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Let’s face it, projectors will always remain a staple piece of technology. Today, much of the technology in the consumer-space is about producing 2D images efficiently in terms of quality and affordability. In the future, as is supported by recent giant strides, projectors would evolve to produce 3D and/or 4D images as well as holographic images.
As we make this quantum leap, we must not lose touch with reality. For now, most of our projector needs are tied to use in classrooms for education, company buildings for presentations, and for the entertainment of a substantial number of people. Therefore, the strong improvements that have been shaking the projector industry, should translate to better functioning devices at lower price points (much like what is happening in the smartphone industry). This drive underpins this buying guide, as we explore the premier projectors that offer us cutting-edge performance and features while occupying a modest price range of no more than $500. If you’re looking for something with better overall quality, check out our guide for projectors under $1000. Welcome to the best projector under $500 buying guide.
Our Top Picks
Projector vs. Television – Which Way Should You Go?
Before shelling out $500 for a projector, it makes sense to know the foremost alternative—a large screen television; and make comparisons in argument for a projector. The most viable argument for a projector is the size of image it outputs. Television screen sizes and projector image sizes are both measured diagonally. Nonetheless, while it is possible to use a 100-inch screen for your projector on a budget, good luck buying a decent TV with that much screen estate for the same price. The difference is clear, and with it, the excitement of what the extra screen space can be used for. Is anyone thinking about how much a home entertainment projector setup can offer a true cinema experience? We sure are.
Next on the line is versatility. TVs have gotten flatter, much sleeker than old CRT TVs whose empty boxes could serve as a makeshift cradle. Interestingly, while curved displays go mainstream and the prospects of foldable displays transcend from science fiction to scientific reality; there is no taking away the feasibility of using projectors virtually anywhere. After beating down the urge to dramatize this, we will lay it simply. You can fold up the screen, permanently install the screen and projector, easily place your projector in the backseat or trunk of your car when transporting it, mount the screen on a wall, or affix the screen to the ceiling. Better still, you could do away with the screen and paint the wall or flat surface. In short, comparing current large screen televisions to projectors based on versatility or portability is unfair.
The third, but certainly not the last reason why you should purchase a projector is that the large screen enables projected images to fill your visual field. This reduces eyestrain and is much better on the eyes. The large screen size also enables viewers to make out better detail in the image as there is more room for each pixel to be displayed.
Important Buying Considerations
Ascertaining that you need a projector is only one step of the buying process. Going forward, you have to define why you need a projector, which will help outline what you need in a projector. These should then put you well on your way to window-shopping for a model that fits your needs.
Usually, you would have to make room for the possibility that you would not immediately find a perfect projector for your needs. In these cases, you would have a number of likely buys whose features and performances you would contrast in order to make a choice.
In this section, we enumerate the considerations you should make when outlining what you need in a projector and prior to making a choice of projector.
- Size (are you looking for a pocket projector?)
- Be specific about the purpose your purchased projector will serve (indoors/outdoors/movies/gaming)
- Resolution: HD resolutions and 4k are all the rage now
- Blu-ray support
1. Acer H5380BD Review
At over 54 footlamberts (fL) on a 102-inch screen, the H5380BD has higher brightness levels that are on par with those of many projectors that cost five to ten times as much. Practically, it is possible to increase the brightness levels if a more accurate color temperature is used.
To put this in perspective, 54 fL is a higher brightness level than can be found on most plasma televisions. 30 fL is sufficiently bright in a dark room; as such, it is possible to project images on a 150-inch diagonal screen and boast of higher brightness levels than can be found in most movie theaters.
At 1920:1, the contrast ratio on the H5380BD is sufficient. It is significantly higher than can be found in competitors and is about the same as the contrast ratio of our top-grade projector pick that is double in price. Compared to TVs, it is at the same level or better than on most LCD TVs, but it is marginally lower than on premium plasma TVs.
The color accuracy on the Acer H5380BD is at the same level as can be found on competing models. Fair to say, within this price range, there is no model sporting a 100% accurate color display.
As an add-on, the H5380BD is equipped with a lens shift, which cannot be found on any projector in this price range, put this projector on the spotlight for best bargain projector in the less than $500 price range.
The Acer H5380BD is equipped with the standard connectivity options including an HDMI port, an MHL port, and an audio output jack. The audio output jack is to provide extensibility for the use of an external audio system with better audio output than the in-built speakers can produce.
While not an issue for video projection, the lag time can make or break gameplay projection. Thankfully, the H5380BD has top-grade performance of under 40 ms (33 ms to be precise) which puts it in the fast range, and at a faster time than on most TVs and projectors with higher price tags. For referencing purpose, above 60 ms is average, and above 80 ms is slow.
The image quality of the Acer is very rich for photos and texts. The video quality is outstanding with a lot of detail. Because its architecture is based on the DLP technology, the H5380BD does not display motion blur during video play.
3D capability is becoming more of a given than a luxuriant feature in the less than $500 price range. To avail of the capability, you would have to connect a 3D Blu-ray player, a 3D Blu-ray disc/movie, and then view the 3D movie with a DLP-Link certified pair of glasses. These glasses are affordably priced at less than $50. The 3D performance of the H5380BD is decent, with good depth and absence of crosstalk.
Salient Selling Points
- Top-grade brightness levels
- Extensive connectivity
- Perfect for gaming
- Terrific image quality
- 3D capabilities
2. 3900 Lumens LCD Review
Premium home theater projectors are designed to offer high brightness levels, decent speakers for sound support, HD resolution, and lightweight for easy and quick mobility. The PowerLite 750HD is an embodiment of a high-end video projector at a decent price point. It is equipped with a brightness rating of 3000 lumens, HD resolution, built-in speakers, and weighs around 5 pounds.
In general, the 730HD has one of the highest brightness levels amongst projectors regardless of price – if you plan to use your projector outside this is a big plus. However, there are factors that influence the maximum image size one can view comfortably with the projector. These factors are the nature of the screen and the ambient lighting levels in the space.
Nonetheless, during testing in a moderate to high ambient lighting condition, the 730HD was able to produce sufficient brightness for as high as an 80-inch image. In darker lighting condition, you could increase the image size further, while if you want to reduce the image size under darker lighting condition, you would have to reduce the brightness level. To reduce the brightness level, you would have to select or switch to any of the preset lower brightness levels and or to Eco mode.
The image quality on the 730HD is exciting, there is good handling of the skin tone, and it does a nice one with shadow detail. Color accuracy was decent, and noise was fairly low across several media types, with the lowest recorded with the use of Blu-ray discs.
Motion artifacts and posterization were absent, which is a huge plus. Even better, rainbow artifacts are eliminated, thanks to the use of LCD-based projector technology rather than the DLP-chip technology.
Straight up, you would need to connect an external audio system for good sound delivery. However, if that is not an option or you just want audibility without emphasis on sound quality, then the two-watt mono speaker will do.
It is important to point out though that the sound quality on the 730HD is not exactly a write-off. It is decent and there is adequate volume to fill a room that is small or is midsized.
The running cost of the 730HD is on the low-end. This is especially due to the replacement cost of the lamp in the projector at being less than $100. Where this gets juicier, is that each lamp can get off between 5000 to 6000 hours’ worth of power before needing replacement.
Connectivity and Setup
The 730HD sports an elaborate suite of connectivity options. It offers a HDMI port, VGA and composite ports, and an S-Video port, on its back panel. Additionally, it is fitted with a two USB ports (a USB A and a USB B port).
The 730HD is easy to setup, while also offering a decent level of flexibility. Manual zoom and focus are available. Setting up the 730HD requires you to connect the necessary cables, carrying out appropriate zoom and focus adjustments, and voila, the 730HD is fully functional.
The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 750HD is the more expensive sibling of the 730HD. It offers better 720p HD image quality and 3D capability. However, if you are on a budget and have no need for 3D capabilities, the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 730HD is your obvious choice for 720p 2D home theater projectors.
Salient Selling Points
- High brightness levels
- HD resolution
- Compact Build
- Decent Image Quality
3. ViewSonic PJD5533w Review
The ViewSonic PJD5533w is by all indications a portable projector. Its dimensions are 3.3 (H) x 10.6 (W) x 8.7 (D), and weighs only 4.6 pounds. It offers a 1280 by 800 resolution and an aspect ratio of 16:10. The brightness rating of the PJD5533w is 2,800 lumens.
Furthermore, the ViewSonic PJD5533w is equipped with zoom and focus rings for responsive manual controls. Connectivity on the PJD5533w is varied with the complete suite of options available including an HDMI port, an S-video port, a USB mini type B port, audio-in and audio-out jacks, 2 VGA-in ports (that could serve as component video) and a VGA-out port, and an RCA composite video jack.
The image quality of data images were impressive, and so will be suitable for classroom and business presentations. There were few hiccups with the quality in some extreme cases, but overall, it is decent for a DLP data projector. The rainbow effect made subtle appearances, which would not be of concern to viewers anyways.
Rainbow effect and posterization were noticed during video image quality testing. Aside these fault lines the video quality was decent.
Audio and 3D
The in-built speaker on the PJD5533w is a mono speaker with just 2 watts of power. Consequently, it is no good in a space larger than that of a small room. Therefore, it is necessary to connect external audio systems when you need richer and louder sound.
3D support is baked in, which is commendable. You would have to bring your DLP-Link pair of glasses to the party though (they can be grabbed for less than $100 for a pair).
Salient Selling Points
- Compact build
- Extensive connectivity
- High brightness levels
- 3D support