The 10 Best Budget Projectors
This wiki has been updated 20 times since it was first published in February of 2017. You can bring the movie theater into your living room with one of these budget projectors, which are perfect for adding novelty and excitement to family screenings and neighborhood gatherings without breaking the bank. They're compatible with a number of streaming devices and game systems, and we've ranked them here by their resolution, maximum screen size, build quality, and brightness. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 01, 2020:
While the category in general continues to be dominated by many suspect brand names, we were able to continue in our push toward the most reliable collection of recent offerings we could muster. To that end, we sent off models from companies like Ragu and Wsiiroon, replacing them with the likes of the Sony MP-CD1 Portable Pico and the Kodak Flik X7.
Among portable projectors, that Sony model is an interesting choice, as it's got the full weight of the company's renowned imaging capabilities behind it, though in the push to create something that small and preserve its battery life as much as they could, they made something that was just too dim to crack our top spots.
For the biggest screen size you can get, the Bomaker HD GC555 still remains one of the best choices out there, even if its edges do get a little blurry when fully expanded. There's also the incredibly capable Crenova BL76, which delivers over 16 feet of screen real estate with a high resolution and an impressive contrast ratio, allowing it to preserve detail in the highlights and provide you with especially deep blacks.
June 26, 2019:
Given the fact that a majority of the projectors on this list come from Chinese factories that specialize in low-cost electronics, there's a pretty consistent turnover among makes and models. That said, a number of selections from our previous list have maintained spots, though there has been a bit of a shuffle. The Auking Mini, for example, slipped out of our top slot down to number two, as it was bested by a new entry from Wonnie that not only comes with a tripod and carrying case, but that also boasts a superior lumen count, providing users with a brighter image. The Crenova model on our previous list also slipped one spot to number seven, as it's nearly identical to the Tenker model that moved up from number ten to take its place, but for the fact that the Tenker offers two more years of warranty. We also saw fit to remove the Wsky Upgrade because an exact replica (likely from the same factory) is being sold by Wsiiroon for a lower price. We also added the Apeman model at number 4, which pushes the limits of what could be considered 'budget,' but whose use of DLP technology instead of the more common LED approach makes it worth the extra cash.
A Brief History Of Projectors
Movies became part of travelling vaudeville shows not long after, with the first full-time movie house opening in Los Angeles in 1902.
The first primitive projector came along in 1420, the brainchild of Johannes de Fontana. He was able to project an image of a monk holding a lantern by placing a special filter over a flame, so that the picture was cast in shadow on the wall. This wasn't especially effective, as the picture would have been very blurry, but it was an important first step.
In 1645, Jesuit scholar Athansius Kircher devised a way to reflect sunlight onto a screen by using a mirror and lens. He called it a magic lantern, which I think we can all agree is a much better name than projector.
By the mid-19th century, magic lanterns that burned quicklime were being used in theatrical productions. These limelight systems could give the appearance of high noon in the middle of the night, and filters could be used to project other effects, such as spotlighting.
Many inventors attempted to create a machine that could project moving images, including Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope, but the first projector that could accommodate a large audience made its debut in 1895. Chemistry professor Woodville Latham created a device he called the Pantopticon, which could display long sequences due to its ability to seamlessly advance film strips.
Movies became part of travelling vaudeville shows not long after, with the first full-time movie house opening in Los Angeles in 1902. Going to the picture show quickly became a national pastime, and film projectors would rule the roost until 1999, when the first digital models became widely available.
These digital projectors had several major advantages over their film counterparts, including higher resolution, smaller size, and reduced shipping costs. However, many purists (such as Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino) prefer the old film versions, warts and all.
Still, recreating the cinema experience in your home would be next to impossible for the average American if it weren't for digital projectors. Today, you can get a relatively inexpensive model that will give you crisp images, vivid colors, and incredible brightness.
You'll have to supply your own screaming children and sticky floors, however.
Tips For Finding The Right Projector For You
If you're not a techie, picking out a projector can seem like a nerve-wracking task. Luckily, it's a fairly straightforward process, and there are very few wrong choices you can make.
The amount of light you'll have to deal with is another important factor.
Before you start shopping, you need to figure out where you'll put the thing. Do you have enough room to make it worthwhile? Will you be using a screen, or just a blank wall? Screens will give you a sharper resolution, but at an added cost. Likewise, if you don't have enough space to get the full cinema experience, you might consider just getting a big-screen TV instead.
Also, think about how you're going to install it before you bring it home. Will it be mounted to the ceiling, or just resting on a shelf? Think about how you'll connect all the necessary wires, as well. In general, you'll want to be able to put the projector a good distance away from the display area, especially if you value sound quality, as even the quietest projectors will still make a little bit of noise.
The amount of light you'll have to deal with is another important factor. If you can make the room pitch-black, then just about any model will look fantastic, but most people will find it difficult to block out all light. In general, the more lumens the projector has, the better it will be with dealing with light — and that's especially important if you plan to take it with you on the go.
Regardless of which model you choose, the important thing is to have fun and enjoy your new toy. And remember, if anyone criticizes what you bought, you can simply ask them to leave your special screening of Big Momma's House 2.
Other Ways To Create A Home Theater On A Budget
While creating your own personal home cineplex may seem financially daunting, it can actually be quite fiscally responsible, especially when you consider how expensive going to the movies can be. Here are a few ideas for putting together a great home theater without spending a lot of scratch.
First off, don't feel like you have to buy everything at once. You can upgrade a piece at a time, filling in the gaps with equipment you already have, and you can do so without going into hock.
Installing a home theater is an investment that will pay off over time, both financially and in terms of family bonding experiences.
This is why buying the right projector is key; if you get one that has in-unit speakers, for example, that can save you a fairly major expense right off the bat. Also, many models have built-in Wi-Fi, which can let you stream movies directly from the unit, allowing you to skip buying a Blu-ray player or other device. If you do want to add an external player, though, look for something that can provide a wide variety of entertainment experiences, such as a gaming laptop.
You can find cheap blackout curtains online, and setting these up will do wonders for recreating the movie-going experience. Also, they can help you cut down on energy costs, allowing you to put those savings towards buying more gear.
Finally, be wary about over-paying for cords and accessories. Many big-box retailers charge an arm and a leg for a simple HDMI cable, and you can easily find cheaper versions that are just as good online.
Installing a home theater is an investment that will pay off over time, both financially and in terms of family bonding experiences. You'll soon be the envy of the neighborhood — and hey, you might even be able to charge other families admission.