The Brainses are not a financially rich people. The largest television we’ve owned is a 24-inch cathode ray tube box. However, when we moved into our new (old, rented) house, we decided right then and there that we would leave one wall in the living room completely bare so it could serve as a screen for our home theater video projector, a cheap Acer rig that has served us well for over two years.
Nowadays, we listen to people brag about their 60” flat screen TVs like they’re compensating for something, and we can’t help but roll our eyes. Amateurs! Save thousands of dollars, become the go-to place for watching anything, and compensate like a Hummer driver by choosing a home theater video projector. Here’s what you need to know before you buy.
How Does It Work?
Listen, I’m not some Scientologist who can tell you all about how the electricity zaps your Games of Throne onto the wall. But, I can tell you that you’re going to need a nice, non-textured wall to project onto. If you don’t have that, I recommend investing in a screen. We don’t have a screen, and we have textured walls. We’re used to it, but I’m sure people who come over question our shabby living conditions.
When you buy a screen, consider one that you can bring outside with you. Backyard movies are the stuff of lifelong memories. I recommend the Elite Screens Yard Master 2. Also, unless you are a big spender, the projector you buy will probably have inadequate speakers. You should factor in the price of new speakers if you are someone who enjoys the finer things in life.
We have a dedicated laptop that we hook up to the projector to watch Forensic Files, but any streaming media players will work fine. Also, keep in mind that on top of the price of your projector, you will have to pay for the electricity (they use a fair amount) and replacement bulbs. The lamps are anywhere from $20 to $400. After a year and a half of eight-hours-per-day use (stop judging!), ours gave out, and the replacement bulb was $150.
Here’s a Bright Idea
Projection is about more than just shifting all of your flaws onto the people closest to you. You also need to consider brightness. Lumens are used to measure projector brightness. One lumen equals the amount of light a birthday cake candle puts out in a one-square-foot-sized area. At the very least, projectologists recommend that you have 1000 lumens for your home theater. The number goes up to 1500 lumens if you have some ambient light. And, if you want to watch Gravity while on the sun, shoot for the equivalent of 3000 birthday cake candles, old man.
Of course, the number of lumens means nothing if the manufacturer has the bright idea of listing data output instead of video. This is why you need to look at the lumen rating closely for each projector and rely on reviews, like the ones we present below.
We’re All after the Perfect Image
When it comes to image quality, you should consider the contrast ratio, your source material, and native resolution. Contrast ratio refers to the difference between the whitest white and blackest black of an image. Aim for at least 3,000:1, though less will satisfy most casual viewers.
The most popular native resolutions are HD and Wide XGA. HD has 1920 x 1080 with the numbers referring to pixels. This is twice as much as Wide XGA, which is 1280 x 800. I don’t recommend counting pixels for fun.
If you are one of those people who comb their hair every day and make sure their clothes aren’t wrinkled, then you want a model that can project HD images. Of course, none of this matters if you are projecting someone’s digitalized VHS tapes of old ALF episodes. If you want a truly great picture, make sure your source material feeds a 1080p signal or equivalent. Most of the latest streaming media players do this.
How Much Do These Things Cost Anyway?
If you want, you can spend thousands of dollars on a projector that allows you to see into the deepest pores of Scarlett Johansson. None of these made the list because you can get quality projectors for much less. Here are our handy dollar sign price ranges:
- $ = about $90 to $139.99
- $$ = about $140 to $489.99
- $$$ = about $490 to $700
There are some wide prices ranges there so you better click on the links below to find out precisely how much each projector costs.
With all of this paperwork out of the way, let me present you with our picks for the top 10 best home theater video projectors:
- Wide XGA (1280 x 800) native resolution
- Built-in rechargeable battery so you can take over any party
- One-year warranty
There are several reasons why the Wowoto T8E tops our list. It has manual keystone correction, which means if your projector is at a weird angle to the wall, the picture won’t look like a trapezoid. The max screen size you can achieve is 25 feet. And, it supports 3D Blu-Ray source material. There is nothing but glowing reviews of this model. Users have found that the video output is a true 2000 lumens, and the images are easy to see even in a room with ambient light. Customers have demonstrated that you can watch SpongeBob SquarePants, Peppa Pig, and Taylor Swift with it.
- Weighs about two pounds and can fit in the palm of Shaquille O’Neal’s hand
- Supports 1080p video
- Despite the 1800 lumens in the name, this is more like 1500
The Wsky T21 is the least expensive projector on our list, and it’s really amazing what you get for under $100. If you are interested in trying out a projector or having a portable device to take to the homes of friends who have better living conditions than you, this is your top option. You can achieve screens of up to 176” (or slightly less than 15 feet). The most common remark among buyers is that they were blown away by how good the picture quality is for the price.
- 2200 lumens
- Full HD 1080p
- 300”/25’ screen size which makes the 50 Foot Woman almost life-sized
Epson is really proud of the “innovative 3LCD technology” that is found in the Home Cinema 2045. They say this gets rid of the dreaded “rainbow effect.” I didn’t know anything about this, but apparently, there is a small subsection of people who notice the slight differentiation of the colors projected during action films, and this really pisses them off. If you are incredibly particular about your action scene viewing, then this projector is for you. The biggest complaint users have is that it is hard to figure out how to access the more advanced features, such as wireless streaming.
- Three-year warranty, two-month hassle-free return, lifetime tech support
- “3,300 luminous efficiency”
- Supports 1080p video input but has 720p native resolution
I thought it was kind of fishy that Elephas listed the brightness of their 1080p HD LED Movie Projector in terms of luminous efficiency. So, I researched it for you. It turns out “luminous efficiency” is quite different from lumens. Luminous efficiency (also called “luminous efficacy”) is the ratio of lumens to watts needed to power the light. Long story short, this is not a 3300-lumen projector. My research tells me it’s more in the 1500 to 2000 ballpark.
- Comes with carrying case so you can show up the hosts of the next Super Bowl party you attend
- More like 3000 lumens
- Supports HDMI inputs from media players, laptops, and more
Despite their terrible track record with printers, Epson is the top name in projectors. That’s why we included four of their models on our list. The EX5240 is lauded for its easy setup and excellent keystone correction. The vertical keystone is automatically corrected based on the angle of the projector, and you can manually fix the horizontal keystone. The one aspect you should be aware of is that you need to purchase an adapter to access the wireless capabilities.
6. BenQ DLP Business Projector – $$
- 3300 lumens allow you to watch The X-Files with the lights on
- 13,000:1 contrast ratio so you can really differentiate whites from blacks
- Several eco-friendly features
This BenQ projector is designed for use at business meetings. Consequently, it is bright enough to project clear images in well-lit conference rooms. Stuffy businessmen trying to climb that corporate ladder report that this is ideal for videos and powerpoints. The only complaint I could find was that the picture gets blurry if you have the projector too close to the surface you are projecting onto.
- Three-year warranty
- Only slightly larger and more expensive than the Wsky projector above
- Achieves 130” (this measurement is ALWAYS the diagonal distance) images
The DBPower T20 has a native resolution of 800 x 480 and supports HD input. Also, the contrast is just 1000:1. So, don’t expect an amazing picture from this model. Buyers give this projector high ratings. For the price, it works well in low-to-no light. One guy was upset because it didn’t work well for his business presentations, but the manufacturer clearly states that their product sucks for business purposes.
8. Epson EX5210 Projector – $$$
- 2800 lumens
- XGA (1024 x 768) resolution
- 3000:1 contrast ratio
The Epson EX5210 Projector is the hoity-toity rich person option on our list. And, in our humble opinion, there are better options available for a lower price tag. Customers are impressed with how quickly you can set it up and the clear picture it projects even when a toddler keeps messing with the lighting.
- 2000 lumens and 2000:1 contrast ratio make it okay for people in glass houses
- Screen size range from 30 to 150 inches
- Three-year warranty
Blusmart makes all sorts of quality merchandise ranging from bike locks to air fryers. Buyers like how compact (about 12” by 8” by 5” and three pounds), inexpensive, and versatile it is. The most common complaint is that the fan is fairly loud.
- 3000 lumens and 15,000:1 contrast ratio
- Two-year warranty
- Screen size ranges from 80” to 119”
The Home Cinema 1040 continues Epson’s vaguely homophobic battle against the rainbow effect. This model does a great job of getting rid of this mythical rainbow, but users report that they may be overstating the brightness of this product because ambient light has a clear effect on the picture quality.
Do you have a friend with a crappy CRT television who is wasting valuable wall space on priceless works of art? Clue them in to the wonders of projectors by sharing this buying guide with them!