Best Projectors Under $500
You don’t know how much you need a projector until you come back home from a fun barbecue with friends watching sports or playing video games. It’s also a great way to bring the family together for a cozy movie night or catch up with that TV show you like so much.
You could even use them to make your presentations at the office and if you’re a teacher, it’s a resource that will save you time and help you focus on your lesson. Need some last-minute entertainment? Whip out the projector and play music videos.
Projectors are incredibly versatile display solutions for many occasions, but they can be quite pricey, and picking an affordable one from the “easy-bake” projectors can take quite a while. Especially if like me, you’re a movieholic who’s also unapologetically picky about image settings.
To save you some time, dive right into this Top 10 Projectors under $500.
The #1 in our list comes from Optoma, a reputable brand established back in 2002 associated with quality projectors, particularly in the gaming niche. The Optoma X343 is an affordable DLP projector, suitable for just about anything. Movies, TV shows, sports, business presentations, and even classroom presentations. Normally, a projector this versatile would be a whole more expensive, and for less than $500 you would probably have to buy it used.
So what makes this projector so special? Well, The 3,600 ANSI Lumens brightness is great, but one of the things I like the most about it is the whopping contrast ratio of 22,000:1. Plenty of room to play with the settings to make colors brighter and shadows deeper in ways other projectors in this price range can’t. And let’s not forget the Full HD 3D feature.
Both, the native 1024 x 768 resolution and the 1.94 to 2.15:1 throw ratio will allow you to place the projector up to14’-4’’ away from a 100” diagonal screen. That’s more than enough for a presentation in a small meeting room or a movie in the living room at home. Definitely a versatile projector.
The Optoma X343 is a reliable piece of equipment you can use for pretty much everything, whether it be family movie nights at home, business presentations, and even non-competitive gaming. Excellent investment for your home or office.
Vankyo may be one of the newest projector brands out there, but since 2017 it’s also become the most reliable amongst budget projectors. Whenever you read “budget projector” you might think of a cheap toy projector, but Vankyo is a very clear exception and a prime example would be their VANKYO Performance V600. This is a durable LED projector that will outlast the competition and save you a pretty penny.
Equipped with an LED engine, this projector will last way longer than the traditional lamp found in other types of projectors and it sure is more power-efficient, but it will not be as bright and that brings me to the advertised brightness. 6000 lumens may just be the company boasting a little bit, especially when you see the brightness of the image in a well-lit room, but it does perform very well in a dark room at about 10ft from a 100’’ screen.
Admittedly, I’m not crazy about the 5,000:1 contrast ratio, but the colors and the image are still crisp and sharp so it’s really not such a big deal, especially considering the price. Something I do like a lot is the resolution on this thing: native 1920 x 1080 resolution; keyword: “native”. The dual 5.0 Watts speakers are not bad at all, but I would suggest using another set of speakers.
The VANKYO Performance V600 is great for what it is. What really shines about this model is the image resolution and the 50,000 hours lamp life. I would love to have an official brightness in Lumen for this product though. Aside from that, it’s the best projector you’re going to get for $200.
Viewsonic is another reputable brand that everyone vaguely familiar with projectors and pc monitors will recognize. Established in 1987 and taking the colorful Australian finches as their logo, this California-based corporation makes it to the Top 10 as the 1st runner-up with their ViewSonic PA503S.
Very much like the Optoma X343, the ViewSonic, PA503S is a reliable multi-purpose DLP projector that you can use for entertainment, business, and teaching in a moderately big room. So why is it not at the top of the list? Let’s take a look at the specs.
The 3600 ANSI Lumens brightness and the 22,000:1 contrast ratio will ensure you won’t have dull or muddy colors regardless of lighting conditions. Again, a great range when tuning brightness just right.
So far, this model is pretty similar to our #1 pick in terms of brightness settings, but it falls short in resolution compared to the Optoma X343. The ViewSonic, PA503S has an 800×600 resolution while the Optoma X343 has a 1024 x 768 resolution. It’s still an excellent projector with full HD 3D features and a throw distance of up to 14’-4’’ from a 100’’ diagonal screen, only this one is more suitable for relatively small rooms because of image resolution.
It’s not like you’re going to lose brightness, but your audience will have to sit a little closer to the screen, especially if there’s a lot of text and graphics in your presentation.
Remember how I mentioned Optoma is becoming a popular brand in gaming projectors? Well, the Optoma S334e is a rare affordable projector that has the muscle to actually keep up with the demands of a dedicated gamer. Bear in mind this type of projector is quite expensive and yet here’s one that will serve the purpose without digging a hole in your wallet.
Competitive gaming is all about refresh rate and input lag, so that’s where we’ll start. The Optoma S334e pushes a 144Hz refresh rate, just above the acceptable 120Hz required for serious gaming.
Although they prioritize performance over graphics, you’re still going to get a decent 800 x 600 resolution at a 4:3 aspect ratio even if you place the projector at the maximum throw distance of 28’ from a 200” screen; that is if you’re playing with the lights off in a big room and a good amount of people watching. You won’t have to worry about brightness because this projector will blast up to 3,800 ANSI Lumens on that screen.
Now, if you’re playing in a small well-lit room, placing the projector about 6’ away from the projection surface would be like playing on a 50” TV screen. Another cool feature you can play with to make those colors pop and also make your experience more immersive for solo-campaigns is the contrast ratio of 22,000:1.
The Optoma S334e is in the best three gaming projectors under 500$ and it all comes down to a good refresh rate complemented with nice graphic features.
We’ve already established that Optoma does well with fast-motion pictures and that’s why gamers like it so much, but if you’re going to watch sports, you’ll want to prioritize image size and resolution more than response time and that may be hard to find with budget projectors. Optoma, on the other hand, managed to make a projector and not only handles fast action like a dream, but it also does so while still rendering high-quality images.
The Optoma W335 is a single-chip DLP projector, so it’s way more efficient at rendering fast-motion action than other projectors even in the DLP vein. Mind you, this one may not be as responsive as the Optoma S334e, but since you’re going to be watching and not playing a difference of a few milliseconds will not make much of a difference. It’s not like you’re in a fast-paced FPS game where your reaction matters, but even if it were the case, this projector also has a refresh rate of 144Hz.
Up until this point, the Optoma S334e and the Optoma W335 are virtually the same projectors, but because you’re going to be watching sports, it all comes down to the size and quality of the image and that’s where the Optoma W335 wins by a landslide with an aspect ratio of 16:10 (XGMA), 1280 x 800 resolution and throw distance of up to 32ft.
What about the brightness and contrast ratio? Well, the Optoma W335 has plenty of go. 3,800 ANSI Lumens and 22,000:1 contrast ratio.
On a final note, the Optoma X335 is hands down the best projector you’re going to get under $500 for watching sports. Pretty versatile too. You could use it to play video games, although it may be too much for a small space, and you can certainly use it to watch movies and series, but it will not be as bright as an LCD projector.
At some point or another, you must’ve heard the name Epson, the Japanese corporation vastly known for its top-of-the-line printers. Well, as it turns out they also make excellent projectors. The Epson VS345 is one of those excellent projectors. What makes it so perfect for a home theater is the fact that it’s an LCD projector with a good throw distance and image resolution at an affordable price. Most LCD projectors exceed $500, so finding one below that price tag from a renowned brand is quite a challenge.
Let’s start with the brightness. More Lumens are always welcome but the 3,000 ANSI Lumens on the Epson VS345 manage to get the image nice and bright, especially at the minimum 3.6’ throw distance.
Speaking of throw distance, the advertised maximum is 29.4’ is just too much. At that point, the brightness is too low because you’re trying to cover a 300”+ projection surface. You would need to turn the lights off and project on a screen with a 1.6 gain or more to pull a decent brightness out of this projector at that distance. Something you might want to keep in mind if you’re hosting a big event.
Otherwise, if we’re talking family movie night, an 11’ throw distance will be more than fine to fill a 120” projection surface and it will be bright enough to perform well even if you keep the lights on. You will want to turn off the lights though. The 15,000:1 contrast ratio is just outstanding. It would be even better if they could bump its current 1280×800 resolution up to a wider 1920×1080, but it’s still an Epson 3LCD projector under $500, so it’s still a great deal.
The Epson VS345 is an excellent projector for a home theater. An investment in family entertainment that will pay itself many times over.
If you need a projector for your office, here’s one you should keep an eye out for: the Epson VS250. Why? Because it takes features from high-end projectors and scales them down to a budget-friendly projector.
The aspect ratio on this projector is 4:3 for an 800×600 resolution. The advertised throw distance is between 2.9’ and 33.8’, but I would advise you to place the projector no farther than 24’ from the screen. At that distance, the surprising 3,200 ANSI Lumens on this projector will still give you crisp images on a 252’’ screen in a dimly lit room. One thing is for sure, you’re going to get very bright images and saturated colors the closer you place it to the screen, even in a well-lit room. Then again, you have a 15,000:1 contrast ratio to play with.
Last but not least, the variety of connectivity options makes it a handy piece of office equipment. The connection panel has everything from RCA to VGA and HDMI. If that’s not enough, you can always use the wireless connectivity feature; a really nice touch for a budget projector.
If I had to sum up the Epson VS250, I would say: accurate images and remarkable color fidelity at a reasonable price.
NEC is another Japanese colossus of office hardware. They’ve been around since 1980 and their recent joint venture with Sharp is bound to pave the way for some pretty cool display solutions; speaking of which, if you need one for your classroom, the NEC NP-MC372X Classroom Projector is just the one.
With a brightness of 3,700 ANSI Lumens, the NEC NP-MC372X can sit as far as 30’ from the screen in a dimly lit room and still project crisp images about 260” diagonally. That’s perfect for movies and short videos.
Of course, it is a classroom, so more often than not you’ll want to keep the lights on, in which case this projector can sit at 16’ and still project quality images at 1024×768 in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Also, if you need to play with the contrast, the contrast ratio on this projector is 16,000:1.
A couple of highlights I think you will appreciate are the blackboard mode and the 16.0 Watts Mono built-in speaker as a backup. It already has a lamp life of about 15,000 hours, but you can extend that on ECO mode.
The NEC NP-MC372X is a powerful classroom projector with great features and plenty of connectivity options. It’s a long term investment at a sensible price.
Anker started out in 2011 with a line of fancy chargers and over the years they have developed even fancier wireless chargers, but most importantly for the matter at the hand, they also came up with the best portable projector under $500: the Anker Nebula Capsule Max Projector.
Taking into account that it’s an LED wireless projector, the 1280×270 resolution and 16:9 (HD) aspect ratio are very impressive. Throw distance for this projector goes from 1.9’ to 9.5’ from the screen, but at 200 ANSI Lumens and a contrast ratio of 600:1, I wouldn’t place it farther than 4’ from the screen, so I can still get bright and sharp images on a 60” screen.
As for compatibility options, we’ve got: Bluetooth, USB, and HDMI. Another couple of features that you’ll find useful is the Bluetooth speaker mode if you just want to play music, and a screen mirroring, so you can play videos off your phone and other portable devices; plus, you can download the app to use your phone as a remote.
The Anker Nebula Capsule Max Projector is great for field trips and entertainment on the go.
It’s tricky to find a good LED because those are not as powerful as other types of projectors and brands tend to bit around the bush regarding brightness, but ViewSonic keeps it straightforward and presents a remarkable LED projector, the ViewSonic M1+
The ViewSonic M1+ may not be the brightest, but the way it projects colors makes it look like one of the brightest projectors even though it has a maximum brightness of 300 ANSI Lumens. The thing is that LED-based projectors are not as bright as DLP or LCD because regular metal halide lamps are way brighter than LED engines.
ViewSonic knows this, but they also know we tend to perceive more saturated colors brighter than less saturated colors even though they may be equally bright. So, in order to keep their LED light source, they devised a way to tweak saturation and contrast ratio to make colors look brighter despite the low ANSI Lumens reading without distorting them. That explains the insane 120,000:1 contrast ratio.
That said, 300 ANSI Lumens is acceptable especially at the recommended minimum throw distance of 2’, but then you would have a 24” image. You might as well use a monitor that size. I find it best at a maximum of 5’ for a projection surface of 60” in a room with lowlights or none, as opposed to the advertised 8’ throw distance. I also like the 16:9 aspect ratio and 854×480 resolution. It works wonders all things considered.
Absolutely worth the money if you’re planning to use it for small meeting rooms and very small classrooms.
There are lots of cheap projectors out there and you have to be careful when shopping for one. Many brands will use the wrong units to pump up the numbers of their worst attributes. Aside from that, it’s all about choosing the right projector for the right task.
So, whether you want a tool to make business presentations, guide your students using pictures for a difficult topic, or if you just want it for family movie night, a projector is a worthwhile investment that’ll make you look more professional and give you and your loved ones hours of entertainment.
Have you tried any of these before? What was the experience like? Tell us in the comments below!