With lots of new releases going quickly to, you no longer need to head to the movie theater to catch all the latest blockbusters. And with a , you can bring the theater experience right to your own living room. These advanced at-home projectors boast impressive picture quality, good brightness in ambient light, vivid colors and a quality contrast ratio — and you can pick one up starting at around $1,000. That means you can get a massive viewing screen for a fraction of the cost of a . And many models are portable, making them perfect for a movie night under the stars.
Whether you’re looking to buy a, want something that’ll make HD sources look great or need something you can , this list gives you the best home theater projectors.
The Epson Home Cinema 5050UB is the best all-around home projector we’ve reviewed. Take an excellent contrast ratio, paired with impressive brightness and accurate color, all with better detail than what’s possible with a 1080p native resolution projector, and you’ve got all the pieces for a fantastic image. This home entertainment projector is not cheap, but it offers a significant step up in image quality over other projectors on this list (aside from the Sony, which is nearly double the price). It comes with HDMI 2.0 which allows you to do 4k60p. Extensive lens shift and a motorized zoom are the icing on the cake.
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We wouldn’t put this in the “cheap projector” bucket, but the BenQ HT2050A is definitely the best video projector you can get for the money. This modern projector produces a bright picture with great contrast and lifelike color accuracy. It’s also one of the only comparable models with vertical lens shift, which makes setup a little easier. It supports most media players, gaming consoles, PCs, Macs, and mobile devices with input options such as HDMI, USB, and more. Plus, the projector offers a low input lag of 16ms for immersive gaming.
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The tiny P8 performs far bigger than its size suggests. Though in fairness, the hand-held size doesn’t suggest it could project an image at all. It looks more like a toy. But it’s reasonably bright, has a built-in speaker and only costs $250. Impressive.
It doesn’t have a battery, nor does it have any streaming apps. So you’ll need to take that into consideration. It does have an HDMI input and a USB connection, so you can connect a streaming stick and get all the streaming apps you could possibly want.
There are brighter options and better-looking options, but for the price the P8 is hard to beat.
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It’s smaller than a six-pack of Coke and equipped with Wi-Fi streaming, a surprisingly loud Bluetooth speaker and even a handle. It offers auto vertical and manual horizontal keystone correction. This portable mini projector powerhouse also has one thing many compact projectors like the Vimgo P10 lack: a built-in battery. This budget projector is an all-in-one entertainment machine that’s darn cute, too.
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The Optoma UHD35 is a modern projector that packs a lot into its tiny case and low price. This budget projector can throw a ton of light, its color wheel produces accurate colors and has great detail. The contrast ratio isn’t great, but it’s pretty average among 4K resolution projectors in this price range. And that price really is the UHD35’s biggest selling point. This 4K UHD projector offers great picture quality for only a few hundred dollars over the best 1080p projectors. It doesn’t offer lens shift or much in the way of a zoom, but if it fits in your room it’s a great way to get a 4K projector on a budget.
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The Vimgo P10’s price fluctuates between $170 and $250, in the same ballpark as our favorite cheap projector, the AAXA P8. It’s a lot larger than the P8, the largest cheap projector we’ve tested actually, making it far less portable. It’s still “small” compared to full-size and more expensive projectors, however.
Picture quality is better than the P8 in some ways, worse in others. The Vimgo P10 has a great contrast ratio and decent brightness, but the color is remarkably terrible. The center of the image is noticeably sharper and brighter than the rest of the image. It’s not great.
But the price is. A perfectly watchable image for around $250. It even has Netflix built in. Impressive.
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The Sony VPL-VW325ES is a thoroughbred among ponies, a Porsche among Volkswagens, an absolute stunner with a price tag to match. The contrast ratio, easily the most important aspect of overall picture quality, is better than the Epson 5050 and significantly better than any projector that doesn’t cost significantly more. And that’s saying something, since the Sony itself costs significantly more than any other projector on this list. It checks the box for gaming with the input lag reduction feature. And with brightness that can go up to 1,500 Lumens, it works well in a bright room as well. If price is no object, the picture quality is incredible.
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The Epson Home Cinema LS11000 is similar to the Epson 5050 but instead of a lamp it uses a laser and phosphor combo to create light. This means even better color, no lamp replacements, faster turn on/off and a more usable dynamic contrast ratio. A more advanced different pixel shifter means better resolution than the 5050 as well. It’s more expensive to start, but over the life of the projector they should be about the same. So better picture quality for roughly the same total cost of ownership makes this well worth considering over the 5050.
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The Optoma UHZ50 uses a blue laser and a yellow phosphor to create some incredibly bright, ultracolorful images. It’s bright and has the second-best contrast ratio we’ve measured from a DLP projector. Also, because it’s DLP, it has excellent detail. The zoom range and lens shift are fairly limited, so it won’t fit in as many rooms as the Epson 5050 or LS11000, but otherwise it’s very good.
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The EF-12 is a small, highly portable projector that looks a lot like the Anker Nebula Pro and the BenQ GS50, but it fits a slightly different niche. It’s easy to tote and doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, but unlike those two it can’t run off of a battery — it requires AC power. The EF-12’s light is created by Epson’s “MicroLaser Array Projection Technology.” Yep, laser beams, which deliver a brighter picture than LED-based models like the Nebula and GS50.
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The Xgimi Halo Plus is a relatively small 1080p projector with a 2.5-hour battery and surprisingly powerful speakers. It has Android TV built-in, so streaming is far easier than with many other portables. It performs well for a portable projector, but costs about the same as the BenQ HT2050A, which performs far better. But for regular movie nights far from an outlet, it works great.
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Other products we’ve tested
: The GS50 is a lunchbox-size 1080p projector with a built-in battery. You can even use it as a Bluetooth speaker. However, it’s dimmer than the Xgimi Halo Plus for similar money, so we recommend that one instead.
: The small, cylindrical Freestyle is an interesting idea, but it comes up short. About the size of a Bluetooth speaker, and in fact can double as one, the Freestyle can pivot on its stand to project an image at any height on walls and even the ceiling. Its built-in streaming is far better implemented than most portable projectors. However, it lacks a battery and its performance is average, at best. Worse, its price is a good 50% higher than it should be based on how it looks and performs. .
: Another relatively expensive projector we didn’t love, the Xiaomi at least has a gorgeous, Apple-like design going for it. We appreciated the compact size, 1080p resolution and built-in Android TV streaming, but the cons outweigh the pros. It’s relatively dim, especially for the price, and it lacks both a built-in battery and compatibility with a USB power source, so it’s not truly portable. .
Since it has a handle and a compact size, the Cosmos Laser 4K is technically portable, but it’s hardly mini at more than 10 pounds. There’s also no battery so you’ll need to plug it in. It’s nice and bright, but the other downsides — lack of zoom, average overall image quality and a steep price for what you get — keep it off this list.
How we test home theater projectors
Every projector we review goes through elaborate objective and subjective testing. CNET editors pick the products and services we write about based on editorial merit. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
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Home theater projector performance comparison
Projector performance comparison
|Anker||Mars II Pro||$500||720p||337||354:1|
|Epson||HC 5050||$3,000||1080p x2*||1,732||5,203:1|
*See review for more details
**as measured. Seefor details.
Frequently asked questions about home theater projectors
What kind of projector should you get?
LCD and Digital Light Processing projectors are the most common technologies. Higher-end projectors often use LCOS, or liquid crystal on silicon, designs. These are marketed as SXRD and DILA. LCOS is superior to LCD and DLP in almost every way, but is significantly more expensive.
LCD (used almost exclusively by Epson) and DLP both have their strengths and weaknesses. DLP is typically sharper, LCD often brighter. However, both technologies offer bright, sharp images. It’s more down to the specific model of projector than specific technologies.
Do you need a screen for a better projector experience?
You can use any flat surface to project your image. However, don’t expect it to be the best surface for a projector. Any and all tiny bumps in a wall, for example, will be visible as extra “noise” in the image. This can be distracting. If you want the best image quality from your projector, even an inexpensive screen is a far better option. This is because projector screens tend to brighten the image noticeably and create a smooth surface that just shows your TV, movie or game.
Portable or home projector?
Portable models are expensive for their performance, but can work where there’s no outlet. If you don’t plan on ever using the projector away from your house, a traditional projector will be far brighter and can be used outside. Just remember to bring it in when you’re done.