When it comes to projectors, the $500 to $1500 price range offers a big jump in picture quality and features compared to those under $500. This is mainly because these projectors can use more powerful and brighter light sources with higher resolutions, which means they provide better images overall. We like to call this the budget home theater category because you can get great visuals that give a cinematic feel without spending a fortune.
There is a lot of competition in this price range with many options from different companies that offer similar performance. We have picked out some models that we think work well, but there are other good choices out there too. These are just the ones we prefer, and we trust these companies to make good products.
Projector Features in This Price Range
Brightness: When you step up to projectors in this price range, you will notice a boost in brightness compared to those found in the sub $500 category. This extra brightness is helpful for achieving a more vivid and visible image, especially in well-lit rooms or larger screen setups.
Contrast: In this price category, it is still important to manage your expectations regarding contrast levels. Due to budget constraints, projectors in this range generally maintain lower contrast ratios compared to higher cost brackets. However, you will see much better implementation of the picture modes that can help use that lower contrast well.
Light Engine Type: Manufacturers have more flexibility to incorporate different light engine technologies into their projectors. You will encounter options for the panels such as DLP or LCD and lamp, laser or LED for the light source. Each of these technologies comes with its unique strengths and weaknesses impacting not only image quality, but also the projector’s durability and longevity. In an upcoming article, we will provide a breakdown of these light engine types, helping you make an informed decision. For now, be aware that understanding the strengths and limitations of each type is helpful in selecting the right projector for your needs.
Advertised vs. Reality: Even when you are buying a more expensive projector, be careful with the specs they advertise. Sometimes they still exaggerate things like brightness and contrast. Take a look at our article, “Shopping for Projectors: Cutting Through the BS,” to learn more.
Picture Quality: When evaluating projectors, picture quality is our top priority. We look at the brightness and contrast ratio, emphasize color accuracy and wide gamuts, and recognize the importance of deep black levels for cinematic immersion, particularly in dark scenes.
Set Up Features: Regarding setup features, we look for projectors that have Lens Shift and Zoom capabilities that allow the projector to be flexible in its position and image size without sacrificing image quality. Additionally, Keystone Correction plays a crucial role by rectifying image distortion when the projector is not perfectly aligned with the screen, ensuring a better viewing experience. If these settings can be automated then that is even better.
Editor's Note by Roland: while keystone correction is a handy feature when you really cannot get the projector ideally aligned, you need to be aware that it cuts into the resolution and will introduce some scaling artefacts. While these are not very obvious with moving video, they are with more detailed graphics such as with a PC desktop. I would always advise you try and avoid using keystone as much as possible. But of course, it isn't always possible so use as little of it as you can.
Calibration Settings: We prioritize projectors that offer user-friendly calibration settings, allowing for adjustments in color, brightness, contrast, and color accuracy. This ensures an optimal viewing experience tailored to individual preferences and different content types and lighting conditions.
Intended Use: We consider the intended use of the projector. Different scenarios demand specific features and capabilities. Whether it is for home entertainment, professional presentations, gaming, or outdoor movie nights, understanding your projector’s primary purpose will help understand which specs were prioritized in the design process. For our recommendations we decided to leave out projectors that would be categorized as business/presentation projectors.
The Epson Home Cinema 3800 excels with its 4K PRO-UHD pixel shifting technology, elevating 1080p resolution to near-4K quality. It supports HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range formats, and offers a 2,000 FOFO (Full On, Full Off) native contrast ratio, which is really impressive for projectors near this price. Its color performance is great but not as high as some of the others on the list, covering over 100% of the REC709 color gamut. Gamers will appreciate the low-lag video processing mode.
One standout feature is its immunity to color breakup artifacts, often found in single-chip DLP projectors, due to this model having a 3 chip LCD light engine. The built-in speakers are serviceable but basic, and the dynamic iris could benefit from more refined programming. However, these issues should not affect your purchase decision as it is still an excellent option.
The Epson Home Cinema 3800 offers an impressive package of features and performance, making it a standout option near this price range, with the contrast performance being the best feature.
- Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080 panel with x 2 pixel shifting and 4K PRO-UHD technology for 2K resolution on screen
- Support Resolution: Accepts up to 4096 x 2160 input and features two HDMI 2.0b ports with HDCP 2.2 support
- Advertised Dynamic Contrast: Up to 100,000:1 with auto iris on
- Measured On/Off Contrast: 2,000:1 with dynamic coming in around 30,000:1 – this is excellent in this class, and is easily double that of DLP based light engines.
- Advertised Brightness: 3000 ANSI lumens
- Measured Brightness: Brightest mode delivers approximately 2,912 ANSI lumens
- Lamp Life: Up 5,000 hours in ECO mode, 4,000 in Medium mode, 3,500 in High mode
- Offers HDR10 and HLG HDR support, but no Dolby Vision
- Significant vertical (+/-60%) and horizontal (+/-24%) lens shift for versatile positioning
- Full HD 3D support (compatible with Epson and VESA RF glasses)
- Built in 10W speakers
- The projector uses a 3LCD light engine, which eliminates visible color breakup artifacts (commonly referred to as rainbows) seen in many single-chip DLP projectors. This is especially important for viewers sensitive to these artifacts.
- 4K PRO-UHD Pixel Shifting Technology: The projector features Epson’s 4K PRO-UHD pixel shifting technology, which enhances the native 1080p resolution to nearly 4K quality. While it does not match the single-pixel performance of native 4K projectors, it comes close.
- Extensive Control Options: The projector provides extensive control over image settings, including white balance, gamma, and color control options. It also offers various preset picture modes to choose from.
- Low Input Lag: For gamers, the HC3800 offers a low-lag video processing mode, with an input lag of just under 21 milliseconds, making it an excellent choice for gaming.
- Compared to other projectors, the HC3800 strikes a balance between contrast, light output, resolution, and color performance. It competes favorably with projectors in its price range and offers advantages like its 3LCD light engine and excellent contrast.
The BenQ HT3550 is a DLP 4K UHD projector that utilizes pixel shifting technology to achieve its resolution. It supports both HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range formats. In terms of performance, the projector offers various color modes, including Cinema and D. Cinema, which provide good color accuracy out of the box and has great calibration controls if you want to get a better image. It has a dynamic iris to help the dynamic contrast which is decent for DLP projectors, but not great at 500:1 FOFO.
However, there are some aspects that could be better, such as higher input lag that may not be suitable for serious gamers. The shorter throw-ratio lens may necessitate placing the projector closer to the viewing position, potentially causing fan noise during quiet scenes.
Overall, the BenQ HT3550 is praised for its value for money, offering excellent image quality and features for its price point. It is a recommended choice for those looking for an affordable 4K projector with solid performance. For a bit more money, a newer model is the HT3560, which improves input lag, contrast, and brightness.
- Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080 panel with x 4 pixel shifting to achieve 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) resolution on screen
- Supported Resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160) HDR10 and HLG formats with HDMI 2.0b (both with HDCP 2.2) (x2)
- Advertised Dynamic Contrast: 30,000:1
- Measured On/Off Contrast: 500:1
- Advertised Brightness: 2000 ANSI lumens
- Measured Brightness: 1700 ANSI lumens in brightest mode
- Lamp Life: 4,000hrs in normal mode, 10,000 in Eco mode, 15,000 in SmartEco mode
- Supports 3D content at 1080p resolution with DLP-Link glasses
- Built in 5W speakers
- Claimed out-of-box color accuracy is less than 3 Delta E for Rec.709; offers 100% Rec.709 coverage and 95% DCI-P3 coverage
- One notable improvement in the HT3550 compared to earlier projectors with .47-inch DLP chips is a reduction in the dark frame around the image, which was a problem if your screen did not have a black border.
- Contrast: The projector includes a dynamic iris to enhance contrast which brings the FOFO contrast up from 500:1 to around 1,300:1, and it has undergone a firmware update to eliminate issues such as flickering associated with the iris. For this reason, you may want to check you have the latest firmware after purchase.
- Out-of-the-box color accuracy is decent, and it supports HDR content well with the added color filter which allows it to improve color saturation. Image brightness varies depending on the mode and content, with a tone map adjustment available for HDR content.
- Gamers will appreciate the 120 Hz refresh rate, but input lag measures at 50 milliseconds, which is suitable for casual gaming, but may not be ideal for competitive gaming. The built-in speakers provide decent audio quality for casual use.
- The projector is backed by a 3-year warranty, with an additional 1 year of coverage for the lamp.
The XGIMI Horizon Pro 4K stands out on our list for its impressive features, and excellent image quality in a tiny package. It offers good brightness, vibrant colors, and effective motion-smoothing capabilities. Compared to other 4K projectors in its price range, the Horizon Pro excels with its compact design, built-in Android TV and streaming apps, automatic keystone correction and focus, and low input lag for gamers.
The XGIMI Horizon Pro offers a fun and enjoyable multimedia experience, making it perfect for casual use, though it may not fully replace high-end home cinema projectors, which is okay for being a lifestyle projector.
See our full review ” XGIMI Horizon Pro Review & Settings.”
For those with budget constraints, consider the Horizon non-Pro model as a more cost-effective alternative. It may offer slightly lower brightness and resolution but still provides a compelling viewing experience.
- Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080 .47″ panel with x 4 pixel shifting to achieve 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) resolution on screen
- Supported Resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160) HDR10 and HLG formats
- Advertised Brightness: 1500 ISO lumens ~ 1200 ANSI lumens
- Measured Brightness: 1200 ANSI lumens
- Measured Contrast: 500:1 improved to around 1000:1 with the Local Contrast feature on medium settings
- Lamp Life: LED light source with a 25,000 hr life
- Throw ratio: 1.2:1
- Built-in Android 10.0 with Chromecast and Google Assistant
- One standout feature of the projector is its auto focus/auto keystone capability. This feature automatically adjusts the focus to ensure that the projected image is crystal clear. This not only saves time, but also guarantees that the picture quality is optimized without manual adjustments.
- Easy Setup: The Horizon Pro projector simplifies setup with automatic keystone correction, ensuring distortion-free projection even when not perfectly aligned with the screen. Notably, the Adaptive Projection Area feature detects and adjusts for obstacles, guaranteeing an unobstructed view. It also includes the Adaptive Screen Projection feature which optimizes the image to fit screen edges, especially handy with framed screens for precise alignment.
- Fast boot up time: The Horizon Pro can boot up within 6 seconds of turning it on from standby.
- See our full review of the XGIMI Horizon Pro Here.
The Optoma UHD55 projector is a versatile choice for gaming and home entertainment, notable for HDR10 support covering 97% of the DCI-P3 color space and low input latency, crucial for gaming. It also offers 3D support. A stand out feature is the use of an 8-segment color wheel to reduce the rainbow effects of DLP projectors.
However, it has specific HDMI port functionalities, requiring users to choose between low input lag or enhanced color. Out of the box, color accuracy may need calibration. Streaming apps are included but not as impressive as dedicated devices. Some users reported remote responsiveness issues.
The Optoma UHD55 is great for gamers due to its low input lag, HDR support, and 3D capabilities. Note HDMI limitations and consider calibration for optimal performance.
- Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080 .47″ panel with x 4 pixel shifting to achieve 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) resolution on screen
- Supported Resolution: Up to 4K 60Hz HDR and HLG compatible
- Advertised Contrast: 1,200,00 dynamic contrast
- Measured FOFO contrast ratio: approx. 800:1 without P3 filter, 1300:1 with P3 filter.
- Advertised Brightness: 3600 ANSI lumens
- Measured Brightness: 3,400 lumens in bright mode, 2,200 in cinema mode, 1500 in HDR mode
- Manual zoom and focus with 1.21:1-1.59:1 throw ratio
- Lamp Life: 4,000 hours in Bright mode, 10,000 hours in Eco mode, and 15,000 hours in Dynamic mode
- Input Latency: 17ms for 1080p/60Hz, 8.6ms for 1080p/120Hz, and 4.4ms for 1080p/240Hz
- 1080p 3D compatibility with DLP-Link glasses support
- Medium-sized unit, measuring 4.5×12.4×10.6 inches (HWD) and weighing 8.6 lbs
- Better Color Wheel: Features an 8-segment RGBWRGBW color wheel, reducing rainbow effect concerns.
- Gaming Focus: The Optoma UHD55 projector impressively supports high refresh rates, such as 120Hz and 240Hz, while maintaining incredibly low latency with input lag as low as 4.4ms for 1080p/240Hz and 8.6ms for 1080p/120Hz. This makes it an ideal choice for gamers seeking the best performance.
- Wide Color: Supports a wide color gamut of the DCI-P3 color space with 97% coverage through a filter and WCG picture modes.
- Wireless Connectivity: Optoma Connect app for controlling the projector and creating a digital home screen, compatibility with IFTTT (If This Then That) for automation, the Creative Cast feature for mirroring and casting from personal devices, and access to the Optoma Marketplace app store with a limited selection of video apps.
- HDMI Limitations: HDMI 1 prioritizes Enhanced Gaming for low input latency, while HDMI 2 is dedicated to wide color gamut (WCG) picture profiles for improved HDR color, forcing users to make a trade-off between reduced input lag and enhanced color, which could be disappointing for certain users.
BenQ TK800M: The BenQ TK800M is a 4K home theater projector with great picture quality, making it suitable for home theater and gaming. Its features include 4K UHD resolution, 3000 ANSI lumens brightness, advertised 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio (700:1 FOFO measured contrast), HDR10 and HLG support, a low 4.2ms input lag, and a fast 240Hz refresh rate. It uses a laser light source with 20,000 hours of lamp life.
ViewSonic X11-4K: The ViewSonic X11-4K is a compact 4K UHD short throw projector, falling into the lifestyle projector category as it comes with a carrying handle. It has good picture quality, low input lag (16ms), and a built-in Android TV for streaming convenience. It also comes with 4K resolution, 1000 lumens brightness, and HDR support. The short throw ratio allows large images in small spaces. While not the brightest in well-lit rooms, it offers a wide viewing angle. Despite minor drawbacks, it is a versatile and affordable 4K projector for those seeking good image quality and features.
In the world of projectors, especially within the price range of $500 to $1500, one common occurrence is the frequent sales and price fluctuations. This dynamic market can make it challenging to lock down the precise cost of a particular model at any given moment. However, there are some savvy strategies you can employ to maximize your savings and make the most of these price variations when shopping for the perfect projector.
Firstly, consider looking for projectors that offer similar features to the one you have in mind. Since projectors with comparable specifications often compete in the same price range, you are likely to find alternatives that meet your requirements and may even be on sale or have attractive promotions. Just be sure to look up reviews and confirm the projector’s real world performance. If reviews don’t mention the measurements, try and look at user forums where more savvy users will provide exact brightness and contrast measurements.
Additionally, patience can be your ally. Prices of projectors in this category tend to fluctuate over time. Waiting for seasonal sales events, special promotions, or the release of newer models can result in substantial savings. By keeping an eye on the market and being flexible with your purchasing timeline, you can take advantage of price drops and secure a great deal on a high-quality projector for your home theater setup.