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Your Holiday Guide To Five Great Home Theater Projectors Under $2500

By Art Feierman
There's nothing quite like a new home projector to elevate that holiday cheer! Tis the season – not just for celebrating holidays, but for sports and movie viewing. What better way to upgrade your viewing experience than a new home theater projector or home entertainment projector, for you and your family?  Here are some great, affordable projectors!  Oh yes, and also one excellent screen that's both versatile and a good value too! Also visit: Your Holiday Guide To The Five Best Home Theater Projectors Over $2500

Above, in order images showing performance of:
Epson Home Cinema 2040/2045
(NFL logo)
Optoma ML750
BenQ HT3050
Epson Home Cinema 1440

It's time for one of my "friendly" rants:  Before I tell you about these five rather excellent, but quite different projectors, I've got a question for ya all:  

Why are you watching movies, sports or even Modern Family, Game of Thrones or Blacklist, on some tiny 50” LCDTV? 

Folks, live life!  Get a projector!  Enjoy 100” diagonal and larger.  Remember that 19” TV you replaced with a 42” a decade or so ago?  Why not enjoy another huge increase in size?

What we'e learned over the years:

  • A 32” TV is a good size for the bathroom
  • A 42” is nice for a kitchen, but
  • A 60" is just too small for serious viewing in your main room.
  • 100” or 120” diagonal is what you really want to get properly immersed in content.  Watching MockingJay on you Android?  Really?  Frozen on a 37”?  So sad.  The Hobbit on a 50”?  That should be a crime!

Home entertainment projectors now start below $500 for a nice entry level projector, but even those can provide far more viewing pleasure for many folks than $2000+ invested in an LCDTV.   By the time your investment in a home projector approaches $2000, in many ways you’ll enjoy a better viewing experience than your local Cineplex.  In the event you have a family, it will save you what, at least $50 and up to $100 per visit (with popcorn and drinks), for a family of four.

Bottom Line:  If you've got the patience to wait for those movies to reach cable/satellite, or Blu-ray, you can save a bundle long term, with a projector based home theater/home entertainment setup.

Even the least bright of these projectors, the tiny LG PH300 is capable of projecting close to a 100" image in a fully darkened room, the others can, easily.

Before I present the first of our five recommendations spanning the price range from about $400 to $2000, let’s stop long enough to consider what it takes for you to add the complete experience to your home, and where you will use it.

The vast majority of us home projector owners watch inside the house, but some will want to take a projector outside for that summer movie night – especially if you have small children.  Keep that in mind.  For general use:

  • You’ll need a projector.
  • You probably also need a sound system to go along with it. (unless you have one)
  • You need a screen or a white or near white wall to shine the projected image on.
  • You need some source material.  Blu-ray or DVD content, satellite/cable/HDTV, or streaming content i.e. Netflix and their appropriate devices
  • Some cables

Projectors come basically in two flavors, and two resolutions:

  1. Home Entertainment – designed for less than ideal rooms – you know – normal rooms, they are very bright!  Typically they have some sound (speakers built in) and tend to be less sophisticated, and produce a less “video phile” picture quality.  Still most of these will “knock your socks off” compared to normal 60” LCDTV viewing, not to mention offering a far larger, more immersive picture and experience.  LCDTV is so “old school.”  Many of today’s new home entertainment projectors are “smart” which we’ll discuss further down.
  2. Home Theater Projectors – What separates these from home entertainment is in part the commitment to a superior picture quality.  In order to achieve that, these projectors are optimized for rooms with very good to great lighting control – the proverbial home theater or “cave”, but any room that can be darkened at night, and has walls and other surfaces that aren’t too white, is usually suitable.

I would call four of these five projectors "home entertainment" in general, with only the BenQ HT3050 really being a touch more of a "just above" entry level "home theater" projector (their HT4050 more so).  Please note:  If your budget is approaching $2500 for a projector, I recommend you check out our other guide, because one projector there has a version that's actually $2299.  That would be Epson's lowest cost, seriously high performance home theater projector the Home Cinema 5030UB.  But, because the Pro Cinema 6030UB  version lists for over $3000 we dropped them both into that guide.  So, essentially there are 6 under $2500 projectors that we are recommending this holiday season.

Let’s start with the first of our five featured projectors worth considering.  (They appear in no particular order):

Epson Home Cinema 2040 and Home Cinema 2045

These two top selling Epson projectors have list prices of $799 and $849.  They are identical (including performance) but for the price and one feature difference, which I'll discuss below.  Most folk will find the lower cost HC2040 to be their choice.

Call these guys home entertainment projectors - why, well, first, they are bright, measuring more than 2000 lumens at their brightest. That means they aren't limited to really darkened rooms - Living or family  room anyone?  They also have built in sound, making it easy to move them from room to room or take one on a trip.  The sound quality from the 10 watt speaker is respectable - considering, of course, that it won't be a match for any real HTIB (home theater in a box) or full surround sound system.  We recommend a separate sound system for any projector, but the built in one will do in a pinch.

Click Image to Enlarge

Epson, in case you are not familiar, is not only known for printers.  Epson is the 800 pound gorilla in the projector business.  No, that's an understatement.  They dominate, claiming well over 40% of the entire US market, despite some 50+ competitors.  They offer far more projectors for the home than any other player, which of course doesn't hurt, but the HC2040 is Epson's mainstay "entry level" full HD projector, and that makes it the most popular home projector in Epson's lineup.  Based on the performance, and warm fuzzies, that's no surprise.

The Home Cinema 2040 won our Best In Class Value award for under $1000 projectors this summer.

I said well featured.  It supports 3D including Blu-ray 3D, and has the brightness to deliver.  It has MHL on its HDMI port, so you can simply plug in a streaming stick like those from Roku, Amazon, Google... and stream content from Netflix and other channels, without hooking up to satellite/cable, or disc player.

There's a manual zoom lens for placement flexibility, and lots of keystone correction.  A built in protective cover for the lens when off, doubles as a quick AV Mute when the projector is working.

But, the great color is perhaps the standout feature.  It just looks good, rich vibrant, colors and surprisingly good skin tones for a lower cost projector up the enjoyment of watching.  At this price point you can't expect anything but "entry level" black level performance, making it the one area where there's a huge difference in picture compared to say the Epson Home Cinema 5030UB and Pro Cinema 6030UB featured together in our "over $2500 guide."

These projectors are 3LCD, so no spinning color wheels and no rainbow effect that bothers some of us.  Easy setup, really good out of the box performance, lots of features, and to round things out, great warranty and support combination.  Most under $1000 projectors come with 1 year warranty, (ok a few have 3 years). These Epson's though have 2 years, but, what makes them special is their 2 year rapid replacement program.  If there is a warranty problem, you call them up, they ship you out another!  It takes typically only 1 or 2 business days.  Awesome support.  Nothing else like it on home projectors without spending far more.

Sunrise - Epson HC2040 from Hunger Games

Sunrise - Epson HC2040 from Hunger Games

You can conclude that many “home theater projectors” are bright enough to double as home entertainment projectors, but few home entertainment projectors can rival the picture quality or features of even lower cost home theater projectors which start around $1000 for entry level.  The sweet spot of true home theater projectors tends to start just under $2000 and runs up to about $5000 - high performance and value, although you can spend 10 times that much easily of course, if you are a top 1%er or merely a well to do fanatic.

After all, whatever you invest on your home system, will be a small fraction of say what you spend on something like a car.  If you’ve got a family of four and take them to the theater, buy popcorn and a drink, you’ll start appreciating how quickly you can pay to have your home system!

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Sound for Your Home Entertainment/Theater System

OK, awesome picture, what about sound for your home entertainment/theater system?

When it comes to audio, know this:  Many lower cost home entertainment projectors have built in sound.  Still one or two small speakers in a small projector won’t give you that shake the foundations of the world bass that you’ve come to expect from action and sci-fi flicks whether Transformers, Harry Potter, Train Your Dragon, or Bourne Legacy.  On the other hand, the sound’s probably just fine for watching 30 Rock reruns.

Most of you will want some better external sound.  How much does that cost?  Figure anywhere from under $200.  If you are really into music, and want more than just loud and powerful, and demand some first class hi fidelity, you can spend up to $1000 for sound, but, if you are that into music, you probably already have that sound system!

For most folks though, a $199-$399 HTIB (Home Theater in a Box) should do the trick.  That will usually get you surround sound speakers, subwoofer, a “receiver” and either a DVD or Blu-ray player.  Where to find such things – online, Walmart, Target, Best Buy…everywhere!  A nice surround sound system is to your home theater or home entertainment environment what a sound bar is to an LCDTV.  It elevates the experience – dramatically.

Gamers Rejoice!

Let’s say your passion is gaming, but you are on a really tight budget. I’m talking serious gaming that requires very fast response times, which could be anything from Call of Duty, to auto racing, to League of Legends.  Some projectors are just faster at responding than others.  Most projectors today are at least acceptable, with input lag times of 51 ms or less.

OK, time to turn the page, and check out one of our two small pocket projectors next!

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