Having a home theater is the dream of almost all movie buffs and not a small number of sports fans. Being able to watch your favorite movies or the big game on a massive screen with all your friends is an exciting prospect. It can be daunting picking your first projector, so we have a list of the top models in their categories.
Best overall: Optoma H184X (2020)
When looking for the overall best projector, you need to look at many different factors like price, the life of the bulb, and connectivity options. The Optoma HD243X — not the catchiest name — is an almost perfect blend of those features. Most importantly, the Optoma is a true HD projector with a native 1080p resolution. Often these projectors say HD, but it is upscaled and not very good. The Optoma looks crisp and clear when playing games and videos because of this native resolution.
The connectivity options are great with the Optoma too. If you are looking for a projector to replace your TV, you need it to have enough HDMI ports to support your cable/streaming stick and a game console, at the very least. The Optoma has two HDMI ports, as well as a powered USB that allows you to use a Chromecast to use your favorite streaming services.
While some people report some "over splash" — that's when the image isn't crisp along the edges — the effect is minimal, and the 3,300-lumen bulb does an excellent job at projecting a bright and clear image even in a well-lit room. The lamp also has around 12,000 hours of life — that's eight years at four hours a day — before it needs replacing, which is extremely helpful when the bulbs can be a little expensive to replace.
- True HD 1080p
- 12,000-hour lamp life
- Two HDMI ports
- A powered USB port for Chromecast
- Some over splash is noticeable
- Lamps aren't cheap to replace
Optoma H184X (2020)
Best bang for your buck
The Optoma is the best projector you can buy. The price, connectivity, and visual performance, all work to make it the best.
Best for travel: Xgimi Halo
Having a projector that you can easily take with you is a bonus I never thought I would need. The Halo's two-hour battery life lets me set up a movie down at my local lake with my friends and family without the need for long cables or battery packs. Two hours may not seem like a long time, but it's perfect for a typical movie or a couple of hours of music videos.
Because the Halo is tall and thin, it sits perfectly on a tripod without over-balancing it. This makes it far less likely for your little ones to knock it over. The two 4w Harman Kardon speakers are loud enough to use without the need for external speakers, so it really is an all-in-one portable solution.
It even has smarts in the form of Android TV built-in. Although they are still working on the Netflix app, plenty of movie apps work perfectly with it. Disney+ Amazon Prime Video and many others let you stream on the go, so you can watch what you want when you want it. Xgimi has assured me that Netflix will be available as soon as possible with a software update. The ball is in Netflix's court, so we will have to wait and see.
- Easy to use with a tripod
- 2-hour battery life
- Android TV built-in
- No native Netflix
Best for travel
Projection on the go
With this battery-powered projector, you can watch your favorite shows on the big screen anywhere you want, with no strings attached.
Best affordable 4K: BenQ TK800M (2019)
Sometimes you want to break away from the bland white or black boxes that represent the regular projectors. This 4K HDR unit from BenQ is a much more beautiful design than you usually see and packs a lot of projector in its sleek body. You get 4K HDR visuals that are stunning to look at and a brightness level that makes it usable in most conditions. It even has an indoor and outdoor mode to help you get the most light possible.
The only downfall to this machine is the noise. It can be pretty loud, but your speaker should easily drown it out if you are making a complete home theater. Turning the volume up is a small price to pay for picture quality this good, however, so don't the noise put you off.
- Beautiful design
- HDR 4K resolution
- High brightness and contrast
- It's pretty loud
Best affordable 4K
BenQ TK800M (2019)
Beautiful inside and out
The BenQ is a beautiful-looking projector with a stunning picture that projects in 4K HDR. It's an excellent buy.
Best Smart 4K: Xgimi Horizon Pro 4k
Getting 4K resolution is fantastic. Getting 4K resolution with a projector capable of streaming the latest movies and TV via the wonder of Android TV is even better. The Horizon Pro offers stunning visuals with cutting-edge smart AI that automatically corrects keystone errors. This means you can place the projector almost anywhere, and the AI will automagically reorient the screen, so it is perfectly square, even if your projector is at an angle. The AI can even recognize the edges of your projector screen and adjust to fit, as well as move the screen away from obstacles.
While Xgimi is still waiting on approvable from Netflix — they need to be recognized by Netflix for the app to work — every other Android TV app works like you would expect, including gaming apps like Stadia and Geforce Now from Nvidia. Playing games on a 100-inch 4K screen is something special, I can tell you.
The only complaint I have is the weight of the unit. It's bigger than most projectors of this class, but it does have dual eight-watt speakers that make up most of the bulk. The volume of those speakers drowns out the minimal noise from the fan and makes the Horizon Pro an excellent standalone cinema system.
- Gorgeous 4K visuals
- AI for keystone correction
- Android TV built-in
- Dual 8w Harman Kardon speakers
- Pretty bulky
Best for high definition
Xgimi Horizon Pro 4k
Smart and beautiful
The highest quality visuals, mixed with a smart TV, make this the perfect 4K projector.
Best short throw laser: VAVA 4K UHD
Short throw laser projection is the best way to create a home theater, but it's pricey. There is no way to get this much technology at a low price, but if you are willing to spend the money, this projector from Vava is a fantastic buy. The quality is unmatched at 4K HDR, and because it is a short-throw projector, you can get a respectable 100-inch screen by placing the projector just 7.5 inches away.
The only real complaint here is the interface. It isn't the most beautiful or the most intuitive, but that shouldn't stop you from picking one up. If the image quality isn't enough to sway you — and it should be — then maybe the built-in Harmon Kardon soundbar will be. No need to buy separate speakers with this impressive-sounding system.
- Built-in Harman Kardon speakers
- 100" screen at only 7.5" away
- 4K UHD quality
- It's very pricey
- The Android interface is not very pretty
Best short throw laser
VAVA 4K UHD
High fidelity sound
If you have the cash to splash, this is the model to get. It looks and sounds terrific.
There is a lot of projectors to choose from out there, and some are so cheap it feels too good to be true. The Optoma H184X (2020) is that perfect balance between cost and great visuals. Using it for games is a lot of fun, and the color and brightness make watching the latest movies a real treat, especially outside at night.
If you have money to burn, though, you would be hard pushed to find a better machine than the Vava short throw projector. The 4K HDR visuals are mind-blowing, and the sound is just as good. Of course, if you need a projector on the go, the Xgimi Halo amazes me every time I think of a projector this good that's so small. It's worth picking one up if you do a lot of camping.
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Credits — The team that worked on this guide
James Bricknell James enjoys playing video games on his home projector as well as watching movies with the kids on the lawn. He even has little wooden cars to sit in, so it's a drive-in.