The last couple of years have made the best projectors even more essential: with blockbusters coming to streaming faster than ever before and some of the best entertainment around exclusive to streaming services rather than cinemas, projectors deliver the ultimate home entertainment experience.
The best protectors used to be frighteningly expensive, and while it's still possible to drop huge sums of cash on a smart projector that's no longer essential. Prices have fallen and technology has got better, so there's a wider choice and more options for size and positioning.
Some projectors are designed to be mounted permanently, but there are also compact models that can be stowed away when you don't need them. And there's also a growing number of short-throw projectors that put a huge image on any nearby wall.
There's never been a better time to super-size your entertainment. But it's important to understand that there are some key differences between projectors and the very best TVs, especially in areas such as HDR performance, so if you'd like to know more we have all the information you need in our TV vs projector guide.
But they differ in positive ways too. Good luck getting a TV that can display a picture as big as these projectors can, and getting it for anywhere close to their price tags. The price of the very biggest TVs make the price of a projector sound like loose change you found down the back of the sofa.
What is the best projector?
For the best combination of convenience and performance, the ultra-short throw Cinema X P2 from Optoma is our top 4K choice. It’s an awesome bit of kit that you can sidle up against a wall but still get huge, gorgeous pictures.
For more modest big-screen thrills, you’ll be hard pressed to beat the Viewsonic M2 Mobile Studio. Compact and convenient, this 1080p model is the ideal personal pop-up cinema solution, and it’s priced like a budget TV.
The best projectors – our picks
This second-gen ultra-short throw projector embraces the same easy to live with design as its predecessor, the Cinema X, aka the UHZ65UST, but trims back the spec to hit a cheaper price point.
Contrast is now 2,000,000:1 (down from 2,500,000:1), brightness dimmed from 3.500 lumens to 3,000, and the colour gamut reduced. On the plus side, the price is now much more affordable, and the model still delivers a fantastic viewing experience overall.
Image quality is superb. The CinemaX P2 is built around a single chip 4K DLP device and laser light engine. It’s HDR compatible, but there is a caveat. While HDR is recognised from Blu-ray and streaming media players, the Optoma’s HLG support is strangely limited to file playback via USB, so broadcast HDR from set-top boxes may not recognise it as an HDR-capable device.
You can get a picture upwards of 120-inches with the projector placed around a metre from the wall. Operating noise is relatively low and easily disguised by the sound system.
The chassis is exactly the same as its predecessor. We get three HDMI inputs and a really impressive built-in 40W sound system. When it comes to big screen convenience, this has it in spades – as our full Optoma CinemaX P2 review explains.
BenQ’s affordable 4K offering is a brilliant buy if you want big screen sports, but don’t particularly want to dim all the lights when the big match is about to start. Motion smoothing is highly effective, so onscreen action looks wonderfully naturalistic. Interpolation comes via MEMC (motion estimation motion compensation) technology, which is able to retain detail in fast action.
The design is smart, with rounded sides and stylish grey blue face plate. Rear connectivity includes two HDMI v2.0 inputs, USB reader and a USB power port, should you want to insert a streaming TV stick. There’s also an optical audio digital output and 3.5 analogue stereo jack, if the onboard 10W sound system doesn’t hit the mark.
The projector is HDR compatible, but there is a caveat. When it receives an HDR source, be it from Blu-ray or media player, it goes into full brightness HDR mode, with an increase in noise to match, hitting upwards of 30dB. Watch in HD SDR and fan noise drops to 28dB. A good external sound system should still be able to cover this totally, though.
While great for sports and TV, this is less of a cinematic star. Black level performance is limited, tending toward dark grey. The TK850 uses a 0.47-inch DLP chipset, and the colour wheel is a four segment (RGBW) design. We didn’t spot any obvious colour fringing (a common trait of the tech), though. This single-chip DLP may not support Wide Colour Gamut sources, but it's still vibrant.
While the BenQ TK850 wouldn’t be our first choice for a home cinema room, it comes into its own with sports, thanks to a high average picture brightness and effective motion smoothing.
This 4K projector is smartly geared up for gaming, with an impressively low input lag rate (16ms at 4K 60fps) and three different image presets for different game genres, making it easy to optimise it however you like.
But movies and TV aren't an afterthought here – you actually get Google TV on-board (sort of – it comes with a streaming stick you connect, but that stays hidden) – and there are image modes for movies and sports, with the latter adding pleasing extra saturation to grass and kits.
It's a short-throw projector capable of creating 100 inches of screen from just 2m away, making it very easy to accommodate. It's a bit noisy in operation, and only has a 5W sound system on board, and while the latter can certainly make itself heard, we'd recommend adding some extra speakers.
It supports HDR10 and HLG formats for HDR, though we'd say it actually performs better with SDR – in HDR mode, it doesn't perform quite as well in brighter rooms. Though perhaps that's no problem in your gaming den…
This compact, short-throw 1080p projector is the perfect option for big-screen fun and games. It uses an LED light source, which requires next to no warm up, runs cool and is maintenance free (lamp life is quoted at 30,000 hours).
It looks great too, with a metallic bronze wrap and offset lens, with an adjustable stand helps cast the image up from a low angle. It’ll project an 80-inch picture from just over 2m.
Connections include a single HDMI v2.0, micro SD card and USB reader, plus 3.5mm audio output and Bluetooth pairing button, so you can partner your own wireless headphones.
The M2 is Wi-Fi enabled, via a USB dongle, supplied in the box. You’ll need to pop this into a compartment on the underside of the projector. The M2 is built on the Aptoide Android-based smart platform, but this only offers limited app support.
Images are sharp and detailed. Colour performance is similarly outstanding, with hues vibrant and deep. Black level performance isn’t so convincing, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise at this price point.
Operating noise is low, between 24dB and 26dB, and easily masked by the on-board sound system, which is surprisingly loud. Designed by Harman Kardon, it does the job for impromptu screenings and game sessions.
Proof that you don’t need to spend big for a stylish projection offering, the M2 is a fine multimedia short throw offering, smart enough to live on shelving and small enough to be stowed away when not needed.
LG’s lightweight Cinebeam 4K projector is an elegantly designed projector with a higher than average IQ, courtesy of LG’s webOS smart platform.
Connections comprise two HDMI v2.0 inputs, plus twin USB ports, a digital audio optical output and headphone jack. Ethernet is available, an alternative to on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The model will suit most living rooms and dens. To cast a 100-inch image, you’ll need around three metres from lens to screen. Brightness is rated at 1,500 ANSI lumens, and there’s compatibility with HDR.
When it comes to motion handling, LG’s TruMotion interpolation does a suitably smooth job. It’s. It’s useful for sports, but for movies we’d recommend turning it off. Operating noise is relatively high at around 30dB.
Ease of use is class leading, though. The remote control is an all-white version of the Magic Remote, familiar from LG’s smart TVs. It comes with dedicated buttons for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
The HU70LS uses a 4K DLP XPR chip, which offers a reassuringly smooth, filmic image. There’s no conventional lamp on-board. Instead the HU70LS uses an LED light engine. This has the benefit of instant on and off. The HU70LS is bright enough to be used in rooms with even quite high levels of ambient light, and colour performance has plenty of wow, claiming 92% of the DCI-P3 colour space.
Because it’s LED, there’s no need for a colour wheel, so no DLP rainbow effect, and with a working life of 30,000 hours, this projector should see you through umpteen box set binges.
The HU70LS is a classy reimaging of the home cinema projector. We love its contemporary design and zero-maintenance LED light engine.
The EH-TW9400 is a 4K projector that uses Epson’s Pro UHD pixel shifting technology, first seen on the EH-TW7300. It’s also available bundled with a wireless HDMI transmitter, as the EH-TW9400W. Consider it a serious contender for the home theatre enthusiasts.
While not native 4K, the pixel density its projected UHD picture offers is sublimely filmic, and looks great with both 4K and HD sources. Connections include two HDMI inputs, USB and VGA PC. There’s no token sound system (a sure sign this projector is intended for home cinema use).
Light output is rated at 2,600 lumens, which is just about bright enough for the EH-TW9400 to be used in rooms with a level of ambient light. For movies, though, plan on full blackout conditions – this is what it's designed for, after all. You’ll need a projection distance of at least 3m to fill a 100-inch screen.
Colour fidelity is outstanding. The projector can cover the full DCI-P3 colour spectrum using the Digital Cinema preset. Black level performance is above average too, with HDR mode enhancing subjective contrast. It’s relatively quiet too, purring along at 24dB.
If you’re looking for a truly impressive home cinema projector that doesn’t come with a stratospheric price tag, this is well worth shortlisting.
There are plenty of 4K projectors available for less, but few offer an unexpurgated native 2160p performance like this Sony. Unapologetically an enthusiast’s option, it features a host of refinements to appeal to the big-screen cognoscenti. Focus and zoom are motorised, adjusted via the supplied remote control.
Admittedly not a light cannon, output is rated at 1,800 lumens, with a dynamic contrast of 350,000:1. This is one model that’s best seen in a fully dark theatre room.
At 14kg, it’s a substantial beast, so plan your installation accordingly. Connections include two HDMI inputs, with HDR support. The projector uses tried and tested lamp technology, which translates to a lifespan rated at 6,000 hours when the lamp is set in Low mode.
The model is an iteration of the VPL-VW570ES, a model which helped redefine home cinema image quality for the price. Its 4K SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display) chipset supports up to 4096 x 2160p cinema resolution, and is capable of granular detail and stunning colour depth.
Sony’s Reality Creation image enhancement technology also contributes extra definition to fine detail, enhancing on-screen textures. Operational noise is quoted at 26dB. A tour de force performer, for those that can afford it.
How to buy the best projector for you
The TV market may have almost entirely emigrated to 4K, but home projection has been slower to follow, though now there are great options.
There are a variety of technologies that can deliver a projected 3840x2160-pixel image. Sony dominates the native 4K space with its SXRD models. These are uniformly large and, shall we say, a touch on the pricey side – but they do look fabulous.
Most cost effective are models that use single chip DLP and 3LCD technologies, which essentially pixel-juggle to deliver a 4K image. The most popular is Texas Instruments DLP UHD solution. While a DLP DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) itself only has 4.15 million mirrors, insanely fast switching coupled with image processing enables it to project an 8 million pixel image. The technique is called XPR (eXpanded Pixel Resolution).
Some enthusiasts argue that as a result XPR projectors aren’t really UHD at all. But the tech gets two thumbs up from us. The image is demonstrably more detailed than that from regular HD projectors. If there is a catch, it’s that the technology doesn’t support a wide colour gamut. It works within a conventional colour space, often referred to as REC.709. But that’s a small, almost imperceptible price to pay considering their value for money.
There’s also been a revolution in illumination technology. While many projectors still use conventional lamps to cast their images, laser light engines and LED are increasingly finding favour. Both tend to run cooler and effectively last for the lifetime of a product, so you won’t be buying a new bulb every couple of years.