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The best cheap projectors: Home cinema on a budget

What is the best cheap projector? Our number one pick is the Optoma HD146X. We analyzed resolution, brightness, throw distance, and screen size to choose the top options.
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Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer on

Shopping for a cheap projector doesn't mean you have to sacrifice quality and features to fit your budget. There are plenty of affordable options out there for home projectors that have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity for streaming movies, music, and shows as well as integrated batteries to make them great for entertainment on-the-go. And "cheap" doesn't mean you have to give up great image quality either. Many budget-friendly projectors have lamps that are capable of 1080p resolution, excellent contrast, and vivid color on top of having incredibly long lifespans so you can spend more time enjoying content with friends and family, and less time maintaining your projector. I've gathered up some of the best cheap projectors available from brands like ViewSonic, LG, and Epson, and I've broken down their features to help you find the best fit for your space, needs, and budget.

Also: Best projector: Movies at the speed of light

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Optoma

Resolution: 1080p | Brightness: 3600 lumens | Throw distance: 13 feet | Screen size: 120-inches | Wi-Fi: No | Bluetooth: No

The Optoma HD146X is an almost perfect, budget-friendly projector. It produces excellent 1080p resolution with a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother playback, no matter what you're watching; it also supports 3D video for a more immersive experience. The lamp is capable of up to 3600 lumens of brightness, so you don't have to wait until night time to enjoy your favorite movies and shows. The lamp has a 15,000 max life span, meaning you can watch 4 hours of content every day for over 10 years before you need to replace the lamp. Keystone correction and zoom make setting up and getting the perfect screen placement a breeze, and you can get up to a 120-inch screen with a 14-foot throw distance.

Pros:

  • Good resolution
  • Great refresh rate
  • Great brightness

Cons:

  • Needs lots of space
  • No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity
LG CineBeam PH510P
LG

Resolution: 720p | Brightness: 550 lumens | Throw distance: 4-10 feet | Screen size: 100-inches | Wi-Fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Sound only

This projector is designed for portability as well as streaming content. It has a built-in battery with a 2.5 hour life, making it perfect for taking to a friend's house or on a camping trip. It also has an integrated speaker that can connect to your laptop or mobile device via Bluetooth to stream music for more entertainment options. It connects to mobile devices for screen mirroring and streaming content from apps like Netflix and Disney+. And you don't have to worry about needing a huge room to set it up in, since it has a minimum throw distance of 4 feet; though if you want to get the maximum, 100-inch screen, you'll have to set the projector back about 10 feet. The lamp has a 30,000 hour life, meaning you can watch up to 8 hours of shows and movies every day for 10 years before it needs to be replaced.

Pros:

  • Short throw distance
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Good screen size
  • Built-in battery

Cons:

  • Not 1080p
  • Needs darker environment
ViewSonic M1 Mini+
ViewSonic

Resolution: 480p | Brightness: 120 lumens | Throw distance: 2-9 feet | Screen size: 24-100 inches | Wi-Fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Sound only

The ViewSonic M1 Mini+ is an ultra-portable, super affordable projector that's perfect for catching up on your favorite Netflix shows or watching the latest blockbuster movies with friends. It measures just 4-inches square and weighs in at just over half a pound, making it small and lightweight enough to slip into a pocket, backpack, or tote. The LED lamp has a 30,000 life, meaning you can get up to 10 years of use out of it before it burns out. The screen can be adjusted from as small as 24-inches to a maximum of 100-inches for perfect placement. It is Wi-Fi enabled for connecting to mobile devices and computers to stream content from apps like Hulu and HBO Max while Bluetooth lets you connect a speaker or headset for better audio or private listening. The built-in battery gives you up to 90 minutes of use, and the integrated speaker is by JBL for crisp, clean sound.

Pros:

  • Built-in battery
  • JBL speaker
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
  • Short throw distance

Cons:

  • Only 480p
  • Needs very dark room for best viewing
Epson Home Cinema 880
Epson

Resolution: 1080p | Brightness: 3300 lumens | Throw distance: 3-27 feet | Screen size: 33-200 inches | Wi-Fi: No | Bluetooth: No

While this projector is on the upper-end of "affordable," it packs in tons of great features for a reasonable price. It uses a special filter and mirror system to split the white light beam from the lamp into separate red, green, and blue beams that are then sent to individual LCD panels for mixing. This creates sharp detailing, rich color, and deeper contrast for a more lifelike image. The lamp also produces up to 3300 lumens of brightness, so you can watch your favorite shows and movies day or night, and with 1080p resolution, every scene will look its best. The projector features both USB and HDMI plug-and-play connectivity for both Windows and Mac computers as well as an integrated speaker for crisp, clear audio. The screen size is adjustable from 33 to 200 inches, and the throw distance can be set between 3 and 27 feet; so you don't need a huge room in order to get the best viewing experience for your friends and family.

Pros:

  • 1080p
  • Bright lamp
  • Great color, contrast, and detailing
  • Plug-and-play for Windows and Mac

Cons:

  • No Wi-Fi
  • No Bluetooth
  • More expensive than other budget options
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ViewSonic

Resolution: 480p/1080p | Brightness: 300 lumens | Throw distance: 40-inches | Screen size: 24-100 inches | Wi-Fi: Yes | Bluetooth: Sound only

Just because you don't have a ton of cash to spend on a projector, that doesn't mean you have to skimp out on quality. The ViewSonic M1+, like its cousin the M1 Mini+, is a super-compact projector that's great for setting up at home or taking with you to a friend's house or on a camping trip. The integrated battery gives you up to 6 hours of use on a full charge, and the built-in stand makes it easy to adjust angles and throw distance. You can get up to a 100-inch screen at just 40-inches of throwing distance, so you don't need to worry about your room not being big enough. It also features dual, 3 watt, Harman/Kardon speakers for incredible, room-filling audio without the need for a separate speaker. The M1+ has a suite of pre-installed apps, including Netflix and Spotify, or you can mirror your mobile device to share TikToks and YouTube videos with friends. 

Pros:

  • Short throw distance
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capable
  • Great battery
  • USB-C and SD card reader

Cons:

  • Somewhat dim lamp

What is the best cheap projector?

The best cheap projector is the Optoma HD146X because of its high resolution, longer throw distance and larger screen size.

How did we choose these projectors?

Aside from cost, I chose projectors that had decent lamp brightness in both dark and bright rooms as well as plenty of connectivity options for playing movies, music, and shows. I also tried to be mindful of shoppers who may not have tons of space, adding projectors that had shorter throw distances that are better suited for smaller spaces like dorm rooms, apartments, and bedrooms.

Which projector is right for you?

The most important thing to consider, besides budget, when buying a new projector is the throw distance. Throw distance refers to how far back from the screen or wall the projector has to be in order to get a clear image. Mini projectors have much shorter throw distances, usually just a few feet, while full-size models will require anywhere from 7 to 30 feet to get the best image quality and screen size.

How many lumens do I need for a good projector image?

Lumens alone isn't what determines whether or not the projected image looks its best; you need to consider lumens, picture resolution, color volume, and contrast ratio to get the best image for your space. Lumens refers to how bright the lamp is, which does contribute to better visibility, especially in brighter rooms or during the day. If you want a projector strictly for nighttime or dark-room viewing, you can get away with as few as 300 lumens, since there will be little to no ambient light to interfere. However, if you want to set up a projector in your main living room and watch content during the day, you'll need something with at least 1000 lumens, though I would recommend something more along the lines of 3300 lumens to be on the safe side.

Are mini projectors worth it?

A mini projector is the best option if you don't have a ton of space to set up a home theater, like an apartment or dorm room. Mini projectors are small, lightweight, and have much shorter throw distances than their full-size counterparts. This means that they're easy to move around, and you don't have to worry about getting a bad image because your wall isn't big enough to accommodate the projected screen.

Do I need a special screen for my projector?

Not usually. If you have a flat, white wall, that will work just fine for projecting an image; if your wall is textured or painted a different color, you can always hang up a plain, white bedsheet. Just make sure it's pulled taught, so wrinkles don't cast shadows and distort the image.

There are some very expensive, top-of-the-line laser projectors that do require a special screen, like the Hisense L9 TriChroma Laser TV. But that model comes packaged with the screen, so you don't have to worry about needing to spend extra money on top of the already steep $4,500 price tag.

Are there alternative cheap projectors worth considering?

There are a lot of affordable options out there if you're looking to buy a projector for your own home theater. Here's a short list of other models that I thought were great:

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