How to Choose the Right Projector for Your Home Theater
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.
Projectors are a great way to bring the movie theater experience into your home.
Going to the movies? That’s so 2019. In today’s current climate, more people than ever are looking to bring the movie theater experience into the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Thanks to modern technology, it’s actually relatively simple to turn a spare room into a cutting-edge home theater without breaking the bank. All you really need is some comfy seating, a nice set of speakers, and a quality projector. But how do you know which projector is right for your movie-watching needs?
Here we’ll break down everything you need to know about modern projectors so you can buy the right one for your mini at-home movie theater.
Think About Your Budget
Like a lot of tech products these days, projectors come in a wide price range. A decent projector can cost as little as $400 to $500, while top-of-the-line units could set you back more than $5,000.
The amount you’ll spend depends on your needs. If you just want a no-frills machine that puts a crisp image on your wall, there’s probably no reason to spend more than $1,000. But if you prefer a cutting-edge model that plays video at the maximum possible resolution in stunning, vibrant color, be prepared to fork over a lot more.
Benefits of Projectors
Projectors provide a much larger image than a television screen for around the same price. Setting up this BenQ projector eight feet from your wall will generate an image the size of a 100-inch TV. The BenQ projector costs about $700, while a comparable 86-inch UHD TV will cost well over $1,500.
Another clear benefit in favor of projectors. TVs are fragile, heavy and can be awkward to lug around. A projector is usually about the size of a toaster and can easily be unplugged and carried from room to room.
There’s no need to bring along a bulky DVD player or console, either. Just plug a device like an Amazon Fire Stick into the projector’s HDMI port and you’ll have access to the massive libraries of content on streaming services.
Modern TVs tend to take up a lot of space and can be an eyesore. Projectors take up almost no space and are barely noticeable when they aren’t in use. If you’re looking for a room design that isn’t dominated by a massive flatscreen TV, projectors are a great option to consider.
Short Throw vs. Long Throw
Think carefully about the position of your projector in the room. That will influence the kind of projector you ultimately purchase.
There are two styles of projection: short throw and long throw. Long throw projectors cast their image onto a wall from across the room; the farther they are from the wall, the larger the screen will appear. Short throw projectors put a large picture onto a wall directly in front of it.
If you’re setting up your home theater in a cramped area with limited power options, a short throw projector is probably the way to go. But if you’ve got space to work with and plan on mounting your projector on the wall or ceiling, best to buy a long throw projector.
Do You Need a 4K Projector?
Currently, the main feature that separates a $600 projector from a $1000+ projector is its resolution. For awhile, a screen being “high definition” meant that it played video at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Then in the early 2010s technology took a leap forward and the standard for “high definition” became what is known as 4K resolution, or 3840 x 2160 pixels.
4K is almost four times the resolution of the old standard for high definition, resulting in sharper, cleaner and more vibrant images onscreen. But is a 4K projector worth the added price? It depends.
If you’re planning on using a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-Ray player in your home theater to watch all the latest releases at the best picture quality possible, then you’ll have to spend a little more for a 4K projector to realize your Blu-Ray player’s full potential. But if you’re more into older movies or streaming video, then the resolution doesn’t matter as much.
To the untrained eye, the difference between 4K and lower resolutions on a projector will hardly be noticeable. Just make sure that whatever projector you buy supports a resolution of at least 1920 x 1080.
Does Brightness Matter?
The brightness of a projector is measured in “lumens.” Lumens are important to consider, especially if you’re planning on using your projector in a room with a good deal of natural light.
A projector with a higher lumen count will produce a crisp image in a room with light pouring in through the windows, while a projector with a lower lumen count could struggle in those same conditions. Basically, the more lumens your projector puts out, the less likely you’ll need blackout curtains.
While shopping around for projectors, you’ll likely see some of them marketed as “outdoor” projectors. Most of the time, though, “outdoor” projectors are essentially the same as their indoor counterparts. Provided it’s bright enough, pretty much every projector will be more than capable of working outdoors. Of course, don’t use projectors outside if it’s raining.
Are the Built-In Speakers Good Enough?
Most projectors come with built-in speakers. Don’t assume that means you won’t have to buy a set of external speakers.
Built-in internal speakers usually are low quality, producing tinny and distorted sounds. Plus, they’ll be competing with whatever noisy fan sounds your projector generates.
It’s a much better idea to buy a set of external speakers to blast your sound through, whether that’s a single soundbar or an entire surround sound system for the full movie theater experience. Make sure to double-check whatever speakers you buy are compatible with your projector.
Our Favorite Projectors
Best projector on a budget
The BenQ TH585 is a great projector for less than $1,000, providing a bright and colorful picture even without 4K resolution.
- Resolution: 1080p;
- Lumens: 3,500;
- Price: $599.
Best long throw projector
The Optoma UHD50X brings the full “high definition” experience, producing bright whites and deep blacks through HDR (High Dynamic Range) technology.
- Resolution: 4K UHD;
- Lumens: 3,600;
- Price: $1,499.
Best short throw projector
The Epson EpiqVision Ultra LS500 tops the class of short-throw projectors for good reason: It can cast a 130-inch screen onto a wall from just 23 inches away.
- Resolution: 4K UHD;
- Lumens: 4,000;
- Price: $3,699.