Projectors have come a long way since their use for educational slides in 1950s classrooms. Today, projectors are widely used as an alternative to traditional TV screens: home theaters, outdoor theaters, and even portable, travel-friendly ways for families to watch movies on vacation.
Video projectors can come at a high price tag, with some models reaching the multi-thousand dollar mark. However, with so many high-quality yet affordable options to choose from, there’s no need to spend top dollar on a video projector. You can even get some of the best 4K projectors for under $1,000.
We’ve researched the best budget projectors that are high-quality, easy to use, and deliver crisp, bright images so you can watch all your favorite content without hurting your wallet.
Choosing a projector with good brightness is essential because if it isn’t bright enough, the image will look soft and dull. Projector manufacturers calculate brightness in Lumens or ANSI Lumens. Lumens and ANSI Lumens are similar in that they both measure light output. But, ANSI Lumens measurements are considered more accurate as they require more specific measurement conditions. ANSI Lumens also measures the brightness of light projected onto a surface, as opposed to Lumens, which measures the brightness of the light itself.
Generally speaking, the more Lumens, the better, though that comes at a price. And if you want to use a projector in conditions that aren’t totally dark, you’ll want higher Lumens as well, or other light sources may wash out the image. Remember that the size of your room and the distance the projector will have to reach your wall also play significant roles in this process. A projector with around 1,000 ANSI Lumens will be enough for most situations.
Resolution essentially refers to the clarity of the image that you will get from a projector. It tells you the pixel dimensions of a screen, or in this case, the projected image. Just like brightness, you will want the highest resolution for maximum quality. But high-resolution projectors can be costly, and it could be overkill for some types of content and use-cases. 1920X1080, otherwise known as full HD, is plenty for most home theatre situations.
Contrast refers to the ratio between the brightest white and the darkest black. A higher contrast ratio will provide a richer video image. The contrast ratio also compliments brightness, as a high number of Lumens won’t mean much if you have a low contrast ratio. Go for at least 1,500:1 for your contrast ratio.
There are three main light source options: lamp, LED, or laser.
Video projectors that use lamps need changing after about 3,000 to 4,000 hours of viewing. They also get super hot and, as a result, require a built-in fan or cooling mechanism. While lamps are considered the oldest and most outdated models, they are usually much cheaper than LED or laser models. So if you don’t plan on using it very often (1-2 hours a day), this is a good money-saving option.
LED and lasers are the newest projector models. They don’t require start-up time; just press the power on button, and they’re ready to go. They can also last anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 hours.
Why it made the cut: This portable, budget LED projector has nearly 1,500 positive Amazon reviews and offers tons of versatility at a super affordable price.
The Kodak Luma 150 Portable Projector offers a super bright LED lamp with 16.7 million display colors. The built-in speakers are crisp, loud, and don’t require any plug-ins. You can use a MicroSD card slot, USB cable, HDMI cable, or integrated Airplay and Miracast screencasting for super versatile viewing options, making this budget projector a breeze to use for a family.
It comes with DLP technology, easy-to-use touch controls, and up to 120-inch screen viewing. Native 1080p videos will play in full HD, provided you have a strong connection between all devices. But, 720p/lower-quality videos will not upscale. The rechargeable battery lasts up to 2.5 hours, so it’s unsuitable for binge-watching.
Why it made the cut: Our most expensive pick that still clocks in at under $1,000. The 1080p Epson Home Cinema with HDMI port has the most bang for your buck with tons of specialized features, including expert clarity and four modes of excellent color accuracy.
This easy-to-use home theater comes with a built-in 10 W speaker, premium picture quality, and advanced 3LCD technology for 100% of the RGB color signal in each frame. It’s an excellent projector for streaming TV shows, sporting events, and movies, even for image snobs. In addition, the Image Enhancement and Frame Interpolation features offer super crisp images.
The Epson 2200 comes with ten memory saves if you want to fine-tune settings for different ambient light environments or particular types of content. It also comes with two remotes: one for simple projection use and the other for built-in Android TV.
In order to use the Android TV, you’ll need WiFi with a connection of 5 Mbps or faster. Unfortunately, the speakers in most projectors aren’t extremely high-quality, which is true of this Epson projector. As a result, you may want to also invest in some stand-alone speakers to connect your projector to, and you’ll have the total package for a reasonable price.
Why it made the cut: Conveniently designed with an included storage bag, take this lightweight and portable projector on the go for outdoor movie nights. It lasts up to 50,000 hours and has multiple ports for versatile and easy use.
At under 2 pounds, this mini projector is powerful enough for up to 50,000 hours of lamp life. It can project an image sized at 42-300 inches from a distance of 4.9ft-34.2ft. It also has quality built-in speakers for a clear, loud sound. And, the picture quality is impressive for such a low-budget projector, in part thanks to the 4000:1 contrast ratio.
1080p resolution brings you a 60%+ brighter image with HDMI, USB, Micro SD card, audio, and AV interface capabilities. You can easily connect it to your daily TV Stick, PS4, Chromecast, PC, laptop, TF card, and more. With the adorable pink design and super low price point, this is one of the best budget projector gifts for children and families!
Why it made the cut: Bright, tiny, and portable, this mini projector is one of the best on the market for vacations and on-the-go use. It’s got 200 ANSI lumen brightness and a full-size HD image display that you’d never expect from this compact vessel.
If portability and small size are what you need, you can’t do better than this Nebula Capsule Mini Projector. It’s one of, if not the smallest, projectors capable of 720p HD, with a full-sized image display and powerful speakers. The Nebula Capsule is an Amazon product favorite for travelers who want to be able to bring a tiny movie theater on the go.
It works best for Android TV users, Google Play Store, Chromecast, and Google Assistant. Unfortunately, Netflix and Amazon Prime aren’t natively supported, though there are workarounds. It is a bit pricier than other models, but you are paying for the combination of compact size with big power.
Why it made the cut: This LED WiFi-controlled iPhone projector offers 4.9 ft of throw distance, 80,000 hours of lamp life, and includes temperature control technology.
Small enough for easy portable use, you can control this iPhone and Android-compatible projector with a simple WiFi connection. It’s also equipped with various ports (VGA / USB / HDMI / AV / SD / audio output), making hookups to computers, monitors, televisions, PS4, DVD players, and other equipment a breeze.
The brightness is about 5,500 Lumens, meaning you can easily watch this in brighter environments. The built-in, 3W, HiFi SRS stereo speakers make it easy to hear when you bring it along for outdoor movie nights. It also has dual-fan cooling to prevent overheating, but that won’t run so loud they overpower the speaker. Unfortunately, this budget projector does support Dolby sound, meaning if you’re watching Netflix, for example, you may have to downgrade the sound in the app’s settings.
A projector works by accepting images and video from an external source (like a laptop or phone) using a connector cable or wireless connection like Bluetooth. Then, the projector uses a built-in optical projection system and projects the image onto a screen or wall. The most current models use lasers or LEDs to project images.
The throw ratio on a projector refers to the distance between the video projector’s lens and the screen.
It’s easy to make a DIY projector screen! You can use many materials that you likely already have around your home, like a bedsheet, tarp, or even just a simple blank wall. Just be sure to use a black or white background to get the sharpest and clearest image.
We considered a few main factors when selecting the best budget projectors to include in our list. First, we wanted only to choose affordable projectors. Therefore, we mainly picked projectors under $500, with the exception being the Epson Home Cinema 2200.
Next, we wanted to ensure seamless connectivity with your iPhones, laptops, or other devices. So we reviewed the direct-wire connection or Bluetooth and wireless options and looked for any red flags in the reviews.
Finally, we looked for great resolution, brightness, and clarity in the projector’s picture with a user-friendly controller experience simple enough for anyone to use.
With so many quality budget projectors to choose from, do yourself (and your bank account) a favor and skip the super expensive models. You can still get incredible, crisp imaging and loud audio, easy-to-use controls, and a long power life with the projectors on our list, all under $1,000.
We found the Kodak Lumina to be the best all-around budget projector based on various factors. While portability isn’t always a necessity, having the option is nice, and the size of this projector makes it easy to bring over to a friend’s house for a backyard movie night. The LED light makes it longer-lasting, and it has excellent picture quality for the size and price.