their color wheels spin faster, but if you still find rainbows bothersome, the Epson 2100 is a good alternative. It offers slightly more zoom (1.6x) than the HT2050A, plus limited vertical lens shifting.

This Epson model can’t produce blacks that are as dark as those of the BenQ HT2050A Budget Projector, so its contrast ratio may be a lower 897:1, but the general image quality is close otherwise. The projector has a dynamic iris to help improve black levels and contrast ratios, but that function is noisy and easy to see working, so we don’t recommend using it.

While we didn’t perform a particular brightness measurement, we could immediately see that the Epson 2100 was much brighter than the BenQ HT2050A when comparing them side by side. It’s a good choice if you can’t control all the lights in your room.

Since the Epson 2100 Budget Projector uses three LCD panels—which need to be perfectly aligned in order to create a perfectly sharp picture—it isn’t as sharp as the BenQ DLP model, which uses a single DLP panel. Each of the three LCD panels is responsible for one color (red, green, and blue), but due to their small size (about 0.6 inch across), even the smallest fraction of misalignment can produce barely perceptible color fringing on a giant screen. It’s an issue inherent to the three-panel design that’s impossible to avoid. The single-chip DLP projectors get around this difficulty by adding color individually with a wheel (which produces rainbow trails).

Thanks to an integrated speaker and a USB port that can power a streaming stick, the Epson 2100 can work without a sound system for outdoor movie nights, but the speaker doesn’t sound great.


Also great
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BenQ HT2150ST

A short-throw projector for small rooms

$800
If you’re short on space, the BenQ HT2150ST can produce a larger image from a shorter distance.

The BenQ HT2150ST Budget Projector uses a short-throw lens, so you’ll place it much closer to your screen or wall than usual and still get an outsized image. This 1080p DLP projector is very bright and easy to install. Its colors aren’t as vivid as those of the non-short-throw HT2050A, and the complex optics in this model’s short-throw lens lead to a loss of sharpness around edges in the image, but it’s worth the compromise if you want a big image in a smaller space, such as an urban apartment.

The BenQ HT2150ST Our also great pick for best $1,000,
Photo: Chris Heinonen

If you don’t have the space for a typical projector, or if you would like something you’ll more easily found out and not skip all the time, you would possibly need a short-throw projector, which needs less space between the lens and therefore the screen. The BenQ HT2150ST can produce a 100-inch image from but 5 feet faraway from your wall or screen, which lets it fit into more confined spaces. The lens creates some color fringing that you simply might notice, and therefore the colors aren’t as accurate or vivid as those of the BenQ HT2050A, but the HT2150ST still produces an honest picture.

The BenQ HT2050A features a throw ratio of 1 to 1.3x, which suggests it needs to sit between 100 and 130 inches from your screen to provide a 100-inch image. additionally to working in more spaces, this model’s ability to sit that on the brink of the wall or screen means people are less likely to steer ahead of the lens and cast a shadow on the screen. having the ability to line up a 100-inch display without having tons of space allows you to get a large picture where you usually can’t.

The HT2150ST Budget Projector has two main drawbacks in comparison with the HT2050A. the primary is that the lens isn’t nearly as good for pure image quality. Short-throw lenses are more complex and expensive to form relative to a typical lens. The compromise creates some color fringing on the screen, which seems like pinkish edges around objects. The effect isn’t easy to ascertain when you’re watching a 40-inch image, but it’s easier to note once you get to the 100-inch size you’re likely to require with the HT2150ST Budget Projector.

Instead of using an RGBRGB wheel to render colors, the HT2150ST uses the Texas Instruments Brilliant Color DLP color circle. As a result, it delivers brighter whites but also features a smaller color gamut, meaning that it can’t display as many various colors. When directly compared against a projector with an RGBRGB wheel, like the HT2050A, the HT2150ST produces colors that appear more subdued and fewer accurate. However, the brighter whites are often a benefit if you’re watching content during a room without much light control.


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How we picked

Projectors can range in price from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands. But the picture quality doesn’t increase linearly with the price; more often, gems pop up at specific prices. In our experience reviewing projectors at all tiers, paying more generally gets you a better contrast ratio (and therefore a better-looking image), but a higher price does not always guarantee more light output—nor does it guarantee more features (3D and therefore the like). For this guide, we focus on projectors priced under $1,000 that can deliver a high-quality big-screen movie experience.

Home theater projectors can use one of three technologies to produce an image: DLP, LCD, or LCoS (called D-ILA by JVC and SXRD by Sony). Most DLP projectors reflect light off a single microchip with millions of individual mirrors, then they feed the light through a spinning color wheel to create colors; the resulting image can be very sharp, but the color wheel can cause rainbow effects for some viewers. LCD projectors pass the light through three liquid crystal panels (one each for red, green, and blue) at the same time to produce the image; they often have better black levels than DLP projectors, but they can suffer from color fringing, since aligning the three panels perfectly is nearly impossible. LCoS reflects light off three silicon chips with LCDs on top, and they typically produce the best black level of any of these technologies, but they cost more than DLP and LCD. Most projectors use high-powered bulbs, but they can all also use laser or LED light sources. For this guide, we only looked at LCD and DLP projectors, due to the higher cost of LCoS.

The two most important attributes of a home theater projector are contrast ratio and brightness. Roughly speaking, contrast ratio refers to how good the image looks, and brightness refers to how large an image you can create before it starts looking washed out.

Contrast ratio measurements are easy to game, so you can’t trust what you read on a spec sheet.

Contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest part of the image and the darkest. A high contrast ratio means dark blacks and bright whites. A low contrast ratio means the image is more washed out, usually with more gray-looking blacks. No projector during this price range features a great contrast ratio, but some are certainly better than others.

While we’d love to give you a minimum spec to look for on a features list, the sad truth is that contrast ratio measurements are easy to game, so you can’t trust what you read on a spec sheet. As a result, the only way to get reliable information on performance is to read reviews. For measured results in this price range, anything greater than 1,000:1 is good. Spending more can get you ratios as high as 5,000:1, but only when measured in complete darkness. Spending less drops that number to about 600:1.

Brightness, or light output, is nearly as important during a projector as contrast ratio. The light output determines not only how bright the image is (obviously) but also how large an image you can create (image brightness decreases as the image size increases), and thus in many ways it dictates what type of screen you can use. If you have a room that isn’t completely dark, you should look for a projector that puts out more lumens: The room’s ambient light means you won’t get the benefit of a higher contrast ratio, so sheer brightness becomes more important.

The brightness measurements stated on spec sheets are more accurate than the contrast ratios, but they are measured in a very inaccurate mode that you won’t want to use. Cutting the number in half is more accurate for real-world use. For example, keeping in mind that 1,000 lumens is enough for a bright 100-inch image, you should look for a projector offering 2,000 lumens or more so that you have some wiggle room.

After brightness and contrast, color accuracy comes next in importance, followed by (more distantly) resolution and color temperature.

Accurate color means that everything you see will seem more realistic and natural. Some projectors can’t produce fully saturated colors, and they create yellows and reds that look dull next to those projectors that can. However, with projectors, the screen you pick also will affect how accurate the color is; with anything other than a neutral white screen, the results might not be accurate.

Roughly speaking, contrast ratio refers to how good the image looks, and brightness refers to how large an image you can create before it starts looking washed-out.

Resolution is the last of the big picture-quality items, and it’s far more important in a projector than in a TV. Ideally you want a full 1080p projector, so you can create a big, detailed image with no chance for visible pixels. The results from 720p projectors look a little softer, and when such models are creating a big image (or when you’re sitting close), the pixels are visible; in the extreme, they can have a looking-through-a-screen-door effect. These days, 4K projectors are available, but they cost more than $1,000. A few projectors priced under $1,000 will accept a 4K signal, but will scale the resolution down to 1080p. If you’re curious about a 4K projector, you’ll find them in our greatest Projector for a home theatre guide.

Beyond image quality, you want to look for features that make setup easier.

A Telephoto lens with a throw ratio around 1 or less makes the projector easier to position inside an area . If the throw ratio is much larger, you might not be able to get as large an image as you would like.

Lens shift gives you more flexibility in placing the projector above or below the screen, making installation simpler. The more lens shift, the easier it is to position the projector, but that usually costs more.

For our original guide, we compiled a list of all the home theater projectors hovering in the $1,000 price range that had positive professional reviews. It was a surprisingly short list, as not a lot of websites review projectors using the in-depth, objective measurements we were looking for. In a few cases, a manufacturer had more than one model that seemed to meet our criteria; in those situations, we asked the company which model was the best fit for our requirements and the competition we were including.

For recent updates, we’ve tested newer models against our prior picks to see how they fared.


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How we tested

We measured each projector using CalMAN software and $10,000 worth of test equipment, including a Klein K-10A and an i1Pro2 photo spectrometer running patterns from a Murideo Six-G test pattern generator. We tested for light output, contrast ratio, color and Budget Projector accuracy, and more.

Additionally, since numbers don’t reveal the whole picture, we did qualitative comparison testing by placing projectors next to each other and sending them the same signal using an HDMI splitter. Viewing the same image side by side with identical screen sizes makes it easy to see differences in black level, contrast, and color.

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