The Best Projectors for a Home TheaterProjectors
The joy of a projector is that you can instantly turn any room into a home theater. Whether you’re a hardcore movie buff, want to take your video games from the computer to the big screen, or simply want to show off your home videos, a home theater projector makes it all possible.
Finding the Best Projector for Your Home Theater
Depending on your plans for your home theater, different features in a projector will be more or less important to you. Most home video watchers will be fine with a 1080p projector, but anything less than 4K resolution simply won’t work for the cinephiles out there. Whether the latest features, image quality, or your budget is most important to you, we’ll help you make the best choice.
First of all, what room will you be using? It’s ideal to use the darkest room possible, preferably one without any windows. If you can’t block out the light, you’ll lose the darker shades and the contrast will be significantly less spectacular. For optimal picture quality, you'll also need to invest in a projector screen.
Consider the size of the room, too. Dedicated home theater projectors are larger than you think (like a desktop computer). You can’t stack these on a piece of furniture and they’re not meant to be portable. You’ll want to plan to have dedicated space.
Finally, visuals are just half of the experience. Sometimes people get so excited about purchasing their projector that they forget that they’ll need a sound system, too. Make sure the projector you buy has compatible inputs to work with your sound system.
Best Projectors for a Home Theater: Our Top 5 Picks
- Best Home Theater Projector: Optoma UHD50
- Runner Up: BenQ HT2550
- Best Picture Quality: Sony VPL-VW285ES
- Best Projector for Small Home Theaters: BenQ HT2050A
- Best Budget 1080p Home Projector: Optoma HD142X
Best Home Theater Projector: Optoma UHD50
We’ve chosen the Optoma UHD50 as our top pick for the best home theater. Here’s why.
The UHD50 ticks off all the boxes. It’s got 4K resolution, a RGB color wheel, and 2,400 lumens. It also uses some of the latest technology that produces the noticeable “wow factor” of a really good projector, such as HDR10 and DCI-PC wide color gamut support and a 500,000:1 contrast ratio. That means you'll enjoy richer colors, with brighter whites and darker blacks, and clearly defined details—whether you’re gaming or watching the a sci-fi flick. It’s also easy to set up, with a 1.3x zoom, and comes with more connectivity options than most, including two HDMI ports, VGA, serial inputs, and even an USB charger for your cell phones while you watch or play. The Optoma UHD50 is a powerful projector that delivers crystal-clear visuals, no matter what you’re watching.
How We Chose the Best Home Theater Projectors
When it comes to what’s important, how does the Optoma UHD50 stack up?
Here are several key elements that make the difference between a good home theater projector and a great home theater projector. Coincidentally, these are also what we used in rating the projectors on our list.
While your home theater projector doesn’t have to be as bright as your television, it still needs to be bright enough for you to watch. The more ambient light in your room, the more brightness you’ll need. Brightness is measured in lumens.
The Optoma UHD50 offers 2,400 lumens. That’s impressive, considering others on our list range from 1,500 to 2,200 with the BenQ HT2550. The one projector that beats out the UHD50 is also from Optoma. Their HD142X model has 3,000 lumens.
The difference in brightness between the HD142X and the UHD50 comes at the cost of resolution, as the HD142X is only a 1080p projector. Because of that, it’s nearly half the price of the UHD50.
This kind of difference in brightness only becomes important if you’ll be using the projector in a brighter room. Brighter displays are required for rooms with more ambient light, from windows and open doors. If the room you’re using will be relatively dark, the 2,400 lumens of the Optoma UHD50 should be all you need.
When non-aficionados refer to a picture looking low-quality, it’s usually the contrast ratio that they’re finding fault with.
The Optoma UHD50 has a 500,000:1 contrast ratio. When you see black on the screen, it’s going to be pretty dang close to actual black (versus blue). This contrast also helps bring the details of what you’re watching to life, with richer hues and a clearer difference between the shades.
To help you imagine the difference, consider the comparison between the other models on our list. The next best projector, the Optoma HD142X, only has a 23,000:1 contrast ratio. Both of the BenQ projectors have 10,000:1 or 15,000:1 contrast ratios.
Color Accuracy and Gamut
A projector’s color accuracy describes how well the projector matches the colors you should see to the ones you actually see on the screen. In some ways it’s based on the color gamut, which describes how many colors total a projector can display. Ultra HD projectors are the better option here, as they can provide a richer color display.
Again, the Optoma UHD50 is the winner here. Although, for those on a budget, the BenQ HT2550 offers superior color accuracy for a 1080p projector.
Resolution and HDR
Essentially, the resolution of your projector tells you how sharp the image will be, by describing the number of pixels on the display. 1080p HD, or high definition, is 1920 x 1080 pixels. 4K Ultra HD, naturally, has about four times that amount, with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. While the difference between these two isn’t all that noticeable on TV screens, it becomes obvious when you start talking about larger screens—as in, the kind you’ll be using with a home theater projector.
Perhaps even more important than resolution, however, is HDR (high-dynamic range), which brings out the contrast and details in the differences between the colors displayed on the screen. Since you’ll be using a bigger screen, having HDR10 technology makes that 4K resolution look as good as it possibly can.
Here, the only projector that really gave the Optoma UHD50 a run for its money is the Sony VPL-VW285ES. While many projectors and TVs can claim a 4K resolution as long as they have 3,840 horizontal pixels (the Optoma falls in this category), the Sony is actually a true 4K, at 4,096 x 2160. It’s no surprise, then, that this projector delivers the sharpest picture of any of the ones on our list.
All this isn’t to say that 1080p projectors won’t deliver excellent picture quality. For a lot of content, you won’t even notice. The difference is most noticeable when you’re watching content that was fully created in 4K.
When you buy your home projector, you’ll also end up buying a screen, a sound system, and maybe other accessories. This is where value becomes important. You want to be able to get the best quality picture you can, but for a price you can live with.
The Optoma UHD50 is $1,299 on Amazon. That price makes it more expensive than the other Optoma on our list, the HD142X, as well as our budget pick, the BenQ HT2050A, which are both in the $700 to $800 range.
However, it’s certainly less expensive than the Sony VPL-VW285ES, which runs for about $5,000. And yet, unless you care deeply about having the sharpest image possible, the upgrade in image quality isn't quite there for it to cost over twice as much. The true 4K can make the Sony a better choice for gamers, but we believe the Optoma UHD50 is the best choice for most people. It delivers an impressive picture quality, color range, and contrast that will transform any home theater watch party into a cinematic experience.
There’s also our runner up, the BenQ HT2550. It’s about the same price as the Optoma UHD50, and it has many of the same features. Some reviewers believe it has better color accuracy and is more portable than the Optoma, too. If those features are important to you, that might be your best pick.
Runner Up: BenQ HT2550
The BenQ HT2550 projector is nearly as good as the Optoma UHD50 in all the areas that matter. It’s a 4K UHD projector with HDR10 support. However, it’s less bright, it’s a bit more expensive, and it only has a 1.2x zoom. Where the BenQ HT2550 shines is its slightly better color accuracy (their Cinematic Color technology accurately displays 96% of colors) and its 3D capabilities.
Best Picture Quality: Sony VPL-VW285ES
If you require the ultimate in sharp resolution and outstanding picture quality, you need a true 4K home theater projector like the Sony VPL-VW285ES. This projector also has a more flexible screen size (up to 200 inches), so it can fit a larger variety of rooms. However, the Sony VPL-VW285ES falls short when it comes to color and contrast, with a much lower contrast ratio and color gamut.
Best Projector for Small Home Theaters: BenQ HT2050A
The BenQ HT2050A boasts the same color accuracy as the 4K model, but this is only a 1080p projector. It taps out at 2,200 lumens and a 15,000:1 contrast ratio. The BenQ HT2050A tends to perform particularly well in brighter rooms. It’s also a favorite among gamers, thanks to its extensive connectivity options (2 HDMI, audio-out, 12V trigger, 3D Sync port, and USB power charger), its low 16ms lag time, and its shorter throw ratio—making it a great fit for smaller spaces.
Best Budget 1080p Home Projector: Optoma HD142X
The Optoma HD142X is an older 1080p model from 2016 that still stands up, thanks to its 3,000 lumens, 23,000:1 contrast ratio, and flexible screen size range. It includes 10-watt speakers and is 3D-compatible. At 1080p, you won’t get the same stunning and immersive picture quality you will with a 4K projector like the Optoma UHD50. However the HD142X works great for casual movie nights, watching home videos, or viewing television shows. It also has one of the longer lamp lifes on our list. At 8,000 hours, this home projector should last you ten years.
What’s Next for Home Theater Projectors?
Well, of course, ever better resolutions, more lumens, and more colors on that color wheel.
But, there are also newer, more exciting innovations, such as “smart home” projectors. One example of these is the Optoma UHD 51. It’s the smart version of the UHD50, so it can communicate with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. You get all the same picture quality, with the ease of telling Alexa to pause the movie.
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