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The 13 Best Projectors for Movies, Gaming and Live Sport, Because We Still Can't Sit Inside Pubs

Owen Gough
·16-min read
Photo credit: *
Photo credit: *

Brits rejoice, as lockdown lifts in the UK and pubs, shops, and life in general returns to pre-Covid normality (sort of). That said, you'll still need a coat if you plan on grabbing a pint at your local, and some establishments remain closed, and theatres and cinemas are still shut for the foreseeable. But you can still enjoy that big screen experience. You just need the right kit.

We aren't talking about popcorn machines or sticky carpets. To recreate the silver screen experience (or Champion's-League-knockout-round-at-your-local experience) you need a brilliant projector. That way, you can bring the cinema/pub into your living room.

You don't need to spend Arsenal-season-ticket money, either. Advances in technology mean you can get bright, sharp, high-resolution projectors for three figures, although there is always the option to invest more if you want that true cinephile experience. And because the best projector is the projector that's right for your room and the stuff you want to watch, we've broken down what to look for, and found the finest examples you can buy right now.

What you need to know

For the uninitiated, projector-buying can be a complicated process, so there are a few things you need to pay attention to to make sure you pick the right one. The first, and most important, is resolution.

Like TVs, you can get everything from cheaper HD-ready 720p projectors up to cutting-edge HDR displays, which offer crystal clear images and deep blacks, even when projecting over hundreds of inches. Cinephiles will want as many pixels as possible, but if you're just after something for family movie night, then you don't need to stump up for 4K.

The second big factor for picture quality is the image's contrast ratio, which is a way of measuring how well it reproduces blacks and whites (basically, how much light is reflected from a pure black and pure white surface). The bigger the ratio, the better the performance – at 500,000:1, blacks will be inky and colours will pop; at 2,000:1, the image will look murky and colours will bleed into each other.

You'll also need to check the brightness of the projector, which is measured in lumens (the more lumens, the brighter the image). Lots of lumens doesn't necessarily translate to better quality – super-bright images can often mean blown-out colours – it's more about the environment you'll be watching in. If you want mates round to watch the 1pm kick-off (one day soon, fingers crossed), then you'll need something that can overcome a lot of ambient light. If you've kitted your basement out as a home cinema, pick picture quality over brightness.

Unlike a TV, projectors themselves don't have a huge footprint. But what does matter is your intended screen size, and how far away from it you intend to position your projector. This is known as the throw distance. Most good home projectors work best when two or three metres away from the surface they're projecting on, but if you're pushed for space, look for a 'short-throw' projector, which comes equipped with clever lenses that give you a full, cinematic image even when just a few inches away from the wall.

Finally, you need to think about connections and portability. Do you need to run speakers out of it, or plug in everything from your computer, to Fire TV sticks, to gaming consoles? Are you going to mount it on the ceiling and leave it there forever, or do you want something you can take into the garden, or round to friends' houses, for film nights on the go?

To help you choose, we’ve broken the best projectors on the market down into three categories: the best for a cinema-like experience, gaming, and for watching sport. Just add popcorn.

The Best Home Cinema projectors

Projectors made for watching films are all about image quality. Since you're not a French duke, we'll assume you're not lying around gorging on nouvelle vague during the day, but instead are after something for film night, which means prioritising resolution, colour reproduction and contrast ratio over brightness. These are our favourites, from big budget blockbuster to punching-above-its-weight indie.

Type of projector: Home cinema

Resolution: 4K

3D: Yes

Brightness: 2,000 lumens

Contrast ratio: 30,000:1

Sound: 2x5W speakers

For our money, this is pound-for-pound the best 4K projector in the world right now. Yes, you can get better picture quality or stronger colour reproduction elsewhere, but you have to spend a lot to get a little bit of improvement.

The BenQ W2700i offers incredible HDR images, courtesy of DCI-P3, the US film industry's preferred colour standard. That means the kind of deep blacks and rich, vibrant brights that you normally only get by adding a couple of grand to your budget.

People will find much to play with in the menus, but the w2700i's out-of-the-box calibrations and CinemaMaster Video+ mode mean you get multiplex-level performance without spending hours tweaking settings. That, alongside its integrated Android TV, makes this the perfect balance between performance and usability.

Type of projector: Home cinema

Resolution: 4K

3D: Yes

Brightness: 3,400 lumens

Contrast ratio: 500,000:1

Sound: Built-in 10W speaker

Optoma's mid-tier 4K projector offers an affordable way into true cinema-quality viewing, with lightning fast image transference and silky-smooth 240Hz refresh rate to make your films blast out the projector screen or wall.

Colour reproduction is particularly good – load up one of Nolan's Batmans to really appreciate how black the blacks get – but with 3,400 lumens of brightness, you don't need a hermetically sealed room to get the best out of this projector. Granted, you'll still want the curtains shut if you're watching TV at noon, but unlike cheap projectors, it does at least work in the daytime.

Setup is super simple, with all the ports you'd expect and enough of them to take all your hardware. At 5.5kg it's not the lightest projector, but also not so bulky that you'll struggle to house it (or risk pulling the plaster off if you ceiling-mount it). It doesn't, however, have a short-throw option (or much in the way of lens shift capabilities) so ideally it will need a dedicated home a couple of metres from the screen.

Type of projector: Home cinema

Resolution: 4K

3D: Yes

Brightness: 3,000 lumens

Contrast ratio: 100,000:1

Sound: 10W speakers

It might not be the prettiest, but the EH-TW7100 is an affordable 4k projector that offers an incredible image at a very friendly price. Ironically, that's thanks to some slightly dated tech: Epson's 3LCD is long in the tooth compared to laser and short-throw projectors, but if what you're looking for is brilliant colour reproduction, inky blacks and a hi-def visuals, sometimes the traditional approach is best.

It helps that it comes with up-to-date extras, including in-built Bluetooth (the onboard speakers are fine, but you'll need dedicated audio for a proper cinema experience) and all manner of HDMI and USB ports. At 3,000 lumens, it's bright enough to replace your TV for afternoon kick-offs.

The Best Portable Projectors

Number one on your feature list for a portable projector? Well, portability. Some are pocket-sized, others are slimmed-down but more powerful versions of home cinema projectors, which are ideal for taking to a friend's house, but not for stowing in your work bag. As a rule, smaller size means slimmer features – true pico projectors (which can be as small as a a phone) are more for big-screen presentations than hi-def movie experiences. But there are some that bullseye the portable/watchable Venn diagram.

Type of projector: Home cinema

Resolution: 4K

3D: Yes

Brightness: 2,400 LED Lumens

Contrast ratio: 3,000,000:1

Sound: 8W Harman-Kardon speakers

Price: £1,199

For the man who wants it all without remortgaging the house, the mid-range X10-4K is up there among the best for movie-watching. The high contrast ratio and the solid lumen count means you won’t have to invest in blackout blinds, either; pick it up by the handle and treat yourself to the Tokyo Summer Olympics in the garden.

Its short-throw tech is very useful for a portable projector, as it means you can stick it pretty much anywhere – we achieved a 90” display by placing it a metre away from the wall. Thanks to its unobtrusive design and the whisper-quiet fan, we completely forgot it was even there when watching Disney’s Soul.

Equally impressive are the built-in Harman-Kardon speakers, which deliver crisp trebles and deep bass. They max out at 8W so are more for on-the-go than every day, but connecting a soundbar or surround sound system is nice and simple.

The inclusion of Alexa meant we could bark orders to change the volume or glide through the menus without lifting a finger. Although, if we had one gripe, it would be the high input latency when gaming. It’s by no means slow at 66ms, but we noticed FIFA games on the Xbox Series S felt a tad sluggish.

Type of projector: Portable home cinema projector

Picture quality: 1080p

Brightness: 1,000 lumens

3D: No

Screen size: Up to 150 inches

Contrast ratio: 250,000:1

Speakers: Built-in 5W speakers by Yamaha

Without a doubt, the best portable projector on the market. At 17.5cm across, and weighing just 2.1kg, it's easy to move around from room to room or, hopefully one day soon, to your friend's house for film night. But there's smart guts in that slim profile, to whit: 1080p resolution courtesy of Epson's 3LCD laser projection at an enormous 250,000:1 contrast ratio, which offers an incredible colour reproduction and pin-sharp images that you'll swear can't have emerged from a box that size, as well as a 360-degree projection angle, so you can position it wherever you like.

The one downside is that, at just 1,000 lumens, this is very much a projector for a dark room with the blinds drawn, rather than a TV-replacer. But on the plus side, it also comes with a pair of 5W speakers, by audio specialists Yamaha, built in. Because a portable projector isn't that portable if you have to lug a Bluetooth speaker around with it.

Type of projector: Portable home cinema projector

Picture quality: 1080p full HD resolution, plus Cinema SuperColor+ technology

3D: Yes

Brightness: 1200 lumens

Contrast ratio: 3,000,000:1

Connectivity: 5 GHz Wi-Fi connectivity, casting and screen-mirroring

Speakers: Dual integrated theatre-level Harman Kardon speakers

If the Swiss army decided that its troops needed a projector alongside a knife, a screwdriver, scissors, corkscrew and golf divot repair prongs, this is the one they’d go for. Integration is the word: alongside the usual ways of getting your films up on the wall – HDMI and USB – there’s a Micro SD slot, casting from your phone or tablet, and the option to stream direct from apps including Netflix and iPlayer without connecting a device as well as connectivity with voice assistants. Plus, there’s 10GB of storage space on board.

Light and compact, it’s barely broader than an A4 piece of paper and can throw a pretty vast 80-inch image from as close as two metres from the wall you’re watching on. Images are poppy and intense, and sound crisp if a little lacking on the bottom end. Not that that’d matter too much if you were out on manoeuvres halfway up the Matterhorn, but still.

Type of projector: Portable mini-projector

Picture quality: True sight 720p (HD Ready)

Brightness: 5,500 lumens

Screen size: Up to 5m (200 inches)

Connectivity: HDM, USB, Micro SD card, Dual USB port, speaker

Speakers: Built-in speakers

OK, so you were maybe thinking of a home cinema for less than £200? Gotcha. This little model is a smidge over £100 right now on Amazon but delivers almost-HD imagery on the cheap. It's small enough to fit on a little table in front of your white wall, and we barely even noticed it once we set it up.

We were frustrated with the image quality, as it is only 720p, so it is a bit grainy compared to other models, but if you're looking for a little device to watch the Euros this summer or just host a home-cinema party for a few bob, this is a solid option if high resolution isn't really your thing.

The Best Gaming Projectors

What makes a good gaming projector? Well, a speedy refresh rate is good – something over 120Hz means smooth images – although you will sometimes have to dig around to find that information. Input lag is also imperative; the more time that elapses between you pressing a button and your character ducking behind some storage crates, the higher the odds of some insufferable 12-year-old sniping you from a watchtower. Depending on when and where you play, decent brightness means you won't have to go all teenage-bedroom-with-the-curtains-closed if you fancy playing some Outriders before dusk.

Type of projector: Home cinema projector

Picture quality: 4K

Brightness: 3,000 lumens

Screen size: Up to 120 inches

Short-throw: Yes

Contrast ratio: 2,000,000:1

Speakers: Built-in 3W dual stereo speakers

Pro gamers might sniff at the 67ms lag time, but if you're not playing Overwatch for money then the Optoma is one of the best gaming projectors on the market, courtesy of a daylight-beating 3,000 lumen image in 4k at 60hz, so gameplay stays nice and smooth even at 120 inches.

It's also short-throw, which means more flexibility in where you position it in your room (it's no fun having to position all your furniture around where your projector needs to live). Throw in the excellent onboard sound and you've got the perfect gaming projector, in a very sleek package.

Type of projector: Home cinema projector

Picture quality: 1080p

Brightness: 3,600 lumens

Screen size: Up to 7.6m (300 inches)

Connectivity: VGA, USB, HDMI

Speakers: Built-in 5W speakers

Some 'gaming' projectors are really just rebadged cinema projectors, but BenQ's TH685 is a console-friendly specialist, courtesy of a mere 8ms lag between the time you press a button and the action appearing on your screen, as well as a frankly blinding 3,500 lumens display that means you could probably play Fortnite outside, at midday, during the summer solstice, and still get a clear image.

That said, it will do movie night proud too, thanks to a sharp 1080p HDR display that offers deep blacks and poppy brights.

Granted, it can't quite hit the cinematic experience of the Optoma above (its 10,000:1 contrast ratio pales in comparison to the Optoma's 500,000:1) but the opening scene of Star Wars: A New Hope is still appropriately epic on a 300-inch screen.

Type of projector: Home cinema projector

Picture quality: 4K

Brightness: 7,000 lumens

Screen size: Up to 350 inches

Short-throw: Yes

Speakers: Built-in 3W dual stereo speakers

The image quality is important when it comes to gaming, and if a top-end 4K projector seems a little too much for you right now, then this cheaper option might be the better avenue to go down.

Place this projector right up close to the wall and beam out the games you love on a larger-than-life display. FIFA's a lot more fun when it's massive (probably won't stop you getting thrashed by teenagers online, though).

Type of projector: Portable mini projector

Picture quality: HD 1080p

Brightness: 4,500 lumens

Speakers: 2x built-in Hi-Fi speakers

You don't need to spend big, of course. Just take look at a super-cheap projector, perfectly set up for your gaming needs, from Elephas. This one is less than £100, making it one of the cheapest projectors in this list, and will get the job done with no issues. Obviously there's a drop in quality compared to more expensive models, but for this price there can be no complaints.

The Best Sports Projectors

Much like with gaming, you'll need to shell out for a machine that can handle light well and provide crisp visuals – especially if you're playing for a high-definition set-top box. That means a high lumen count and, if possible, 4K capabilities. There's a good chance your front room will become your friends' go-to destination for sport, too, so make sure the sound is up to scratch.

Type of projector: Home cinema system (with 3D mode)

Picture quality: 4K Ultra HD

Brightness: 3,200 lumens

Speakers: 5W speaker

The BenQ is a brilliant all-rounder, but its dedicated sports mode – which, among other things, smooths out skin tones and makes grass look greener – will provide some much-needed live sport methadone while you still can't get into the actual stadium. At 3,200 lumens, you can watch the Ashes without needing to lightproof your living room, while its 4K UHD display means you'll be able to see every drop of Roy Keane's spittle as he lays into David de Gea yet again.

The inbuilt speaker is passable, but really you're going to want to run this one into a dedicated set of speakers or soundbar to get audio that matches up to the picture quality.

Type of projector: Home cinema system

Picture quality: Full HD (1080p) with 4K support

Brightness: 3,000 lumens

Screen size: Up to 7m (300 inches)

Speakers: Built-in speakers

This option from Apeman is surprisingly impressive, especially for the price. Best known for sports cameras, the company has developed a decent 4K projector that is quiet, affordable, and offers high-quality output all-round.

It also has a “low-strobe” feature, which reduces flickering and eases the strain on your eyes when watching high-speed content. Perfect for watching De Bruyne curl one into the top bins from 30 yards/Phil Jones smash his face into the floor for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

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