Not everyone can afford top-of-the-line cinema-grade projectors. Luckily, there are plenty of budget-friendly projectors that you can use to create your home cinema without breaking the bank.
I was quite surprised that many budget projectors offer a good balance of features, not to mention brightness and projection quality. Today I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite budget projectors and what you need to know before buying one.
Here’s the thing:
Before I get into the list, there’s one thing I want to make clear. When it comes to projectors, buying the cheapest one on the market is rarely a good idea. Extremely budget projectors do have their place, such as for a child’s room or as a backup option, but I recommend focusing on mid-range projectors.
Not only will mid-range projectors last longer, but you’ll also get better image quality and brightness, an overall better experience.
Best Budget Projectors
Type: LED | Resolution: 720P | Brightness: 6500 Lumens| Contrast Ratio: 6000:1 | Video Inputs: 1 x HDMI, 2 x USB | Built-in Speakers: Yes | Wifi Yes | Bluetooth: No | Projector Screen Included: Yes
I didn’t expect much from this mini-projector considering it’s under 100 Euros, but I was pleasantly surprised. It offers pretty much every feature that you need for a casual movie-watching experience.
The most important feature is the resolution, which is a native 720P or 1280x720P and the brightness is rated at 6500 Lumens. In a dark room, the picture is clear and the colours are decent.
As for the ports, it has one HDMI, two USB ports, and one 3.5 mm for audio. The projector has built-in speakers, but I would recommend connecting it to a soundbar via the aux cable.
Another notable feature is this projector fully supports screen mirroring via Wi-fi. Bear in mind, the casting service is Miracast, not Chromecast, so it’s mostly for screen-mirroring phones. The screen mirroring is compatible with Android and IOS.
Overall, a nice little projector that performed beyond my expectations, considering the price. Naturally, the brightness is not the best, but you can’t expect that much from the price.
Type: LED | Native Resolution: 480P | Brightness: 4500 Lumens| Contrast Ratio: 2000:1 | Video Inputs: 1 x HDMI, 2 x USB 1 X SD CARD, 1 x VGA | Built-in Speakers: Yes | Wifi: Yes | Bluetooth: No | Projector Screen Included: No
The Elephas GC 333 is another very budget-friendly portable projector with the core features you might need. I wouldn’t recommend this one as a main living-room projector but it’s great for kids. There’s quite a lot included in the box, but it does not include a projector screen.
As for the features, the native resolution is 840P. It also includes Wifi which supports screen mirroring so you can easily show your friends pictures or make a presentation from your phone. As for audio, there are two built-in speakers below the projector that offer stereo sound. The audio quality of the built-in speakers is not the best but also not terrible, and you can always connect it to external speakers via a cable.
What I liked about the Elephas GC 333 portable projector is the wheel near the lens that allows you to manually adjust the image. It also comes with a remote, so you don’t need to get up to switch sources or change settings.
To summarize, a very budget-friendly projector that gets the job done. It exceeded my expectations.
Type: LED | Native Resolution: 720P | Brightness: 5800 Lux| Contrast Ratio: 6000:1 | Video Inputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB 1 x VGA | Built-in Speakers: Yes | Wifi: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Included Accessories: Case
Here’s another good portable and budget-friendly projector. It offers a good range of features, and it also includes a case. The bag has a hand strap which makes transporting the projector safe and convenient.
The picture quality is good, with a native resolution of 720P and a 5800 Lux brightness rating. Like other projectors, it does have built-in speakers, but they’re on the rear of the device, and even with the volume maxed out, the audio quality is not very good.
Not to worry, this projector supports Bluetooth, so you can connect an external speaker, although it won’t work with every Bluetooth speaker. In addition to that, it also supports screen mirroring from mobile devices.
Overall, I say it’s a well-rounded projector, with decent brightness and picture quality. However, the fan can be a little loud at times.
Type: LED | Native Resolution: 480P | Brightness: 6500 Lux| Contrast Ratio: 8000:1 | Video Inputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB | Built-in Speakers: Yes | Wifi: No | Bluetooth: No | Projector Screen Included: No
The ClokoWe M8 is another extremely lightweight and compact projector. The M8 projector fits perfectly in the palm of your hand and weighs only 720 grams. It doesn’t have many advanced features, but the key selling point is its portability.
It has the standard features you would expect: a 480P native resolution, a LED bulb with 6500 Lux brightness, a lens-adjustment wheel, and remote control. However, it does not have Wi-fi so you can’t screen-mirror wirelessly, only with the USB cable. It comes with built-in stereo speakers.
Overall, the M8 projector has good value and can be used for dark rooms, shows, and other events. But it’s a little dim and the picture quality is not that great. The adjustment wheel is a nice addition.
Type: LED | Native Resolution: 240P | Brightness: 2000 Lux| Contrast Ratio: 800:1 | Video Inputs: 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB 1 x Micro SD | Built-in Speakers: Yes | Wifi: No | Bluetooth: No | Projector Screen Included: No
The Vamvo YG300 is an interesting projector because it’s incredibly small and lightweight, almost like a little book. If you need something very compact, small, and easy to carry when you’re on the road, the YG 300 could be a good fit.
Besides the extremely compact size, you can power the YG 300 budget projector with either USB-C or Micro USB. It does come with an AC power adapter. On that note, you can also power the projector with a power bank.
As for features, well, unfortunately, there aren’t that many features to talk about. The native resolution is quite low at 240P, and the brightness is rated at 2000 Lux. Even in a dark room, the picture quality is rather dim. It’s acceptable for pictures, presentations, and TV shows but I don’t recommend it for movies.
There also aren’t many image adjustment features. You’ll have to physically move the projector to find a location where the projection quality is best.
I wouldn’t say it’s a bad projector considering it’s very cheap but I would not recommend it as the main projector in your home.
What to Expect from Budget Projectors
The majority of budget projectors are manufactured by companies in China. Some of these companies are questionable, and often lack quality customer service. You will also likely come across spelling mistakes in the marketing material or the user interface.
For the most part, even the projectors from unknown brands perform moderately well. Most of them offer enough brightness for watching movies in a dark room, average built-in speakers, and connection options. Most budget projectors use LED as the light source.
At least if these cheap projectors break you won’t need to worry about spending a fortune replacing them.
Having said that, if you do have the option, I would recommend buying a projector from a well-known electronics company such as Ben Q.
What to Look for When Buying a Budget Projector
In my opinion, brightness is the most important feature to consider when buying a projector. Unfortunately, it’s not usually possible to test the brightness in person, so you’ll have to rely on the Lumen or Lux rate.
The problem is it’s very difficult to accurately measure the ratings and most projector companies will not advertise the actual numbers.
Most projectors will advertise their Lumen rating which is the amount of light created by the projector. The Lux rating is the amount of light that reaches the surface, which tends to decrease as the size increases. The Lux can be improved by using a proper projector screen.
Without going into too much detail, if you want a bright projector, look for one that has at least 6000 Lumens. Of course, in dark and small rooms, with a small projection size, projectors with fewer Lumens could work too.
Resolution can be a little tricky when it comes to projectors because it all depends on the projection surface area. Most projectors will support 1080P but it will only look like 1080P if the projector is very close to the projector sheet. As the projection area increases, the quality decreases.
There’s also native resolution and supported resolution and it’s important to understand the difference. Native resolution is the maximum resolution capability of the chip inside the projector.
The supported resolution simply means the projector is capable of opening files at the resolution but it will downgrade the quality to match the native resolution. For example, a projector with a native resolution of 720P and supported resolution of 4K can open 4K movies but the output will be in 720P.
With cheap projectors, the supported resolution is usually mentioned first, while the native resolution is listed in the fine print. Make sure to pay attention to the fine print. I recommend a projector with a native resolution of at least 720P or ideally 1080P. Anything lower will be too blurry and uncomfortable to watch.
Connectors & Ports
Most projectors have outdated ports that no one really uses, like VGA, AV, and SD Cards. 90% of consumers will only use HDMI because it’s the most common. Take a look at the devices you want to connect to the projector, what connectors do they use?
With a projector that has multiple HDMI ports, you can easily flip through sources, instead of having to re-wire devices. For that reason, I suggest looking for a projector that has two or more HDMI ports.
Audio & Bluetooth
While most projectors do include built-in speakers, the quality is usually about the same as any portable speaker, which is not very good. Watching a cinematic movie with built-in speakers definitely does not improve the experience.
What I recommend is connecting the projector to a separate audio device that has better quality audio, such as a soundbar, or even a home-theatre system. To do that, keep an eye out for projectors that either have Bluetooth or an aux port. I personally recommend using the aux port for audio.
Types of Projectors
How do you plan to use your projector? Is it for watching movies in your living room or playing a sports channel outdoors? Business presentations or gaming? There are so many ways to use a projector, but not all projectors are equal.
If you need a projector for tasks like business presentations that don’t require much colour or brightness, you could get away with a cheaper model. I would look for one that is portable and easy to carry.
Casting features can be useful in this situation too. Generally, you don’t need a very powerful projector for business presentations, a budget one should be acceptable.
Home Theater And Movie Projectors
Projectors are primarily designed for consuming media but you can use them for all kinds of activities.
For movies, you want to choose a projector that is bright, at least 6,000 Lumens, with a good native resolution. It’s hard to say which specifications are best because the manufacturers create their own specifications. It might take a bit of testing to find one that suits you.
I also recommend keeping the projection size smaller, so the light is more focused, resulting in a clearer image. Nevertheless, brightness and colour accuracy is important for movies and home theatres.
If I wanted a projector primarily for movies, I would spend a bit more to buy a quality projector that will deliver a cinema-like experience.
Projectors For Gaming:
It’s fun to play video games on a projector, and it can take couch party games to a whole new level.
Generally, gaming on a projector is possible, but there’s often a noticeable input delay.
Most home theatre enthusiasts do not recommend gaming on a projector. For casual games, like RPGs, or Co-op games, it’s acceptable.
There are projectors designed for gamers, but those are very expensive, and not nearly as good as a regular monitor or TV.
Types of Projection Technology
You might have noticed that projectors use different technologies to create the light source, such as DLP, LED, 3LCD, and others.
I’ll briefly explain how those work below. Do note that most projectors use a combination of technologies.
LED (Light-Emitting Diode):
LED projectors are the most popular, and for good reasons. LED projectors are cheap, smaller, cooler, last longer, and are more eco friendly. For example, the average lifespan of a LED projector light is around 30,000 hours.
The colours on LED projectors are usually pretty good too. Some people complain that LED projectors are not as bright or clear as other projectors, but it’s a matter of personal preference. There are plenty of mid-range LED projectors that can deliver excellent picture quality.
For personal use, LED projectors should be more than sufficient. BenQ is a popular brand that mostly manufactures LED projectors.
DLP (Digital Light Processing)
These types of projectors rely on DLP technology, which uses small micro-mirrors to help create and focus an image by rotating a small wheel. They provide good image quality, and the images that they project are crisp and have a great response time.
DLP projectors always have high contrast and “whiter whites and blacker blacks”. These are generally much more expensive than LED projectors and don’t have a very long lifespan.
The upside is they’re brighter than other types of projectors. DLP projectors are also capable of 3D. The downsides? They’re very expensive and bulky and mostly only used in Cinemas.
3LCD is the term for LCD projection, which was pioneered by Epson. The number represents the number of panels the projector uses. These are very bright, with a high colour output, while also using less power.
One downside is that a lot of 3LCD projectors have a “screen door effect” which is a visual effect that blurs images around the corners of the screen. Modern products counter this issue, but it’s still common in older models. They also require more maintenance.
How Many Lumens Do I Need For A Home Projector?
For a home projector in a dark room, it’s recommended to buy a projector that has a minimum of 2000 Lumens. Remember, not all product listings list an accurate lumen count, so you might need to do further research on the specific projector model that interests you.
What Type Of Projectors Are Used In Movie Theaters?
Most movie theatres use Christie Digital laser projectors. Other theatres such as IMAX use projectors with Xenon lamps. These projectors are incredibly large and very expensive, not to mention power-hungry.
Can You Watch TV On A Projector?
You can watch TV on a projector if you connect a TV’s cable mod-box to the HDMI port on the projector. You could also connect an internet-based live-TV stick such as Chromecast, Roku, Hulu, and Apple TV.
Which Type Of Projector Is Best For Classroom And PPT Presentations?
For classroom and PPT presentations you do not need a very powerful projector. The Elephas W13 is a good option for classroom and PPT presentations.
What Is The Best Material To Use For A Projector Screen?
There are lots of good options for projector screen material. The most recommended options are blackout cloth, spandex, or Carl’s Flexiwhite. While projector screen fabric is important, there are many other factors that can affect the projection quality too. Most pre-built projector screens are good enough for most projectors.
Best Projector Brands:
If you’re looking to narrow down a projector by brand, most of the big-name brands have excellent projections. For example, Epson, JVC, BenQ, Sony, LG, and Panasonic, are all solid projector brands.
Most of these brands offer a variety of projectors with a wide range of prices. BenQ, Epson, and Panasonic tend to have more budget-friendly projector options.
For cinema-grade quality, the best-known projector brands are Christie Digital and Barco Projectors. However, those cater towards professional movie theatres and not casual home theatre setups. For example, most Christie Digital laser projectors start from €25,000.
The Bottom Line:
Buying a projector can seem like rocket science at first because there are so many features to consider. The truth is most modern projectors are decent for casual use, regardless of the technology they use. I would avoid the super portable hand-held projectors because those don’t offer a good range of brightness.
To make things simple, I would stick to LED projectors, and look for one that has the ports you need, with good brightness. Worse case, you can always return undesirable projectors for a refund. And most companies offer good warranties too.