We tested 4 ultra-cheap projectors, starting at under $50
Most best projectors we’re looking at a drop in the $500-$1,500 range here at CNET because we’ve found it to be the right middle ground for price and performance. We made a handful of high end projectorswhich are great if you can afford them, and we also found a few gems for a few hundred deer.
Some of those no-name $250 projectors, like the AAXA P8 and the Vimgo P10did surprisingly well in my comparison tests. They provided great, perfectly watchable images for less than the price of a cheap phone. Which led me to the next question: how much can you go for?
Amazon is full of projectors that cost around $100, often much less. Are any of them any good? make one of them work? Someone should find out. Then I realized, “Hey! I’m somebody!” So I made a list, double checked, then bought (OK, CNET bought) and reviewed the four that seemed the most interesting. We cost less than a video game, we cost less than a family dinner at Chipotle. All of them, surprisingly, work. Kind of. Here’s what they looked like.
To say that the Hision is the best projector in this roundup is wrong. This is the least bad projector in this overview. It can create a watchable picture, mostly, and is bright enough to get that picture about at least the size of a TV. It’s even 1080p resolution. No more superlatives, such as they are.
It’s not particularly bright, in the stadium of mini and portable projectors. The contrast ratio isn’t much worse than some projectors we’ve reviewed, although that’s not saying much. It’s surprisingly strong, though. And the uniformity is poor, making the center of the image noticeably brighter than the edges.
There were also a few bugs. Well, a bug. Literally. Buried forever between the image sensor and the lens, it appeared as a dark ovoid speck a few tens of pixels wide near the middle of the image. Charming.
The Hision was only good compared to the others here. For $150 more, the Vimgo P10 was brighter and much more watchable, and definitely worth saving up in my opinion. If you just want to spend around $100, you could do worse.
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The YG300-Pro is no good. For about the same price as the Hision, it’s basically half as bright, has worse contrast ratio, and worse color (and that’s saying something). It shares many of the same issues, including abysmal uniformity. Some colors, like red, are very undersaturated, resulting in a cold, lifeless image. It’s 720p, so the pixels aren’t at least tile-sized.
Bottom line: The Hision is better for a few dollars more.
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The Elephas JingHuier is half the price of the other two on this list, and that’s pretty bad. In its favor, the design features a user-friendly round focus knob and a rather pleasing curved design with a yellow faceplate. Unfortunately, it’s the second darkest projector we’ve ever reviewed, producing an almost invisible 33. lumens. The picture isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it comes close.
Dominated by large SD resolution pixels and mediocre colors, its biggest strength is that it’s not the MissYou YG300 (see below).
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The MissYou YG300 is very bad. Terrible. This is without a doubt the worst projector, and probably the worst screen, I have ever seen. The image is a moody, joyless mess of faded colors and sadness. The red color is hardly a suggestion. It emits enough light to imperceptibly illuminate a shoebox. Each of its 23 lumens – the lowest I’ve ever measured – seems to struggle to make its way to the screen and then blames itself for being there. Reviewing the YG300 made me question my life choices as a projector reviewer.
Even for $35, which is what we paid at the time, don’t buy this. Since then the price has gone up, that’s the only thing that can make me recommend this projector less.
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We have to talk about image quality
The projectors above, with the possible exception of the Hision, look worse than just about any modern TV, no matter how cheap. You definitely need to recalibrate your expectations for what you get here. I’ve used the word “watchable” a lot in this guide which falls somewhere between generous hyperbole and Olympic-grade hyperbole. Here are some key reasons why:
- light output
In every measurable way, spending an extra $150 will get you a vastly superior product. The best cheap projectors we’ve reviewed are noticeably brighter, prettier, sharper and more detailed. I hate recommending anyone to pay more for something, but in this case it’s worth it. Unless you consider them a disposable toy, I would recommend buying something else or saving up and getting something better.
One of the understandable points of confusion concerns the specs and marketing of these projectors. They’re filled with… shall we say, “gifts for fiction”? One of them claims 8,000 lumens of brightness. I measured 141. Another claimed 1080p resolution. I measured 240, which is the same resolution as the VHS tape. A lot of marketing twists the truth to sell you a product, but these spotlight descriptions were particularly bad.
Why are you considering spending over $100 on a projector?
I’m all for spending as little as possible to get something cool, or at least useful. We recently reviewed several inexpensive projectors that aren’t bad for the price. The ones in this roundup, however, are decidedly no good, even for the price. They’re exceptionally dark, so they can’t make a very big picture, and it would be generous to call their color and contrast “marginal.”
What do you get with slightly more expensive projectors, from around $250? The image quality is evident, in terms of resolution, detail and color, in particular. Spending even a little more gives you a lot more light, which means the image is easier to see and you can create a bigger image too. Some have built-in batteries so they can operate completely wirelessly. Finally, many more expensive projectors have built-in streaming. This means that no external device is needed to watch Netflix.
If you plan on having one of those $100 projectors on hand for the occasional kids to watch a show in a room without a TV, the TV is absolutely a better option. It will be easier to use, easier to look at, and visible with the lights on. It’s not even that different in price. We recently spotted a 24-inch TV with built-in streaming for $80. It’s less portable, sure, but infinitely more useful.
If you were considering these headlamps for something inexpensive and portable for camping, the Meer and MissYou can technically be battery operated. But then they are even weaker, if you can believe it. Don’t expect to create a much bigger picture than the smallest of TVs. If it’s within your budget, something like the AAXA P8 is much brighter, or the Anker Mars II Pro which is good for a little more.
How does CNET test budget projectors?
The same way we test more expensive projectors. For more details, see How we test projectors.
Ultra Budget Pajamas FAQ
Do these ultra-cheap projectors really work?
Surprisingly, yes! Not good mind you, but they create an image on a flat surface for $100 or less.
Can you stream Netflix on any of these projectors?
Yes, but with some important caveats. Generally speaking, the easiest way to distribute them is to use a diffusion stick connected to their HDMI inputs, which works. These projectors have no built-in apps, despite their marketing images implying otherwise. Don’t expect to be able to mirror your phone screen and watch Netflix that way. There are copy protection restrictions that make this unlikely to work.
Can I connect a game console (Xbox, PlayStation, etc.)?
Technically yes, anything with an HDMI connection should work. That said, it’s worth noting that with the exception of the Hision, these are extremely dim projectors. You won’t be able to see much, if anything, with the lights on. Even with the lights off, a 50 inch image will still be hard to see.
Yes and no. You technically don’t need a screen. Any smooth, flat surface will work. A screen will improve the image, however, as they generally lack texture, and many can reflect more light back to where you’re sitting and less elsewhere. This means that the projector will seem a bit brighter. That said, a screen won’t make a $35 projector look like a $3,500 projector, or probably even a $350 projector. If you have the budget to add a screen, you’re probably better off buying a better projector now and saving up for a screen later.
In addition to covering television and other display technologies, Geoff takes photographic tours of museums and cool places around the worldincluding nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castlesepic Road trips of 10,000 miles, and more. Check Technical treks for all his tours and adventures.
He wrote a bestselling science fiction novel on city-sized submarines and a after. You can follow his adventures on instagram and his Youtube channel.