You don’t need to spend a fortune to watch movies, sports and screens on a bigger screen. These budget projectors do it all, for less
Digital projectors used to be the preserve of wealthy home cinema enthusiasts but today you can beam your movies onto a nearby wall of your choice for a comparative pittance. The low cost of imaging chips and LED bulbs produced in China and other parts of Southeast Asia means you can now pick up a projector from considerably lower than £500 – with some projectors costing as little as £100.
Trawl down Amazon’s virtual aisles and you’ll find plenty of cheap projectors to choose from, but our advice is to be cautious: it’s easy to make a mistake and buy something you might regret later if you’re not careful. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you navigate the pitfalls and pick out the best projector for you.
Best cheap projector: At a glance
|Best projector under £300:||Yaber V7 Pro | £230||Check price at Amazon|
|Best compact portable projector||Anker Nebula Capsule | £240||Check price at Amazon|
|Best cheap projector for streaming||Epson CO-FH02 | £599||Check price at Amazon|
|Best budget portable projector||XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro | £529||Check price at XGIMI|
How to choose the best cheap projector for you
How much should you spend?
The less you spend, the more compromises you’ll have to make. As a general rule, the very cheapest projectors have low native resolutions and aren’t bright enough to project big, watchable images.
What about all those projectors claiming 1080p and 4K support at improbably low prices? These are often misleading, and refer to input capability rather than the projected image. Delve through the longer descriptions and you‘ll find that cheaper machines are often limited to 480p and lower resolutions.
Spend around £200 and more, however, and you’ll quickly see resolution levels rise. We’d recommend a minimum of 720p for good image quality but you may want to sacrifice sharpness for more features, higher brightness or portability.
Either way, the best native resolution you’re going to get currently from a sub-£500 projector is 1080p. Alas, 4K technology has not yet reached the realms of cheap projectors. Expect to pay closer to £1,000 for one of those.
How bright does it need to be?
The biggest factor that determines a projector’s brightness is the light source that it uses. Many budget projectors use an LED source, and the upside of the relatively low brightness level is that the light source lasts for ages; often up to 20,000 hours or more. Traditional lamps will often give you higher brightness levels, but the bulb might last for only 4,000 to 6,000 hours, so it might need replacing after three or four years if used a lot. Bear in mind, though, that some budget projectors aren’t designed to be used that heavily over such long periods, and might collapse long before the lamp does, as heat and dust take their toll on the optical system and the moving parts.
READ NEXT: The best portable projectors to buy
What connectivity do you need?
It’s also worth thinking about how you intend to use your projector. Most will have an HDMI input, which is perfect for hooking up a games console, Blu-ray player or streaming stick. Many will also allow you to play video files stored on a USB thumb drive.
However, it’s also worth looking out for projectors with smart TV features and built-in apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer. Some also allow you to cast video or screen mirror from a mobile device and send audio via Bluetooth to headphones or a speaker.
Portable or mains powered?
At lower price points, many projectors tend to be on the smaller side. Indeed, cheap often means portable or even battery powered. If you’re after the sharpest, brightest possible image for your money, avoid pocket-sized, battery-powered projectors and opt for a mains-powered machine.
A mains-powered projector is more likely to have a lamp that’s bright enough to produce big, bright images, and is the best choice for bedroom or living room movie watching if you don’t need to carry it around too much.
What other features should I look out for?
The core features are covered above but there are other features to take note that are worth having:
- Auto-keystone and autofocus: Saves time in setting up the image because you don’t have to fiddle around with menu settings and focus wheels
- Remote control: Most come with one of these but some do not and it’s a real pain if you don’t have one
- Built-in speakers and audio output: Many models have built in speakers but most aren’t up to much so it’s worth making sure there’s either a 3.5mm audio output or Bluetooth facility so you can hook up an external speaker
- Bluetooth: This isn’t used to transfer video – the technology doesn’t have enough bandwidth – but some products use it so the projector can double as a Bluetooth speaker
- Throw ratio: It sounds technical but it’s an important specification and refers to the size of image the projector can create from a given distance. Short throw projectors can project large images from a position very close to a screen or wall. A throw ratio of 1.5 means that for every 1.5m the projector is away from your wall, an image width of 1m is created, at 3m distance, an image width of 2m is created and so on.
How we test projectors
We test all projectors by setting them up from scratch in a darkened room with an 80 – 100in screen. Where a projector has built-in streaming features, we install a range of Android apps, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and Disney+. Where projectors lack such features, we plug in a Roku 4K Streaming Stick already set up with those apps. We then use the projector to watch a range of test material, including blockbuster movies, popular streaming series, and drama or documentary shows, to see how well the projector handles them. We’ll also use any built-in Chromecast features to cast 1080p or 4K video directly from a tablet or smartphone.
We test any built-in speakers at low, medium and high volume levels, and run the projector on battery power, where available, to see how long the battery lasts. Finally, we use a colorimeter mounted on a tripod, 30cm from the screen, to check the brightness and contrast levels, along with colour accuracy and colour depth.
READ NEXT: The best projectors to buy
The best cheap projectors you can buy in 2023
1. ViewSonic M1 Mini Plus: Best cheap projector for portability
Price when reviewed: £229 | Check price at AmazonThe ViewSonic M1 Plus is absolutely tiny – a projector you can genuinely fit in your pocket. And yet, despite its compact dimensions and low weight, it still does a good job of beaming movies, games and TV shows onto your walls at screen sizes up to 100in.
Resolution is limited to 854 x 480 and brightness is a lowish 150 lumens so you need a dark room to enjoy the projected image but colour performance isn’t bad at all. Its built-in speaker does a decent job of providing emergency audio that isn’t too thin and tinny plus, if you want to boost audio output, you can hook up a Bluetooth speaker.
There’s an integrated battery with up to 1hr 30mins battery life so you can run it without connecting it the mains if you like. And there’s also a stack of features built-in aside from this with HDMI input, USB-A for local video file playback and Wi-Fi connectivity. Apps can be installed, too, via the Aptoide marketplace with many major streaming platforms supported, including Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and BBC iPlayer.
All told, the M1 Mini Plus is a cracking little projector: it’s limited on resolution and brightness but image quality is good and it’s stacked with features.
Key specs – Resolution: 848 x 480; Brightness: 150 lumens; Speaker: Yes; Connectivity: HDMI, USB-A, USB-C, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Battery: Yes; Built-in apps: Yes; Dimensions: 110 x 104 x 27mm; Weight: 280g
2. Yaber V7 Pro: Best projector under £300
Price when reviewed: £230 | Check price at AmazonThe Yaber V7 Pro is a serious budget projector bargain, giving you arguably the best 1080p image quality you’ll find for under £300. Where some other cheap 1080p models hit you with dim, poorly-focused, low-contrast pictures, the V7 Pro delivers a sharp image from corner to corner with vibrant colours. It’s not quite in the same league as the best full HD projectors – and it’s prone to some slight judder when the camera pans across a scene – but it’s significantly better than the competition at this price.
We found the fans too loud for comfort, while the built-in sound will have you reaching for a pair of headphones or a Bluetooth speaker. The latter works fine if your speaker or headphones have a fast Bluetooth connection that can keep up with action, but if there’s any lag, there’s no way to adjust it out.
With two HDMI connections, a backpack case and HDMI and AV adaptor cables bundled in, it’s nigh-impossible to complain about value for money, especially if you’re not bothered about portability and just want a projector to use in the lounge. A great option if you like the idea of home cinema, but don’t have a huge pile of cash to play with.
Key specs – Resolution: 1,920 x1,080; Brightness: 9,000 lumens; Speaker: Yes; Connectivity: 2 x HDMI, 2 x USB-A, 3.5mm audio jack, AV, headphone; Battery: No; Built-in apps: No; Dimensions: 265 x 205 x 165mm; Weight: 2.2kg
3. Anker Nebula Capsule: Best compact portable projector
Price when reviewed: £240 | Check price at AmazonThe Anker Nebula Capsule is another fantastically portable projector. It isn’t quite as small as the ViewSonic M1 Mini Plus but its tin-can shape and compact dimensions means it’s just as easy to sling in a bag or suitcase.
Resolution is a fairly low 854 x 480 so images aren’t as crisp as on native 720p devices. Its LED lamp is limited when it comes to brightness, too, kicking out only 100 lumens, which means it’s only usable with the curtains or blinds drawn.
You do get a decent quality built-in speaker, though, and the projector also has a battery so you don’t have to worry about finding a power source when watching or trailing mains cables all over the place.
As expected, the Capsule has an HDMI input making it simple to connect a games console or streaming stick. And this is supplemented by a built-in media player running on Android plus the ability to install apps via the Aptoide marketplace, which means you can run Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer natively.
In terms of picture quality, the Anker is fine. Colours aren’t as good as some, but in isolation it’s very watchable in dark conditions. And it’s also worth noting that it has now been superseded by the Capsule II, which has more impressive specifications, albeit at a far higher price.
All-in-all, though, at a price of lower than £310, the Capsule makes a decent purchase for fans of battery-powered projectors.
Key specs – Resolution: 848 x 480; Brightness: 100 lumens; Speaker: Yes; Connectivity: HDMI, MicroUSB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth; Battery: Yes; Built-in apps: Yes; Dimensions: 68 x 68 x 120mm; Weight: 898g
4. ViewSonic M1: A portable projector with a brighter image
Price when reviewed: £279 | Check price at AmazonIf you want a little more brightness than the M1 Mini Plus, Viewsonic’s other compact projectors have you covered, in particular the M1. It looks similar to the Mini Plus and has the same handy stand, which allows simple image height adjustment and doubles as a lens cover when folded away.
Connectivity is just as good, too, with HDMI 1.4, USB Type-A and USB Type-C. The biggest downside is the lack of Bluetooth audio output, although unlike the Mini there is a 3.5mm jack for connecting headphones or speakers. It also lacks the smart features of the M1 Mini Plus.
Picture-wise, the M1 is a major improvement over most bargain-basement projectors. While you’re limited to 480p resolution, it’s bright at 250 lumens and colours look vibrant, too, although you’ll still have to dim or turn off the lights for the best image quality.
What’s more, the integrated Harmon-Kardon speakers sound impressive, with plenty of depth and a surprisingly wide soundstage. They won’t beat a soundbar or decent Bluetooth speaker but are more than good enough for watching TV or sports events.
There’s also a built-in battery for up to six hours playback time, making this an excellent option if portability, decent image and sound quality are all on your wish list.
Key specs – Native resolution: 854 x 480; Brightness: 250 ANSI Lumens; Speaker: Yes; Connectivity: MicroSD, USB Type-C, USB Type-A, HDMI 1.4, 3.5mm headphone/audio; Battery: Yes; Dimensions: 126 x 148 x 40mm; Weight: 689g
5. Epson CO-FH02: Best cheap projector for big-screen streaming
Price when reviewed: £599 | Check price at AmazonThe Epson CO-FH02 is almost the perfect budget all-in streaming system, bundling an excellent 1080p projector with an Android TV streaming stick. Plenty of other projectors come with built-in streaming features, but often built around dodgy builds of Android with a poor user interface and woeful app support. Epson’s gives you access to the Google Play store and proper versions of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and more, with a stock version of Android TV that sticks to Google’s own UI.
Better still, high brightness levels and a three LCD optical system give you a bright, clear moving image with smooth motion and a natural colour balance; where some budget projectors try too hard to dish out high-contrast, punchy images, the Epson’s presentation is more cinematic. It’s great for bingeing Netflix or watching movies on Disney+, and it can even handle a spot of gaming.
The built-in sound is rather weak and disappointing, so it’s probably better to hook up to a Bluetooth speaker or soundbar. That aside, this is a fantastic all-round entertainer.
Key specs – Resolution: 1,920 x1,080; Brightness: 3,000 lumens; Speaker: Yes; Connectivity: 1 x HDMI, 1 x USB-A; Battery: No; Built-in apps: Yes (through bundled streaming stick); Dimensions: 320 x 211 x 87mm; Weight: 2.6kg
6. Yaber Ace K1: Best budget projector for sharp, punchy pictures
Price when reviewed: £299 | Check price at AmazonYaber’s newest 1080p projector outdoes the cheaper V7 Pro on image quality and ease-of-use, thanks to a new single-chip LCD optical system in a sealed, dust-proof assembly. The Ace K1 looks good and feels built-to-last, and while it has a native 1080p output it can also process 4K HDR material. The result – with the right material – is a real step-up in clarity and definition, and even with 1080p TV shows and movies you get a bright, sharp, punchy picture.
What’s more, the auto-focus and auto-keystone correction features mean you don’t need to spend hours tinkering to get a high-quality image; a real plus with a projector that might not be set-up permanently. Meanwhile, the built-in 15W audio system gives you sound that’s good enough for casual entertainment, if a little brash and shouty with the volume turned up high.
The biggest downside is that colour reproduction isn’t perfect, and there are times when highlights can look blown out or the skin tones on a face seem weirdly flat. Still, that’s not something you’re going to notice unless you’re used to a higher-end projector or 4K TV. You also need a good-sized room to make the most of this projector, as the throw ratio is a little higher than some competitors. You’re looking at around 3.3m if you have a 100-inch screen. If you’ve got the space, this is a brilliant projector for the money.
Key specs – Resolution: 1,920 x1,080; Brightness: 650 ANSI lumens; Speaker: Yes; Connectivity: 2 x HDMI, 2 x USB-A. AV, headphone out; Battery: No; Built-in apps: No; Dimensions: 290 x 250 x 120mm; Weight: 4.72kg
7. XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro: Best cheap portable projector
Price when reviewed: £529 | Check price at XGIMIThe XGIMI MoGo 2 Pro is a little more expensive than most projectors on this list, but it makes paying the extra worth your while. For a start, it’s incredibly easy to set up. Just stick it on a flat surface and point it at a screen or blank wall, and it will handle pretty much everything else on its own. Even if someone bumps the table, it will reconfigure itself almost instantly to get the picture back in shape. With its built-in speakers and streaming features, you can have a home or outdoor cinema up and running in minutes. The only thing missing is a battery, although it will happily run for a few hours from a 28,000mAh USB power bank, provided it supports 65W USB-PD.
Better still, the picture and sound are excellent. There isn’t enough brightness for use during daylight hours, but at night you get a crisp 1080p picture with punchy colours and even a hint of HDR. The DLP chip inside covers 79% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, which is actually better than some full-sized projectors. Meanwhile, the sound is the best we’ve heard from such a small projector, with plenty of weight at the low-end and crystal-clear highs. More conventional home cinema projectors like the Yaber Ace K1 or Epson CO-FH02 have the edge on brightness, but the MoGo 2 Pro gives you a balance between picture quality, portability and convenience that cheaper alternatives can’t match.
Key specs – Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080; Brightness: 400 ISO lumens; Speakers: 2 x 8W stereo speakers; Connectivity: USB-C, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio; Battery: No; Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0; Dimensions: 119 x 108 x 161mm; Weight: 1.1kg