There are many reasons you might want a projector over a TV: you may want a bigger image than a TV can offer, or you don’t like the look of a TV in your living room, or you want to have casual movie nights with your friends or family. Since movie theaters aren’t an option for most people right now, a lot of friends have been asking me what projector to get for their living room. So to give them the best answer, I tested nine different projectors in my apartment. After three months and way too many movies, I’ve found the projector best suited for most situations.
First, there are a lot of specs and choices to make when it comes to projectors: lumens, laser or lamp-based, DLP or LCD, 1080 or 4K, short-throw, zoom lenses, projection size… there’s a lot. But basically, the important things are: how easy it is to set up, audio, image quality, and price.
Currently, there are five kinds of projectors you can get for your home: DLP, LCD, LED, LCOS, and laser. For this test, I looked at DLP and LCD types, which are common for home projectors and also one laser projector, ranging in price from $530 to $2,800. You can spend a lot more on high-end, dedicated home theater projectors. But for this test, we kept the budget as reasonable as possible. Most of the models I tested max out at 1080p resolution, but we do have a couple of 4K picks as well.
My top pick is the $899 Epson Home Cinema 2150. It’s a 1080p LCD projector with a great, bright image, good speakers, and it’s extremely easy to set up. Before getting into specifics though, there are a few basics to think about when you’re shopping for a projector.
What kind of projector should you get?
DLP, or digital light processing, and LCD projectors are lamp-based, so the bulb will eventually degrade, but they’re much more affordable than laser projectors. DLPs tend to be smaller and more portable, and they offer more contrast and blacker blacks. LCDs tend to have a sharper, crisper image and appear brighter than DLPs even at a lower lumen count. Laser projectors are not lamp-based, so they require less maintenance; on average, the laser lasts 5x longer than the bulb in a DLP or LCD projector. And unlike a lamp-based projector, where a bulb emits light through a color wheel to produce the image, laser projectors generate only the exact colors needed for an image. This efficiency makes for a much brighter image and very accurate colors and deep black levels and contrast. All of this comes at a much higher cost, however. Low-end laser projectors are typically around $2,000, although you can find some smaller ones for less.
Then there’s the throw ratio, which is how big the image is in relation to how far it is from the surface. Traditional projectors sit behind the viewer, ideally 10 to 20 feet away from the surface they project onto. Meanwhile, short-throw projectors can project a large image with only a few feet between them and the wall, and ultra-short-throw projectors are basically right up against the wall.
Screen or no screen?
The surface you project on is important — you can use a wall; white is best — but it won’t show off the projector’s best self. Every tiny bump refracts light and creates small shadows, so the image ultimately loses quality and brightness. You’ll benefit a lot from getting a projector screen, especially if you’ll be watching with a little daylight. Projector screens brighten the image noticeably depending on what they’re coated in. I used an inexpensive 80-inch Panoview pop-up screen — you can find a similar one for around $100 — but it still made for a better experience than just pointing the projector at my wall.
4K or 1080?
4K projectors are a lot more expensive and not as common as 4K TVs because the pixels on projector chips are incredibly small. But unless you’re really investing in a proper home theater, most living room setups won’t allow an average viewer to spot the difference between a good 1080p projector and a reasonably priced 4K projector.
And as for content, every projector I tested has an HDMI input, internal speakers, and also an audio output, so I was easily able to stream things by plugging in my Roku stick. You can also use a laptop, Apple TV, or whatever device you use to stream video.
The best projectors for your home or apartment
The Epson Home Cinema 2150 is the best overall projector.
1. Epson Home Cinema 2150
The best projector for most people
The best projector out of the models I tested — the one I’ll be recommending to my friends — is the $899 Epson 2150. The image is great: it’s big, it’s bright, and the color reproduction is pretty. The 2150 is an LCD projector, which gives it a crisp image even when projecting a 130-inch image, and it can project up to 300 inches. It has 1080p resolution, but unless you’re in a completely dark theater with a screen, it’s not going to look noticeably different than 4K.
The brightness, which is rated at 2500 lumens, is lower than you’ll see other projectors rated. But LCD makes a low lumen count seem brighter and more vibrant than a DLP projector with the same rating. You can watch this with some ambient daylight, but definitely not when there’s unfiltered light pouring in through a window. Toggling to dynamic mode makes for the best daytime image, which is a great thing about Epson projectors: you can easily switch between viewing modes, and each one looks great. Use cinema mode, which has deep blacks, for watching a movie at night.
The Epson 2150 has great picture quality, adequate speakers, and an easy-to-use interface
The 2150’s built-in 10-watt speakers are loud. I didn’t find the need for external speakers, but there is a 3.5mm audio output to hook them up if you want. The fans are also loud, though, and it gets hot. I would avoid putting this right next to your head. That’s easier than it may seem because the Epson 2150 has automatic keystoning. Keystoning is important because it allows you to straighten out the image so the projector doesn’t need to be perfectly parallel with the wall.
There are also manual knobs for focus, zoom, lens shift, and keystone, which are way easier to use than digital controls. The zoom lens is 1.6x, which is more than the average you get on most projectors in this range. This means that, without moving the projector, you can have an image that ranges anywhere from 80 inches diagonally across to 132 inches across. Making the image smaller can better help combat the ambient light in a bright room.
This zoom lens paired with all of the other controls makes the projector really flexible and easy to use; if you move or if you end up putting the projector in a different room, you’ll be able to customize it to the new space very quickly.
All in all, the Epson 2150 offers an enjoyable experience: it’s easy to use and provides a bright, crisp image.
Epson Home Cinema 2150
Prices taken at time of publishing.
The Epson Home Cinema 2150 provides the best blend of image quality, ease of use, and price.
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