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TVs have gotten a lot larger over the past 10 years, but they still can’t recreate the feeling of being in a movie theater quite like a projector.
Not only can they produce a bigger image, but projectors are also way more portable than a TV, so you can use them both inside and outside. That’s a major plus if you don’t want to dedicate an entire chunk of your living room to a giant screen that takes up room even when it’s off, or like the idea of hosting an outdoor movie night. If you’re new to the idea of getting a projector, we’ve done some research and found three under $500.
We also have guides to the best portable and 4K projectors and have broken down the main differences between TVs and projectors if you can’t decide which is best for you.
What Are the Best Projectors Under $500?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best projectors under $500; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Native Resolution: A lot of projectors accept HD content, but very few of them can actually produce an HD image. Many of them use a technology called “downsampling,” which means it takes a high-resolution image and scrunches it down to a lower quality one. Think of it this way: You could play a Blu-ray on an old tube TV, but it won’t look as good as it would on a modern set. Most of the projectors we’re recommending have a native HD resolution, so you don’t have to worry about this.
Throw Distance: This is a math equation that calculates how big a projector’s image will be based on how far away it is from the screen or wall it’s projecting onto. The further away the projector is from the wall, the larger the image will be. Some projectors are categorized as “short throw,” which means they’re calibrated to throw a larger image from a shorter distance.
Brightness: The image thrown by a projector is highly susceptible to light pollution, which will dim its image before it hits your screen or wall. The brighter the projector, the more it’s able to overcome light pollution. Unfortunately, the brighter the projector, the lower the battery life. If you plan on using your projector at night, brightness won’t be as big of a factor, but it’s something to consider if you’re going to use it to replace your TV in a well-lit room.
Ports: Ports let you connect computers, game consoles, phones, or tablets to the projector, so the more ports the better.
Speakers: All of the projectors on this list have built-in speakers, so you don’t have to carry a pair around with you to watch a movie. That said, the speakers are generally smaller, and less powerful because of space restraints, and can add to power consumption.
1. ViewSonic XGA Projector
This XGA (1024×768) projector offers brightness levels up to 3,800 lumens and high contrast ratios, meaning your entertainment will look great in any lighting setting.
It can project up to 120-inches from about 13 feet away and has a long lamp life, lasting about 15,0000 hours, according to the brand. It also weighs just under five pounds, meaning it’s relatively portable, allowing you to set this projector up in your home theater or carry it out to your backyard for a movie night under the stars.
As for connectivity options, you’ve got HDMI, VGA, and a mini USB input, allowing you to connect your laptop or gaming console to this projector. The brand also claims that this projector has reduced input latency, which means you’ll face lower lag times and delays on your visuals. Plus, it’s equipped to work with 3D Blu-Ray players, just in case you’re a movie buff who values quality.
2. GooDee Video Projector
This budget option has a 1080p native resolution and its 2022 upgraded version even features better brightness levels, according to the brand.
It’s got a display size of up to 230-inches depending on how close or far you place this projector (the brand suggests placing it about 10 feet away from your screen). It’s also got a useful cooling system, which the brand says should reduce fan noise and extend bulb life making your projector more durable over time.
It’s also got a plethora of connectivity options, including HDMI ports, USB ports and VGA/AV ports. This means you can connect any of your devices including video gaming consoles or your laptop to this projector. It’s even compatible with the Fire TV stick and Google Chromecast.
There is even a built-in speaker that produces decent audio. Plus, you’ll get a five-year warranty on this device, just in case something is amiss or your new projector stops functioning.
3. Nebula Capsule Max
The Nebula Capsule Max is the latest entry in the company’s long line of portable, smart projectors.
It has a native resolution of 1280 X 720 (720P), so your videos will look very clear if they’re blown up to a big size. The Nebula Capsule Max can create a 100-inch image, but the company doesn’t give any information about its throw distance. Like Kodak, Nebula chose video resolution and portability over screen brightness. The company says the Capsule Max can run for up to four hours on battery power, which is great, but its 200L screen brightness means you can only really use it in very dark environments.
The Nebula Capsule Max only has three ports: One HDMI, one USB, and a headphone jack. The headphone jack actually may not be necessary because the projector’s 8W mono speaker system should be plenty powerful. The main reason we’re recommending this speaker is that it runs Android, the same operating system as tens of millions of phones. Because it’s basically a self-contained computer, you can connect the projector to Wi-Fi and download apps from the Google Play store instead of connecting a media streamer, or sharing the screen from your phone. I’ve used a couple of Nebula’s other projectors, which have the same features, and I found it very simple to find, download, and run new apps.
The Nebula Capsule Max strikes the right balance between portability, image quality, battery life, and smart features to make it an excellent projector regardless of your budget.