Cheap Projectors -- how bad are they?

Evan Powell, July 28, 2014

When you look for really cheap projectors they are easy to find. Search "cheap projectors" on Amazon and many unheard of brands like Digital Galaxy, Fugetek, and Paramount will pop up, all touting HD 1080P projectors that put out lots of lumens with 20,000 hour LED lamps, many for under $200. They are hard to miss.

Everyone instinctively knows they will get hosed if they buy allegedly high-performance projectors at low-ball prices. But just how bad are these models? If the Amazon user ratings are to be believed, a lot of customers seem to be quite happy with them--lots of 4 and 5 star ratings. Do these projectors really give you decent home theater on the cheap?

To be honest, we'd never looked at them until now. They are made by vendors who would never send them out for professional review. So we ordered three of them on Amazon from three different brands and put them through our normal testing procedures. Our overall take is as follows:

1. Some are better than others. From what we've seen in our test sample of three models, they cannot all be written off as total junk. None of them are high performance projectors in any sense, but some of them can produce a decently watchable picture as long as your expectations are not too high. Some can't.

2. Many who buy these projectors have never seen a good projector. The 4 and 5 star ratings on Amazon are written by folks who are not picky about image quality. To be fair, people who buy very cheap projectors are generally not familiar with higher performance models and don't have anything to compare them to. For many buyers, just to power one on and get a big picture on the wall for the first time is worth a 5-star rating.

3. The cheap projector vendors publish false brightness specs. We only measured three of them, but none of the three were remotely in the ballpark of their specs. The Digital Galaxy DG-757 claims a whopping 2800 lumens in their Amazon ad; the unit we got from Amazon measured 137 lumens. The Fugetek FG-637 touts 1500 lumens; the turkey we received put out 87 lumens. The HTP-LED33 claims 2000 lumens; we measured 190.

4. You can get MUCH better projectors for not much more money. What many don't realize is that the full-line projector manufacturers offer inexpensive low-resolution products capable of displaying HD signals, and they are much better at it than the cheap brands on Amazon or eBay. Unfortunately, the major manufacturers promote these products as business projectors rather than home video or HD projectors. But in pretty much all cases they are much brighter and higher in contrast, with comparable resolution. The cheap projector brands thrive on the inexperience of consumers, hoping that they will not realize they have better options.

Bill has written up three individual reviews of the projectors we looked at. You can read through them to get an idea of the flaws we found. The models are as follows, including the current Amazon price and the promotional language the vendors use to describe them:

Digital Galaxy DG-757 Review. "LED 1080P Full HD Video Projector 720p 1280x768 with Build-in Tuner 1080i Support Home Theater Game TV LCD LED ... 2800 Lumens ... Lamp 20,000 to 50,000 hours" $249

Fugetek FG-637 Review. "Advanced Fugetek HD Port Ready LCD Projector with 1080i/P Compatible Resolution, HDMI Input, Playstation, Xbox, Wii and DVD Projector 1500 lumens Lamp 20,000 hours." $179

HTP LED-33 Review. "BEST NEW LED HD Home Theater Multimedia LCD Projector 1080P AV VGA HDMI SD USB TV S-Video PS3 WII Lamp 20,000 hours" $205

These three projectors have given us a good idea of what to expect when spending a minimal amount of cash on a home theater projector. Do they create a big picture? Yes. Is the picture watchable? In some cases yes, if you use it in a dark room and the projected image is not too big. Are there better options? Yes, without question ... you can get much better performance from the cheap business projectors made by BenQ, Epson, Optoma, and others, than you can from these products.

Reader Comments(31 comments)

Posted Mar 20, 2016 8:59:59 PM

By Jr1981

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The article says you can get a much better projector for not much more money. Do the authors have suggestions? I'm going to build a projector screen for outside for watching ball games. The screen a friend built is 12' x 16'. He spent about $500-$600 on his projector and the picture looks pretty good. I would like some suggestions. Thanks in advance.

Posted Nov 16, 2015 8:09:20 AM

By Bryan Phillips

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Just go to ebay and buy a good used one. I got an "untested" sanyo that just blows me away for $70. It was in bad cosmetic shape, but worked flawlessly. Retail was well over $2000. It does not use an LED bulb, but I was able to obtain a couple on the cheap through Amazon.

Posted Nov 9, 2015 1:00:01 PM

By kunle adesanya

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hi folk can somebody suggest a good projector that i can occationally connect my tv live show in home theater of 22by18ft and screen of 10by5.5ft

Posted Oct 15, 2015 8:42:02 AM

By lala Rojas

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Mando, Did you find a projector? if so, please tell me where. I need one for the same reasons but projecting on canvas. Thanks.

Posted Sep 2, 2015 6:55:18 AM

By sarvesh bojo

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From where did you buy it and how much did you pay for it?

Posted Aug 27, 2015 12:14:43 PM

By Charles

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First off this is a good read for those who are looking into getting their first projectors. Great job to Evan. The budget friendly projectors on the market today are actually pretty good if you know what to look for especially now that mini projectors are aggressively competing with each other. Lesser known companies are pushing out good products like Elmo Boxi, AAXA ST200, and ViVitek Qumi. I think consumers often look too much at pricing rather than what that price is getting you. We all know the saying you get what you pay for.

Posted Aug 5, 2015 12:09:02 AM

By Artist projector

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I would be curious if Mando, John Demetri or others looking at artist applications have found a product they are happy with? Looking to buy a project for my girlfriend who is a fine artist/photography. She is often working with photos or paused videos, sometimes composites of many images and the projector would simply be to throw only a large canvas for composition and proportions. Many thanks for a great forum

Posted Jul 16, 2015 4:16:50 AM

By John Demetri

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I need to do the same as Mando. Do I really need an expensive projector to this? I mean simply projecting a coloured image onto canvas or onto a wall and then tracing over the image.

Posted Jul 10, 2015 12:48:52 AM

By Lou

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I am currently using a cheap projector (LED 86C) for my home-theater. It performed well for my casual needs.

Posted Jun 8, 2015 12:11:40 PM

By PiGi

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Hi to all. What about the "Unic UC-40", at 100€ (130$) ? it should be a 800 lumen, 800x480 pixels. I need a projector just for some indoor video mapping experiment, most of all I need just the white color.

There is some other product you can suggest me at a similar price?

Thank you

Posted May 13, 2015 12:02:00 PM

By Evan Powell, Editor

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Mando -- You need a bright, low resolution, portable machine, something like 3000 lumens, under 5 lbs, and SVGA resolution if you want to minimize the cost. Go to the Database and enter those parameters, and you will see the most popular models that fit them. Buy from any of the major vendors if you care about reliability, warranty, and lumen ratings anywhere close to realistic.

Jane -- Keep in mind that hotels usually provide screens with the projectors. If buying your own cheap projector means you need to also acquire a screen that you need to haul in with you, you may find that the $200 fee is the easier way to solve the problem.

T Rambo -- Our favorite home theater projector under $500 at the moment is the Viewsonic PJD5555W. It's about $450. See the review on this site. If you need to go less than that, it doesn't really matter what you get since they will all be much lower in image quality than the 5555W. As noted above, buy from major vendors if you are concerned about reliability and warranty.


Posted May 13, 2015 11:23:48 AM

By Mando

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I would like to hear your thoughts on the cheapest model that may produce an image on a wall for creating murals of said image. I spend a lot of time drawing the image and coloring and will prefer not having to measure dimensions to paint the image on the wall. Thoughts?

Posted May 6, 2015 6:43:54 PM

By Jane

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People who buy inexpensive models ("To be fair, people who buy very cheap projectors are generally not familiar with higher performance models and don't have anything to compare them to." ) might not have the resources to buy an expensive one or in my case I need one for ONE evening to show a slide show at a rehearsal dinner. The hotel wants $200 to let me use theirs. I'd sooner buy a 'cheap' one and store it for...who knows what. The end.

Posted May 5, 2015 8:01:51 AM

By T Rambo

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Thank you for the info. Need an inexpensive projector for outside movie theater. Nothing fancy but not total junk. Any recommendations? Thankyou in advance.

Posted Apr 6, 2015 2:29:53 AM


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" you can get much better performance from the cheap business projectors made by BenQ, Epson, Optoma, and others, than you can from these products. "

which ones would you recommend?

Posted Feb 14, 2015 2:03:48 PM


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My wife and I recently put our ideas into action. We built a home theater I our basement. We purchased fancy wood trim, stained and hand painted the leaves on the wood. We measured the specs for our recently purchased projector attached to ceiling and turned it on. We shut all light off and with a level marked the wall. I cut the wood and used fancy corner blocks. The frame looks great. We used flat white paint for the viewing screen. The walls are painted a burgundy red and looks great together. We did buy a cheap projector and we do need the lights off but even though it's not a high quality picture we enjoy it and none of our guests have mentioned or asked about the quality of the picture. Moral of this post is, everything will work. If you are unhappy with the quality of the image buy an LED tv, but if you're looking to have a small movie theater experience in the comfort of your home without dipping into your child's tuition savings then spend between $250 and $500 and make sure you READ the directions and distance specs that will help ensure you are getting the "best" display with which ever device you decide on." Good luck and I hope this helped.

Posted Feb 8, 2015 3:18:08 PM

By Vasana

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" you can get much better performance from the cheap business projectors made by BenQ, Epson, Optoma, and others, than you can from these products. "

which ones would you recommend?

Posted Jan 23, 2015 2:49:38 PM

By Will

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Thank you!!!

Posted Jan 11, 2015 1:33:45 AM

By vicky

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very informative.. I just had a quick view about the cheap high quality projectors.. most of them clamming high pixels lumens etc. and its true for people like me it is very hard to get the comparative idea.. but for sure i will take care all parameters before buying.. thanks

Posted Dec 17, 2014 9:32:19 PM

By Akshay Gupta

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Thank you very much.. helpful...

Posted Dec 2, 2014 1:49:59 PM

By Ben

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I wish I read this earlier!

Posted Dec 1, 2014 3:52:32 PM

By Terry

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Good info on these, I wondered. Following your comments above, what do you recommend for a bit more money? We need these for houses that have home theaters, so cant put much money in them. If we cap it at $275 what will work the best?

Posted Nov 28, 2014 10:01:48 AM

By Suresh

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Thanks..Good and Useful info..

Posted Sep 12, 2014 8:00:58 AM

By labros

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It`s funny tha nooned consider the cost and if all of us have the money needed for a more expensive buy

Posted Sep 10, 2014 11:00:26 PM

By Trevor

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Hi folks . I have just recieved a projector from China . Its interactive but they forgot to include the CD so it doesnt work . Its 3000Lm but I had to turn the lights out to see the screen. The electrical power is only 90 watts . How can a 90 watt projector make 3000lm ? Can anyone help ? T W

Posted Aug 28, 2014 10:25:47 AM

By Jennifer

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For something like a Grim Grinning Ghosts halloween display (foamcore heads with faces projected on it,) would one of these cheap projectors work?

Posted Aug 1, 2014 3:53:51 AM

By Kevin Deadder

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I have owned over 700 projectors and like the Digital Galaxy Models. one thing to know when buying one is that the lens requires you read the distance and throw specs. I used to show movies outside the recommended distance from the screen and found some image quality loss. As soon as I took a tape measure and corrected that issue every image issue was corrected and I enjoyed the beautiful quality of a now clean image. People using computers need to keep that in mind too. Pix-elation of the image is due to image distances being incorrect by the owner . This is not a lens issue. I recommend using a white Shower curtain as a screen for front and rear projection. Only buy the cheapest white model often sold in bags below $12.00. The exception to the rule costs a tiny bit more because it has the metal grommets at top but also works. Frame it or hang it and enjoy.

Posted Jul 31, 2014 6:42:17 PM

By Rico

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I love this line... "To be fair, people who buy very cheap projectors are generally not familiar with higher performance models and don't have anything to compare them to."

This definitely applies to my wife!!

Posted Jul 29, 2014 10:15:16 AM

By Bill Livolsi

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y. kaufman - we used the ANSI standard for lumen readings, which is the same procedure we use for all projectors.

Penny - thanks for the compliment!

Posted Jul 29, 2014 5:23:36 AM

By Penny

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Nice informative series. Thanks to both of you!

Posted Jul 28, 2014 10:32:25 PM

By y. kaufman

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how did you measured. What equipment did you use.will you pls. send me an answer to my mail. regards yakov

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