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You don’t need a big, expensive TV to get a movie theater experience. With projectors getting better for cheaper, it’s possible and easy to get a big screen in your living room. With an inexpensive projector, you can watch movies and TV shows on a 100-inch-plus screen. Pair that with a soundbar or a receiver and speakers and you can get picture and sound to rival your local cinema’s. Even better: no crowds, no noise, and you can hit Pause to use the restroom without missing anything.
Modern home theater projectors have impressive picture quality, good brightness in ambient light, vivid colors and a quality contrast ratio — and you can nab one starting at around $200. That means you can get a massive screen for a fraction of the cost of a big TV. And many models are portable, making them perfect for a backyard movie night under the stars.
To give you a sneak peek at some of our picks for the best projector of 2023: We like the Epson Home Cinema 5050UB as the best overall home theater projector. The best projector for the money is still the BenQ HT2050A, but it’s being discontinued soon. Its replacement, the HT2060, is excellent and one of our overall best projector picks.
Whether you’re looking to buy a 4K projector, want something that’ll make HD sources look great or need something you can use on the go, 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 half as much again). 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.
Read our Epson Home Cinema 5050UB review.
The BenQ HT2060 replaces our long-time favorite, the HT2050A. It has many similarities, including 1080p resolution, lens shift and great color accuracy. New to the HT2060 is a move to LEDs instead of a traditional lamp to create light. This has two main benefits. First, the LEDs should last the life of the projector. No more replacing lamps every few years. The second is impressive color accuracy and depth. The image is rich and lifelike.
The downsides are a reduction in brightness overall, though the HT2060 is still a bright projector. The other is cost. The HT2060 is about 25% more expensive to purchase. However, because you don’t need to replace the lamps, the cost of ownership over the projector’s lifetime is far lower compared to the HT2050A.
Head to head with its predecessor, the older projector still looks great, but overall the HT2060 is a little bit better. If your budget is around $1,000 and you have a light-controlled room, this is the projector to get. If you need some extreme light output, the Epson HC2350 mentioned below doesn’t look quite as good, but is far brighter.
The Epson HC2350 is an extremely bright 4K projector at great price. It has lens shift, built-in streaming, and a compact size. Its price has fallen since it was released, so now it goes head-to-head with another favorite of ours, the 1080p BenQ HT2060 mentioned above.
The HC2350 is impressively bright. It’s one of the brightest projectors we’ve ever measured. However, its contrast ratio isn’t great, well below average. As a result, its image is more washed out and “flat” compared to some other projectors, notably the aforementioned BenQ. While 4K, the HC2350 uses LCDs to create its image, and as such is susceptible to motion blur. So it doesn’t always look as sharp as you might expect.
If you’re ready for 4K, and need something with extreme brightness, this is the best option anywhere near $1,000.
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. It 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.
BenQ is discontinuing the HT2050A soon. Its replacement, the HT2060, is mentioned above. It’s a little more expensive, but uses LEDs instead of the HT2050A’s replaceable lamps. So over its lifetime the HT2060 will be cheaper. If you don’t want to spend more to start, or want the HT2050A’s higher brightness, it’s a great deal while it’s still available.
Read our BenQ CineHome HT2050A review.
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. Read our AAXA P8 review.
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.
Read our Anker Nebula Mars II Pro review.
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.
Sony has discontinued the VW325ES, but you can still find it available new online.
Read our Sony VPL-VW325ES review.
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. Read our Epson Home Cinema LS11000 review.
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.
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. Read our Optoma UHZ50 Projector review.
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. Also note that you can save $100 at Amazon right now by activating the instant coupon on the product page. Read our Xgimi Halo Plus review.
The Vimgo P10’s price fluctuates between $170 and $270, 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 $200. It even has Netflix built in. Impressive. Read our Vimgo P10 review.
Other projectors we’ve tested
BenQ GS50: 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.
Samsung Freestyle: 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. Read our Samsung Freestyle review.
Xiaomi Mi Smart Projector 2: 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. Read our Xiaomi Mi Smart Projector 2 review.
Epson Home Cinema 880: The 880 is one of Epson’s less expensive home projectors, but it still puts out a remarkable amount of light. That, and the price, make it tempting. The contrast ratio is terrible, however, so the overall image quality is weak. Read our Epson Home Cinema 880 review.
LG HU810PW: The HU810PW is a higher-end, laser-powered projector with 4K resolution that’s able to create some lovely, colorful images. It’s also quiet and sports an attractive, boxy case. The contrast ratio is quite poor, so it doesn’t look nearly as good overall as other projectors in its overall price range. Read our LG HU810PW review.
Anker Nebula Solar Portable: The Solar Portable is a portable projector with a built-in battery that lasts 3 hours. It sports 1080p resolution, but it’s not very bright and the contrast isn’t great. While the Anker Mars II Pro has its own issues, overall it’s the better option for the same money. Read our Anker Nebula Solar Portable review.
Anker Nebula Cosmos Laser 4K: 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. Read our Anker Nebula Cosmos Laser 4K Projector review.
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.
For more info, check out how CNET tests projectors.
Projector performance comparison
|Anker||Mars II Pro||$400||720p||337||354:1|
|Epson||HC 5050||$3,000||1080p x2*||1,732||5,203:1|
*See review for more details
**as measured. See how CNET tests projectors for details.
Frequently asked questions about home theater projectors
What is the best mini projector?
Mini projectors are projectors small enough to hold easily in one hand. They’re incredibly portable, but they’re not as bright nor do they look as good as their larger counterparts. Overall, we like the AAXA P8 for its low size and high performance for its category.
For more options, check out our list of the best portable mini projectors.
What is the best projector for outdoor movies?
If you want to move movie night outdoors, you have a few options. We generally recommend, when possible, to use a regular home projector and run an extension cord. Home projectors will offer far better, brighter images, for the same or less money than portable projectors.
If you want to go fully cordless, we like the Xgimi Halo Plus. It’s fairly expensive, but offers decent battery life and image quality.
For more options, check out our list of the best outdoor 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.