When you buy a traditional TV, you pay a premium for each inch of screen size you add. With a projector, you can get entertainment at any size for the same price. Granted, some projectors can get pretty costly, but you can also find some exceptional values out there.

If pressed, we’d say the Optoma HD146X is the best 1080p projector under 500 bucks. >>> Check the current price on Amazon That said, no projector at this price point will be perfect. There are a lot of great options out there, each of which has strengths the other options lack. Let’s check out our top 5!

Top picks of best 1080p Projectors Under 500 dollars for 2021:

Optoma S334E Optoma H184X Optoma HD146X Vankyo Leisure 530W ViewSonic PX701HD
Measurements 3.90" x 12.40" x 9.60" 3.90" x 12.40" x 9.60" 4.30" x 12.40" x 9.50" 3.54" x 9.45" x 8.27" 4.40" x 12.20" x 8.70"
Resolution 800x600 (1080p input) 1280x720 (1080p input) 1920x1080 1920x1080 1920x1080
Brightness (Lumens) 3,800 ANSI 3,600 ANSI 3,600 ANSI 1000 ANSI 3,500 ANSI
Contrast Ratio 22,000:1 28,000:1 25,000:1 (500,000:1 with Dynamic Black) 10,000:1 12,000:1
Throw Distance 4.0' - 39.4' 3.1' - 43.23 3.3' - 32.2' 3.5' - 19.6' 3.6' - 21.8'
Image Size 27" -304" 28" - 300" 28" - 301" 36" - 200" 30" - 200"
Built in Speakers 10W 10W 3W 3.0 Watts Mono 10.0 Watts Mono
Price Check on Amazon Check on Amazon Check on Amazon Check on Amazon Check on Amazon

Table of Contents

Brightness

Measured in lumens, the brightness of a projector tells you how powerful the lamp is. Anything below about 1,500 lumens will have a tough time competing with ambient light in the room, and will only be suitable for use in completely dark areas. Projectors with a brightness between 1,500 and 3,000 lumens will function well in moderately-lit rooms, though they may still lose some of their color and image quality if there’s a lot of natural light.

If you plan to use the projector outside, or if you have a lot of windows in your viewing area, you’ll want a projector that can produce at least 3,000 lumens. While you can get away with less even in some lights-on viewing situations, brighter is better if you don’t want to mess with dimming lights or blackout curtains.

Brightest projector: Optoma S334e

Picture Quality

A projector’s screen resolution tells you how many pixels it displays on the screen at one time. Full HD definition has a resolution of 1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels, about double what you’ll get with the lower SVA resolution. A higher resolution means a picture that’s sharper and more realistic with clearer details.

Screen resolution gets the most attention but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to picture quality. Just as important are the contrast ratio and color accuracy. Contrast ratio is a measure of the difference between the brightest and darkest areas of the screen. A higher contrast ratio is especially important for getting deep, rich black levels, and will also give you an overall sharper picture with more image depth.

When it comes to color, there are two factors to consider: the range of hues the projector can display and its method of creating them. Projectors with a  6-segment color wheel will have more subtle variation between hues than those with a smaller color gamut. For cinema-quality color, look for a projector that can recreate the entire Rec. 709 spectrum.

Best picture quality: Optoma HD146X

Throw Distance

Unlike TVs, projectors have a variable image size. The more distance there is between the projector and the screen, the larger the image will be. While all projectors need space to operate, some require more distance than others. The amount of distance you need to get a given screen size is known as the throw distance, and will vary from one model to the next.

If you have a large room you don’t need to worry much about the throw distance. In smaller spaces, though, a shorter throw distance is key to maximizing the size of the image you can produce. A short throw distance can also help avoid washout of less powerful lamps since the light doesn’t have to travel as far to reach the screen.

Projector with the shortest throw distance: Vankyo Leisure 530W

Best 1080p Projectors under $500: Full Reviews

Optoma S334e

Optoma S334eprojectorThe lightweight and portable Optoma S334e is our top choice if you want a projector you can use both outdoors and inside. It’s quick and easy to install and has a bright 3,800 lumen lamp, so you don’t have to wait until full dark or turn out all the lights to enjoy your movie. Since you can produce an image anywhere from around 30” to over 300”, it gives you a lot of versatility for different environments and group sizes.

Now one thing to note is that you’ll need a lot of space to get a screen that size. The throw distance on the Optoma S334e is relatively long. You’ll need about 15 feet for a 120” picture, so if you have a smaller space don’t expect it to give you a giant image. While this long throw distance does limit its flexibility, the S334e is otherwise user-friendly as easy to set up and install.

What really impressed us about the Optoma S334e was the quality of the image. Even though it’s on the lower side, it accepts full HD input and does it justice on the screen. It’s as crisp, clear, and colorful as any flatscreen TV, with no loss of depth or focus at larger screen sizes. We especially recommend it for sports viewing since it can handle fast-paced sequences without choppiness or blurring. Click here for more detailed review of this projector.

Pros

  • Picture quality is high
  • Good color accuracy and contrast
  • Includes 1.1x zoom and vertical keystone correction
  • Bright lamp
  • Speaker is loud enough for basic TV watching

Cons

  • Long throw distance

Optoma H184X

Optoma H184X projectorLike the S334e above, the Optoma H184X impressed us with its picture quality despite its low resolution. It supports the full Rec. 709 color gamut for accurate colors, while the bright lamp makes sure they stay vibrant in any light level. Along with that, you’ll get full 3D support from all content sources, so it really is like having a movie theater in your home.

The Optoma H184X is another option that works as well outside as it does in a home theater. It can produce an image up to 300” on the diagonal and is bright enough you won’t have to wait for full dark to use it. Features like zoom and keystone correction speed up the installation and alignment process.

Something else you might not expect from a projector under $500 is gaming performance. With the Optoma H184X you’ll get a low enough input lag you can play even fast-paced games from modern consoles. That makes it a great choice for media rooms and other multi-use spaces. Learn more about the Optoma H184X

Pros

  • 709 color gamut for accurate, true-to-life colors
  • Bright enough for lights-on viewing
  • Full 3D support
  • 40° vertical keystone correction and 1.1x zoom
  • Wide range of input options (HDMI, VGA, composite)
  • Relatively low input lag

Cons

  • Some users report border around image
  • May produce the rainbow effect

Optoma HD146X

Optoma HD146X projectorAnother great option for gamers is the Optoma HD146X. Its enhanced gaming mode brings the input lag down to around 16ms, which is low even by high-end projector standards. The single-chip design also gives it a high response time on the frame-by-frame level, avoiding compression artifacts and other image issues that can impair your play.

Unlike the models above, the Optoma HD146X has a native resolution of 1080p. The picture is noticeably sharper, though this is partially thanks to the inclusion of Dynamic Black technology, which increases the contrast ratio and the overall image depth. Its fast response is great for watching movies and sports, too, since there’s no blurring during motion sequences.

Just about the only place, we were disappointed with the Optoma HD146X was the on-board sound. The speaker is weak and tinny with very little bass and is particularly difficult to hear when the fan is on its highest setting. While you’ll definitely want to use external speakers, the overall performance of the HD146X is high, especially considering the price.

Pros

  • Fast response time with a low input lag
  • True HD definition
  • 6-segment color wheel with over 1 billion displayable colors
  • Dynamic Black contrast technology for better depth
  • Bright lamp for lights-on viewing
  • Full 3D support for both games and movies

Cons

  • Single-chip design may create rainbow effect
  • Poor sound quality

Vankyo Leisure 530W

Vankyo Leisure 530W

The Vankyo Leisure 530W is arguably the most portable projector you’ll find for less than $500. It only weighs 4 pounds and has a compact overall build, with a recessed lens to prevent damage during travel. The fast set-up helps with this, too. It has a wide zoom and both vertical and horizontal keystone correction to easily fine-tune the image alignment. It’s also versatile in its installation, supporting both tripod and ceiling-mount set-ups.

The Vankyo Leisure 530W has a lot of features you wouldn’t expect at the price. it comes with a screen, for one thing, a big value add for first-time projector owners. Built-in wireless connectivity allows it to mirror content from other devices using any operating system.

The LED light source used in the Vankyo Leisure 530W has its pros and cons. On the plus side, its lifespan is incredible, lasting up to 90,000 hours. It’s not very bright, though, only putting out about 1,000 lumens. That will work in a light-controlled environment but the image will look washed out if there’s even a low level of ambient light.

Pros

  • Native 1080p resolution with sharp contrast
  • Comes with a screen
  • Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Wide zoom and keystone correction
  • LCD light source has long lifespan
  • Portable design

Cons

  • Not bright enough for lights on viewing
  • Weak built-in speakers

ViewSonic PX701HD

ViewSonic PX701HD

The ViewSonic PX701HD is a versatile choice. Its 16ms input lag is low enough for even serious online gamers, supporting sports games, first-person shooters, racers, and other reflex-based games on all the latest consoles.

This responsiveness is paired with a bright 3,500-lumen lamp. That’s powerful enough for use in even well-lit spaces. You may still need black-out curtains in rooms with tons of windows, but the image won’t wash out from indoor lighting. Taken together, this makes the ViewSonic PX701HD one of the most versatile projectors in the price point, working equally well in home theaters, gaming rooms, and living rooms.

As far as the picture quality, the PX701HD uses a DLP display to produce a native resolution of 1080p with a fairly sharp dynamic contrast. The color performance is strong, too. Along with a wide color gamut, its unique vColorTuner function lets users create custom color profiles for different kinds of content, further optimizing the image.

The ViewSonic PX701HD does still have a standard throw ratio and needs a good amount of space to perform at its best—around 10 to 12 feet, for a 100” image. Alignment features like lens shift, keystone correction, and manual focus and zoom controls give it a fairly flexible installation, though you’ll likely need to ceiling-mount it for most viewing areas.

Pros

  • Low input lag is perfect for gamers
  • Bright lamp works in any light level
  • Full HD DLP display
  • SuperColor technology with customizable color profiles
  • Flexible set-up and alignment
  • Full 3D support through HDMI inputs

Cons

  • Fairly long throw distance
  • Activating gaming mode can disrupt other settings

Our Verdict

In terms of overall performance, our favorite projector at this price point is the Optoma HD146X. >>> Check price on Amazon Not only does it have a high picture quality and flexible installation, its responsiveness and low lag time make it suitable for gaming. All-told, it’s both the best picture quality and the most versatile projector you’ll likely find for the price.

The truth is, though, all of these projectors have their strengths—and none of them will put a big dent in your bank account. If you take one thing away from this article, it should be that you have a lot more options than you probably realized. If concerns about the cost have been keeping you from setting up a home theater, one of these projectors could be your answer.

 


 

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