The Best Projector Under $500

BenQ MW526A WXGA 3,300 Lumens 3D Ready Projector

Our Top Pick for 2016: BenQ MW526A WXGA 3,300 Lumens 3D Ready Projector
Read our full review.

See it on Amazon for $389.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.
Too expensive? See our budget pick.

Twenty years ago, home theaters were only available for individuals who had some serious cash in their pocket. However, thanks to advances in technology, electronic appliances are a lot cheaper and a lot more powerful. Of course, there are still those top-of-the-line home theater devices that will set you back tens of thousands of dollars. However, what we want to do is review some high-quality portable projectors that are under $500. We have separated these projectors into three categories, gold, silver, and bronze. At the end, we’re going to add in one budget option that can help you get your home theater or classroom presentations up and running without breaking the bank.

Table of contents

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2D-to-3D Conversion
Bright 3300 ANSI Lumens Display
Light and Small
Full native 1080p widescreen resolution
WXGA resolution
Presents Directly From Your Mobile Device
Multiple-PC Source Input
13,000:1 contrast ratio
Powerful LED Light Source
IR Remote Control
10,000 Hours Long Lamp Life
700 Lumens
Blu-ray 3D, DLP 3D, and NVIDIA 3DTV Play Enabled
HDMI and VGA x2
Built-in Speaker

*Price at time of publishing and may not reflect current pricing.

#1 Gold pick (Winner): BenQ MW526A WXGA 3,300 Lumens 3D Ready Projector

BenQ MW526A WXGA 3,300 Lumens 3D Ready Projector Gold Pick

View it on Amazon for $389.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-gold-winnerWhen selecting a gold Product, we were looking for a product that had the functionality you would need in a business setting or classroom setting, had the power to provide a clear and vibrant image, and was portable. We felt that the BenQ MW526 more than exceeded those criteria. It has an excellent brightness, powerful resolution, it’s light, it has the capability to display images in 3-D, and it is attractive enough to be used in a professional setting.

With 1280×800 resolution and a brightness of 3200 lm, this projector is more than enough to teach a class or to make a business presentation. The lens is equipped with rings for focus and zoom, and it provides a 1.1 X zoom.

It’s portable enough that you can carry it around in most carrying cases. It’s 3.7×11.4×8.7 inches and is extremely light at 1.4 pounds. One downside is that it doesn’t have its own carrying case, but because of its small size, it is not difficult to find a quality case for the product.

You will not have to worry about not being able to connect your devices to this printer. It has an HDMI port and two VGA ports, as well as ports for S video, RCA, serial port, many USB ports, and a VGA monitor out.

A nice feature of this projector is the type B port. This powerful option allows you to connect your computer to the projector and replicate what is on your screen as well as download information to your projector.

When you’re looking for a portable projector, you want one that you can use in a dark room as well as one that will work in an area where there is some ambient light. What we saw with the BenQ MW526 was that it is powerful enough to fill an area of about 60 inches measured diagonally with the projector sitting around 7 feet from the screen. In the dark, the image was very clear, but what we liked is that even when there was some ambient light, you could still see the image clearly.

When you are teaching a class or when you are giving a business presentation, there is obviously going to be some text that you want to display. If the people viewing your display cannot read your text, then it’s basically pointless. With the BenQ MW526, black text that is displayed on a white background can be clearly seen down to 7.5 points. Conversely, white text on a black background was legible as small as nine points.

As with all projectors, the best image you are going to get is by using the HDMI. If you use the VGA port, you may see some jittering of the pixels, but adjusting the settings can fix this issue.

The projector has a 2 W speaker. It’s not designed to be heard in a large room, but it is perfect for a small, quiet room. Thankfully, the projector has the ability to connect to a larger speaker system.

Another nice feature of the BenQ MW526 is the fact that it can show content in 3-D whether it is connected to a Blu-ray device, a computer, or using the VGA settings. The projector does not come with glasses, but these can be purchased separately from a retailer.

The reviewers on Amazon.com definitely like this product. It has scores of reviews, and the average reviewer gave the product 4.5 out of five stars, with almost 70 percent of people giving the product five out of five stars.

One reviewer said about the product, “I love this projector.” They went on to talk about how it has a great picture, vivid colors, and were impressed with the specs, especially for a projector under $500. Another reviewer commented that they had been trying various projectors over the course of a week to find the right one for their bedroom. The BenQ MW526 was the fourth projector they tried, and they said it was the best projector under $500.

A few reviewers did comment on the fan making noise, which was audible in a quiet room. However, the noise was not enough to interfere with or to reduce the quality of the movie they were watching or the presentation they were giving. Overall, reviewers were very satisfied with the product.

For its price range, the BenQ MW526 is a powerful machine. It provides a clear image, has decent black-and-white contrast, has vibrant colors, can connect to just about any device, is lightweight, portable, comes equipped with smart eco-power saving technology, and offers up to 10,000 hours of lamp life.

#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): Acer H6510BD 3D Home Theater Projector

Acer H6510BD 3D Home Theater Projector

View it on Amazon for $590.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-silver-winnerIf we were to use one word to describe the Acer H6510BD projector, it would be ambitious. It is a projector under $500 that really pushes the limit of what a projector in this price range can do. We really feel that this product is a solid choice for someone who is looking to make a home theater on a moderate budget.

The Acer H6510BD has a look that is deceptively simplistic. It’s small, at 10.4×8.7×3.1 inches. It’s lightweight, at only 4.8 pounds. It has a clean, straightforward rectangle shape and a small lens that gives the appearance of being built for performance.

That being said, it has an attractive glossy finish that makes the projector look like it should be worth way more than $500. Something else that is nice about this model that you do not see with other projectors in this price range is that it comes with a carrying bag. This will make it a lot easier to bring the projector with you as you visit a friend’s house or as you set up in a classroom.

The projector has two HDMI ports, component video, a PC port, and a USB port. As the name of the projector implies, the HDMI ports can receive and transmit information in 3-D as well as 2-D. Unfortunately, the projector does not come with 3-D glasses, but for the price of the projector, you would not really expect it to. You can easily purchase active shutter glasses from a local retailer or online.

The Acer H6510BD is a DLP style projector. With a full HD chipset, 3000 lm of brightness, and a contrast ratio of 10,000:1, it is clear to see why many people enjoy having this model in their home theater. It is bright enough that it can be used in a room that has a moderate level of ambient light. At the same time, it has a high enough contrast ratio that images will be crisp and enjoyable to watch in a dark room.

Another plus is that even though the lamp is bright, it is rated to run for between 4,000 and 7,000 hours. This is a good figure, especially for a non-LED lamp.

Like many other projectors in this price range, the Acer H6510BD has a 2 W speaker. The speaker is in no way a replacement for a decent sound system in your home. It is just loud enough to produce sound in a small room if there are no external speakers available.

The Acer H6510BD comes equipped with the majority of the adjustment features you would expect the project to have, including keystone correction and zoom. One nice feature of the product is that it has the option to adjust the colors on the image being displayed based on the color of the wall the image is being displayed on. There are other settings that allow you to display an image based on a theme image preset.

When looking at the Acer, it’s very clear to see that it’s designed first and foremost for a home theater. With its 1080 P widescreen resolution, you can have a true cinematic experience in high definition. Reviewers on Amazon.com clearly see the value of the product. More than 130 individuals reviewed the product and gave it 4.6 out of five stars. Almost 80 percent of the reviewers gave the product a perfect five out of five stars.

Many reviewers commented on how they have owned projectors in the past and this one is hands down the best. One reviewer said that they love the thing. Another reviewer said it has brilliant colors, a crisp picture, and is easy to set up.

If you’re looking for a moderately priced projector that is going to offer you all of the features that you need, while at the same time giving you a clear crisp image, then the Acer H6510BD may be a good option for you.

#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): Optoma ML750 WXGA 700 Lumen 3D Ready Portable DLP LED Projector

Optoma ML750 WXGA 700 Lumen 3D Ready Portable DLP LED Projector

View it on Amazon for $499.00*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-bronze-awardFor our bronze product, we decided on the Optoma. It offers amazing features and can fit right in the palm of your hand. It has been especially useful for professionals who have to travel. It is ultra-compact, but has outstanding power and performance that is on par with a full-size projector. It delivers 700 ANSI lumens.

Everyone who has used this projector is impressed by its size. The product dimensions are 4.1 x 4.2 x 1.5 inches, which means that it can literally fit right in the palm of your hand. It is lightweight, weighing only 14.4 ounces.

In addition to its size and power, it has a built in Office Viewer, which means that you do not need it connected to a computer when showing presentations. You are able to display a presentation right from a mobile device using the HDMI/MHL connectivity option. It also has wireless presentation capability by means of its optional adapter.

Another option that we love about the Optoma is that it has a powerful LED light. This means that you will not have to replace lamps, which ends up costing you a lot of money down the road. It has a throw ratio of 1.5:1.

Reviewers on Amazon love this small projector. Almost 200 customers have given it a 4.4 out of five star overall rating. One individual said that this projector is better than they had expected. Some of the things that they love about this projector is that it is easy to set up, has high quality color and great contrast ratio, it has a bright widescreen display, and literally fits right in their hand. The only thing this reviewer mentioned that they didn’t love was that it had some fans that make a high-pitched sound, which is noticeable when quiet parts of movies are playing. However, overall, they love this product.

Another Amazon reviewer mentions that this is the best small projector for under $500 on the market. They said that they were impressed with the bright, vibrant colors it produced. They spent more than two weeks searching around for the best projector option for them and after all of their research, they found that this was the best model available.

This projector is not battery operated. It needs to be placed about 7’10” away from the screen since there is no zoom option in order to vary the distance.

Some individuals who test the Optoma say that the light is so good that it is visible in a lit room. They found that it covered an entire whiteboard. They were impressed with the light, as well as the size of the projector. They say that the power brick and cables that come with the projector are actually larger and heavier than the projector itself, which make this projector a perfect travel option.

The Optoma is a great option for individuals who need a projector that is affordable, powerful, and will last many years. We are sure you will love our bronze pick.

#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): ViewSonic PJD5255 XGA DLP Projector 3200 Lumens 3D Blu-ray Ready

ViewSonic PJD5255 XGA DLP Projector 3200 Lumens 3D Blu-ray Ready

View it on Amazon for $369.99*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-cheap-budget-pickWe had to include the ViewSonic projector on our list of reviews because it is an outstanding product. One of the best things about it is that it is affordable. With this projector, you will be able to get many of the features that are available on larger and more expensive projectors, but at only a fraction of the cost.

The ViewSonic project to has SuperColor technology that enables it to deliver rich colors. It has up to 3200 ANSI lumen brightness and 15,000:1 contrast ratio, which means that you will be able to clearly view what is being presented even in a well lit room. It is 3-D Blu-ray ready and has an integrated HDMI input. It offers five view settings that allow multiple usage scenarios. It comes along with a top lamp door, optional cable management system, a tactile keypad, a powerful amplifier, and an enlarged speaker chamber.

We are always impressed with products when the manufacturer offers a warranty. We feel that this means that they are ready to stand behind their product. The manufacturers of the ViewSonic offers a three year limited warranty on parts and labor, a one year warranty on the lamp, and a free first year express exchange. Some Amazon customers who had interactions with this company commented on how nice it was to work with them. Any time they had to repair their projector, the company took care of all of their needs. They felt that they were quick to the point and reliable.

While this product is not as compact as some other options we have reviewed, it is still small and good for travel. It weighs 4.8 pounds. The projector’s dimensions are 9 x 12.4 x 4.1 inches. Two AAA batteries are needed. This projector is available in both black and white.

Another thing that stuck out to us was how much reviewers on Amazon like this product. Out of 372 customer reviews, 76 percent gave this projector a five star rating. Overall, the product has a 4.6 out of five star rating. When looking at the reviews, you will see how many times people mention that they love this product, they couldn’t be happier with it, and they were so glad they chose this one. One individual says that it is a five-star item and unbeatable for the price.


Pre-purchase considerations

Ambient Lighting

When you buy a television, be it LCD or plasma, they create their own white light, so they can be used in a completely dark room or they can be used in a room that has a bunch of ambient light.

A projector on the other hand uses light that is reflected off of the wall to create the images that you see. Unfortunately, everything else around you also uses reflective light to create what you see. This means that your projector has to fight against the other lights in the room to create a crisp, clear image. Even a minute amount of ambient light can diminish the quality of the projected image. Some projectors are designed to do a great job at fighting ambient light, others can’t. The minimum amount of lumens you will want your projector to have is 1700. At 3000 lm, you will be able to handle some stronger ambient light.

Size of Your Room

In order to work, your projector needs to be in a large room. In part, this is because the screen size for your projector has the potential of getting very large. And while it may sound cool in theory, looking at a 100 foot screen while sitting only 5 feet away from the screen can be very frustrating. Additionally, the larger the screen, the less amount of space you will have where you can walk around without blocking at least a part of the screen. The longer the room, the better. It allows you to set the projector away from the screen and gives you room to put enough seating behind the projector for the best viewing experience possible.

Projector Screen

As we have already mentioned, projectors work by reflecting light off of a wall’s surface. Your projector is only as good as the quality of the surface it is reflecting off of. Projector screens are designed to give you the maximum viewing experience. You can choose from a pull down screen, and these will run you around $150-$200. One nice thing about a pull down screen is that you can hide it away when you’re not using it. Another option is to build a screen using screen materials. Or if you are looking at making a part of your home or a part of your classroom a permanent projection area, you can purchase projector friendly paint.

Replacement Lamps

Projectors are a great deal. For less than what you can get a decent LED television for, you can get a 1080 projector that can give you a 100 inch screen. However, projectors have the hidden cost of purchasing replacement lamps. In some cases, replacement lamps can be up to half the price of the projector itself.

Audio System

As we have shown in our reviews, even though all of the projectors come with a speaker, none of the speakers are designed to fill a room with overwhelming sound. The majority of the projectors we reviewed have a 2 W speaker. This is barely good enough to provide sound in a small room. You will need to purchase a separate audio system as a complement to your projector.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

Projectors are an amazing tool that allow you to turn any home or any office into something that is professional. If you have deep pockets, you can buy a 60 inch television, but for less than a fourth of that price, you can get a projector that will give you an image that has the same high definition, has the same flexibility, and will give you a screen that is up to 40 inches larger.

Portable projectors that are used for business are primarily designed to show still images while at the same time being able to show video without a lot of the features you would want in a home theater. On the other hand, a projector for a home theater is going to handle full-motion video, video games, and high definition images in a way that a business style projector cannot.

As you look at your projector, determine if you’re going to use it indoors or outdoors. You want the highest brightness you can purchase because this means that the image will not to be as affected by ambient light. Another factor to consider is how loud the fan is as the projector is operating. In a home theater environment, this should not be a problem because the sound of the speakers will more than drown out any noise that your fan is making.

As you can see from our review, we focus on projectors that are proven to be reliable. We found projectors that had a high lamp life rating. And most of all, we found projectors that presented a high quality image within a price range that most people can afford.

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?

Comment below and help your fellow consumers make the right choice. Over to you!

Resources

  1. Eric Ravenscraft, What Do I Need to Consider before Buying a Projector for My Home Theater?, Lifehacker.com, February 25, 2011
  2. Simon Hill, 14 Things to Consider When Buying a Projector, DealNews.com, June 23, 2015
  3. Jared Shurtz, Purchasing a Projector: What to Know, TopTenReviews.com, March 11, 2011
  4. Trusted Reviews, Acer H6510BD review, TrustedReviews.com, 2016
  5. PC Magazine, BenQ MW526, PCmag.com, November 11, 2014

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