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Cheap Projectors -- how bad are they?

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.

Comments (49) Post a Comment
y. kaufman Posted Jul 28, 2014 10:32 PM PST
how did you measured. What equipment did you use.will you pls. send me an answer to my mail. regards yakov
Penny Posted Jul 29, 2014 5:23 AM PST
Nice informative series. Thanks to both of you!
Bill Livolsi Posted Jul 29, 2014 10:15 AM PST
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!
Rico Posted Jul 31, 2014 6:42 PM PST
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!!
Kevin Deadder Posted Aug 1, 2014 3:53 AM PST
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.
Jennifer Posted Aug 28, 2014 10:25 AM PST
For something like a Grim Grinning Ghosts halloween display (foamcore heads with faces projected on it,) would one of these cheap projectors work?
Trevor Posted Sep 10, 2014 11:00 PM PST
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
labros Posted Sep 12, 2014 8:00 AM PST
It`s funny tha nooned consider the cost and if all of us have the money needed for a more expensive buy
Suresh Posted Nov 28, 2014 10:01 AM PST
Thanks..Good and Useful info..
Terry Posted Dec 1, 2014 3:52 PM PST
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?
Ben Posted Dec 2, 2014 1:49 PM PST
I wish I read this earlier!
Akshay Gupta Posted Dec 17, 2014 9:32 PM PST
Thank you very much.. helpful...
vicky Posted Jan 11, 2015 1:33 AM PST
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
Will Posted Jan 23, 2015 2:49 PM PST
Thank you!!!
Vasana Posted Feb 8, 2015 3:18 PM PST
" 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?
GmAN Posted Feb 14, 2015 2:03 PM PST
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.
BARRIE Posted Apr 6, 2015 2:29 AM PST
" 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?
T Rambo Posted May 5, 2015 8:01 AM PST
Thank you for the info. Need an inexpensive projector for outside movie theater. Nothing fancy but not total junk. Any recommendations? Thankyou in advance.
Jane Posted May 6, 2015 6:43 PM PST
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.
Mando Posted May 13, 2015 11:23 AM PST
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?
Evan Powell, Editor Posted May 13, 2015 12:02 PM PST
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.

Evan
PiGi Posted Jun 8, 2015 12:11 PM PST
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
Lou Posted Jul 10, 2015 12:48 AM PST
I am currently using a cheap projector (LED 86C) for my home-theater. It performed well for my casual needs.
John Demetri Posted Jul 16, 2015 4:16 AM PST
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.
Artist projector Posted Aug 5, 2015 12:09 AM PST
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
Charles Posted Aug 27, 2015 12:14 PM PST
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.
sarvesh bojo Posted Sep 2, 2015 6:55 AM PST
From where did you buy it and how much did you pay for it?
lala Rojas Posted Oct 15, 2015 8:42 AM PST
Mando, Did you find a projector? if so, please tell me where. I need one for the same reasons but projecting on canvas. Thanks.
kunle adesanya Posted Nov 9, 2015 1:00 PM PST
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
Bryan Phillips Posted Nov 16, 2015 8:09 AM PST
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.
Jr1981 Posted Mar 20, 2016 8:59 PM PST
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.
Cincinnati Steveo Posted May 30, 2016 8:20 PM PST
Hello everyone,I find some good reads and points about projectors here but I have a couple of questions and need some advice.I have a 8 year old son and live in a small neighborhood in a suburb just outside of Cincinnati.My son and some of his neighborhood friends always talk about being able to watch movies outdoors.Im trying to think of a easy inexpensive way to do that for them.I was thinking about hanging a white sheet on garage door and getting a projector that is easy to set up and able to play DVDs.Im disabled so I cant carry much weight around and cant be laying all kinds of cords and wires around.Just would like something that's not to complex.All the kids love the Star Wars movies and some have not seen the new one so Im sure they would get a kick out of watching it outside on a nice night.Any recommendations/advice/info would be great.I would leave my email but I don't know if its allowed here so I will just check back.Thanks for your help.
Evan Powell, Editor Posted May 31, 2016 3:40 PM PST
To those asking for alternatives to the very cheap Chinese units, you will be much better off with something like the Epson HC640, which runs around $329 at the moment. See the review on the Caiwei A8 for comparative comments.
Mng Posted Jun 28, 2016 12:45 PM PST
Good article - have you thought about updating it and reviewing some new < $100 projectors from Amazon? I'm curious to see if the newer ones perform any better since the article is 2 years old.
Gerard Posted Jul 24, 2016 4:17 PM PST
Very good article -- the cheap Chinese projectors use false advertising to fool customers
santosh Posted Sep 16, 2016 10:59 AM PST
Trust me, I recently purchased and fooled by false ebay/amazon advertisement. Very cheap and poor projectors. The one I got touts native 1280X800 but I highly doubt if its case.
Michael Posted Nov 1, 2016 5:03 PM PST
I purchased a W330 unbranded LED projector from China for $250 shipped on Ebay with the intention of using it for gaming on PS4 and I have to say I'm quite impressed! I've owned Epson, Ricoh, and Panasonic projectors (non led) that weigh a ton and get incredibly hot. This unit performs very well in comparison. Of course the build quality is not as superior to the other models I mentioned, but the picture quality is great and the unit is bright enough to be seen with curtains open during the day. It does have a very plastic feel and focus is achieved using a very basic threaded barrel system. This is a cheaper method for sure, but works well. I've put the unit on a tripod with Chromecast that I can take just about anywhere and have a movie night without the worry of dropping something that's $600+ dollars. Bottom line, these units definitely have a niche market of folks not wanting to spend much money while having a home theater experience.
Evan Powell, Editor Posted Nov 1, 2016 5:27 PM PST
Michael, glad you had a good experience with your purchase. We generally do not recommend products like the W330 because you can get substantially better performance from models that don't cost much more. You don't need to spend anywhere near $600 to get a very bright 1280x800 projector. More like $350 will do it, and you end up with a projector that is much brighter and higher in contrast than the W330, as well as being brand new with a warranty--not something you usually find on eBay. Shoppers should use our Projector Database to search for inexpensive models. Just select the resolution and brightness you want. Keep in mind that the dirt cheap Chinese models usually have lumen ratings far in excess of what they promise.
Vivek narain Posted Jan 4, 2017 8:36 AM PST
Here in India chinese projectors are available for 50$ equivalent.So that pretty much rules out brands,even if they start at 300$ they are way out of competition price wise.
Felix Alonzo Posted Jan 19, 2017 6:02 PM PST
Shouldnt this be illegal by the Federal Trade Commision? Wayyyy false specs and boasted claimes.
Vinnie Posted Jan 27, 2017 2:01 AM PST
My advice is be very careful when buying cheap Chinese projectors. I got an AOK 2200 lumen projector when I was a projector novice simply because it touted 1080P and HDMI. Sure you can hook it up to HDMI but the picture quality is very dark and poor and the pixel resolution is not as advertised - supposedly SVGA but I doubt that very much. My old Acer 1161P was 10x better. You get what you pay for. My advice is do lots of research and go with a known brand.
Mike Mack Posted Apr 25, 2017 5:40 AM PST
I wanted to find out how much if anything has changed in 3-4 years since I last purchased for a friend a $300 advertised bazillion 4500 lumens piece of chinese rubbish with a flyscreen effect that was horribly visible and made me cringe! It had half the clarity of a second hand infocus $80 halogen projector of 800 ACTUAL lumens. All I can find on youtube is sales videos of people trying to make money out of saying how great the videos are..... Are the chinese actually producing anything half reasonable yet? Has much changed? THREE YEARS on it would be good to see a couple of touted fantastic new models tested to see how much has changed.
Killigan Posted Jun 20, 2017 6:41 AM PST
The agency responsible for policing this kind of thing has around 200 people on staff. My guess is there are at least 2,000 complaints per day, and another 4,000 rip-offs that go unreported.

As long as an advertiser is defrauding people for less than $100 each, the FTC is going to give them a pass because they don't have the time, staff, budget, for it.
e l Posted Sep 14, 2017 6:09 AM PST
There must be a projector mafia because this field is ripe for disruption. Nothing seems to have changed in years since I've been looking for a projector. Imagine SVGA on sale still. The last SVGA monitor I used was probably over 15 years ago. Everything is HD now. So why do projectors remain as expensive as a good laptop?
Evan Powell, Editor Posted Sep 14, 2017 8:59 AM PST
E L ... You obviously have not been watching the projector market for the last 15 years. Back at the turn of the century an SVGA projector weighed 20 lbs, put out 500 lumens at 250:1 contrast, and cost $5,000. Today an SVGA projector weighs 5 lbs, puts out 3500 lumens at 20:000:1 contrast, and costs $300.
Jerard Griffin Posted May 6, 2018 6:42 AM PST
What's funny is all of these electronics are made in china or japan
jeff Posted Sep 6, 2019 4:12 AM PST
Just bought a cheaper projector claimed 7000 lumen from eBay for my friend ; for 70 bucks. When we got it and tested it’s not as bright as we expected . So we asked seller and was told the 7000 lumen is China standard which equivalant to 1200 lumen US standard. (Not sure if it’s S true) So we asked to return it for full refund. But end up settled with $50 refunded. We use it watch movie in room with no lights it’s good enough and fairly clear pics within 3 m distance . For only $20 we think it worth it. No more than that.. lol
jeff Posted Sep 7, 2019 2:58 AM PST
Just bought a cheaper projector claimed 7000 lumen from eBay for my friend ; for 70 bucks. When we got it and tested it’s not as bright as we expected . So we asked seller and was told the 7000 lumen is China standard which equivalant to 1200 lumen US standard. (Not sure if it’s S true) So we asked to return it for full refund. But end up settled with $50 refunded. We use it watch movie in room with no lights it’s good enough and fairly clear pics within 3 m distance . For only $20 we think it worth it. No more than that.. lol
Alex Posted Oct 2, 2019 6:16 AM PST
I think I'll keep my eyes open on Ebay for a used one or faulty one that I can fix with a lamp or whatever or get one used working. I don't think those crappy Chinese projectors are worth it but I have seen some real native 1920x1080 ones on YouTube that look pretty good for $250! The model was Fd30 or something.

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