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.