In our extensive testing, we discovered that unlike traditional TVs where each additional inch of screen size comes at a premium, a projector can offer any size of entertainment without altering the price. Although some projectors can be quite expensive, there are great deals to be found. Our intensive testing reveals that the Optoma HD146X is the best 1080p projector under $500 for a home theater. >>> You can see the latest price on Amazon
However, we also recognize that no projector at this price point is without its flaws. Other models on our tested list each had their unique strengths. For instance, gamers might be more captivated by the BenQ TH585P, whereas the Philips Neo Pix Ultra’s streaming and wireless connectivity make it an appealing option. Now, let’s delve into how the top contenders fared side-by-side in our testing.
Best 1080p Projector Under 500 dollars – Top Picks:
|Optoma S334E||Optoma H184X||Optoma HD146X||Philips Neo Pix Ultra||BenQ TH585P|
|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"||4.70" x 12.40" x 9.20"||4.3” X 12.3” X 8.9”|
|Resolution||800x600 (1080p input)||1280x720 (1080p input)||1920x1080||1920x1080||1920x1080|
|Brightness (Lumens)||3,800 ANSI||3,600 ANSI||3,600 ANSI||300 ANSI||3,500 ANSI|
|Contrast Ratio||22,000:1||28,000:1||25,000:1 (500,000:1 with Dynamic Black)||3,000:1||10,000:1|
|Throw Distance||4.0' - 39.4'||3.1' - 43.23||3.3' - 32.2'||2.0' - 11.4'||3’5” – 34’3”|
|Image Size||27" -304"||28" - 300"||28" - 301"||21" - 120"||30” – 300”|
|Built in Speakers||10W||10W||3W||3.0 Watts × 2||10W|
|Price||Check on Amazon||Check on Amazon||Check on Amazon||Check on Amazon||BHPhotoVideo.com|
Measured in lumens, the brightness of a projector tells you how powerful the lamp is. Anything below about 2,500 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 2,500 and 4,000 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 4,000 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
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
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: Philips Neo Pix Ultra
Reviews of the Best 1080p Projectors under $500 that we’ve tested:
Optoma S334e – Bright Projector under $500
- 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
- Long throw distance
The 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.
Optoma H184X – Projector Under $500 for Great Image Quality
- 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
- Some users report border around image
- May produce the rainbow effect
Like 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
Optoma HD146X – Best Projector Under $500
- 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
- Single-chip design may create rainbow effect
- Poor sound quality
Another 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.
Philips Neo Pix Ultra – Portable 1080p Projector
- Easy installation with digital zoom and keystone
- Vibrant, accurate colors
- Lightweight and compact design
- Variety of cable inputs, including RCA, HDMI, and VGA
- Wireless connectivity through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth
- Built in Android streaming interface with casting support
- Low lamp brightness
- Low image contrast
The connectivity of the Philips Neo Pix Ultra is impressive for a projector at this price point. This starts with a robust variety of inputs, including dual HDMI ports as well as RCA and VGA, and a memory slot for playing stored content.
Along with this, it has an integrated Android OS for streaming apps and support for Miracast or AirPlay for content mirroring, with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless connections.
The Philips Neo Pix Ultra is easy to set up in other ways, too. It has a reasonable throw distance for a standard throw projector, producing a 100-inch image from about 9.5 feet away. Digital zoom and 2D keystone correction give users the features they need to fine-tune the image relative to the screen. It’s relatively compact, as well, weighing just over 5 pounds, so it’s easy to move between rooms or take with you on your travels.
The LED lamp in the Neo Pix Ultra portable projector has a long usable lifespan, up to 20,000 hours, and produces accurate, realistic colors. Unfortunately, it’s not as powerful as other light source technology, putting out around 300 ANSI lumens.
That’s just enough to produce a clear picture in a completely dark space, and can’t compete with even small amounts of ambient light. Its contrast is on the lower side, as well, and the overall image quality is lower than with other projectors on this list.
BenQ TH585P Home Theater Projector Under $500
- Low input lag for gamers
- Wide color gamut (95% of Rec.709 spectrum)
- Bright lamp suitable for lights-on viewing
- Flexible installation with lens shift, zoom, and keystone correction
- Full 3D support
- No wireless connectivity or built-in streaming
- Long throw distance
The BenQ TH585P is one of the most versatile 1080p projectors you’ll find in this price point, capable of handling all your home entertainment needs. Gamers especially will appreciate its responsiveness, with a low 16ms input lag and 60Hz refresh rate for uninterrupted play with no delays or other issues.
The BenQ TH585P performs just as well for movies, sports, and other home theater content. Its UHP bulb and DLP display combine for a high-contrast and colorful full HD image, with a color gamut that roughly equals the Rec.709 spectrum that’s the broadcast standard.
It also has full 3D support, letting you truly enjoy a cinema experience at home. While the speakers aren’t phenomenal, they have higher volume potential and sound quality than many projector speakers, and you can add external sound easily through the 3.5mm audio out.
The powerful 3,500-lumen lamp of the BenQ TH585P is another plus, allowing it to be used in even bright indoor spaces without needing light control measures or sacrificing picture quality.
Its standard throw does mean you’ll need a fairly large space for it, around 11-12 feet for a 100-inch screen, though its 20% vertical lens shift, keystone correction, and 1.1x zoom give you some flexibility within that space.
In terms of overall performance, our favorite projector at this price point is the Optoma HD146X >>> Find the 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.
Gamers should also consider the BenQ TH585P, which is similarly responsive and has a lower MSRP, making it the best value for gamers on the list.
For wireless connectivity and a shorter throw distance, the Philips Neo Pix Ultra is a top option, while the powerful lamp of the Optoma S334E makes it a good choice for indoor/outdoor use.
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.