Projectors fall into three broad categories: home cinema, business and portable. Projectors designed for home use aren’t usually as bright as office models, as they’re intended for use in a darkened room. Look for at least 1600 ANSI lumens brightness rating, as this should allow you to watch a film with at least one light on – those that have less than 1000 ANSI lumens rating are only really usable in total darkness.
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It’s important to understand the difference between the three main projection technologies: LCD, DLP and LED.
LCD projectors tend to be larger, but are more likely to have lens-shift than DLP versions.
DLP models usually have better contrast and punchier colours, but suffer from the ‘rainbow effect’ where the component colours of the image (typically red, green and blue) become visible. This can be very distracting to more sensitive viewers, and is especially visible in high-contrast or black-and-white scenes.
In recent years, LED technology has made projectors more affordable.
A projector’s specifications will tell you little about image quality, so if you’re concerned about colour accuracy, contrast and sharpness, make sure you read our reviews which tell you how each model fared in our tests. See also: Group test: what's the best projector?
Home cinema projectors
Cheaper home cinema projectors tend to have a 720p resolution (1280 x 720), which is quite usable, but you’ll notice the extra detail produced by a full-HD 1080p (1920 x 1080) model if you’re watching Blu-ray films on a big (100in+) screen.
If you can’t place your projector square-on to your screen, look for a model with lens shift. This is where the lens can be physically moved to shift the image horizontally and/or vertically, allowing you to place the projector off-centre.
Keystone correction is the poor man’s lens shift, altering the image digitally to correct the aspect, but potenially degrading image quality in the process.
Most projectors also have a zoom, which gives you more flexibility to mount the unit closer – or further away – from your screen. If you have a very small room, look for a short-throw model which can produce a very large image from a short distance.
Motion smoothing is another feature to look for. Virtually all films run at 24 frames per second (fps), and TV broadcasts at 25fps in the UK. When objects move across the screen, or the camera pans left or right, this can appear jerky – especially on huge screens. Motion smoothing intelligently adds extra frames (guessing where objects would appear between the original frames) to produce a far less jerky result.
When choosing a projector for business use, you’ll typically opt for either a portable model or a permanent installation. Regardless of the type, make sure the lamp is bright enough. Under normal fluorescent lighting, you’ll need at least 2000 ANSI lumens, but increase this if you’ll also be competing with sunlight. Plus, don’t forget that the brightness drops as you increase the size of the image.
Small and lightweight projectors, especially the so-called pico projectors, can be tempting for their very portability. They often use white LEDs for a bulb, making them smaller and cooler-running. But beware that light output is much less than regular models, making them only usable in very dark rooms and/or at short range. Some even run from batteries, although with limited runtime – check our reviews to get an idea of real battery life.
See also: Group test: what's the best projector?
Optoma HD141X Full HD 3D 1080p Projector
This is a more expensive projector, but its capabilities warrant the asking price. It’s capable of 3D projection. With a decent screen to project on or black cloth backing, this machine will throw excellent 3D images onto your wall – just remember you’ll need 3D glasses if you want to take advantage of it.
We recommend making sure that you check you have the room for the correct distance between wall and projector, otherwise you aren’t guaranteed correct correlation of image. The Optoma can handle full HD resolution and several different video modes and even has a built in 10W speaker, but you’ll probably want to hook it up to some louder ones for mass viewings.
Crenova XPE460 LED Projector
The neat trick to this excellent, affordable projector is that if you use a wireless HDMI adapter, you can project the screen of your computer, laptop or smartphone with ease. Unfortunately it doesn’t come with one, but you can pick one up for under £20 here.
You can adjust the screen size between 37 and 130in and it doesn’t emit any noise. A great, compact projector.
Epson EB-S04 Portable Projector
Epson is a tried and tested brand in the world of printers and beyond, and this projector is an excellent example of that. The higher price compared to cheaper models is down to its 3,000 lumens brightness (most cheaper ones are around 1,000) and a good contrast ratio of 15,000:1.
The maximum screen size on offer is a ridiculous 300in – if you have the space, this is a great choice.
Crenova XPE700 DLP projector
This tiny projector literally sits in the palm of your hand at 20 x 16 x 6cm, and uses DLP technology. Bear in mind the differences explained in the introduction to this article, and if you’re still happy then this is an outstanding, convenient choice.
Crenova markets it as an outdoor projector, and you can power the thing wirelessly with a built-in rechargeable battery. Bear in mind it can only run for an hour or two, so you may want to still have it plugged in, but the option is there.
It supports up to a staggering 1920 x 1080 allowing full 1080p video playback quality. With the option to connect over Wi-Fi, it’s a versatile, smart little projector.