Our Top Pick for 2018: BenQ HT3050 1080p 3D DLP Home Theater Projector
Read our full review.
Projection systems offer the opportunity to become consumed in the video experience the way a movie theater can suck you into a great movie. However, many of the best projection systems are prohibitively expensive. That is why we have provided a list of excellent quality low-end projection systems. Keep in mind, below $600-700 and you are essentially looking for a Pico projector which will not be able to produce the better image qualities we as consumers have come to expect without numerous rainbow effects or stuttering when the image displays a lot of motion. Still, we made it a point to scour the projector market and find the top three projectors under $1000 as well as a budget option for those pinching pennies. You will not find the best of the best on this list, but you will still find some of the better price to value ratios around.
#1. BenQ HT3050 1080p 3D DLP Home Theater Projector
View it on Amazon: $865.74*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Our Gold Pick Winner goes to BenQ which handles a wide variety of image production products. While projectors is obviously one of their offerings, the company also makes a number of products that are specialized for specific situations that are only used by professionals—like large interactive format displays. This focus has allowed the company to manufacture their products to a high level of quality. However, this list specifically focuses on low-end projectors, but BenQ has demonstrated a range of products to meet all of their customers’ needs.
The BenQ is actually the first of two entries that made it onto our list which places the company in a strong position as the king of the low-end projector market. However, much of this determination came from a single feature: the color quality. The BenQ follows the Rec. 709 color standard. This means that the colors which are supposed to be displayed are the colors that will be displayed. While numerous other projection systems are generally working to ensure that a red is red and a white is white, rarely are they quite as concerned that the red is the specific hue intended. More often than not, as long as the red is distinctly red and not veering off into other spectrums of color that is good enough to call it a day. However, the BenQ has gone to great lengths—especially considering this a low-end model—to ensure that the colors you see displayed are the colors the director intended you to see. If you are a videophile that likes to watch movies made by directors with an exacting eye for art but do not have the cash to drop on a high-end projector, then this is the choice for you. Pretty much anything by Stanley Kubrick or director of “The Revenant,” Alejandro G Inarritu place a strong emphasis of color composition. In order to experience the awe inspiring majesty of their art in its truest form, you will need a projector that can accurately reproduce the wide range of palettes used. With a six speed RGBRGB color wheel, the BenQ can do just that.
However, the BenQ has ensured that your viewing experience can be as true to life as possible on a limited budget by sacrificing the versatility of the projector. Quite simply, the environment in which you use this projector will have stronger impacts on the quality of the image produced than the other entries on this list. That is because two of the primary qualities that determine how projectors deal with unideal situations may be a bit lacking. First, this projector has the worst color contrast out of any projector on this list—except for the other BenQ. If you are in a completely darkened room, this should not be much of an issue. Moreover, in ideal conditions, the human eye can rarely tell the difference between color contrasts that have thousands of degrees of ratios difference. However, take that image out of ideal conditions, and you will start to notice the difference with cumulative rapidity.
Another quality that limits the BenQ’s environment is its brightness. Much like before, this BenQ produces a dimmer image than all the other entries on this list except for the other BenQ. However, where this model produced a superior color contrast ratio than the less model further down the list, both BenQs produce the same 2,000 lumens of brightness. This means that ambient light may become an issue, and you will be far more reliant on windowless rooms or windows with blackout curtains. In some respects, this quality may actually drop the BenQ a slot below depending on your situation. However, keep in mind that if you can accommodate the more rigorous environmentally controlled requirements for this projector, you will be blessed with a range of colors that you will not find elsewhere at this price range. Moreover, if you can accommodate the reduction of ambient light which may wash out that brilliant color or otherwise overpower the projected image, this projector has a fair degree of positioning options. The BenQ offers both keystone correction effects and a lens shift. This means that you can position the projector low, high, left or right of the screen and not have to worry too terribly much. Keep in mind, if you use the keystone correction, you will suffer a bit of image quality loss. However, the lens shifting does not cause the same degradation to the image quality. Moreover, the BenQ also offer a 1.3x zoom which can allow further give in terms of positioning. Essentially, assuming the room is large enough to accommodate the screen size and distance necessary to produce the image size, the BenQ can move all around the room to be placed where it best suits you.
The BenQ is also excellent at wireless streaming. This is an incredibly convenient “whistle” as it were, because it further increases the range of positioning this projector can utilize. Essentially, you do not need to have an input device remotely near the BenQ as it can receive wireless signals from as far away as 100 feet. Essentially, you can have a cable box in the other room, and the BenQ will be able to receive and project the image without trouble. Unfortunately, there is a 50ms lag time with this projector, so while it boasts gaming use, you may want to use a different system. Of course, as is expected, this projector displays in full HD 1080p resolution and has a throw range of 1.15-1.5:1. This throw range is actually pretty good and allows you still more placement options.
#2. Optoma HD25-LV-WHD 1080p 3D DLP Home Theater Projector
View it on Amazon: See Price*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
The Silver Pick Runner-Up comes from Optoma is another company that specializes in the production of projection products, though they do branch out into audio production a bit as well. However, Optoma generally limits the situations where their products can be used to more conventional settings. While you may see an Optoma projector displaying an image on a stage somewhere, you will not a gigantic interactive screen where an artist improvises the creation of a beat with drum kit software like BenQ may provide. However, this focus has allowed Optoma to produce an incredibly high quality projection system in the low-end price range. In fact, for some of the easy boxes to check, the Optoma might seem like the better option. First, it is significantly brighter than the BenQ. In fact, the Optoma is 75 percent brighter than the BenQ. This means that you will be able to watch videos on the Optoma in far brighter conditions than the BenQ. If your projection system is in a room with large windows and poor blinds, this will be a vital concern if you want to use the projector during the day.
Moreover, the Optoma sports a superior color ratio compared to the BenQ as well. Again, this difference is fairly significant—25 percent to be exact—however, it should be noted that in ideal conditions, differences in color ratio may not be that noticeable by the human eye. It is in unideal conditions that color ratio can play a more important factor. If your projector is located in a room that has to contend with a fair amount of ambient light, the color contrast will play a crucial role in determining whether or not you color of your projected image looked washed out. When combined with the robust brightness of the Optoma’s 3,500 lumens compared to BenQ’s 2,000 lumens, you can begin to see what type of setup this projector was designed for.
Of course, this is where things can get a bit tricky when figuring out which niche the Optoma is attempting to fill. The maximum screen size of the Optoma is somewhat small for a low-end projector. At 101 inches, the Optoma’s maximum screen size is a little more than 50 percent the maximum screen size of the BenQ. Of course, this may not be a problem if you are not planning to use a screen that is larger than about 9 feet, but it still feels like a missed opportunity—especially when the vast majority of projection systems regularly provide at least 10 feet of maximum screen size. Part of what makes this so confusing is that with a hefty 3,500 lumens being produced by the bulb, you would think there would be a decent niche for the Optoma to be used in businesses. However, the small maximum screen size essentially means that the only business use it will get is at in-house meetings. Large presentations are out of the question unless you expect your audience to squint. This is further compounded by the fact that the Optoma has a fairly large throw ratio.
The Optoma has a throw ratio of 1.5-1.8:1. This means that you projector will need to be a good distance from the screen to produce the image. To produce a 10 foot image, the Optoma must be 12 feet from the screen. If you are planning on putting this projector in an “average sized” room of 10 feet by 12 feet, that means the projector will have to be one side of the room while the screen will have to be on the other. Essentially, you will need a large den to ideally situate the Optoma. Of course, that is not the only positioning issue that the Optoma faces.
This projector is very finicky when it comes to where you place it. First, while it does have keystone compensation, it does not have lens shift. This means that your ability to position it beyond an ideal arrangement is drastically reduced. Moreover, even when you do position it with the keystone correction, you are going to lose some of your image quality. The absence of a lens shift correction places very narrow limitations in regards to positioning, and you will need to more or less place it directly in front of the screen—though the keystone correction at least offers a solid 20 degree maximum shift.
Still, the resolution is full HD 1080p. It can play 3D images without double artifacts, and the colors are generally presented without rainbow effects as well. With a 144Hz refresh rate, latency with 3D and video games is fairly minimal—though not the best. Like the BenQ it supports wireless connection. However, its colors are not quite as good as the BenQ’s—due mostly to the lens rather than the “measurables”—and it can be a bit of a pain to position.
#3. Epson Home Cinema 2045 1080p 3D Miracast 3LCD Home Theater Projector
View it on Amazon: $668.29*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Epson is a trusted name in the projector market. In fact, Epson is actually far better known for producing high-end projectors than they are mid or low-tier projectors. Still, you would expect them to make some kind of showing in this list, and they do not disappoint.
First, part of the reason the Epson only managed to earn our Bronze Pick Third Place position has to do with the type of projector it is. This is the only LCD projector that made it onto our list for a low-end projector which carries with it a few implication. First, LCD projectors are able to produce quite a bit brighter light than DLP. This makes it all the more puzzling to find that the Epson only produces 2,200 lumens. While this is more than enough for a sufficiently darkened space, it seems odd that the company would not take advantage of the LCD’s ability to produce brighter images. This means that the Epson will suffer from many of the same environmental restrictions as the BenQs. You will want to make sure that the Epson is placed in either a windowless or room or that the windows have blackout curtains to minimize the amount of ambient light the projector will have to contend with. If you cannot do so, you may see you image quality suffer and become washed out. However, one area where the Epson does truly shine is in color contrast ratio. Essentially, if you have to deal with a large amount of ambient light, your image may lose some resolution or have blank spots, but the colors themselves are far less likely to change. Of course, if you have to deal with the prospect of decreased image quality, it is unlikely that having excellent color contrast otherwise will make much difference. Still, this does mean that in ideal conditions, the colors will pop.
Of course, image quality is actually part of the reason that the Epson is third on the list. Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done about the LCD’s tendency to produce and inferior quality image when compared to a DLP. When you add the fact that the Epson did not allow this projector to produce a significantly more amount of lumens than its competitors, you have to wonder why they went with the LCD type in the first place. One way that Epson tries to account for this disadvantage is by using a patented three chip technology. However, this only works to maintain the best image quality in certain situations. For instance, this triple chip technology prevents the colors from bleeding into each other fairly well. However, you will still see some significant artifacts during quick motion.
While the Epson does boast wireless connectivity, it is somewhat limited to the devices. Specifically, it seems that Macs are not welcome. The Epson appears to be trying to court Android and Windows users, though why a company would exclude the largest smartphone seller in the world from their wireless option boggles the mind. The projector displays its images in the expected full HD 1080p and provides 3D capability. Oddly, one of the biggest advantages for this projector comes with a massive maximum screen size of 300 inches. Of course, as noted before, the difficulty with ambient light means finding a place to watch that maximum screen size may be more trouble than it is worth. However, if you are a gamer, the miniscule 29ms lag is the lowest on this list. While this is a solid low-end projector, it does make you wonder exactly who it is for. It seems to be a mish-mash of different projector styles without really settling on any one.
#4. BenQ W1070 1080p 3D DLP Home Theater Projector
View it on Amazon: $399.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
For our Best Budget Pick, we went with another BenQ. A large part of this reasoning is that this model is almost identical to our Gold Pick Winner except it does not have quite as good of measurable nor does it have all of the bells and whistles. However, all of the things that the HT3050 does exceptionally well, the W1070 still does well enough at an excellent price to value ratio.
First, one whistles that is conspicuously absent from this BenQ is wireless connectivity. While this may not seem like a big deal, it adds more hardware to the process of using your projector and somewhat limits the positioning of it. Essentially, this BenQ will need a cable box, computer, or Blu-Ray/DVD player nearby. While some of the other entries on this list have had limitations in regards to positioning, this is a whole new wrinkle. However, at least this BenQ has as solid a degree of image correction as the Gold Pick Winner. With both keystone correction and lens shifting, you will not have to worry too terribly much about where the projector is in relation to the screen. This will be far more relevant for this product since you will have to either ensure that it is near the video signal’s source or have long enough connection cables—which in and of itself is a dangerous proposition in a totally darkened environment. And you will need the location of this BenQ to be fairly dark. Like the Gold Pick Winner, the W1070 only produces 2,000 lumens—both of which tie for the least bright projectors on the list. However, this model has the added disadvantage of only producing a color contrast of 10,000:1. This is 33 percent less than the other BenQ and significantly less than the other entries on this list. You will not be able to handle ambient light well. This means that daytime use of the projector will have to occur in a room without window, or the windows will have to use special blackout curtains or some similar covering.
One advantage this projector has is an impressive maximum screen size of 235 inches—that is almost 20 feet. Of course, to achieve that screen size, the projector must be 22 ½ feet away from the screen. Unfortunately, chances are you will not get to use the maximum screen size unless you have an incredibly large den that is blacked out. Of course, if you can accommodate that much space for a projection system, you probably are not worried about purchasing one for less than $1,000. Still, this projector does display natively in full HD 1080p and uses the same 6-panel color wheel as the HT3050, so if you can control the environment even more than the Gold Pick requires, this is not a poor budget option—even if it is not that much cheaper than better options.
Clarity is king in the world of image production. Whether you are recording images or displaying them, there is rarely a factor more key to the process and the results than the maximum resolution. While more and more projectors are being designed for a standard full HD 1080p resolution, there are still many alternatives within this quality. 4K resolution is just starting to really catch on, but generally, this resolution is only available for the highest end of the projector market—far too expensive to qualify for this list. However, most image signals are still being transmitted in HD, so you will not really be missing much programming available. In fact, 4K is most popular for movies on Blu-Ray, satellite cable services, and video games. So for the vast majority of televised programming available, 1080p is still the highest resolution you will see it in. Of course, projection systems that display below 1080p are widely available. However, you need to keep in mind what the projector’s “native” is. If the projector’s native resolution is 720p, you will still be able to receive and display a 1080p signal—your projector will just display it at a lower resolution.
With a screen the projects light directly into your eyes, say a television or a computer monitor, it is relatively easy to keep color contrast ratios at acceptable levels. However, when you take that image and bounce the light off a screen—where you are literally looking at a reflection of the image—color contrast ratios are far more important and relatively minor differences can mean major results in terms of the viewing experience. Moreover, the color contrast will have a major impact on combating ambient light. If you plan to use your projector in the daytime outside of a completely darkened room, this will be an important factor to consider. More and brighter ambient light has a tendency to wash out the colors of a projected image. While brightness will play an important factor in the image’s opacity in the presence of ambient light, color contrast will generally determine how saturated the colors remain when competing against ambient light. In most homes, the projector will have to contend with ambient light, at least during the day.
This consideration often pairs with the color contrast when determining the quality of the image produced. As mentioned earlier, ambient light can overpower the projector’s image and wash out the color. However, ambient light can do far more to the image quality by removing detail or completely overpowering the projector’s light. This is where brightness becomes a factor, though it is often relatively easy to control ambient light—depending on how far you are willing to go. At night, this will rarely be an issue, but if you want to use your projector during the day, the amount of ambient light coming in from even blinded windows will often wash out the color and opacity of the image. In this instance, your only options are to get curtains or some such window covering that completely darkens the room or ensure that your projector can handle a relatively large amount of ambient light.
It is not always convenient for the projector to be placed in the most ideal position for the best image production. Oftentimes, the height position of the projector would have it ideally placed at a level that would throw the image against the back of your head. That is why most projectors come with some form of image shifting capability. However, depending on which technology is used will determine the quality of the image shifted. The two technologies used to shift images are keystone effects or lens shifting. Keystone effects are not as good as they require the display to shift internally and may distort the image projected. However, usually only the high-end projectors can lens shift both horizontally and vertically. Often, a projector with lens shift can only do so in a vertical direction. This has actually led to many projectors incorporating both keystone effects and lens shifting to provide a robust degree of image correction capabilities. This allows you a far greater range of positioning the projector—sometimes even allowing the image to be projected from beside rather than behind you.
TYPE OF DISPLAY
This is a consideration for which there is no right answer. You will simply have to weigh the pros and cons of each and determine which limitations you are more comfortable settling with. The two most common types of projector displays are DLP, digital light processing, and LCD, liquid crystal processing. However, a recent development in the high-end projector market has also seen the introduction of LCOS, liquid crystal on silicone. However, the LCOS displays are not included on this list as they generally tend to cost over $1,000—sometimes many thousands more. Between the DLP and the LCD, you need to consider which is more important: the sharpness of the image or the color and motion quality. When it comes to home use, DLP often serves a better choice—assuming your projector can display in full HD 1080p. At HD resolution, the ability to see bolder colors and darker blacks often takes precedence. Moreover, unless you are giving a business presentation, the ability to project motion without blurring the image is also vital. However, if you are in a space that cannot eliminate ambient light, LCDs are significantly brighter than DLPs and can overcome the washing-out effect of the ambient light.
This will have a large impact on where you have to place the projector to produce the image size you want. The smaller the throw ratio, generally the better. A throw ratio of 1:1 means that for ever foot of screen width, the projector will have to be placed a foot away from the screen. Any throw ratio that is below 1:1, even a 0.99:1, is technically considered a short throw projector. However, most projectors marketed as short throws will have ratios at least 0.5:1 or less—occasionally, a company will sell a projector with a throw ratio above one half as a short throw, but that is a large ratio to justifiably qualify. Still, many projectors that are not truly designed for short throw capabilities will have a throw ratio setting somewhere just under 1:1. This can be a nice addition and will give you more options when positioning the projector, but you still need to make sure the room in the space where you plan on using the projector can accommodate it. Oftentimes, the throw ratio and the image shift can be combined to accommodate a large variety of settings.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
At the end of the day, when you are searching for a low-end projector, you have to expect that you will be sacrificing some quality. However, as we have found, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, more often than not, the lower end projectors simply require you to accommodate their environment more than most. Aside from potential ambient light issues or positioning difficulties, the image quality that you can expect with lower end projectors can still be close to par as a model you would spend $1,000 or more. Of course, that still does not change the fact that your low-end projector will be limited. The BenQ takes the prize with a superior color representation combined with the clear details and resolution provided by DLP chips. However, the Optoma may be better served for a lighter environment. Still, depending on your needs and location, there is a suitable projector for you that can be had for under $1,000.
Discussion and comments
We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?
Do you know of an even better product?
- Timothy McDougal. “Buying Guide to Projectors.” B&H Photo Video Pro Audio. 2014.
- “Projector Buying Guide“. Best Buy.
- “Projector Buying Guide.” Epson.
- M. David Stone. “BenQ HT3050.” PC Mag. December 14, 2015.
- Bryan Kluger. “Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2045 Wireless 3D 1080p 3LCD Projector.” High-Def Digest. March 15, 2016.
- Evan Powell. “BenQ HT3050 and HT2050 Projector Review.” Projector Central. October 30, 2015.
- Art Feierman. “Optoma HD25-LV Home Theater Projector Review.” Projector Reviews. July 10, 2013.