Looking for a budget projector? These affordable options offer huge images for the money.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
If you're looking for a projector for the occasional movie night, outside or in, but don't want to spend a lot of money, you're in luck. The quality of cheap -- aka inexpensive -- projectors has increased rapidly in the last few years. Low-cost LEDs, budget-level processors and the ease of adding streaming apps thanks to Android, all mean you can get a big screen image without breaking the bank.
Before you dive in, note that all inexpensive projectors have some limitations due to their low prices. This often comes in the form of low brightness, mediocre image quality, frustrating interfaces or sometimes all three. There are some gems to be found, though, even if they're cubic zirconia compared to the best home theater projectors and the best 4K projectors.
The tiny P8 performs far bigger than its size suggests. Though in fairness, the hand-held size doesn't suggest it could project an image at all. It looks more like a toy. But it's reasonably bright, has a built-in speaker and only costs $250. Impressive.
It doesn't have a battery, nor does it have any streaming apps. So you'll need to take that into consideration. It does have an HDMI input and a USB connection, so you can connect a streaming stick and get all the streaming apps you could possibly want.
There are brighter options and better-looking options, but for the price the P8 is hard to beat.
The Vimgo P10's price fluctuates between $170 and $250, in the same ballpark as the AAXA P8. It's a lot larger than the P8, the largest cheap projector we've tested actually, making it far less portable. It's still "small" compared to full-size and more expensive projectors, however.
Picture quality is better than the P8 in some ways, worse in others. The P10 has a great contrast ratio and decent brightness, but the color is remarkably terrible. The center of the image is noticeably sharper and brighter than the rest of the image. It's not great.
But the price is. A perfectly watchable image for around $250. It even has Netflix built in. Impressive.
The P6X is incredibly bright for its size and price. It's brighter than many bigger, more expensive projectors. It even has a huge built-in battery that, in ECO mode, should last around 4 hours. That's a lot for this category.
The picture quality isn't great, easily the most noticeable tradeoff for price, size and brightness. It's still plenty watchable, though.
The Mars II Pro is more than twice as expensive as the least expensive option on this list. However, it has more streaming apps, decent image and sound, a battery, and it's easy to transport. If $550 is still in your budget range, the step-up here is worth the price.
That said, if $550 is a stretch for you, the other projectors here are great and very inexpensive.
There is very little difference in how we test cheap projectors compared to more expensive projectors. A $250 projector goes through the same tests as a $5,500 projector. Obviously we don't expect them to perform as well, nor do we condemn them for their inevitable performance discrepancies. In fact, we applaud any projector that can create a watchable image for the cost of a good pair of headphones.
Watch this: How to buy the best home theater projector
Cheap projector FAQs
Can something this cheap really make a big image?
Yes, though manage your expectations. The marketing around these tiny projectors is full of over-the-top superlatives. Can you create a 100-inch image? Technically yes, but it's going to be really dim.
All the ones we've listed can create a watchable big TV-size image, and some can do even more.
Do any cheap projectors have streaming built in?
Yes, sort of. Some models have a few streaming apps, like Netflix. None have the easy-to-use interface and plethora of apps like you'd find on a modern TV. It's a bit hit-or-miss.
That said, all the ones we recommend have HDMI inputs, and most have a USB connection, so you can connect and power a streaming stick to get the "smart TV" interface you're used to.